Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ten Great Characters

I’ve been tagged by Agitation of the Mind and Cinebeats for a movie meme to choose 10 favorite movie characters. Note that the specific criterion is not necessarily the actor or the performance, but the character.

I admit that I had some difficultly deciding how to approach this list in addition to the usual trouble paring it down. I ultimately failed to draw much distinction between actor, performance and character, with many of my choices favoring those fortuitous moments where the three planets align. I also fiddled around a little to make sure I had ones that reflected a bit of my personality.

As a final disclaimer, let me dub this a list of ten characters that deserve their due rather than my absolute favorites, because memory, sloth and a desire to avoid repeating other lists I’ve been perusing lately have limited me.

Ten Great Characters:

1. Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrusinsky), “The Cremator”

Karl is smug, psychotic and philosophical, but so exquisitely crafted from tics, obsessions, idiosyncrasies, perversities and unfortunate historical circumstances that he can stir laughter and revulsion simultaneously, all the while compelling our utmost attention and defying any attempt at sympathy.

2. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), “Kind Hearts and Coronets”

Alec Guinness grabs all the attention with his 8-fold role as the victims, but Dennis Price;s Mazzini is the absolute embodiment of the genteel schemer and sophisticated serial killer in this detached dark comedy.

3. Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark), “Night and the City”

Widmark is at his very best as Harry Fabian, a two-bit con artist and tragic dreamer in over his head as he tries to hustle his way into sports management and the gambling racket.

4. Billy Budd (Terence Stamp), “Billy Budd”

Any number of Terence Stamp roles could have made the list (including “Theorem” (1968), which Cinebeats led me to via another list), but I have a soft spot the seafaring messiah figure Billy Budd. Herman Melville’s posthumous novel (which I haven’t read) also gave birth to other great characters: Captain Edward Vere (played excellently by Peter Ustinov) and Master-at-Arms John Claggart (best realized by Denis Lavant in the mesmerizing French pseudo-remake “Beau Travail”).

5. Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins), “Bob Roberts”

A conservative Bob Dylan who runs a corrupt grassroots campaign for senator. Robbins’ political farce is a stroke of genius that combined his acting, writing and directing talent.

6. Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman), “Metropolitan”

It’s tough for me to tell whether I just like Chris Eigeman as an actor or the character that Eigeman inevitably plays in every film since Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan.” His vitriolic, sarcastic commentary on the upper-class intellectual world he’s fully immersed in endeared him to me as a sort of willfully superficial Daria.

7. Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), “Out of the Past”

Bogart’s hardboiled detectives are just as deserving, but I’m backing Jeff Bailey, an ex-shamus sucked back into doomed freefall after a cruel taste of the quiet life. This noir role is even more cynical and tainted than other genre highlights, augmented by some great lines and Robert Mitchum’s hard-edged performance.

8. Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), “Possession”

For courage and pitch, Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill steal the movie, but it’s Heinz Bennent’s Heinrich who could best be described as “quite a character” in that vague derogatory sense. Director Zulawski imagined him as an amalgamation of every guy he hated, with the result being twisted, funny and outrageous.

9. Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), “Ikiru”

Only an actor like Takashi Shimura could have handled so delicately the role of Kanji Watanabe, a dying bureaucrat who wants to do one worthwhile act before giving up the family, career and society that never loved him. Bittersweet, and yet not too sentimental, Kanji Watanabe is one of the most inspirational characters I know.

10. Eeyore (Ralph Wright), “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” amongst others.

Eeyore, the pessimist par excellence, didn’t just symbolize my transition from childhood Tigger-person (spastic and jolly) into young-adult Eeyore champion (whiny gloom-goblin), he helped save me from my depression by making it funny. My outlook on life and my sense of humor have never been the same since.

First runner-up:
Vienna (Joan Crawford), “Johnny Guitar”

After embarrassingly noting my gender-biased all-male line-up, I’m including my first runner-up, Vienna (Catherine of "Jules and Jim" was also very, very close). Vienna is a western leading lady like none before or after, a no-nonsense self-made saloon owner and seething psychological wreck. She dishes out daggers from her bloodshot eyes, poison darts from her tongue and bullets from her pistol.

And now to tag some other blogs. Partake at your own discretion.
The Grump Factory (consider it a double-tag so that Tim and John can make separate lists)
Why Film, Exactly?
Film Forno
Kinoblog – Mad props if you use only Eastern European characters.

And just for fun (not that the last list wasn’t), here’s a bunch more characters (specifically, title characters) that I love:

Some (More) Great Title Characters:
Baron Munchausen (John Neville), “The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen”
Gregory Arkadin (Orson Welles), “Mr. Arkadin”
Kaspar Hauser (Bruno S.), “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser”
Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), “The Royal Tenenbaums”
Barbarella (Jane Fonda), “Barbarella” and Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti), “Modesty Blaise”
Barton Fink (John Turturro), “Barton Fink”
Keoma (Franco Nero), “Keoma” and Django (Franco Nero), “Django”
William Walker (Ed Harris), “Walker”
Mr. Freedom (John Abbey), “Mr. Freedom” and Lemonade Joe (Karel Fiala), “Lemonade Joe”
Diabolik (John Phillip Law), “Danger: Diabolik” and Judex (Channing Pollack), “Judex” (1963)
Belle de Jour (Catherine Deneuve), “Belle de Jour”
Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), “Aguirre: The Wrath of God”
Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ernesto Alonso), "The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz"

And the list just goes on and on…

Some day soon I'll have to do a list specifically for villains, but I'm a little listed-out (listless?) right now.


Mad Dog said...

Oh god, how do I even begin... D:

FilmWalrus said...

Mad Dog,
Could you let Tim know? I don't think I have his email.

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

Great list! It's much harder to compile than you expect it to be. I made a point to avoid looking at too many other lists since I just wanted my choices to come to me naturally, but I suspect there's probably some crossover somewhere.

I recently watched The Cremator for the first time and really enjoyed Karl Kopfrking's unnerving performance in it. And Terence Stamp is terrific in everything! His Billy Budd is so much like the character from Melville's story that it's hard to separate them in my minds-eye now. I highly recommend the short novella. Melville's always a worthwhile read!

Especially surprised and happy to see Richard Widmark's Harry Fabian listed since he's a character I also love, but for one reason or another he never came to mind when I was making my own list.

Thanks for playing, Filmwalrus!

FilmWalrus said...

It's definitely one of those lists where it's hard to get started but then hard to stop. Lot's of fun though! I'll be checking in on the others out there.

I'd definitely be interested in reading Billy Budd. I enjoyed Moby Dick, but I'm honestly glad Billy Budd looks so much shorter. If I had already read the story when I made this list, I probably would have disqualified the role, though. As it is, I maybe took too many literary characters for a film list. Ah well.

Widmark actually had a second role I was considering, which is his Skip McCoy from Pickup on South Street. And Dan Duryea, who I always think of as a sort of evil Widmark, has some great noir characters as well.

FilmWalrus said...

Oh, make sure to check out Beau Travail if you haven't already. I know you'd like.

Mad Dog said...

Yeah, I already linked Tim to the article. I don't know for sure if he's gonna do a list, but I might do one. With perhaps another boundary put on the character selection... Just trying to pick from ALL MOVIE CHARACTERS EVER seems too daunting a task. {:3

FilmWalrus said...

Agitation of the Mind has been doing some interesting variations lately. Femme fatales, hitmen, foulmouthed fellas, romantic heroines, etc.

Molly said...

A difficult assignment indeed.

Finally got mine up here:

Not as wide ranging as yours of course, but one is sort of Dan Duryea related, which your comment make me think you may appreciate.