Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The Return (Somewhat) of Chronological Snobbery
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Fifteenth Anniversary: The X-Files - "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (October 13, 1995)
The fourth episode of the series' third season, it finds itself nicely situated in that period in which "The X-Files" had an immense amount of cultural currency but had yet to become the insufferable show with a myriad unanswered questions (which remained unanswered just to keep the show afloat and on the air). It was written by Darin Morgan and directed by David Nutter. Boyle played Bruckman, a psychic insurance salesman who can foresee the circumstances of other people's deaths (a helpful trait in that industry). The episode's plot was typical for the series; someone is killing phony fortune tellers, so Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) use Bruckman and his gift to try to foil future murders. But the episode is deeply philosophical, as it explores the possible futility of existence if everything is preordained and the paradoxes presented by the concept of free will. In so doing, Mulder and Bruckman discuss fate and foresight in the following exchange:
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: How can I see the future if it didn't already exist?It's that type of fatalistic dialog that makes the episode a true gem.
FOX MULDER: Then if the future is written, then why bother to do anything?
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Now you're catching on.
But the episode begins with a murder. In a fit of frustration or symbolism, the mysterious killer cuts out the eyes and entrails of Madame Zelma, a fortune teller. Late at the crime scene, a group of assembled police officers discuss the bizarre nature of the crime. They anticipate the arrival of a novel investigator with strange methods - not Mulder (as we are led to believe), but The Stupendous Yappi, a telepsychic, with a penchant for investigating crimes. When Mulder and Scully arrive at the scene, they are ultimately dismissed by the police, who prefer Yappi.
While the local police follow Yappi's would-be leads, Mulder and Scully stumble across Bruckman, who comes across their radar after he discovers the body of one of the victims. Bruckman possesses a great deal of knowledge about the killer and the killings, leading Scully to suspect that Bruckman may in fact be the killer, while Mulder realizes he is simply clairvoyant. Mulder attempts to convince Bruckman to help them catch the killer, but Bruckman is at first reluctant. But then he realizes that meddling with the future he sees in his mind might create a paradox that ultimately negates his own existence. On this point, he elaborates:
CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Well, you see, that's another reason I can't help you catch this guy. I might adversely affect the fate of the future. I mean, his next victim might be the mother of the daughter whose son invents the time machine. Then the son goes back in time and changes world history and then Columbus never discovers America, man never lands on the moon, the U.S. never invades Grenada. Or something less significant, resulting in the fact that my father never meets my mother and consequently, I'm never born.Upon that last thought, he reconsiders and offers his help.
Bruckman soon realizes that the killer has some type of psychic power of his own and that he, the killer, knows about Bruckman's assistance to the FBI. When this becomes apparent, Scully and Mulder put Bruckman into some type of protective custody at Le Damfino Hotel. But as the fates would have it, that is the very hotel where the killer works as a bellboy. Coincidence?
But even before that, Bruckman knows his time is up. "I'll be dead before you catch this guy, no matter what you do," he tells the two FBI agents. That prognostication proves correct.
Mesmerizing in his fatalism, Bruckman knows he cannot escape his fate. For him, the future is written and immutable, he can foresee it, and there is nothing to be done but accept it. Before he becomes entangled with Mulder and Scully's investigation, he doesn't bother to help others whose demise he sees, because to do so would be pointless. Were he to attempt to do so, he would only become an instrument of fate and, knowingly or unknowingly, bring about the precise future he had previously foreseen. Bruckman is not unlike the often written about time traveler from the future who knows that any interference with the past will only bring about the future that he already knows has occurred. (Technically, Mulder is able to escape Bruckman's prediction of his imminent demise, but of course, the main character gets to live.).
Reached by e-mail in November of 2007, before this site went on its extended hiatus, actors Dwight McFee (pictured above), Greg Anderson, Frank Cassini, and Stuart Charno, were kind enough to submit to brief email interviews. McFee played Detective Havez, who is ultimately slain by the killer while protecting Bruckman. Cassini played Detective Cline, a local cop assisted by Mulder and Scully. Anderson played a jaded crime scene photographer, while Charno, as aforementioned, plays the killer. For the most part, I asked all four actors the same set of questions, and so for the sake of ease and clarity, I've included them below collectively.
