Thursday, April 05, 2012

CinemArchetype #10: The Wild Man

The most essential (we desperately need it back) yet dangerous of the unassimilated abject pantheon tends to be defined by his utter lack of social graces and his surplus of animal power; he's the shaman outsider, a bit too large for ordinary civilization so he lives--by choice and necessity-- in the wilderness; his hair and wild beard and maniacal eyes give him away... he's the wild man. Any hero's journey requires a visit with him for the wild man holds onto the element that is 'circumcised' or castrated to make a civilized man, and that element is required for success. When the rest of his tribe was being declawed for city living, the wild man stayed behind, and kept his claws. His isolation represents a possible outcome for the hero's journey if the hero decides not to return to the social order with his beanstalk prizes and instead shuns the company of soft-handed mortals and stays in the forest where nymphs and satyrs run free. The wild man can be terrifying or gentle but either way he lives larger than the average bear, and way larger than the civilized schmuck.

The modern sage archetype evolves from the wild man: the sage has harnessed the wild man energy and incorporated it towards higher goals, while the wild man is wild man energy, he embodies it and he doesn't transcend it. Sometimes he can be both sage and wild man, like Merlin. And the knights of Camelot when searching for the grail essentially must all become wild men themselves, entering the twisted forest and letting their beards grow strange and long. Yoda and Obi Wan both start out their films a little wild -- as when Obi Wan spooks off the sand people, or Yoda ransacks Luke's Dagoba encampment. In their instances the difference is more in perception; the more we see them the more sage-ish they become; their wildman aura is based on unfamiliarity (Olaf in HEIDI is another example of this). Thus the sage can enact the wild man to scare off trespassers or to teach the overly civilized and the wise man can act civilized to teach the overly wild, but the true wild man, as seen here, doesn't 'act' anything- he just is; forever lacking the 'lack' that would bring him into the 'enlightened' age.

1. Timothy Carey (in everything).
The Wild Man as Actor -
"One of the most gargantuan and adorable scenery chewers the cinema has ever known, the six-foot-four Timothy Agoglia Carey had a growl so loud and a grimace so creepy he could have frightened Beelzebub off a toilet seat—and a warm if slightly warped grin so goofy and infectious he could charm a kitten out of a tree. A beatnik/hepcat/margin dweller before there were terms for such things, Carey was born in Brooklyn (are you sensing a pattern here?)" - Chuck Stephens ("The Killers Inside Me" - Criterion website)
2.  Robert Shaw as Quint - Jaws (1974)
The Wild Man as Killer - To catch a primordial eating machine like the Great White you need to access the primordial fisherman within. Quint's first appearance in Jaws is one of the great moments of manly archetypal move-busting. "I'll catch him for five, but I'll kill him, and clean him, for ten," or whatever he says to the group of stunned, soft-handed island Amity committee members. He's an Ahab just waiting for the right whale to come along and here it is, eating the eaters who by day probably wince at Quint's briny passing on the street. Now they need him, and for the initially anemic Brody and Dreyfuss he's a blast of manly impetus. They must earn his trust, must show him their scars and tell him their stories and drink at his pace or else go home with ladies of Spain. Emblematic of the aspect of manhood we leave behind when entering the social order, Quint is an archetype we forget altogether only at our peril. We'll be up shit creek when his kind finally all die out and all we're left with are loud-talkin' minnows.

3. Matthew McConaughey in Reign of Fire (2002)
The Wild Man as Warrior - When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro, and thus Matthew goes crazy dragon-killing machine. While little Chrissy Bale hides in his post-apocalyptic den, Matt's out there killing dragons in the wild, eating them up and collecting their teeth. I think old Matt's underrated as an actor, and here's the ballsy proof. Best moment is when he fires right at Bale's head, trusting the dragon's about to come right over the horizon at the perfect time. Anyone who's manned a gun turret or played Space Invaders knows it's not about shooting at your enemy, it's about shooting where your enemy is going to be in a second or two. When chaos reigns, Matt reignser.

