Sunday, April 12, 2015
WELCOME TO SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS!
I have this wacky theory. Please humor me: Arnold Schwarzenegger is the last movie star. Let me explain. The public conception of what a movie star is was formed in the forties and fifties. When I use the phrase “movie star,” I’m referring to something very specific. A star is someone who extends beyond being a mere actor and becomes an icon. A movie star has mannerisms, vocal tics, fashions, and trademarks that are immediately recognizable. If you walk with a cowboy gait and speak in a slow drawl, everyone knows that’s John Wayne. If a girl push her dress down when there’s a gush a wind, preferably while giggling girlishly or seductively, everyone knows that’s Marilyn Monroe. And if you pump your biceps while speaking in a thick Austrian accent, everyone knows that’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even if you’ve never seen any of the movies those people are in, you know who they are.
Yes, I really am elevating Arnold Schwarzenegger to the same cultural status as Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Sean Connery, Charlton Heston, Julie Andrews, Jack Nicholson, Arnold's most prominent rival Sylvester Stallone, and many others. When I say Schwarzenegger is the last movie star, I’m not saying he’s the last star to become a huge box office draw. That’s obviously not true. I’m saying he’s the last star to make a definite, long-term effect on the vast pop culture sphere. You could make the case for Tom Cruise or Will Smith. But does anyone immediately recognize a Tom Cruise or Will Smith impersonation? Will people be cracking Jennifer Lawrence jokes in twenty years? During his political career, there were many jokes that Schwarzenegger wanted to become president. Ultimately, that wasn’t necessary. Arnold is already as famous as any president. His popularity has already outlived several administrations.
Arnold’s most lasting contribution to cinema – Nay, the world! – is being the ultimate eighties action hero. The action genre is different today. We can CGI any schlub into an explosion. That’s fine. However, these days, unless you’re a superhero or an old-timer, the modern action hero is harder to define. There’s a distressing trend though. Hollywood action hero frequently are a generic, interchangeable guy with a buff body, a shaved head, usually an Australian accent, and names like Jai Courtney and Sullivan Stapleton. Back in the eighties, even the worst action heroes had more personality like these guys.
The eighties made action movies like no other decade. Not everyone loves these sorts of movies. I get that. The movies’ entertainment value and their dumbness usually go hand in hand. For we aficionados of the genre, it has everything we love about action movies: Big muscles, big guns, big explosions, questionable acting abilities, piles of dead bodies, R ratings, and a fine layer of ridiculous cheesiness to make it all go down easily. And Arnold was the unchallenged king of that type of movie, starring in many of the best examples.
So welcome to SCHWARZENEGGER SWEEPS! Film Thoughts doesn’t usually do theme weeks. I’m not planning on starting now. Originally meant to go for seven days, my research into the oeuvre of Arnold grew ever larger. How did you ever expect me to choose between “Red Sonja” and “Red Heat?” So for the next fourteen days, I will be reviewing a movie starring everyone’s favorite Austrian. This will not be a comprehensive journey. Many of Arnold’s most iconic roles and movies, including arguably his trademark series, will be saved for future Director Report Cards, some of them coming sooner then later. This decision left me with the odds and ends of Schwarzenegger’s career, some of them forgettable, some of them fascinating. Either way, we’ll do a good job of tracking the body-builder’s road to stardom, his golden age, and the various rises and falls that followed.
Last month, I watched all the James Bond movies. At the end of every review, I included a checklist of stats, an idea gratuitously stolen from AllOuttaBubbleGum, a website devoted to action movies and one of my favorites. It may not surprise you to hear that AOBG, as we regulars call it, also has a check list for Arnold Schwarzenegger. So each review during the Sweeps will be accompanied by The Signs of Schwarzenegger, five frequent trademarks of the star. They are, as follows:
[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER]
 Performs Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
 Says, “I’ll be back.”
 Shows Off Buffness
 Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
 Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm
So kick back, light a stogie, and let off some steam. Somewhere, somehow, someone had to go on a journey to the center of Arnold Schwarzenegger. This looks like a job for Film Thoughts!