Skip to main content

Movie Review: 'Starsky & Hutch'

Film critic David Edelstein reviews the new Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson comedy Starsky & Hutch.

05:30

Other segments from the episode on March 5, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 5, 2004: Interview with Chuck Close; Review of the film "Starsky and Hutch;" Review of the television series "Sopranos."

Transcript

DATE March 5, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Painter Chuck Close discusses his paintings
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies of the Philadelphia Daily News in for
Terry Gross.

Our faces reveal so much about who we are. That's part of what makes Chuck
Close's paintings so fascinating. They offer the chance to stare to
larger-than-life, hyper-realist renderings of faces, faces transformed into
what Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes described as `moonscapes of pores,
wrinkles, blackheads and stubble.'

Close has been painting faces since the '60s but it's remarkable he can paint
at all now. In 1988 a stroke left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
After a partial recovery, he's able to work from a wheelchair.

While he's famous for his paintings of faces, a retrospective now at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York displays his approach to his signature
subject through another medium: print-making. Terry spoke to Close in 1998.
She asked him why the human face has been his subject for so long.

Mr. CHUCK CLOSE (Painter): Well, initially, I started making portraits--or at
that time I didn't even call them portraits, I called them heads--because it
was as different as possible from what I had been doing before. My work had
been abstract and I was looking for something that was diametrically opposed
to what I had done as a student. And so the first heads were just my friends,
and I had no idea then 30 years ago that I would still be painting heads
today. And, in fact, I'm sure I wouldn't have believed it if somebody had
predicted it.

But over the years, I found that, of all the kinds of subject matter that I
could use, nothing interests me as much as people. And it offers the viewer
an entrance into the work through life experience because we all look in
mirrors and look at each other and look at images in magazines and film. And
it's a great leveler, whether a person is the most sophisticated person in the
art world or a layperson, we all share that knowledge of an interest in the
way people look. And then, hopefully, once somebody gets into the painting,
maybe through that entrance of the life experience, they'll notice some other
things that are going on in the paintings and become involved in that as well.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Let's try to describe what's happening formally in your paintings. Your
paintings are built not of, like, big, elaborate brushstrokes but of little
dots or little circles. And it's the accumulation of all these dots or
circles or squiggles, depending on the period that we're looking at, that kind
of together add up to the larger structure of a face. But all the components
are just really small dots or squiggles or different colors.

Mr. CLOSE: Yeah, there's no direct relationship between the photograph that I
work from and the imagery that's embedded in that photograph and the marks
that occur on the canvas. It's a little bit like translating from one
language to the next. If you were to translate it directly, it might not make
any sense. You sort of have to understand it in one language and then
deconstruct it and reconstruct it in the new format.

And, of course, paintings don't happen the same way a photograph happens.
Paintings are built--my paintings are built incrementally, one unit at a time,
in a way that's not all that different from, say, the way a writer would work.
That is, there's never any time that a writer's doing anything more than
slamming one word up against the next and rejecting one word and slipping
another one in and seeing how that works. And because I work incrementally, I
do the same thing. I push little pieces of paint up against each other and I
work essentially from the top down, from left to right. And I slowly build
these paintings, construct them the way somebody might make a quilt or crochet
or knit.

GROSS: I want to talk a little bit more about the faces themselves, the way
you paint the faces themselves. You've said that you've tried to see the
faces neutrally, without opinion or subjectivity, without editorializing in any
way about the face. And yet, the face always reads in some way to me. I see
the faces very subjectively, even though you, as the painter, didn't see them
subjectively. Talk with me about the approach that you're taking toward the
subject matter of not kind of imposing any kind of feeling or point of view.

Mr. CLOSE: Well, it's not that I'm uninterested in the psychological reading
of the paintings. I just don't want to lobby for one reading over all others
and to present them straightforwardly and flat-footedly, without editorial
comment, without cranking it up for extra psychological readings or without
drawing big circles around things, saying, `Make sure you see it this way.' I
sort of leave it to the viewer to, you know, read the image. And I believe
that a person's face is a kind of road map to their life. And embedded in the
imagery is a great deal of evidence, if you want to decode it. If a person
has laughed his or her whole life, they'll have laugh lines. If they frowned
their whole lives, they have furrows in their brow. And it's not necessary
for me to have them laughing or crying or anything in order to have people be
able to read them.

