Half the Men They Used To Be
photos by chris buckFor a few years now, my friend Peter and I have been keeping a running checklist of our favourite movie creep-specialists. Bruce Dern always heads the list, an automatic first-ballot hall-of-famer for his signature perversity in such '70s films as THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS, COMING HOME, and BLACK SUNDAY. Other honoured names follow in quick succession: Dennis Hopper (BLUE VELVET, RIVER'S EDGE), Brad Dourif (WISE BLOOD, WILD PALMS), Eric Roberts (STAR 80, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE), Gary Oldman (JFK, TRUE ROMANCE), M. Emmet Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE, STRAIGHT TIME), Steve Buscemi (RESERVOIR DOGS, FARGO), Peter Boyle (TAXI DRIVER, JOE), Christopher Walken in just about anything. At their lowlife best, all of these actors wallow expertly in degeneracy, aberrant behaviour, and general unseemliness, stealing film after film no matter how small the role. If there are female equivalents, I can't think of who they are; Juliette Lewis, maybe, but she's more annoying than anything else. Mickey Rourke does double-duty as a real- life creep-specialist, so he's a category unto himself. The creep-specialist credo was elegantly summed up in BOOGIE NIGHTS by good-member-in-standing Philip Baker Hall: "I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That's just me." You probably won't be hearing any of Tom Hanks's characters make a similar claim anytime soon. When Peter and I last talked, I put forth the name of Philip Seymour Hoffman for consideration, the newest and best creep-specialist in movies today. Hoffman played the pathetic and very fleshy Scotty J. in BOOGIE NIGHTS, where he somehow managed to seem morally unfit to be a hanger-on in the late-70s California pornography industry. (Not a fair statement, really, as Scotty's only weakness was an unrequited crush on Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler, but that's how convincing a creep-specialist Hoffman is.) Last year, playing an obscene phone caller with (if the context even allows for such a thing) a penchant for premature ejaculation, he was the best reason to see Todd Solondz's overrated HAPPINESS: "Hello?" "I want to fuck you, I want to fuck you so bad--" spurt, click. Squirming and fidgeting and looking extremely uncomfortable through the whole ordeal, Hoffman brought to mind a line of Burt Lancaster's from SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS: "I like Harry, but I can't deny he sweats a little." Welcome to the club, Phil. May you continue to wallow and rot for years to come.