1. You appeared in what is widely regarded as one of the best episodes of The X-Files. Looking back twelve years, how do you view it and your performance therein?
MCFEE: It's hard to believe that that was twelve years ago! However, I remember it clearly. Why do I remember it that clearly? The buzz on the set . . . was clearly that the show was taking off. The buzz was great and Mr. [Chris] Carter had nurtured the baby along with interesting and relevant stories. Cast and crew had been together for awhile, the enterprise was gelling. And now there was more money per episode. The time could be taken to make the episode as clean and perfect as possible. This episode had an several extra days to shoot. Sincerely, there was a feeling that maybe this was more than TV, but 'classic'. I don't know if you're aware of this, but each director, (in my case the inimitable David Nutter), had a small stable of actors who were used somewhat as a repertory company. In other words, we appeared in several episodes in different sized and kind of roles or voice overs. It was a thrill to be able to participate and contribute in the growth of the series. We were given the confidence of Mr. Carter and our director and it made us feel that we had a stake in making this series as good as possible. As to 'Clyde', it was early in the shooting season and it was like old home week. And we had Peter Boyle. The care that David Nutter took with the episode and the great story, well, I just knew this one was going to be good. As it turned out, my instincts were right. Regarding my performance: I did the best I could and felt it worked for the episode. I generally let other people do the judging.2. How did you prepare for your role as this character, and how would you describe him?
ANDERSON: In all honesty, I have never seen the episode. I have seen the opening scene where I am flashing a picture of eyeballs.
CASSINI: Well, I do agree that it was one of the best episodes. It had a humor about it that was so intelligent and witty. I think it still stands up really well. Looking back at my performance is fun. Saying those lines with a straight face was challenging but it was the only way to do it.
CHARNO: I think that the idea of an insurance salesman who can see the future, is brilliant. Darin Morgan, who deservedly won an Emmy for the writing of the script, created (as he always does) some very interesting characters. Peter Boyle also won an Emmy, for playing that ironic insurance salesman, so marvelously. The Puppet, which was what my character was called in the script, "couldn't help" doing what he was doing. And all the characters he eviscerates, are fortune tellers, to whom he goes for help, to find out why he's doing these terrible things. With the first fortune teller we see the Puppet attack, played by Karin Konoval, he says to her, "you're a fortune teller . . . you should have seen this coming." Brilliant. From the view of trying to bring to life what Darin created, I took him to lunch to ask him some questions. Until that time, like the character I was playing, I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing. My lunch with Darin was no help. The writer's process and the actor's process aren't necessarily usefully coordinated. Darin (who is also a trained actor, and played a major character in one episode of the show) said that sometimes certain things the writer has to do, are just what the television story requires. It wasn't about the characters' logic. That was revelatory for me. As far as my performance goes, I always wish I could do it again. I see that as a general symptom of any artist, though. A performance (acting, playing an instrument, dancing, etc), is whatever runs through the artist at that moment, and looked at later, it will either "feel right" or not, to the artist. It's the unscratchable artist's itch, which continually drives them/us to make efforts/practice to improve. . . . I personally find acting, to be the most difficult art. Needless to say, this varies from person to person, but personally, I just don't like getting upset for make believe reasons -- which is what acting mostly is. If you look at anything on TV right now, you'll see actors "getting upset" for make believe reasons. Some people love doing that. I'm not one of those people. This is important, I think; I never intended to be an actor. I graduated music college, and had every intention of earning my way in the world, through music. I was sitting in a place in Manhattan, watching a friend sing, when a woman at a nearby table, who had been looking at me throughout the evening, sidled her chair over to my table, and asked, "Are you a comedian?" I smiled and said, "Well, I feel funny." She gave me her card. Yvette Bickoff was her name, and she was an agent. "Go study some acting. I want to represent you." A couple of months later, (and a couple of acting workshops later), she started sending me on auditions. I got three movies, back to back: The Chosen, Friday the 13th Part 2, and a TV movie for ABC. Now I had to learn the art of acting.
