Last Friday, I had the privilege of screening the 1981 cult classic Escape from New York at the EW CapeTown Film Festival, and although this “Saint” enjoyed the hell out of the movie and Kurt Russell‘s extensive Q&A afterward, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something about the experience was a little bit off.
-Was it the fact that Russell’s character, Snake Plissken, was supposed to be a world renowned bad-ass that just didn’t give an f’ about anything — but throughout the movie he rocks a pair of bitchin’ Zubaz pants?
No, that actually made me enjoy it even more.. especially when Russell tried to defend the pants by saying they were designed to look like Arctic camouflage (sure they were, buddy… sure they were).
-How about the fact that Snake also sported a cobra tattoo emerging from the waistband of his trousers?
Again, no- I enjoy a good cobra/dick metaphor just as much as the next guy.
Damn it! What was it that was bugging me about this movie?
Okay, if it wasn’t Snake’s ridiculous outfit, maybe it was the flick’s sheer eighties-ness. You know, things like having computers that were nothing more than boards of big, random flashing lights. How about having a stealth glider that looked like something I built when I was seven? Could it be that I was pulled-out of the movie because one of the main henchmen looked more intent on competing in an interpretive dance-off than bloody knife-fight? Or just maybe.. maybe it was because one of the lead bad guys delivered masterful lines like, “I’m about to kick your ass out of the world, war hero”.
All these things were amazingly cheesy and gloriously eighties, and I loved them. Shit, had I seen this in the early eighties, I would have damn dressed like Snake Plissken for Halloween.
So the movie ended and we all cheered like crazy as Kurt Russell came out to do the Q & A… and what an epic Q & A it was.
For over an hour(!!), Mr. Russell talked about Escape from New York, his other collaborations with John Carpenter, his baseball career, his days as a child actor with a 10-year contract at Disney, meeting Elvis, his seemingly haphazard career choices, staying out of the media spotlight, why Hollywood remakes damn near everything, why only an American actor should play Snake Plissken in the franchise’s inevitable re-boot and dozens of other subjects I can’t remember…
Man, for being a star that is notorious for not participating in these types of events, he really seemed to enjoy himself.
Side-note: As I was having a ball listening to his stories, I looked over and found my girlfriend falling asleep. She was bored to tears and later made me promise to take her salsa dancing to make it up to her. Who woulda thought: a woman not enjoying four hours of nerds cheering Sci-Fi and asking insanely creepy questions?
Okay- back to Russell. As he was answering questions, your friendly neighborhood Saint to the Geeks couldn’t help but think: “Dang, this guy seems pretty down to earth for somebody that’s been a star for fifty years”. As he shared story after story about his life, three things became very clear: He loved working with John Carpenter, he loved baseball, and he really loved playing Snake Plissken. He even cited the role of Snake as a watershed moment in his career because it really opened the doors for him to play darker characters. Apparently Carpenter had to fight to keep Russell in as Snake because the producers thought he was too Disney. Right then, something clicked in my brain as to what was wrong with the movie…
I didn’t buy Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken.
Maybe if I’d seen Escape from New York when it was originally released, or maybe if I hadn’t already watched Big Trouble in Little China so many times before I saw Escape, it would have worked for me. But now it all makes sense. Kurt doesn’t feel right as Snake because the entire time I’m watching him I’m thinking, “Hey, look at Jack Burton wearing an eye patch and tights! When is he gonna say,’I just want my truck back’?”. His performance as Jack Burton was so spot-on that it ruined my ever believing him as a wise-cracking bad-ass in any other 80’s movie. He’s amazing as RJ MacReady in John Carpenter’s The Thing (to which our Moody monsignor was lucky enough to screen), but that’s because there’s little to no humor in MacReady’s role; therefore, it never makes me think of Jack Burton.
Having finally figured it out, I could now relax and enjoy the rest of the night. Just as — especially with the queen alongside me eyes wide shut.. shh.. — Kurt took one more question from the audience. The poor guy stood up confidently and said, “Okay, Snake Plissken, RJ MacReady and Jack Burton get into a bar-fight…”. Before the dude could finish, Russell interrupted him with, “Always take Snake. End of story”. The audience cheered and awkwardly hi-fived each other as our legend left the stage.
All I could do was shake my head. “Silly nerds, Jack Burton just played you like a violin”.