' ' Cinema Romantico: In Memoriam: Burt Reynolds

Friday, September 07, 2018

In Memoriam: Burt Reynolds

My favorite story about Burt Reynolds, who died yesterday at the age of 82 from cardiac arrest, was that in 1977, alongside late, legendary play-by-play man Pat Summerall, he called the Sun Bowl. That will never cease to amaze me. Yes, the actor had a gridiron pedigree, earning a football scholarship to Florida State in the mid-50s and having some success before knee injuries forced him to hang it up. But an actor announcing a college football bowl game the same year he has the #4 movie at the box office, “Smokey and the Bandit”, has to be unprecedented. That would have been like Gal Gadot calling the Camping World Bowl last year with Brad Nessler. We talk a lot about movie stars here at Cinema Romantico, and how much we love and often miss them, and how what makes a movie star is not about numbers but qualities more abstract. And I am not sure anything qualifies as ineffable movie star criteria more than Burt Reynolds providing college football color commentary for CBS.

Of course, I didn’t watch the 1977 Sun Bowl. I would have only been a few months old. And I confess, I did not see movies like “Deliverance” and “The Longest Yard” until much later on. When I got around to reading William Goldman’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade (which was published in 1983) I was sort of taken aback by all the references to Burt, having only vaguely remembered him from iffy cinematic propositions like “Cannonball Run II.” No, I arrived at the tail-end of the Burt Reynolds comet streaking over Hollywood’s skies, when he was appearing as himself in Robert Altman’s “The Player” and on TV in “Cybill”, as sure a sign as any that you have settled into the professional period where you can just sort of coast by on your self-made mien. That’s basically what he was doing when he announced the 1991 Orange Bowl parade along with then-wife Loni Anderson. And when I heard he was appearing in “Boogie Nights” in 1997 at the dawn of my quasi-cinephilia, I just unfairly assumed he was going to be a punchline for the sake of Paul Thomas Anderson.

“Boogie Nights” did not cause me to change my opinion of Reynolds, because my opinion was woefully uninformed, but it did cause me to really see Reynolds for the first time. That movie could have so easily stepped wrong and never did, just as Reynolds, playing adult film director Jack Horner, could have so easily stepped wrong and never did, forgoing a predictable unctuousness for an unexpected honesty that came across not just when the character was made to cite the honesty of his work but in the air he emitted in each and every scene. His character was a professional, not striving for recognition so much as demanding credibility, which is what made it so poetic that Reynolds, famously, hated “Boogie Nights” upon seeing it and fired his agent. Of course, he would go on to an Oscar nomination, losing out to Robin Williams, undeservedly per this blog, and that he did seemed poetic in the context too.

It never quite got that professionally good again for Reynolds. He pulled the trick of expanding his IMDb profile considerably in the new century even as he receded from view, his health declining along the way. But then, it wasn’t like he had anything left to prove. I think of him in “Boogie Nights” when that sprawling, astonishing party scene finally winds down and he takes a seat in his hot tub with Eddie (Mark Wahlberg) and Reed (John C. Reilly) and lights a cigar. He has the countenance of a man who has been to the mountaintop and peered down on the kingdom of which he is the ruler emeritus. He virtually shrinks Wahlberg and Reilly. That’s something only a movie star can do. That, and call the Sun Bowl.

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

Damn this is brilliant. "Shrinks" is the perfect way to describe Reynolds' presence in that scene. Such a fitting description.