There is no denying the heroes of cinema their place at the throne of greatness, but what about those who served from the sidelines, those unsung icons without whom some of the greatest stories, scenes and set-pieces in cinematic history would not exist. Directors, cinematographers, writers, all have their place in the annals of historical record, but those incidents in film that delivered moments of genius, echoes in time that live on despite the passing of age and adversity. CEREPRODS presents the first list of its kind from our site, nine selected unsung heroes of cinema (in no particular order or genetic category)…
QUINT – JAWS (1975)
Three years before his untimely death, Robert Shaw was cast in young director Steven Spielberg’s fishing movie JAWS, as the hard-livered shark hunter born from a bottle of apricot brandy and weathered under and over a thousand tsunamis in all seven earthly seas. As Quint, Shaw enters the film just as things become interesting. His screeching nails setting the tone for what was to come and echoing that of Chrissie, the eponymous antagonist’s first known victim. He sets out his stall early and takes his cues from no man, but only the beast that lays in wait below the silver shores of the fictional town of Amity. One could be forgiven for thinking that he devised his own script, the timeless lines and allegories spoken as the poetic recounting of earth shattering history in his part in the delivery of the Bomb. The Big Bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The unspoken guilt carried by his character and devastating justice brought upon him and his Marine shipmates as they were torn to shreds by battalions of sharks in open waters somewhere between the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea would have been punishment enough for most men, but Quint is truly beyond most men. Instead he served as a commander of the sea, a mortal enemy of all sharks and sworn to vengeance in whatever form that may take. Quints’ demise comes kicking and screaming into the face of his enemy, who takes no ease in silencing the brawny captain. Shaw’s emotive investment in Quint guarantees that he will never truly die; only be misquoted.
ORANGES – THE GODFATHER I, II, III (1972, 1974, 1990)
Francis Ford Coppola remains one of cinemas most intriguing figures. His work in timeless series captures with almost pitch perfect resonance the form and function of that Italian-American “thing of ours”, often teetering on the brink of parody but never stepping over that line. Instead, Coppola presents scene after scene of authentic and deeply moving set ups chronicling the rise and fall of the Corleone family from humble and perilous beginnings, to marauding brutality and true power. But there is also the question of the oranges. When Vito Corleone in gunned down early in Part 1, he stumbles over a basket of oranges, during Connie’s wedding reception, the treacherous Tessio (Abe Vigoda) holds an orange with great reverence, when Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) meets with big-shot movie producer Jack Woltz (John Marley) prior to placing a ½ million dollar horses head in his bed, they speak over a bowl full of oranges, when Don Corleone eventually dies, he does so with a slice of orange in his mouth, and the references continue throughout the trilogy. So what is the thing with the oranges? Through artistic and religious works of byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance artists, oranges were a symbol of free will. In paintings made during the Baroque era in the 15th century, oranges symbolized the descent of a portraits subject from the Dutch ruling dynasty of Orange. But why in The Godfather universe do oranges play such an important part. It has been claimed by many critics that The Godfather is about America’s legacy of violence, however, it is also posited, somewhat more convincingly that The Godfather is about not so much what immigrants find in America, as what they bring to it. Namely, oranges.
SHERIFF MICHAEL GARRIS – FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)
Jason Voorhees’ legacy continues and is ramped up to new levels of horror in the fifth official venture for the Slasher genre’s favorite drowned boy. Previous outing have seen him terrorize a young Corey Feldman, don an iconic mask that lives in the nightmares of young and old alike, and despatch dozens of promiscuous young teens seeking nothing more than shotgunned beers and a roll in the hay. But what made part VI so special was the supporting cast of players outside of Jason (CJ Graham) and Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews). The bad ass sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) is given some of the most outlandish lines in the series’ history. Classic threats to “wear your (Jarvis’) balls as earrings”, to “redecorate the office with your brains (Jarvis’ again)” and “fucken’ hey what did I tell ya, hit the noise and the cherries.” Not to be outdone by his deputy (Rick Cologne, played by Vincent Guastaferro), who is still afforded one or two diamonds such as “wherever the red dot goes, you bang”, Kagen also gives full investment into the character who tries to stop Jason killing his daughter, screaming “No! Not her!” which, when delivered sounded like “Now Nodder!” The remainder of the supporting cast look like the not-too grown up versions of a Saved By The Bell reunion party, and give as good as they get, performance wis. But it is David Kagen who adds a level of maturity to the piece, ensuring the believability and resonance is preserved over the last two decades or more. His exit, in being literally broken in half after crushing Jason’s head with a large rock is one of the more challenging battles the cabbage-headed killer has had to face.
