Saturday, March 17, 2007

James Woods, London

Soho, London. A dank alley, flanks enveloped in neon red, sweet melodies of voyeuristic pleasure sing in the shadows. Bow of the alley populated by solicitors of the night, offering shirted gentlemen an evening of jouissance with the nymph of their choice. Exit darkness, enter Piccadilly. Legions of tourists wander idly, local commuters push past with indignation, quasi-sober rugby fans march beckoned by the allure of the public house. Roads crisscross, frustrated drivers roam over bitumen, swarms of cyclists inhabit the traffic fissures. A bus rockets past, muttering figures cloaked in fatigue, face of James Woods blazoned across the exterior.

Wait a minute. Cease this sub-Burroughsian collage of cryptic nonsense. Lash on a full-stop and let’s get to a new paragraph immediately.

No, it wasn’t some sort of mobile mirage or cinephilic mental disorder. It’s nothing less than the truth to say that there is currently a bus meandering around London with the grin of one Mr James Woods sutured onto its side. Or rather, it should be stated, at least one bus, for who knows how many crimson double-deckers are flowing through the cracks of this metropolitan topography. I caught sight of one, but it could be merely the tip of the vehicular iceberg. The vision of thousands of buses wandering over the Thames, all replete with a smiling James Woods face, sends shivers deep into the pineal.

Alas, this isn’t just Transport for London’s love-filled tribute to one of Hollywood’s most esteemed of thespians. Nor is this TfL’s attempt to create an omnipresent altar to the mores of a dimpled-chin countenance. Nothing quite so altruistic and worthy of celebration. Unsurprisingly the banner carries with it ulterior motives, sinister intentions hidden behind the joy of a familiar face. For the poster is an advertisement for the latest audiovisual feast to have Woods’ name cast over it – a television program by the name of Shark.

From what I’ve been told by digital words, the show concerns an attorney by the name of Sebastian Shark (Woods), who balances having such a wonderful name with his day-job of being a defence lawyer. After an incident causes him to question his current vocation and position in the juridical system, he decides to jump ship and join the stiff-collars over at the DA’s office. And chaos ensues as his hardball ways clash with the practices of his young associates – or so I assume.

Lacking a television set, I have not seen the show. I guess that it has just ventured over to the shores of the United Kingdom, and that its premiere is coming very soon or has just passed, thus the promotion. Also, lacking an interest in the televisual arts, I have not heard any sort of opinionated whispers regarding quality. I guess that featuring the presence of James Woods, as it does, would result in a mighty fine forty-odd minutes of blissful sneers and verbal belittling.

It doesn’t need to be said, but allow me to say it nonetheless, people love truisms anyway: James Woods is a paragon of brilliance. Woods makes it worth keeping an eye on the American film industry, that is to say, the horribly producer-determined wares tossed out from the Hollywood factory. He stands proud alongside such luminaries as Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Christian Bale and Edward Norton, all individuals who straddle the beast of the mainstream but nevertheless always merit viewing. It is consistently enjoyable to see Woods dancing on the celluloid.

Woods also garners respect as he’s an incredibly intelligent fellow, a member of MENSA in fact, and a former student at MIT. But there is a shady underside to this coin of hyperbole: he seems to be a Republican, and is on record as a supporter of George W. Bush. To me this seems like a contradiction: smart and knowledgeable, and a patron of the Right. One would hasten to think that his erudite talents would elevate him to a position whereupon he could point out the porous nature of such an administration, where he could discern contradictions, absurdities and mistakes. Seemingly not, it seems.

It’s one of those unusual paradoxes that occur every now and again. Just look at Christopher Hitchens. Learned and eloquent, and clasping appropriate criticisms of religion that would have me nodding in agreement. But then there’s his vocal allegiance to contemporary US foreign policy. Admittedly, of all the hacks and drudges who propagate this imperialistic and blood-soaked discourse, he is the one who comes closest to sounding both sane and convincing. Though in a world full of Sean Hannitys and Joe Scarboroughs, it’s not difficult to standout and speak in the key of lucidity. But still, many of his assertions boggle the mind, with only his fine grasp of the English language making him listenable.

Woods is slightly different in that his work is not necessarily imbued with his political disposition, thankfully. Of course, he can hold whatever viewpoints he cares to scoop off the ground – if he wants to approve of dangerously aggressive actions in the opposite corner of the globe, that’s up to him. On the positive side, I think the power of Max Renn in Videodrome, the camaraderie between Woods and Dennehy in Best Seller, the cigarette-fuelled hilarity in Cat’s Eye, the sober exploration in Salvador, the Fox-baiting merriment in The Hard Way, all go some way to negating the more displeasing elements of the Woods persona. Even his performances in such dreck as Vampires and Be Cool can be counted as contributing to some sort of redemption for his character.

In short, ideological disagreements notwithstanding, I will be happy to see my friend James Woods flash past me on a bus again sometime soon.


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