“Death comes unexpectedly.” This is what I first think of when I think of Karl Malden. Reason being, as a little tyke with sisters, one ends up watching Pollyanna (with Hayley Mills) many times over. Malden stood out in that film as a timid pastor/priest whose support from the town matraiarchs gave him a boldness at the pulpit to proclaim lots of bad news to his congregants, such as the statement above. That character’s transformation into a less timid but “gladder” person, affected positively by Mills’ Pollyanna, felt inevitable in light of Malden’s always loveable persona. Incidentally, his role as a priest again in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront was subtly nuanced enough to keep the poor guy from being stereotyped. That, along with playing sexually frustrated characters in Kazan’s other films A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll. Dying at the ripe old age of 97, Malden represents one of the last traces of old Hollywood, of the just-post-golden years of American cinema. He was sort of an antithesis to the like of Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford, and Kirk Douglas. A humble supporting actor who always forced the stars to work harder, his presence was assuring to the audience and instantly redeeming, no matter how Kazan-esque the film might be.
He may be known more for his music (justifiably) and his dancing (damn, could he dance), but some of my earliest memories of Michael Jackson had to do with his movies. As opposed to Elvis, the only other person in pop music to have done anything like MJ, Michael didn’t sell out by creating a string of weird, cult movies that probably denigrated the untouchableness of his image. As the Scarecrow in the fantastic Wizard of Oz musical The Wiz, the 20-year-old Michael appealed to a kid the way he did when singing “ABC” with the Jackson 5. That strange film, with Diana Ross as Dorothy, did to The Wizard of Oz what Jim Henson and David Bowie’s The Labyrinth did to The Muppets. There is a weird, dark side to everything, but having Michael in The Wiz somehow made it accessible to me as a child.
More than that, however, Michael Jackson blew my mind at Disneyland, in 3-D, as the title character in Captain EO – incidentally, directed by Francis Coppola. Michael and his misfit crew were completely devoid of cynicism, bringing a quintessentially Reagan-esque message of peace and joy to the dark, Borg-like queen – incidentally, played by Anjelica Huston – of a planet that knew nothing of music. Who better to show them music than Michael Jackson? (The entire movie is viewable here in part one and here in part two, although it pails horribly in comparison to the big-screen in 3-D when you’re six years old.) And lest we forget, other memorable screen appearances by dear Michael include The Simpsons episode “Stark Raving Dad” and an uncannily appropriate cameo in Men in Black II.
Thankfully, there is plenty of classic, remarkable MJ in which to wallow right now, instead of the neverending bizarre-fest that filled the last umpteen years of his sad life. Having been born in the year of Thriller and danced in diapers to “Billie Jean,” the legend and phenomenon of “Michael Jackson” is too big for words. This much is certain: very few performers can make an audience forget there’s no live band.
Once again…after this and this. Homage: n., (1) a sign of respect displayed publicly; (2) tribute; (3) a thirst for cash coupled with a lack of creativity leading to artistic violence through a poorly rendered imitation that inevitably creates a longing for the original during and following a period of horror and annoyance [#3 yet to be added to the OED].
From the first time that I saw it (around the age of 9) until I-don’t-know-when (college sometime), if anyone asked me about my favorite movie, I answered confidantly and resoundingly, “The Sting!” The nose-tap became a gesture as common and natural as a head nod. In high school, I had few academic honors (very few), but my speech on The Sting was selected for the “Speech Meet,” at which I proudly orated praises of this film about two studly con men in front of the whole school. It bothered me not-at-all that these guys were basically “bad guys.” Loyalty mattered more than anything else, as they took the master gangster himself for all that he had. When Paul Newman, after feigning drunkenness for a couple hours, lays down four jacks to Robert Shaw’s four nines, proving himself the better cheater, the smirk on Newman’s face is just about as good as cinema ever gets. Newman, it turns out, was a truly good man, not only a loyal one. Nearly fifteen years ago at an IndyCar race at Laguna Seca, CA, I got to walk up to him, though I wasn’t able to obtain an autograph or a handshake. It struck me then how old and frail this guy was, but he hung on quite a bit longer. Now he’s gone, and it’s one of those rare occasions that one has to acknowledge and praise an actor who made cinema better than it would have been without him.
This is late in coming, but not because it was unimportant. Above is the first photo that was released of The Joker from The Dark Knight, a movie that I, along with many others, have been awaiting for a long while. When this came out, many of us shuddered at the image. Now, the Joker’s “smile” appears to have very violent origins, with something worse than normal scars remaining. This is obviously different from the old Cesar Romero from the show or Nicholson from the first movie. Chris Nolan, who took over the Batman franchise with remarkable competence, chose a serious actor to accompany his serious filmmaking. 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale notwithstanding, Mr. Ledger clearly knew what he was doing in later roles.
Now, he’s gone, and he’ll mostly be remembered for two roles: a gay cowboy and The Joker. There’s really nothing more to say about this. It’s just unspeakably sad. The Dark Knight has had one of the most elaborate viral marketing campaigns a film has ever gotten. The rejuvenation of this franchise was supposedly to focus less on the villains and more on the Bat-man. While that worked for Batman Begins, it’s been evident since this first photo came out that The Joker would steal the show. There was no stopping it. Now, as if cruelly to ensure that he steals the show, this character, arguably the most famous fictional villain of the 20th century, is being played with an unprecedented streak of pure evil by a dead man. Prepare for swarms of reviews this summer that read more like obituaries.