Sunday, September 28, 2008

R.I.P. Paul Newman
Astonishingly sad news about the death of Paul Newman. There's very little I can say that hasn't already been said about this great man, except that his modesty and sense of duty and giving back is a model to us all. Also, his Newman-Os are damn delicious.

I'd like to address Paul Newman very briefly as an actor, but more specifically, as a late-period character actor. On one hand, it's ridiculous to even think of him that way; he's literally world-famous and arguably one of the best actors to have ever acted on screen and stage (fun sidenote: when I play a game where you have to think of actors who are as talented as they are good looking, Paul Newman is one of the few people who qualifies). But Newman himself seemed to shun the spotlight, and although his talents and good looks obviously made him leading-man material, in his old age he seemed to relish moving into character roles.

Take "The Color of Money," Martin Scorsese's sequel to "The Hustler" (and in my opinion, a better film. There, I said it). Newman is obviously playing the lead, only he's playing him as a character role. His pose at the beginning of the film is as a conscious caricature of the pool-playing hustler...but as the film progresses, that veneer starts to wear down, and we see the still-proud man underneath. He is completely taken apart and rebuilt onscreen, displaying a vulnerability that few leading men ever afford themselves. Look at this scene with Forest Whittaker and you'll see what I mean, as Newman finds himself being hustled and his shame is palpable:

Additionally, "The Color of Money" is quite possibly my favorite ending to a movie - a visceral jolt that only Scorsese can provide. Watch and see what I mean.

Newman continued to experiment with his image in the 80s and 90s...doing work in "Fat Man and Little Boy," and "Blaze." But 1994 was a banner year for him. Most of the attention was focused on his starring turn in "Nobody's Fool," and it's deserved...his performance in that film is a master class in subtlety and winning an audience's affection. But I really prefer his quirky turn in "Hudsucker Proxy," an unfairly forgotten Coen Brothers masterpiece.

I'll have much more to say about the Coen Brothers later on, and especially their ability to cast character actors in the same vein as old Hollywood films. But Newman is fantastic here as the scheming, evil head of Hudsucker Industries. It's great to see him playing not just an anti-hero, but in this case, the actual villain of the story. He acts seemingly only with his cigar at moments, and his voice, now gravelly with age, is a perfect compliment to the hard-boiled businessman edge. He shows up at 2:56 min in the clip below, stone-faced and brilliant.

With Newman's death there are bound to be tributes to his work everywhere, and watch them all you should. But maybe instead of watching "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" for the fifth time, check out "The Color of Money" or "Hudsucker." And settle in with some Newman's popcorn and Newman-O's.

Suggested Viewing:
-The Color of Money
-Fat Man and Little Boy
-The Hudsucker Proxy

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