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Man of the Moment

Because I just can’t get me enough of Jeff Bridges, here’s some more on the favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar next weekend…from Manohla Dargis in the Sunday Times:

In the early and mid 1970s he played a wide-eyed boxer, a sly con artist, a moonshiner turned car racer, a squealer turned suicide, a thief and a cattle rustler, working with veterans like John Huston (“Fat City” in 1972) and newcomers like Michael Cimino, who, for his 1974 debut, directed Mr. Bridges alongside Clint Eastwood in the crime story “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” The critics had started to pay attention. “Sometimes, just on his own,” Pauline Kael wrote of his performance as a stock-car racer in “The Last American Hero” (1973), “Jeff Bridges is enough to make a picture worth seeing.” Notably, she also compared him to Robert De Niro, who was about to set fire to screens in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”

“He probably can’t do the outrageous explosive scenes that Robert De Niro brings off in ‘Mean Streets,’ ” she wrote. “But De Niro — a real winner — is best when he’s coming on and showing off. Jeff Bridges just moves into a role and lives in it — so deep in it that the little things seem to come straight from the character’s soul.”

I worked as an assistant film editor on The Big Lebowski which was cut on film and not a computer. During the shoot, our main responsibility in the cutting room was to mark-up the sound track and the picture and synch the footage that was shot the day before–these are called “rushes” or “dailies”, which would be screened for the directors later that day. We’d check the synch by screening the footage on a Steenbeck.

Watching Bridges work was a revelation–he simply was the Dude. Some actors need a bunch of takes before they really hit their stride but Bridges was that character, and in each take he gave a subtle variation on a line reading or a physical gesture. You could tell that he had a background in TV and film and not the theater. His approach and rhythm was different from most everyone else in the movie. He was so natural and extremely intelligent, providing the directors with all the material they’d need to piece together a winning performance.

Back to Dargis now, writing about Lebowski:

Whether shuffling around in a bathrobe or dropping a lighted joint in his lap, Mr. Bridges’s timing is brilliant. But it’s his ability to convey a profound, seemingly limitless sense of empathy that elevate the Dude beyond the usual Coen caricature. By facing every assault — repeated beatings, a friend’s death, the theft of a rug — with little more than an exclamation (“Man!”) and a toke, he and the Dude affirmed that an American hero doesn’t need a punch, just a punch line, something that Judd Apatow’s merry band of potheads know well.

In some respects “The Big Lebowski” was Mr. Bridges’s “Raging Bull,” a defining movie. He never established a long working relationship with a director as Mr. De Niro did with Martin Scorsese. Mr. Bridges has worked with significant filmmakers, just not necessarily in their finest hour. He has made questionable choices, but he has had a breadth of roles that should be the envy of most, and a depth few achieve. And he has staying power. It takes nothing away from his work in “Crazy Heart” to note that the film’s success and profile probably owe something to “Iron Man,” the 2008 blockbuster in which he pulled a Lex Luthor to play the villain and which gave him his highest-profile role in years. He was hilarious, absurd, necessary, and to watch him in that movie as well as in “Crazy Heart” is to be reminded yet again of how he abides.

Dargis singles-out Cutter’s Way (pictured above) and that’s a movie worth watching if you’ve never seen it. Terrific-look. The only drag is watching John Heard chew-up the scenery, but otherwise, it’s a good movie.

Finally, my boy Joey La P, sent me a link to this interview with Bridges on KCRW.


1 RagingTartabull   ~  Feb 28, 2010 11:45 am

am I off-base in suggesting that Dargis tries to out-Pauline Kael herself 9 times out of 10? I dunno, I just find a lot of her writing to be ego stroking.

Bridges is great though.

2 matt b   ~  Feb 28, 2010 12:21 pm

Alex, the last time I watched Cutter's Way, what Heard was doing finally clicked with me. You're *supposed* to groan and think he's over the top, because that's what the character does. Meaning, even within the film itself, the other characters react to him that way. He's always putting on a show of being a character and a loudmouth. So, Heard isn't overacting - he's playing a guy who goes through life overacting in everyday situations.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 28, 2010 1:03 pm

Good pernt, Matt. The character was grating as hell. ANd yeah, I agree about Dargis, actually thoughtshe was off on Bridges in this piece. I enjoy reading her but don't love her.

4 The Mick536   ~  Feb 28, 2010 3:23 pm

Worth relooking at several of the movies. Yesterday, I watch Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Now I know more about both. Check out Clint's stare and occaisonal silent groan. Terrific. Filled my que on Netflix. Starman next.

I would also like to recommend True Romance. I know Quentin will not win, but I loved the Nazi movie. Let me know what youse think about Brad in Romance. I am still wondering if the Italians kill him. You will hear some precurser lines to Pulp Fiction and see Samuel L and Christiopher Walken and an Arquette.

As for his dudeness, at dinner the other night, a friend asked if I was going to travel from VT to NYC to attend a Yankee game this season. I said I had to "go to my cash machine." He said, "why don't you just put it on your credit card?"

5 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 1, 2010 12:09 am

[4] no they don't kill him. After he tells them the address of the motel and he invites them in to smoke Gandolfini tells him no but "we may be back later." They never get out of the motel in one piece, so they couldn't have gone back for Fuckin' Floyd.

6 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 1, 2010 12:21 am

and if I just ruined the movie for anyone, well...it came out in 1993. You had time to see it.

7 Toxic   ~  Mar 1, 2010 9:02 am

Read the following in the Daily Telegraph the other day

When I ask Jeff Bridges whether he had to dig deep into his own soul to make Bad come alive as a character, he dismisses the idea that that sort of thing is necessary: it’s all about the “magic trick” of acting, he says

For that kind of unpretentious, non-wankerish approach, I do hope he gets the gong.

8 The Mick536   ~  Mar 1, 2010 12:38 pm

[6] I have to go back and watch it again. I thought Gandofini's scene involved a joint. Gandolfni goes to the motel where.... The Italian crew comes in later, I think, while he tokes on some crack, or maybe just some smoke in a bottle. He gives them the name of the hotel where .... In my version, the scene stops.

9 matt b   ~  Mar 1, 2010 1:09 pm

I should add that I love Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. George Kennedy is also terrific in that one - he manages to be both scary and hilarious. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Eastwood and Bridges and I wish they'd done another film together. Clint says he's retired from acting now, and I believe him. They would have been dynamite in a western together.

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