Tuesday, February 17, 2009

supporting cast


A far more lethal weapon than mere raging
is insight. Spare us from its ravages,
because with it we learn while we are aging
that, ape-descended, we are merely savages.
I don’t mean that we’re really cannibals,
but merely that our customs are uncouth,
quite as unwieldy as were Hannibal’s
huge elephants. One we most lack is truth,
which it’s not customary for us to tell,
and which we cannot see because we lack
the insight truth requires. We feel well
so long as this is not used to attack
our preconceptions and our way of life,
but if it is we rage, and must rely
on lies provided by a loving wife
or friends and relatives who certify
that this great lethal weapon has misfired,
and insight is reduced by platitudes
made by the people we have most admired
because they share the very latitudes
that we inhabit, and the longitude,
so we can coexist and throw away
such lethal weapons, since we all collude
with one another in our savage way.
Without the help of this supporting cast
we’d all be recognized for what we are,
misdirected savages miscast
in films of life we color, but still noir.

Inspired by an article by Betsy Sharkey in the LA Times, February 15, 2009 (“A supporting cast that’s unforgettable),” discussing actors, notably Michael Shannon who have been nominated for Oscars for their supporting roles in 2008:

In looking at the Oscar category of best supporting actor and actress, I’m reminded of the sort of delicious dinner party that lingers in your memory years later. Although presumably you accept the invitation because you have some affection for the host, it is the unexpected alchemy of possibilities created by those on the guest list that heighten anticipation of the event. Then the evening arrives. Though it might be subconscious or unfair, we tend to judge a party by the company it keeps with success resting on the narrow or broad shoulders of those around you. And so it is with supporting characters in movies. They may come late and stay just a little while. Penelope Cruz doesn’t show up until nearly 40 minutes into “Vicky Christina Barcelona”; Michael Shannon was a late arrival in “Revolutionary Road,” as was Viola Davis with her single riveting scene in “Doubt,” and Josh Brolin in “Milk.” Or they might be there for the duration, spreading their energy across the evening: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in “Doubt,” Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler,” Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” and Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder.” But it matters that they were there. In some fundamental way they season the experience. They each find a way to make the party unforgettable… It’s difficult to watch someone unravel on-screen without a twinge of recognition; that thought, no matter how fleeting, that if you hadn’t found a way to step back from the edge of your own particular dark chasm, you might have become a version of Shannon’s electro-shocked and unhinged John Givings. Once Shannon charges into his scenes with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, the disintegrating couple at the heart of “Revolutionary Road,” a collective level of discomfort starts vibrating in the air around you; you can feel it intensifying with each exchange. It’s as if Shannon sets loose the insanity, letting it course through Givings’ veins as he wields his intellect like a machete, hacking through the face-saving lies the couple tell themselves, on his way to the utter emotional devastation that comes to rest at his feet. That the slayer is as tragic as those left bleeding in his wake is a tribute to the extraordinary calibration of Shannon’s performance; he reminds us in Givings that there is perhaps no more lethal weapon than rage and insight, and for that searing portrayal, he remains my favorite among the nominated supporting actors.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/16/09

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