August 16, 2006

"And if you DO... And if you DO..."

Bruno Kirby is gone. Leukemia. He was 57.

Ever since Good Morning, Vietnam, every time I saw Kirby's name in the opening credits I took it as an insurance policy. Kirby's star dropped a little after a private feud cost him frequent collaborator Billy Crystal, but no one seems to mention that Crystal's did, too. Revisiting When Harry Met Sally... and City Slickers, one is surprised to discover that it's Crystal who's playing the straight man, the Bing Crosby to Kirby's Bob Hope. Nothing Crystal says in the former is as funny as Kirby's exasperated plea for Meg Ryan to "draw something resembling anything" during a losing game of Pictionary.

Kirby had a gift for transforming the most banal line of dialogue into a melody, making him a secret weapon of tone-deaf directors like Barry Levinson and keeping him from blending into the wallpaper in ensemble films like Donnie Brasco. And he could collapse his doughy features into a kabuki mask that lent itself equally well to tony comedy (his deadpan reactions to Albert Brooks' quaalude trip in Modern Romance turn the sequence into a quintessential illustration of the Kuleshov Effect) and period pieces (The Godfather Part II, Flesh & Blood).

Arrivederci, Bruno. You will be greatly missed.

22 comments:

Scott said...

As much as I love Jon Lovitz, CITY SLICKERS II, without Kirby, just felt off-balance and all wrong.

Kirby never strained as an actor; he always struck the comedic and dramatic note at a perfect pitch.

That kind of grace will be missed.

Dave Gibson said...

Still use the term "Baby Fishmouth" years on and Bruno, I always liked the wagon-wheel coffee table. You will be missed.

Jefferson said...

I was amazed, years after seeing his comedic work, to discover that Kirby played the young Clemenza in Godfather Part II. He should have gotten more work in drama. He was scary as a young hood on the rise, and it was only DeNiro's charisma that let me believe he would rise to lead the Genco crew -- as opposed to Clemenza, who demonstrated to Vito Corleone that you had to be willing to kill a man.

Anonymous said...

O/T - Please, Walter, and other FilmFreaks, you must let us know ASAP as to whether we should waste a tenner to go see Snakes on a Plane!! ASAP!!!

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Not a lotta people notice that Kirby was in Godfather 2. Aum Shanti.

I haven't seen "Mothafuckin' snakes on the Mothafuckin' plane" but I'd recommend against it. Let's call it a cinephile's intuition.

Jefferson said...

Alas, they're not screening Snakes for critics. Unless some hiccup allows a reviewer into a preview screening -- as happened to Roger Moore on The Benchwarmers -- there will be no critical assessments of motherfuckin' Samuel L. Jackson vs. the motherfuckin' snakes until after it opens.

Add to that Jackson's recent confession that he wasn't allowed to interact with any live snakes during filming, and, well, my enthusiasm dips a bit more. I will see it; it's just a question of how much I spend to do it.

Alex Jackson said...

O/T - Please, Walter, and other FilmFreaks, you must let us know ASAP as to whether we should waste a tenner to go see Snakes on a Plane!! ASAP!!!

My adoring fans want me to review it over at the "Other Site" so I'm a go. I'm not expecting it to be particularly good. The pre-emptive fandom might have made the filmmakers a little too self-conscious.

But then again, now that we are no longer allowed to carry water bottles on commercial flights for fear that they might be bombs, I think that we're quite ready for a hearty snarking of the culture of fear.

And besides, essays critiquing the phenomenon and predicting the future of the art form irreperably doomed, such as Aemilia Scott's "Hissy Fit" on Salon.com, sort of make me want to see the film on general principle.

Bill C said...

One of my fave Kirby performances that I forgot to mention was on "The Late Show" in the early-'90s, when he played a COP...ON THE EDGE. Every one of his appearances briefly returned Letterman to his NBC heyday.

Max B. said...

Alex: I think the "pre-emptive fandom" didn't really start snowballing until post-production, if I recall...

