Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Best Screen Villain: Wes Studi's MAGUA in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS

Watch him: he's like a monstrous dark image of hate, from his raptor's beak of a nose to the Huron war plumes bristling on his shaven naked head. Everything counts: that pulse throbbing in his temple precedes his devoutly-schemed-for homicides by seconds. His very acne scars have a vile eloquence.

He's subtle. See the fascinating night scene of his parlay with the French general Montcalm. These two brilliant insincere minds understand each other so well, and with so few words. Montcalm smoothly explains that the English prisoners are allowed by law to leave safely. LEAVE safely--he doesn't say, REACH THEIR DESTINATION safely. Magua knows he has been given permission to kill them down to the last man and woman.

Which is exactly what he almost does. As a scout, he leads the relieved and complacent party of English prisoners frolicking along to their doom as though to a picnic. Then suddenly he's the god pulling the strings, delivering the first blow in an ecstatic seizure of revenge as the English are ambushed by his warriors, and bloodily hacked apart with gore flooding their red coats.

Even in this scene of carnage, Magua's focus is unearthly: what he wants is the scalp and beating heart of the Englishman Munro, his great enemy. Driving straight through the chaos like a spear to its target, he finds Munro and cripples him--you will never see eyes more remote and murderous than Magua's in this scene--then, not content with simply killing the man, tells Munro with a terrifying icy triumph that he will leave behind him no issue on the earth: his children will be murdered. Thus Magua breaks Munro's heart before he cuts it out and holds it high.

Wes Studi underplays throughout, except for brief moments in the magnificent action scenes when his intensity explodes. He's capable of great nuance just by slight movements of his eyes. Even in the climactic fight with Uncas (Eric Schweig)--the noble and (it has to be said) staggeringly beautiful Mohican warrior who's attempting to rescue Munro's daughter Alice--Magua has a totemic focus. He leaps, parries, stabs, slashes, and throws Uncas down the cliff face--with the efficiency of a violent dance. Even when he cuts Uncas's throat, and the boy is dead, Magua's expression reveals a powerful distaste, as though he feels disgust for the carrion corpse beneath his hand. That look of Studi's seems like an odd choice--until we think about it and realize that it's exactly what Magua would have felt.

Studi's performance keeps hitting us on the back of the head with a shovel. We can't rest for a moment, because he never can while he lives. And as though everything he's done weren't enough, it turns out he had his reasons. His wife and children were murdered by whites. That is what set him on this frenzy.

In a final turn of the blade, Magua's most perfect revenge, we don't get to just hate him. We have to understand him.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Men and Women Talk About The Ex, With Heartbreak and Humor

"She wanted to take the dogs. But the dogs liked me better."
Mickey Rourke, actor

"I was totally committed to Janet Leigh, she was the star of my heart throughout our marriage, although I did cheat on her constantly from day one."
Tony Curtis, actor. He explains in his autobiography that he was so beautiful as a young man, the girls hunted him down like a dog and he couldn't fight them off.

"He's an asshole, he really is."
Lorrie Moore, writer. Moore was married to a divorce lawyer.

"There's a Spanish saying for a certain type of cold, sadistic, punitive husband: 'He makes her eat ice.' I decided that forty years of eating ice was enough."
J.Z., a friend

"She said to me, 'I'm just not that into you romantically.' And I said to her, 'Then what is it we've been doing?'"
Laura R., about the woman she'd thought of as her lover, D.

"Live by the sword, die by the sword."
Ernest Hemingway, writer, said this about his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer. Hemingway had never forgiven Pfeiffer for being (as he saw it) a home-wrecker who pursued him when he was an innocent lad, and lured him away from his first marriage to sweet Hadley Richardson. He now gloated over the "prairie justice" aspects of allowing himself to be lured away from Pfeiffer by a much younger woman. Martha Gellhorn would become his third wife. However, Hemingway only fully learned about real prairie justice when Gellhorn left him for younger men and for her journalism career.

"I realized why she divorced me in the first place. I was in love with her, but she was not in love with me. For her, I was not the most beautiful thing on the planet."
Terrence Howard, actor

"He's a psychologist. He's also cunning. And what he did was stop talking to me. He withdrew, leaving me to stumble and tremble, to wonder what was happening. And when he did talk, it was to ridicule and threaten. He seemed to enjoy his immense capacity to frighten me...soon after our new baby's birth, there were moments when I confronted my husband, telling him I was lonely and frightened. 'Why are you so cruel?' I'd ask him. 'Why don't you hold your daughter? Why don't you hold the baby? Why don't you love us?'"
Marlena de Blasi, writer. She found a kind and loving second husband, thank God, and describes their courtship in her memoir, A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE.

"It was as if he'd been attracted to me for my exuberance, and then did everything he could to tone it down. Dutifully, I chucked my red shoes into the back of the closet and wore a lot of grey."
Laura Fraser, writer.

"I would never desert her, or let her feel that she was abandoned."
F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer. Fitzgerald never divorced his mentally ill wife Zelda, although friends urged him to do so.

And finally, this serious but somehow encouraging passage from writer Edmund Wilson's journal about a meeting with Mary Blair when they were in the middle of getting a divorce:

"When I finally left her in her apartment, after dinner, she gave me a human intelligent look, as she said good night, which made me feel her friendliness and her strength: a look of understanding between us on a level above our wrangling. I could count on her, she could count on me."