4. Gordon Liu as Pai Mei - Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
The Wild Man as Teacher - There's a very thin line between the wild man and sage archetypes but there's no doubt which side of the fence Pai Mei falls on. He lives alone, shunning the company of lesser men, in a graveyard at the top of a high hill and he kicks the shit out of his young, female grasshoppers, even ripping out the eye of California Mountain Snake, a bad idea considering she makes his food and is Ellie Driver, the sexiest and deadliest of all the mambas. Imagine Yoda ripping out Luke's eye to make a point? You can't, and that is why he fails.

5. Brad Pitt - Thelma and Louise (1991)
The Wild Man as Lover - Like the fairy tale wild men, Pitt's seductive cowboy hitchhiker gives magical gifts to the hero for her journey. Of course the wild man never gives without taking, usually what he takes is the bridge behind you, your money, even your shoes, creating an impasse so wide you can never return to civilization without first completing your quest and then taking the long way around. After he gives Louise her first orgasm, Brad absconds with the Louise's money, but leaves them a magical tool, a gun. Pitt's performance in the film is nothing short of alchemical magic - it made him a star overnight. For a hot minute we all wanted to get "robbed" by Brad Pitt.

6. Javier Bardem as Romeo Dolorosa- Perdita Durango (1997, AKA Dance with the Devil)
Wild Man as Shaman - One of the biggest crimes in post-Tarantinoville is how Spanish wild child director Alex de Iglesia has been shafted in the US via poor distribution and second-guessing, self-sabotaging US distributors who replace his films' awesome (Spanish) titles with generic straight-to video meaninglessness.

Thus Perdita Durango becomes 'Dance with the Devil.' But either way, Bardem is one of my all-time favorite actors and deserved to win his Oscar for No Country, AND YET! it's in Durango where he brings the monster home.

 How wild man is this film? The original chicken killin' wild man of rock, Screamin' Jay Hawkins (left) is Dolorosa's right hand man! Rosie Perez is Perdiata! Her love story with Dolorosa is muy hermosa! And when they start to sway and bounce to the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass as kidnapped white kids panic in the backseat, you will be rolling on the floor laughing in hysterical delight! Demand they release his previous film, Day of the Beast, a horror comedy too good apparently for American audiences.  Che, un re flash balujo tu puta madre!

7. Jon Voight - Runaway Train
Wild Man as Convict 
From my 2007 post for the Performances that Changed Your Life Blogathon:
I once had a mystical vision of a giant bull walrus roaring through a whole in the arctic ice; all alone and trapped in desolate, freezing waters, but he breaks through the ice and lets out a huge roar into the empty white wilderness. With that roar, that blind raging shout of “I am,” the walrus becomes one with the cosmos. I knew I could stay happy and in the moment (and not have an acid meltdown) as long as I remembered the loud bellow of this mystical bull walrus. When I saw this film I recognized right away that Manny is the human version of this walrus. Hurtling towards death, frost on his big walrus mustache, howling into the void, Manny even manages a heroic gesture of selflessness before journeying into the final blast of white. One of Marlon Brando's favorite films.

8. John Hawkes as Teardrop - Winter's Bone (2010)
Wild Man as Meth Addict -
...BONE (goes) all the way to the bottom of the family swamp, where the wild man lies, and dredges that deep man up. As Robert Bly once wrote in IRON JOHN:
But going down through the water to touch the wild man at the bottom of the pond is quite a different matter. The being who stands up is frightening, and he seems even more so now, when corporations do so much work to produce the sanitized, hairless shallow man (2)
Teardrop on the other hand is the untamed wild man, the kind of guy that creeps you out at first  but then somewhere along the way, not sure when, you start to admire him. Isn't that so much better than the other way around? (Beards of Bleakness: WINTER'S BONE VS. THE ROAD)

9. Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview - There Will Be Blood (2007)
Wild Man as Capitalist - Men who have grown soft with unearned privilege will probably not like Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. The return of the true king is never welcomed by the pretender to the throne. The haters thought this sort of mustachioed hombre long vanished. Now he’s back, covered in the dirt used to bury him, but his eyes are burning through the dust with the fire of a thousand Bronsons! 

10. Michael York as John the Baptist - Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
Wild Man as Prophet

Buried as he is deep in Zeffirelli's staggeringly long and ignored Jesus filmMichael York is, for my money, woefully under-praised.  Is it just because he's so damned gorgeous and feline and didn't make too many great movies? Well, if you doubt his capacity for wild man fury then you need to see him in Jesus of Nazareth: if you were planning to save any scenery for breakfast, forget it, York makes John the Baptist's holy madness into something far too dangerous for amateurs. Jesus comes to him to get baptized like a monk walking into whirring helicopter blades. Witness Easter Acid Cinema: Jesus of Nazareth! 

