Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Time to reflect

Well, if it's Tuesday, it must be the Orleans Parish Criminal Courts Building again. Jury duty means another opportunity to learn about what the criminal justice system is all about and to reflect on the events of the previous few days. First of all, the death of actor Patrick Swayze from pancreatic cancer, while expected, nevertheless hit me hard. The reason is a bit personal: my father died from that insidious disease and I know how hard he fought it for the past two years. A friend of mine's father is fighting the same battle even at this moment. Swayze's recent starring role in "The Beast" should go down in the annals of Hollywood history as one of the most brave and stalwart efforts by an actor, similar to the extraordinary effort exerted by Spencer Tracy when he turned in his final performance in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." While most recall Swayze's memorable roles in "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing," his athleticism and prowess made him a actor to be admired by guys too. "Point Break" in which he plays a surfer turned bank robber and the cult classic "Road House" in which he plays a philosopher turned bouncer were two roles which showed fans he could be more than a pretty boy. Swayze kept fans and producers guessing when he did all of the skydiving shots in "Point Break" (Take that, Keanu!). Although "Road House" has generated many more jeers than cheers by movie reviewers, fans kept it popular throughout the years since, even spawning a DVD-direct release of a sequel a few years back that starred none of the original stars. It really all boils down to Swayze, who as an actor first came into renown when he starred in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders" along future big screen stars Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio and Diane Lane. The fantasy "Red Dawn" in which America is invaded by Russians and defended by a ragtag group of teenagers armed with rifles also generated some positive reviews for Swayze. I seem to recall it playing ad nauseam over HBO when I still subscribed to that cable service and was hoping for better. Of course it was as dashing Johnny Castle opposite Jennifer Grey's character of Baby that made Swayze a true movie star. It was a movie with a shaky plot and, despite the presence of the great Jerry Orbach and others, there was very little character development apart from the two main stars. Yet, there was something special about this little film. Perhaps it was because it was set in the Catskills Mountains – the so-called Borscht Belt – at a time when the nation was still fairly innocent and yet to go through the full extent of soul-wrenching fallout from the assassination of its young president and reaction to the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. When Phil Medley and Jennifer Warnes' "I've Had the Time of My Life" is played at the terminus of the film and Swayze held Gray up fully extended as if in flight, a moment was etched forever in the collective mind of film enthusiasts everywhere. I'd like to think I had a small part in the success of the song, since I was one of the first individuals to play it for the public in New Orleans even before the motion picture was released. Swayze lost his battle to pancreatic cancer at 57. Other prominent actors like Michael Landon, Fred Gwynne, Donna Reed and Joan Crawford were victims of this particularly virulent form of cancer many years ago. The youngest of them was Landon, who died at 54, and the oldest was Crawford, who passed away at 72. My dad lost his battle at 69 some 14 years ago.

Meanwhile, something also happened at the MTV Awards ceremony this past weekend. The entire nation reeled in shock as bad boy Kanye West (who would have been the first person to open his mouth had anyone else done what he did) yanked the microphone away from amazing wunderkind Taylor Swift and launched into an unsolicited and improper call out to Beyoncé for her just-defeated video "All the Single Ladies." I must admit that I didn't take time out to watch the proceedings as they aired live, but I did watch the entire broadcast via the Internet and it was even more shocking seeing it as it went down in realtime. I must admire Swift's response to reporters after the show in which she admitted to being in awe of West at first and later feeling the kick to the belly his ill-advised remarks caused her. She never put West down and declined to do so when prodded by the media. She is a real classy star. So, too, it turns out was Beyoncé, who allowed Swift to have her measure of spotlight following the earlier debacle with West. The most telling incident to this was last night's innaugural "Jay Leno Show" in which Leno expertly asked West the best, most-measured question of his career. "What do you think your mother would have said?" West, whose mother died last year while undergoing cosmetic surgery, was silent. He couldn't answer because of his overwhelming guilt and the feelings his mother's death still have on his psyche to this day. In a way, it's especially ironic because at the beginning of the MTV broadcast the mention of West's name brought considerable cheering. After his impromptu announcement, Sean "P Diddy" Combs mentioned his name and heard considerable booing afterwards. Perhaps it is a good time for West to take time off and consider his career and the effect his unkind words have had on those like me who hold him accountable not for being talented, but for being boorish and brutish. A little more gentleman and a litle less gansta, if you please.

No comments: