Week in Review
I ran out of room last week, when I wanted to write a little about Courtney Love. Courtney is a perpetual joke in pop culture, often seen as someone who married well but did nothing else right. Our last image of her on television was the now-legendary roast of Pamela Andersen, in which she was inexplicably always in front of the camera with apparently no sense (or maybe no care) of how inebriated she looked and sounded. It's a shame, I think, that Courtney went down the road she did, because I think cinema lost what could've been a great actor.
I know a lot of you film nerds out there are getting ruffled up, but hear me out. Courtney's getting a bad rap. I'm not saying she would've been Hepburn, but she could've been a great character actor. There are few women with non-standard looks working in Hollywood. The majority of men are usually classically handsome as well, but there are more odd-looking male types than there are women. I'm thinking of women like Illeana Douglas, who is beautiful yet not a clone, and Sandra Bernhard, whose presence onscreen can be overwhelming. Courtney could've been in that league of actors.
Courtney started out with a nice indie resumé in film. In Sid and Nancy, she plays one of Nancy's friends, but she really should've gotten the Spungen role. Alex Cox liked her enough to cast her again in his odd and unexplainable Straight to Hell. Her next credit is in the cult favorite Tapeheads. After that, however, she disappears from film until 1996's Basquiat. Courtney was busy with her music career and being one half of one of the all-time most-famous rock marriages. But if you didn't know that, you probably wouldn't have read this far anyway.
My theory is that she spent her prime acting years in Hole, her band. Her twenties were spent in the debauchery of Alternative Rock. She lost the precious time doing tours with Lollapalooza and Marilyn Manson. But when she came back to acting, she nailed the role of Althea Leasure in The People Vs. Larry Flynt. I can't think of another woman in Hollywood who could've played that role.
I recently watched Beat, the film in which Love portrayed Joan Burroughs, the wife of Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs. The one scene she pull off was the one in which she was required to sing. Oh, the irony.
Courtney has two strikes against her right now: age and drug damage. The biggest crime one can commit in Hollywood is getting older; there are very few good roles for 42-year-old women at all, and Courtney's far from getting first pick at those. Maybe she would've gotten into the drug scene as an actor anyway, but I can't help but think that the rock and roll lifestyle was the worst thing for her. Drugs won't kill a person with Courtney's constitution, but the damage does show, and she wears chaos like a halo. I would love a chance to see into a parallel universe in which Love has a career akin to that of Steve Buscemi, or Warren Oates, or any of the other much loved character actors.
Pick of the Week
This week had three films that were all worthy of being the week's pick. Employee of the Month really surprised me with a stellar performance from the entire cast and a playground of a screenplay. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner outdid that one with its legendary cast and flawless performances, living up to all the hype that I've heard about the film. But the one that I ended up picking was an unlikely romance flick that I hadn't seen since the '80s called Badlands.
On the surface, Badlands seems to be a thriller, but it's really about the love that Sissy Spacek shows for Martin Sheen. The characters are based on the real story of Charles Starkweather and Caril-Ann Fugate. Spacek's voiceovers throughout the film sound as sweet and dreamy as the text of a Judy Blume book: Are You There God? It's Me, Accessory to Murder.
Writer/director Terrence Mallick made his feature film debut with Badlands, and in my opinion, it's his best film. There are a lot of small details in this film that really made it stand apart from many other films. Aside from the overall sweetness, Mallick shows Starkweather as a man who was cautiously polite one moment, and violently explosive the next. In one scene he records a message for the authorities, and says "thank you" at the end. In the very next scene, he dumps gasoline all over the house of his first victim.
Throughout the film, Mallick plays the audience's emotions every way he can imagine. There's goofy treehouse scenes and lighthearted steel drum music to counterbalance the gutshots and arson. Even at a time of imminent capture, when Spacek wants to stay behind, Sheen tells her where to meet him in seven years, in a very touching line. In reality, Starkweather and Fugate were much more evil and violent than this film portrays. What drew the two together in real life was their hatred for their small town and their hair-trigger tempers. Fugate, as played by Spacek is nothing short of adorable. While Sheen only killed Fugate's father, Starkweather shot both her stepfather and mother, then strangled her two year old sister to death. The sheer brutality of the child's murder was what prompted a National Guard search for the couple. Although Fugate was not even fifteen, she was sentenced to life in prison, and was paroled in 1976. Spacek plays her like an innocent.
The story of the two, both in reality as well as this film, were a big influence on Quentin Tarantino. His screenplay for Natural Born Killers was inspired by this story, as well as Alabama's voiceover from True Romance. Although I don't think he had anything to do with the music selection for True Romance, the music during the end sequence is very similar to the music used throughout Badlands. The other unlikely influence is on Bruce Springsteen. His song Nebraska is inspired not only by the story of Starkweather and Fugate, but by Badlands itself.
I watched 10 this week. 280 DVDs in 211 days. 220 DVDs left in the next 154 days for a pace of 9.99 per week. The DVD that hadn't shown up did show up, a week late, in a plastic bag with an apology from the USPS. The red envelope had been torn open and taped back up. I really thought it wasn't coming.