ROSANNA ARQUETTE….A HANDY TEN

(Warning: Occasional rough language due to movies being quoted.)

Rosanna Arquette is the only modern actor who is indefinable in conventional crit-illuminati terms and the only person I know of who consistently broke through the Frozen Silence that descended on the Empire in the eighties (made all the more remarkable by that being the moment her career began).

She might not be the most gifted. There are plenty who think she’s not the most gifted in her own family. But she’s the most disorienting. She might read a bad line straight. Hard not to given the number of bad lines forced on her after Harvey Weinstein ruined her career (you know, “allegedly”).

But she’ll never read a good line straight. I doubt she knows how.

She was partly raised in a commune and I once read/heard that she played in the mud at Woodstock.

Or maybe I dreamed it.

In any case I choose to believe it.

The only way it would be more perfect is if she was born there.

For the express purpose of destabilizing the future.

The Executioner’s Song (1982)
D. Lawrence Schiller

Originally a mini-series, then edited down to movie length for a Euro-release, later edited back up (though not all the way) for a “director’s cut.” In other words the confusion begins right here, in Arquette’s breakout role as Nicole Baker, the girlfriend and personal addiction of spree murderer Gary Gilmore (they stopped him at two, but he’d have killed everyone in the world to be with her). It’s spare and compelling, one of the best films about the empty moral landscape of post-Viet Nam America. And it establishes one of Arquette’s great themes: She makes men want to shoot other men in the head.

More thoughts here.

(NOTE: This is finally being released in its original form–Blu-Ray, January, 2018. An interview with Arquette is listed in the extras. Those of us who have settled for blotchy, half-audible YouTube downloads all these years can’t wait to hear her say “You and seven other motherfuckers!” the way it was meant to be heard.)

Rating as..

Movie: 9/10 (for the original cut, which is the only one I’ve seen).
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 10/10

Baby It’s You (1983)
D. John Sayles

Awe inspiring. Is it a coincidence that the only time John Sayles worked with Rosanna Arquette is the only time he managed to get out of his own way? Or that Arquette is the only post-seventies actor besides Illeana Douglas (also raised in a commune) who “got” the sixties? I mean, how simultaneously liberating and traumatizing it was? Especially for women?

Opinions will vary.

My answers are No, No, No and No.

Not a coincidence that is.

The best film of the 80s and the decade’s best performance.

This one’s readily available….more thoughts here.

Movie: 10/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 10/10

“Rosanna” Toto (1982) and
“In Your Eyes” Peter Gabriel (1986)

Arquette had contemporary romantic relationships with somebody in Toto (who cares who….that it wasn’t the guy who wrote the song probably matters to his mother) and Peter Gabriel. In the moment, everyone knew and admitted these songs were about her and couldn’t have been about anyone else. After her star faded, everyone denied it and insisted they could have been about anyone. Of course they did….and, of course they did. No man likes to admit some woman makes him want to shoot other men in the head.

Available on YouTube.

Double Bill:

After Hours (1985)
D. Martin Scorcese

and

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
D. Susan Seidelman

The movies that “killed” Arquette’s career. (For details, go here.) In After Hours, she played a kook in a movie about a straight (Griffin Dunne) who keeps bumping into kooks all through one long, dark New York night of the soul. First in a line of tormentors that includes, among others, Teri Garr and Cheech and Chong, she was the only one who got onto the film’s oddball vibe enough to match its Dante-esque pretensions. If Scorcese had been bold enough to cast her in all the female roles the movie might be more than curio.

Still, her performance is worth seeing, especially in light of its natural pairing with the same year’s Desperately Seeking Susan, a big hit that won her a BAFTA, the biggest “award” of her career (typically, it came for a “Supporting Actress” when she’s clearly the lead) and had her playing the straight to Madonna’s kook.

Is it a coincidence that the only time Madonna was as free on-screen (whether in movies, videos, television interviews or taped live performances) as her obsessively contrived image, was opposite Rosanna Arquette playing a woman seeking a small taste of the same freedom? Or that the only movie where she radiated movie star charisma was this one?