MCFEE: After I read the script and found the script ironic and kind of off beat funny, my first impression of these two detectives was that they were fish out of water. Kind of discombobulated over the whole thing. And the FBI were involved! Just think of the first scene. Camera pan to an eye in a tea cup with two federal agents! And look, I mean, the character's name is Havez. When Mr. Nutter and I talked we had a good laugh over that one. As Mr. Nutter said, this guy is even confused about his identity. My first thought was that we were going to dye my hair black and put a moustache on me (I had done that one on a double episode of "Wiseguy" with Paul Guilfoyle). But after talking with Mr. Nutter, he was right: It'll be funny and confusing to have a blond Havez. And that's where I started. Then it called to mind and I did a little research on those thirties and forties detective movies (Dick Powell, Cagney, Mitchum, etc.) where there are two detectives following the evidence while the lead really knows what's going on. The detectives are a bit klutzy and awkward, enamoured with the oddity of the situation and forgetting what they are doing. And I'd say that that was Havez. There he is, having to protect the star witness, and he's more concerned about whether he will die of cancer from smoking. And it's funny. The pulling of the cigarette from the ear and heading into the bathroom with a "Don't open that door." Then being attacked by the bellhop. Cut to a cigarette on the floor burning with a long ash. I did love that sense of seriousness and 'send up' in that episode. And with that character. One of the lovely things about that series and episode was that Mr. Carter used the supporting cast not just to deliver plot but was able to use the supporting cast integrally to establish the mood, the world that this series lived in.3. What was it like working with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson? Do you have any specific memories of him on the set that you would like to share? What about Peter Boyle?
ANDERSON: I remember being very happy to have this job. I also remember David Nutter saying to me, before we shot anything, "It's just a job and he (my character) is just doing his job." That is what I went for. The "seen it all before" thing. Nothing would bother me. Not even eyeballs and flesh on a table.
CASSINI: This was one of those roles where I relied more on David Nutter, the director, to guide me through because of the distinct style he was going for. Again, dry and straight. I saw the character as someone who wanted to do well. To solve this mysterious crime. So he went to work.
CHARNO: As an actor, the work that I learned (I trained for 4 years with Peter Frisch), was to put myself in a quiet creative space, and use my imagination to fill in a life for the character. With this character, I inexplicably kept coming up blank. My imagination supplied nothing. The lines in the script felt like I was just saying them -- like a puppet -- which is what Darin named the character. Suddenly, it made sense. Just saying the lines, like a puppet, with no "real internal feelings" about them, seemed the way to play it. That's all my imagination could come up with, to explain the terrible things my character was doing. He just didn't think about it. The director, David Nutter, in the scene with Peter Boyle in the hotel room, where [Bruckman] and I finally meet each other, told me to "play it very casually. Like it was no big thing." So that's what I tried to do/show. For me, some of the intensity of their meeting, is lost with that choice, but that's what directors do, to get what they want. So many arts and artists come together -- writing, acting, photography, music, sets, costumes, etc., -- and archived on film, that directing attention to any single art, loses the bigger "picture." Everyone who works, is part of what's seen, but few are actually on screen.
MCFEE: I never really got to know either David or Gillian except to watch them work or with them in a scene or small chit chat waiting for the next set up. As actors, though, we got to know each other. For instance, because "Clyde" had a certain playfulness and off beat humour to it, shooting the tea scene opening was a lot of fun and you could tell David was having a gas. It was a kind of release. To be able to, I guess, not take it to seriously. Which was right in keeping with the script. It wasn't, in a way, as serious as the usual events for Mulder. But it became serious. So shooting that scene and [the Stupendous Yappi scene] was to be 'played' with for David. For Gillian, it was all serious all the time. Her work had a weight to it. Not unlike working with Richard Widmark or Cliff Robertson whom I had worked with just before this episode. However, watching them progress over the episode and the series, they had two contrasting styles. One loose and kind of improv and the other classical and straight. Which of course was perfect for the series, as well as the writing being excellent. In this episode, the two got to stretch it a bit and even they could be incredulous until they work it out. These are only observations from an actor watching and learning. Both created a thinking, working serious environment. And generous. Which was great.4. What do you think this episode says about the nature of fate, and do you agree with it?
