The Tragedy of Arnold Schwarzenegger


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If I could ask Arnold Schwarzenegger one question it would be: How does it feel to know that you will never be elected President? I would ask this because throughout his recently published autobiography there is an overwhelming – and there is no other way to describe it — musk redolent of unending ambition mixed in with the stench of desiccated beef liver supplements. From the mean streets of Thal, Austria to Venice Beach to the Hollywood A-List to the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento, Arnold’s relentless drive, his monstrous ambition, has always veered upwards, against the wind, towards the direction of the highest job in the greatest power on the planet. Arnold, quite frankly, was born to run for President. Since inaugurating the phenomenon now known as celebrity politics, it was widely suspected that Arnold would make a run for the White House.

In the best of all possible action film influenced worlds, Arnold Schwarzenegger would either be President, or he’d be in the final throes of articulating a full blown rationale for 2016. In reality, however, Arnold’s political career is essentially over. Why is this thus? What is the meaning of this thusness?

The relationship and lovechild with his maid (so terribly cliché) notwithstanding, Arnold’s political career was terminated – again, no other way to describe it — by his inability to solve California’s deficit. Arnold ran as a moderate, a centrist, a problem solver; he was going to be our daddy. California, let’s face it, needed a steady hand and a stern talking to, instead Arnold was the indulgent father. Had Schwarzenegger solved California’s biggest problem, he would have had a cakewalk to the nomination in 2012. He would have been greeted at the convention hall with flowers and chocolates. And life said “ha.” Instead of being greeted as the conquering hero in Washington, ass dragging, Arnold is headed back to Hollywood, to an industry he formally left, this time cast as the aging action hero.

But as much as I want to dislike Arnold, the raw honesty and simplicity expressed in his autobiography makes him hard to hate. He is, after all, a man’s man. Bodybuilding, real estate, action movies – Arnold is not a man of complicated emotions, he is not a Hamlet. There is something oddly refreshing about that, his lack of introspection, his lack of shame, his simplistic drive to achieve, his – once again, no other way to describe it — will to power. In order to fully appreciate the psychological richness of a Stanley Kubrick or a Prince, there has to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger. The universe makes them in all shapes and sizes.

One of my favorite lines in Total Recall, and one that is most telling about the man, involved an economics professor Arnold had when he arrived in America. Arnold, all drive, took – what else? – Business courses at community college. There is only so far that one can go as a professional bodybuilder. In true Arnold fashion, he noticed that his economics professor drove a half-assed car. Even in the description one could whiff the future governator’s disapproval. Schwarzenegger slyly noted that he drove a better car than his professor, and, further, that a professor of economics should be driving a Mercedes caliber vehicle, anything else would cast aspersions on the grasp of the subject matter to which he professes!  In that one acid anecdote lies the whole of Arnold – the practicality, the simple wisdom and the projection of power in a dangerous world.

Lawrence Leamer in The Daily Beast observers, “Schwarzenegger is a man of monumental ambition who sometimes plans his crucial moves years in advance.” I don’t doubt that at for a minute. Everything in his autobiography is honest, upbeat and wholly free of shame. His trajectory – from Austria to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento – is upward in trajectory. That is why the tragedy of Arnold Schwarzenegger is so poignant. Arnold will never be president of the United States and for a personality like his that has got to smart (and what prompted me to ask my introductory question). But should his fallback be an inglorious to return to the world of film, a cosmos that he so thoroughly has already conquered? It just seems like such a letdown.

What would Rainier Wolfcastle do?

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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