Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Midlife Crisis Month: Best of the Beards #1: Kristofferson

Do they still do that thing of growing mustached for prostate cancer awareness in November? My sober anniversary month, November 17th, is always stained with the rainy teardrops of shaking and quaking; it's the usual marker between my manic and depressive phases, such as they are. Rough times, man. October is my favorite month, November my least. But what is Heaven if not Hell finally accepted? The flaming beard of the sage is as a nest for the bird of wisdom. Rant against cigarettes and condomless sex still the cows come home, o Safety-First Clydes. Gives a flying fuck doth the sage? No sir. He accepts his pile of Hell fully it so it morphs into a slice of heaven. Or as Kristofferson put it:
"I ain't sayin' I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing.Then I stole his song." 
In November all I do is sit around and watch World War Two documentaries and Vin Diesel (he's our century's John Wayne and don't make me prove it), Tennessee Williams movies, James Coburn, John Huston, Voight, Reynolds and the man with the best beard of all, Kris Kristofferson. (1) See, the man Kristofferson is from a different time. His beard is a different breed from the quirky hipster's. It's all there in the movies of the 70s when country songwriters could still be men. In the movies today the good old boys can only play extremes of the type, so they're either twitchy meth dealers who abuse their wives and children or serious, hard working sober Christians in flannel who just want to teach the son of the hot single mom how to fish, whittle, and tune a guitar before he has to ride into the sunset or take one last shady job to pay for the boy's operation. There is no middle ground today. There is no man who is both reveler and decent guy, spiritual seeker and hedonist, not a cliche'd everyman but a dude who's genuinely free, able to drink and smoke without the score or subtext condemning him. That's why LEBOWSKI would be nowhere without Sam Elliot to supply the narration and Saspirilla drinkin'. The sanctification of the country hombre, old Sam's the link we need. We'd never see the straight line woven along from Bogart's Marlowe to Gould's Marlowe to Bridges' dude to Phoenix's Doc. All we got now is Adam goddamn Sandler and his saintly manchild contingents.

Back before that manchild thing, back in the 70s, if you wanted to tell a story about a raunchy team in the flyovers you could make them hard drinking, brawling, smoking ten year-olds or coaches who'd just as soon call the game off and pass out than snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Those were real men! Even the twelve year-olds. I blame insurance companies, nanny state hyper-parenting, and academic overreach. It takes longer than ever to grow up.

And so it makes sense, it being November, to honor the facial hair not of the co-op hipsters that haunt the coffee houses of Williamsburg, for they'll never be a step away from dyin', or as Kristofferson says in the great and underseen Alan Rudolph film SONGWRITER:

"Do you suppose a man has to be a miserable son of a bitch all the time just to write a good song now and then?"

The hipsters today don't need to be miserable anymore, they got antidepressants and Cialis. They'd never be sons of bitches for the hell of it and they'll never get the nicotine and cyprine stained beards of the 70s dads and groovy football-when-it-was-cool older brothers, the beard that cares without being a pussy about it, the beard of a man had 'passed' his acid test and who was no longer that into looking young and gorgeous. He's above all, too lazy to shave.

So who gives a fuck about that little pisher Jesse Eisenberg throwing his lot in with the UWS bourgeoisie and their smug piddly ass New Yorker subscriptions and their tired tweed jacket self-importance and knowing chortles? Soon my kind will drop 'em down before we too drop, and the new generation of ten thousand talkin' and nobody listenin' will swallow them like the tide swallows the drunken bather. Kristofferson is still the coolest man on TV. And all you have to do is watch THE VOICE and how regularly lanky Blake Shelton wins against the crushingly insecure and narcissistic manchild Adam Levine. I'm no country music fan in general but between who I'd both pick to drink with and have as an AA sponosr, it's old Shelton. You just know he'd be able to talk about more than how you like his hair and what people are tweeting about him.

"The "loving fight" concept was huge in the 1970s, especially, as I've noted before, in Burt Reynolds movies like SEMI-TOUGH. This was the age of bloodless bar fights, where chairs break easy over heads, and people fly through storefront windows with the carefree abandon of a kid jumping into a summer lake. Everyone makes up outside in the parking lot, their macho fury soothed with some good old fisticuffs in the grand drunken John Ford tradition. And SEMI-TOUGH has the coolest two guys and a girl group bond since DESIGN FOR LIVING. It's a trick that we've forgotten in the manchild 80s thanks to George Lucas, who's jedi Luke refuses to fight his father, even though fighting with fathers is a great way to train and get in shape. Didn't Lucas ever see SWORD OF DOOM? Killing can be an art devoid of passion or hate. John Ford knew it, and Reynolds and Kristofferson know it. Because they're perfect.

