Key Grip: A Memoir of Endless Consequences

Overview

A key grip, Dustin Beall Smith explains in this award-winning debut memoir, is the person on a film set who supervises the rigging of lights, set wall construction, dolly shots, stunt preparation, and more. Smith worked in the film industry throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. For him, “fame by association”—with iconic stars including Sly Stallone, Susan Sarandon, and Robert De Niro—was just one of the seductive drugs fueling his high-octane days on the set.
The intertwined ...

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Key Grip: A Memoir of Endless Consequences

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Overview

A key grip, Dustin Beall Smith explains in this award-winning debut memoir, is the person on a film set who supervises the rigging of lights, set wall construction, dolly shots, stunt preparation, and more. Smith worked in the film industry throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. For him, “fame by association”—with iconic stars including Sly Stallone, Susan Sarandon, and Robert De Niro—was just one of the seductive drugs fueling his high-octane days on the set.
The intertwined stories in Key Grip resurrect memories of how his father’s impossibly ordered life became a goad for Smith’s own reckless journey to manhood. Its trajectory includes a stint as a pioneering sport-parachuting instructor in the late 1950s—a young man’s dream job that taught Smith how to hide sheer animal fear behind male bravado. Much later, as a committed writer and unredeemed seeker in his fifties, Smith lights out cross-country for what turns out to be a brave, existentially failed—and very funny—attempt at a Lakota vision quest.
Beautifully told, reminiscent of both Robert Bly and Ian Frazier, Key Grip is a fascinating record of the fault lines of one man’s life.

DUSTIN BEALL SMITH’s Key Grip won the 2007 Bakeless Prize for nonfiction, awarded by the Middlebury College Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and judged by Terry Tempest Williams. Smith has lived in New York City for over forty years and teaches writing at Gettysburg College.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wise, intensely readable autobiography that should please those...who like a spoonful of gossip to make the life lessons go down." Booklist, ALA
Publishers Weekly

In his uneven first book, Smith presents the reader with scenes from his life, covering his career in the film industry, alcoholism, ego issues and a quest for meaning. Smith provides plenty of flashbacks from his years as a misguided, sky-diving 20-something and also tackles his existential battle at the age of 57 (in the opening chapter, which takes up a full third of the book, Smith treks up a hill to perform Native American meditation practices). Occasionally using vivid, descriptive language and other times passing over important topics in summary (the death of his first child, his second marriage), the author searches for a central theme, and despite the book's title, being a key grip isn't it; Smith doesn't address that topic directly until he's two-thirds of the way through his story. Other chapters, such as brief entries about snapping turtles, are more tangential than metaphorical. At times, Smith jumps from first to second person, with two chapters written from one version of himself to another. This lack of focus leads to patchwork reading, though some will doubtless be seduced by Smith's forthright, rueful voice. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran film hand/hard drinker/coke sniffer/celebrity wannabe/Kerouac emulator/skydiver/Lakota sweat-lodger/adjunct undergraduate instructor Smith (English/Gettysburg Coll.) tells all. He'd always wanted to be a writer, declares the first-time author; it just took him more than 50 years to get around to it. It seems longer in this salmagundi of a memoir. Smith chops up his myriad ingredients, stirs briskly, then invites us to reassemble them-which is not always easy. His father was an artist who seemed to understand the adolescent angst that caused Smith to drop out of Columbia, hitch around the country, take up skydiving, return to college and then wander into the movie business, where his long career as a key grip was perennially endangered by his alcoholism. The author once found himself naked outside his locked motel room on a balcony overlooking the parking lot. He nuzzled with Susan Sarandon and snorted coke with Treat Williams. Two marriages imploded (Smith is quite vague about the second), one of his children died (he writes oddly little about this), and so did his father. Nearing the end of his film career, he met a Lakota, decided he wanted to go on a vision quest and headed to the Pine Ridge Reservation, where he sweated and saw many ugly things that either were or were not there. Smith scatters about some tales about an intransigent snapping turtle (he's sorry he killed it), a couple of films he worked on (Savages, Cop Land), a suicide he witnessed (the barefoot leaper made a bad sound when she landed), a couple of boyhood summers at camp (he cried the first night). Many sentences feature verbatim dialogue from a half-century ago and indulge in cliches of every sort:floodgates open; things fall into place. It all comes to an end with a second-person riff on Life. Slim-in every way.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547053691
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/5/2008
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,310,691
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Dustin Beall Smith's Key Grip won the 2007 Bakeless Prize for nonfiction, awarded by the Middlebury College Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and judged by Terry Tempest Williams. Smith teaches at Gettysburg College and lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and New York City.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface: Augury ix 1. Starting at the Bottom Again 1 2. Just Pears 54 3. Meeting at the Water’s Edge 66 4. The Pipe 72 5. One Day 80 6. Leaving the Garden 91 7. When You Finish Your Beer 107 8. Jump 110 9. Grace 113 10. No Feeling of Falling 120 11. The Long Road 142 12. The Second Person 149 Acknowledgments 156

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2008

    Wonderful writing

    Key Grip is a collection of essays and stories that previously appeared in different publications. I am surprised that some of the reviews criticize the book's structure, as though it was a one-piece novel. I guess they were whipping through their stack of books to review that day and didn't look this one very closely. Fabulous writing. I appreciate intelligence and reality, which Dustin Smith captures here.

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