Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mickey Rourke: Highs & Lows - Video Tribute

An introduction to the above video:

A few months ago, I finally got around to watching Rumble Fish for the first time. It's a compelling film in a number of ways, not least of which is that it captures Francis Ford Coppola, after all his big successes, making a movie that has the intimacy, edginess and roughhewn aesthetics of a filmmaker just starting out. But the core power of the film is Mickey Rourke, as the drifting, elusive and lonely Motorcycle Boy. Coppola knew it. Rumble Fish is dominated by close-ups of Rourke's face, his soulful charisma splashed across the screen.

To that point, Rourke had appeared in supporting roles in Heaven's Gate and Body Heat, and he'd starred in Diner, but this was just the beginning. He was still breaking out, reminding so many of a young Marlon Brando with his combination of throbbing male sexuality, simmering aggression, feminine sensitivity and an apparent disdain for straightforward line readings.

Somehow or another the can't-miss star wound up spending most of his career in what many would consider B movies. Alcohol and drugs took their toll. Plastic surgery drastically changed his appearance. He fell in love with boxing. He was, by his own admission, impossible to deal with on movie sets, and as a result he wasn't invited to many. But that soulful charisma never really went away, and eventually it shined through again, in small parts first, like 2001's The Pledge, and eventually in The Wrestler, his big, beautiful, quasi-autobiographical return to glory.

I'd seen the bookends of Rourke's career, but there was a lot I hadn't seen in the middle, so I decided to go on a Mickey Rourke binge, watching almost every movie he's ever been in, whether he starred or showed up for a few scenes.

I wasn't stringent about it. For example, I gave Double Team only the passing attention that a Jean-Claude Van Damme/Dennis Rodman movie deserves, and I lasted just 25 minutes before bailing on Francesco, which has to be in the conversation for one of the worst movies of all time to star two eventual Oscar nominees (Rourke and Helena Bonham-Carter), resorting to fast-forward scanning the rest of the way just in case Rourke's Francis of Assisi ended up in a wild sex romp — beacuse with Mickey you couldn't count it out.

Yes, as expected, many of the movies in the midsection of Rourke's career are awful. But at some point or another in almost every single one of them Rourke had a habit of making them worth watching.

The result of my Rourke binge is the above montage, which aims not to capture Rourke's greatest hits but to try to evoke his career, both cinematically and contextually. It's a tribute to Rourke, who even today, his 60th birthday, has beautifully expressive eyes that sparkle in a way that few actors have ever matched.

Rourke manages to wear sunglasses in most movies, as if he can't quite bear to see the world through the naked eye, but those lenses are also protective, too. To look Rourke straight in the eyes is to be blinded by his presence.

With that, I give you, Mickey Rourke: Highs & Lows.

18 comments:

Shoot The Lawyers said...

What about The Pope of Greenwich Village? A classic and probably his best film.

Jason Bellamy said...

What about it? I didn't say everything was crap between Rumble Fish and The Pledge. Just that much of it is.

As for my thoughts on it: I wouldn't put in the "classic" camp. But his magnetism is there, and some of those moments show up in the video.

Hokahey said...

Excellent job. This is a very artistic, slick piece of work that captures the essence of Mickey Rourke's style and persona without commentary. Early on, he had a lot of potential as an actor. Sometimes that potential shone through. He is cool - not as cool as Newman or McQueen - but cool. The French love him.

Tony Dayoub said...

Phenomenal video. I'm just sad that it doesn't feature any scenes from my favorite movie of his, Walter Hill's JOHNNY HANDSOME.

Jason Bellamy said...

Hokahey: It's a different kind of cool than Newman and McQueen. It's a rougher cool, compared to their, well, cooler cool (which sounds absurd, but actually fits rather well).

Jason Bellamy said...

Tony: Many thanks. I have about five regrets about this piece, and the first three are that JOHNNY HANDSOME isn't in it -- not just because it's one of my favorite Rourkes but because so many scenes in the facial reconstruction phase of the movie would fit perfectly with some of the themes of the montage. Alas, I couldn't find a copy in the proper aspect ratio, and while I tried to convince myself it was better to have some JOHNNY HANDSOME than none, whenever the images popped up I felt depressed. So I cut them. (At one point I had an audio-only clip, but, similar to the above, it felt like an imitation for the real thing and proved distracting -- at least to me.)

I also wish I'd found a way to include his role in ANIMAL FACTORY -- but the clips weren't especially montage friendly, for one reason or another (Furlong is often a distracting presence in the background). Wherever I inserted the clip(s) it ended up feeling forced.

My fifth regret isn't specific: just a combination of all sorts of scenes or images I couldn't quite get to work that I had to leave out. So it goes.

But overall, I'm pleased. Again, thanks for the kind words (and the tweet).

Sheila O'Malley said...

