' ' Cinema Romantico: Shout-Out to the Extra: Men in Black Version

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Shout-Out to the Extra: Men in Black Version

Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.

“This makes total sense. How else do you explain New York?” This is what Darrell Edwards (Will Smith), newly christened as Agent J says upon learning from his mentor Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) that Earth is overrun by aliens, all of whom have adopted some sort of human visage to blend in, and which leads their secret organization, the Men in Black, which gives Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1997 blockbuster its title, to move about undetected and maintain order. And Edwards’s line is a funny joke, see, because New York, see, is overrun by so many crazy crazies that the only possible explanation for such behavior is them all being aliens.

When I visited my best friend in Brooklyn for the first time many years ago, we had not been on the street more than a minute when some dude in a flannel shirt on the other side of the street began shouting for no particular reason. Shouting about what I am not entirely sure because it was difficult to decipher, but he was likely irate with some perceived slight, probably afforded by the universe, or an invisible man, I don’t know, and what truly stayed with me about the moment was how everyone else on his side of the street and our side of the street just coolly rolled with it, some of them even smiling, just another day. And in my subsequent visits to Brooklyn, and the rest of New York, I have seen this same sort of public dispassion on display many times more, and I am so impressed with it that I have sort of adopted this public dispassion, with a few modifications, for my own similar encounters on the streets of Chicago, or in Mariano’s grocery stores, where I was on Monday in the donwnstairs bar where some guy had a moved a chair under the escalator and was vociferating at the linoleum floor while changing his socks.

“Men in Black” brings this public dispassion home acutely when Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio), a farmer whose body has been assumed by an alien bug, arrives in New York, stumbles out of his truck and then stumbles around in a hysterically off-kilter manner that appropriately embodies an E.T. inside a human. And as he passes by some archetypal New York bystander, he raises his hand, like he’s crossing the street and the bystander is a car and he’s telling the car not to go until he’s finished crossing. And the extra portraying the bystander makes it to Warp 10.

Lord, this guy plays the moment with precision. Your natural inclination to assume the role of a bystander encountering a dude on the street whose body is making motions that shouldn’t be possible is probably to overplay, to really recoil or widen your eyes or drop your jaw. Not this extra. No, this extra knows he’s a New Yorker. This extra not only does not give an inch, and not only does not really even change his facial expression, he just keeps right on walking, a passerby literally passing by an alien by, rolling with it, whatever, dude, whoever you are. Later that night he probably watched the Mets game at his preferred watering hole and never thought about this weird, stumbling dude ever again.

Pour one out for the extra...

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