' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...Jack and LeBron

Friday, May 05, 2023

Some Drivel On...Jack and LeBron

The further I get from “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” (2019), the more I think it’s my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie, the one in which he most successfully transforms his preferred method of pastiche and self-awareness into something less gloating than moving. I’m 45, after all, halfway between 40 and 50, halfway home altogether, and OUTH is about the passage of time, told through the fading twilight of a friendship between an actor and a stuntman (Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, respectively), of each man’s career, and of the 1960s. This is all brought home in a late movie montage in which Q.T. repurposes The Rolling Stones’ baroque slice of go-away-girl pop “Out of Time” as a goodbye to Hollywood, one that probably never even existed except in the minds of those of us who didn’t live through it, elevating that Hollywood into myth through the fantastical conclusion, suspended in “a beautiful lie,” to quote Carol (Christine Baranski) of another ode to La La Land, “Bowfinger.” If it was pure coincidence that Tarantino’s last joint was released the same summer as Bruce Springsteen’s nineteenth studio album, it proved cosmically befitting given just how exquisitely that fantastical conclusion lived out Springsteen’s title track: “the western stars are shining bright again.” For one night, at least.


After the most recent Academy Awards, there was a lot of talk about a conspicuous vacuum of star power that could not be filled, rendering Hollywood’s ostensible biggest night as less radiant than ever, a troubling metaphor for the whole industry. The Oscar telecasts I grew up on almost always seated Jack Nicholson right down front, and when the hosts ribbed him, it was acknowledging him as the real star of the show, to the Academy Awards as Mickey Mouse is to Disneyland. He watched the Oscars like he watched the Los Angeles Lakers, faithfully, from his courtside seat, “grin(ning) at the TV camera,” to quote Roger Ebert, “as if he expected the players to commit lascivious deeds right there on the floor.” Jack, however, relinquished his first pew at the Academy Awards a while ago, just as he mostly stopped attending Lakers games since the COVID-19 Pandemic. His courtside seat at the Staples Center Crypto.com Arena might have been generally occupied by someone else, but just like the Oscars, you could feel the void.

Nicholson has not made a movie since 2010 and there was some hullabaloo recently when some sleazy tabloid proffered images of the 85-year-old Nicholson, seemingly having just woken up and standing on a balcony. The reaction was disheartening. Disheveled and unrecognizable were a couple of the adjectives used to describe him and I mean, the dude can’t be unrecognizable, can he, if your dumbass headline says he’s Jack Nicholson and who among us, 85 or 15, doesn’t look disheveled in the damn morning. This went hand in hand with rumors about his mental state that seemed strictly that, rumors, and so which we will not dignify by repeating here.

It made me think about last September when I exited Wintrust Arena in downtown Chicago after my beloved Sky had lost a heartbreaker that would have sent them back to the WNBA Finals to try and repeat as champion. Candace Parker, their straw that stirred the drink, had not played well, not least because her coach failed to properly pace the 37-year-old’s minutes, leaving her palpably exhausted come crunch time. Walking home after the game, two teenage girls in front of me talked trash for must have been five minutes straight about Parker’s underwhelming performance.” Kids,” I wanted to pull them aside and lecture, “she’s a 37-year-old with bad knees who just played her third game in five days. Someday, believe me, you will understand.” You think you have all the time in the world, until suddenly, you don’t.


Though sports are innately a physical pursuit, professional sports often get bogged down in narrative, as LeBron James has, from future king to King to villain to prodigal son, etc., and I confess, from time to time, I could let those surrounding narratives dictate how I felt about him too, failing to grasp the fundamental truth of his athletic transcendence. My moment of clarity was the three-quarter-court bounce pass he unfurled to Kevin Durant in a preliminary game against France at the 2012 London Olympics, which fully embodied both the tangible and the abstract of LeBron, his incredible strength and acute vision and the awe invoked when he harnessed those skills. It’s the kind of raw athleticism that simply can’t last forever, and as his reign over the NBA has ineffably ended in the intervening 11 years, those overpowering moments of physical wonder waned. It’s what his made his Los Angeles Lakers first round Western Conference playoff series matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies so compelling, the latter led by Ja Morant, whose recklessly spectacular style of play demonstrates a blithe indifference to consequences encapsulating the kind of youth once possessed by a LeBron who has now re-engineered his game to fit his age, leaning heavily on smarts and savvy, on knowing his body, when to go hard, when to rest. The Lakers won, crushing the Grizzlies in Game 6 by a cool 40. Age before beauty, goat cheese, indeed.


It’s not mine to say why Jack Nicholson chose to show up at Staples Center Crypto.com Arena for Game 6, whether it was to put himself out there in public after the balcony photos or just for the chance to see his beloved Lakers close out the Grizz, but there he was. Jack is probably the one person in the world who could have walked right on the court and over to LeBron, but even LeBron knows who comes first in Hollywoodland and so he walked over to Jack, the two men half-embracing, chatting for a bit before the game commenced. LeBron entered the league in 2003, the same year Jack was last nominated for an Oscar, and now it was 20 years later, both men approaching the end in different ways, and I couldn’t help but notice that Nicholson wasn’t wearing his trademark shades. Maybe the future isn’t always so bright, but maybe that makes the present even more vivid.

Here’s to the cowboys, and the riders in the whirlwind / 
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again

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