You can discover a lot whilst analyzing film music. As a composer and a lifetime Star Trek fan, I could not help by listening over and over to the one of the most fabulous movie soundtracks ever composed: that of the 2002 Star Trek: Nemesis film (directed by Stuart Baird, music by Jerry Goldsmith). A masterpiece of orchestration, with brilliant motives, mind-blowing adequacy to the critical movie moments – the Star Trek: Nemesis soundtrack score has given me endless hours of joy and intellectual bliss. After having grasped the full splendor of the composition, I have shifted my attention upon the voice that made the music even richer – for there is a voice in this movie that does exactly that. Ron Perlman.
This is how I “met” Ron Perlman – one of the major discoveries of my life (and I would not have, because I almost never watch anything else than Star Trek). In Nemesis, he plays the role of the Reman Viceroy – a ruthless, telepath warrior who only cares about his Praetor Shinzon; while he looks terrifying, with sharp teeth and long, claw-like nails, the Reman has such a voice – such a voice that you can barely focus on anything else. Needless to say that I dug up all the other movies that featured Ron Perlman – The Name of the Rose, The City of Lost Children, Hellboy, Beauty and the Beast, Dark Country, Pacific Rim and many others.
It’s actually strange how the analysis of a film score can take you to discover things that will change who you are forever. Because after having discovered Ron Perlman, I just had to read his book – Easy Street (published by Da Capo Press, USA, 2014). It’s one of those books that somehow shakes you, wakes you back to reality, zooms you back to yourself.
A young life can be shaped in many ways; one’s parents are responsible for the delicate architecture of a soul; but when a parent goes to eternity too soon, values are established and assumed at a much quicker pace; grief strikes and transforms the heart, giving it qualities of a different nature. “Death is a thief, the grandest perpetrator of larceny of all. It robs the potential of all the things left undone and reimburses the living with the bits of memories that, with each day, pass through the fingers like a handful of sand.” (Chapter 1, A Coupla Cannibals Are Eating a Clown).
Having lost his father, Ron fought his way through life when other teenagers still played ball. It was with full commitment and without complaining, as all strong souls do. His destiny as an actor had already been shaped when the drama teacher pulls him out of the swimming team and on to the stage for a school production. It was when he fell in love with theater. A little while before he died, his Father came by to see him acting and the life-changing dialogue sets him on the drama path for ever.
“You know, kid, you gotta do this.”
“Gotta do what?”
“This acting thing. You got no choice. You gotta do this! You got this thing that only some get. It ain’t like you should do this – you gotta! So don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise! (Chapter 4, Grinding Machine). And he never did.
He pursued this career with determination, doing what it takes when there’s no easy way up – struggling for a while. He attended every audition; he worked in a shop with his best friend (and the future godfather of his children), Burton Levy. In that shop he met the love of his life, his future wife, Opal; in that shop he meditated about the roles to be interpreted, he weaved his own dreams and learnt the monologues he was due on the stage.
As it often happens, success comes when good luck intersects with intelligence. Having been given one of the main roles in a two-character play by Fernando Arrabal (The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria), Ron Perlman makes a tour-de-force that ends with standing ovation and favorable critic reviews. His faith and determination to build a career as an actor grow stronger and even if hardships still come his way, Ron makes the best out of every role, no matter how insignificant. It is the atmosphere of growth that matters at this point; the path may still be a rough one to walk on, but the easy street is there, somewhere.
He meets Jean-Jacques Annaud, the French film director, producer and screen-writer – who shall become his life-time friend and a “guardian angel” as Ron affectionately calls him. Ron acts in film for the first time – Quest for Fire is unanimously acclaimed. Together with this film, the meaning of life is also defined. Once I became aware of the fact that everybody’s looking for the reason we’re all here, I understood the purpose of what storytelling, literature, theater, and, thus, film is all about. The reason we’re here is to talk about what we did. And if you talk about what you did in a way which resonates with every other person who’s ever been here before or is ever going to be here again, no matter what their race, creed, ethnic background, ability to speak or not speak language, well, then you’ve left a mark. (Chapter 9, Wanna Set the Night on Fire).
Roles are accepted and refused; his children are born; he meets Peter Brook, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sean Connery; he occasionally falls – his brother dies; he struggles with depression – but never loses the battle, he is never broken. Roles like that of Salvatore in The Name of the Rose (directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud), Vincent in Beauty and the Beast (created and directed by Ron Koslow), Viceroy in Star Trek: Nemesis, the Demon in the two Hellboy movies (directed by Guillermo del Toro), Pernell Harris in Hand of God (directed by Ben Watkins), Clay Morrow in Sons of Anarchy (created by Kurt Sutter) – roles like these have shaped Ron Perlman into becoming one of the most complex, most intelligent and most talented actors of our present days. But perhaps the hardest role of all, that of living a life of integrity, with no compromise, the hard way – is what truly defines Ron Perlman as a man and an artist. I never learned a fucking thing while I was succeeding. All of my learning, I mean all, had come when I was struggling, failing. All of my growth came when things were at their worst. All of the character that I had, if, indeed, I had any at all, came from the really, really challenging times when I was anonymous, when I couldn’t get arrested, when nothing was going right, when it seemed God had abandoned me. (Chapter 16, Not So Good… Until)
I am not prone to exaggeration so you will take my word for it: the last two chapters of Easy Street contain one of the most solid pieces of philosophy I have ever read – and therefore, as any other major written page, they are life-changing. Ron Perlman draws his conclusions about who today looks like, about art as opposed to consumerism, about the essence of living. I’ve never seen such hypocrisy, such polarity, such hatred, such smallness. I’ve never seen so much bare-faced corruption ruling the day and so many people trying to create so much fear and disdain for so many other people because that’s what they think is going to advance their cause. (Chapter 24, Legacy). Sounds familiar, does it not? We now move in an entirely superficial, consumer-driven reality. (ibid.)
Does Ron Perlman offer a solution to the problem? He does, but you will have to read the book in order to extract it for yourselves. His solution deeply resonates with me as an artist – but most of all, as a human being. In the last chapter of the book – The Power and the Glory – he mentions: I’m hoping this book at least starts a conversation in places where it might not have started before – and even though there are little chances Ron ever reads this article, I will tell him: it did.