SALMONELLOSIS – INDIANA JONES AND THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Back in 1981 when Nazis were still unpopular, Harrison Ford took his second outing as the titular hero Indiana Jones, in a film packed with hi-octane excitement and Sunday-afternoon adventure complete with a cast of unforgettable actors that, although falling into many stereotypic categories, still hold a special place in the hearts of any fun-film aficionado. But it was the dreaded Salmonella virus, or one of its genetic compatriots, that gave us the archetypal Indy scene that will forever be loved. After the crew had been on location for some weeks, many fell foul to food poisoning on the day a great sword fight was to be filmed in a crowded Arabian market place. Ford included. Instead of embarking on a grueling, shot filled, multi-set up and stunt-laden sequence, Ford faces the swordsman (played by British stuntman Terry Richards, who sadly passed away in 2014), who gives Indy a quick lesson in the power of the sword. But it is Indy who gives the greater lesson of bullets over blades, by shooting him down to roars of revelry in the crowds. But without the microscopic viruses that live in badly cooked meat products, we would have instead had just another gratuitous fight scene. Thank you, enterica bacterium.
GOBLIN – DAWN OF THE DEAD (1974)
After directing Night of the Living Dead (1968) and almost single-handedly creating the zombie sub-genre, horror mastermind George A. Romero went on to devise the next installment in his vision of apocalypse in Dawn of the Dead, taking place in the then rampant commercial backdrop of the United States and placing the majority of the film in the modern church of Capitalism, The Mall. Here his four protagonists battled demons both inner and outer, forged bonds and friendships and delivered a stark reflection of consumerist USA to a hungry public. Released six years after the first …Dead, DOTD shows the development of the zombie epidemic reaching unfathomable levels. Humans still exist, broken into pockets of militia or soon-to-be victims, as they do battle with those souls denied entrance to Hell. Contrasting this starkly dystopian image is the soundtrack, provided by Dario Argento’s frequently collaborated with group “Goblin”, who stay with tongue firmly lodged into rotting-cheek by using instruments and arrangements that illustrate the absurdity of the human condition that even in death, the primary place to be is The Mall. The 2004 remake by Zack Snyder shows the modern “American Dream” but it is the original and its precognitive-hindsight that really punches the warning into our collective conscious. Without Goblin to provide the jaunty yet grievous soundtrack, this film would have been much worse received, instead, it takes it’s place as one of the greatest examples of modern day story-telling, and provides a warning to the zombie within us all, especially as the perpetually looming Black Friday gathers darkness.
NOT GIVING A F*CK – BILL MURRAY
Since the dawn of cinema no actor, living or dead, has perfected the art of not giving a f*ck more than Bill Murray. That isn’t to say that Murray doesn’t care about the characters he portrays, far from it, in many ways he cares more than anyone: but it is his demeanor, his candor, his rancor and so many other implacable elements to acting and filmmaking that draw from his performances an effortlessness that is unmatched by anyone in cinema, contemporary or likewise. Look at Peter Venkman, look at Bob Wiley look at Ernie McCracken: every single one of his roles have brought with them an air of laissez-faire, a complete disregard to the surrounding, environment and actions of his co-stars and collectives. If acting is reacting, then Murray is the Sid Vicious of the stage. One need look no further than Wes Anderson's modern classic Rushmore, where Murray plays the despondently eccentric millionaire entrepreneur Herman Blume, opposite the ingenious Max Fischer, portrayed with ennounce by Jason Schwartzman. This one role shows Murray at his core: savior, rebel, spiteful and saint; an effigy to God and modern day Rasputin.
