Saturday, September 27, 2008

A cool hand

Presidential debates come and go, but there will be only one Paul Newman. I find his death to be far bigger news today than the snoozefest that was last night's McCain-Obama matchup or (espeically) any of the post-debate analysis.

There are a lot of good Newman remembrances out there already. I especially like Manohla Dargis' slide show at the New York Times, and I'll point you also to my friend Jason Bellamy's nice look back at The Cooler.

As long as the spirit of debate is still in the air: What is your favorite Newman film, or what do you consider his best role? I hope you'll answer in the comments, M&M'ers. Here's Newman's IMDb page for reference.

Jason's already on record at his site with "Hud," from 1963. A good one, for sure. I noticed an online poll at the L.A. Times that, when I last saw the results, had "Too many good choices to pick one" with a sizable lead over "Cool Hand Luke" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." (The above picture is from a scene in "The Sting.")

I like all of those, but I think Michelle and I will probably kick off our Newman retrospective film festival tonight with "Cool Hand Luke," which we happen to own on DVD. "Butch Cassidy" is also queued up on the Tivo so that will get a viewing soon too. And I'm always ready to pair up "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money." But what I'm really looking forward to is going back to see three of his middle-to-late period movies again that are among my favorites. I really appreciate Newman from about the late 1970s on, because his looks have faded from godlike to merely extraordinarily handsome, and so he's forced to rely a bit more on his great charm and intelligence and other skills. I can relate.

And so, in this period I recommend "The Verdict" (1982), his incredible portrayal of a washed-up lawyer hoping to salvage some self-respect; "Absence of Malice" (1981), one of the better newspaper movies and maybe the only one that can make me root against the reporter (Sally Field); and "Nobody's Fool" (1994), which might be Newman's most subtle, affecting performance as an actor.

As for a verdict in the presidential debate, most of the commentary last night and this morning ran along predictable lines, with conservatives praising McCain's toughness and confidence on foreign policy, and liberals touting Obama's cool presidentialness and relaxed intelligence. Fine, but to declare a "winner" in a tit-for-tat talking points exchange seems silly to me.

Going by Judd Legum's guide to scoring the debate, which I linked to yesterday, it's hard to claim the meter moved toward either candidate. Call this one a draw and get back to me, candidates, when you've got an idea about fixing the economy.


Jason Bellamy said...

Mark, thanks for the link. "Butch" and "Luke" are in my DVD collection, and it was bittersweet jumping through both for screen captures for The Cooler. I watched "Luke" not too long ago, but I'm due for "Butch" again now.

The passing of Newman is another link gone to my movie hero, Steve McQueen. Newman and McQueen were often up for the same parts. In fact, for "Towering Inferno," they wanted McQueen for the architect, but he read the script and wanted to play the fireman. They expanded the role, brought in Newman and it works perfectly: McQueen as the natural tough guy; Newman as the white-collar type with heroism inside him.

"The Verdict" is a great Newman performance, but I don't think the film itself holds up very well. It's from the dreaded 80s when movies still had a hint of 70s vitality but were moving toward cookie-cutter molds, where they'd stay until the independant boom in the early 90s. But I digress.

Politics: The Legum piece is terrific. On that note, a saw a headline somewhere today that seemed about right: last night's winner was whichever guy is your guy.

Months ago I that Obama's youth would underline McCain's age when they shared the debate stage. But now that McCain is second on his own ticket, me thinks the Big Debate is going to be when the Veeps stare down one another.

Jason Bellamy said...

Newman's "official" obit is worth a read. Be sure to make it to the end, and the remarks of a friend about Newman watching his wife on the set. Touching stuff.

Rita said...

What a great tribute, Mark, to a great man and a great talent.

Thanks for reminding us of all the wonderful movie contributions Paul Newman made over the years. Too many, for sure, to zero in on a favorite. He was definately a favorite of mine.

Thanks to Jason, too, for the link to the official obit. What an incredible life.

Anonymous said...

Okay all you Driftwooders - did you know that we have 4 degrees of separation from Paul Newman? How? Petey M. grew up living next door to Arthur Newman in Connecticut. When Peter decided to move back to NYC after college he stayed with the Newmans until he found a place to live. That Thanksgiving he had dinner with the extended Newman family.

I remember Peter telling me the story about the dinner and stating, “and I think Paul Newman's wife is famous too?” What a boob. Later Peter had a coveted message left by Paul Newman on his answering machine. Whew, it was thrilling to hear Paul's voice in your ear. So now, you can all state that we “knew” Paul Newman too. Doesn’t that make you feel special?

As for the answer to the Paul Newman best picture award I would have to rank in order of what I’m looking for. Adonis - “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, Warmhearted Guy - “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and Gritty Actor - “Cool Hand Luke”. I agree that his later works were wonderful character portrayals and he was outstanding, but the movies themselves fall short of being great cinema.

freda said...

hmm, favourite Paul Newman movie? It's a tough choice because I loved all his movies, but I guess it would have to be Cool Hand Luke. I can still see his stomach after eating all those eggs, and it must have been ** years since I saw that movie. when did it come out? because that's when I saw it.

Jason Bellamy said...

Another Newman tribute worth reading.