That's a quote from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Doesn't make too much sense if you think about it, but you get the idea. Paul Newman saw the world with a clarity that was foreign to most in Hollywood. The best-looking, arguably-most-complete man in the movies died yesterday at 83 of cancer. I'll leave the official eulogizing to the pros. Instead, some memories of Paul from my life, apart from the fact that I always always buy his pasta sauces:
His performance in 1982's The Verdict is a rhapsody, the crown jewel of his career, and should be part of any acting school curriculum. I will never tire of watching him in that movie. With grit and grace, he pilots Frank Galvin from the depths of alcoholism to the ridge of redemption, and is smart enough to bring his character to a place of truth rather than a place of resolution. Watch him closely in the summation scene, as Sidney Lumet slowly moves the camera in on this man -- this man who started so meek but who is now towering in this moment in time, for perhaps the first and last time in his life.
Of course, like any good man, he was a sucker for and splendid practitioner of comedy. He was a vulgar marvel in 1977's Slap Shot. I'd never seen him in an out-and-out comedy, and was continually astonished by the ways he appropriated his dramatics to the business of the low-brow.
I remember the serious silliness of 1974's The Towering Inferno and the cool mugging -- long before Clooney -- in 1973's The Sting. His youthful prime was in the 1960s, with The Hustler (drool) and Hud (see clips in my appreciation of Melvyn Douglas), where he appeared to mature into the man James Dean might've been, but with less suffocating Method and more personality. I'd never accuse Newman of being a chameleon; I've never seen him in a role that required an extreme transformation; he didn't suffer for his art. I've only seen a quarter or third of his filmography, but it seems that he never went that route. His craftsmanship blended his star power with an inner fire, which burned as blue as his eyes and which he could set to simmer or boil, depending on his assignment. If I could live my life over again as a movie star, I'd want to be Paul Newman. He just makes sense to me. The way he worked...the way he lived outside of work...his unyielding self-deprecation and disregard for his looks and talents. Right now, I can hear the talking head on CNN in the background. She's saying he will be remembered for more than just his movies. Which is exactly what he wanted.
I saw him once, in person, at a show in New York. Was it at The Apple Tree? I can't remember. But I remember him, and his wife Joanne Woodward, sitting a couple rows in front of me. In real life, he was a white-haired old man, a dutiful husband, unremarkable in appearance. But I remember thinking, "I'm seeing Paul Newman in real life. I'm seeing him. Remember this." And I have. Now he is dead, but that blue fire ain't. It's forever, like the movies. Here's a nice montage to close the matter for now:
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