Thursday, February 3, 2011

Counterfactual Cinema, vol II

First off, full disclosure.

Much of this information is apocryphal.

I tripped over its scatterings while scavenging across the Wild Wide Web. Like found fish wrap. Like a message in a bottle. Like pages of a lost manuscript unspooling from a toilet roll.

But that's the allure of the counterfactual. Without the fettering of empirical "facts", or whatever we reckon those elusive things to be, we are free to imagine. To compare. To be nostalgically wistful about. To say "what if?", gratefully or regretfully.

Imagine, if you will, "The Wrestler" without Mickey Rourke. Could a more appropriate "old broken down piece of meat" from the 1980s have been unearthed? After the late 80s, nothing is really recognizable within his filmography until 2008. I was pleasantly surprised with that film, even after I had written that director off after "The Fountain". However, while I suspect that it wasn't Aronofsky's idea, Randy the Ram was originally offered to the ever underwhelming Nicholas Cage. The same actor who named himself after a 1970s comic book hero, a character that he desperately wants to portray on film. Problem is, Nick Cage is black, and Nicholas Cage isn't. But that probably won't stop him. Original source material means little to the big studio machine, and probably even less to Nicholas Cage.

Perhaps I am partial to "The Wrestler" only because every time I visit my folks in the ancestral Glen, it is being shown on one of their satellite TV movie channels. I think I have watched at least portions of it four or five times. Usually there is not a second watchable film on offer across the Bell ExpressVu constellation of channels.

If Rourke hadn't made his comeback in that film, we would have been deprived of such stellar straight to video classics as "Killshot" and "The Informers". He seems to be gratefully backsliding into Pam Grier-type cult obscurity, failing to take advantage of the career resuscitation.

Speaking of revived careers, John Travolta almost never got his second chance to dilute the overall quality of American cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis wanted the role of Vincent Vega and apparently pushed hard to get it.

Could you imagine anybody else other than Robert DeNiro playing Jimmy Conway? Allegedly it was turned down by Al Pacino (who, I recall, had just made his return to the business around that time).

Cary Grant as Bond? He was the first choice.

Sean Connery as Gandalf? Maybe if he hadn't retired to advance the cause of Scottish secession.

Most shocking to me, Lee Marvin had to turn down the role of Pike Bishop in "The Wild Bunch" in order for it to fall to William Holden. I can't imagine anybody else but Holden (a legendary drinker whose career was in decline as he himself aged) in that role within a film about aging and the concomitant decline of masculinity.


  1. Love these counterfactuals. In today's cases the right actor got the job. Your blog reveals the need for wise casting. Maybe the top Oscars should go to the casting director.

    Great post. Long Live Randy the Ram...and strippers with hearts of gold.

  2. It's good to know someone who felt the same way about "The Fountain." I read about it and conceptually it was very interesting. However it didn't translate into a workable film. The lady next to me in the theater, after the credits rolled up, just sat there staring at the blank screen and said "what the fuck?" Good post FE.