Unlike the troglodytes of 1980’s American Cinema and their more stoic, brooding heirs in the past decade, the 1990’s leading man in American cinema is annoying, boisterous, or whatever adjective you’d like to call them. But there’s also a steak of conscientiousness within these character actors. Brad Pitt is one, making up the holy four of Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, and Pitt’s co-star Edward Norton in Fight Club. But in that movie Pitt lets Norton’s character – his name is Rupert – do all the slapstick comic relief, since Pitt’s Tyler Durden is already outlandish as it is with his funky outfit and spiky hair, his look of running opposite of his anti-capitalistic stance. Despite some yelling fits Pitt, in the younger part of his career, puts some restraint in his character, recognizing that cool is the opposite of overexertion, although he seems to do both and gets away with looking like the latter.
And no, cool doesn’t always mean flattering, Pitt being humble enough to ugly himself up with out without blood on his face. Anyway, sometimes he punches hard but he can also just hit people in swift movements while smoking a cigarette, as if violence, in Pitt’s characterization of Tyler, is a trivial chore, a part of his bigger plan. He’s fraternal with his co-stars, never seeming bossy when he gives a handful of orders to his disciples in Project Mayhem. We the audience can also see this restraint when he preaches to his Project Mayhem members. I keep trying to mourn the lack of elocution in post-studio cinema, or look for traces of it in New Hollywood actors or after, but Pitt has it, declaring Tyler’s political beliefs not with belligerent anger but with the strength to make it enough of unquestionable truth. For a while.
Why watch a monster like Derek Vinyard? What elevates him from being a monster? Pardon the crassness but movies about white supremacists always star attractive actors. There’s a whole Jezebel stub where commenters admit their lust over actors like Edward Norton who plays Vinyard. Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Sarah Polley, Sebastian Koch, and that`s just from the top of my head. And those commenters also admit their guilt for lusting on these characters, although let’s be honest, what’s the difference between them and say…an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue – not saying that A&F are white supremacists although many people would say so – in propagating whiteness and exclusivity? One method’s just more assertive than the other.
There were also masochistic girls who lusted on the four or so white supremacists in my Catholic high school. I was also one of those ‘girls.’ And guess who were also attracted to the characters like Vinyard – none other than the skinheads I knew in Grade 11. While talking about the last scene the local skinhead leader told me that Derek should be in a sequel where he kills the…and he ends up saying something graphic and offensive. Vinyard’s recruiting tactics work (This leader is now a custodian at a subway station the last time I checked, which is a union job that pays more than mine). Derek symbolizes or is the older prototype of a generation of pissed off white kids who feel like their brother (named Danny and played by Edward Furlong) was shot or exploited in some banal way by people of colour. And now that I think of that I feel insulted by this ridiculous mindset. I’m a gay Asian man who doesn’t have nepotism to back me up and help me get set up in life. What the fuck do these kids know about suffering?
I’ve taken this much time to talk about the personal experiences triggered by this movie but I`m originally here because of Norton’s performance. He plays Derek in three interweaving stages – the first and the simplest one being the malleable kid in two of the movie’s scenes. Norton pulls off the skater costume and shaggy hair, elevating seventeen year old naïvety by showing the anger Derek has memorized, conveying a young person growing the wrong way. There’s the Derek that has just come out of jail, a clean slate of happiness had he never left jail.
But the skinhead Derek is as fascinating. My standout scene is the basketball game, where he’s even cordial towards the black characters he wants to kick out of the court. Norton knows when to look down or when to look directly at the camera, his eyes instilling fear, the sadism of exclusivity, even lending himself to its perfunctory and even disgusting fetishism. He knows when to change into being perfunctorily tolerant to reverting to being standoffish in the company of other races. Norton shows Derek’s at his worst, a character who’s his anger is distilled yet masterfully escalated, a singular and awe-inspiring force, not like a tidal wave with its prickly drops but a concrete wall closing in. How does he go from a new grand master to playing a skinny, childlike, borderline twee scout?