Opinions vary….

The moment in Desperately when Arquette’s repressed housewife, yearning to breathe free, reacts to a simple magic trick, is one of the loveliest in American film and just the sort of scene her tormentor/producers seemed to have bet the Woodstock girl, forever fighting to keep her clothes on, couldn’t play

After Hours 

Movie: 7/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 8/10

Desperately Seeking Susan

Movie: 8/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 10/10

These are both readily available.

8 Million Ways to Die (1986)
D. Hal Ashby

Filmed within a fast heartbeat of Desperately Seeking Susan. Anyone who thought the shift from The Executioner’s Song to Baby It’s You was shocking should double-bill Susan and this bleak little enterprise sometime.

I just watched it for the first time in thirty years. I remembered it as a hot mess–such a hot mess that I couldn’t really trust my reaction or my memory.

I mean: Rosanna Arquette? Jeff Bridges? Hal Ashby? How bad could it really be?

I’m not prepared, on a second viewing, to say it’s a stone cold masterpiece. But it’s got me wondering. No idea how or why I didn’t respond at all back when. I’m sure I wasn’t even aware of the spats between Ashby and the studio that resulted in it being taken out of his hands and made just about everyone involved (including audiences) want to wash their own hands of the whole thing.

Forget all that. Time has redeemed it. I’ll be watching often, trying to figure out just how much.

But, if it were every bad thing its detractors claim, it would still be here for two reasons:

1) The newly released 30th anniversary DVD has interviews with several of the key players. A year before the Harvey Weinstein revelations (in which she played a prominent role), you can see and hear the career he and his legion of enablers stole from her in every line of her face and every word she speaks.

2) This hot-mess masterpiece has the ultimate Rosanna Arquette line, which is also the definitive noir line. Jeff Bridges’ slightly addled detective finds her in the house of Andy Garcia’s drug dealer (a scintillating, career-making performance), where she’s been taken by force.

And the moment they’re left alone:

“What’s he want?”
“He wants to fuck me and kill you.”

You pretty much have to be there for that, if you want to get Rosanna Arquette.

Because it sounds like a line any good actress could deliver…until you hear her deliver it.

And, to be fair, when it comes time for the men (three in this case) to shoot each other, they mix it up by going for chest shots.

This is now readily available.

Movie: 9/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 10/10

Black Rainbow (1989)
D. Mike Hodges

An effective, moody Gothic from the director of Get Carter. For a Brit, he does a fine job of catching the Southern atmosphere (Arquette has shown a knack for playing hot-to-trot southern chicks–see also The Wrong Man and Big Bad Love). There is typically fine work from Jason Robards (as Arquette’s father, manager and exploiter) and Tom Hulce (as a small town reporter, trying to get at the truth of a “vision” Arquette’s supernatural medium was granted of a murder). Years before her sister played one on TV, the elder Arquette gets at the quiet heart of a medium’s classic dilemma: someone who hates herself for playing the suckers…only to find even more anguish and confusion when her gift turns out to be real enough when death comes riding by.

I’m not sure every single bit works, but most of it does and the spell is sustained by Arquette’s ability to project her unique combination of sexual arrogance and emotional vulnerability. No one shoots anybody in the head….but one man is shot through her ghost, which is roaming about seeking revenge on Dad for seeing dollar signs in her faraway eyes. And Hulce is prepared to spend his life searching for her, truth be damned.

This is easily available in full screen. For the proper widescreen edition released in Europe, you’ll need a converter or an all-region player.

Movie: 9/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 10/10

The Wrong Man (1993)
D. Jim McBride

For once, the movie’s as mind-bending as she is…and she was never more mind-bending than here. By this point fuck me and kill you was like a bass line running through her screen presence from movie to movie. The bass line from “Gimme Shelter” maybe.