He's just so damn compelling. Even in that dumb clip from Another 9 1/2 Weeks ... he just oozes charisma. What he has can't be copied. It's star quality. But honest star quality. Like Montgomery Clift (who I know Rourke idolized) or Dean - but Rourke has more stillness than Dean, more of a coiled thoughtful somewhat dangerous presence. He's hypnotic. That's one of the reasons why Rumble Fish is so awesome, as you mention. The camera just adores his face, and he adores the attention. The camera is there and he opens up like a flower on speeded-up film. He's both a showoff and very shy. Most great actors are. Great job, Jason. He's very dear to me (obviously). His work meant a lot to me and my actor friends when we all were coming up and studying. He was "IT".

Sheila O'Malley said...

Oh, and I think the scene where his new face is unveiled in Johnny Handsome is not only the best work he's ever done, but the best work ANYone has ever done.

Tony Dayoub said...

Amen, Sheila.

Sheila O'Malley said...

and yeah - I always felt that his "cool" was hiding an existential awareness of death, of isolation. He really captured that in Diner, but it's in almost everything he does. I got into that in my piece a little bit. He's always at a slight REMOVE - which makes him seem cool (and in the early 90s when he was floundering, that's all he' doing - copying that REMOVE that was so indelibly his - but it's a pale imitation) - but that remove is on top of a whirlpool of anxiety, about his place, his ability to connect, his questioning about "who am I, what am I DOING while I am here on this planet ..." So in a way, he can't be "removed" enough - and yet that's what he strives for, because the questioning is so intense. In Rumble Fish, he LIVES in that questioning place, which makes him so damn compelling. It's not SCHTICK for him (although it obviously became that during those years when he was "lost"). Again, I go back to that scene in Johnny Handsome when the bandages are taken off and he sees his new face. This is a man who runs HOT HOT HOT. It's a killer combo - that cool remove, with that HOT interior. Very few actors have that, truly have that.

Sheila O'Malley said...

Many try to imitate him. Few succeed. He is an original. And yet his work references all the greats, Cagney and Brando and Dean. But his soul is his own. We missed him so much when he fell off the scene. It just didn't feel the same without him.

Jason Bellamy said...

Sheila: Yeah, he reminds so much of others -- Brando to me, mostly, for the reasons I stated and because Brando also slummed through some embarrassing movies because he didn't give a damn or was too difficult to work with or just couldn't control his demons ... and he, too, was almost unrecognizable later in life -- but he's his own man, his own presence, no doubt about it.

What impresses me so much about JOHNNY HANDSOME is how well his transformation works -- how emotionally powerful it is -- even though we all know Rourke's actual face so damn well. So many 'transformational' movies, whether it's CLUELESS or something more serious, pull one over on us by handing us an actor we aren't as familiar with. But we KNOW Rourke is damn beautiful, and still somehow there's this emotional lift when he gets his "new" face.

(I also love Morgan Freeman in that movie. There isn't much to it, but, man, he could have been a tremendous villain if only he'd been given more opportunities.)

BTW, Tony: Wasn't it you who tweeted something other other day about JH in Blu-ray? Is it in the correct aspect ratio? Did you find out?

Tony Dayoub said...

I have secondhand info that it is indeed the correct aspect ratio, my friend. But I just ordered it today, so as soon as I get back to ATL I will confirm and respond in this thread.

Jason Bellamy said...

Excellent!

Castaway said...

Jason,

Really enjoyed this video. I've always had a fondness for Rourke (though so far I've haven't seen many of his "deep cuts", and Barfly is an "embarrassing" omission I hope to correct, pronto).

I remember back when the buzz of The Wrestler was building up and I caught an interview that director Darren Aronofsky did on Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment. I was reminded of this when you talked about the power of Rourke's eyes. I tracked down the interview

http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/tt/tt081224darren_aronofsky

and Darren definitely agrees:

"...you just look into his eyes and you melt. You just want to connect and you want to feel that energy..." In fact, to your point, Aronofsky says the greatest compliment he can receive about the film is that Randy the Ram does not wear sunglasses in one frame in the entire film.

andipopandi said...

Thank you so much, Jason... thanX from Germany, Cologne... from the very first moment, when i saw him in "Angel Heart" 1987, i was on fire... and i`m definitely straight... I dreamed of a great "comeback" in 2007... and he did it in 2008. Your tribute is awesome... great scenes, close-ups and fantastic well adapted excerpts from dialogues... I would have been happy, if you had added some of his great (little) performances as "Jane, the actress" from "Animal Factory", his scared mexican guy in "13" or his pusherman-cook in "Spun" ... but... however... you did a great job, Dude... i loved it!!! To me, Mickey is one of the greatest actors of the late twentieth century... and i hope, he will be the same for the young twenty-first...

andipopandi said...

Sorry for my terrible english!!!!

Jason Bellamy said...

Sorry for the delayed replies...

Castaway: That's great stuff from Aronofsky. He clearly understood Rourke's power. Thanks for the link!

andipopandi: No apologies necessary. ANIMAL FACTORY was one of the pieces I wanted to work in but just couldn't get it to fit. Thanks for your kind words. I'm touched each time someone tells me that this montage really resonated or captured what they love about Rourke. All I could hope for.