Director Clint Eastwood’s new drama Sully takes us back to a time when every so often the national media had reasons to write headlines about good things that happened, even if meanwhile behind the scenes everything later fell apart, but the follow-up headlines were such dull sequels to the original inspiring pieces that they were relegated to the back section of the newspaper after the obituaries and sharing a page with The Family Circus, which no one reads and so everyone would assume that was that And They All Lived Happily Ever After. It’s also one of those early-bird Oscar hopefuls that the major studios release in autumn so they can be rushed to convenient home video in time for AMPAS voters to catch them at their leisure at home, rather than being expected or remotely willing to visit their local theater twenty or thirty times over the course of the voting season so they can get honestly informed about their choices. Then again, should Oscar voters be any more informed than those of us who vote in every political election? Are we hypocrites for wishing Hollywood always aimed for high standards of integrity than we do when it comes to naming the winners in their own history books? I like to think if Sully himself were an actor, he’d be disgusted about the whole process and deliver a great speech to shame them all into being more scrupulous film fans, and then maybe go on to run for President, because you know he’d do it sincerely and not as a promotional precursor to his forthcoming “SullyTV” project. Sully’s noble like that, but good luck getting him to admit it.
“It’s a heck of a thing to stop a beatin’ heart.”
During the final scenes of the box office smash American Sniper, that bit of fatherly commentary is among the last words young Colton Kyle (Max Charles) hears from his father, accomplished Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle, in the days preceding his dad’s murder. With that plainspoken admonition, a variation on a famous line from Unforgiven, three-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper cuts to the point of director Clint Eastwood’s new film, one of his most controversial and his highest-grossing of all time.
Several previous movies already wagged disapproving fingers at the American government over Iraq in general. Nearly all of them failed. Even one of the least dismissed, The Hurt Locker, garnered more awards than ticket sales. Eastwood apparently took notes on Locker‘s approach and, instead of the usual haranguing and politicizing, set his Iraq movie in Iraq without actually making it a Bush-hating Iraq-shaming thinkpiece. To a certain extent it’s not even about Iraq.
Behold the face of America’s newest sensation. LOLcats, Kardashians, and the horrors of something calling itself “Honey Boo Boo” all took a back seat to the poor, defenseless chair that withstood a tongue-lashing from Academy Award Winner Clint Eastwood at the closing of the Republican National Convention, which in turn drew an awful lot of press to cover any number of foregone conclusions.
I refuse to watch the video on principle — the principle being, partisan politics don’t interest me. This keeps me shut out of a lot of online discussions and ensures no one will ever pay me a steady income to become a TV pundit. I’m fine with that, but it usually means I have to go slink off into a dark corner and find ways to entertain myself until politics go away.
My admittedly secondhand understanding of the situation, then, is that the 82-year-old director was invited to close the ceremony with no small amount of star power, somehow mistook the chair for President Barack Obama, and attempted to bully it until it cried. I’ve yet to confirm if anyone involved in the incident referred this peculiar condition to Dr. Oliver Sacks.
Maybe this merciless haranguing was the most hilarious improv set of the year. Maybe it was an unmitigated disaster, like the time Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosted the Oscars. Maybe I’ve misread and Obama was actually standing off-camera on the other side of the chair, or had been shrunk with Pym particles and was resting comfortably under the chair. All I know for sure is that this spirited but one-sided argument took over my Twitter feed Thursday night and effectively shut down all other topics and memes. On Facebook, the empty chair emerged from its humble beginnings in Nowheresville and became the talk of the town, superseding the usual daily barrage of Photoshop yuks and Zynga proclamations. This week, NASA launched a rocket bearing twin probes to study the Van Allen radiation belts (the real story here being: believe it or not, NASA is still in the launching business), but that link has now been kicked off all front pages in favor of headlines about verbally abused furniture.
Some people have joked about its unintentional symbolism. Others applaud the moment as Eastwood’s best comedy gig since the flicks he made with that annoying orangutan. Someone naturally registered “Invisible Obama” as a Twitter alias. Rest assured our nation’s crack Photoshop gag specialists rushed to fill the chair with repurposed images of Kermit the Frog, the Sad Keanu meme, and Lord knows what other variations I’ve missed. The Internet plans to milk this new, inanimate media personality for all it can, until the Chair gets greedy and begins demanding large paychecks to make forgettable cameos in terrible films.
Nothing I could write about anything right now could hold an audience’s attention a fraction as much as that now-legendary empty chair’s misadventure has. I’ll just shut up and let the video roll below for the truly, insatiably curious who missed this unique spectacle. I did watch a few seconds of it just to confirm that, of all the versions uploaded, the Wall Street Journal‘s version had the best screen resolution, but that’s as far as I went.
I salute you, empty chair. Enjoy your fifteen minutes, and try to be kind to us little people during your wild ride on the shaky wooden coaster of fly-by-night stardom. Remember, today’s celebrity is tomorrow’s Goodwill bargain.