GROSS: Your canvases are very large. And because you include every detail of
a person's face, every line and wrinkle and pucker and pore, every flaw is
included, or what we consider a flaw is not only included but it's kind of
enlarged because the painting is so large. And that's part of what I find so
fascinating. The faces are so real and recognizable. Looking at one of your
faces in a painting, it's a lot like looking at yourself in the bathroom
mirror with the kind of harsh lighting that you have there and you see
everything. So there's something so recognizable about the landscape of the
faces, the way you paint them.

Mr. CLOSE: Well, yeah, we don't stand close enough to each other, we don't
invade each other's space enough to really be able to see the intimate level
of detail that I typically put in one of these paintings because they're, in
fact, usually nine feet high so there's more information than you ever really
wanted to know about someone and it makes it perhaps a more intimate
experience. I try to make these big, aggressive, confrontational images that
you can see from clear across the room. And you have one kind of relationship
with it there and then another relationship at a middle viewing distance where
you scan it and you can't readily see the thing as a whole. And then,
hopefully, I've sucked the viewer right up to the canvas where you can see the
individual marks and the methodology, how it got there.

But, in a way, what I've tried to do is make something--rip it loose from the
context in which we normally see it and make a kind of Brobdingnagian world,
where as the viewer behaves almost like one of Gulliver's Lilliputians
crawling across the landscape of the face, not even necessarily always being
aware of what it is that they're crawling across, stumbling on a beard hair
and falling into a nostril. It makes for a very active and very personal
physical experience for the viewer, I think.

GROSS: What kinds of reactions do you get from people whose portraits you've
done when they see their own faces blown up like that?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, everyone I've painted has had some kind of trouble dealing
with it, and I would like to thank my sitters for their act of generosity,
their extreme generosity in lending me their image without knowing what I'm
going to do with it and without any control over how I will use it. They have
to put vanity aside. And these are not commissioned portraits so they have
no--I give them no right to really lobby for me improving the way they look,
although I don't try to be particularly--I don't try to be any more ruthless
with them than I am with myself. But it is difficult to deal with, and some
people have changed the way they look immediately after I've painted them.
They'll shave their moustache off or they'll get a haircut or they'll grow a
beard or something.

Only one person really anticipated this and that was my friend, the painter
Joe Zucker, who came essentially in disguise. He realized that all he had
to do was present me with evidence that someone like that existed. It wasn't
necessarily him. And he ended up looking like a sort of Midwest used car
salesman for a hundredth of a second. And he never had any trouble. He went
home and he washed the Brylcream out of his hair and it wasn't him. But most
people have had to deal with it after I've painted them, but everyone has had,
I think, some kind of trouble. If your nose is bent a quarter of an inch in
real life, you can ignore it but when a painting is nine feet high, it'll be
bent six inches and it's very hard to convince yourself that it's not
happening.

DAVIES: Chuck Close speaking with Terry Gross in 1998. A retrospective of
his work, "Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration," is on display at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art through April 18th. You'll hear more of
Terry's interview with Close after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're listening to Terry's 1998 interview
with painter Chuck Close.

GROSS: I've read that you've had a learning disability that affected your
ability to actually recognize faces in real life.

Mr. CLOSE: Yeah, I think I was probably driven to do what I do because I do
have a great deal of difficulty recognizing faces. I have almost photographic
vision for things that are two-dimensional, which is probably why I work with
photographs instead of working from life, but I believe I was driven to
painting the portrait at least partially by a desire to commit to memory and
to really understand and scan the images of people that I care about because I
do have this trouble recognizing faces. And, of course, I don't remember
their names either so I'm in big trouble.

GROSS: So one of the reasons why you paint from photographs is 'cause you
recognize faces better in two dimensions than in three, so it's easier for you
to use a picture than a model. Are there other reasons why you work from
photographs for your paintings?

Mr. CLOSE: Yeah. When you paint from life for an extended period of
time--and my paintings have taken as long as 12 or 14 months and routinely now
take three or four months each. If you work from life, the subject gains
weight and loses weight, the hair gets long and they cut it off and they're
happy, they're sad, they're awake, they're asleep. And the painting becomes a
kind of mean average of all the changes that the model went through, plus
whatever feelings you have for them while they're occupying your space. I
would hate to have a subject in my studio for a year.

