I have a confession to make. It’s hard for me to get the words out, after so many years of hiding this shame from family, friends, random pedestrians, pets and potential muggers on public transport. I beg of you, Dear Readers, to look within and consider the dark places in your own hearts before judging me.
I quite like Russell Crowe.
He was terrifyingly real in Romper Stomper, a film that reflected an underseam of Melbourne very much present on the streets in the early 90s. The Sum of Us was a bit of an irritating overstatement about Why Gay People Are Normal (since when did we card-carrying queers have to be ‘normal’?), and like most well-meaning message movies it wasn’t quite sure how it should end; but, his portrayal of a young gay man and devoted son was sensitive and sympathetic without overwhelming Jack Thompson’s gentle performance. He was brilliant in Proof. He had the right amount of masculine hubris and vulnerability for film noir in LA Confidential. I refused to watch A Beautiful Mind when it came out, not because it looked like a bad film but because people who annoyed me liked it. However, I’m sure he was very convincing at conceptualising Game Theory while the rest of the film went about its melodramatic screen exploitation of mental illness (complete with Sixth Sense twist at the end).
The man can act. He is a gifted performer. Hollywood sticks him in brainless action films because they don’t know what else to do with him. Men in Hollywood who don’t look like Steve Buschemi are doomed to a lifetime of these. Look what the studios did to the wonderful, hilarious Antonio Banderas once they got their claws into him – from Almodovar to Zorro in under five years.
I actually have nothing against brainless action films in their place – they’re nice to whack on the DVD player when you have a hangover, and great for when you have to babysit eleven year old boys – but this does seem to be a profound waste of talent and CGI. The casting is all wrong to me. People who can actually act should be in films with actual stories. People who emanate megalomania and physical toughness in place of talent should be in action films. Like Madonna. She’d be brilliant in one of those things. They could CGI her up to look like The Rock, and no one would ever know the difference.
One reason, then, why I like Crowe is because he is genuinely and rarely talented. This is a good reason. If I was the kind of decent person who admired artists and performers solely on the merit of their work, my affection for him would end there. Unfortunately, though, there is a perverse streak in my nature (some have argued that my character is a perverse streak with some nature in it); I like a spectacle. The main reason why I like Russell Crowe is because as a public persona he is inherently ridiculous, and therefore extreme. And that’s exactly what a celebrity should be.
The late, great Divine was the last proper celebrity. Divine embodied something far more significant and exciting than the performance of the average drag queen, as much as I admire the courage of even the most mediocre drag. She (and it’s impossible to think of Divine as anything else but ‘she’) was bold; she was brave; she was a terrifying and funny sexual steamroller, a performance of monstrous and triumphant femininity that never stooped to misogyny and far transcended parody. John Waters (and bless him for being the first and possibly the last film maker to really put fat women on the screen) describes her as a cross between ‘Jayne Mansfield and Godzilla’. She was, in screen terms, the Last Great Woman. Watch any movie with Divine in it, and you’ll find it’s impossible to look at anyone else. When she’s not in a scene, you’re waiting for her to come back; the rest of the film is just filling time.
After Divine, celebrities became uniformly boring again. Michael Jackson was too tragic to be a proper monster; Liz Taylor, too nice; Mel Gibson, too predictable and self-righteous in his unpleasantness; even people with the potential for left-of-centre extremity like Courtney Love, about whom I was excited for a bit, turned out to be yet more broken children seeking validation by jumping up and down and squeaking.
Sadly, this is a reflection of what sells in our times. Mainstream society requires our celebrities to be mainstream too. Despite the studio system and the crushing moral codes of earlier decades, it wasn’t always like this. In the 1950s, people wanted to read about Jayne Mansfield wearing a leopard print bikini while walking her ocelot up Hollywood Boulevard. Everyone loved it when it was revealed that Marilyn Monroe had done a naked calendar. Cary Grant called press conferences to enthuse about how much fun taking acid is, and why everybody should be doing it. An elderly Mae West hired a female impersonator as her personal secretary, and paid him to give interviews as her so she could stay in bed. People were as vicariously thrilled by the loony demise of Howard Hughes and his hoard of urine as they were by the whispers of his sexual adventures with other famous young men (nicely airbrushed out of The Aviator – even today, perhaps especially today, not a topic Hollywood is willing to deal with).
What passes as titillating today is inane pap: the size of Kim Kardashian’s arse (a dear friend and I were recently reduced to tears in a supermarket laughing at a headline that read, ‘MY BUTT’S OUT OF CONTROL!’). Jennifer Aniston’s love life, which according to magazines is conducted in a similar fashion to a fourteen year old girl’s. Angelina Jolie’s weight. Dreary people having (*gasp!*) fairly vanilla sex with each other and somehow ‘accidentally’ taping it and releasing it to the press. Wow. No one ever thought of putting a penis in a vagina before. Apparently, we’re supposed to be shocked by this and are required to pay attention. It seems that human nature is so naturally geared towards obedience, many people are and do.
When a genuinely fabulous original comes along, instead of being celebrated they are destroyed. Anna Nicole Smith, for instance. I loved Anna Nicole Smith. She was bawdy, she was endlessly entertaining, she was gorgeous at whatever size, and she let her freak flag fly. She possessed the most important (and lost) trait of a proper celebrity: Shamelessness. She was fucked up, and she owned it. Not many people would be brave enough to put such true, severe and unedited dysfunction onto a reality TV show. I admired her and liked her for it. She was someone I would’ve liked to have hung out with for a day.
