Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Friday, May 14, 2004

Let’s take a moment to appreciate…James Spader

This man may be one of the worst actors in history…or one of the best, depending on how you look at it. Spader combines Walken-creepy with a certain flavor of jerkiness that makes very role seem just a little bit nightmarish. Spader’s true talent lies, of course, in the deadpan delivery. The man usually looks as if he’s on a mesc trip in each film, killing, pruning flowers and being a jerk to Molly Ringwald with the same, non-plussed expression of I-don’t-care.

What sets this genius of cheese apart from the likes of that OTHER deadpan man Keanu Reeves? Movie choice, for one. Spader, somehow, has managed to get himself into so many pivotal roles in so many cult films, he’s practically a patron saint of American pop culture. When will Tarantino pick this guy up? I mean, seriously.

Let us take a little look at the varied and somewhat twisted filmography in play here. His films date back to the 70s (many of which were TV trash like Diner) but it was the 80s where we found out what we were missing.

First off, we have Spader as the rich, arrogant and cruel Steff in the everlasting Hughes opus Pretty in Pink. Without Spader, there’d be no Andrew McCarthy-as-hero or Molly Ringwald-as-insulted girl. Remember that?

After appearing in some more mainstream 80s films such as Mannequin with Tom Hanks, Baby Boom with Diane Keaton and the era-defining Wall Street, Spader really went hogwild on the cult films. It is in the cult movies, it seems, where Spader always gets to play the sex-crazed psycho. Next to Madeline Stowe, he’s the closest one can get to being a bona fide porn star in mainstream culture.

It all really got started with the now-classic Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989. From there, we have your insane-sex-manic roles in 1996’s double-team (hehe) of Two Days in the Valley and Crash.

Crash, specially, held a very personal role in my teen development. I had to finagle it out of the video store (and R film as a16-year-old) only to witness Spader and Holly Hunter having the oddest sex I’d seen at that point of my life…in car crashes. Fantastic. This movie should be a bigger cult hit than it is…absolutely WEIRD.

Of course, you can’t appreciate Spader without remembering he was actually one of the least cheesy roles in Stargate.

But Spader’s crowning achievement in cinema has to be his slow-burn performance as lawyer E. Edward Grey in 2002’s Secretary. Spader plays this closet-case freak with such passion, such intimidating coolness, that you sort of watch nervously in hopes he doesn’t completely lose it on film. He is a key part of the eroticism-without-sex that this movie oozed right out of the DVD player.

Now, he’s living it up Brando-style in a schlockfest of a role on ABC’s “The Practice.” Thank God! Or else I fear he just wouldn’t get any work at all with his niche. Eventually, Spader could fit easily into that Christopher Walken mold of self-parody and constant renewal…if only to further cement his place in pop culture history.