The 1970s dad was peaceful enough to understand the need for these sorts of outlets for his children and friends. In our more "enlightened" times no one is allowed to fight or have raunchy sex without consensual agreement in writing beforehand, and gloves on all contacting parts, or even the compulsive need to boast, overthink, drain the spontaneous joy out of it, and feel guilty afterwards, second-guessing and self sabotage all because we drank the nonsmoking manchild/perfect man dichotomy rom-com Kool Aid, which is exactly how European men describe the American woman's attitude towards sex. For all it's tossed-off clumsiness and Burt's intentionally shocking freedom with vulgarity and the N-word, SEMI-TOUGH is a rare document revealing that if only for a decade, we had sex like the French and fought like Americans instead of the sad reverse." (MORE)


We can see dim shades of it in Demi Moore and Ashton, but that's far more about, or seems about, two insecure narcissists desperate to connect. Modern Ashton and Burt in 1974 share a certain immature rawness, where you could understand an older woman going for it, because she knows she has something worthwhile to give them in return for suckling on their youth, more than money or maternal support they offer a kind of knowing sexual and professional wisdom. But there's no comparison beyond that because unlike Ashton, Burt was/is a real man. And here on Larry King he's being more emotional than Shore was, and that's why it's so brave, why it brings me almost to my knees to read that interview above because it reminds me of something our 21st century man has yet to find. Male sensitivity now is inescapable, and therefore worthless. What once was manly grace is now just passive-aggressive snickering boy nonsense wrapped in high-voiced ectomorphic pretentiousness. Dinah would bitch slap the lot of them, while Burt cracked up in the background, and because she's not here to do it, we all mourn. (more)

1. I should add I'm very unnerved by Kristofferson when he's clean shaven. I know laudable critics from Kim Morgan to David Thomson love the naked faced KK in films like PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and CISCO PIKE... maybe I will too, one day.


  1. i think your nostalgia is showing a little more than usual, putting Burt Reynolds on your list of father Figures who didn't give a damn. Even in the 70's he was dying his hair and wearing a toupee and a ton of spray tan. He started off as a great presence, from Gunsmoke, to his take on Marlon Brando on The Twilight Zone, that cop show Hawk was so cutting edge brutal I still remember the nightmare I had after watching it one night when I was probably 8. But by the end of the 70's he was smirking at the camera and living off self mockery. I just watched The End a couple of weeks ago on DVD, it did not age well (though Robbie Benson, straight off the cover of Tiger Beat, almost saves it for his one scene as the young priest listening to Burt's dying-man confession booth list of sexual conquests - also, Dom DeLuis wasn't even fat, he just had a giant, round head, Oh how standards have changed). I think Burt Reynolds was not the last gasp of that Old School masculinity but the first sign of the feminine/vanity fueled man of the post hippie era, who refused to age onscreen. I really hoped he would bounce back with Boogie Nights, but he followed that with Strip Tease - ugh - and hasn't been seen since. It's a drag, but at least he hasn't shown up in an episode of The Expendables.

  2. Haha thanks Johnny - yeah 90% of his films are shit, BUT that shallow narcissism is at least open to self mockery - his whole SEMI-TOUGH character seems to be going through a quiet melt-down as he's the Frederic March character in DESIGN FOR LIVING, relegated to an affair with a typewriter or a zaftig middle-aged fan rather than sultry Jill Clayburgh. But he runs with it, well walks with it, or has his PA wheel him through it. I've avoided most of his output but was really moved, even as a kid watching it with my mom while, by his Dinah Shore show reunion. If I had done a Cosmo spread or PLAYGIRL or whatever it was, in the 70s and been all Mr. Sex Symbol I'm not sure I wouldn't got the hairpiece out too. At least he didn't wax his chest like the boys would today. He is one hirsute hombre in that centerfold, and it takes guts, regardless. It makes sense Adam Sandler would try to fill his shoes as the laziest movie star via the LONGEST YARD remake, but just seeing the difference between them is to weep for what the American male has been reduced to by our nanny state.

  3. My mother bought that Cosmopolitan with the centerfold. Well, she bought every issue, but that one was iconic. I am not trying to knock him, I mean, I must be a fan given that I have seen just about everything he has done. He has never struck me as a happy person, even when he puts on the airs of being s pleased with himself. Yes! Hairy chests were the calling card of real men back then, and rightly so! Never saw the Adam Sandler Longest Yard. Kind of forgot about it. I will happily admit to finding some Adam Sandler movies subversively funny, but a man has got to know his limitations. Speaking of the sultry Jill Clayburgh, are you as smitten with Lily Rabe as I am? Happy Thanksgiving, Erich!


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