2017-02-16

sovay: (Claude Rains)
The funny thing about Eugene Levy in Ron Howard's Splash (1984) is that I barely remember noticing him as a child. He wasn't like John Candy, whom I almost forgot existed until I saw the film again in my early twenties, but his obnoxious, obsessed marine biologist—Walter Kornbluth, whose Muppet-grade eyebrows could be seen even behind his chunky black-framed nerd glasses—did not go into the same indelible memory file as Daryl Hannah's Madison reading antique maps in a sunken galleon or unfurling her fins in a salt-filled bath by night. He was part of the plot. He was the antagonist. I acknowledged his heel face turn in the third act, but by then it was more important that the heroes were trying to get away from sneering Dr. Ross and surprising quantities of the U.S. military.1 The painful physical comedy that was Walter's moral comeuppance was more confusing than anything else. It was only on adult rewatch that he became sympathetic to me, holding his cheap copy of the Star Confidential with its front-page picture of the woman who walked naked out of the sea at the Statue of Liberty, with none of his colleagues willing to look him in the face and Dr. Ross contemptuously cutting him down; it is the kind of redirection that always interests me when it works, because after all the time we have spent watching Kornbluth shout and stalk and shove his way through the script, a bristling, defensive, abrasive man whose dreamer's sense of a sea with more in it than heaven and earth, Horatio, has strangled into a short-sighted fixation on proving the existence of mermaids, it is unexpectedly no pleasure to see him reduced to the picture his colleagues hold of him—a crackpot, a nobody, a know-nothing, a fool—swallowing wordlessly as there go the last rags of his reputation and even his old teacher laments that his best student has turned out a schmuck. He sits afterward with his head in his hands, knowing exactly how he sounds and unable to let his siren song go: "She has legs out of the water, she has fins in the water—you taught me that, Dr. Zidell, don't you remember? You taught me all the legends. You used to bring me into your office. You used to show me charts on the walls of where sailors had claimed they saw mermaids." For the first time we hear something other than short temper and monomania in his voice, the precocious student who became a scientist for the same reasons as many a scholar before him, searching for the mystery off the edges of the map—Heinrich Schliemann wreathing his wife in Helen's gold, Arthur Evans excavating for the Minotaur. Of course, Schliemann blasted down through multiple Troys to get to the one that felt true to him and Evans poured concrete all over his Minoan fantasy. Sea-struck Walter is the hero's tarnished mirror, tangled up in his own issues like drift nets and drag lines. He'll have to flounder out of them before he can help anyone, including the people he hurt in his self-centered quest for vindication, and I suppose it's an occupational hazard of being the quasi-villain in an '80's romantic comedy that he incurs a broken arm, a neck brace, and various bruises and contusions in the process. "Six fun-filled days," Madison answered when asked how long she would be in New York City, how long ashore, "six days . . . and the moon is full." Walter gets beaten up twice by the same angry couple, accidentally Novocaines his own leg, tumbles through a basement window: "What a week I'm having!"

Anyway, this afternoon I saw the same doctor for the second time in three days and was prescribed a steroid inhaler to help with the coughing fits and the fact that I've basically got asthma until the bronchitis clears; then in aggressive self-care [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel and I went for dinner at Five Horses and I bought the secondhand trade paperback of Cole Haddon's The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde (2011) from Comicazi that I'd been thinking about for the last month or so and all the time I'm walking with a cane, intermittently coughing myself blue, and speaking at a whisper when I can talk at all, and about the third or fourth time I summed up the situation to a stranger with "It's been a terrible week," I realized I was hearing plaintive, aggrieved Eugene Levy. At least none of me is currently in a cast. Don't be ironic, universe.

1. If the hair and the leggings and the incredibly young Tom Hanks didn't signal its decade, Splash is immediately identifiable as American science fiction of the 1980's by the way the third act comes down to a chase scene with the government. The last time I watched this movie in 2010, I had to reassure a five-year-old that the American Museum of Natural History is really not in the habit of snatching people off the streets and experimenting on them, even if they do have fins. The movie remains an unparalleled source for dramatic shots of the old Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, however, and the reason that I along with an entire generation learned how to say "Hey, babe! I got a twelve-inch penis!" in Swedish at an entirely inappropriate age.
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