This one is a doozy

Spent all day yestersday watching the Brett Kavanaugh sideshow, so my head isn’t exactly buzzing with film thoughts just now. Alexander Mackendrick taught a whole class based on the live editing of the Watergate hearings, but I don’t have anything like that.

On Twitter, Laura Ingraham managed to wrench her arm down from a Nazi salute long enough to type that this was “a performance, not a legal seminar.” “Performance,” is an interesting word in this context. My feeling, or one of them (along with nausea, horror, pity, anger) was that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was natural, real, not performing, interacting in a polite and pleasant manner with her questioners (none of whom were actual Republican committee members). Judge Brett Kavanaugh WAS giving a performance, one that certainly contained real emotional responses, but ones that weren’t necessarily what they appeared to be.

Students of acting might study the two Q&As, but I would think Kavanaugh’s weird, shouty, face-pulling performance would be most useful in a “what not to do” context. I kept asking myself if I were an innocent falsely accused, how would I appear? Not like this, I like to think, but who can really say? (I think he’s guilty, obviously, but the thought experiment seemed worthwhile.) Accused of anything, we all tend to feel a little guilty, we all try to ACT like an innocent person, which of course can make our denials less convincing. We might reach for spurious arguments, and I suppose we might even misstate the case against us, or lie about details, in a misguided attempt to cast off suspicion. Kavanaugh definitely did all of the above. It COULD be the response of an innocent but badly flustered man. But then I look at Ford, and I believe her.

The man was clearly on the verge of a complete meltdown, but other than that it was hard to make out what his emotions SIGNIFIED. I think the fury that he led off with was, to some extent, excuse the expression, trumped up. Performative. He’d been told he needed to show defiance and righteous anger so he attempted to produce them by yelling and by stressing every single word in a demented forty-five minute tirade. I think he WAS angry but was straining to SHOW it, to channel the emotion the way an actor might use stage fright or first night nerves and transmute it into the emotion required for the scene. I think, personally, the anger came from an outraged sense of entitlement: how DARE anyone question his right to be SCOTUS (what a horrible acronym. Uglier than POTUS, even.)Marlon Brando said something to the effect that an actor might summon up a genuine emotion but it might still not be suitable if it were expressed in an ugly way. Well, we know what he means now. Kavanaugh’s sniffing, tongue-lolling performance was extremely grotesque. People under strain often are. But what was the tongue literally in the cheek about? Or lolling around his underlip? Dry mouth? The bottled water was right there. Even Olivier at his most salacious would have shied away from Kavanaugh’s attempts to lick the entire underside of his face. It was often accompanied by his voice cracking and him tearing up a little, or sounding like it (no actual tears), and this always happened when he talked about his family. But was this sorrow for his family, self-pity about being humiliated in front of his family, or shame about being caught and exposed? Or all three? The extreme WEIRDNESS of the particular manifestation made me guess at some conflicted feelings or cognitive dissonance — perhaps from guilt.

There was at times a resemblance to the hunchbacked executioner in BLAZING SADDLES (can’t uncover who the actor is*), who seems to be imitating Charles Laughton a bit. Same sense that his tongue is a possessed, writhing intruder worming around trying to escape. Like some tiny voice at the far back of his head were trying to seize control of the vocal equipment, vainly striving to resuscitate a vestigial, long-atrophied relationship between tongue and truth, and blubber a desperate confession.

*Apparently it’s Robert Ridgely, as “Boris.” Thanks to Jez Connolly for the tip-off.

12 Responses to “This one is a doozy”

  1. Jack Lechner Says:

    The actor was Robert Ridgely, probably best known as The Colonel in “Boogie Nights” — and as the voice of Thundarr the Barbarian.

  2. Thanks! Someone beat you to it, but I appreciate it. I was searching IMDb credits for “hunchback,” “hangman” and “executioner” but forgot the character has a name, Boris.

    Brett the Bad Seed has a ring to it.

  3. Oliver North’s straight-backed heroic-jawed testimony during the Iran-Contra hearings is what first made me think about the political effectiveness of bad acting. You know who else was a bad actor? Hitler, for real.

    FWIW, I think Kavanaugh’s master fear is being exposed as an alcoholic. Probably an active one, not in recovery. His rape-buddy Mark Judge IS in recovery, and therefore a possible threat to ‘fess up. It’s one of the 12 steps. So he had to be hidden away.

  4. Breaking News: Beer has come forward and said “I don’t like Brett Kavanaugh.”

  5. Ridgely was best known to me for his wacky John Wayne impression. Here’s a link to one, from the mainstream media. He also did some underground John Wayne routines which I dare not (dasen’t?) link to.

  6. Ohhhh, THAT guy.

    I also remember him in Boogie Nights, where he does some memorable icky, but much more subtle, work with his mouth movements.

  7. Matthew Davis Says:

    Mel Brooks evidently loved Ridgley’s cheery Laughton/Karloff-toned executioner. The character (as “Hollingsworth” rather than “Boris” – copyright issues?) got a big supporting appearance in an episode of Mel Brook’s 1975 Robin Hood sitcom “When Things Were Rotten” and a third shot in 1993’s “Men in Tights”.

  8. Wasn’t Ridgely part of Jonathan Demme’s company of actors? ISTR him in a few Demme films.

  9. Yes, I see he’s in Melvin and Howard, Something Wild and Philadelphia. Which might explain where PTA got him, as he’s a Demme fan. He first cast him in Hard Eight.

  10. Jack Lechner Says:

    PTA got Ridgely from his own childhood. Ridgely was the best friend of PTA’s father, Ernie Anderson, aka Ghoulardi. Before “Hard Eight”/“Sydney,” Ridgely played the Burt Reynolds role in PTA’s short “The Dirk Diggler Story,” which he later remade as “Boogie Nights.”

  11. Thanks! That’s rather lovely.

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