Friday, September 26, 2014

The Church of Schwarzenegger

Can we take a moment to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Here is an actor who has never won any acting awards and for good reason. Here's a guy who got into the movie business on his impressive physique and winning smile. Here's a person that pretty much anyone with even the slightest bit of film knowledge is aware of. Here is also someone who is the butt of many good-natured jokes and the subject of millions of sorta-funny, sorta-terrible impressions (Seriously, everyone has an Arnie impression, no matter how bad).

However, he is a widely beloved figure (In film- I'm not going to touch his politics), a cultural phenomenon, and his box office numbers have been incredible over the years (Until now, but I'll get into that later). Where does the affection come from and how did he get to be such a living legend?
A one man Arnie.
(I'm so sorry, that was terrible)
So, how in the world can I go from discussing The Turin Horse last week to using a Commando gif today?! Just go with it- it takes all kinds. That's just it, though. In order to get into any type of semi-serious conversation about Arnold Schwarzenegger, you have to be willing to buy the silliness of his films. Admittedly, I can't even get into all of his movies. Most of them are garbage, but even in the worst of the worst, I find myself irrationally giddy over his inclusion. As for the few that actually work as films, the appreciation comes in part as a result of the director's use of Arnie as more than just the goofy one-liner-spouting muscleman. In this respect, I'm talking about Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Predator.
Warning: May become intoxicated by the testosterone in this gif.
Arnie's roles in the two aforementioned films are different for the most part. He's pretty much invincible in Terminator and he shows a fair amount of vulnerability in Predator, as he is stalked by the unfazed alien hunter. However, both roles have limited dialogue, and Schwarzenegger's physicality is used to the fullest, working in conjunction with, rather than overwhelming the action or suspense the film is creating. As far as I'm concerned, he's enjoyable in any role, but when put to good use, the results can be fantastic (And yes, I do think Predator is a legitimately well-made film for what it is).
A striking resemblance.
Despite coming up in over the top action fare, Schwarzenegger somehow found his way into comedies. Not only that, but he wasn't too shabby! Don't get me wrong, his acting wasn't that much better than it was before, but suddenly, he was fully allowed to tap into the charisma and likability that laid just below the surface in the likes of early hits such as Conan the Barbarian or The Terminator. Where did this come from and who first noticed it, you ask? For that, I point you in the direction of a little film called Pumping Iron.

Pumping Iron was a documentary centering on bodybuilding that was released in 1977. It's cool for some early candid footage of Arnold, but it's also a really solid piece of filmmaking. The doc spends time with multiple subjects, but Schwarzenegger is the main focus and by watching all this footage featuring him, it is very easy to see how he became a star. He's naturally funny and not a word that comes out of his mouth feels disingenuous. All the other bodybuilders talk about him, clearly in awe of both his muscles and his magnetic personality. At the end of the film, he announces his retirement from bodybuilding competition...Could anyone have guessed what would come next?
Suddenly, the Slap Chop sounds like a great deal.
Still working post-governorship (Sorry, but...this man was elected Governor! I still can't believe that happened!) and more than happy to self-deprecate, Arnie continues to be a force in pop culture. However, his time as a box office draw appears to be just about up, as his last few films opened to mediocre numbers. The world seems to be giving up on grey and grizzled Arnold, while the buff and bright-eyed Arnie of the 80's and 90's remains fondly remembered. He came up at the right time- a perfect fit for the indulgent nature of 80's action cinema. Most modern actioneers can't handle the kind of unabashed cheese Arnold was associated with and perhaps the rough assimilation into more self-serious fare partially explains his recent decline. That's not to mention the new requirement that he must refer to his age in every movie he's in nowadays. I suppose the "I'm too old for this" schtick can only get you so far (I'm looking at you, too, Sly). I still love him, but for the rest of you, we'll always have this:
Not his best moment, but it makes me laugh.

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