Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1967

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Crazy Cool Vs. Warm and Sane - Rating the Icons


If one looks at the stars of Hollywood--themselves, our perception of them, their personae--with the right kind of eyes, you can see in their sparkling allure a subtle but distinct difference - there are really two kind of actors, people, souls, beings - the crazy and the sane, the alive and the sleeping, its all split along a narrow axis that I've suddenly been able to point to in my cosmic DNA astronomical map of cinema.

One side is cool, mysterious even to themselves, perhaps violent at times but awake, always awake to the cosmic horror. Andre Bazin described Bogart as possessing "existential maturity which gradually transforms life into a stubborn irony at the expense of death." This irony and maturity needn't run in every "cool" actor - they are just two tricks of survival and endurance for those of us who have at some early or fundamental level--had to move past the normal parameters of the social order. They are the "introverted" artists of Jung, the people for whom death is always on the radar screen; they feel more at home in hell than in a classroom.

On the other side are the warm, socially engaged types for whom cultural norms and parent-instilled beliefs are taken almost subliminally as their own. It's hard to say exactly what it is... maybe they've never done acid? aren't alcoholics? haven't killed anyone or otherwise been forced to recognize the flimsiness of the facade that is our social network? There's something that keeps them in check, keeps them rooted and sane - dependable and sometimes dull; they'll never believe in aliens; they believe, deep down, that someone is in charge... somewhere, and order is a fact of life. They frequently win Oscars. They are active in the community, never questioning the shared values by which they excel. They don't push the bourgeoisie boundaries since--by and large--they don't even see them. The more they "try" to be cool and dangerous, the more sane and normal they seem, though sometimes this can be endearing (Peter Fonda as the leader of THE WILD ANGELS). The reverse is more often than not creepy (Jack trying to be a "normal" dad in the first half of THE SHINING)

I've always been very prejudiced to the crazies, but of course both are essential to the evolution of humanity as a whole. Some of the warm types have managed to become cool through life experience - I would say Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Heath Ledger and Naomi Watts all fit into that "trans" category. And cool types can become warm through mainstream acceptance, Oscars, spiritual awakening, etc. it's much sadder in this direction, as the actor often seems to have fallen into a pool of hungry ghostitude, like Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Robin Williams and Kevin Spacey.

THE CRAZY COOL TYPES--born, bred and bonded-- would include: Asia Argento, Christopher Walken, Jon Voight, Gary Oldman, Bruce Lee, Heath Ledger, Fred Williamson, Lee Marvin, Bogart, Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Chloe Sevigny, Vin Diesel, Cary Grant, Kim Novak, Jack Nicholson, Mia Farrow, Jason Robards, Isabelle Adjani, James Woods, Dennis Hopper, Johnny Depp, Samuel Jackson, Mae
West, W.C. Fields, Peter O'Toole, Barbara Stanwyck, William Powell, Willem DaFoe, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, Lindsay Lohan, Bela Lugosi, Orson Welles, Lawrence Tierney, Richard Widmark, Ginger Rogers, Tuesday Weld, John Barrymore, John Wayne, Kate Winslet, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lorre, John Belushi, Ice Cube, Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Peter Sellers, Harvey Keitel, Rutger Hauer, Darryl Hannah, Daniel Day Lewis, Alan Rickman, Deborah Kerr, Brad and Angelina Jolie, George C. Scott, Gina Gershon, Juliette Lewis, James Dean, Robert Downey Jr., Martin Sheen, Micahel Blodgett, Roy Scheider, Warren Oates, Russell Crowe, Timothy Carey, Robert Ryan, Charles Laughton, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Al Pacino, Gloria Grahame, Vincent Price, Nathalie Portman, Buster Keaton, Woody Harrelson, Eric Roberts, Sigourney Weaver



THE WARM and "SANE" Types: Tom Hanks, Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, Ben Affleck, Charlie Chaplin, David Duchovny, Gary Cooper, Rock Hudson, Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Every kid on the WB network, every actor in every show designed by J.J. Abrams, Tom Cruise, Glenn Ford, Victor Mature, Franchot Tone, Uma Thurman, The Three Stooges, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood, Meryl Streep, Tobey Maguire, Jackie Chan, Lawrence Olivier, Bruce Dern, Hugh Grant, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Renee Zellweger, John Travolta, John Malkovich, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Leo DiCaprio, Jim Carrey, Sean Connery, Nathan Fillion, Steve Carell, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Kevin Costner, Laurence Olivier, Whoopi Goldberg, Warren Beaty, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Helen Hunt, Jennifer Aniston, Kurt Russell, Jonathan Lithgow, Goldie Hawn, James Mason, Fred Astaire, Jessica Tandy, Joel McCrae, Dick Powell, Ali MacGraw, Ryan O'Neal, Ruby Keeler, Roger Moore, Cuba Gooding Jr., Sharon Stone, Annette Bening, Charlie Sheen, Diane Keaton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eli Wallach, Jack Lemmon, Richard Dreyfuss, Elijah Cook Jr., Martin Balsam, Madonna, Andy Garcia, Lucille Ball, Richard Gere, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Tom Sizemore, Penelope Ann Miller, Halle Berry

The IN-BETWEENS: Jane Fonda, George Clooney, Lily Tomlin, Jeremy Irons, James Spader, Jake and Maggie Gylenhaal, Christian Bale, Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Renee Russo, Max Von Sydow, Dustin Hoffman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Greta Garbo, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable, Christian Slater, Elliot Gould and William Shatner!

While the warm are concerned with "doing things well" the cool are concerned with analyzing and stretching just what "things" and "well" can mean - the termite vs. white elephant argument of auld. Of course there's plenty of room for crossover beyond these lists... but there they are... Are you now ready to cast aside the falseness and staleness of warmed over blanditude yourself, and stop being a Steve Carell or Ruby Keeler, to become your own raging Angelina Jolie Warren Oates-style mother fucker? To paraphrase Willard to his rats: "TEAR IT UP!"

POST NOTE: I've kept this how I wrote it originally, but obviously Angelina Jolie would no longer be an emblem of crazy cool. - 11/23/11

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