So the photograph gives me an opportunity to have a poem-like frozen moment of
time. It sort of cuts across time, a hundredth of a second. And there's
something of--the freshness and the immediacy of that hundredth of a second is
still there, hopefully, in the finished painting which I construct over a more
novelistic time frame. And it allows me to just keep working and to always
refer back to the original photograph to see whether I actually saw what I
thought I saw.

And I often then recycle that photograph and make many more images--and it's
really wonderful. Every time I go back to the photograph, because I changed
scale, tools, methodology, working method, whatever, I find totally new
information within the photograph that I didn't notice the first time.

GROSS: Now tell us a little bit about the way you work with grids when you're
painting a face from a photograph.

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you know, besides being one of the great modernist
conventions, the grid has been around most recently because it's a flattening
device. It's a way, you know, to restate the flatness of the canvas. But, in
fact, the use of a grid as a scaling-up method goes back to ancient Egypt and
was, of course, used in the Renaissance and used all along as a way to take a
small drawing or a preparatory sketch and enlarge it by having smaller squares
on the preparatory sketch and bigger ones on the painting. It's just a way to
scale up an image.

And all of my work from the 1960s on have been built with the use of a grid.
I don't use a projector or anything like that to get an image on. But at a
certain point, I decided to let the grid remain a visible part of the image.
Initially, I would get rid of the grid so nobody knew that I used it, but at a
certain point, I began to leave the incremental unit to show. And I found all
kinds of ways, from using my own fingerprints to gluing on little wads of pulp
paper to any one of a number of ways or working incrementally and letting the
individual units show.

One of the things I like about working that way is that there's nothing about
the building block which says anything about what's going to be made from it.

GROSS: Exactly. Right, exactly.

Mr. CLOSE: There's no mark that equals hair, there's no mark that equals skin
or anything else. It's a little bit like an architect choosing a brick. The
brick doesn't determine anything about what kind of building will be built
from it. You stack up the bricks one way and you make a gas station or you
stack up the bricks another way and you can build a cathedral. Both of them
will be very different experiences, but it wasn't the brick that determined
the nature of that experience.

GROSS: What suits your personality about working in these smaller units, one
dot at a time or one grid at a time?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you know, actually I'm a nervous wreck, I'm a slob, I have
no patience and I'm rather lazy. All of those things would seem to guarantee
that I would not make work like I make. But I felt I didn't want to just go
with my nature and say, `Well, that's who I am. I can only make big, sloppy,
nervous, quick paintings.' I thought to construct a situation in which I
couldn't behave that way was also to address my nature.

But I found that one of the nice things about working this way, working
incrementally, is that I don't have to reinvent the wheel every single day.
Today I did what I did yesterday and tomorrow I'd do what I do today. You can
pick it up and put it down. I don't have to wait for inspiration. There are
no good days or bad days, and every day, essentially, builds positively on
what I did the day before.

In some ways, I think it's rather like what used to be called women's work,
that is, quilting, crocheting, knitting or whatever. And the advantage of
that way of working was that women could knit for a while, put it down, go
feed the baby, come back and pick it up and knit a little more and then put it
down and go out and weed the garden. And it allowed for a way to just keep
working. It's a belief in a process. For instance, how do you make a
sweater? Oh, my God, I wouldn't know how to make a sweater. But if you
believe in the process and you knit one and you pearl two long enough,
eventually, you get a sweater. And I think, given my nature, it was very good
for me to have a way to work in which I was able to add to what I already had
and slowly construct the final image out of these little building blocks.

GROSS: How have you dealt with impatience, though? Don't you ever feel like,
`OK, it's going to take me another 12 months of these dots to have a painting.
I want to see it now'?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you know, I do finish each area as I go so I have a chance
to see what it's going to look like almost from the beginning. But, you know,
patience is a funny thing. I used to work every day and make a painting every
day. And now I work every day and I make a painting every several months.
But work is work and it doesn't seem to take any more patience to keep working
on one piece than it did to make a different piece every day. And the big
difference is that I used to enjoy painting. I loved the activity but I
didn't care very much about what I made. And now I have a way of working
which, like I say, is essentially a positive building on what I already have.
And, eventually, I get to something about which I care a great deal more. So,
for me, that was a very productive tradeoff.