And while fuck me kill you may be her definitive line, the consummate Rosanna Arquette scene (and noir‘s) comes here, when she bare-backs John Lithgow as he’s crawling to meet room service, not more than a minute or two after she threatened to shoot him in the head.

Headspinning.

Available (like quite a few of Arquette’s movies) only for streaming or download on YouTube.

Thoughts here.

Movie: 9/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 10/10

Pulp Fiction (1994)
D. Quentin Tarantino

I’ve said it before, I say it again. If Tarantino had switched Uma Thurman’s lead and Arquette’s cameo his whole movie might have come alive, not just that one scene. Instead, he was gutless and too damn stupid to know he was planting evidence against himself.

Else Weinsteined.

Assuming there’s a difference.

Readily available, alas.

Movie: 7/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 8/10

Big Bad Love (2001)
D. Arliss Howard

One of those artsy movies that’s so self-consciously unpretentious it defeats itself, despite a fine cast. But it’s a nice coda on Arquette’s Vulnerable Vamp period. The character she plays here has no arrogance. She’s just out for the usual impossible combination of kicks and security. Hence, she delivers real poignance in a movie that too often settles for an approximation.

More thoughts here.

This one is readily available.

Movie: 7/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 9/10

Law and Order: Criminal Intent (2005) “Sex Club”
D. Alex Chapple

It was inevitable that Arquette would end up trying to evade Goren and Eames. And that she’d make her attempt in one of the series’ best episodes, one that keeps exploding in your face even on a third or fourth (or probably twentieth) viewing.

Peter Bogdanovich plays a Hugh Hefner style “playboy,” transplanted to New York but with his little black book very much intact (if not in his possession). Arquette plays an upper middle class mom who may, or may not, have been the star of one too many mind-blowing orgies.

The perfect part in other words, and at least some of the raw anger she brought to it might have been aimed at her own exploiters–among whom Hefner (with whom she had a longstanding feud over nude photos he published without her consent) was not least. I have no reason to suspect it was the least bit autobiographical, but its hard to believe she didn’t identify on some level.

Movie: 8/10
Rosanna Arquette Movie: 9/10

(Available as Episode 14 from Season 4 of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.)

….As of today, Rosanna Arquette has a hundred and forty-nine acting credits on IMDB. She’s worked constantly, perhaps to compensate for the A-list parts she routinely didn’t get after she rebuffed the industry’s top mover and shaker, perhaps just because she likes working. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a dozen or more golden moments that have eluded me thus far.

I plan to keep looking.

You never know when she’s going to rise up and make one more man want to shoot somebody in the head.

But even if she never has another golden moment or there’s nothing left undiscovered in her vast catalog of mostly cast-off or workaday roles, she’s left something indelible for the future to reckon with.

How many survivors in her generation–molested or unmolested–can say half as much?

Go ahead. Start counting.

You won’t need your second hand.

FAVORITE FILMS….FOR EACH YEAR OF MY LIFE…BY DECADE…CUE THE SEVENTIES

Again, the links are to those I’ve written something substantive about…

1970 Two Mules for Sister Sara (Don Siegel) (over Patton and Kelly’s Heroes)

1971 Dollars (Richard Brooks) (over Billy Jack, Klute, A New Leaf and The Last Picture Show)

1972 The Harder They Come (Perry Hanzell) (over Bad Company, The Candidate, Sounder and What’s Up Doc?)

1973 Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich) (very close run over American Graffiti)

1974 The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola…his best, and most prescient, movie by a long measure) (over Chinatown)

1975 Night Moves (Arthur Penn) (over Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest and Shampoo)

1976 The Bad News Bears (Michael Ritchie) (Good year. Nothing close)

1977 Heroes (Jeremy Kagan) (Lean year. And, despite TV-Movie-of-the-Week production levels, nothing close…Please don’t watch any version that doesn’t include “Carry On, Wayward Son” over the closing credits.)

1978 I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Robert Zemeckis) (over American Hot Wax and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith)

1979 The In-Laws (Arthur Hiller) (over Norma Rae)

I’ll try to keep ’em rolling tomorrow. The picking’s are about to get…a bit slimmer.

