The Critic On Stage

Jacob Brackman '65, once a film reviewer for Esquire and the New Yorker, has turned his attention to writing and production. He came to Boston this week for the opening of the musical version of Cambridge cult film 'King of Hearts', for which B

"...he knew that whatever his talent was--some combination of drives, feelings, ways of seeing, and ways of saying--it must be not simply worn, but used; that if he remained sober, the problem would become one of seeing the universe as truly as seeing himself--and working, digging, grappling, sweating to discover his own role." --Jacob Brackman '65,   in The Art of Fine Words, 1965

When Jacob Brackman pecked out those words 13 years ago, he was already displaying the kind of talent as a writer that would carry him... well, wherever he wanted to go. And since he gave up his position as The Crimson's Features Editor and all-round star reviewer, he has done just that.

Credentials don't always describe a man, particularly a writer, but in Brackman's case they are, indeed, impressive, and should be listed early in a profile both to point out his impressive and varied career and to get them out of the way. So here they are: upon graduation, Brackman went to work for Newsweek. That lasted about six months, after which New Yorker magazine hired him as an all-purpose writer-reviewer. He stayed until 1969, when he became Esquire's film critic. After four years of seeing more than 30 films a month--too much, even for the most dedicated cineaste--Brackman quit, in search of an entry to show business. He already had some credentials there, too; he wrote the script for Bob Rafelsons King of Marvin Gardens, and, as if all of the above wasn't enough, he also wrote the lyrics for several of Carly Simon's bigger hits.

Now Brackman is back in Boston--for the first time since 1969, when Life sent him here to cover the Harvard strike of that spring--and he is, as he desires, back into show business. He wrote the lyrics for King of Hearts, the musical version of Phillipe de Broca's Cambridge cult film which opens this week in Boston, moving to New York in the middle of October. When we met for an interview at Bartley's Burger Cottage last week, he was relaxed--although he did chain-smoke--open, friendly, and above all, interesting. Not to mention funny.

Brackman seems to have enjoyed his undergraduate career, although academics do not figure prominently in his recollections: "I played a great deal of pool... between the time I spent in the Adams House pool room and The Crimson, I could account for ten hours a day. But it got dangerous at times. There were guys in that room who, without any warning, could shoot two or three racks at any given time."

He sees the assassination of John F. Kennedy as a turning point in his personal orientation, in the prevailing attitude at Harvard, and in the nation as a whole. "I identified more--much more--with the kind of political and social chaos after the assassination than with the kind of smugness that characterized the Classes one or two years before me."

Brackman admits that his undergraduate career was not exactly typical of the "Best and Brightest" atmosphere of Harvard in the early '60s. "I mean, I got turned on to psychedelics while I was an undergraduate. While people were going after that whole Leary-Alpert connection, I was doing the same thing they were. My values became much more in the late '60s mode," he says.

He still identifies more with the '60s than the '70s: "Everything is getting more strict It's the end of the '70s, and the feelings from the '60s are really ending now... I myself do not repudiate the '60s; I think in many ways the repudiation of the '60s on the part of a lot of the people who were shaped by it is just going with artificiality."

We sat in Bartley's Burger Cottage, drinking endless cups of coffee and talking about his new play, his views of show business, and how he got where he is today.

His reasoning for being in the theater now, as opposed to journalism, with which he is certainly more familiar, seems simple: "It's a kind of high you don't get in journalism... and ultimately it's some kind of high you're after."

"I started with Esquire in 1969 with the intent of doing it for a year... I ended up doing it for three years. After that I didn't see a movie for a few years. I really didn't want to be a critic. Most people who are artists are kind of hacks; I was a hack trying to become an artist. All the while [at Esquire] I was fishing around for a new way to write about films. I had a kind of prejudice about being a critic even while I was one." Accordingly, he does not plan to return to journalism in the near future.

For now, Brackman is wrapped up in King of Hearts and a film called Days of Heaven, of which he is the executive producer--another new venture for him. Days of Heaven, directed by Terrence Malik (Badlands), will open early in October. In the meantime, Brackman finds himself in the rather odd position of waiting for the critics--many of them his former associates--to give the verdict on his works.

"I'm turning a chapter now... I'm 35 and there are those two major projects wrapping up now. I don't know what's next. The choice is to go off by myself and write or stay in show biz, try to get into some sort of team project. It would be hard for me to write something long and serious while staying in that New York-Los Angeles axis," he says.

What about songwriting? Brackman laughs and says the answer depends on how well the songs in King of Hearts are received. He talks about the beginning of his songwriting career: "I met Carly Simon teaching creative writing at a camp called Indian Hill. Carly was the folksinging/campfire counselor... so I just started writing songs for her." Those songs are among her biggest and certainly her most serious--including "Haven't Got Time for the Pain," "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," and, on her latest album, "Let's Make Love for Old Time's Sake."

Brackman seems to have to ability to walk into major projects. He must be a lucky man, evidenced by his version of how he got involved with King of Marvin Gardens: "I knew Rafelson and I met his wife in New York, who told me he was going to Big Sur to think about his new film. This was just after Five Easy Pieces. I called him and convinced him to hire me to come out and talk about what his new film should be. It was very much writtern-to-order, incorporating elements I really wanted to deal with, like penny arcades, blacks in periwinkle shoes...." Periwinkle shoes? "Yeah," he smiles, grinning wolfishly, trying to gauge the shock value.