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January 2007 Archives

January 13, 2007

Hold Up Your Head, Paul Dooley

Somewhere toward the middle of Christopher Guest's new movie, "For Your Consideration," there's a brief movie-within-a-movie scene featuring an argument between an older and a younger cop. The scene lasts perhaps a minute, maybe a little less, and neither actor appears at any other time in the film. The older cop, jowly and stern, moves with the slow deliberate authority of one who has spent his life in front of a camera. Although most viewers probably won't be able to call up his name, they will find his face familiar. As indeed they should: the older actor is Paul Dooley, longtime member of both the Christopher Guest and Robert Altman stock companies, veteran of hundreds of commercials and TV guest shots. He was Wimpy in Altman's "Popeye" and a crazy judge on several programs including "The Practice."

In 1979, Dooley had what was perhaps his largest part in any movie, playing the bemused dad of Italophile bike racer Dennis Christopher in "Breaking Away." Dooley's performance is, for my money, one of the greatest comic performances in the history of the cinema--a masterful portrayal of a man of limited patience but infinite kindness, a household tyrant whose bark was infinitely worse than his bite, a low-grade con man (genus: used car salesman) who basically was just too nice a guy to be successful at his cons. To remember that movie at all is to remember Dooley's high-pitched, nasal voice intoning such lines as, "There goes that Eyetie music again!" or, "Your'e not a cutter--I'm a cutter," or, "REFUND?!?!?"

In that year's Academy Award nominations, "Breaking Away"--a low-budget sleeper, released with absolutely no fanfare, that caught on by word of mouth plus the enthusiasm of critics such as Roger Ebert--received five, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (which it won) and a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress nod for Barbara Barrie, who played Dooley's wife. In its infinite wisdom, the Academy handed a nomination to Justin Henry, the little boy in "Kramer vs. Kramer." Paul Dooley, giving arguably the best performance in any film that year, got zilch.

Dooley's brief appearance in "For Your Consideration" makes his one missed shot at an Oscar all the more poignant, and the film itself all the more truthful. "For Your Consideration," for those who have not seen it, is about a group of journeyman actors--all of whom have done fine work for years with little public or critical notice--thrown into a tizzy by Oscar buzz for their low-budget indie film, "Home for Purim." It is filled with Guest's superb regular performers, all of them comic masters who have never gotten near an Oscar--Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey. (O'Hara did receive this year's National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress, so perhaps it's her time after all.) And, in the middle of it, on screen for one minute or less, is Paul Dooley.

It's hard to say whether an Oscar nomination for "Breaking Away" would have made any difference in Dooley's career (it didn't for Barrie). But, on the release of "For Your Consideration," it is appropriate to give a tip of the hat to Paul Dooley, one of those consummate professionals without whom the acting profession could not survive. And, who knows? This year, Jackie Earle Haley--one of Dooley's co-stars in "Breaking Away," whose career seemingly faded soon after the film's release--is getting Oscar buzz for his performance in the low-budget indie film, "Little Children." As long as Mr. Dooley continues to act, there is hope.

January 20, 2007

An Addendum to Mr. Dooley's Resume

In my last blog entry, "Hold Up Your Head, Paul Dooley," I noted the injustice of Mr. Dooley being passed over for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his brilliant work in "Breaking Away," in favor of "Kramer vs. Kramer's" juvenile star, Justin Henry. How could I have forgotten the delicious irony that transpired a few years later, when Paul Dooley and Justin Henry played father and son (and Molly Ringwald's father and brother) in John Hughes' "Sixteen Candles"? A pox on me for a clumsy lout! (And what a great idea for Christopher Guest's next movie, what a natural sequel to "For Your Consideration"...)

January 23, 2007

Goodbye WGMS, Hello WETA

I found out early this morning: tuning to 104.1 FM and expecting to hear the Cleveland Orchestra, I heard instead...the Electric Light Orchestra. The long-threatened demise of WGMS is now a fait accompli. Bonneville International Corp. didn't sell out to Dan Snyder in the end, but to the perception--in my opinion erroneous--that classical music is a dying art form, in radio and elsewhere. WGMS, which purveyed Mozart and Mendelssohn to the Washington, DC listening public for six decades, is now something called "George 104," dedicated to playing "The Music of the Seventies...The Eighties...And Anything We Want!!!" (Just as long as what they want doesn't involve anyone named Beethoven, apparently.)

On a hunch I fiddled around with the dial, and sure enough came upon WETA-FM just as announcer Scott Blankenship introduced the Theme and Variations for flute and string quartet, by Amy Beach. About an hour later I was reading the scoop from Paul Farhi, the Washington Post's excellent media reporter: Bonneville and WETA have been in negotiations for the past month, planning an orderly turnover of classical programming to WETA, a public station that switched from classical to an all-news format a few years ago.

In a sense this is good news: WETA has the strongest signal of any station in the Washington area, no commercials, and a library of 43,000 classical recordings (including the 18,000 it inherited from WGMS). I will now resume sending the membership checks to WETA that I stopped sending when it switched to all-news (just as long as they don't expect me to listen during Pledge Week). It would be nice if WETA and WGMS were both still classical outlets, as they were for so many years. The Washington public supported them both, and--despite the pessimism of Dan DeVany and Joel Oxley--still would. And it would also be nice to listen in to old friends like James Bartels, Chip Rienza and Diana Hollander when the mood struck me. Wherever they land on the radio dial, I hope their parachutes are golden.

About January 2007

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in January 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2006 is the previous archive.

March 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.