Thursday, May 12, 2005


The prostitute played by Elizabeth Berkeley (of SAVED BY THE BELL and SHOWGIRLS fame, or infamy) in Oliver Stone's ANY GIVEN SUNDAY had it right -- there's something about his eyes.

Jamie Foxx's, that is.

The other night I watched ANY GIVEN SUNDAY for the sixth or seventh time, and it gets better with every viewing, denser, and Foxx's performance gets better, too. (You have to understand: I am an Oliver Stone nut. A whole other Stone post awaits, so you've been warned.)

There's a scene near the end of the film, right before the big game, where Al Pacino, playing football coach Tony D'Amato, gives his pre-game speech. And what a speech it is, the end-all, be-all of pre-game speeches. It is not about football, but about life. It is not about his team, but about himself. It is not about Pacino, but about Stone. It is heavy handed and over-the-top and wonderful. And there's a passage in the speech where Pacino talks about teamwork, about being there for one another, and the camera stays on Foxx's face, slowly, slowly tracking into his eyes, and his character, who throughout the film has been a loud-mouth, arrogant prick, changes; his character alters. We see it right before our eyes, and it's nothing magical, nothing tactical; we simply see a level of sudden compassion and understanding and emotion in Foxx's eyes that tells us everything we need to know.

Foxx is the real deal. He was brilliant in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, and even more so in Will Smith's ALI. I thought he was great in Stone's flick; after seeing him play the middle-aged, overweight, black, Jewish, white-woman loving Bundini Brown in ALI, I thought to myself: My God, this man is an actor. He's not just a comedian, even though I don't really believe there's such a thing as being 'just' a comedian, as I explain below. This may sound ludicrous, but Foxx (real name Eric Bishop, from small town Texas), reminds me a little bit of DeNiro. Foxx does not play a persona; he plays a character, and becomes the character, and we believe it. Completely.

Then came RAY, of course, which I saw most of on DVD. ('Most of' because the film cut out near the end -- did he get his sight back?) The most remarkable thing about that performance was not the mimicry of the real musician, but the fact that Foxx pulled it off without the use of his most powerful asset -- his eyes.

Last night I watched one of Foxx's stand-up comedy specials taped in 2002, and the man is very, very funny. Not Eddie Murphy funny, but funny nevertheless. His impressions are unreal -- Shaq, Prince, Pacino. He is not afraid to diss his fellow black entertainers: Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, and LL Cool J all come under fire. (His bit about LL Cool J is particularly funny, talking about how his co-star in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY didn't seem to realize that they were making a movie, not playing a real football game, and that the angry words Foxx was exchanging with him were based on a script, not reality.) Oh, and his rationale for why O.J. is guilty simply based on his body movements is hilarious. (Ask me about it sometime.)

Now, Foxx has very little in common with Don Knotts, but I have to give Knotts his proper props, given that he's been in the news lately, mostly because his home state of West Virginia is about to give him a star on their newly formed walk of fame. And if getting a star on the West Virginia Walk of Fame is not prime material for a blog, then what the hell is?

The thing is, both Foxx and Knotts are comedians. And understand me here: I love Don Knotts. I think his work on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, not to mention THREE'S COMPANY, is classic. It's real. It's honest and it's human.

Comedians like Foxx often become great dramatic actors because comedy is all about finding the truth of a situation. If something's real, we laugh. If it isn't, silence rules the room. But I don't think comedians should be relegated to the back room of actingdom. I think somebody like Don Knotts is sincerely, genuinely worthy of our admiration because when we laugh at his antics, at his eye-rolls, out his sheer ridiculous, we are laughing because he has struck something authentic within ourselves. When we laugh, we are connected to something outside of ourselves, and great comedians can provide that link. (Not to mention how much of my childhood was spent imitating Don Knotts as Mr.Furley doing his karate chops. As Jim Carrey once said: 'Imitation is the sincerest form of copying.' But it always brought a good laugh...)

So here's to Jamie Foxx and Don Knotts, unlikely partners in crime, separated by two comedic generations, but deserving of all the accolades that are coming their way. (You can debate amongst yourselves what's worth more: An Oscar or a West Virginian star.)

We look to comedians to provide a respite from the realities of, um, reality. And I have to say this: Whenever I see these two guys in action, I laugh. (And when I see Foxx do drama, I empathize.) I relate. When I see Knotts do his schtick, I'm reminded of the silliness inside of ourselves we so rarely allow out.

That may not sound like much to you, but in this short life of ours, a little bit of laughter, a little bit of empathy, can go a long, long way.

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