GROSS: You've done a series of self-portraits over the years, and those
self-portraits are in your retrospective. How do you think your face has
changed in the years that you've been painting it?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you can watch me lose my hair. And I suppose gone is some
of the attitude of the--and I mean attitude--of the original self-portrait in
which I was arrested in my James Dean phase, I suppose, the angry young
artist. And I don't know, it's just--what I've tried to do is construct a
kind of time line with my own image that, having gone through so many
permutations and changes, from either, you know, the early black-and-white
pieces or the early continuous-tone color pieces which are actually made from
superimposing a red painting, a blue painting, a yellow painting on top of
each other, to the fingerprint pieces, the pulp paper pieces and then later,
the oil paintings, is that it becomes a kind of cross section through the
work. So it gives a chance to sort of see all the permutations and changes
and devices and materials and techniques that I've used over the years with
one basic kind of image.

DAVIES: Chuck Close speaking with Terry Gross in 1998. A retrospective of
his work, "Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration," is on display at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art through April 18th. We'll hear more of Terry's
interview with Close in the second half of the show. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

DAVIES: Coming up, artist Chuck Close tell us about his return to painting
after a paralyzing stroke. And David Edelstein on the new film "Starsky and
Hutch." Also David Bianculli reviews "The Sopranos."

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

Let's return to Terry's 1998 interview with painter Chuck Close. He's known
for his larger-than-life paintings of the human face. A retrospective of his
print-making is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In 1998, Close suffered a collapsed spinal artery and was paralyzed from the
shoulders down. While he's partially recovered, he paints from the wheelchair
with a brace strapped to his arm.

(Soundbite of 1998 interview)

GROSS: Because you don't have much movement now at all and you have to paint
with the brushes strapped onto your wrist, have you given a lot of thought to
how much painting is something that happens in your mind and how much it's
something that happens with your hands?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, somebody told me in the hospital, and I don't remember who
it is, that, `Oh, you'll be all right because you paint with your head and not
with your hands.' And I thought, `Oh, easy for you to say,' you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLOSE: I thought, `Gee, this is like something that came out of a fortune
cookie or something.' I was actually quite annoyed that they had this kind of
throwaway answer for my very severe problem. But, in fact, you know, they
were right. Once you know what art looks like, you can figure out how to make
some of it, and it's just a question of adaptation.

GROSS: If you don't mind my asking, I know, you know, often when people lose
the ability to move, it's through a traumatic accident, a car crash or, you
know, some kind of terrible injury, a fall. But for you it was a broken
artery, and so...

Mr. CLOSE: That just sort of collapsed, uh-huh.

GROSS: Yeah. So when did you realize that you had lost movement? Did you
awaken from a coma, or was this something that came on gradually?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, I had a tremendous pain, and I had had the pain over the
years; it would come and go. And nobody could ever figure out what it was.
And this time the pain ended up--I had sort of massive seizures all over my
body, and then all of a sudden my whole body just was still. And we couldn't
figure out what happened; actually took them several days to figure out what
happened to me. And, you know, my art dealer came in and he said, `Come on,
get out of bed.' He was convinced that I had some sort of hysterical
paralysis. And it took a while for everyone to figure out what, in fact, did
happen.

GROSS: How did you come up with a system that worked for getting your brush
paintbrush attached to your arm in such a way that you could get the kind of
mobility and control that you needed?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you know, it's funny. I was in a rehabilitation hospital
for--after a couple of months of being in intensive care and stuff, I was
moved to a rehabilitation hospital that was connected to the hospital I was
in. And I began rehab, and I remember rolling down the hall one day and
seeing the name on a door; it said: Occupational Therapy. I said, `Oh,
great, they'll help me get back to my occupation.' But, in fact, it was much
more about stacking spools and making things out of pipe cleaners. And I must
say that the therapists were wonderful people and very helpful, but it took
the act of intervention of my wife, who really went to bat for me and made
sure they understood just how important it was for me and my sanity to be able
to get back to work. And she convinced the therapists to stop trying to
convince me how to do things that I didn't need to do and to get back to what
really mattered. And they found me a space in the basement of the building,
and I equipped it as a studio and managed to start painting while I was still
in rehabilitation.

GROSS: Were there times where you found yourself trying to make things out of
pipe cleaners, I mean, because that's what you were supposed to be doing...

Mr. CLOSE: No.

GROSS: ...in occupational therapy?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, you know, they tried to get me to do my laundry. I said,
`Well, you know, I didn't do my laundry before. Why should I want to do my
laundry now?'

