Thursday, May 30, 2013

Question for the Week of May 27-Jun 2: Saddest Swan Song

Most bittersweet last role?
Hands down, it's Raúl Juliá in 1994's Street Fighter. On the one hand, you have a great performance from an amazing actor. On the other hand, it's in a laughably-entertaining movie based on a two-person fighting game with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the lead.

Raúl finally succumbed to the cancer that was taxing his body while filming - and he died before the film was even released. For an exceptional actor like Mr. Juliá, a class-act with such a fine career, this was an unfortunate note to end on.

So where does the sweet part come into it? Well, as stated above - it was a fine performance, and all of the non-ironic joy of the picture comes from that role. It's almost as if Wrath of Khan had been a bad Trek film, one wherein Ricardo Montalban had still nailed his part.

And, actually, SF director Steven E. DeSouza (check name) explained that Raúl was thrilled with playing M. Bison (not to be confused with M. Butterfly, who dressed as a woman and seduced men in restaurants)! Juliá enjoyed looking up Mussolini's speeches in order to get the tone of his scenes...

Further still, DeSouza revealed that Raúl Juliá had grown up loving Errol Flynn's movies. So this awesome actor, who was most likely the best to come out of Puerto Rico and make it big at that time, was in high spirits even though his health was failing - he was swinging on ropes and clocking JCVD!

No matter how not-good and disparaged Street Fighter may have been (and it was), at least the fondly-missed actor found himself having a great time working on what would prove to be his final project. Sure, there's something sad about it, but at least the circumstances had some kind of a silver lining. It's a billion times better than "I'm 28 and I've got everything going for me, but I took 6 prescription drugs around the same time."


  1. I'll pour out some of my drink to Raul, who deserved better than to go out planning the food court at Bisonopolis and trying to explain super conduction to Jean Claude Van Damme. Still, there are a few examples where the finality of the swan song was a bit more poignant. The one that really sticks out for me is Edward G. Robinson in Soylent Green--it's just a brilliant, heartbreaking performance where it felt like the actor was putting his own mortality on display. Watching his final scene in the movie, knowing it was also the last scene of Robinson's storied career--it's just devastating. It's the film equivalent of listening to Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt.

    Other notables: Peter Finch won a posthumous Best Actor Oscar for the role of Howard Beale in Network, a film that was prophetic in many ways; Brandon Lee in The Crow practically redefines the term "bittersweet"--watching the end of that movie is pretty hard, knowing the star didn't live to see it released; the Classic Film Guide reminded me that Burt Lancaster's last film role was "Moonlight" Graham in Field of Dreams, a role that seemed designed as a final statement at the end of his film career.

    1. We're looking at this from different perspectives, though - which is fine, but I want to make sure we're comparing apples to apples. Raul was sick with cancer, and he was working during his illness - some people even speculate that it might have been better for his recovery if he had not decided to play M. Bison. You and I both know that would be very hard to prove or validate, but still... he was in the middle of his life, and he died of one of the lousiest diseases ever, and the role that took part of the last effort he made on this planet is in a movie that... when I found out my girlfriend wanted to rent this movie, I wondered if she was cracked.

      In terms of bittersweet, I don't connect Brandon Lee's last role at all; it might fit the "saddest swan songs" as I wrote in the title, but... Being young and shot because a technician screwed up - there's no amount of sweet that can start to balance out the bitter there.

      However, I am impressed that you so neatly whipped out two alternatives - and that both involve movies I've seen once, and actors I don't know well. Soylent Green's end is incredibly moving, but I've seen maybe 3 EGR films, and I had no idea that was his last; that's one hell of a role to go out on, though I don't know how Robinson died. I have a similar blindspot for Peter Finch, although I recall Network being very impressive and thought-provoking; do you think its 90's analogue would be Bullworth?

      As to Lancaster, I'm only semi-familiar with him, so I'd have to look more at his overall situation and find out how he died. I just know that he lost his eternal youth because a bunch of farmers never heard of Heimlich.

    2. Robinson's pretty amazing. I've only seen a few of his 100+ films, but man, those are some great films: Key Largo, Double Indemnity, The Ten Commandments, and, of course, Soylent Green. The big one that I've missed is Little Caesar, the film that made him a star. He knew he was dying of cancer when he did the euthanasia scene in Soylent, and (according to Wikipedia) he died 12 days after it was filmed.

      Strangely, I know jack-all about Finch aside from Network--dude was nominated for Oscars, won BAFTAs, all for movies I have no clue about. Then again, knowing him for Network is plenty. I kinda like Bullworth, but they don't belong in the same league. Bullworth's a wish-fulfillment fantasy; Network's a piece of prophesy.


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