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Posts Tagged ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’

Many of you might remember Michael Jeter as the senile prisoner in The Green Mile who adopted a mouse called Mr Jingles. The fact is he had earned himself a living for nearly two decades playing wimpy, damaged characters. Bug-eyed, psychologically sprained and perennially anxious, he often acted like he channelled Woody Allen as much he did Clint Howard; a diminutive fellow sporting a comfortably un-Malayalee-like brush-tache who could act circles around the puddles of machismo that A-listers left around him. He could also evoke as much sympathy as an orphaned Lhasa Apso would from fans who “like” the ‘Blue Cross’ fanpage on Facebook.

In Terry Gilliam’s Fisher King, he turned in a brilliant essay as an homeless, HIV-infected and barking mad cabaret singer. In one of the film’s highlights, Jeter launches into a rendition of an Ethel Merman classic so passionately unstable that rumour had it that Robin Williams’ chest hair fell out, one by one, in sheer envy. Gilliam brought him back for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which he was Professor L. Ron Bumquist – a speaker at the Las Vegas police convention on drugs, which Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) attends (on drugs). He gives a fiery anti-drug sermon, looking askance and volatile simultaneously; so much so that we can’t be entirely sure if Depp weaseling his way out of the convention was part of the script or merely instinctive for someone under the influence.

Skip Woods’ Thursday had him playing a psychiatrist engrossed in a sweaty conversation with Dallas (Paulina Porizkova), the psychotic seductress. In a particularly memorable scene, she leans over to him, asking if he has ever seen a porn film to which, he instinctively gulps several years of repressed sexuality, squirms a bit and replies, “Yes, I’ve heard stories”. The awkwardness he oozed was tremendously funny and when spliced with Paulina’s bloodcurdling charisma it worked better than Indian techies would have for the US of A.

Now, Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile would have been acceptable if it were 30 minutes shorter and had less of Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan and their plasticized zombie-like presence. Thankfully, Michael Jeter as Del Delacroix, a death row inmate, along with Doug Hutchison playing the sadistic prison guard, saved this film from absolute torment. A few of his scenes with Mr Jingles were saccharine enough to make girl scouts weep a ballet of tears, but he gave the character more depth than it deserved. In the first few scenes, his eyes were filled with derangement and abandon as he leered through the prison bars. Once the stupid mouse appeared, they glowed a quiet admittance of fate. Even his hyper-kinetic wailing (when Hutchison stomped the hell out of it) was inappropriately great. Bless his mongrel heart for having stayed true to his craft despite all the lounging he did with waxworks and glory hounds in and around mainstream cinema.

Michael Jeter’s swansong as an actor (after which he did voice overs for two animated films) was his finest too; a meaty role in Russo brothers’ ensemble comedy –  Welcome to Collinwood. He played Toto, the antsy carjacker who joins a inept crew of thieving buffons. His scenes with William Macy, Isaiah Washington and Luis Guzma were some of the funniest stuff that tickled American cinema in 2002. Even when the the script relied on burlesque homo-eroticism for cheap giggles, Jeter found a way to draw genuine laughs. In one such scene, a visibly disgusted Leon (Isaiah) insists that Toto “put his pants back on” to which a morbidly crestfallen Toto whimpers, “I can’t, I’ll catch pneumonia”.

Now, some IMDB user has used an exclamation mark at the end of his sentence on the film’s quotes page, which might make you go, “hey, isn’t that a Rob Schneider punchline?”. Cleanse your minds, minions, because Michael Jeter never delivered punchlines. He never shared an on-screen kiss with anyone attractive either. Matter of fact, everything he said and did, as preposterous as it might have sounded to the casual cinema-goer, lacked the “punch” that pompous old men with Citizen Kane’s dialogues tattooed on their foreheads spent years trying to imbibe in film students.

People might say he played the same character for two decades or whatever, but they would whistle and pretend to be distracted if someone else made the same argument about Samuel Jackson or Clint Eastwood, so let’s ignore these people mmkay?

In fact let’s lure these people with cheap porno magazines into an abandoned godown and force them to sit through five Al Pacino performances (Dick Tracy, S1m0ne, 88 Minutes, Righteous Kill, Scent Of A Woman).

We’ll just sit back and relish cinema’s underdogs, actors who simply can’t be replaced by textbooks and templates, actors like Michael Jeter.

(Jeter died from an epileptic seizure in 2003 and isn’t nearly as fondly remembered as he should be)

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