As someone who’s done a Nicolas Cage deep-dive or two (and written plenty about the performer’s unique and thrilling displays of tragicomic ability), Age of Cage spoke to me from the outset. Written by longtime A.V. Cluber and Dissolve founder Keith Phipps, this insightful book is perhaps the clearest and most direct record of a generation’s most electric screen presence. It’s a biography of a worker at the top of his field and the field itself, all by way of career analysis—which you have to imagine (given the endless, fun-poking media attention from prestigious outlets, blogs and random GIF-tweeters) is the way that Cage himself would want it. Living up to its subtitle, Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career, Age of Cage tracks the industry and its demands on those foolhardy or arrogant enough to play inside of it while it watches the rise, fall and slowly orbiting return of a true movie star.
Cage himself has entered an era that deliciously complicates the text. This resurgent time has seen him quietly snuffle (however briefly) into the awards conversation with last year’s Pig, while this year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent wowed literally every critic that saw the self-referential comedy’s SXSW premiere (Cage plays a version of himself to great effect). Phipps anticipates this, noting the performer’s increasing acceptance of his place in pop culture. Mandy revitalized his career; time renewed his confidence.
Coming out of the VOD trenches, slowly but surely, Cage’s successes are twofold: Experiments in performance like his near-silent Pig, Mandy and Willy’s Wonderland roles, and his vampiric turn in the upcoming Renfield; and broad meme-centric silliness in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent that is even more metatextual than Spider-Man: No Way Home’s pandering. All of this makes perfect sense after reading Phipps. Not only because we better understand Cage—an industry kid wanting to break free and prove his own worth—but because we have insight into a cyclical business and the ways it interacts with its actors. Even more importantly, we start to see the difference between how it interacts with its actors (Cage in Valley Girl), its movie stars (Cage in The Rock) and its out-of-fashion fodder (Cage in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage). Cage has done it all, clearly out of love. Nobody acts like him. Nobody acts as much as him.
But the definitive book about him doesn’t follow maximalist suit. Instead, plenty of research and contemporary sources back up Phipps’ chronological close-reads of Cage’s filmography, preventing the book from ever feeling overly gossipy or sensational. Instead, it’s grounded and respectful—gestures Cage hasn’t necessarily received since establishing himself as a risk-taking actor whose biggest on-screen moments can easily fill multiple YouTube “freakout” compilations. The historical approach to its criticism makes it immediately clear that this book is taking its subject seriously…something even his movies can’t always claim. Where Cage is a bottomless font of style, Age of Cage responds in kind with clever restraint. It doesn’t make for a dry read, but one of entertaining and informative balance.
From its decade-spanning narrative—covering the early ‘80s rise of Nicolas Coppola to the early ‘20s check-cashing of Nicolas Cage—to its essential Cageography—in which Phipps provides starred capsule reviews to every Cage movie—Age of Cage is a must-read for fellow fans of the gothic, expressionistic, Nouveau Shamanic, leather-and-jewelry, poetry-and-philosophy oddball that is our beloved Cage. It is a Rosetta Stone for understanding the rise and fall of any Hollywood staple, and one that returns some humanity to an imperfect but intensely compelling figure too often reduced to an internet punchline. As we enter a new Age of Cage, there’s never been a better time to brush up on his impressive and inimitable artistry.
Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career is available now.
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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