Friday, April 4, 2008

GUILTY (by reason of insanity) PLEASURE - Urban Cowboy

I was lying in bed kinda half watching Urban Cowboy on the Lifetime Channel, my remote control batteries were dying and I was too lazy to get up and change the channel. Strangely I become in involved in the story, even while having to sit-through a shit-load of commercials (for a while they managed to convince me I had a yeast infection). 
I was fascinated to know what was going through their heads when made this goofy-ass movie and what happened to these folks since? 

John Travolta was the biggest star in the world after his great performances in Grease (1978) and Saturday Night Fever (1977). Frankly he should have won the Oscar for the later (he lost to Richard Dreyfuss for the now unwatchable The Goodbye Girl). Though I never was a fan of Welcome Back Kotter, I'm a big fan of Travolta in the TV-Movie The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (1976) but now he was no longer going to be stuck on the TV.

Urban Cowboy is kind of a rehash of the Saturday Night Fever formula with some Rocky thrown in (and of course all Travoltaphiles relish the team-up of the ‘art collecting paloka’ when he joined forces with the Sweathog to help ruin the first round of his career with the epic-Broadway-fantasy Staying Alive). 

Oh and in ‘78 he also played curiously named Strip Harrison (which ironically is the name of my childhood pet and the street I grew up on) in the wretched love story Moment By Moment where he’s hopelessly devoted to... Lily Tomlin. The two love birds spend their summer nights hand-jiving in a Malibu hot tube.

But in Urban Cowboy he’s just Bud, you know as in Budweiser. And instead of a disco, it’s a honky-tonk joint where white people punch each other out, drink brews, listen to the worst music in movie history and prove their manliness by riding a big sexy electric bull. He and Sissy meet, I guess, fall in love and one scene later get married. Two scenes later he’s a jerk to her. Then they both shack up with others and then he wins the bull riding contest, while at the same time stops Sissy’s ex-con boyfriend from robbing their hillbilly hang out. And then they get back together. Oh and some where in there Bud almost dies while hung over at work and his beloved Uncle Bob gets killed by a lightning bolt and his Aunt Corine wins a Dolly Parton look-alike contest. Now do you see why I’m pleading insanity, your Honor?

Travolta’s character makes no sense, I guess he’s supposed to be cool and charming cause everyone just loves him. But he’s a whinny dick-head to his wife. He’s abusive and moody and has bad hair. He’s totally annoying. And no matter how much Travolta tries to toss in a 'ya'all' every once-in-a-while, I still just see Danny Zuko with a funny hat on

Besides, for bliss of making fun of Urban Cowboy, what makes the flick a "pleasure" are the supporting turns by Debra Winger as Sissy and Scott Glen as her creepy boy-toy Wes

After playing Wonder Girl in Wonder Woman and working with the future Weekend at Bernie's II auteur, Robert Klane in Thank God It’s Friday (1978), Winger was a real find for Urban Cowboy

Let me declare in writing, Debra Winger was a stone-cold-fox. She is adorably cute and she makes her earthy Sissy quite sassy. She was like a less political, sexier version of Norma Rae. Of course it was all a just warm-up for her back to back Oscar loses that would follow with An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Terms of Endearment (1983). Then, unfortunately she did a string of forgettable flicks and she would fade into "what ever happened to...?" territory. Though she would have a mini-comeback with The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Shadowlands (1993). She’s ripe for her own Pulp Fiction-type renaissance. 

In 2002, Winger's fellow 80’s sex-pot Rosanna Arquette, hypothesized the same thoughts with a sloppylittle  documentary which asked where do older actresses go to die (if not the Lifetime Channel), it was fittingly titled Searching For Debra Winger.

Director James Bridges, who had previously made the great law-school flick The Paper Chase (1973) and the acclaimed nuclear -meltdown hysteria docudrama The China Syndrome (1979), would follow up Urban Cowboy by reteaming with his discovery, Winger on the barely released 80s-Noir Mike's Murder (1984). He would turn to his other star Travolta for the “Danny Zuko goes undercover in a health club” epic Perfect (1985) and it helped to speed up Travolta’s career nose dive when audiences declared “Jamie Lee Curtis is noLilly Tomlin”. The last feature he directed before his death in 1993 was the film version of Jay McInerne’s NY yuppies doing cocaine saga Bright Lights, Big City (1988), which was doomed as soon as Michael J Fox was miscast in the lead.

Scott Glenn easily steals the movie as Wes. Ironically the film was sold on Travolta’s ‘sex-symbol’ status, but the scrawny star never takes his cowboy shirt off. It’s Glenn who provides the beefcake, albeit it’s rather oily. His Wes is so bad-ass he eats the worm at the bottom of a tequila bottle. It seems laughable in a parking lot fight that Travolta is able to get one good lick in. Even as ‘real cowboy’ as he is, It’s also a little unbelievable that the genuinely sweat Sissy would go for the greasy looking ex-con. And then the most unbelievable, a dramatic point that seems tacked on to give Travolta’s Bud a “win”, why would the dude robe the bar he works for at gunpoint, what was his escape plan?

But Glenn did have an interesting career. He popped up almost lineless, but plot- relevant in a number of important  flicks Apocalypse Now (1979), Nashville (1975) etc. And after Urban Cowboy he seemed to be on a path to become a poor man’s David Carradine, in flick’s like Frankenheimer’s kung phooey The Challenge (1982). But he ended up with a couple of breakout “hero” roles, in more mainstream fare, playing the coach in Robert Towne’s lesbian sports drama Personal Best (1982), he was Alan Shepard in Philip Kaufman’s brilliant adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s masterpiece The Right Stuff (1983), and in the interesting but unsuccessful Michael Mann horror adventure flick  The Keep (1983) and in the popular glossy Western Silverado (1985). And then overnight he went back to being a journeyman character actor, mixing lead roles in straight-to-video action junk like the ‘87 Man On Fire or something in ‘94 called The Flight of the Dove (directed by Manson look-alike Steve Railsback!) with smaller parts in more high profile projects like The Hunt for Red October (1990 ), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Training Day (2001), etc. And apparently recently he’s popped up with a reoccurring role on the cable series Monk.

My broken remote has inspired me. This mighta been the day that changes my life as I embark on a possible new documentary tentatively titled Searching For Scott Glenn or maybe I’ll call it Looking For Eric Roberts or Seeking Steve Railsback.



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