Saturday, October 20, 2012

Alan Arkin: American Treasure

In Argo, a movie about life-or-death hostage exfiltration from Tehran in 1979, Alan Arkin steals every scene he's in as Hollywood producer and bullshit laureate Lester Siegel.

It was a perfect comic relief performance in a tense thriller. After one-lining everyone and delivering the mantra, "Argo fuck yourself," it's a likely Best Supporting Actor award for the 78-year old Arkin, to put on his shelf next to the one from 2006 for Little Miss Sunshine. 

My affection for Arkin is a little more personal. Less than a month after my move from New York to Omaha in 2002, I was toying with making changes in my chosen career of TV production. As if trading in a "212" for a "402" and an entry into co-habitation and future marriage wasn't enough. Arkin came in for a spring weekend and did a full two-day actor's workshop in downtown Omaha.

It was basic stuff about being the character and not just acting like one, getting inside the mind of the car wash operator and the cat burglar. I was motivated and inspired, and I think I was pretty good. There were about 20 of us in the group and it was a great time. But it was like a spring training fantasy camp: you really get into it, but when time runs out and your carriage turns into a pumpkin, you move on and never follow through.

There are 102 titles listed on the Alan Arkin page at IMDB, and though he's achieved massive successes in his 70s, I was just as big a fan before I ever met the man. His bit roles in So I Married An Axe Murderer, The Jerky Boys, and Grosse Pointe Blank were just as memorable to me.

But one movie stands out above all else, The In-Laws, one of the best buddy movies of all-time with Arkin as nebbish dentist Sheldon "Shelly" Kornpett, alongside unhinged CIA agent Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk).  

Their 48-hour adventure takes them on a covert mission into the palace of a Central American dictator and in front of a firing squad. But they escape with an unconventional treasure, and make a grand entrance into their kids' wedding by chopper.

In a word, Serpentine: Changing direction, retracing steps, reinventing yourself. It's Backtime's lofty mission. Thanks for your great work Alan Arkin.

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