In 1970, a few weeks before he turned 17, Barry Sonnenfeld was at the Winter Festival for Peace concert at Madison Square Garden. It was after 2 a.m., the latest the teen had ever been out. Jimi Hendrix was warming up, and the audience buzzed in anticipation. “We were about to witness history,” recalls Sonnenfeld. Suddenly he heard his own name over the loudspeaker. “Barry Sonnenfeld. Call your mother.” The crowd took up his first name as a chant. Barry rushed to a phone, convinced his father had died. No, his mother said, weeping. She was calling because Barry had said he’d be home at 2. Barry’s father lived into his 90s.
Sonnenfeld, legendary cinematographer on the first three Coen brothers’ films and director of The Addams Family, Get Shorty and Men in Black, among others, does more than name-drop or recall Hollywood vignettes in this funny, wry and thoroughly entertaining memoir. Sonnenfeld is, above all, a storyteller, and while his own journey from a skinny, French horn-playing kid to a successful director drives the breezy narrative, he takes time to bring supporting characters irreverently to life—his overprotective mother, Kelly, who spent years threatening suicide, and his father, Sonny, who tormented her with his many affairs. Against this backdrop, Sonnenfeld’s loving and happy family life with his wife, Sweetie, shines through.
Movie buffs, of course, will be most pleased with anecdotes from Sonnenfeld’s time at NYU film school, his work with the Coen brothers and actor Penny Marshall, as well as the growth and development of his own directing style.
At the outset, Sonnenfeld shares what might be his life philosophy: Regret the past, fear the present, dread the future. Yet, somehow, he reflects, “I’ve managed to live an unusual and amazing life.”