' Cinema Romantico: The Original OCD Inducing Performance

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Original OCD Inducing Performance

A recent mention of how bad my (self diagnosed) OCD has kicked in regarding Amy Ryan's mesmerizing performance in "Gone Baby Gone" led me to reflect on other pieces of acting that have brought my OCD to the forefront.

How does my OCD present itself in such a situation? Well, now that I'm part of the blogging community I tend to rant and rave well past my review of the film, probably boring everyone but myself to death. But prior to such a glorious technological advance I would simply rant and rave to people's faces and advise them of their infinite lunacy if they disagreed with me about the actress or actor's quality. Even if they thought the actress/actor was good, maybe even great, I would seethe at them for not agreeing it was one of the finest pieces of acting they had ever seen. I repeat, ever seen.

These are peformances wherein I watch the DVD and skip over all parts in which the performance is not featured. In fact, I have probably watched the first half-hour or so of "Gone Baby Gone" about a dozen times. It's not that the rest of the film isn't good. It is good. In fact, it's superb (it was my #4 movie of the year), but Amy Ryan's spectacular portrayal is really only featured in the first act. So when I'm feeling low I'll watch the start of "Gone Baby Gone" and, no, it doesn't matter that she's playing a neglectful, alcoholic, coke-snorting, drug mule mother because the preposterousness of how well she's acting makes me frickin' happy. Look at how she responds to the Ed Harris character when he mentions something to her about how you can snort heroin. "Yup," she confirms. As in, been there, done that, what's the big deal? Maaaaaarvelous....

The first time I finally saw George C. Scott as General Buck C. Turdgison in "Dr. Strangelove" at a friend's house I went out the next day and rented it of my own valition and kept it well past the return date to over-indulge in Scott's plethora of splendiferous facial expressions. The supposed rule of thumb with film acting is that less is more but then Mr. Scott often chose to spit in the face of the rule-makers. I couldn't even calculate the number of times I've watched that first extended scene in the war room. Has anyone ever chewed gum with such nervous ferocity? Has anyone ever commanded a room with such fervor despite being so clueless? Has anyone ever raised his eyes with such vigor? And General Buck C. Turdgison is essentially the reason for Johnny Depp's performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" existing.

We all know I love that performance to a degree of unrivaled absurdity. But let's just say that in the wake of the film's DVD release I treated his scenes like Sierra Nevada in a sampler case of beer - just the good stuff, thanks. In all honesty, the rest of the movie isn't all that good. He was so astounding he made the rest of the movie seem a lot better then it had any right being. Watch him as he reluctantly shakes the hand of Captain Norrington after saving Elizabeth, or the expression on his face as he realizes the identity of the female standing in the line of pirates, or the look on his face when he wonders if Orlando Bloom's character might be a "eunuch", or the regality he beams as he steps off his sinking ship and onto the dock at the beginning. Good God in heaven, people, do you have any comprehension of good he was??? Aaaarggghhhh! It was so miraculous it makes me want to beat my head against a wall!!!!

I've threatened to punch people in the face for not agreeing Kirsten Dunst deserved the Best Actress Oscar for "Dick" and have nearly ended up in rumbles over people disputing Kevin Kline's magnificence in "A Fish Called Wanda". I get passionate about these performances, people. They don't just wander around the corner, whistling, carrying a sack of groceries every day, for God's sake! They're one in a million! And so if I see one, hey, I'm gonna' be happy about it and if my happiness presents itself in the form of obsession and compulsion, SO BE IT! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?!

But as with in any situation such as this one thing sets the precedent. One came before the rest. One broke the ground. One was the trendsetter, the pioneer, the creme de la creme, the bee's knees. One was to me what Brando was to an entire generation of male actors.

Have I suitably overhyped this enough for you? No? I haven't?

One was Hillary AND Norgay. One was Lewis AND Clark. One was Armstrong AND Aldrin. One was Mozart AND Beethoven. One was Ellington AND Basie. One was Stagg AND Yost (for all you college football geeks reading along).

Only one was Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace in "Pulp Fiction".

