Friday, September 30, 2016

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Livin' On the Edge With Jan Michael Vincent


By David Grove

217 pages; available in paperback and hardcover; B/W; first edition 2016

If you're a fan of Macho Tough Guy cinema you are likely familiar with one of the Action genres unsung heroes, Jan-Michael Vincent. Author David Grove (On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th) has written a fascinatingly frank, frequently bleak volume on one of Hollywood's most promising actors who, through fault of his own, never quite realized his full potential; an actor who lived on the wildside, crashing his career into a wall at 100mph, then doing it all over again. Guided by the author via anecdotes from family friends and colleagues (including Jonathan Kaplan and Robert Englund), the reader will learn of Jan-Michael Vincent's many tragedies throughout his life and career that, unfortunately, outweighed his successes. Be forewarned: It's a very sad story that, by the last page, many can likely relate to or learn from.

Jan-Michael Vincent worked alongside some of Hollywood's biggest names and headlined many films of his own. For various reasons covered in this book, the actor was never able to achieve the same level of success enjoyed by so many of his co-stars. Author David Grove covers Mr. Vincent's entire life--from the actor's early years in Denver; his formative years in Hanford, CA; finding solace in surfing; his entry into Hollywood; his failure to successfully transition to leading man status; his TV star era; his DTV days; and his time on the convention circuit signing autographs for eager fans.

At the cusp of greatness, but never taking it within his grasp, Mr. Vincent consistently embraced a good deal of bad luck and tragedy. Unfortunately, his life as documented in this book, is not the typical 'rise, fall, and redemption' of so many celebrities we often read about.

This is one of those books that when you begin reading, you don't wish to put it down--but deeply engaging for different reasons. You get to one instance of misfortune and expect there to be some light at the end of the tunnel.... you keep waiting and hoping, with each turn of the page... but there's always more missed opportunities awaiting the reader. Still, there are numerous engrossing stories to go along with them. 

For example, fans of Charles Bronson will find the seven page section on THE MECHANIC (1972) of great interest; as well as Jan's working relationship with such superstars as John Wayne and Burt Reynolds.

Discussion of theatrical successes like lead roles in WHITE LINE FEVER (1975) and disasters in the form of DAMNATION ALLEY (1977) are accounted for.

Even more informative is the hefty section devoted to the actor's stint on AIRWOLF (1984-1987); a fondly remembered action series that is likely the man's best remembered work. Much like everything else in the book, Jan's participation starts out well, but doesn't end well.

Outside of the written word, Edge of Greatness is benefited by a plethora of rare photos; many of which are from Jan-Michael Vincent's early years prior to entering the film industry.

The flaws are minor: the images are sometimes poorly reproduced; you may find yourself out of breath while reading as sentences tend to go on forever; and there's a moment or two where you read information that was probably best left unstated. That aside, this is a thorough, critical, and highly provocative work. 

Anyone perusing this book may occasionally find themselves wondering why the author took on this biography since there's so much sadness and adversity on virtually every page. It's 200+ pages of veritable obstacles that, instead of the subject overcoming them, retreated to alcohol and drugs; or found himself mired in some domestic scandal. By page 189 the author makes it clear by admitting, "I don't like myself, which is what we have in common and why I was drawn to [Jan Michael Vincent]".

A well written, haunting life story, David Grove treats his subject fairly, even without the participation of the man himself. It's a great read if not the slightest bit upbeat in execution. Edge of Greatness further distinguishes itself by being the only document of a man who, despite never making it due to problems of his own creation, was seemingly most successful (and at peace) surfing at the beach.

You can purchase Jan Michael Vincent: Edge of Greatness at amazon HERE.

You can also purchase it direct from the publisher, Bear Manor Media, HERE.

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