So. I've submitted the manuscript of Anatomy of an Actor: Robert De Niro to the editors at the book publishing arm of Cahiers du Cinema. The book is part of a series (Karina Longworth's consideration of Al Pacino is out soon, and Longworth has started a Tumblr devoted to the book; I might do same myself, or something, when the time is appropriate and I Oh Christ do I have to think about it right now) that's pretty strictly formatted: General introduction, essays on ten films that encompass the whole of the performer's career until now, outro (or "Conclusion"), ten sidebars, and supplemental materials such as biographical chornology, filmography, and footnotes footnotes footnotes. But of course in writing about the ten individual films one does contextualize by discussing other movies, and so in the short time I had to write the book I ended up extremely immersed in the man's work. Thank God for Amazon Instant Video, and by the way, Ivan Passer's Born To Win is actually worth your time if you haven't seen it already. After a little bit I started developing a slight resentment. Then I began to feel like Steve Brody in the Looney Tune Bowery Bugs, at the point when he fails to put two and two together on discovery that all of his tormentors throughout the cartoon have been Bugs Bunny in various disguises. "Everybody's turning into rabbits!" he laments before diving off the Brooklyn Bridge. Substitute "De Niro" for "rabbits" and you get where I was coming from. I won't go into the details of a dream I had in which an appendage...well, as I said, I won't go into the details.
The book doesn't mention De Niro's personal life all that much, which was good for me given that the two De Niro biographies I worked with were highly problematic anyway; when I started this project I learned that my pal Shawn Levy is working on a proper De Niro bio, and I regret it wasn't available to me as it would have been an excellent resource. (See Shawn's superb bio of Jerry Lewis and you'll understand what I'm saying.) But given the extent to which certain of De Niro's career decisions have been affected by changes in his personal life, and by his increased visibility as a public person, and so on, some things are discussed. I'm not sure if I necessarily would have made room for a mention of the below discovery had I made it before finishing the book. Said discovery occured at the Court Street branch of Union Market, a grocery much favored by the Young And Awful Parents Of Gen-X-and-Y Driven Bourgeois Brooklyn. What can I tell you? It stocks a lot of good, albeit pricey, stuff, and it generally plays vintage Blue Note fare on its sound system, which is nice. (And sometimes, as when the "free" section of Herbie Hancock's "Survival of the Fittest" came up on one Sunday morning, this music makes the Young And Awful Parents Of Bourgeois Brooklyn a little uncomfortable, and they're not sure whether admitting to their discomfort will make them seem unhip, and their psychic gyrations in this respect are a wonder to behold. Unless I'm just projecting. I could be.) It was in the coffee section. New among the offerings of Stumptown and Peet's and all these new concerns whose rubber-stamped-logos-on-plain-brown-paper-bags contain beans as costly as gold I saw a shiny deep purple package and on closer inspection discerned it was a product from Mrs. Robert De Niro.
I threw said beans in the Krups burr grinder and brewed up a big pot for myself and My Lovely Wife.
It's pretty fruity," My Lovely Wife observed. Whenever I hear anyone say "fruity," I think of Mrs. Bates protesting to Norman about being displaced from her bedroom, but I let it go quick and— agreed—it did have a ripe but acidic sweetness to it. "Do you prefer the African bean or the South American bean?" My Lovely Wife asked. I had to admit that as much of a coffee connoisseur, I mean HOPELESS AND ABJECT COFFEE ADDICT as I am, I hadn't given the matter much consideration before. I guess when it comes right down to it I DO prefer the South American. The best cup of coffee I've experienced in recent years was from a Honduran bean harvested by Those Fucking Hippies at Ritual Coffee. Scarfed it down in San Francisco, brought home a bag, haven't been able to find another since. As it happens I'm not crazy about the fruitiness for which African coffees are renowned; I prefer something a little more robust. Although I'm extremely partial to the Tanzanian peaberry. I contain multitudes, clearly.
Anyway, none of this is to say that the coffee from the Rwandan bean that's the signature of Hightower's brand was bad. It's highly flavorful—complex, as the reviewers like to say. I could totally see it, personally, as a dessert coffee, if I was back on dessert.
The other salient feature of the Grace Hightower/Coffees of Rwanda brand brings us back to the packaging. Which is shiny and has a weird design (I don't think that extended ampersand really works, frankly) and features a shit ton of copy. On one side there's copy that begins, "There is a place called Rwanda." On the other side a couple of paragraphs signed "Grace Hightower De Niro," beginning "We believe that doing good business means doing good for the communities in which we work." On the back, a sticker that, in this case, tells the story of Buf Café founder Epiphanie Mukashyaka; below that, on the package itself, an explanation of the "Signature Series." If all this copy doesn't keep you engaged while the coffee brews, or if you want to learn more (and my feeling is that the people behind the product are going for the latter) there is of course a website for you.
I don't point this out to make fun. It's pretty clear this business idea emerged from a philanthropic impulse on Hightower's part, and a laudable philanthropic interest at that. What's interesting is the way that this enterprise so neatly slots into the contemporary Way Of Doing Things. Anyone who's tried to get a business off the ground or publish a book or do something along such lines is invariably told that regardless of how strong your idea might be, it cannot be launched without a PLATFORM. A celebrity, or the wife of a celebrity, or the partner in a celebrity marriage that has already established its philanthropic bona fides, already has, it is universally acknowledged, a viable platform. Once that's established, the individual with the platform will be told that he or she needs to construct a narrative. This is regardless of whether the venture is charitable or profit-driven; narrative is all, even if it's made up. In Hightower's case, the possible narratives have deep roots in recent history and of course the chosen narrative is the one that is all about hope. One that also, here, tends to assuage non-climate-change-related concerns about the ethics of coffee consumption. At least until the contrarian perspective on that starts coming into vogue, as it may be. (I read a headline somewhere the other day about how "foodies" were actually morally reprehensible, or something, but you know I almost never have been able to hear or read the word "foodie" without throwing up so I skipped the actual article.) Until then, if you're looking for a fruity and complex coffee that supports a growth industry in a particularly fraught part of Africa, I give Grace Hightower's brand a thumb's up.