11. John Belushi as Bluto - Animal House (1978)
Wild Man as Dionysian Rebel
"Just keep your hands and face away from his mouth."

It can't be over stated the liberating effect Blutarsky had on the masculine psyche when Animal House was first released upon the world in 1978.  After losing him when Quint died in Jaws, we finally re-found him in a ratty frat house, catching hurled bottles of beer like a Zen boozehound amok in the early 60s time capsule forest. We learn at the end he went on to become a senator, which made us, at last, optimistic for America's future. Seen today the film seems remarkably of-a-piece, the era predating the Summer of Love rock explosion, when there were just folkies and soul acts and it's as if Bluto and company are conjuring the rock and roll edge right before your eyes. Belushi shows why he was such a beloved presence and wears his indebtedness to Harpo Marx, W.C. Fields, and Buster Keaton on his sleeve. Bacchus bless and keep his satyr soul.

12. Bencio del Toro as Dr. Gonzo - Fear an Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Wild Man as Deranged Sociopath
Sort of the dark inverse of Bluto, Del Toro's performance in Vegas is terrifying and darkly heroic, even when terrorizing waitresses and destroying things for no reason and howling primordially in Las Vegas hotel bathrooms, vomiting all over the line between wild man acidhead and just general asshole.  When Hunter likens del Toro's Dr. Gonzo to the last of the buffalo--a unique one of a kind original--only then do you finally begin to understand the relevance of what you have just seen: from thence forth drugs will have to be done on the sly, behind locked bathroom doors because dicks like Gonzo ruined it for everyone. The days of giant monster men carving their carnivorous hallucinations large into the flesh of the mainstream are over. The gonzo method, apparently, includes leaving no bridge unburned behind you, only strings of draconian laws made to ensure no one pulls the same shit you just got away with. - (8/29)

13.  Klaus Kinski - Himself
It's fitting that the CinemArchetype Rule of 12 would be broken for Klaus Kinski, by Samuel Wilson's special request. My favorite Klaus moment is in the opening segment of Herzog's Mein Liebsterfreund where he's on stage in what looks like the closing act at Altamont speedway. He'sshouting at a disruptive audience with stout Teurtonic conviction, rabid eyes and spittle-flecked German. I think he wears the audience out. I forget because I stopped watching, in terror.

Looking around the web, there's a lot of great lines about the man, including this bit of spot-on, if broken, English from a KK bio : "Klaus Kinski does over 60 films, alone, in the 1960's, and never looks back once."

Elsewhere on the site, this Kinski quote (excerpted from a letter to his son) which is a perfect ending to this wild man post:
"I came into this world in the form of a human, but the sun, the stars, the wind, fire, deserts, forests, mountains, skies, oceans, and clouds were trapped inside me. Do not be sad, Nanhoi. The truth is, I can never die. For I will be in everything and see you in everything and watch over you. I am your reaction in the water of a mountain lake. I am your shadow and I am the light that creates your shadow. I am your fairy tale. Your dream."
Wild, man. Wild.


  1. Agree that Zeferelli's Jesus is underrated but I always thought Heston in Greatest Story Ever Told was as wild a Baptist as you could ask for. Hell, you could probably count Taylor as a Wild Man too in Beneath the Planet of the Apes if not the first film -- is Wild Man as protagonist possible? Guess so if you count Plainview as one. Another great post but you had me expecting something brilliant about Kinski besides his picture. Any recommended reading?

  2. Thanks Samuel - you're right and I've taken the unheard of step of adding a 13th warrior to this list, in Jesus' name. Wild man as protagonist is certainly possible if he gets to stay shadowy, like Plainview.

  3. Oustanding! Haven't seen the Herzog Kinski bio yet but that clip has to be the "Jesus Christ Savior" performance that's now available more or less in its entirety on DVD.

    Speaking of Runaway Train, the original Kurosawa-Kirk Douglas version has to be one of the greatest might-have-beens in all cinema, and probably pretty wild, too.

  4. EK: Whew, what an article--thanks!


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