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. CLOSE: And they tried to show me how to, you know, use a computer, and I
said, `I have absolutely no interest in using a computer, and I really don't
want to do it with a pencil stuck in my teeth.' So it was a fight because
they're trying to bring everybody along, and they have a kind of general
attitude towards what's liable to be helpful in a person's life. And I was
looking for very specific kinds of help.

DAVIES: Artist Chuck Close speaking with Terry Gross in 1998. We'll hear
more of their conversation in a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're listening to Terry's 1998 interview
with painter Chuck Close.

(Soundbite of 1998 interview)

GROSS: I want to say something else and get you to say something else about
the current style that you're painting in. Your current painting style now is
this really interesting mix of abstraction and representational painting
because what you're doing now, as we talked about, you know, your paintings
are based on a series of grids. And each grid is like a little abstract
painting; each grid is, you know, some circles of color or squares of color or
squiggles of color. And this little abstract grid, when taken in the context
of all the other little abstract grids, forms a face. But the faces have
become more abstract than they used to be. They're not so much about finding
every follicle, every pore, as they once were.

Mr. CLOSE: Well, it's probably lucky that as I age and all of my friends
age...

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. CLOSE: ...that I've adopted a kinder, gentler strategy to painting
because, you know, I was in my 20s when I started, and we weren't as wrinkled
and there wasn't as much surface incident in people's faces. And so right now
it's probably a good thing that a lot of that surface information isn't
showing up. But actually, you know, one of the things--I get to finish one of
those little abstract paintings, you know, all the time, several a day or a
whole bunch of them in a day. So I get a little piece of pleasure over and
over and over and a little piece of completion over and over, and that's one
of the really wonderful things about the way I work. But, you know, I didn't
start making representational imagery because I was against abstraction. As a
matter of fact, my favorite work was usually abstract, often very minimal and
often sculpture.

GROSS: Don't you feel like you found a way to combine all of those instincts
into one canvas?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, that's one of the nice things about it. You know, I was a
big, big fan as a student of de Kooning, who I still consider the greatest
American artist of the 20th century, and I loved him so much and I painted way
more than my share of de Koonings. In fact, when I met de Kooning late in his
life, I said, `It's very nice to meet somebody who's painted more de Koonings
than I have.'

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. CLOSE: But one of the problems of being a good student, and I was a good
student, was that I knew what art looked like, and I could demonstrate that I
knew what it looked like. But it must look like someone else's art, or it
wouldn't look like art. And I couldn't find a way to work out of de Kooning
and out of my heroes without making weak impersonations of their work. And
one of the wonderful things about having purged my work of all those
influences and driving myself into my own idiosyncratic corner, where no one
else's answers would fit the question that I was asking myself, was that
ultimately over the years I found a way to get a lot of that de Kooning color
and some of the marks and things that I love so much back into my work. But
now I get to use de Kooning color and make a Chuck Close instead of using de
Kooning color and making a de Kooning.

GROSS: Because you're sitting or lying all the time now--you can't stand or
walk anymore, right?

Mr. CLOSE: Well, I can stand, and I can take...

GROSS: You can stand.

Mr. CLOSE: Yeah, mm-hmm. I can take a few steps.

GROSS: Oh, good.

Mr. CLOSE: And, believe me, it makes all the difference. I get in places
where if I were strictly confined to the wheelchair, it would be difficult.

GROSS: I guess what I'm wondering is, you know, since probably most of the
time you're sitting and a lot of the times you're talking to somebody, I'd
imagine, who's standing, has your vision of faces changes because you're often
looking up at people's faces...

Mr. CLOSE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...instead of looking at eye level?

Mr. CLOSE: I was 6'3" and I always looked over the tops of the crowd. I
never felt claustrophobic in a big crowd before because I could always see
over the tops of everyone else. Now I'm down below even the shortest people.
It's given me a new view on things. I don't know. You know, I used to always
sit down to paint because I was going to be there for so long. And, you know,
one of the funny things about being in a wheelchair is that I look out at a
world which is essentially unchanged. I used to sit and I still sit, and I
look out and the world looks exactly the same to me.

GROSS: Have your dreams changed?

Mr. CLOSE: Yeah. It's funny. I used to dream--for a number of years I
always walked in my dreams, and I was never in a wheelchair. In the last few
years I've been in a wheelchair, and then all of a sudden I would get up and
start walking. And only recently do I have whole dreams in which I never
leave the wheelchair. So I guess that must signify final perhaps acceptance
of what happened.