LUCID DREAMING - THE SELECTED WORKS OF JEFF BRIDGES, CLINT EASTWOOD, DAVID LYNCH AND MORE
"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams." - Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
The late Gene Wilder's words seem a million years gone today, but in the realm of lucid dreaming, the world between thought and reality, they persevere, forever imprinted in the fifth element of time within space. The impact of the fantastic has always been the source of revelatory works of art, whether the heroin induced visions of Hubert Selby, Jr. or the cocaine addled factory of prose that is Stephen King or was Robert Louis Stevenson the realm of fantasy is, somewhat obviously the source of many terrific works of literary ad cinematic art. But the practice of Lucid Dreaming, including controlled breathing and meditation is one that we may advocate in the creation of that most ground breaking work. David Lynch in particular is a huge proponent of Lucid Dreaming, and his school of thought Transcendental Meditation. In his book Catching The Big Fish, Lynch describes the artistic process through a series of meditations on the deliverance of oneself to a higher plateau of thought and function,
WEALTHY PARENTS – THE WORK OF STANLEY KUBRICK (1951-2001) AND OTHERS
In all fairness this could be a vault full of film makers; it is hard to break into this most-sacred of industries without a leg-up from someone, but Stanley Kubrick gave us something that many privileged film makers could not: History. His works defied not-only convention, but society (both common and secret), government, order, taste and science. One of the brutal lessons of time is that it takes from us masters like Kubrick, leaving us only with his achievements and his maybes, such as the unmade Napoleon film that was in the works for so long at Hawk Films, Stanley’s production house for Dr. Strangelove (1964), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980) and Full Metal Jacket (1987). Intended to have starred a much younger Jack Nicholson, we can only wonder at the final result. For these films alone more gold was garnered in awards than exists in Fort Knox, and therefore we shall never cast aspersions on the opportunistic nature of those children with a dream and a parent with a million dollars or two. We are fortunate that at least Kubrick was born into this, and let us state for the record that endowed wealth is neither a prerequisite nor assurance that any film maker will be capable of creating master pieces as did the late, great Stanley Kubrick.
SLAPPING RAY LIOTTA IN THE FACE – GOODFELLAS (1990)
Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece that picked up where The Godfather trilogy left off, and in many ways was the third part in the Trilogy, is an earth-stopping tour-de-force of organized crime, riding till death, burning out rather than fading away. It is the film that made Ray Liotta into the go-to guy for burned-out, hard-edged, paranoid no-collar guy who would laugh at the idea of a “real job”. But he puts in work. Goodfellas gave to the world a privileged and well-distanced peek into the life where “as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster”, because who in their right mind would ever want to work for money, surely it’s better to just take it, right? This was the dawn of the 90’s, the end of the 80’s, cocaine had started to lose its shine and money was suddenly in the down swing of boom-bust. Scorcese gave us a visual poem that explained this mindset perfectly, from the films dawning in the mid fifties, to its climax in the late 80’s and release in 1990, we all wanted walk maybe not a mile, but at least a couple of blocks in the shoes of Henry Hill, of Tommy (Joe Pesci), of Jimmy (Robert De Niro). But one does not sleepwalk through a film like this. In one of the most iconic scenes, when Hill (Liotta) is released from prison and warned by Paulie (Paul Sorvino) to stay away from drugs, the slap in the face was completely improvised, unknown to Liotta. His reaction was real, our reaction was timeless, and so Goodfellas, Liotta, and casual violence to push home a point, all make it to our list of unsung heroes of modern cinema.
What do you think? Have we missed some of the unsung heroes of cinema? Would you rather have seen One Eyed Willy? Or the influence of cocaine in movies from the stable of Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer movies? Let us know in the comments box below, and don’t forget to share!
Conceived, compiled and written by Michael Biggam.
Biggam is the founder of CereProds, writer, director, and comedian.
This website claims no copyright to any of the materials above, all opinions expressed are merely so, opinions formed during decades of scrutiny over cinema.