Author Wayne Byrne introduces his latest book Burt Reynolds on Screen.
Friday, 21st February 2020 was the official launch of my second book, Burt Reynolds on Screen. I was joined on the night by my regular inquisitor, Film Ireland’s Paul Farren, who asked me, among other things, ‘why Burt?’ That is a complicated question. The easy answer is to say ‘because Burt Reynolds is my favourite movie star,’ but that wouldn’t really do the question justice. I can’t speak for other writers, but I know that when I decide to take on any subject for a book it must be something I’m absolutely passionate about. It’s certainly not for money or glory; film criticism and actor biographies hardly lend themselves to either.
Paul Farren & Wayne Byrne ahead of the Q&A
After completing my first book, The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out, I enjoyed the experience so much I decided I wanted to write again. Tom DiCillo and his films mean so much to me on a personal level, having influenced the way I think about cinema and film art, that the experience of writing about him was a very personal one; I ended up confronting themes that were relevant to the films, to DiCillo’s life, and to my own. Writing the book taught me that film criticism and analysis need not be dry, impersonal, and academic, but it could be deeply resonant and emotional. I found the idea of critical objectivity of little interest, and I make no claim to any clinical distancing in my approach to film criticism. So when I set out to write my second book, I had to decide upon a subject that I truly loved, that I knew I would still enjoy even when my eyelids would be battling gravity on those long, lonely nights when I’m sitting up typing on the keyboard at 3am, when the dawn chorus of the birds remind you that you have to be up for work in four hours’ time. I happily did that for two years for Burt Reynolds.
People with only a surface familiarity with the Burt Reynolds oeuvre may not realise the scope and range of the man’s talent, and the depth of his themes that he carried from film-to-film throughout his six-decade career. As I set down to write about every single film and every major TV show that he starred in – and believe me, that’s a lot – I already knew that his immense screen presence and personality had a powerful impact on me, but it was when I heard of his passing on September 6th, 2018 and experienced a gut-wrenching and deeply melancholy emotional impact, I knew why I was writing about Burt Reynolds. He became an intrinsic part of my life, and he was there all throughout much of it, particularly the moments I savour the most; whether visiting my uncle’s house, or savouring a trip to the video shop, or sitting at home in my pyjamas on Saturday mornings, and again in my pyjamas on Saturday nights. There he was, his chiselled and handsome face smiling out from that old square television set, shooting arrows at aggressive Appalachians in Deliverance, humorously humiliating Sheriff Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit, or laughing heartily with Dom DeLuise in The Cannonball Run. Burt Reynolds was the movie star, nay icon, as everyman. A rare feat. Despite the riches, adulation, and approbation, he never came across as a Hollywood Other, but one of us.