GROSS: Chuck Close, a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very much for
talking with us.

Mr. CLOSE: Thanks. Thanks very much. It's actually very nice to be on your
show because I now paint almost exclusively to public radio, and so a great
many of my paintings were actually made while I was listening to you.

DAVIES: Chuck Close speaking with Terry Gross in 1998.

A retrospective of his work, "Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration,"
is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through April
18th.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New movie "Starsky and Hutch"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

The '70s TV cop show "Starsky and Hutch" has acquired a certain camp following
for its outlandish fashions and tough-guy, hipster lingo. A new movie
starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson set in the '70s refashions the old TV
series into an outright comedy. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, the now ubiquitous stars of "Starsky and Hutch,"
have a good shtick going. Stiller is the nebbish. He's wiry, he's righteous
and he's quick to perceive injury. Wilson, on the other hand, is the rangy,
golden-haired, surfer dude. He's sleazy and opportunistic, but he's so lazily
good natured that you can't really resent him. And anyone whose nose goes in
that many different directions must have a sense of humor about his good
looks.

So here's the core of their act. The tall, blonde wasp pretends to sooth and
placate the little Jewish guy while he actually makes him madder and drives
him to evermore ridiculous lengths to assert his potency. It's while Stiller
is in one of these impotent rages that Wilson establishes a rapport with his
audience. He gives a little shrug that says, `What can you do with this guy?'
And in that instant he could seduce anyone.

The idea to cast Stiller and Wilson in a big-screen adaptation of "Starsky and
Hutch" might be the funniest thing about "Starsky and Hutch." And whatever
works in the movie is right there in the coming attraction: the stars, the
scary '70s perms, the high heels, the wide-lapel leisure suits, the preening
cop show posers, the waka-waka music. It's the TV series merged with the Mad
magazine parody of the TV series. Actually it has little to do with the
series, in which Hutch, played by David Soul, did things by the book and
Starsky, played by Paul Michael Glaser, was the wise-ass rule-breaker. In the
film, directed by Todd Phillips, Stiller's Starsky is the uptight one, while
Wilson's Hutch is the guy with no principles to the point where he's been
robbing Chinese laundries to pay his debts.

Here's the pair's first scene after they're brought together by their captain,
played by black sploitation stalwart Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.

(Soundbite of "Starsky and Hutch")

Mr. FRED "THE HAMMER" WILLIAMSON: I believe you two know each other.

Mr. BEN STILLER: As (Starsky) Yeah, a little bit.

Mr. OWEN WILSON: (As Hutch) How you doing?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: All right, Hutch, you've got a lot of explaining to do.

Mr. WILSON: (As Hutch) I know. I understand. Look, I was trying to
infiltrate one of the East Side gangs and work my way up to the big fish.
It's pretty simple.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: You were robbing a bookie.

Mr. WILSON: (As Hutch) That's right.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: You've robbed seven bookies over the past six months. You
haven't filed a report, turned in any money. Well, you haven't even arrested
anybody.

Mr. WILSON: (As Hutch) How can I arrest them? They'll know I'm a cop.

Mr. STILLER: (As Starsky) Oh, I wouldn't worry. I don't think you're in any
danger of being mistaken for a real cop.

Mr. WILSON: (As Hutch) Oh, really? Hey, why don't you do me a favor and go
get yourself another perm and let the grownups talk?

Mr. STILLER: (As Starsky) (Laughs) For your information, my hair is naturally
curly.

Mr. WILSON: (As Hutch) No, it's not.

Mr. STILLER: (As Starsky) Yes, it is.

Mr. WILSON: (As Hutch) That's a perm job all the way.

Mr. STILLER: (As Starsky) Touch it.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Hey! Why are you touching him?

EDELSTEIN: You can hear in that scene how the Stiller and Wilson act works.
They begin with macho taunts, then slip into childish name-calling and then
infantile touching. And that's the whole movie: an action stance followed by
something that deflates it, so that these tough guys look like third-grade
wussies.

