Monday, August 01, 2005


Overrating people is one American pastime that needs to end definitively but won't because of the pervasive penchant for hyperbole in the service of melodrama, self-congratulation for having opinions and the money to make them seem like they matter, and the pursuit of profits at the cost of aesthetic standards.

At the dignified and wise age of 80, Lauren Bacall (real last name Perske, and a relative of Israeli statesman Shimon Peres) is taking a stand against the hype.

Last year she set a journalist who called Nicole Kidman a "screen legend" straight. Uh, no, at age 37, with some outstanding movies and a bunch of mediocre ones, as well as genuine acting talent that makes me forget she was married to Tom Snooze, Kidman is not within a country mile of legendary status.

I'm sorry, that's a title that must be earned and must also be reserved for people who make resonant impacts on the medium in which they work, in this case cinema. Indeed, for people who bring CHANGE to that medium.

It gets better. Now, Bacall has said what so many of us have known for so long: "When you talk about great actors, you're not talking about Tom Cruise."

Again, the adjective great has become one that is used so indiscriminately, applied to so much superficiality and disposability, as to make one wonder if it ever meant anything.

I can think of precious few actors to emerge in the last 50 years who have earned the titles of legend or great. Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Peter O'Toole . . . after that, it gets mighty thin.

One more example: in the local newspaper here in Lawrence, Kansas, Billy Bob Thornton is called one of America's "finest character actors."


I'm pretty sure Billy Bob himself would have a good long chortle at that. He is an interesting, perhaps amusing presence in certain films. But how many people recall him for Sling Blade, which came out only 10 years ago, and how many know him because he's got lots of tattoos, went down on Halle Berry in Monster's Ball (weak movie), and because Angelina Jolie and he used to drink each other's blood??

Fine character actors? We're talking John C. Reilly, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, and again, after this, I start struggling to come up with names. Artists who inhabit the characters they play and don't bring a bunch of tabloid baggage to the screen.

Next post, whatever I write about, I'll address something I like. And it'll be legendary, great, and fine, just you wait!


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