Wednesday, June 27, 2007

ON THE FILMS OF THE LATE WARREN OATES *:
"I Got the Motive Which is Money
And the Movie Which is Cheap.
"

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- Of all the luck!

There, right beside the 20 Items Or Less checkout line, buried in the back of a deep discount $4.88 display, sat a lonely copy of one of the finest American films ever made.

I figured it had to be some sort of mistake.

Back in the home entertainment department of this particular Big Box Store, they were selling all sorts of freshly minted garbage for upwards of 20 bucks.

Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, two legends of cinema in their most influential film together, one of the most electrifying movies of the Civil Rights era...

... Reduced to the bargain bin.

In The Heat of the Night, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, 1967. Five Oscars total that year, three Golden Globes, and scores of other, lesser known awards.

All for a whopping four dollars and change.

They no longer call you MISTER Tibbs, Mr. Poitier.

They call you an impulse buy.

* * * *

So what?

If Jessica Alba's tits (which is used as an example not to knock the actress's knockers - they are indeed some very fine breasts) sell better than your powerful, ancient performance, well, you belong in that cardboard display, next to the overstock copies of Dodgeball, Mr. Poitier.

Hell, the movie business has never been about actual actors or awards or screen-writing. No business subsists as art. And the studios? They control the ebb and flow of cinematic art, its mass production, distribution, and subsequent sale.

But so what?

Big box stores are experts at moving mass-produced, distributed things, even if it means sticking cinematic masterpieces next to the bags of potato chips, in the hope that some schmuck with a debit card will come along, recognize the DVD, and gobble it up like any other product.

Who wants to watch some old movie anyway? A 40 year-old movie?

Even at $4.88, it'll still make somebody a profit, even if it's marked down further, to ten percent of cost.

And some of that will go to the owner of the original master print, some of that will go to the distributor, and a good chunk of that will go to the Big Box Store. And then there's the manufacturing costs, the scant money paid to those Southeast Asian factory workers who actually create the disc, the plastic cover, and the cardboard inserts...

But that's Hollywood for ya. Glitzy and oh so glamorous. After all, nothing screams Show Business quite like a cardboard box full of marked down, forgotten DVDs.

* * * *

And the score goes to me, the debit card wielding schmuck of the day.

I just couldn't leave a classic piece of American cinema to rot in that cardboard display, especially for $4.88.

Some folks are suckers for fashion. Some for trends. And some, like me, are suckers for good films.

And some folks are just suckers.

- # # #-

* NOTE - Warren Oates (1928-1982) remains one of the most widely-recognized American character actors of all time, with roles in such films as In The Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch, and, yes, even as the mean ol' Sarge in the Bill Murray vehicle, Stripes.

He guest-starred on just about every classic American television show from that period, from Gunsmoke to Rawhide to Bonanza, from The Twilight Zone to The Fugitive. I have yet to meet a single person born before 1980 who doesn't recognize the guy's face from some Western, horror flick, or TV show.

And for the record, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, one of Oates's few leading roles, is a thousand times more badass than anything most Film Studies profs will ever show in class.





8 comments:

xboxgirl said...

Yeah, that one is sitting on a shelf along with the other 400 {at least) dvds and vhs tapes I own, and I didn't pay a dime for it (the person who gave it to me paid ~$20 for it though}.

I'm pretty sure I'm probably a sucker for movies in general, I watch/ed way to many movies {but of the 1000's of movies, so far I've seen only 11 on the big-screen}.

Beach Bum said...

In The Heat Of The Night is a truly great film and Steiger's performance in it, is one of his best. I remember hearing Rod on a BBC radio program several years ago.

He was bemoaning the state of Hollywood and the quality of the movies being churned out. He had particular venom for young executives who were in the business for money alone and had no love or appreciation of film or acting.

He told a funny but slightly depressing story that backed up his argument about having to do a screen test in his later years and being asked could he do a Southern Accent! Clearly the executive in question hadn't seen much quality cinema.

A few months later, I was on a plane flight back from Edinburgh and this big, bald headed guy in black got on the plane and ambled to the back of the aircraft.

It bugged me because, I thought he looked familiar - in fact he looked like Kurtz / Brando from Apocalypse Now. As I sat there, it suddenly struck me - was that Rod Steiger?

It was clear that nobody else had a clue who he was - and I wasn't sure myself. As the plane landed and people started getting off, I asked one of the stewardesses if there was a passenger Steiger on board. Without a flicker of recognition, she checked her listing and confirmed it. I got off the aircraft and thought about going back to do a double take.

I've never been at all impressed by celebrities or stars but then so few are truly worth the moniker.

I hesitated but turning round, saw him helped into a wheelchair. As he was wheeled up the gang plank I found myself stopping and asking him... "Mr Steiger?". He looked up - it was the man himself. "Yes?" . "Uh, I just wanted to say that your performance In The Heat Of The Night was one of the finest I've ever seen".

I'm sure he'd heard it a thousand times, but he smiled the broadest smile,stuck his hand out and said "Why, thank you". It was a bit of a moment.They don't make them like that any more!

Keshi said...

Alba has tits..? I didnt know.

Keshi.

Smurf said...

Good Rant J. You make a good point, but this goes far beyond just how the reality of the movie business goes. I think this classically illustrates how easily people seem to want that fairytale and "perfect life" we as a whole sometimes become intentionally ignorant to realities.

cooper said...

Poitier fascinates me and I am happy to say I've seen all those films.

Can't say I've seen much of "Rawhide" or "Gunsmoke" though.

coyotemike said...

I'm trying to think of the latest movie made that had some sort of significant statement to make. The most recent I can come up with is Schindler's List. There may have been some, but American cinema has given up on trying to change the world and just want the world's spare change.

Xmichra said...

I felt the same way when Casablanca was sitting in a 3.99 bin along side of waterword. I had the movie and bought it again just because i felt really disgusted that it would be there like that. I gave the copy to a girlfriend who had never watched a black and white film before... it transgressed into a big movie watching frenzy.

Which is much better then seeing Casablanca next to waterworld. oh the horror.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Xbox:
Hey, you ought to go see more flicks in the theater, hon. And make sure you catch a drive-in flick sometime :)

Beach Bum:
Dude!

That's fucking awesome.

Don't know what else to say, really.

Keshi:
Yeah. Who knew? ;)

They weren't there when she was on Dark Angel...

Smurf:
Yeah, it wasn't bad, was it?

Cooper:
Poitier is an amazing actor. And you really should learn to watch old Westerns :P

Mike:
Crash tried, but it ended up being sorta, well, whiny. I like American History X, and Frieda, too. But yeah...either the studios have just learned that audiences just want something pretty to stare at, or we've just lost our sense of meaningful cinema...

Xmich:
You go girl!