You are being redirected - hold on tight!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Movie News: Paul Newman - Movie Star, Philanthropist, Race Car Driver, Political Activist, Dead at 83

Paul Newman, a movie star who straddled the end years of golden Hollywood and the new Hollywood era of anti-heroes, has died after a battle with cancer. Newman was one of the great iconic actors in film with classic roles in films in every decade through the 1990s. He was an actor who transcended his own great looks to find great depth, humanity and emotion in role after role - never succumbing to the easy Oscar bait or vanity project that could so easily have been a stock in trade. Not every movie was great, but he was great in every movie.

As a philanthropist he set up Newman's Own to sell the salad dressing he used to make for his family to the wider public - with hundreds of millions of dollars of proceeds going to charity. The Hole in The Wall Camps were set up for children with serious medical needs and both are to continue on.

As a race car driver and teamowner of the legendary Newman/Hass Team Newman was greeted with grudging respect at first and then admiration as he proved himself to be a gifted driver. Last month he set out for a lst few laps at Lime Rock race track in Connecticut, fitting for a man who won dozens of races -- most recently the 1995 IMSA GTS Class at the 24 Hours of Daytona when he was 70.

As a political activist he worked on behalf of antiwar Democrat Gene McCarthy in the 1960s and when he found himself on President Richard Nixon's enemies list declared it "...the single highest honor I've ever received..."

Back to his film work anyone loking to start to appreciate the work of the man has many places to start. 1954's Somebody Up There Likes Me showed Newman inheriting a role and a bit of an acting style from James Dean as boxer Rocky Graziano in a very traditional biopic. Newman is hot in every sense of the word in The Long Hot Summer a pulpy Faulkner adaptation that united him for the first time with future wife Joanne Woodward. His troubled brooding was center stage in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as the Palinesquely named Brick, black sheep chafing under the control of Big Daddy in Tenessee Willaims hothouse melodrama.

After a few more smoldering hunk roles and a try at something meatier in Preminger's flawed Exodus Newman raised his art to a new level as poll shark Fast Eddie Felsen in The Hustler in 1961. Newman was always willing to show you the fatal flaw in his charismatic creations and Felsen's pigheaded cockiness was his first great example. With that in mind 1963s Hud was a ballsy bid to scotch his pretty boy image by playing an uregenerate bastard, a swaggering rapist and con man. Audiences loved it. It would be his third Oscar nomination for best actor.

The flawed detective flick Harper was followed by the flawed Hitchcock of Torn Curtain but then came Cool Hand Luke in 1967, a prison drama that cemented Newman's new status as one of the first of a coming wave of antiheros in tune with the anti-establishment 60s. His brilliant performance challenging the prison authorities and by inference society at large is indelible.

In 1969 came his first pairing with Robert Redford in the delightful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a new style Western that prefigured both the the buddy movies of the 80s and the blockbusters of the 90s. Another western of sorts, John Huston's 1972 quirky The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean was less succesful in every way but a great central performance by Newman.

By 1973 and a string of mixed films he was ready to reteam with Redford in the terrific period flick The Sting, a romp full of double and triple crosses and cons galore. He worked with Robert Altman in 1976's polemical and fascinating Buffalo Bill and The Indians.

In 1977 Newman did Slap Shot, one of my personal favorites and one of the best sports movies ever as the star of a rustbest hockey team a few games away from total insolvency.

1981 gave two strong performances, Fort Apache, The Bronx as a good cop in a bad precinct in an even worse part of a bad borough of New York and Absence of Malice a somewhat silly prestige production enlivened by Newman and co-star Sally Field. The following year delivered Sidney Lumet's The Verdict with Newman excelling as an alcoholic lawyer ina screenplay by David Mamet.

In 1986 Martin Scorsese was able to entice Newman back to the Felsen character from The Hustler this time as mentor to cocky young Tom Cruise (who doesn't approach Newman's abilities at any point). Newman would win his first Oscar for the film.

In 1989 he was randy and salty as Louisiana governer Earl Long in Blaze.

Two of my favorite late career perfs by Newman were in 1994. The Hudsucker Proxy had Newman as Sidney J. Musberger in the Coen Brothers big business romp and he amply adjusts his acting style to their exaggerated mileu to great affect. He was also the grounded center of Robert Benton's sweet drama Nobody's Fool as a repentant aging ne'er do well.

With the passing of Newman one of the film world's most iconic members is gone. The humanity he brought to every single role was matched by his love of humanity itself. What a loss.

No comments: