O.S.S. REMEMBERS BILL PAXTON
Luke and I conceived One Sensational Shot during the Great Pop Culture Cull of 2016 and it was with consideration of that increasingly mawkish backdrop of vague eulogies and platitudes that we resolved to sidestep the births/marriages/deaths cycle and for the most part spare our audience a rolling litany of obituaries. Then out of nowhere Bill Paxton flippin’ died and it became necessary to emphasise more heavily that caveat of “for the most part.”
Paxton was the most honest reflection of the best things about Hollywood cinema: rambunctious supporting roles in impressive studio tentpoles made him a legend; in contrast, when he did take a lead it was often as a decent, thoughtful everyman in a sophisticated crime drama or thriller of conflicted morals and fatalist overtones, modest unheralded studio pictures with reputations that continue to grow, underseen but adored. The rest of the time seemed dedicated to turning up in all sorts – schlocky horror and clunky sci-fi and odd comedies and minor action gems, much of it now diverting in its delicious and increasing obscurity. With a diligence and craft devoid of pretension and equipped with a renowned good humour, somehow Bill Paxton spent 30 years making only films that are actually worth watching.
To honour his impact on us, throughout 2017 O.S.S. will be watching, rewatching, reviewing and dissecting a grab bag of “Wild” Bill’s oeuvre and we’d like you to help. To start us off I’ve selected a two-year, five-film run of diverse genre and quality – One False Move, The Vagrant, Trespass, Boxing Helena and Indian Summer. We’d like our listeners to add to that by choosing another three from our following favourites:
1. Weird Science (John Hughes, 1985)
“Not having a good time? Do you think they’re having a good time being catatonic in a closet? Do you have any idea how disrespectful that is!”
2. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
Scorching revisionist rendering of several genres at the same time. A dream cult cast including Jack Deth, Chipper from Top Gun and the kid from River’s Edge is led by Hudson, Vasquez and Bishop (audaciously borrowed by Bigelow from future husband Jim Cameron’s Aliens) and the inestimable Jenny Wright.
3. True Lies (James Cameron, 1994)
Across 15 years and four films, Cameron’s deployment of Bill precisely charts the actor’s rise through the ranks: a bit-part in The Terminator, a star-making supporting turn in Aliens, this knowing and exuberant extended cameo in True Lies, and finally an assured co-lead in Titanic. By the time of True Lies, Paxton was cemented as one of Hollywood’s most dependable second bananas. Dealt a potentially listless secondary plot of domestic infidelity, crafty Cameron parachutes in Bill as a fake-spy used-car douchebag sleaze to unforgettable effect.
4. A Simple Plan (Sam Raimi, 1998)
Raimi’s first “straight” thriller renounces his trademark visual histrionics and maintains intensity and narrative drive through its central performances. One presumes a tight set: antagonist Gary Cole was coming off Raimi’s shortlived, much-loved CBS horror American Gothic; Paxton knew Raimi from Indian Summer and was reuniting with his One False Move writer and co-star Billy Bob Thornton; Billy Bob was working with friend Brent Briscoe for the fifth time, who had run a bit-part opposite Bridget Fonda the same year in something with Kiefer called Break Up; and Evil Dead fan Fonda had five years previous successfully lobbied Raimi for a cameo in its sequel, Army of Darkness.
5. Frailty (Bill Paxton, 2001)
His debut as director is a bracing Southern Gothic horror that in tone and narrative technique functions as a progenitor to its star Matthew McConaughey’s True Detective.
6. Broken Lizard’s Club Dread (Jay Chandrasekhar, 2004)
While the superlative Super Troopers has been lauded since release, I still don’t see a lot of recognition for its follow-up, a slasher comedy in the poorest possible taste which applies its bumped-up budget to embellishing the invention of its filmmakers. Watching for the first time at a campus screening at SF State with Joe Espiner, I was particularly wowed by the execution of a life-size Pac-Man pastiche – but I ain’t seen the film in more than a decade, so no idea how it stands up. Shall we find out?
7. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
Much of this century’s most captivating storytelling has been away from the big screen, so it’s no surprise that in the middle of the aughts Bill seemed to make a conscious pivot toward television’s new creative opportunities with Big Love and twin oaters Hatfield & McCoys and Texas Rising. But in 2014 he proved he’d lost none of his character actor chops with two terrific turns – All You Need Is Kill’s Master Sergeant (“American? No sir, I’m from Kentucky!”) and in Tony Gilroy’s cult noir Nightcrawler as rumpled ambulance-chasing stringer Joe Loder, equipped with a soundbite shibboleth confirming that even in his swansong Paxton’s packing the trailer quotable – “If it bleeds, it leads!”