Friday, January 8, 2016

Where will you leave Jimmy Stewart? pt. 2: The modern era

One of the very first posts from the Switch last year was inspired by a theory put forth by screenwriter William Goldman that for certain classic movie stars, the big ones especially, we each have one role and one moment of theirs in which we "leave" them in our minds. The choice depends on when we first saw them, whether early or later in their careers, and on how big an impact that role left on us. It's an interesting theory, and I was pleased to see that some people agreed with it when I passed it on.

Goldman hesitated to apply this theory to modern actors - i.e., living ones - because there's always the possibility that they could give a performance that would be better than the one you leave in your mind. Still, I'll risk it by using older actors. Why not?

This may seem like an unusual choice, but not if you know me. First of all, Crimson Tide is one of those macho action movies that appeals to me from time to time. It's basically The Caine Mutiny on a submarine, not that I could've made that comparison back when I first saw the film. But it's this scene in particular where I knew for sure that I would leave him in my mind, where some lowly comics nerd ensign gets schooled by him - and when he says the Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer, you know it's the final word on the subject! (Supposedly, this scene was written by an uncredited Quentin Tarantino.) It's such an incongruous moment in a dramatic thriller, but it's memorable, and in hindsight, it was one of the last times in mainstream pop culture where a comics reference could still feel like an inside joke. So even though he has made much better movies, this is where I leave him.

Some would leave her with Bill Murray, possessed by a supernatural spirit, big 80s hair and all, but in my mind, this is the only choice. What's so remarkable about her is she can make a movie as kick-ass as this, then turn around and make a sober drama like Gorillas in the Midst or Death and the Maiden, or a silly, lovable comedy like Dave or Galaxy QuestAliens was a movie that played on cable a lot when I was a kid, so that's one reason why her performance here is so indelible in my mind, but over time, I also realized she doesn't sacrifice her femininity in this role. In retrospect, that's a minor miracle. So yeah, she stays in that room, rifle in hand, with little Newt and the Xenomorph queen, quietly staring her down, daring her to make a move.

I don't think I ever mentioned this before, but when I went to an advance screening of The Big Year, an otherwise forgettable movie, I saw him outside the screening room. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to say something smart and insightful, something other than hey, y'know, thanks for all the laughs you've provided me over the years; you're one of my all-time favorite comedians. At the time, though, I thought well, he probably gets that sort of thing constantly. Plus, he didn't look like he was in the best of moods. I really regret not talking to him now, but what can you do? Anyway, Three Amigos was another cable staple from my teen years, so if you ever see me bust out singing "My Little Buttercup" for no particular reason, you'll know why. I'll leave him surrounded by all those banditos.

I really hope she doesn't give up comedy altogether now that she's a Serious Ack-Tor. She has a real gift for humor - less in the Carol Burnett/Madeline Kahn/Lily Tomlin vein and more like Golden Age actresses such as Jean Arthur or Carole Lombard, where the humor informs the roles she plays, regardless of genre. She is so adorable in Demolition Man, a guilty pleasure movie perhaps, but eminently re-watchable and so much damn fun. I'll leave her singing commercial jingles in her police car.

Not many actors are lucky enough to own an iconic role that embodies the fantasies and dreams of a generation. He has two - and this is the one that spoke to me more. I've talked about the memories associated with Temple of Doom. I can't say why I wasn't traumatized by all the hearts getting ripped out of chests and the spiders and the chilled monkey brains like all the horrified parents of the day thought us kids should have been. I just wasn't. I was grossed out, of course, but that was what was cool about it, in a way. Ask any kid under twelve. They'll understand. So leaving him here is a no-brainer for me, stuck on that bridge with the bad guys closing in... and of course, with the gratuitous profanity.

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