' ' Cinema Romantico: Actorly Cosmic Connections

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Actorly Cosmic Connections

Certain actors loom large in the landscape of film fanatics. Back in the halcyon days of movie blogging, I remember several younger colleagues expressing curiosity at the cult of Parker Posey which found me, thirtysomething elder statesman, explaining Posey’s place in the 90s pantheon, and how whenever she turns up in something now it’s a like a bolt of lightning from our pasts but also an affirmation of our presents, that we are still here. Ditto Winona, which is why I looked forward to something as trifling as “Destination Wedding” about as much as I looked forward to anything last year. The sway the late Bill Paxton held was similar since he appeared in so many 80s cornerstones and then kept on keeping on, both marking time and rendering it immaterial, which was why his death stung so, so much. Every Daniel-Day Lewis performance is like a cave painting meant to record a supernatural event.

But then, those are names on the marquee, the Hamlets and Macbeths and Othellos. If film fanatics step back and examine the panorama of their film fanaticism then they will eventually spy a few Rosencrantz and Guildensterns too, actors eternally on the periphery, perhaps not informing our cinephilia, not exactly, but placing a subtle stamp on it nonetheless. I thought about this the other night during a re-run of “Seinfeld.” It was “The Chicken Roaster” episode, most famous for Kramer’s Kenny Rogers Roasters obsession which, for reasons too convoluted to explain, prompts he and Jerry to swap apartments thereby causing Jerry to become Kramer and Kramer to become Jerry. Also contained within that episode, however, are the continuing misadventures of Elaine as President of the J. Peterman Catalog, as a spending spree leads to a visit from accounting. The accountant is the impeccably named Roger Ipswich.

Roger Ipswich was among the innumerable “Seinfeld” foils, a character tasked more with getting in the way than being truly funny, leaving any humor to rise simply from the respecrtive actor’s air. In this case the actor was Michael D. Roberts, who played the part with a muted glee that he was the one about to put the nail in this overmatched big cheese’s proverbial coffin. That might suggest Roberts as a member of the Actors I Know First and Foremost From “Seinfeld” Club. Debra Messing was never Grace Adler; she was Beth Lookner. Bryan Cranston was never Walter White; he was Tim Whatley. When I saw “National Treasure” in the theater with my friend Dan and Don McManus appeared on screen I (loudly) whispered, a la the California Angels fan in “The Naked Gun” spying the faux Enrico Palazzo, “Hey! It’s Duncan Meyer!”

But me and Michael D. go back a lot further than “Seinfeld”, all the way to the spring of 1984 and the front row of the Valley 3 where I sat with my mom for a Saturday afternoon matinee of “Ice Pirates.” You probably don’t remember “Ice Pirates” and its band of H2O swashbucklers in a dry sci-fi future. That’s ok. You shouldn’t. But that was around the time I was first forming movie-going memories and so this one, like “Ghostbusters” in the same year, resonated. And besides, I loved liked “Ice Pirates” for the rainy afternoon Planters® Cheez Ball potpourri it was. It aired on Turner Classic Movies a couple years ago and I recorded it and re-watched it and, well, while a movie like “Ice Pirates” doesn’t exactly hold up since it’s the sort of movie struggling to stay aloft in its own time, I still enjoyed the low-key exasperation of Roberts, playing something like Little John to Robert Urich’s Robin Hood, all ironic closed mouthed eye raises and weary eye rolls, which transfused my nostalgia into something more immediate. (Anjelica Huston also managed to come off legitimately cool amidst such low budget absurdity, no small feat.)

That brings me to “A Star Is Born”, nominated for Best Picture, among other categories, at the upcoming Oscars. There is a lot I liked about that movie, and some things I loved, most of them connected in one way or another to Lady Gaga, including the scenes of her home life where she lives with (cares for) [cleans up after] her father, played by a touchingly noisy Andrew Dice Clay. He is a limo driver and the few times we see him he is predominantly rooted to his own kitchen, wise-cracking with his fellow wheelmen, betting on horse races. Because he is her father, he is the one limo driver we mostly get to know, though we also briefly meet Little Feet, played by Barry Shabaka Henley. There are other drivers, however, including Matty. He is played by Michael D. Roberts.

He doesn’t really get a line, not an official one, or even a moment. But background commotion is essential to the atmosphere of these scenes and Roberts ably, imperceptibly does his part, and it’s what I couldn't stop thinking about as I watched him for the umpteenth time as Roger Ipswich, how he’s an actor who ensures any scene he’s in has all its I’s dotted and t’s crossed. And how’s he always done that, all the way back to 1984, two years before Lady Gaga was even born, and how he was here with her, of all people, now, cosmically connecting dots of my own life.

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