Nationality: American. Born: Miami Beach, Florida, 14 January 1949. Education: University of Michigan, B.A., 1970, M.A. (education), 1972. Family: Married Meg Goldman, 1971, two sons, including film writer-director Jake Kasdan. Career: Advertising copywriter, Detroit, 1972–75, and Los Angeles, 1975–77; screenwriter, from 1977; directed first film, Body Heat , 1981. Awards: Directors Guild of America Award, for The Big Chill , 1983; Golden Lion
Films as Director:
Body Heat (+ sc)
The Big Chill (+ exec pr, sc)
Silverado (+ pr, cosc)
The Accidental Tourist (+ ro)
I Love You to Death
Grand Canyon (+ pr, co-sc)
Wyatt Earp (+ pr, sc)
Mumford (+ pr, sc)
The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner) (co-sc)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg) (co-sc); Continental Divide (Apted)
Return of the Jedi (Marquand) (co-sc)
Into the Night (Landis) (ro)
Cross My Heart (Bernstein) (pr)
Immediate Family (Kaplan) (exec pr)
Jumpin' at the Boneyard (Stanzler) (exec pr)
The Bodyguard (Jackson) (pr, sc)
As Good as It Gets (Brooks) (ro)
Home Fries (Parisot) (pr)
By KASDAN: books—
The Empire Strikes Back Notebook , edited by Diane Attias and Lindsay Smith, New York, 1980.
The Art of Return of the Jedi , with George Lucas, New York, 1983.
The Big Chill , with Barbara Benedek, New York, 1987.
Wyatt Earp: The Film and the Filmmakers , New York, 1994.
By KASDAN: articles—
Interview in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1981.
Interview with Minty Clinch, in Films (London), March 1982.
"Dialogue on Film: Lawrence Kasdan," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1982.
Interview with P. H. Broeske, in Films in Review (New York), April 1984.
Interview with A. Garel and others, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), December 1985.
Interview in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1989.
Interview with Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), 29 April 1992.
"Lawrence Kasdan," interview with Robert J. Emory, in The Directors, Take One: In Their Own Words , New York, 1999.
On KASDAN: articles—
"Lawrence Kasdan," in Film Dope (London), March 1984.
Fikejzov, M., "Lawrence Kasdan," in Film Doba , February 1990.
Alion, Y., "Lawrence Kasdan," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris) June 1990.
Kaplan, James, "Talking 'bout Their Generation," in Entertainment Weekly , February 14, 1992.
Griffin, Nancy, "Return of the Ride-Back Gang," in Premiere (New York), July 1994.
Norman, Barry, "The Man with the Anti-Midas Touch," in Radio Times (London), 8 November 1997.
Szebin, F.C., and J.R. Fox, "Lawrence Kasdan," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), no. 8, 1997.
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On the basis of relatively few films, Lawrence Kasdan has had a prestigious career as screenwriter and director, though one that is difficult to characterize easily. His early work is notable for toying humorously with established genres like the action-adventure serial, film noir, and the Western without ever going all the way into parody. That is, he was able to convey a certain 1980s "hip" or postmodern sensibility without insulting some viewers' nostalgia for the past or ignoring popular desire for well-crafted storytelling. His less conventional dramas, like The Big Chill and Grand Canyon , experimented with large casts and explored weighty issues, while his most recent work suggests that gentle romantic comedy may be his strongest suit.
