July 10, 2019

gonna miss Rip Torn


Rip Torn was pretty good at playing Rip Torn-type characters, vaguely shady, self-interested functionaries on various TV shows like The Larry Sanders show. Those are good, but I am most interested in his Seventies movie characters, and especially Maury Dann in Payday

It's not a popular movie and I had a hell of a time finding it on DVD. (I tried renting it from Kim's video in the 90s and they said "oh yeah, that movie....we had a copy but somebody checked it out and didn't return it. I heard it's cool.") It was the director's feature film debut, and he went on to direct a lot of TV I haven't seen (e.g., The Thorn Birds) and don't plan to. But they really hit it with Payday. Torn plays a rather nasty pill-head country singer who seems bored with country music and the country girls he toys with on the road. It's a movie about a man whose job it is not to thrill people with insight into the human condition but to keep people from staying home and falling asleep in front of the TV; he's a musician in name, but music doesn't enter into his thinking. He treats people like trash, and they all treat him like the star he isn't, except they don't give him much money or kindness really, they just kind of want to ride along. The movie is shot in motels, cars and bars. (A scene that is an exception is when he drops in on his speed-freak mamma back home and feeds her dogs.) Anyway, I loved it.

I have one Rip Torn story that nobody else does, so I'll tell it here: Payday was screening as part of a Rip Torn festival at Anthology Film Archives in New York (March 2009). Rip was going to be present to answer audience questions before the daytime showing. I abjure audience Q&As, but I wanted to see the movie, so I went. I got there 20 minutes early and exiting the theater was Rip Torn, wearing a striped cylindrical hat and a brown leather jacket, and looking, to my biased eyes, desperate for a drink. He acknowledged me, the theater-goer, for one millisecond, rolled his eyes, and essentially if not literally sprinted away down the melting-snowy sidewalk, towards Tile Bar, I imagine. Maybe I should have gone with him.

Anyway, Payday is terrific and I recommend it. It was shot on locations near Selma, Alabama, so if you're from those parts this will interest you. 

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Speaking of Alabama, I recently watched Adjustment and Work, a Frederick Wiseman documentary from 1986 about a training center from the blind in Talladega, Alabama. 1986 doesn't seem that long ago but the footage seems almost surreal, conditions are so primitive. Phones are these big noisy sculptures that take up half a desk. It's a nice, short Wiseman (only 119 minutes!). It's pretty beautiful. It's about patience really, the thing that both the blind people and their trainers need an endless supply of. In my experience, Wiseman is never sentimental, but of all of his movies I've seen (which is a lot), this one came closest to being sweet. It also has a lot to say about tedium. Work for blind people then and maybe now is about the assembly line. Some of the work scenes, like the men assembling paper folders, are only about a minute long but they are long enough to make you glad you aren't in them.

gonna miss Rip Torn David Rhoden, New Orleans, Louisiana