Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nicolas Cage: The Transition to Action Star


In Coda (wrote this in college, can’t find the citation, sorry Coda) mentions that Nicolas Cage is a child of Jerry Lewis. If there is any question of this relation, check out Peggy Sue Got Married, Nic’s performance as Charlie Bodell is the vaudevillian descendant of Lewis’ wackiness. In the movie, Cage operates in a world that doesn’t understand his broad actions, Charlie stands out “like a Tarantula on a birthday cake” to quote Raymond Chandler. He was heavily criticized for his portrayal and severed relations with his famous uncle Francis who left him out of Godfather III because of his artistic choices. Much of the same persecution Lewis faced for his broad comedies that were hated by American critics and worshipped by the French. I hate putting myself in the vein of the French, but the only thing that holds up in Peggy Sue (a bad Back to the Future) is Cage, he’s wonderful, charming, and over the top. When he is not on screen the movie drags leaving you begging for more scenes with Charlie.
However, Cage had more license than Lewis, who desperately wanted to make serious films. If you ever listen to an interview with Lewis, he’s an angry cuss obsessed with the human universality of comedy, which explains why he made the vaulted away The Day the Clown Cried (A circus clown is imprisoned by the Nazis and goes with Jewish children to their deaths-Imdb). Cage, on the other hand, has been able to dabble between serious and comedy for his entire career, even from the beginning. Then he did something even more surprising, he became an action star in the nineties.
 This begs an interesting question? What does the action film and the comedy have in common? The most well-known and critically acclaimed action films of all time are the Indiana Jones series, especially Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). In fact when Indy runs from the rock in the beginning of the film, which is actually Spielberg’s tribute to Buster Keaton’s running away from large boulders in one of his early films. In fact most of Spielberg’s chase scenes are essentially the comic chase scenes of Keaton, but with more dire seriousness attached, they have their jokes, but also their inherent danger.  Comedy is also intertwined in the James Bond series when he delivers a punch line after someone has gruesomely died. He makes a joke on death to make his character seem less sadistic than the character Fleming had created, who was basically an assassin. However, the joke also reveals sadism while trying to mask it. The joke is vicious, but because it is about a villain it seems less so.  The comedy in action adventure films suppresses the drama and as an audience we are able to engage in the adventure without constantly worrying that our hero will die. Instead we enter the film usually knowing he will not, joy we get from watching a magician’s stunts. However, in an action film we are so instead of worrying about his death we wonder how he will escape his death similar to the able to see the magicians magic and the cleverness of his escape usually results in a humorous and clever escape. So in fact Cage’s transition is not strange, in fact it is much like the escape of an action hero in the film, for the action hero escapes using devices and connections that the audience has not thought of and evades his previous predicament. 

The Hollywood Defender


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