First thing’s first: Gary Oldman, probably the best actor alive with the strangest filmography, has appeared in 54 feature films, 3 TV movies, and a variety of other projects. Some of them are brilliant, and some of them are very, very bad. I am going to watch all of them in a year’s time (March 2016 to March 2017). Here’s why.
A few days ago, Gary Oldman was a trending hashtag on Facebook and Twitter, and probably some other social media outlets which I am unaware of because I am now old in social media years. It’s alarming to reach the age where you can trace online community back to AIM chatroom days; bonus points if you remember the vibrant angst of the typical AOL instant messenger away messages (mine were always, always song lyrics).
Anyway, I was pleased to see that the reason for #garyoldman circulation was due to it being the man’s birthday. As a rule, I am always proud and defensive of the people I like, and I have always liked Mr. Oldman. What’s that? An understatement, you say? Yes, okay, I have long had serious love for Gary Oldman. As a certified cinephile I have often camped on his work, in awe of his talent and knack for making himself (whoever that is) vanish into whatever he needs to be onscreen. There are many versatile, powerful actors in Hollywoodland (and out of it), but this guy is uncanny. Of course, like anyone worth studying, he has also made some very strange career choices.
When I stumble across a subject like that, I can’t help but find myself drawn back to it, on a committed mission to sniff out how someone who should have as many Oscar nominations as Meryl Streep found himself playing a kooky human trafficking kingpin to Ving Rhames’s B-movie hero when only a few years before he was playing the lead in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Oldman might just eclipse the most revered lead actors we have today, and should be ruling alongside the likes of reigning statesmen such as Daniel Day-Lewis, but his filmography is too bizarre for the American film society at large to take seriously. Why is this? Was he shunned? Did his personal life get in the way of his own talent? Did he really just need the money? Has he, like other fine actors before him, committed the greatest actor’s sin of all by just wanting to be employed?
I compare the desire to understand how an actor works to the fascination that many mechanically-minded folk have with the function of tools and machinery. My father, once a car guy, spent the better part of his life poring over engine manuals for fun and taking items apart. He was an obsessive perfectionist who NEEDED to know how things worked, and I think I’m the same way. I MUST finish all of the books I start, I REQUIRE answers when I meet someone who displays a clear dislike for me, and I NEED to know how Gary Oldman went from Sid Vicious to Stansfield to the beloved Sirius Black. As you can’t pick apart a human the way you can a pocket watch, the only course of action is study.
I have a long history of “obsessive phases”– perhaps it comes from being homeschooled and often left to my own devices, but, several times a year, I find something to harp on until I wear myself out. Subjects have run the gamut from Judaism to the James Bond franchise to Noir literature to the subject of this blog. I find it very hard to be just somewhat interested in something– either I must erect a monument to it or, frankly, internet, I don’t give a damn. I must completely research or participate in something until I’ve defined it or exhausted myself.
When I was in my hardcore Gary Oldman phase, I would use up my breaks at work by researching his 90′s interviews in which he discussed alcoholism. I wasted time browsing IMDB to see what the screenwriter of Romeo Is Bleeding was up to. I made a list of people who should cough up their Oscars in favor of a superior performance that Mr. O had given during their year (Benincio Del Toro, you’re the best, but Gary was better). I constantly checked in with James Lipton to see if Gary had yet agreed to take part in “Inside the Actor’s Studio” (nope).
Full disclosure: I may or may not have convinced my good friend, a crocheting wizard, to make me a Tiny Gary for my birthday, complete with bow-tie. He may or may not sit on my dresser as I type this.
Finally, after exhaustive reading and watching, I had to let it go. Trying to catch up on everything that Oldman had anything to do with was tiring, not to mention a little embarrassing, and I finally recognized the process as a means of procrastination and not growth. Sometimes you can’t put the pocket watch back together.
But, I realized the other day while glancing over my “what’s trending” section, maybe you can learn something from trying.
Gary Oldman was all over your newsfeed over the weekend because he is beloved, but in a way that I, as a fan, did not see coming. He exists currently as that interesting, sometimes cuddly guy who pops up in big movies and yells a lot. People revere him now as the fun uncle who stops by occasionally with some kind of treat (“I hope he brought cake this time, but I’m afraid it might be one of those odd tarts…”), and even if you’re a casual viewer who doesn’t know his name or his range (yes he totally played that evil Republican in The Contender), you may know his “this is a very grave situation” face. How does this happen? How do you carve a Gary Oldman-sized shape in people’s lives?
I intend to find out. Not only am I going to revisit an old (yet resonant) subject of interest, but I am going to find a way to put to good use all of those obsessive moments. Can trying and sometimes failing to understand the choices of a guy who played Commissioner Gordon actually yield something valuable? Is it possible to find worth in subjects like that? I propose that it is, and I intend to pursue my answers to these questions and more throughout a year span on this very blog!
My plan: Find, watch (or re-watch, as will often be the case for me) each feature film in which Mr. Oldman appears and present them here with the honest intent of gaining something from the experience. I have no interest in properly critiquing these movies or his performances in them, necessarily. Instead I intend on doing some digging into what I got out of the experience, whether it be a profound revelation or a reminder that things have changed since the 90′s. Some entries may be more personal in nature, some more objective. I really hope you join me on this project and help me along– one small step for Gary Oldman blogs, one giant leap for obsessive people everywhere.