I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Justin/Jeff Project: Nashville (1975)

In the spirit of the Julie/Julia project in which writer Julie Powell chronicles cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 524 recipes in 365 days, I bring you the Jeff/Justin project. The Justin/Jeff project chronicles my descent into the filmography of Jeff Goldblum and will take as much time as it takes.

Jeff Goldblum's appearance in Robert Altman's film California Split was a let-down. There's no way around it. If you've seen Jurassic Park you're expecting some geeky "rockstar" or something, and you get some guy popping out of an office. From everything I've read my expectation for Nashville was that it would be some big turning point, that Goldblum would get a lot of screen time and have some profound role. Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin gave it a four star rating and declared it the best film of 1975, and it's on a lot of people's top movie lists. Let's just say I was expecting something really special.

Jeff Goldblum plays a character called Tricycle Man. He gets his name from the long, low-slung three-wheeled motorcycle that he rides. He doesn't have a single line in the movie.

Tricycle Man is a mysterious creature. He doesn't say anything, but in some ways he's the most constant thing in the entire film. It only adds to his mystique that he sits in a diner where tons of people are yapping about this and that and all the while he is doing magic tricks. Now, anybody can do magic tricks. I've lived in New York. People will do magic tricks at you all the time. A bar owner in Manhattan would pull me aside excitedly here and there to teach me a couple simple levitations. But Tricycle Man does not seem the least concerned whether or not anyone sees what he is doing. After some time, he attracts notice, and a woman begins to flirt with him, but there is no reason to believe that's what he wants.

As Tricycle Man continues to pop up, it feels almost like he's inhuman, like he's being teleported here and there, or even like he only exists in the focus of the viewer. Between Goldblum's signature locks and the nature of this character I was reminded first and foremost of the Marvel comics character The Beyonder. The Beyonder, in many ways, is not even a being. He is a reality. He is The Beyond. When he comes to earth for various reasons, but mainly for the "Secret Wars" and "Secret Wars II" stories, he merely appears in a variety of comic books doing Beyonder knows what. In another way, he's like some weird cowboy from a David Lynch film. In yet another, he seems like merely a function of the universe. He must be there. We may not know why, but it is the result of some sort of cosmic arithmetic.

Is Tricycle Man even the same guy every time? Maybe Nashville is like Jeff Goldblum's dark tower. A series of Jeff Goldblums from different ages and eras use this movie as a go-between. They traverse through this nexus at the middle of the multiverse on their various missions, and that's why Tricycle Man can be in all the right places at all the right times.

Jeff Goldblum is eternal, but you don't have to take my word for it.

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