Shortly before her untimely and saddening death, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival screened a documentary made about Smith’s relatives. According to both the documentary and the other paying ticket holders (frankly, I found this audience’s reactions deeply disturbing), the fact that these people were poor and uneducated was uproariously funny. People wept laughing at their weight, their clothes, their vernacular and their daily routines. At the same time, we were told that Smith was an intrinsically evil person for seeking to leave this life behind her by using what she could – her sexuality, and her beauty.
Of course, predictably, she was also bad for having been a stripper, for putting on weight, for not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, for being addicted to pain killers, for having slept with women and kept it private, and for having married an old bloke and then to have sought her inheritance after he died – all of which, in my book, made her human and interesting. Mainly, though, her sin was to have been a sexually knowing girl of average intelligence from a low socio-economic background. As my friend commented as we walked out of ACMI onto Flinders Street and left the manicured audience behind us: ‘I had no idea that poverty was so amusing.’
When Smith died, her death – the tragic death of a young woman clearly tortured by her childhood, and manipulated into a place of vulnerability and madness by a predator – was treated as yet another humiliation to be laughed at, along with the death of her son. I was upset and angered by this. I remember getting drunk with a patient friend and ranting about it until four o’clock in the morning. Would it still have been funny if she were slim? If she were from wealth? If her bum, like Kim Kardashian’s, was more noteworhy? If she were, perhaps, the comparatively functional and boring Pamela Anderson?
Russell Crowe is, of course, doing a lot better in life than poor Anna Nicole ever did. But he is, like her, out there. Everything he does seems to be an attempt at shouting ‘I AM A MAN!’ at the world, regardless of whether the world is interested. Despite a profound lack of musical talent, he perseveres in earnest with that wince-makingly awful band of his with the farcically phallic name; he nearly kills himself bulking up at the mere suggestion of a movie role; he even went to the extreme lengths of shagging the nauseating Meg Ryan to prove his manhood to the USA, a bridge too far for any man less dedicated to public displays of testosterone.
I enjoy Tom Cruise, for similar reasons: a talented man whose insecurities have led him to a type of religious mania so bizarre, it puzzles in place of causing offense. Mel Gibson’s religious insanity is just deeply annoying, as he is following in an established tradition of patriarchal crap that has shat on women, gay people, Jews, and anyone a little bit different from the norm for over two thousand years. Tom Cruise, though, obviously means well, and I don’t think anyone’s ever done the religious crazy thing quite like him before. The man can jump on Oprah’s couch as much as he wants. Creative types should be a bit loopy.
With Cruise there’s a sense that perhaps he has an inkling that he’s nuts, and this is part of what drives him. The great thing about Crowe is, though, he doesn’t seem to realise he’s barking mad. He remains absolutely unshaken in his faith in his penis. No matter how much people mock him for it, he steadfastly continues to take the thing seriously, and this staunchness should be admired.
Shortly after Romper Stomper came out, an urban myth spread about the then-largely unknown Crowe. The story went that Crowe hooked up the lead singer of the band Paradise Motel after a gig. She took him back to her hotel room. While they were screwing, band members in the next room could hear him grunting: ‘GO Russ! GO Russ!’
Whether or not this is true, this is exactly the sort of over-the-top monstrous behavior I want from a celebrity. I am not interested in the contents of Kim Kardashian’s buttocks. I couldn’t give a shit who allegedly passed Jennifer Aniston a note in class that said, ‘My Friend Says You’re Dropped’. Angelina Jolie can lose as much weight as she likes – this strikes me as none of my business. I am, however, keenly entertained by Russell Crowe’s proclamations of manliness and ego, and I will be for as long as he keeps making them.
At the moment, I have been housebound for about two weeks – the result of a bad flu combined with the whims of Ménière’s disease, which keeps me close to bed and sick bucket between attacks. I find myself as weak as a kitten, unable to sleep at night with fever and finally collapsing into sweaty unconsciousness at about five in the morning. At the same time, my flat has been invaded by cockroaches: the creatures I find the most repulsive, loathsome and terrifying in the world. I can catch huntsman spiders and put them outside in a cup without shaking. I can chase meth-addled intruders from my stairwell, dressed in a nightie and armed only with a rolling pin and a loud Teacher Is Angry voice. Sewer rats are creatures I respect enough to not want on or near me, but they hold no terrors for me as long as they stay out of jumping distance. A single cockroach, however, reduces me to the screaming lady standing on a chair of Warner Brothers cartoons. Living with a teeming mass of them has been a somewhat confronting experience.
Understandably, this has caused some pretty extreme mood swings. I get pissed off at everything. Then, not having enough energy to maintain feeling pissed off depresses me.
No matter how low the serotonin gets, though, one thing is guaranteed to pick me up. All I have to do is log into my email and find the one from Village Cinemas with the improbable subject line: Russell Crowe Is Noah! to think that the world is not such a grim place after all.
If it comes out after the premiere that there was a Bible and a condom under every seat, my happiness will be complete.