HAUNTING THE PRESENT…THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE AT FIFTY-FIVE (I Watch Westerns: Take Six)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, D. John Ford)

Some day I’ll get back to John Ford’s people, which is the only way to get at the  unique narrative depth of his films. For now, the present calls.

And you know the drill: “This is the west sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

As our benighted populace works itself into its latest Twitter-fueled tizzy, busily convincing itself that it really is different this time, that “fake news” is something more than the latest euphemism for “news,” the only news fit to print is that John Ford, the “mythmaker” who couldn’t have made myths as rapidly as he deconstructed them if he had spent his life on a gerbil wheel, remains both the most misunderstood American artist and the most contemporary. What he asked, we spend our lives–and what’s left of our national narrative–answering, even if more and more of us never heard of him.

What he asks in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is not whether we should allow comfortable legends to displace disorienting facts (an issue he does address, here and elsewhere, often in profound and troubling ways) but something which is itself both simpler and more difficult.

“Aren’t you proud?”

The question is posed near the end of the film. It’s directed at James Stewart’s Senator Ransom Stoddard by his “good wife” Hallie, whose maiden name we have never learned. They are riding a train–especially commandeered for their use–away from the western town of Shinbone, which exists in a territory-become-state that seems closest to Colorado. As it is asked by Hallie Stoddard–and by the actress who played her–the question has no answer.

Yes, of course, we are proud–Ransom Stoddard and our pioneer ancestors and us.

Yes, of course, we are the furthest thing from proud. Ransom Stoddard. Our pioneer ancestors. Us.

After all: Look….Look what we’ve done!

And:

God help us, look what we’ve done….

“Look at it. It was a wilderness. Now it’s a garden….Aren’t you proud?”

Vera Miles spoke those lines on a movie set, sometime in the early sixties. She was playing a character sitting on a train as it rolled through a “garden” at the turn of the previous century, a character who has spent the previous half-day being brought face-to-face with the memories of her life in the “wilderness” of the 1860s or 70s.

We’ve seen who she was: an illiterate firebrand who has never seen a “real rose” and yearns–one might even say burns–for betterment, learning, civilization.

We’ve seen who she has become: cultured, worldly, frozen.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is her story because it’s the entire American story, maybe the entire story of Western Civilization, boiled down to a single scene.

This scene:

Only Ford would make a complex narrative film where the central conflict is played out between two people who share only this one scene and never exchange a word of dialogue.

Do they need to?

It’s all right there. Her fear. His arrogance. A room full of men in which only one (John Wayne’s Tom Doniphon, glimpsed at the far rear of the second frame above, where only Ford would resist cutting to an instant reaction shot of him**) can protect her.

Doniphon’s presence is felt. The scene even plays out with him challenging Valance, not over whether he’s Hallie’s protector–that’s a given and, like so much else, unspoken–but whether (by proxy of a dust-up over a steak spilled on the floor by James Stewart’s “new waitress”) he will extend his protection to a Civilization which, by the careful none-of-my-business postures of every other man in the room, we know will not assert, let alone defend, itself.

And, of course, in the end, he will do just that…and make the garden where the existential question “Aren’t you proud?” can finally be asked, some thirty years hence, over the memory of his own coffin.

By which time every answer the question can yield is a tragedy because the “garden” has come at the expense of the only happiness he cared about.

Not his own.

Hers.

Aren’t you proud?

(**Peter Bogdanovich, a Ford confidante in the years after Valance was made, is fond of telling about a similar sort of decision from the set of 1941’s How Green Was My Valley. The outline of Walter Pidgeon’s Doniphon-like priest is seen in the far background while Maureen O’Hara’s Hallie Stoddard-like bride rides off to a loveless marriage in a rich man’s motor car. A cameraman asked Ford if he didn’t want a reaction shot of Pidgeon up on the hill. “Aw no,” the Narrativist groaned. “They’ll just use it.”)