In 1984, when the movies needed a young lad to ask Molly Ringwaldóin exactly the right wayóif he could borrow her underpants for ten minutes, only one young lad would do. In another picture, this young lad had already asked Chevy Chase about Wally Worldóalso in exactly the right wayóand by the time heíd arrived at this moment of truth with Ms. Ringwald, you could sense the cohesion of a cultural destiny. He was Anthony Michael Hall, and he would be ours forever.
Can I just tell you how much Iíve enjoyed this guyís work? No, he hasnít died or anything. At least I donít think he has. Wow, that would be terrible. Like one of those end-of-an-era things, except that the era isnít over. I mean, when an Ossie Davis goes, or an Arthur Miller, itís a huge loss, but it makes senseóyou knew it would come and you half-expected it. Thereís no way that time is up for Hallís generation. Okay, maybe it is for Robert Downey Jr.óyou half expect him to check out any time. Hall, though? He seems unfinished. This guy made it through the ringer of child stardom pretty well when you think about it, better than some. I mean, how many of those people would you really want to have a beer with nowadays? With Hall, thereís some humility there, some honest recognition of what life has given and taken; it reads appealingly on his face.
Anyway, put Hall behind the wheel of an old Mustang, send him into the hilly haze of San Francisco at a hundred miles an hour and you might just, I donít know, take it a little further. Yeahóheíd look good.
I think thatís why his ownership of the main character in the TV series The Dead Zoneóinjured, weary, apart, miraculously and dubiously giftedóis so total. Itís an emotionally dusky show, but look how his humour somehow makes it in there. I loved Christopher Walken in that roleóJohnny, the reluctant psychicóand sometimes I think the movie The Dead Zone is my favourite thing that he or David Cronenberg have ever done. I didnít think Iíd go for the TV version, but it caught me. Itís all about Hall. He produces it tooóIím telling you, the guyís still got some surprises in him. It may sound nuts to you, but I can imagine him ageing into some kind of American Victor Sjostrom, tapped at eighty-something to anchor some twenty-first century filmic masterpiece, the equivalent of Wild Strawberries for a generation that today is barely out of diapers. You watch.
Having rounded thirty-five, heís now starting to look a little like Steve McQueenóhave you noticed? That threw me at first but Iíve gotten used to it, and I think it actually works for him. I recently saw McQueen again in Bullitt, and I was thinking that if they go through with the (probably stupid) idea of remaking it, they should give Hall a call. McQueen on a good day had charisma like one of those Easter Island heads, you know what I mean? With those heads, what you see is pretty much what you get, but it is still hard to take your eyes off them. Anyway, put Hall behind the wheel of an old Mustang, send him into the hilly haze of San Francisco at a hundred miles an hour and you might just, I donít know, take it a little further. Yeahóheíd look good.
Itís been on my mind because a while ago AMC showed Sixteen Candles which featured that geek of hisóthat movie geek which seems in hindsight to have been a prototype, never-bettered to this day. AMC used to be called American Movie Classics, in the way KFC used to be called Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fast-food franchise wanted to downplay the ìFriedî part, I guess in the same way that the movie channel, whose more recent broadcasts include films like Hard Target, wants to downplay the ìClassicsî part. Well, before too long the people who donít call Sixteen Candles a classic will be dead and those of us who grew up on it will be in charge. We should get them to air a whole series of his moviesóthey could call it AMH on AMC.
Grateful as Hall was to John Hughes, he turned down the part of Ferris Bueller. That took balls. So did complaining about Stanley Kubrickís fussiness enough to get himself canned from Full Metal Jacket, though I wish we could have seen him in that film instead of Matthew Modine.
Hall is funny, beguiling and insouciantly sincere. Is that such an achievement? It sure is, on a couple of levels. For one thing, born Michael Anthony Thomas Charles Hall in Boston, he apparently had the potential to become a serious Brahmin asshole. For another thingówell, see Weird Science again and try not to have a good time. Or, hello, The Breakfast Club? I mean, for crying out loud!
Grateful as Hall was to John Hughes, he turned down the part of Ferris Bueller. That took balls. So did complaining about Stanley Kubrickís fussiness enough to get himself canned from Full Metal Jacket, though I wish we could have seen him in that film instead of Matthew Modine. I think we lost him after Johnny Be Good and, really, A Gnome Named Gnorm couldnít have helped. Heís played Bill Gates and Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange in TV movies, and Iím going to give him those. Casting him as a kind of Henry Higgins to Will Smithís character in Six Degrees of Separation was inspired even if, like nearly everybody else in that cast, he seemed to have a rough go in tackling the movieís inert theatricality. I donít believe Iíve seen much of his year on Saturday Night LiveóI should.
You may be thinking, anybody who likes Anthony Michael Hall so much must know a thing or two about geekdom from the inside. Hey, congratulations, Sherlock. Iím not saying to lavish him with honorary Oscars or anything like thatójust a thanks and a pat on the back. Because I donít want to think about where weíd be without him.
Maisonneuve contributing editor Jonathan Kiefer writes about the arts for various publications in San Francisco, where he lives. One of his cats is named after Preston Sturges. Film Fl‚neur appears every second Friday.