I, for what it's worth, am seeing the 10PM show tonight. I figure a cultural milestone + Sam J + possibility of fun, intelligent thriller is more than worth my ten bucks, at least more so than just about anything else in theaters.

Alex Jackson said...

I think the "pre-emptive fandom" didn't really start snowballing until post-production, if I recall...

Well, they did some reshoots after after the buzz exploded. But yeah, the snarkiness might only really only apply to the promotional campaign.

Kurt Halfyard said...

And if you DO-ooo. Nice. The first words that always pop into my head at the mention of Kirby's name. As someone who always prefers to watch character actors strut their stuff over the leads, Kirby will certainly be missed. Hope he says hi to J.T. Walsh and Michael Jeter in the great character actor heaven in the sky!

Max B. said...

Wow.

Believe it or not, the movie was pretty good.

jer fairall said...

Though everyone seems to disagree with me, Snakes on a Plane, really *isn't* a good movie. Some fun snake attacks, sure, but poorly written and directed, not to mention possibly racist and homophobic.

I'm looking forward to Walter's review, if its coming.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing an official review wont be possible because there was no critic's screenings, however, blog thoughts away!! I really want to know if this is a pleasurable B-movie like Slither or if it's just a stupid gimmick that's using the kitsch title to hook in folk like myself who get a kick out of the ridiculousness.

And someone tell me what they thought of Hard Candy!!! Walter!! Bill!! Alex!! Hollow Man!! Someone!!

Bill C said...

We'll be getting the Hard Candy DVD soon so a review from one of us is forthcoming. I think the only FFC'er who saw it theatrically is Alex.

Don't know if Walt's going to bother with a theatrical review of Snakes; the studio's boycott of critics makes it low-priority for us in turn. But I agree: to anyone from around these parts who's seen it, by all means blog away!

Alex Jackson said...

Okay, I vote "yea" on the subject of Snakes on a Plane. I would rather be a Snakes on a Plane fan than a hater. It's a cute utterly harmless movie, sort of a patch work of every big-budget B-movie from the 80s (Gremlins, Commando, Kickboxer, Predator). No more misogynistic and about fifty percent less racist than any other film of it's ilk. There will be a full-length review from me in the near future, so I'll keep you posted. But yeah, I say go. There are a lot of other people you can blame for the downfall of the cinema.

I did see Hard Candy. I liked it a good deal more than I should have. It's really a callow piece of work. If any of you haven't heard of it, the film is about a fourteen year old girl who allows herself to get picked up by a thirty something sexual predator and then drugs him and turns the tables on him. The film comes off as something that a fourteen year old would write though. I like Bill's comment about Thirteen, a film that actually was co-written by a thirteen year old girl, that all teenagers are essentially "Catholic". The moralistic/self consciously alarmist device of getting picked up by a pedophile in an Internet chat room seems to have been dreamed up by watching too much "Dateline". I suppose we should be grateful it wasn't through a MySpace account.

The Little Red Riding Hood motif was simplistic and heavy handed, the dialogue was full of childishly pretentious groaners (i.e. "I was the cherry who had to pop"), and the film ultimately lacks the conviction to follow through with the depravity. Plus, the girl in the movie is another in a fine line of teenagers that is near omnipotent and omniscient. Age fourteen and she already knows all there is to know. Nowhere else to go but down from here.

Alas, it does put you through the wringers though. It's a show- offish first film. The film is more or less just two people in a room talking and they have to make it suspenseful, exciting, and terrifying. And they do. The film is extremely well-directed and acted. And in a way, I guess, fantastically written. It doesn't run out of steam and it's a pretty good night out at the movies. The film is a guilty "pleasure", I guess, but pleasure is still pleasure isn't it? (Anybody who thinks themselves better for seeing this movie than the people who went to Snakes on a Plane needs a serious ass-whuppin).

Hard Candy is a movie that actually does make me fear for the future of the art form and really turns me off on the whole idea of film schools in general. We seem to be getting an entire generation filmmakers who know how to shoot and edit brilliantly but have absolutely nothing of value to say. We're getting to have a surplus of technique and a deficit of soul.

Anonymous said...

