CC2K

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Grappling with the Legacy of Oliver Platt

Written by: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer


ImageIf you’re like me, you think about Oliver Platt…a lot. So much has been written about Platt–widely regarded as the best actor of our generation–that it’s hard to find a new angle. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Writing that perfect article about Oliver Platt–something that sums up what he’s meant to millions the world over–has all but replaced the concept of writing the Great American Novel for our most talented and ambitious writers. It seems like everyone’s got to take their crack at Platt: Norman Mailer, David Foster Wallace, Malcolm Gladwell, Gore Vidal, Philip Roth, Thomas Pynchon–Platt has become the battlefield where writers measure themselves up against each other. But it’s not just a testosterone-fueled “mine is bigger than yours” extravaganza. Female writers, too, find him as both a man and a subject irresistible. Joan Didion’s book Sketches of Platt is generally considered to be her crowning achievement, and yet there’s something unsatisfactory about it, as if the protean nature of Oliver Platt, The Actor–so adept at slipping into new roles and reinventing himself from the ground up every time he steps in front of the camera–translates into Oliver Platt, The Subject.

I’d like to take my own shot at writing about Platt, if people would indulge me–and the stratospheric sales of magazines and books with Platt on the cover suggest that they certainly shall. I offer mine humbly, aware that this is a mere footnote in the literature (library?) on the subject. I’ll just stick as best I can to writing about what Oliver Platt has meant to me, personally. If this seems uninteresting to you (Who is this ant Lance Carmichael when compared with a titan like Oliver Platt? you’re probably asking yourself), I’ll meekly defend my aims by saying I merely hope to capture what it feels like to live and breathe during the same lifetime that Oliver Platt walks the earth, and if some people recognize something about how their own lives have been touched by Oliver Platt, then I’ll be the happiest writer alive.

Everyone’s got their story about what they were doing the night Oliver Platt made his television debut as “Norm” in episode 37 of The Equalizer, and we’ve all heard them before, especially after Studs Terkel’s oral history of this famous night–Streets of Courage, Night of Destiny: Oliver Platt and the Night Television Mattered–hit the bestseller list and stayed up there for a record 67 weeks. Mine’s no more interesting than anybody else’s, and barely merits a mention here–I was ten years old, living in white slavery with thirty other boys in a sodomy dungeon constructed by the handyman who had kidnapped me four years earlier, the television my only window on the world outside my tiny 5’ by 5’ cell, and the episode caused my captor to free us and turn himself in to the authorities. Blah, blah blah…you’ve heard it all before. What was really important was that an America that felt marginalized by the materialism of the Reagan Years–My America, Mi Americana–finally had a new voice in Oliver Platt. By turns angry, comedic, sad, and wise beyond his years–but always articulate, always a punch in the gut against the manmade, uncontrollable forces conspiring against human happiness everywhere–the voice spoke for an America I knew, and America full of hard-working dads, ballgames and barbecues, devoted mothers, minimum wage, main street parades, truck stop managers running a profitable side business in child prostitution rings with the blessing of the local sheriff, corn on the cob, fireworks on the Fourth of July.

It’s been joked that more children have been conceived while women have been thinking about Oliver Platt as “Harvey” in Beethoven than there are unauthorized biographies of Oliver Platt. What’s heartwarming and human to me about this joke is its smile in the face of human tragedy: everyone alive in 1995, when Platt lit up movie screens across the country in The Infiltrator, remembers seeing American men–proud men, family men, men who hadn’t missed a day of work in their lives–lying in city streets, in the gutters, and on city buses, obliviously masturbating to pictures of Oliver Platt. Something about the complex sexuality Platt exuded in the role of Yarof triggered something in the primitive parts of many men’s brains, short-circuiting their usual sexual responses and repression tactics and causing them to uncontrollably masturbate whenever the image of Oliver Platt was seen. Hysterical voices in Congress called for a law forbidding Platt from taking any more film or television roles–despite the irrevocable harm this would cause the arts–but luckily cooler heads prevailed: the unfortunate men who were turned into masturbating halfwits were simply shot in the streets and buried in mass graves.

I was seventeen at the time, lying in a hospital with third degree burns over 95% of my body, yet all the news stories about the executions barely registered: all I could think or talk about was Stuart Baird’s decision to cast Platt in the role of “Dennis Cahill” in Executive Decision. I guess everybody else pretty much felt the same, since gushing reports from the set took up all the day’s headlines, while reports about the ramifications of 35,000,000 able-bodied men suddenly disappearing from the workplace due to The Infiltrator was relegated to tiny, one-paragraph AP stories in “News Round-Up” sections in almost every newspaper across the globe.

{jgibox title:=[Click Here for a Famous Anecdote about Stanley Kubrick’s Reaction to Platt in Funny Bones] style:=[width:550px;]} fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck {/jgibox}

ImageBen Goodrich, Dr. Mark Weller, Peter Steinberg, Jimmy King, Dr. Louis Sachs, Judge Jack Moran…the names sound less like fictional characters in movies than like people you’ve been chained head-to-foot to for the last seven years in your dom’s storage unit out in Palmdale once Oliver Platt breathed life into them. His characters are as close to human as you can get outside a uterus. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Platt to dust…that’s what I think the cycle of life is really about.

What’s my favorite Oliver Platt movie? God, how can you pick? Yet how can you resist bringing up this question whenever meeting up with friends over some spirits? It inevitably comes up, and it inevitably leads to a spirited discussion. I think it really depends on where you see the cinema going in the 21st Century (as John Updike once opined in the New Yorker, Platt is really the first twenty-first century actor). Do you see the cinema as a place to explore all the intricacies of the human soul, to tell us everything we already know (but forgot) about the human condition? Then chances are you’re a Pieces of April kind of person. Do you fundamentally see the cinema as the place where the erotic imagination, repressed and dormant inside us, is allowed free reign, where we can get back in touch with our primeval natures? Then those deleted scenes from TV’s Strip Search probably touched something inside yourself you never knew existed. If forced at knifepoint by a captor who shaved his fingertips every day and stapled my ear to the wall to keep me from escaping to choose just one, I would have to say it would have to be seeing Oliver Platt as Rupert Burns in Bicentennial Man.

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Author: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer

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