Most of you that read this blog probably didn't know me back at the time this film was released. In some ways it's hard to put into words exactly what came over me at the time. It's like someone from the 60's trying to describe Woodstock. Christ, man, you just had to be there. I'd seen movies that overwhelmed me and gave me glimpses at my cinematic OCD but never an individual performance.

I had not seen Uma in a movie and perhaps that was part of the allure - a mystery woman playing a mystery woman. In a way her character was the Female Harry Lime (i.e. Orson Welles in "The Third Man"). At the start of the film the other characters are talking specifically about her and about how some dude named Tony Rocky Horror got thrown out of a window just for giving her a foot massage and so she's built up to mythic proportions and only then does she make her entrance.

I was a kid raised on Errol Flynn's swashbucklers from the 30's and 40's and John Candy comedies and the (real) "Star Wars" movies. The performances I had seen were either of the present or of the past. No middle ground. But Thurman in "Pulp Fiction" had one foot in the here and now and one foot in the there and gone. It was utterly unlike anything I'd seen.

She and Vincent (John Travolta) pull into the parking lot of Jack Rabbit Slim's and he decrees he wants to go somewhere else and get a steak. She replies, "You can get a steak here, daddy-o." That's a retro line, obviously, but her delivery isn't retro. She's not trying to sound hip. She's just trying to get this whiny jackass into the restaurant. Likewise when they enter and the Ed Sullivan impersonating host is looking for their reservation she intones, "We had a car." That's a line ripe for laughs as we don't yet understand the restaurant substitutes car seats for booths. But Thurman says it just like any annoyed patron would in the same situation - I made a reservation and the friggin' host can't find it.

But most importantly is the way she plays the scene after she returns from the bathroom and Vincent deigns to ask her about the aforementioned Tony Rocky Horror and what happened him and her. Coyly she replies, "He fell out of a window." So what is Tarantino asking Thurman to do in these moments? Well, she needs to make it seem as if nothing happened while simultaneously make it seem as if something did happen without tipping her hand. It's like Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca" not cluing the audience into whether she would go with Rick or Laszlo.

Ah, except, as film historians will tell you, the screenplay for "Casablanca" was in constant fluctuation and the end wasn't set as filming progressed so Bergman herself had no idea which way her character would go. But Thurman was well aware of the twist contest on its way and how the twist contest would lead into Vincent having to save her from an overdose and thus the wrath of "The Big Man" and how all that was happening was leading into all of that and she still didn't tip her hand! (Can't I get an amen? Can someone second my emotion? Please?)

The way she looked at Vincent while they were "comfortably shar(ing) a silence". I didn't know you could look at someone like that in a movie. The way she walked through the bathroom door. I didn't know you could walk through a door like that in a movie. (My best friend once dismissed this scene by saying, "All she did was walk through a door." ALL SHE DID WAS WALK THROUGH A DOOR?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!! CHAPLIN COULDN'T HAVE WALKED THROUGH A DOOR LIKE THAT!!!) The way she looked at the menu when she ordered. She actually looked. No one looked at menus when they ordered in movies. They ordered whatever the screenplay told them to order but she gave the appearance of going through a real decision making process. And when she said she wanted her shake "Martin and Lewis" she was so adamant about it. At that age I had no idea who Martin and Lewis were but, damn it, I wanted to find out!

I still have the Mia Wallace poster I bought 12 years ago that was taped to my bedroom and dorm room walls and that is creased and worn and weighed down by excessive tape still stuck to its back and thumb tack holes. But I can't rid of it. I can't!

This was the first performance that caused me to seek out an actress or actor's entire back catalogue and so, yes, there was a time I laid claim to having seen every Uma Thurman movie ever made.

This is the performance that....oh boy, do you get the feeling we could be here all day? Yeah. So do I. Therefore I'm just going to indulge in a marathon of the first act of "Gone Baby Gone", the war room scene in "Dr. Strangelove", Captain Jack Sparrow marooned on the island in "Curse of the Black Pearl", the scene in "A Fish Called Wanda" where Kevin Kline pretends to be the FBI agent, the scene in "Dick" when Kirsten Dunst advises her brother it was she who asked Nixon to end the Vietnam War, and, of course, one passage from "Pulp Fiction" - "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife".

And then I'll be calling someone to drive me to the hospital.

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