Kasdan's ironic toying with older movie genres worked splendidly in dialogue for Raiders of the Lost Ark , written under the Lucas-Spielberg aegis, and his own hyper-sultry Body Heat. The latter contained gentle, knowing allusions to a film noir past while sustaining its own snappy dialogue and suspenseful narrative, and seemed to relish its outrageously steamy setting, an erotic/violent Florida where only the most primitive air conditioners seem to have been invented. Less successful was Silverado , a kind of postmodern Western which shared with the later, lumbering Wyatt Earp a lack of both a coherent tone and effective pacing. Though Silverado 's complicated structure makes sense in outline, some of the subplots do not seem to exist in the same narrative world: for example, the struggling black family is portrayed with heavy-handed seriousness, while the Kevin Kline/Linda Hunt relationship is preposterously romantic. Curiously, Kasdan's more recent genre films seem to have lost that bemused consciousness, those knowing winks. Wyatt Earp is utterly conventional even while seemingly schizoid in its inability to decide whether it is an oldfashioned, sweepingly grand Western, a cynical expose of the "real" Earp, or a dry chronicle of an historically significant life. And French Kiss is equally conventional as a romantic farce, though far more fresh and spirited than Earp. Kasdan's less classifiable dramas have some of the same quirky humor as the earlier genre pieces. The Big Chill was variously loved or hated for its sympathetic yet satirical portrayal of the ego crises of a spectrum of 1960s activists finding themselves in the doldrums of the early 1980s. By the standards of classical Hollywood storytelling, The Big Chill is pleasingly loose in structure, with its assembly of former friends in close encounters during a long weekend; but it seemed to some viewers contrived and slick in comparison to the more low-key, low-budget film by John Sayles on the same subject, The Return of the Secaucus Seven. The Accidental Tourist , Kasdan's only effort to date in adapting a literary text, also drew mixed reactions, but this time the debate was over its success in bringing to the screen a highly regarded novel, and over William Hurt's extremely subdued performance. With Grand Canyon , another experiment in creating an ensemble film with several interwoven plot strands, Kasdan is again in fine form, even if he leans too heavily toward a feel-good finale. There is a wit in the very talkiness of the film, as characters continually launch into existentialistic discussions of the random violence and miracles of life, with the film producer Davis (Steve Martin) downright Shavian in his defense of ultraviolent movies (like Major Barbara's father defending his munitions plants).
Kasdan may eventually be remembered as a starmaker. Body Heat introduced Kathleen Turner and the sultry persona she has continued to use; it offered Mickey Rourke a memorable supporting role; and it made William Hurt a new kind of leading man, with a distinctively 1980s manner, even when playing a 1940s-style victim of a femme fatale or, as in The Big Chill , an erstwhile hippie. The Big Chill boosted the careers of Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, and Meg Tilly, as Silverado did that of Kevin Costner and The Accidental Tourist that of Geena Davis. At the same time as promoting individual talents, Kasdan seems particularly skilled in directing ensemble acting, not only throughout The Big Chill and Grand Canyon , but in the glimpses of eccentric family life in The Accidental Tourist and the joint murder efforts in I Love You to Death —the latter, by the way, a farcical black comedy which many viewers found insufficiently black or comical, lacking the sly, cool wit of both earlier and later Kasdan films.
Kasdan's visual style from film to film may be more difficult to characterize than his handling of genre and actors, though one may note consistently fluid camera movements and a determination to give each film a distinctive look and mood, while keeping a number of the same technical personnel. One remembers the blues, whites, and shadows of a sweltering Florida in Body Heat; the autumnal glow of The Big Chill; the conventional but still handsome Techniscope vistas of Silverado; the glowing landscapes of provincial France in French Kiss and Sonoma County in Mumford; and the pale colors and vacant widescreen spaces of The Accidental Tourist. Grand Canyon has so many scenes inside automobiles, with widescreen two-shots, that it makes the private vehicle seem the modern setting par excellence for meaningful dialogue.
Sometimes unfairly slighted as a mere spokesperson for aging baby-boomers when he is not a mere genre artist, Kasdan may not have established the consistently strong individual voice one seems to hear in his early films, but he remains a formidable craftsman. Mumford has a premise and outcome which many will consider stale—a young man unsure of his own identity poses as a psychologist, falls in love with one patient, is eventually exposed but only lightly punished, since he has brought so much mental health and happiness to so many lives—but the film is so deftly achieved that it becomes a pleasure to watch. The editing is crisp, the smalltown California settings are lovely without looking like postcards or The Truman Show , the dialogue is clever without sounding like a sitcom or Broadway, and the some of the actors playing patients (Jason Lee, Mary McDonnell, Hope Davis) make eccentricity genuinely amusing without condescension on the writer-director's part. If Kasdan is indeed settling into romantic comedy as his genre of choice, one might hope for more that are as graceful as his most recent films.