Monday, November 07, 2011

Experiencing Something Wild

When I was working for the Arkansas Gazette, there were part–timers who worked in the office, doing clerical things like sorting and filing and stuff like that.

For a time in 1986, there was a young fellow who worked part time for the Gazette and part time for a video rental outlet.

He had something of a knack for identifying the kinds of movies that everyone on the staff would like. Occasionally, he would bring in video tapes for us to take home and view — free of charge.

I must admit, I liked the arrangement.

Anyway, one day he came into the office and handed me a video tape. It was of "Something Wild." I had never heard of it, and I told him so.

"Just watch it," he told me. "I watched it last night. I think you'll like it."

So I took it home and watched it — in spite of the fact that I didn't recognize a name in it.

That certainly wouldn't be the case today.

The movie was directed by Jonathan Demme, who had received some attention up to that time but really came into prominence five years later when he won an Oscar for directing "The Silence of the Lambs."

Jeff Daniels had been in only a handful of movies by 1986, but he appeared to be an up–and–comer — as, indeed, he was. I always felt one of his best performances was in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," which actually came out the year before "Something Wild," but I've been impressed with many thing he has done since.

He wasn't merely one of the stars of "Dumb and Dumber."

"Something Wild" was almost the debut of supporting actor Ray Liotta. He became much more familiar to audiences a few years later through his roles in "Field of Dreams" and "Goodfellas."

I guess Melanie Griffith, daughter of Tippi Hedren, was the most veteran member of the bunch. Not yet 30, she had been in films since she was 14 — and, based on the stories that have been told about her and the kinds of movies in which she appeared, I'd say that "Something Wild" could have been the title of the story of her life up to that point.

As far as I know, it was not, in any way, autobiographical.

Griffith played a — for lack of a better term — wild child who spotted Daniels having lunch in a cafe. When he left without paying, she confronted him — and, ultimately, shanghaied him, taking him on a bizarre road trip.

A somewhat prim and proper sort, Daniels' character was attracted to Griffith's free persona, and, for a time, the film was kind of a fantasy tale of an improbable coupling that took the two of them on an adventure. But the story quickly became more menacing as Griffith's abusive husband, played by Liotta, tracked her down at her high school reunion.

Throwing caution to the wind, Daniels came to Griffith's defense, and the unlikely love story was complete.

It was something different. Definitely something unusual.

It was something wild.