Thursday, August 28, 2014


So, here's the next ten years in my continuing list of movies that impacted me most in each year of my life:

1983—A CHRISTMAS STORY (this is one of those films I can see over and over again, or stumble onto on cable at any point in the story and be charmed by once again, like GROUNDHOG DAY or GROSSE POINTE BLANK et. al....I grew up listening to Jean Shepperd in my attic room after my brothers and sisters had moved out (on an old tube radio I put together from broken ones I found in the trash) and was mesmerized by his seemingly spontaneous stories, a kind of radio show that seemed then, and still does, completely my conquering of Hollywood stuttered, this movie gave me exactly the kind of escape/relief I originally dug films for and wished I could be involved with...)

1984—STARMAN (Jeff Bridges, whose work I loved from the first time I saw him on screen, became my new acting model with this incredible performance as an alien slowly adapting to being in a human of the greatest screen performances of all time, enhanced by Karen Allen at her most charming...although it was another flick,  CHOOSE ME, that felt like somehow it was about me...meanwhile I was up for leading parts in a few films that came out in '84 but didn't get the jobs, and since I was divorced again and looking for ways to support my now teenage kids from my first marriage, whose mother had been in a coma by then for several years already from a botched operation, I felt forced to ignore agents' advice and accept smaller roles in bad TV and low budget flicks and do whatever else was necessary to pay the bills...)

1985—DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (The director, Susan Seidelman, had cast me in her first feature SMITHEREENS, but then there was a dispute with SAG and I didn't want to start out causing union problems so someone else replaced me, and now she'd made a feature that got everyone's attention, which I was happy to see as we had been close back in the city even after SMITHEREENS...the mixture of downtown NYC culture and scenesters (a first in some ways for that period), combined with non-threatening broader audience access and appeal, made this a harbinger of what women could bring to Hollywood, though it didn't change much of the gender disparities, unfortunately...)

1986—SALVADOR (Jimmy Woods' performance and Oliver Stone's direction made this film important to me, but even more so was the impact of the subject matter....when the nuns' murders are exposed I heard a wrenching sound from the audience I couldn't identify at first, before I realized it was coming from other film made me do that, before or since...the film also aroused all my "revolutionary" ire, and then in an argument with my new best friend in LA, Hubert Selby Jr., he made the point that if I hated the nuns' murderers and wanted to see them dead I was just as bad as them, a theme he incorporated into a story told from the murderer's point of view...I couldn't concede that point for many more years to come...)

1987—WEEDS (I don't remember much about this film except that it really had an impact on me at the time, particularly Nick Nolte's acting, particularly his face as he experiences a woman's body for the first time after many years in prison...a unique moment in film history as far as I'm concerned, that goes along with two other unique love-making film scenes, the one between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in DON'T LOOK NOW, and the failed but still poignant love making scene between Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in THE WAY WE WERE...meanwhile another watchable-anytime move came out that year, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, which I liked so much I saw it in the theater twice, in love with Robin Wright and her performance, as well as everyone else's...and the lesson of ISHTAR impacted me as well, since I actually liked the movie and wondered why everyone was so intent on elevating it to the worst movie disaster ever...a lesson in humility, and acceptance that it's pretty much all out of our control, considering the level of talent on that project...)

1988—BEETLEJUICE (Not only was this one of the best uses of new CGI techniques, but a perfect example of the acting chops of another favorite soon-to-be-film-star and good friend Alec Baldwin, who was kind enough to stay in the house I rented while he made this flick in order to pay me rent from his per diem for the use of my daughter's room while she was away in college and I was in a slow period in terms of paying jobs, this was one of a series of roles he took in several great flicks during that time in which he played an entirely different character perfectly—like the mob doofus in MARRIED TO THE MOB, the regular working guy in WORKING GIRL, the young Jimmy Swaggart in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE and the preppy ghost in BETTLEJUICE, etc.—although a movie that impacted me more personally in '88 was TWO MOON JUNCTION, not for the movie itself but for the the epiphany I had on first seeing it, based on a screenplay for which I was cast to play the lead bad boy along with my second wife and an actress love I was seeing at the time, but the production fell through and it was postponed for several years, by which time the whole "brat pack" thing was happening and it was decided the characters—originally in their thirties (I played ten years younger then)—had to be in their early twenties, so it was retitled and recast....invited to a screening, I realized early into the flick that my dream of playing the kinds of bad boy characters I'd always thought I was, at least since early adulthood, was over, had passed, I was too old at forty-six to ever show how I thought I could more realistically play that bad boy character because I thought I had been more really him than Brando or Dean or DiNiro et. al. had really been in their actual lives...I know, very arrogant, but nonetheless my fantasy (see the prose piece "Venice CA (1980s)" in my book IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE)...

