Sunday, 18 October 2009

Oliver Reed Was Wasted!

Last night I found this nice tribute post on actor Oliver Reed -- a longtime personal favourite onscreen, someone you just can't take your eyes off of -- and spent several hours watching Youtube videos, interviews and appearances with the South London legend: After Dark, David Letterman, and so on.

To be fair, these clips highlight only one dimension of Oliver Reed, that of the vaguely threatening, clearly soused, hard guy with a quick wit and soggy lips. The threat of something violent happening in some of these clips is positively electric, like old GG Allin live show bootlegs, where every second has to be watched carefully because, at any second, anything could happen.

"Oliver Reed was a terrifying presence. Extremely dangerous man. He could be very sweet, but if he turned on you, he could make life terrible for you." - Richard Chamberlain

That's not so much fun if you're sitting across from (or next to) him, of course. Watching violence onscreen, the closest most of us come to fear is a sort of sympathetic embarrassment or outrage; absent the fear, absent a fight-or-flight response, violence viewed in this way can become thrilling, funny, addictive - that popping thrill of sudden physicality, flashing.

I was laughing at Reed's antics and stories, sure, but I found myself debating the pros and cons of what I was seeing, the enigma, if you will, of Reed's personality.

Oliver Reed, it seems to me, was something of an end point in terms of masculinity; being male utterly rules him, he is in masculinity's thrall. He seems helpless, almost doomed at times, to an all-consuming and relentless pursuit of establishing alpha-male status, and to quenching his twin thirsts for women and alcohol.

Like the head lion among the pride, he demands your attention - always the questions: what does he want? What is he going to do next? It's difficult to look away. A lot of guys eat this stuff up with a spoon, and it's not hard to see why - Reed was funny, had class, looked impressive, told great stories. He was loving being a man, it seemed, and was being very cool doing it - and this inspires men watching to feel some pride and kinship.

It's amazing to consider how different things might be now had Reed played the role of James Bond. But I digress.

I actually wanted to post a clip here concerning rock'n'roll. Here we see Oliver Reed in 1992 ("still in the pavilion"), holding forth on the subject of "real rock'n'roll", and his appraisal of the people doing the business in post-war Britain.

He mentions The Who and The Troggs as his all-time faves, and alludes to his own frustrated ambitions in that department, and his then-new 'Wild Thing' 7" single (with snooker ace Alex Higgins).

One shocker for me was the revelation that Reed had been approached to play in Toronto's production of the Tommy musical - go watch him in Ken Russell's crazy-ass film of the same name, and see if you think that was a very good idea.

When asked whether he is aware of his reputation as a difficult and dangerous TV chatshow guest, Reed here replies -

"to be sexy is unconscious... I mean, have you ever been to a bird, in love or in bed with a bird, and she didn't know she was sexy, and yet she was. That's what a real rock star's about".

And finally we see Ollie somewhat reluctantly getting his freak on:

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