What a Character Blogathon: Christopher Lloyd

One of the great things about the What a Character Blogathon is that it is a blogathon whose theme literally can be repeated on an annual basis. This being the third edition of the series is a testament not only to the passion of the bloggers involved, but also to the plethora of talented so-called character actors that have graced the silver screen through the ages.

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When thinking of whom to write about, and noting that there was no restriction with regards to era of film, Christopher Lloyd came immediately to mind. Mr. Lloyd occurred to me not only because he is still currently active; though perhaps not usually in the caliber of production worthy of his veritable skills, but also because his career has spanned quite a few decades, and in true character actor form in some of them you may have forgotten or not realized that “Oh, yes, that’s him too.”

Though he does have a few appearances and characters that are well known to all movie fans Christopher Lloyd is on that list of actors that not only makes me smile when I see him show up in a film, he is also prodigious enough such that he can nearly elevate an entire movie all by his lonesome – as will be evidenced below.

Christopher Lloyd has be around for sometime such that you may not know (depending on your age or what you’ve seen) he was occasionally credited as Chris Lloyd early on, or that we was nominated for Primetime Emmys (Taxi) and was mostly known as a TV actor early on in his career.

He has since 1975 accumulated more than 180 credits on the big and small screen. Below I will discuss some of those roles that have had the longest lasting impact through the years. As this is about an actor who is active I have, where possible, pulled in video clips to help illustrate my points.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour (2012)

I have been a fan of R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour from the start, I wrote about as such here. Even though the current (fourth) season has jumped the shark, or nuked the fridge if you prefer, it had a very good run. The balance of juvenile horror and humor elements in the Grampires episode that Christopher Lloyd played the titular role is being a strong indicator:

Piranha 3DD (2012)

Make no mistake that I truly hate this movie, but as I mentioned in my initial review the standout is the monologuing of Christopher Lloyd. By this day and age’s standard’s Lloyd is now a throwback so it’s more than fitting that he would play the ranting scientist with a conscious in a sci-fi film, an older archetype rarely seen anymore, much like his talent for being somewhat theatrical yet relatable and human.

You can see a clip here.

Snowmen (2010)

Snowmen is the kind of film that I liked, and functioned on a very basic level almost in spite of itself. Put it this way: it’s a film where one character’s entire involvement was confusing and detracted from proceedings. That being the case there is a lot of slack for everyone to pick up. When a story is ostensibly just about breaking a Guinness record actors with chops are needed to add any kind of gravitas to it. This film gets them in a few cases Lloyd especially is among that company.

Clubhouse (TV Series, 2004-5)

It’s a TV show but I did want to include this because it was one scene I found as opposed to a whole trailer or a whole work. One thing you find on a résumé as long and varied as his are involvements you forgot about. This was one of many short-lived series I’ve watched through the years. I’m not sure it stands out as being more deserving of extra time than other shows but it was taking a risk. Lloyd’s character of a curmudgeonly equipment manager is a great fit. This scene with Billy Dee Williams is evidence of that.

Camp Nowhere (1994)

This is the kind of role that was made for Christopher Lloyd. Sure the plot where kids create a fake summer camp to have a free summer and get parents off their back is outlandish, but he elevates it so well. Lloyd’s character being a frustrated thespian plays into the plot and gives him license to do great things and make this film work much, much better than it should:

The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993)

This is a role I recently had to remind myself of. Another thing that is easy to forget is that this film was taking a risk plot-wise. There was no such risk taken in casting the film as they assembled quite a slew of talented players here. Lloyd’s expressive face brings the perfect amount of life to Fester Addams and makes him odd and endearing in equal measure. He follows admirably in Coogan’s footsteps.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Out of all of these roles I’ve mentioned here this is the one I was chomping at the bit to write about. This is the movie from my childhood that made Lloyd stand out and made him a legend in my mind. Yes, I saw Back to the Future as a child and enjoyed it, and him in it; but here’s where time and time and time again I was enamored by his verve by the charisma he brought to a villainous character. Where I became mesmerized by what he and Hoskins were able to incarnate in an animated world.

My personal barometer for labeling a film a classic is at least 25 years in nearly all cases, which means this film was jettisoned there last year. If it is a film that will find new generations remains to be seen, but it certainly has a stronghold for those who grew up with it and Lloyd is a huge reason.

Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part II (1989) and Back to the Future III

This is the one we all know. I traveled in reverse chronological order in part because this role is the given, it’s his most well-known character. I don’t mean to diminish it, but I wanted to include it in a sea of his performances to illustrate the rather Gloria Swanson-like point that it’s not him that’s gotten small, it’s the pictures:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

With the memorable performances both large and small in this film it can be easy to forget that this was Christopher Lloyd’s debut performance. After all this is the film of Louise Fletcher’s legendary turn, of one of Jack Nicholson’s Oscar wins, of Will Sampson’s stunning nearly-silent turn and stereotype busting, Sydney Lassick’s brilliant neuroses, and also of a very young Danny DeVito. Yet, Lloyd as Taber adds a counterpoint to McMurphy’s new, vital frustrations with seasoned ingrained frustrations beyond just his mental disturbances.

Other Works

His appearances in film genres run the gamut from dramas like Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981); works of horror like the Masters of Horror episode written by Clive Barker (Valerie on the Stairs) or the TV anthology film Quicksilver highway. Myriad children’s film the Disney Angels series (…in the Outfield, …in the Endzone), Kids World, voice work in DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, Dennis the Menace a slightly tonally askew criminal.

Conclusion

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Touchstone Pictures)

In watching Whoopi Goldberg on Inside the Actors Studio once I recall how she related a story about how the ‘bigger picture’ of a film’s success or failure by looking at either box office or aggregated reviews can obscure the fact that films can affect individual lives. That was the thought process I had as I assembled clips mostly from lesser-known and under-seen performances. An actor or filmmaker can make a name for oneself in a film that’s a breakway hit, but it’s the titles that not everyone really knows, that are more unique and personal to your tastes that really bind you to an actor.

These days he may not even be supporting in the caliber of works he used to, but Christopher Lloyd is persistently a bonus and a boon to a film. Often I can say “at least Christopher Lloyd is in this” so it won’t be that bad, but oftentimes it makes something good even better. He’s one who brings his all to everything he does and rewards your engaging in a film a consummate entertainer who is quite a character indeed.

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Thankful for World Cinema: Black Peter

Facets, for those who don’t know is a great distributor with whom lovers of independent, arthouse and international cinema should become well acquainted.  The selection of their films is only one reason. Another is their scholarly attitude. What is meant by this is the following: first, this DVD is part of the Czech New Wave line. Yes, it is true that the New Wave started in France with a very specific group of filmmakers, but its reverberations were felt worldwide and spawned similar movements elsewhere like the Czech New Wave and Cinema Novo in Brazil. Second, is that this DVD actually includes a booklet, with an essay in it no less. Remember when DVD first started and you’d get at least a fly leaf with chapter list? Now, no more. At least here there is not only a booklet, but actual information.

Also, another benefit if you join Facets site is the occasional discount and sale only available through them. There was a code sent out via email to subscribers so this DVD only cost me $0.01 plus shipping.

The booklet is interesting because it tells of Forman growing up with family acquaintances in their grocery store. A location not dissimilar to where our protagonist finds himself apprenticing at the beginning of this tale, he is employed to watch for people shoplifting and report or confront any who are. This film has a rather humorous beginning but other than the occasional interaction between Peter and his parents has little to offer later on.

It is the kind of film that you know has something going on but may not be absolutely certain what immediately. What is clear is that there is a generational and philosophical gap being exposed. They are represented both by Peter’s father and his boss who represent the older generation and a more repressed, rationalistic, communist frame of mind. There are also, however, liberating agents at play mainly being romance in the person of Peter’s girlfriend and Rock N’ Roll music. Both of which converge at a local dance floor for an extended sequence.

What is also likely to throw an audience off with a lack of context is that, to quote Mark Twain, “those looking for a plot will be shot.” Milos Forman, acclaimed director of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, said of this film that he wanted to “collect the ‘most real,’ that is, the flattest snippets of life to make a deadly satire of it.” Keeping that and the fact that Forman wanted to take a documentarian style mixing neorealistic elements with the New Wave in mind, it is a success in that regard. It’s just not a resounding one.

The bully characters while they are very annoying at the start slowly, wordlessly become Peter’s allies. Moving from older more backward sentiments to younger more modern ideas but their involvement is cumbersome in what plot there is and is at times too much.

Inasmuch as the director seems to achieve what he wanted it was successful. All New Wave films were in effect experiments and this one didn’t fail miserably and is entertaining enough but certainly not earth shattering.

6/10