1989—LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (I was upset that the ending was changed from the book but its author, and my friend, Hubert Selby Jr., was totally pleased with the change, thought it was brilliant and called to tell me so after he'd seen the first screening of the finished film, so who was I to judge, especially since the female lead, Jennifer Jason Leigh, had proved herself in it to be one of the greatest actors of her time and I felt lucky to have met her a few years earlier at a party and gotten to tell her I felt that way, and now she'd proven that to the world in an Oscar deserving performance....meanwhile DRUGSTORE COWBOY had a different impact on me...Gus Van Sant had asked me to write some of the voiceover narration for it (I had auditioned for the role James Remar ultimately got in the flick at which I had an inappropriate haircut and outfit, as I too often arrogantly did, expecting them to visualize my ability to transform into the character without the visual help, and at which Gus had taken a giant polaroid of me he was doing in those days (see his book of photographs 108 PORTRAITS and the cover of my CD LOST ANGELS), so I got to see the jailhouse novel it was based on, the original script, the rough cut (roughly edited version without music or special effects etc.) and recommend a cut scene be replaced and a few other things, as well as came up with a line I thought would make it easier for non prescription drug addicts to understand if not relate to the otherwise often despicable characters' behavior, something like "normal people don't know how they're going to feel from one moment to the next, but all an addict has to do is look at the label on the bottle" or close to that, and saw it quoted in major magazines and newspapers and attributed to either Matt Dillon, Gus, or his co-screenwriter etc. There was no way those reviewers could know I'd written it, but I was entering my I-don't-get-enough-credit phase so though proud to have contributed to a unique film I wished someone would have noticed my contribution...)

1990—LOVE AT LARGE (what can I say? I found and still find pretty much everything about this film delightful, including the leads, Elizabeth Perkins at her most charming and Tom Berreneger at his most Mitchum/Bogie/ laconic...(I also began calling Jennifer Jason Leigh the new Brando for her incredible performance in MIAMI BLUES (in which Alec Baldwin again showed his amazing diversity) proving she could play a hooker in two movies back to back and make the characters have almost nothing in common besides their profession and physical resemblance to Jennifer Jason Leigh!)...though it probably was PUMP UP THE VOLUME that impacted me most personally, as another film director who heard me read my poetry asked to use several lines from "The Healing Poem" (see the book IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE) as the meat of the speech made by Christian Slater's character as he's riding in a jeep (as I remember it) and broadcasting simultaneously in the climactic scene...I was promised the audio of my reading of that poem would be part of the soundtrack to the film, which would have meant finally making some money on this stuff, but that fell through (it eventually made it onto the CD: WHAT YOU FIND THERE), and when asked how I wanted the credit for the poem to appear I said with the songs, which always come up last in the end credits of a film so it wasn't the smartest choice, but it felt like some kind of vindication...)

1991-THE COMMITMENTS (I saw this in a big movie theater in Santa Monica that was so packed I had to sit way down front and was astounded at the diversity of the audience as Ireland was just at the bare beginning of the whole Celtic Tiger thing and "my people" were usually misrepresented with the exception of a handful of films, but when the movie begins with the little kids running around at the wedding just like every wedding up till then had been in my clan (when did that "no kids" thing start?) I was happy to see something so familiar appreciated by an audience of young and old and all skin tones and ethnic backgrounds, and when another scene I dug would come up I'd turn to look at the audience and see all these smiling faces digging it too and think, damn, this is a turning point for an appreciation of Ireland and Irish life and culture in the world, and it was—I was in a couple of films myself that year, like WHITE FANG where I got to pick out my own costume and make "Sykes" a bit more of a dandy than planned, and THE RAPTURE where I played the US President in an apocalyptic scene they ran out of money to afford the special effects for, so I ended up with a silent cameo as "Man On TV"...)

1992—BASIC INSTINCT (I was called in for several roles in this flick and finally told the director, Paul Verhoeven, who auditioned me with a video camera on his shoulder each time, that he and I both knew I wasn't going to get the sidekick role since, even though it hadn't been officially announced I knew Michael Douglas was getting the lead role, so he asked what role I wanted and I said, of course, the starring role, so he sent me home to pick some scenes and I came back and did them while he taped me and then I was hired for a very small role, with two scenes and only a couple of lines, but because some gay activists were against the negative portrayal of a lesbian or actually "bi" character played by Sharon Stone, an old friend from NYC days, and disrupted the filming in San Francisco, they had to move the production down to an LA soundstage and rebuild the set so asked me to stay on hold for two weeks but only to be paid for two days, which my agent advised I do so as not to bug the powers behind the film, but I'd already ruined a lot of Hollywood opportunities with my blunt (and too often tactless) honesty and disregard for the schmoozing and phoniness (I'm not bragging, it wasn't a smart or humble or practical way to behave) so I said no, if you want me for two weeks you gotta pay me for two weeks, which turned out good for me as the residuals from this hit covered my medical benefits for a few years...then when I saw the film I insisted to friends that Douglas was doing a version of my style at the time, which they either laughed at or grew impatient with, rightfully so, but years later when Douglas was honored with some award and they had a montage of scenes from his films with one from BASIC INSTINCT on the beach, I got several calls from friends saying how much he reminded them of me in that scene....but the strangest thing about my BASIC INSTINCT experience is that a man who I'd known as a boy from my Jersey Catholic grammar school, who left after third grade and I never saw again, but who I admired because when a kid got stabbed with a pencil and the nuns kept us after school until someone confessed, he confessed—even though we all knew he hadn't done it—just to get the rest of us out so we could go home, and now he turned out to have a small role, bigger than mine, as a cop (I think when Douglas's character goes to look up some records in another town) in BASIC INSTINCT, and as we weren't in any scenes together I didn't realize it until many years full of surprises life can be...) (Oh, and I was the voice of Kim Bassinger's character's boyfriend in COOL WORLD, a little cartoon character with a shock of white hair, a la mine, and a bebop way of talking etc. as I was making my living mostly with my voice by then...)

(to be continued...)

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