Then Again

I know her filmography is hit-or-miss, but I’ve been a fan of Diane Keaton’s for a long time. Sleeper? Annie Hall? Something’s Gotta Give? Shoot, even The First Wives Club and The Other Sister…I’ll watch them any time. But although I’ve always been a fan, I knew next to nothing about Dianne Keaton the Actress, much less Dianne Keaton the Person. Her memoir, Then Again, remedies that.

Then Again is a warmly written exercise in nostalgia. “Co-written” with her mother, Dorothy Hall, the memoir charts the parallel experiences of two women with wildly different lives. Following her mother’s untimely death from Alzheimer’s, Keaton discovered 85 of her mother’s journals. In her journals, Dorothy, a former Mrs. Los Angeles who spent her adulthood as a housewife and stay at home mother, expressed a deep longing for more out of life. Keaton had always suspected as much: her mother was an artist at heart, practicing photography and creating collages (many of her journals–some of which are displayed in the book–incorporated gorgeous collage techniques). Though there was never any question that the thing that made Dorothy happiest was her family, her journals also expressed a sense of loneliness and boredom.

This book has an interesting format. In many ways, it is a typical memoir, with Keaton recalling the highs and lows of her life, career, and relationships (I had no idea she once dated Warren Beatty and Al Pacino). One of the things I found most surprising was how hard Keaton often was on herself, and how focused she was on appearances. In her memoir, she reveals her struggles with bulimia and talks about how important appearances are for an actress. Keaton is actually quite frank about her insecurities, which prove to be a recurring theme in the book. For instance, of her Vogue cover shoot–which was interrupted by the announcement that she’d just been nominated for an Oscar–she reminisces:

I was sitting in front of a white backdrop, worrying about the stylist’s offhanded remark about my shoulders being too small to wear a strapless gown. She pulled no punches. Mr. [Irving] Penn’s brilliance, as well as his aristocratic manner, didn’t fill me with confidence either. When the makeup artist told me the right side of my face was probably better than the left, I forgot all about the fact that my biggest teenage dreams had come true–I was a movie star and Warren Beatty was my boyfriend.

The rest of the book is equally honest and introspective about other aspects in her life, including the lukewarm moments of her career. In fact, at times I think she’s too self-deprecating. At one point in the book, recalling a post-Woody Allen/post-Warren Beatty period in the 80s when her career had stalled, she goes as far as to say, “Without a great man writing and directing for me, I was a mediocre star at best.” This was a surprising (and in my opinion, not entirely true) admission: “mediocre” people don’t have the kind of career longevity and business savvy that Keaton has displayed.

But some of my favorite parts of the memoir were the ones that strayed from typical memoir format: Keaton would excerpt parts of her mother’s journal, then reflect on her own life at that age. For example, at sixty-three, her mother wrote:

I am a woman of medium height: once five feet eight, now five seven…I’ve changed in ways beyond my imagination. the lack of physicality has hit with an apparent permanency. I sleep more than I did when I was younger. My dreams are evasive when I try to recapture them. I’m content to stay home all day, waiting for Jack and our evening chat with drinks and dinner…There are times when I feel like a true artist. At the moment I’m working on a large sheet of white cardboard I’m transforming into a collage. It’s going well, but I tell no one…I guess I’m a fragmented person. I do nothing really well. I have, at the moment, no motivation.

In response, a sixty-three-year-old Diane writes:

I’m sixty-three, once five feet seven, now five six. The feelings and thoughts that overwhelmed Dorothy could and do mirror much of what I feel as well. Advanced age? oh, yeah. Good at anything? I can still memorize lines. Do I fear rejection? I’m an actress. Fragmented? More than most. The difference is–Dorothy at sixty-three was finished raising her four children. At sixty-three, I’m doing what Dorothy did when she was twenty-four.

This journal technique is a beautiful way for Keaton to get into her mother’s head and reflect on the parallel and divergent aspects of their lives, and the format is deployed throughout the memoir. One of the biggest influences on both women was the concept of family, and this “co-written” memoir is a beautiful tribute to theirs.

Then Again was released by Random House on November 15, 2011.

Goodreads | Amazon
I read it as a(n): Ebook
Source: Personal copy
Pages: 304

3 thoughts on “Then Again

  1. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! I’m also a big Diane Keaton fan and am looking forward to reading this. Like you, I enjoy learning not just about a favored celebrity’s working life but also those interesting details about their non-working life – not so much “gossip” as just personality, background, who they are, where they came from, etc. I think sometimes when we learn more about an actor’s own history, we can see elements of it in their work, which fascinates me. Plus, it just humanizes these people who we tend to see as something sort of…not other than human, but just different from us non-celebs. A memoir like this can remind us that when you take away the artifice of Hollywood and money, they really are just people living lives.

    ANYWAY, now I’m even more eager to read it 🙂

    1. There was so much more I didn’t go into, but you’re right–in Keaton’s case, there’s so much of her life in her work (like, I didn’t know that Annie Hall was loosely inspired by Keaton’s–maiden name Hall–own family). It was really fascinating.

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