Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ode To Pare

In my post on Silver Bullet I mentioned having an opportunity to also watch Bad Moon, our middle feature in this Saturday’s werewolf tribute. It’s an enjoyable film featuring all the hallmarks of a fun, B-grade horror entry, and was 90 minutes well spent. While the story and performances kept me engaged, perhaps what interested me most in approaching the film was the casting of lead actor Michael Pare. If you were growing up in the early 80’s, you probably have a pretty good fix on who this guy is. If your first experience is Bad Moon (circa 1996), then you’ll probably be scratching your head saying Michael who? Just to give you some preparation, I thought it might be informative to talk a bit about Pare, and a phenomenon (prevalent in the late 70’s/early 80’s) of which he is a perfect example . . . something I like to call the big splash, slow crash effect. To explain how this phenomenon plays out, first I’ll give you a little background on Pare’s career.

According to legend, Pare got his break after being noticed while working in a New York restaurant (apparently he was training to be a chef). While he appeared in a few minor parts early on, his first noteworthy role was on the popular television series The Greatest American Hero. On the show he played a character named Tony Villicana, who was more or less a tough guy/biker with a heart of gold. The character was popular, and served as a launching point for what would become Pare’s best-known character, Eddie Wilson of Eddie and the Cruisers (1983). In that film Pare played a tortured rocker, who was essentially a variation on his character from Hero. While the film was not an outright blockbuster, it had a wildly popular soundtrack (featuring the ubiquitous ditty On the Dark Side), and has since gained a substantial cult following. At the time, it was certainly successful enough to ensure that Pare would continue to receive decent parts in high profile films.

Following Cruisers, Pare was cast as the lead in 1984’s Streets of Fire, a film that should have cemented him as an A-list leading man. Streets was the brainchild of action director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours), and was a most unusual concept. Set in “another time, another place,” the film incorporates elements of several genres including action, rock musical, and science-fiction. The plot involves a soldier of fortune (Pare) being hired to rescue a pop singer (Diane Lane) who has been kidnapped by a ruthless biker gang, set against a Blade Runner-like backdrop. Everything about the production is first-rate, and the movie is entertaining from the word go. Additionally, it features a terrific 80’s soundtrack (that was huge at the time), with hits such as Dan Hartman’s I Can Dream About You. Unfortunately the studio didn’t know how to sell the picture, and audiences weren’t sure what make of it. Not surprisingly, the film was a financial disaster. Note: In my opinion this is Pare’s best film . . . a future Fantasmo perhaps? Hey, you can’t go wrong with a Walter Hill action movie!

After the fiasco that was Streets of Fire, Pare got one more shot at the big time with the science-fiction outing The Philadelphia Experiment (executive produced by horror master John Carpenter). Basically a time travel adventure, Pare is again cast as a tough-guy hero, thrown forward in time as part of a botched military project. Once there he of course checks up on his past, and tries to find a way back to his time. While an entertaining film, The Philadelphia Experiment was not the type of success Pare needed to assure his stature. It received a lukewarm reception, and served to relegate Pare to an endless stream of straight-to-video work (e.g. Moon 44, Lunarcop, Space Fury, etc.) occasionally punctuated by cameos in big screen roles (e.g. Village of the Damned, The Virgin Suicides, Inland Empire, etc.). No great tragedy perhaps, except that he’s a pretty decent actor and probably didn’t deserve to be cut off so early in his career . . . and he’s not alone.

While I’m sure one could point to numerous examples throughout Hollywood history, in the late 70’s/and early 80’s there were a host of leading men in genre pictures that shared the experience of Pare . . . what I call the big splash/slow crash effect. Essentially this phenomenon entails the following:

1 – Actor has significant initial fortune in a successful/high profile film, after being plucked from relative obscurity.

2 – Actor follows with projects that fail to duplicate previous success or notoriety.

3 – Actor is quickly relegated to obscurity, receiving little or no substantial work.

4 – Actor refuses to go gently into that good night, and continues to appear in sub par productions for decades.

Clearly Pare fits this mold. His success in Eddie and the Cruisers assured him as a recognizable commodity. He followed with films that should have built on his debut, and cemented his position as a bankable leading man. After box office failures unrelated to his performance, Pare quickly became persona non grata with the Hollywood studios. Favoring work more than his legacy, Pare struggled on (to this day he has over 70 credits to his name) producing a body of work that is best described as mostly awful. Want some more examples? Here are a few leading men from the period in question, along with their early hits/subsequent misses . . .

Michael Beck: The Warriors/Xanadu

Barry Bostwick: The Rocky Horror Picture Show/Megaforce

Zach Galligan: Gremlins/Nothing Lasts Forever

Mark Hamill: Star Wars/Corvette Summer

Richard Hatch: Battlestar Galactica/Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen

Sam J. Jones: Flash Gordon/Jungle Heat

Ralph Macchio: The Karate Kid/Teachers

Kyle MacLachlan: Dune/Blue Velvet (Note: This is a great movie, but forever typecast MacLachlan as quirky).

David Naughton: An American Werewolf in London/Hot Dog: The Movie

William Ragsdale: Fright Night/Mannequin 2: On the Move

Christopher Reeve: Superman/Somewhere in Time

I could keep going, but this gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. Essentially you have folks who could/should have become A-list actors. They had the initial boost, but for a variety of reasons became sidetracked. To be fair, some of them have gone on to moderate success (e.g. Kyle MacLachlan surged with Twin Peaks, and has had recurring roles on Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives), and some individuals remain icons based on the strength of their initial work (e.g. Mark Hamill). Additionally, I’m not suggesting that all of the follow-up work was bad, but clearly it didn’t serve these actors well in terms of strengthening their careers. The bottom line is that each of these individuals got a bit of a raw deal. To quote my friend Tony, “what kind of a world do we live in where Patrick Dempsey gets a second chance, but William Ragsdale remains in obscurity?”

So be sure to come out this Saturday night and pay your respects to the unfortunate Mr. Pare, who absolutely deserved better. You may not witness the high point of his career, but you’ll still have a lot of fun : )

One final note, Klaxar’s Focus Group will be screening/skewering Phantasm tonight (7/19) at 10:00 p.m. The show will be held at The Boot in Norfolk, and admission is $3.00. More information is available at or from Klaxar member George Booker at


Anonymous said...

and some individuals remain icons based on the strength of their initial work (e.g. Mark Hamill).

Well, while I've always liked Luke Skywalker a lot, that had-- for some reason-- never translated into seeking out Mark Hamill's other work. Until I accidentally heard some of his stuff from his voice-specialist career, and became a fan. Of course, I realize I'd apparently be a fool to actually expect people to see voice-work as legitimate work. Why, I don't really know.

Jim Blanton said...

Actually, Hamill has done some really terrific, albeit obscure work. Corvette Summer is oft cited as a colossal mistake, but it's really not so bad. And he turned in a terrific performance in Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One.

If you look at his post-Star Wars record, he consistently sought out interesting projects to break his mold (even starring in Amadeus and The Elephant Man on Broadway). Onscreen roles became less plentiful for him, but you are absolutely right that is voice work is nothing short of amazing (which began as The Joker on Batman).

If you want to check out a really great Hamill performance as a villain, pick up a copy of the movie Slipstream - you'll be amazed at what he can do. For my money, he's a far more versatile and interesting performer than Harrison Ford (although Indiana Jones rocks : )

george said...

catch michael beck in "xanadu" on august 9 at the boot!

Jim Blanton said...

A place where dreams come true!