Unfortunately, "Starsky and Hutch" tries to be a semi-straight cop movie, too,
with shootouts and chases and people getting shot at point-blank range by the
drug kingpin played by Vince Vaughn. And so the elements cancel one another
out. There are no comic highs, as in a Mike Myers parody, but no action highs
either. There's no romance, just a jokey flirtation with a pair of
accommodating cheerleaders played by Carmen Electra and Amy Smart. And apart
from some zoom lenses, director Phillips doesn't even do much to parody '70s
filmmaking styles. The target audience isn't the people who lived through
that twisted decade but the people whose idea of nostalgia is the first season
of "That '70s Show."

Phillips' timing is limp, and even the good scenes don't have payoffs. I
laughed more thinking back over the gags than I did as I watched. A cameo by
Will Ferrell, who, along with Jack Black, provided the most memorable moments
in this year's Oscar ceremonies is one queer-bashing joke played over and
over. Only Snoop Dogg, as the ghetto snitch Huggy Bear, burns through the
movie's bland corporate tone. The 6'3" hiphop deejay plays it hard-edged and
slightly threatening, as if he doesn't care what people did in the '70s. He's
not going to emasculate himself like Ben Stiller, and so he's twice as funny.

The original "Starsky and Hutch" wasn't a great show, but it had a great
dynamic. Starsky came out of the tradition of Lenny Bruce and Elliott Gould.
He used his smarts and his chutzpa to say and do things that the straights
couldn't. And he was a natural ally for Huggy Bear. After all, blacks and
Jews had come through the civil rights movement together. A quarter-century
later, Starsky has become an anal-retentive neoconservative who can't even
begin to get on a hiphopper's wave length. Forget Mel Gibson. "Starsky and
Hutch" is the year's biggest bummer for the Jews.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for FRESH AIR and the online magazine
Slate.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli on "The Sopranos." This is
FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Return of "The Sopranos" worth the wait
DAVE DAVIES, host:

The HBO drama series "The Sopranos" returns to television Sunday after a very
long hiatus. TV critic David Bianculli says it was worth the wait.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

On the fourth-season finale of HBO's "The Sopranos," Tony, played by James
Gandolfini, had a bitter argument with his wife Carmela, played by Edie Falco,
and was thrown out of their house. That episode was broadcast in December of
2002. Now this Sunday night we finally get the next installment of this
outstanding mob family drama. That's 15 months between episodes. In the
interim we've seen two Super Bowls come and go and one of Janet Jackson's
breasts. On HBO alone we've seen the ends of "Oz," and "Sex and the City,"
an entire season of "Six Feet Under," the triumphant "Angels in America" and
the less-than-triumphant "K Street" and "Carnivale."

We've had a war in Iraq, crowned a second American idol and two more winners
of "Survivor" and watched reality TV bring us everything from "Queer Eye for
the Straight Guy" to "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" We've seen "The
Reagans" miniseries shifted over to Showtime and Buffy, the vampire slayer,
save the world one last time and the protagonists of "24" and "Alias" jump
years in their respective personal histories.

After all that, does "The Sopranos" still seem as fresh and distinctive and
funny and shocking and clever? The answer is no. After 15 months off, it
seems even better. The TV universe now is choking with unscripted reality
shows. David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," stands proudly and defiantly
at the other end of that spectrum. He and his team of writers and producers
have crafted a show where every scene reminds you how good television can be
and how seldom these days writers and actors and directors get to reach for
that level.

As we pick up the story, the same 15 months has passed for the people on the
show. Tony is still separated from Carmela. She's living in the Soprano
mansion hosting movie nights for her Mafia wife friends and engaged in a
nightly power struggle with rebellious son A.J. Meanwhile, Tony is living in
his late mother's house. And if you've been watching "The Sopranos" long
enough to remember all his issues with his mother, you know there's a lot of
symbolism there.

There's also a lot of symbolism in what's happening back at Tony's house. The
morning paper sits in the driveway unattended because Tony isn't there to
waddle out in his bathrobe to get it. And speaking of waddling, the ducks
Tony used to feed are gone, and the duck food has gone bad. In Sunday's
fifth-season opener, that duck food attracts a bear, which Carmela tries to
face down all by herself with a frying pan. The sudden appearance by the bear
is hilarious, but it also has several juicy layers of subtext. For one, it
shows Carmela as being perfectly capable of holding her own against a
dangerous, threatening creature, which may predict what's on the horizon with
Tony. For another thing, it took Tony two years of therapy to realize and
accept that the ducks he loved so much were symbolic of his desire to protect
his family and his envy at how happy and loving the ducks seemed.