Good review, I must say, I agree with it all and I too liked it a lot more than I should have, mostly because it was just a particularly effective exploitation film. The audience squirms, I squirm, good times are had by all. I'm very curious as to why the film didn't follow through with that depravity - to go the way it went didn't seem to add anything - why do you suppose that happened?

Max B. said...

Alex: I especially like the Predator connection to SoaP. The snake-o-vision at first is campy, but then moves towards something approaching dread, and it works much like the Predator-vision.

Hard Candy: I just saw this, and I feel kind of similarly - while I'm not sure it's defensible on any intellectual level, I found it compulsively, almost demandingly watchable. A couple of my friends actually walked out, and the rest found it reprehensible, but I kind of appreciated the film-school aesthetic - the oppresive use of close-ups ratchets up the tensions at the same time that it locates it's effect in the psychological. Spoiler of sorts: It's easy enough to show someone's equipment sliced off, but I think it's far more devious to show nothing but faces. Especially those disorienting pans behind the divider...

The ending falls apart for sure, and, yeah, Kitty Pride is kind of invincible, but I kind of liked that, too - the movie doesn't really pretend to operate on any rational level. The entire thing is predicated on putting the audience through an emotional ringer, and it works like gangbusters. It's seedy, grimy, gross, and certainly a thorny thing to untangle, but every so often I feel like I need a good roll around in the mud, and Hard Candy was a slick, riveting way to do it. It didn't have much to say, perhaps, but it's got more than enough sound and fury to adequately mask it's lack of signifiers. Certainly more interesting and gripping than a lot of other shit I've seen this summer, and that alone makes me think it was worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

I did notice that the camera in Hard Candy always kept things in really tight, and while it was undeniably tense, I got very tired of trying to look beyond the screen so that I could see what was going on.

That's a pretty good metaphor for the film itself, actually. It never once pulls back to give us any perspective on the material. It brings up questions about the morality of pedophilia and torture, but it never answers that, and more damning, it doesn't give you enough information to answer it yourself.

Snakes on a Plane is solid B-movie fun, just like when Kevin Bacon got sick of these motherfucking worms in this motherfucking sand. It's not a *very* good movie, but it's definitely worth a watch. I definitely prefer it to (sorry Walter) the smug, condescending Slither, which only operated on the level of "Hey, look! A horror movie! Ha ha ha!"

--Kim

Bill C said...

Do check out what Vern has to say about Snakes on a Plane--he pretty much sums up my newfound apathy for the whole megillah - http://www.geocities.com/outlawvern/ReviewsS.html#snakes_on_a_plane

Chad Evan said...

Anybody see Spike's Katrina documentary on HBO? Pretty powerful stuff.

It kind of bothers me that, once again, New Orleans was focused on to the exclusion of the Gulf Coast, which was also devestated (albeit in less spectacular and racially charged fashion,) but really, New Orleans alone is such a large story to tell, and was much more obviously an administrative disaster, so I can't really criticize him there.

James Allen said...

Vern does it again.

Interesting ruminations there about the "phenomenon." Now that I've seen it I can't say I disagree all that much. The movie's OK, but entirely too self-aware of what it is, and when Jackson finally utters "the line" I basically sighed while the rest of the audience was cheering. It kind of bugs me on some level that the content of a "cult" movie is dictated by some silly internet fan base before the damn thing is even released. I'm sorry, that's not how real cult movies should work. (Imagine if there was a blogosphere that, say, George Romero responded to while he was making Night of the Living Dead; perhaps that not a fair comparison, because Romero had something on his mind, but I only invoke it to make a point.)

Then again, I can see how the makers of this thing got sucked up in the whirlwind and maybe thought they had to pander in some way to self-proclaimed "fans" of a friggin' title and just approached things in the most cynical terms. Whatever, all I can say is that this could've been a stupidly fun b-movie, but it just got turned into something it didn't derserve, nor earn. "Motherfuckin' snakes" indeed.

P.S. I did like Samuel L. Jackson's general ernestness, but as others have said, he's not in the movie as much as you're led to think.