Angelina Jolie by Kathleen Tracy

by Stephen Rauch


Beautiful Mess

We live in a strange world, where the biography section of bookstores contains titles about people who are still in their 20’s. By all rights, any bio of Angelina Jolie, star of Gia, Girl, Interrupted, and Tomb Raider, should be divided into two sections: “Beautiful” and “Fucked Up.” Jolie, of course, is both, and anyone with enough interest in her to pony up the money for her new “star” biography would already be convinced of both these things, but would (presumably) want to see more evidence of both.

In that vein (and I think veins should be fresh on everyone’s mind here), Kathleen Tracy’s biography offers ample proof of Jolie’s physical beauty, but while Tracy seems to promise the freak show, in the end she just doesn’t come through.

cover art

Angelina Jolie

Kathleen Tracy


I mention the themes of “Beautiful” and “Fucked Up” because they are the twin poles of our obsessions in the modern world. If you’re going to be famous, you’d better be either extraordinarily pretty (like every female actor or musician I can think of) or extraordinarily strange (think Marilyn Manson or the freak shows of reality TV). And of course, even better if you’re both – after all, we love our beautiful women, but we also kind of hate them (witness NBC’s Super Bowl halftime show “Doing Terrible Things to Playboy Models”).

With this in mind, Angelina Jolie does seem a perfect subject for our attention. As the back of Tracy’s book promises, Jolie has a fascination with knives and sadomasochism, had affairs with members of both genders, and for all practical purposes made out with her brother at the 2000 Oscars. Further, her recent marriage to Billy Bob Thornton, who at the very least is “a little off,” would seem to provide even more material – Jolie may, in fact, be the rare beauty who actually merits the attention lavished upon her.

Sadly though, while Tracy promises a lot in the way of celebrity dirt, it mostly stays a tease. It would be easy to take pot shots at the world of celebrity biographies, which has never been known for its high journalistic ideals, but Tracy commits the unpardonable sin of not delivering the goods. While she does mention Angelina’s long-time fascination with knives and her affair with Jenny Shimizu while filming Foxfire, as well as the (rather silly, in my opinion) rumors of incest, Tracy just alludes briefly to these topics and then moves on, as if the reader is already familiar with them (which, for the most part, may be the case).

To be fair, the book does provide an excellent and thorough background for anyone interested in Jolie’s acting roles. Tracy gives ample information on each project and describes Jolie’s performance, complete with critical responses. But while this method is thorough, it ends up reading like an extended filmography, pieced together from the interviews given by the stars at press junkets. Moreover, too much of the book seems taken from these interviews, instead of any real interaction between author and subject. This flaw, though, that the book is based too heavily on secondary material, may have more to do with the way celebrity biographies are produced than the job that Kathleen Tracy did in writing it.

The same goes for the timing of the book. The decision to produce a biography of the young Jolie was no doubt made to cash in on the publicity of her Oscar win for Girl, Interrupted and her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton, as well as the media frenzy that surrounded Tomb Raider. As a result, the narrative of the book ends rather abruptly, with Jolie perched on the brink of super-stardom, to make the year-old biography (which came out in March of 2001) seem dated already.

The book closes with Jolie and Thornton living happily ever after. The last chapter is titled “Love and Peace,” which reminded me of a romantic comedy where the two leads get together just before the end credits. It concludes, of course, on an upbeat note, but anyone rational knows that the relationship is going to end badly - most likely, in this case, with one or both of them dead. Mixing love and madness is fine up to a point, but these two people are far too unbalanced to keep this one from self-destructing. I just hope, as an admirer of Jolie, that she is the one to come out of it in one piece.

Again, I may simply be expecting too much from a celebrity biography or may not be in the target audience for the book. However, this one is disappointing because of what it could have been. I enjoy Angelina’s work, for more , I hope, than just my own petty psychological justifications because she’s so damn beautiful. Her performance as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted was the only good thing in an otherwise awful movie, and her star-making turn in Gia pinned me to my seat.

While Tracy does a good job of describing her performances, there is obviously more going on under the surface. In an interview for Gia, Jolie said, “You think beauty and fame and money should make a person happy? I don’t think so, if you don’t have love and you don’t have people to share it with. I think a lot of people have that feeling inside, that we don’t think that people care about who we are inside or understand us.” One doesn’t have to play armchair psychologist to see that Jolie is living with some serious damage, and that she projects something that other people living with the same damage gravitate toward.

Now that is something I’d like to see a book about. While this one doesn’t ask the interesting questions, maybe later books (and you know there will be more) will, such as how has Jolie tried to fill the hole inside her? And why do we find these stories so compelling?

Going back to the two themes of the biography, Jolie projects the combination of beauty and sexuality on one hand, and vulnerability on the other. Just as this draws people in, it also scares the holy hell out of a lot of us. There is something about people who arouse desires at once both protective and predatory. While Jolie is not the only one (Fiona Apple immediately comes to mind, for instance), she’s certainly the most vivid case to come down the pike in a while. If the walking wounded are to have their own star, so much the better to find out about that side of her.

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