Derek is a fictionalized figurehead of a movement that was strong during the aftermath of Rodney King but the movement seems probably dated or obscured now, since conflicts – correct me if I’m wrong in anything I write in this paragraph – are more class based. The biggest critics of white supremacy in its most subtle and insidious forms like the Tea Party and the NRA are white people who happen to be liberals. The conflict has turned inwardly. The organized skinhead movement might feel just as shunned as Derek’s new and troubled incarnation is, popping up now and then to make isolated terrorist acts.
While discussing with my non-skinhead classmates about actors, Edward Norton’s name is joyfully pronounced. He has a reputation for being a demanding meddler now. But we have to remember him and characters like Derek, because he dives into a role of a problematic, reluctant role model trying to make peace with an audience and a world that wants volatility instead.
I forgot: Vote for Edward Norton’s performance as Derek Vinyard here.
…Flynt (Woody Harrelson) discovers God. An old woman named Ruth wearing pastel-coloured suits leads him to this path. He gets baptized in a river, accompanied by stereotypical black gospel singers, robes and all. He misinterprets the word of God or our traditional understandings of it. He tells his editorial staff that he wants to show hardcore depictions in his magazine or have a golden plaque that says Jesus H. Christ on his office table. The older woman drives a wedge between Larry and his ex-stripper wife Althea (Courtney Love).
There’s musicality in Milos Forman‘s The People Vs. Larry Flynt, reminding us that he’s the same guy who directed Hair and Amadeus. Nothing is impossible, not ‘surprise ending’ impossible or ‘special effects’ impossible in 1996 but 1970’s impossible, when anyone can make a big budget film about a man who made an empire out of prurience. Imagine what Orson Welles and Michael Cimino would do if they collaborated, without the indulgences and the meticulous crazy. Who else but Milos Forman, who makes out with Catherine Deneuve in movies now instead of making films as ambitious this.speedy montages in
Even the decline of Larry’s Jesus years play like trumpet notes in the wind. After facing another obscenity trial in some Southern town he gets shot, paralyzed. The older woman comes to him and he laments that he can’t make love to his wife again. Despite her comforting words and his paralysis he says something that shocks the non-practicing Catholic in me. ‘There is no God.’ Powerful stuff.
Then Althea says ‘We are porn again’ with such executive delivery, as if it isn’t Love’s post-Hole acting.
I first saw this film in Media Class in Grade 11. It was my semi-formal initiation into art house films, a class that taught me about the appearances in the media and how they fool their demographics. The People vs. Larry Flynt is one of the movies my teacher showed us. And it was a perk because I worshipped Love because she was skinny and had the right amount of crazy. Because we were in a Catholic school, he told us to promise not to tell anyone that he’s showing us this movie. That makes my guitar teacher who taught us heavy metal riffs look way innocent by comparison.
This movie tells a story about a slightly incapacitated Goliath slinging stones at his own demons, from a poor country boy to starting Hustler magazine. Since the magazine’s foundation he’s been trying to reclaim his control of his publications despite of enemies from without and within. He knows exactly what he wants in his magazine, which forbidden body pats these women will be showing, what or who the women will be with and how it is going to look on the magazine’s matted paper. And will not apologize because of it.
In 1996 this is another male character paralyzed because of his job while his devoted and altruistic wife inflicts harm upon herself. In Althea’s case she keeps taking opiates way after her husband has quit taking them. Their physical challenges intertwined like a bittersweet tragedy, this time playing out within the tacky opulence we expect from an adult entertainment mogul.
I think it difficult for Love to play a drug addict or easy, depending on what you think and/or know about her. And if Harrelson, who got an well-earned Academy Award nomination for this role, loses the physical charm that he gives Larry in the movie’s first half, he becomes one of many actors playing physically challenged roles excellently, using his face to deliver emotion, compassion and affection. His eyes go to and fro before the words slowly leave his tense jaw, talking with the direct authority and a cultivated deep slur that the real Larry Flynt still has. His blue eyes mark the traces of handsomeness, coming out through the unkempt hair. And he gets to play around with the wheelchair quite a bit too.