Now Tony's own family is ripped apart, and he's not even in his back yard, but
a big, threatening bear is. In this new season of "The Sopranos," the real
big bears are a group of mobsters who have been in jail since the 1980s but
are released at the same time when their prison sentences are up. The media
calls them `The Class of '04,' and they include at least one old guy, played
explosively by Robert Loggia, who's so combative and violent he makes Tony
Soprano look like Pee Wee Herman. Also out of prison is Tony's cousin, played
by Steve Buscemi, who wants to go straight. They shake things up a lot, and
it's not like Tony's life, even with his inner circle of cronies, was that
calm to begin with.

The tensions are always there, even in the most seemingly non-threatening
settings and events. Here's an average night out for Tony and his friends.
He's holding court at a big table at a restaurant with a cigar in one hand and
a Bada Bing! girl in the other. Loggia's character, Feech, is there and so is
Tony's regular crew: Steve Van Zandt as Silvio, Michael Imperioli as
Christopher and Tony Sirico as Paulie. Christopher, as the youngest guy at
the table, is supposed to pick up the tab as a sign of respect, but he gets up
when the check arrives, so that Paulie will be stuck with it. If looks could
kill, Christopher would be dead. And since Paulie can kill, even paying the
bill turns out to have potentially deadly consequences.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

Unidentified Actor #1: This friggin' olive oil--the food's drenched. That's
the reason it happened.

Unidentified Actor #2: As far as (censored) are concerned, I say get rid of
them all. They had their turn, and now we got ours. That's why dinosaurs
don't exist no more.

Unidentified Actress #1: Wasn't it a meteor?

Unidentified Actor #2: They're all meat eaters.

Unidentified Actor #1: Meteor. Meteor. Take it easy.

Unidentified Actor #3: Gentlemen, whenever you're ready.

(Soundbite of person walking)

Unidentified Actor #1: All right. Are we set?

Unidentified Actor #2: Yeah, sure. What are you doing? You ready?

Unidentified Actor #4: I gotta make a pit stop.

Unidentified Actor #2: Hey, you forgettin' something?

Unidentified Actor #1: You get it. I got the last one.

Unidentified Actress #2: Here, baby. Have some more cheesecake.

Unidentified Actor #2: The other thing with bears is you're ever chased by
one, run downhill. For some reason they can't do that.

Unidentified Actor #1: It's the moss.

Unidentified Actress #3: They attack when you're having your period, too.

Unidentified Actor #1: No, that's jungle cats.

Unidentified Actress #3: So can we go?

Unidentified Actor #1: Hold your horses.

Unidentified Actor #2: What's going on? Are we ready or what?

Unidentified Actor #4: Yeah.

(Soundbite of people walking)

Unidentified Actor #2: Fine, I'll get it.

Unidentified Actor #1: (Censored)

Unidentified Actor #2: I said I'll get it.

Unidentified Actor #1: Enough. It's done.

BIANCULLI: The violence in "The Sopranos" when it arrives erupts suddenly and
unexpectedly and with no justification. You can be laughing one minute, then
suddenly gasp in horror wanting to distance yourself from these characters and
from what they do. That's one of the strengths of this show. Tony is the
narrative center of "The Sopranos" but not its moral center.

Another strength is that it's always the little things and the peripheral
characters that set the wheels in motion. You don't see a lot of things
coming or going. Just as in real life, not every conflict is confronted and
not every story line is resolved. It's one of the things to enjoy and admire
the most about "The Sopranos," which is just as compelling and challenging and
surprising and satisfying in its fifth season as it was in its first. The
bear is still out there in the woods somewhere, just like the Russian.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Biography Traces Political Mistakes And Personal Scars That Shaped Joe Biden

As a young man, Joe Biden was fixated on a singular goal: "On his first date with his future wife, he told her mother that he wanted to grow up to be president," New Yorker writer Evan Osnos says. Osnos writes about the Democratic presidential candidate in his new book, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now.

43:04

Marcus Samuelsson: Erasing Black Culinary History Ignores 'The Soul Of American Food'

The James Beard award-winning chef says his flagship restaurant, Red Rooster, became his "haven" during the height of pandemic. Working with José Andrés' World Central Kitchen organization, Samuelsson converted the restaurant to a community kitchen. Over the course of six months, Red Rooster served more than 200,000 meals to first responders and others in need. he talks about that and his new book.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue