At this point in his 40+ year career, Nicolas Cage has appeared in over 100 movies and TV shows. This makes Keith Phipps’ achievement with his new book all the more impressive.
Double Age of cage: Four decades of Hollywood through a singular career, it examines each of these many Nicolas Cage films, considers the mercurial actor’s place in film history, and uses him as a lens through which to view the myriad changes in American cinema since the early 1980s This is a terribly entertaining and truly insightful book; you’ll never look at a bug-eyed Nic Cage freakout the same way again.
The age of the cage also gave me a great excuse to catch up with Keith, who was my former boss at the lamented website The Dissolve (RIP). Rather than just rehashing the same questions he’s asked in other interviews, I asked if he’d be more than willing to pick out a few underrated Nicolas Cage films that he could recommend and we could discuss in as microcosms of Cage’s larger work. He obliged with three good picks; the following is our conversation on The age of the cage and each of his choices.
The concept of your book is reminiscent of the Career View plays we used to do at The Dissolve, where someone would watch each movie an actor appeared in and then write about each one together. Critics tend to write about directors this way, but it’s much less common with movie stars. What do you think can be learned from this type of approach to writing about actors?
I don’t want to go into too much detail about your career and mine, but the book actually started out as a Career View article. It has roots there, because I had just started watching movies for one when The Dissolve folded. Obviously I didn’t continue, but I was talking about book ideas and it was really seeing mandy in the theater, that stuff gelled for me. Obviously, I had seen a lot of Nicolas Cage movies, but I found it helpful to skim through them. I mostly watched them chronologically. There are a few exceptions here and there.
But I think part of the reason it’s easier to do that with directors is that directors tend to be less prolific. It takes longer to make a movie than to star in one. Not that one job is any easier than another, but Nicolas Cage can make a bunch of movies in a year that most directors can’t. I treated I believe nearly a hundred films. So it’s a lot to take in.
It’s a bigger project, but I found it really instructive. If nothing else, just to see someone age for 40 years. Sure, he’s a very well-preserved person, but that’s a fascinating experience in itself. But what I was hoping for and what I think came out of it was kind of a double image of his career and then changes throughout the Hollywood industry since 1982.
Every time I’ve done projects like this, albeit on a much smaller scale than yours, I’ve been fascinated by the personal elements of an actor’s life that crop up movie after movie and you start worth seeing once you really look for them. . Did you find any in the roles of Cage?
Part of what makes Cage interesting is that I feel like there’s a few movies at his personal low point, like after the financial stuff came out and he became kind of a punchline and that he starts making films because he has debts to pay. The first two years ago, you know, you get movies like Left over and Rage, which I think is the worst film he has done. And it seems a little checked. But what I find makes it interesting is that it fully commits to what it does in almost every other instance you can name. He really tries to see where he fits into any given project.
Sometimes it’s a bit counter-intuitive and it might not always work. i was thinking about the movie I’m going in 60 seconds. This is the worst of his action films. And he likes a cool, understated performance more Steve-McQueen than Steve-McQueen. And it doesn’t quite work. It’s not really what you’re looking for, but it’s an interesting choice. I feel like he always tries to bring his own thing to everything he does in a really thoughtful way that often gets a bit overlooked when talking about Nicolas Cage.
There are certainly biographical echoes in certain films. Part of what makes The rock interesting is Stanley Goodspeed doesn’t want to be an action hero, much like where Cage was in his career too. He’s a very unlikely action movie star, and he plays someone who’s a bit resistant to being an action hero in this. So there is a bit of that.
Pork, I don’t know what the creative process behind it was, but it certainly fits into his life and career in an interesting way. I mean, he’s playing a character who was a star in his field and went to live in the desert for a while for various reasons. And now he is slowly backing away. He’s made some really great movies over the last decade where he’s done a lot of straight-to-VOD stuff. But PorkIt sort of became that: his ticket out of the desert in some ways. It was such an undeniable performance in a really interesting movie that a lot of people had to question their preconceptions of who Nicolas Cage was as an actor and what he did.
Alright, let’s talk about your picks for the underrated Cage movies. I found it interesting that you chose three detective films. Do you think there’s something about Cage that makes him particularly well suited to crime stories?
I think he’s a really good black hero in some ways, because you can see him as someone who might end up on the seedy side of things. But I think he’s also really good at playing normal guys who stand out. In terms of crime in general, I think if you look at the career, he’s proven himself in some ways. Going back at least to Raising Arizona, he is someone who often finds himself on the wrong side of the law. There’s definitely a track record there.
Underrated Nicolas Cage Movies
Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through a Singular Career is on sale now.
10 Movie Titles That Have Become Common Phrases
How many of these terms do you use in conversation?