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April 18, 2003

James Spader

Friedrich --

Showing each other they care

The Wife and I just caught up with Secretary, which you semi-recommended some months ago, and semi-enjoyed it too. Many caveats and misgivings -- boy, you can really feel someone trying, and trying hard, to turn a short story into a nearly-two-hour-long movie, can't you? And not as dark or just plain weird as I expected, given the movie's theme. (A film along similar lines that I enjoyed more was Kissed, here, with the exquisite Molly Parker as a trainee undertaker who likes her duties a little too much. It's more poetic and less cute.) Still, "Secretary" is likably determined to play its premise out, Maggie Gyllenhaal is adorable and flowerlike in a suitably lascivious, desecrate-me-please way, and if the director can't get a sense of flow or rhythm moving through the whole movie, there are a decent number of scenes and sequences where he does manage to stir the senses ...

But, to be honest, what I kept returning to was James Spader, who is my idol. Not in the sense that I think he's a great artist; I think he's no better than OK. But I'll see just about any movie he's in. Why? Because so many of them are naughty, perverse, or strange. His presence is a near-guarantee of much that I look for from movies. I've grown to enjoy his creepily fleshy/handsome face, his glistening and soulful eyes, the way he offers himself up to the camera as voluptuously as any female star. Watching him let the camera feast on his rotting babyface and doted-on flesh reminds me of how courtly most male actors are, and how courtly we expect them to be -- there's usually some bit of deference to the woman co-star. These are her tears, her feelings; this is her scene, really. With Spader, everything's always about Spader, and this for some reason delights me no end. (He's a hetero-male prima donna, like a solemn, camp-free Rod Stewart.)

Did someone say "closeup"?

Plus, lordy, is there any other legit film actor who has done so many naughty scenes yet retained his legit credentials? What a great gig it must be being James Spader. I'm full of admiration for the way he has created this ... this thing: the James Spader role. The James Spader movie. If you're having trouble describing a movie that he's in to a friend, you know perfectly well that all you really have to do is say, "Well, James Spader is in it," and that your friend will immediately know what you mean: a little arty, kinda pretentious, a lot of sex. I burn with envy -- this dude makes a living being James Spader, while me, I have to go to a job. The audacity! But somehow even my indignation -- where and how did my life go so wrong? -- makes me admire and enjoy him the more.

I wish I had some tales out of school to tell about him. Could he be anything like the self-satisfied lizard that he appears to be onscreen? I wish I knew. (Or maybe I don't, come to think of it.) Only one anecdote. Years ago, when "Crash" was about to be released and was causing a minor scandal, I had occasion to interview the film's director, David Cronenberg. (Very likable, mensch-y and intellectual, by the way.) I asked how he got well-known actors to participate in such an extreme movie, and he wound up talking about Spader. He recalled that he (Cronenberg) was in fact a bit nervous about pitching this wild project. So, when he approached Spader and they sat down to talk, he (Cronenberg) started describing the film using all sorts of fancy language and circumlocutions. After 15 minutes, Spader stopped Cronenberg and said, "Wait. Let me get this straight. It's about car crashes and sex, right? And you're telling me that I get to fuck everyone else in the movie. Is that right?" Cronenberg hemmed and hawed a bit and finally said, well, yes. And Spader then and there committed to the project. No reading the script, no further discussion. That was enough for Spader. Like I say, my idol.

I don't think you ever told me how you responded to "Crash," did you? I loved it.



posted by Michael at April 18, 2003


"Crash" was mildly icky fun, but then Cronenberg's stuff always is. Afterwards, I had a bad taste on my palette that took a couple hours to go away, but I think it's more to do with the fact that most of us react that way to a fetish we don't share.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on April 18, 2003 12:14 PM

Hey Yahmdallah -- Are you a Cronenberg fan generally? I'm not, though he's obviously talented and distinctive. I tend to like the pictures of his that Cronenberg buffs aren't that crazy about -- "The Dead Zone," for instance, or "Crash." I loved the superdeluxe, Mercedes-like subdued smoothness of "Crash," the solemnity of it (people do tend to get very solemn about their sexual pleasures), the religiosity, the slow-motion commitment of the actors ... Plus, hey, the gals looked pretty hot doing all that naughty stuff. As for the fetish itself, what I enjoyed was partly that it's absurd -- I mean, it's a fancy metaphor for whither-all-of-us-in-this-techie-age. There can't really be people out there who get off sexually on car crashes, can there? So I felt transported by the high-tech, religio beauty of the film, even as I privately snickered about how preposterous the whole endeavour was. Kind of like sex itself, come to think of it.

