Saturday, January 28, 2012

And the Winner Is...?

It's award season again! You know what that means, movie lovers: an endless red carpet as the best and brightest of Tinsel Town scamper over to the Golden Globe awards, the People's Choice awards, The SAG awards, the Independent Spirit awards, the New York Film Critics awards and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, The Academy Awards (aka the Oscars).

Whew! I hope I didn't forget anybody.

As fun and glamorous as these spectacles may be, it's a proven fact that award shows don't always honor the truly "best" of any given film year. Even the Oscars have been known to bungle the job now and again (Marisa Tomei for "My Cousin Vinnie", anyone?).

It is also true that some really remarkable performances will never make the cut at award show time because, well, they are a bit unusual. By "unusual" I mean bad, of course. But bad in a good way. Sure, watching a pro like Meryl Streep or Robert DeNiro transforming themselves into Margaret Thatcher or Jake LaMotta maybe awe inspiring. However, you haven't lived until you've seen Faye Dunaway (Oscar winner for "Network") screech "No wire hangers, ever!" in "Mommie Dearest". Ditto for John Wayne gussied up as Genghis Khan in "The Conqueror" who tells a chap,"Onward, brave suitor! Would you leave your bride unkissed?"

There is just something about peerless bad acting that keeps Junk Cinema lovers glued to their seats. Therefore, in hopes of shining a well deserved spotlight on some truly manic performances, here are my picks for The Best Worst Attempts to Act of All Time (So Far).

BEST ACTRESS--In Ed Wood's deeply autobiographical "Glen or Glenda", horse-faced Delores Fuller (Ed's lady friend at the time) plays an innocent college student named Barbara who has no idea that her fiance' Glen (played by Wood himself) is a closet cross dresser--and very enamoured of her angora sweater too boot.

On the advice of a fellow cross dressing buddy, Glen finally comes clean to Barb. This is Fuller's big scene in the flick and she totally goes for it: perched in an over stuffed chair, Barb grips the arm rests, kneads her temples, rocks back and forth, heaves her shoulders and buries her head in her hands. Her face, meanwhile, contorts into a series of grimaces like she was preparing for a big, painful sneeze.

Clearly, the gal has had the shock of a lifetime. Judging from the torment she appears to be experiencing, you can't help but wonder if her "motivation" for the scene was reliving the mother of all menstrual cramps. Nevertheless, the viewer is just as transfixed as Glen/Ed, who appears to be resisting the urge to yell, "Are you done yet?! We only have enough film for one take, and I'm in this scene, too!"

Once Fuller has pulled herself together, she haltingly begins to speak.

"Glen," she begins. "I don't really understand, but (pause) maybe we can work it out together."

But wait! There's more!

Silently, Barb rises from her chair and begins unbuttoning her angora sweater--the one "Glen has always admired"--and hands it to her fiance' in a loving gesture of support. Glen can hardly believe it--and neither can the viewers.

Take that, Meryl Streep!

BEST ACTOR--Snarling like a rabid Doberman, sneering like Snidely Whiplash and howling like a banshee--all at the same time!--Stephen Boyd leaves no scene or co-star unchewed as he hurls himself through the hilariously awful "The Oscar".

Boyd is Frankie Fane, a mean, loud, misogynist creep who climbs to the pinnacle of Hollywood success by using, abusing, back stabbing and screwing (in more ways than one) everyone who gets in his way. That includes girlfriend Jill St. John, best friend Tony Bennett, wife Elke Sommer and agent Elenore Parker who bellows, "I'm not just some garbage pail you can slide the lid on when you're through!"

Frankie wants a Best Actor Oscar so bad he's willing to kill for it...or at least spread a nasty rumor that one of his competitors is slandering his good name. Will the sympathy vote coast Frankie to victory or will he receive the side splitting come-uppance he deserves?

Only the Tasmanian Devil of cartoon fame comes close to duplicating Boyd's furious, frenzied performance. As Frankie Fane, Stephen snarls, sneers, spits out insults, throws food, pushes people into swimming pools and makes vaguely offensive hand gestures--everything but actually acting. By the time "The Oscar" is finished, Boyd is totally spent.

Mesmerizing and heinous.

Of course, not every eye catching performance in Junk Cinema is a leading one. Here are two supporting players who can be counted on to always deliver the goods.

TOR JOHNSON--The bald, 300 pound former wrestler once billed as "The Swedish Angel" began a memorable second career as an actor in Ed Wood and Coleman Francis movies. Usually called upon to play a mute servant (to cover up his heavy Swedish accent), Tor had worthy star turns in "Bride of the Monster", "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "The Unearthly", where Tor uttered the lines "Time for to go to bed" and "A pretty girl".

However, Tor's biggest part was in Coleman Francis' debut feature "The Beast of Yucca Flats". This black and white/sci-fi/anti-nuke picture cast Tor as a defecting Hungarian scientist who has info on "the secret Russian moon launch". Unfortunately, "two of the Kremlin's most ruthless agents" chase him onto the nuclear testing range at scenic Yucca Flats. Seconds later, poor Tor is fried in an explosion. No worse for wear, the hapless Hungarian is thus transformed into the title character or, as narrator Coleman Francis dryly observes, "Touch a button, things happen. A scientist becomes a beast."

Tor spends the rest of the film wandering around Yucca Flats, killing motorists, molesting women (BOO), chasing after lost kids (DOUBLE BOO) and tossing around fake boulders. Despite the fact that "The Beast of Yucca Flats" was shot on an ultra low budget in available daylight without any recorded sound (the dialogue was inserted later) and on available weekends, Tor is completely believable as The Beast. In fact, this was his final film before retiring from the silver screen. Always a pro, Tor saved the very best for last.

Jean Fontaine--I don't know where she came from, I don't know where she went, but anyone who has seen Ed Wood's anti-porn polemic "The Sinister Urge" can't forget her: the raspy voiced skank Gloria, essayed with relish by Jean Fontaine.

Gloria is the Martha Stewart of porn and she regularly rides roughshod over her male underlings Johnny Ride (Wood regular Carl Anthony, as a director "who once made good movies" but is now toiling for Gloria) and psycho-muscle Dirk, who has a nasty habit of carving up smut models after he views their pictures. Favoring skin tight outfits, high heels and blindingly blond hair, Gloria has a voice that is so gruff and bristly, you could shave with it. No one is safe from her acid tongue ("When I say 'let's see those legs', I mean from the tip of your toes to the top of your hat!" she barks to a flummoxed ingenue who thinks she's auditioning for a "real" movie) or her bulldozing management style ("When I say 'hot', brother, I mean HOT!" Gloria commands). No wonder the police are having a hard time bringing her in.

I've searched and cannot find any biographical data on this gal. Heaven knows where notorious fringe dweller Ed Wood stumbled upon her, yet Fontaine was perfectly cast as Gloria. Stalking across the screen like a panther, cigarette in hand, barking out orders and belting back hooch, Jean Fontaine was an unstoppable force of nature. After viewing the flick, viewers are left to ponder: did Ed Wood evoke this performance from her or was Jean just being herself?

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