As for Mr. Boyle, I had followed this wonderful actor's career since Steelyard Blues with Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda. After all, Mr. Sutherland was a Canadian. Way back then, I was doing a lot of theatre (still do) and in some instances, playing several parts in one play (not any more). Mr. Boyle played all the other parts in Steelyard and it was amazing. Plus, I had a few scenes with him! What more does a guy want. Mr. Boyle was (and you have to be when you've got a guest starring or large role when you 'drop in' on a series for one episode and a few days) totally focused on the role. Consummate in his concentration. Which is so helpful in accomplishing resonance and life in a scene. That kind of experience and craft and giving makes a scene percolate for all involved. He was a pro, God rest his soul.
ANDERSON: I had a great time on set. I remember David being very dry and funny and Gillian being very quiet. She would sit, and then all of a sudden, something very obscure would come out of her. They were both fun. Peter was great. Very intimidating. I have always been a fan of his. The thing I remember most is me coming out of my trailer and going to hair and make-up. It was very late, and the set was down town. Peter had just flown in and came from the airport to the set. I saw him, and he smiled, a tired smile. That was it. That smile and his messy hair.
CASSINI: Working with Gillian and David was great. They're both very professional and friendly. They both have the capacity to remember a lot of dialogue seemingly with ease. It was great to watch Peter at work. A real committed actor.
CHARNO: Peter Boyle was just a delicious human being. We went out for dinner one night, and a little kid came up to me and asked me for my autograph. There I was, sitting with Peter Boyle in a restaurant, and the kid wanted my autograph. I smiled, and started to look for paper and pen, when the kid asked me, "Are you Frankenstein?" I looked over my shoulder, at his parents, who were wildly gesticulating, trying to get their son to go to the other guy, Peter Boyle. Young Frankenstein. Peter happily signed. Most people don't know this; David Duchovny does a great Christopher Walken impression. He did it, under request duress, and we howled. I'd worked with David's brother, Danny Duchovny, who is a director, on some commercials over the years, also. A fun gene pool.
MCFEE: What does the episode say? That all is pre-ordained? Is it? What IS inevitable? Certainly the ideologues of Globalization and corporate crony Friedmanite capitalism would have you believe it is inevitability. That all nature is Fate. I don't think that episode says that or that Clyde represents that. I think Chris Carter was saying that there is mystery out there. There are choices, choices we can't or don't make or even will make that all affect our lives. It's up to each one of us to have the strength and courage to respect that (which David and Gillian's characters have). That Clyde lives in fear of the unknown (after all the series was about fear of the unknown) and sometimes your mind can make these things happen. Maybe? Clyde sees his own death and it comes to pass! Why? We don't know. We can only be human and want to know the great mystery that is this world or dimension. If fate ran our lives and we knew how it was going to work out, then the life changing experiences like LOVE and discovery and enlightenment and eureka would not be what they are. Life changing. Fate is a rationalizationfor fear. Fear of the other. Fear of change. Fear of love. Fear of what's OUT THERE.Below are screen captures of Anderson, Cassini, and Charno:
ANDERSON: Now, that is a hard one to answer. I remember reading the script and thinking this is cool. The fact that Clyde saw the murders, and then his own, and then to accept it. That ultimately is it, isn't it? To accept what you think you cannot change and then by accepting it, making it unchangeable?
CASSINI: I do agree with fate and that certain events cannot be pre-determined. Destiny has it's own course. In the case of Clyde, he had a gift to pre-pre-determine, which shows us it's better to not know, because in Clyde, we saw the effort and pain it cost him. The responsibility is too much to endure. He would mix things up which added to the humor, but when he did get it, it was very powerful. Great writing!
CHARNO: Fate -- or the assumption that things that happen, had to happen, I see as both true and false. We're all, both, out of our control, and completely in our control. I call this simuntaneous truth of opposites, "wiggle room." It's the amount of variation from one's natural, built-in habits, that's also, built in. "Wiggle room" is why some people can stop smoking, or lose weight, or change any behavior, and also explains why it's SO difficult to change. The way a human is built, certain behaviors are automatic, or controllable. Breathing , blinking or swallowing, are examples, as is thinking. These things will go on naturally, or they can be controlled a little bit. Wiggle room. So fate will determine your life, AND you're in complete control, at the same time.