Which Cronenbergs do you like better?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 18, 2003 12:41 PM

Yeah, I've liked every Cronenberg film on some level, except for "Dead Ringers" and "Naked Lunch" - but Burroughs is really to blame for "lunch."
And I dislike "Dead Ringers" primarily because the fetid Jeremy Irons was in it. I can only take him in animated form.

Faves are:

"The Fly"
"Videodrome" (his best fetish film, imho)

Posted by: Yahmdallah on April 18, 2003 03:32 PM

Couldn't Mr. Spader "give back" to the film community for his wonderful lifestyle by learning to act (or sing, or dance or something?) He's just such a lump up there on screen.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 18, 2003 05:57 PM

Another reason Spader was such a wonderful casting choice for Crash is the quality he has, conveyed by an air of simultaneous predatory readiness and lizardly laziness, of having extricated himself from any moral or ethical basis for his actions.

Here is a man who believes, as an actor, at any rate, in Alester Rowleys' dictum "Do What Thou Wilt", with the caveat "if you can get away with it".

Crash is a terrific film, much better than the JG Ballard novel it's based on. The sleek and sexy Deborah Unger flowing over a sleek and sexy Jaguar (I think it was)conveys the idea of the film in a single sequence.

I like Cronenberg's more offbeat work, especially Videodrome (rarely seen, is it available as a DVD?), the labyrinthine eXistenZ, The Brood, Crash and The Naked Lunch.

Posted by: Dave Farrell on April 22, 2003 03:35 PM

That should read "Alester CROWLEY'S" ...

Posted by: Dave Farrell on April 22, 2003 03:37 PM

Aleistair Crowley (or however it's really spelled) -- that's great. That's the perfect name to raise in connection with Spader, thanks Dave. Spader really does have the look of someone who's signed his soul over to the Devil, and pities the rest of us for not having the guts.

Oh, I'd forgotten "Videodrome," thanks Yahmdallah, thanks James. I enjoyed that one too. Very disturbing and sexy. My hardcore Cronenberg-buff friends go for the really nasty, distressing ones that I can't stand. Did anyone else see his new "Spider"? It got great reviews over in England but is tanking here. It's a nice try at something interesting, but it also never comes to life, or so I found. I snoozed thru much of it, to be honest.

Friedrich -- Acting? You want Spader to act? Or even behave in an animated way? Sheesh, do you have high standards.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 22, 2003 03:47 PM

Hmm...this blog makes me feel like a child sometimes. My parents always said I was a late bloomer. How come I'd never heard of Spader before? I just watched Secretary last night. I don't have the movie critic lingo, but I thought it was incredible. I was totally into the subtle rendering of the psychological motivations within the characters. So much better then movies like, As Good As It Gets, where the obsessive compulsive Jack Nicholson, of course washes his hands all the time. That's way too easy. Duhs-ville.

Script writer's still have a long way to go in capturing behavioral nuances in these psychological type movies. (whatever they're called) But I loved where this one is heading. I would have liked a lot more written into Spader's role. But heck...apparently I can see him in many other movies.

And the movie's imagery--just lovely. The first bathtub scene...sweet.

Posted by: laurel on April 23, 2003 09:06 AM

"There can't really be people out there who get off sexually on car crashes, can there?" Given that any American can find car crashes on cable TV any time of day or night, I'd say there are plenty of people who get off on that.

Spade has a remarkably non-Spader role in Stargate and lets Keanu Reeves, of all people, do the Spadering in The Watcher.

Posted by: j.c. on April 23, 2003 04:10 PM

Oh hi Laurel, good to see you back. I'd lost track of this posting, and glad to hear you enjoyed "Secretary." Not your everyday kind of movie, eh? Are you going to see "Crash" and let us know how you react to that? We're looking forward to it.

Hey J.C., So are you a Spader fan? In his creepier roles? His non-creepy roles? And how about Cronenberg?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 26, 2003 05:51 PM

Michael- your study of James Spader is entertaining as well as dead-on!
I stumbled upon it while looking for savory tid-bits on the sexy beast. Delicious...which reminds me, have you seen "Sexy Beast"? Ben Kingsley is freeking scarey, none of the J.S. sex-appeal, but a very tight, interesting story. Anyway, thanks for fanning the flames Blowhard.-Lori

Posted by: Lori on June 26, 2003 12:56 PM

Has anyone any Idea on whether Spader has actualy done any nude shots?
He keeps my mind boggling!

Posted by: Del on June 30, 2003 12:18 AM

Very strange that I would run into this site after just renting the movie "Secretary".
I thought it was different. Not like what I expected at all. I had never really seen this side of Spader. He played the role well, and I enjoyed the movie. I look forward to seeing him in future roles.

Posted by: My Business on September 30, 2003 04:29 PM

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