Monday, May 25, 2009

In Praise of Swayze

I just watched "Point Break" for the first time in awhile tonight.

I remember being captivated by the adrenaline junky/surf philosophy/heist flick combo back in high school, when that kind of thing could really resonate. Obviously, parts of the film have not aged well (super shitty early 90's alt rock soundtrack, overly romanticized surf montages), but it's still a wonderful genre mashup done with style by the highly underrated film diretor Kathryn Bigelow. It's pacing and action scenes match the emotional momentum of its characters, particularly an extended foot chase sequence.

Another element of the film that has remained compelling is the performance of Patrick Swayze. Now I don't want to get into the performance too much, except to say that Swayze really nailed the uncharted acting waters (sorry, had to say it) of playing a "zen" ocean guru/criminal mastermind. But what's even more interesting to me is the fact that Swayze has been in a few films that really defined certain cultural moments:

Dirty Dancing

This was one of the first independent blockbusters of the 1980s and helped to establish a cultural foundation for the independent film boom of the 1990s. "Dirty Dancing" showed audiences and producers alike that quality, widely-appealing and highly profitable entertainment could be made on a low budget outside of the major studio system.


This movie was a sleeper EVENT. The story was ridiculous (dead/alive romance mediated by a kooky psychic with a crime thriller subplot), the cast was all over the place (Swayze on the upswing from "Dirty Dancing", Demi Moore gaining her professional footing post-Brat Pack, Whoopi Goldberg working on her crossover), yet it had an earnestness and tragic romance that really held the public's attention, in the same way the "Titanic" would years later. The question wasn't who had seen "Ghost", it was who HADN'T seen "Ghost".

Donnie Darko

Again, a totally random movie that somehow hit upon the public's imagination. The cast was pretty much unknowns, it was the director's first film, and the story was cryptic to the point of vague. Nonethless, "Donnie Darko" had an interesting tone that mixed melancholy, nostalgia and dread, with genre elements of sci fi and coming-of-age 80's teen dramas. All of which made for a very unique film that initially flopped but eventually gained an extremely devoted fanbase which supported it through midnight screenings for over 2 years. This created enough demand that the film was theatrically re-released, even after being released on dvd.

In addition to these films, Swayze has also been in two classic, modern B-movies that are defended vigorously by shlock-lovers like myself: the aforementioned "Point Break" and the criminally overlooked "Roadhouse"

"Roadhouse" was a great, gulity-pleasure of a film done with smarts and craft. It featured Swayze as an in-demand bouncer/manager who relies more on his wits than his fists.

Here's a signature scene where he breaks down his work philosophy:

The film also featured B-movie heavyweights Sam Elliot and Keith David, who are always fun to watch and add grizzled cool to whatever project they're doing. And for extra gravitas, John Cassavettes-regular Ben Gazzarra played the heavy with playful abandon. This movie was top loaded to deliver it's meat-and-potatoes storyline and orchestrated throwdowns with some class. "Roadhouse" has gained its own kind of cult following as a film that is better than it should be. This following was enough to turn it into a successful off-broadway show a few years ago.

So Swayze...not just an actor, but also a man whose presence in a film often predicates some kind of cultural relevance. The reason for this? That's as elusive as the perfect wave man.


dave said...

Next Of Kin is also pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Monday, May 25, 2009
In Praise of Swayze

But at the end of the credits the song "nobody rides for free" is a great song by the Heavy Metal hair band RATT.