Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kael of the Week: On Jack Nicholson

I again promise to start making more of an effort to actually do this feature every week.

“The actor who has put our new, ambivalent feelings about the warrior male to account is Jack Nicholson. Despite his excessive dynamism (and maybe partly because of it), this satirical actor has probably gone further into the tragicomedy of hardhat macho than any other actor. He exposes cracks in barroom-character armor and makes those cracks funny, in a low-down, grungy way. With his horny leers and his little-boy cockiness and one-upmanship, he illuminates the sources of male bravado. His whole acting style is based on the little guy coming on strong, because being a tough guy is the only ideal he’s ever aspired to. This little guy doesn’t make it, of course; Nicholson is the macho loser-hero. (In an earlier era, Nicholson would probably have played big guys.

When you see the celebration of adolescent male fantasies in the film The Yakuza, directed by Sydney Pollack, or in a John Milius picture—Dillinger or The Wind and the Lion—you may wonder of the filmmakers, ‘Are those boys being naughty just because they’re old enough to be scolded by their mothers?’ That’s the kind of naughtiness Jack Nicholson keeps us aware of; he includes it in his performances. He’s the kind of actor who gives you a character and then lets you follow him around the corner and watch as he reacts to what he just pulled off back there.”

-From “Notes on Evolving Heroes, Morals, Audiences”
The New Yorker, November 8, 1976

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