Time is on my mind.
Maybe it’s about reaching a certain age – the age that shall not be named – that brings this into focus, but it began when I was catching up on a few-weeks-old "New Yorker" magazine and settled in with Anthony Lane's review of "Alien: Covenant."
I like Lane, and he's got a great gig. I had seen "Covenant," and I was prepared for his unwrapping of the "Alien" history, but I wasn't prepared for the size of the number that dates the franchise - 38 years. That's right, 38 years since "Alien" opened in 1979, and Sigourney Weaver Amazoned into life against the monster to end all monsters. Thirty eight years. That's a lifetime - more than a lifetime is you're talking Jesus or Lord Byron - when star, Sigourney Weaver was a young babe of 30.
Where was I in 1979? Living in San Francisco, selling jewelry on the street at Fisherman's Wharf - one eye out for the cops, the other on Hollywood – as in my not street time I pecked away at early scripts on my Royal portable that I had my dad mail out from Chicago.
A lot has happened since then. Clearly the “Alien” franchise has outlived Ripley, what with its prologs, and prologs to prologs, or is it sequels to prologs? At this point, do any of us care about the franchise as much as we cared about Ripley – without whom there might be no “Wonder Woman” movie, no “Atomic Blonde,” no women who kick ass?
And yet it was 38 years ago. So much time to have passed. Where did it go; what did I accomplish. What have the movies accomplished? The indies have gotten better, and the studios have become the grotesque enablers of comic book tentpoles. Did Ripley contribute to that? Does she know? Does she care?
Then John Heard died. “John Heard?” you say. Can that really be that big a deal? Well, yes, if you are of a certain age, and you saw “Cutter’s Way,” when it opened in 1981, just two years after Alien. Richard Heard played Alex Cutter, a wounded in all aspects of mind and body Viet Nam vet with Jim Morrison hair and a Van Heusen man eye patch – who gave a shit about nothing except he considered to be right. He was the direct descendant of Dennis Hopper’s Billy in “Easy Rider,” and the forerunner of all those updated-noir, fuck you existential heroes like Pacino’s Lt. Col. Frank Slade in “Scent of a Woman,” Christian Bale’s Batman, or Noomi Rapace’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Yeah, he became the funny father (I’m so glad I never saw “Home Alone”) or the straight-ass businessman you love to hate, but I prefer to remember him has one of the early, post-modern definers of cinematic cool, which dates me – I get it – but so what. I’ve stopped giving a shit.
Which brings me to Sam Shepard – also dead now at 73, passing within a week of Heard. I like to think of Shepard as a kind of grown up, literate, ambitious Alex Cutter – controlled in his anger, iconoclastic, unyielding and unrepentantly original. That’s no doubt a combination of idealization and mischaracterization, or perhaps even a deranged romantic conflating of the meaning of what the two mens' work has left buried in my mind, but there you have it. Time, and what it does.
When we think of Shepard, we remember the rawhide thin, laconically cool man of few words and magnetic impression. Whether he’s known more widely as the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Buried Child,” or the Academy Award-nominated actor for his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in “The Right Stuff,” I like to think of him as the guy who went to see Yeager to research the character and began the visit by helping him change the oil in his pickup. I remember that from an interview. I also remember seeing “True West” back in the early '80s at the Magic Theatre, about the time Ripley started slaying demons and Alex Cutter rode through a Santa Barbara wedding reception on a white horse.
Still time to do some of that shit, I’d like to think.