outhash

1989: The Year of the Drooler

The Cinema Reaches New Levels of Verisimilitude

By Mike Walsh
Published in Expresso Tilt in 1990

Over the years filmmakers have consistently given us more and more “realism” in the movies, no matter how disgusting or gory. One result of this trend is the veritable bath of bodily fluids that have gushed from the screen over the years. We’ve had tears, sweat, vomit, blood, and even urine. We’ve also had other realistic niceties such as feces, spilling guts, grotesque deformities, vicious little monsters chomping their way through human stomachs, and a plethora of body parts severed in every conceivable fashion. All of this has been presented in a manner so “real” that it’s not unusual to see the weak stomached rush up the aisles and off to the rest rooms, hands over their mouths and eyes a’bulging.

Some brave, innovative filmmakers, however, are taking a more subtle tact and discovering that when it comes to bodily fluids, less can sometimes be more. Instead of the hyper-realism of exploding heads and green volcanoes of vomit, they substitute the most common and least offensive of bodily fluids, spittle. We saw miscellaneous squirts of sputum on the big screen throughout the ‘80s in films such as Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Falcon and the Snowman, Elephant Man, and Dominick and Eugene. Spittle became a common sight in the Vietnam movies of the ‘80s, and spittle, along with its more dramatic partners, phlegm and mucous, was raised to the level of visual leitmotif in Sid and Nancy.

But it wasn’t until 1989 that the cinema of spittle reached its pinnacle, when several of our most talented actors showed just how useful a small but discreetly placed slobber can be. How disappointing the many stirring speeches of Henry V would’ve been had it not been for the many frothy strands dancing between Kenneth Branaugh’s lips. In Born on the 4th of July Tom Cruise drools all over himself and the actress playing his mom while arguing with her and chasing her all over the house in his wheel chair. No wonder she throws him out. Spittle’s a flyin’ when Cruise and Willem Dafoe have their Mexican desert shouting match in the very same film. And wouldn’t you say that the tiny globs at the corner of Daniel Day Lewis’ mouth in My Left Foot make his speech impediment and other disabilities seems all the more “real”? Of course, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that all three of these actors were nominated for Best Actor Academy Awards in 1989. Mickey Rourke was too lazt to sputter even one measly squirt in Johnny Handsome, and where was he at Oscar time?

However, those actors are mere amateurs when compared to the champion, nay, the titan of spittle usage in a dramatic performance. In his amazing performance in the 1989 PBS production of Raisin in the Sun, Danny Glover shows us that he has mastered all forms of oral discharge, be it spitting, drooling, or salivating. The drool fest begins in the climatic scene when Danny discovers that his shady business partner has absconded with the $10,000 earmarked for his sister’s education. The spittle gushes forth so freely during Danny’s ensuing breakdown that it’s hard to believe one human being can call forth such a deluge. It hangs from his lips, rolls off his chin, and forms puddles on the floor. Danny and his saliva depict a dejection so great that it makes one’s own bodily fluids slather from the eyes, nose, and mouth. Certainly some sort of special award is in order.

Who knows where filmdom’s efforts to bring realism to the screen will take us next? Tinkle Spots on the Front of Pee-Wee’s trousers? A mucous trail from the nose of Indiana Jones’? Ear wax buildup plainly visible in Brando’s next outing? Perspiration stains in Madonna’s armpits? An open fever-blister on Woody Allen’s lip? Whatever the future holds, 1989 will forever be remembered by film buffs as the Year of the Drooler.

Read about saliva in baseball in Phlegm of Dreams.


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[More articles by Mike Walsh in ExpressoTilt]

© Mike Malsh