In Defense of the Supporting Actor, An Ode to Bill Paxton

We lost Bill Paxton last Saturday and it was quite a blow to me as a film buff. I remember pretty much every movie he's been in, and his characters in each film. What I found surprising going through my traditional (morbid?) ritual of watching something that featured the recently deceased, I couldn't find anything that I wanted to watch that he starred in as a leading man.

Everyone remembers Twister, obviously. I probably remember it a little differently than most people. I grew up in tornado country. As good as the rest of the film is, I can never get past the final sequence of the two lead actors running uphill to lash themselves to a pipe in a wooden shed, with horses calmly ignoring the digital storm they couldn't see around them. This poorly thought out and executed sequence pulls me right out of the film and worst of all, ruins the whole thing for me. The rest of Twister deserves the kind of tribute that the storm chasers gave him upon learning of his death. I hadn't known it was such an inspiration to young kids of the time, motivating them to go into the field of meteorology and storm chasing in particular. Any film that inspires young people to do something good with their lives has to get a passing grade no matter what its other failings might be.

Similarly I wanted to like the film A Simple Plan but was put off by the fact that it was sold to us as a comedy in the trailers and promotional material, but was so definately not a comedy in viewing. It is a tragedy and a drama and worth watching. No matter how good it is it's not going to be remembered in a kind light when The Wife wants a comedy and she's mad and crying. That doesn't bode well for the film ever being rewatched in this household.

We settled on Apollo 13 and Tombstone for our tribute to him, two excellent films in which he plays positive if lightly comedic supporting characters, which was actually what Bill Paxton was the best at.

This shouldn't be seen as a slam or a put-down. The leading actor or actress in a film or play is only as good as their supporting actors allow them to be, and he was a consummate artist at playing the comedic foil or the well-intentioned loudmouth. My favorite film features him in a role he was essentially made for as an actor, the role of PFC. William L. Hudson in Aliens. It was just one more in a series of great supporting roles that enabled the top billed names to shine through his artistry off-screen as well as on it, but the stars were right in that film.

My favorite director combined with my favorite actor and actress of the time, with hands down one of the best supporting casts ever assembled. Case in point. I stumbled across this interview in my teary-eyed path down memory lane, and marveled at how these two work the interview together.


My favorite actress and one of my favorite supporting men, just naturally continuing the leading lady, supporting actor relationship established in the film; him laying up subjects for her to embroider as a leading lady should. Just a gentleman and the support that he should be, happy to be part of the interview.

I'll have to sit down and watch his directorial efforts Frailty and The Greatest Game Ever Played just to confirm for myself that they are as good as my friends have said they are, but he will always be Hudson to me. I hope he doesn't mind if I remember him that way.
It’s shocking and sad that American film and television creators won’t be able to rely on Paxton’s rough-hewn decency, his game sense of humor, and his canny ability to steal a scene. Paxton was dependably watchable in projects that weren’t as good as he was, and great in roles that gave his characters the scope and depth to display their irreverent and essential humanity.  
Variety - Remembering Bill Paxton, Hollywood’s Scene-Stealing Everyman

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