The episode has sparked much critical commentary. (In fact, someone way more philosophical than I once analyzed this episode here.). Wrote Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule:
The other performance that I take as a gift straight from Peter Boyle is his brilliant, Emmy-winning characterization as Clyde Bruckman, a lonely insurance salesman cursed with the ability to foretell the circumstances of other people’s deaths, and unable to stop conjuring up dream images about his own. In Darin Morgan’s amazingly lucid, limber and funny script for "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," one of the best hours in the entirety of the The X-Files, Bruckman is dryly amusing. But Boyle’s unique ability to access pathos without lapsing into embarrassing overmodulation, and the clarity of his stare as he doles out the most ominous information with the surety and matter-of-factness of a slightly bored salesman, is perfect to fully flesh out the painful comedy and longing buried between the lines of Morgan’s words. Boyle richly deserved the award he received for this episode, and the rejuvenated career that followed on Everybody Loves Raymond as a result. Thanks must go to Morgan for writing such a wonderful story as “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” but even more so, I think, to Boyle, who, along with Gillian Anderson (Scully) and David Duchovny (Mulder), truly turned this into a classic stand-alone episode, one of the best of any TV show I’ve ever seen. Imagine this exchange between the three actors, and then go home and watch it. I can think of no better tribute to Peter Boyle, on the occasion of his death, from complications related to heart disease, than this.
Some other fun notes about this episode:
- Both writer Darin Morgan and Peter Boyle won Emmies for this episode.
- Scully and Bruckman play cards, and of course, Bruckman, fated to die by the end of the episode, ends up the aces and eights, the dead man's hand.
- The episode aired five days before Boyle's sixtieth birthday.
- Damfino, the name of the hotel in the episode, comes from the name of a boat in an old Buster Keaton film.
- Karin Konoval appears as Madame Zelma, a fortune teller murdered by the killer in the first two minutes of the episode. Efforts to reach her through her agents at King Talent in both 2007 and 2010 for an interview were unsuccessful.
- The character, the Stupendous Yappi (Jaap Broeker), would appear again in "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space,'" which aired that same season in April of 1996.
- The concept of prophecy is referred to in many forms, including from anthropomancy to tasseography.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Kicking and Screaming - 15th Anniversary
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Happy Late Birthday, Chronological Snobbery.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Men at Work - 20th Anniversary (1990)
Monday, August 23, 2010
Resquiat in Pacem: Joe Strummer (1952 - 2002)
Lead Singer, The Clash
(August 21, 1952 - December 22, 2002)
This past Saturday would have been the fifty-eighth birthday of Joe Strummer, the lead singer of the Clash, who died in 2002 at age 50. I can't say that I was fan from the beginning, or even from the middle. I was too young to really be into The Clash before they imploded and sunk into the depths of pop culture history in 1985. I became acquainted with them in several ways in the early 1990s. My parents, of all people, introduced me to the 1989 Jim Jarmusch flick Mystery Train, in which Strummer appeared as a swaggering Memphis hipster soon to be on the lam. Some friends of mine used to cover "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" during their gigs back in early high school. Most John Cusack movies are littered with Clash references. Since then, though, I've gotten into them heavily and now own all of their records. I don't subscribe to all of that hype about them being the only band that mattered, but all of their tunes were fueled with an energy that is absent in most mainstream music. A few links for you:
Joe Strummer's Internet Movie Database Profile
New York Times Obituary for Joe Strummer
BBC Collection of Joe Strummer Tributes
Entertainment Weekly Obituary for Joe Strummer
Village Voice Obituary for Joe Strummer
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Pump Up The Volume (1990)
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Six Feet Under Ends (August 21, 2005)
Five years ago today, on August 21, 2005, the fine HBO series "Six Feet Under" ended its four year, five season run with one of the most melancholy and beautiful series finales in recent history. The closing montage (see above), set to Sia's "Breathe Me," is the standard by which all series finales should be judged, and few series in the past few years have come close to equaling the somber magic of those last few moments.