ok, jeff bridges was great as the lovable town drunk, otis, in crazy heart (2009) but his was a fine performance in an otherwise fair film. personally, i think his oscar was more of the we owe you one/martin scorsese/lifetime achievement award type. but let's take him out of the equation and look at what's left.
colin farrell? stick that pretty boy in any true texas honkytonk and you'll find him sitting in the parking lot picking gravel out of his skin by the end of the evening. outlaw country had to be born to kill countrypolitan in the late sixties. i say it's high time to get waylon jennings out of his cryo chamber and sic him on this new strain of "musicians" that farrell's character represents who rely on their stylists more than any perceived talent they have.
maggie gyllenhaal? a very good actress who has done exceptional work in the past. unfortunately, she isn't given much to do here. the stock character she is saddled with doesn't have much to yield.
redemption? this is what everyone wants to see, right? the standard melodramatic arc of screw up and make it right. well, to hell with all that. why don't you just tie maggie gyllenhaal to the train tracks and twist your mustache while you're at it? remove all these things from this safe, sanitized fairy tale and what you are left with is what i really came here to talk about today - daryl duke's payday (1973).
payday is the story of second-tier country singer maury dann, a monster made of raging id and benzedrine. in the thirty-six hours of his life that we are privy to, he destroys or consumes every single person and thing in his path. the vacant alabama landscapes that pass by his cadillac windows are no match for the burnt out void where any semblance of a conscience might have lived in this man. by the end of the opening scene, he has seduced/coerced someone else's girlfriend into having sex in the parking lot. over the course of the next 103 minutes we will see him visit his infirmed mother who, as it turns out, is just waiting for him to show up and dole out a literal fistful of pills from his guitar case, fire his guitar player after a fistfight and steal his girl, scream down the highway at 95 miles per hour firing his pistol at his band's vehicle, wreak serious havoc with the groupie hierarchy by having sex with one in the back of the car while the other is (mostly) asleep next to them, leave the groupie who has outlived her usefulness to fend for herself by the side of the road, show up unannounced for his kid's birthday (he's not sure which kid, he has his dates wrong by anywhere from four months to four years) and, finally, leave his driver to take the fall for a murder that he committed. in short, he is an unmitigated, unrepentant, complete son of a bitch. you hear that, maury? you are a total bastard.
yeah, that's what i thought.
there are two things i find utterly remarkable about this film.
one - this is no mere artifact. although it was made in 1973, before the mainstream really embraced willie and waylon and the boys, in the thirty-seven years hence no one has made any more accurate a document of the life of the itinerant, shitheel musician. thirty-six hours spent with maury dann feels like a lifetime of dingy motel rooms. you can smell the stale smoke, whiskey and sweat. it's like your movie screen actually has pores. i think it speaks volumes about the film's unflinching approach to the general unsavoriness of the lifestyle that even now, when standards about what you can show onscreen are so much more relaxed, that no one has done it better. you have to remember, at the time, the general public's exposure to country music performers was essentially limited to what you could see on the somewhat sachharine hee haw and the grand ole opry and the opry wasn't nationally broadcast for a television audience on a regular basis until 1978. this movie must have felt like a punch in the gut to the average country music fan who wandered into this thing when it was first released. the fact that some of your heroes are subsisting almost solely on a diet of drugs, liquor and sex - all of it cheap - could not have been easy news for middle america to take. that being said, none of this plays like tabloid material. it is not sensationalized. it is played completely straight. it just happens to be incredibly ugly.
two - my favorite breaker and enterer, rip torn.
this is, hands down, rip torn's finest moment onscreen. he is relentless. no one gets off the hook here, least of all him. he's going to drive this character into the ground come hell or high water. the barely controlled violence within the man eats away at all it touches. destruction is inevitable and it shows up in even the most minor, fleeting moments. he breaks the windows of his own home. he breaks pieces off of the lampshade during conversation. he breaks men and women just as indiscriminately. and when things get to the point that there is nothing and no one left to use up, what does he do? he pushes himself up against that grinding wheel. when the ramifications of the murder he committed can no longer be avoided he simply puts the hammer down and runs until his heart explodes.
you can pick up a copy of this movie here for a song. for better double feature material than crazy heart, i recommend tender mercies (1983) instead. either way, watch payday. look how happy it would make ol' maury dann.