Larry Flynt offended middle America both with pornography and irreverence towards sex, politics and religion. What ensues are many courtroom scenes where, among his many troubles with the law, he and Jerry Falwell challenge each other. Falwell sues because of a satirical Campari ad claiming that he had committed incest while Larry counter-sues because Falwell restrains on his right to satire. These litigations are taking place while Larry’s lawyer (Edward Norton) is babysitting him, even getting a laugh from the Supreme Court. The movie should have some credit for America giving Flynt respectful indifference while Falwell, revered in Reagan’s years is now one of the most hated men in America.
- Larry Flynt Puts $1M Sex Bounty on Rick Perry’s Head (inquisitr.com)
My childhood memories of The American President and its run on late 90’s HBO Asia was that Annette Bening as Sydney Wade is the most beautiful woman on earth, her glow of sanity here is unforgettable. Crazier roles almost made me forget, but rewatching is remembering. She cuddles to President Andrew Shephard (Michael Douglas) in the couch, the country loves her, they get all the votes they need. The perfect couple. I honestly didn’t remember how hostile the movie was.
And I don’t remember Sorkin writing the typical second act of a romance movie where the lovers are driven apart. Their differences are more political, as Shepherd’s Crime Bill conflicts with Wade’s fossil fuel bill. Let me remind you guys that this is 1995, when people still cared about the environment. Then people stopped caring, then Al Gore made people care again. The film’s a product of its left-leaning time. Another conflict within the film is how the Republican men labels Wade a ‘whore.’ How dare they! And she had red hair? And everyone else in this film has red hair?
Michael J. Fox is awesome here too. I never thought he could play an adult, but there you go. Aaron Sorkin is a great but with his characters-as-symbolic ideologies method, he’s not the best writer of TV and film. He does, however, know how to write explosive, eloquent dialogue. His America sounds more true than we think, one that doesn’t pay attention to sexual gossip of the Clinton era nor the Tea Party insanity of today. I just hope my country catches up. Also, Samantha Mathis and Anne Hathaway’s stepmother in Rachel Getting Married is in this movie.
Also, I never watched The West Wing“. I know Peggy’s in it, but I was 11. I liked stuff like Buffy and MTV. Give me a break.
Now to Fincher. I’m not the biggest fan of ubermasculinity and Fight Club is the cinematic version of a hockey bag. Yes, I’m turning down shirtless guys with that sentence. At the same time, I also resent that Project Mayhem promised so much but didn’t really happen, or that it kinda did but people turned away and instead defended the institutions that oppress them. But then again, if I ever joined a radical group like Project Mayhem, I’d cry if they took away my iPod. My whole life is in there!
I’ve had, however, fantasies about this scene, as an Asian who hates his job and secretly wants out.
Fight Club, not The Social Network, is Fincher’s most Wellesian film. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) inherits an empire and wants a newer, more radical, destructive, oppressive one of his own making. It’s liberating to blow up buildings of credit card companies, but a leader taking away individuality casts doubts. Yes, this movie was in my Imperialist Cinema class. This film also fits into my unorthodox education, corporate sculpture and bauhaus bourgeois being shoved away by performance art, performed by Project Mayhem.
And the shot composition, finding unconventional ways to light every shot, and often times there’s symmetry despite its baroque angles. And the colour, just like Se7en.
My mom has harped about how ugly Pitt is, an unfathomable concept to me until I rewatched this movie. As Tyler he’s both sexy and bruised, letting himself go as he sees fit. Speaking of Brad Pitt, this was a date movie. That’s as much as I’ll share.
Thinking this out, Fight Club might become my favourite Fincher instead of Zodiac all along. Also, I need to read Palahniuk’s book.
- Modern Maestros: David Fincher (filmexperience.blogspot.com)