A couple of days ago – bear with me here, this is neither the time or the place, but I make the rules in this musty little corner of the internet and can therefore talk about whatever I want whenever I want – I learned that Hercules star Dwayne Johnson, who you will almost certainly also know as wrestler-turned-actor ‘The Rock’, was the second highest paid movie star in Hollywood during the past year, earning a staggering $52 million between June 2013 and June 2014. Let me just repeat that figure, for you, just in case it didn’t sink in the first time round: Fifty-two million dollars. The Rock. Dwayne Johnson. Fifty two million. Fifty-two million. The. Rock. An actual, real, non-Monopoly $52,000,000. Fiddy two. Fifty-two m-i-l-l-i-o-n.
Five two comma zero zero zero comma zero zero zero.
Johnson’s total arose mainly thanks to his involvement in the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) Fast And Furious franchise, in which I understand he plays Vin Diesel, and vice versa. What makes this financial revelation particularly interesting, though, is the fact that each of the other (all male) names on the ‘top 10 earners list’ – your Downey Jrs, DiCaprios and Bales, for example – have an impressive back catalogue to sit with their recent box office hits. Granted their sums are equally incomprehensible when considering the valuable work other people do in other industries for a tiny fraction of that pay, but at least within the field of acting they’ve kind of earned the right to demand the big numbers. Perhaps Dwayne Johnson has, too. Even the more surprising names on the list – Hemsworth, Neeson, Cooper – have had a few big hits in the past year and can point to varying degrees of acting prowess. Again: Perhaps Dwayne Johnson can too. I don’t know.
I’ve been trying to work out exactly how all this has happened for the past two days, to no avail, and I’m fully resigned to the fact I’ll probably understand quantum physics or discover the meaning of life before I manage to figure out the reason why some people decided to pay Johnson this sum of money. A couple of days ago I asked on Twitter if anyone could recommend a movie starring Johnson for me to watch, so that I could find out for myself what all the fuss (or rather what the astronomical sum of money earned) was about. Not with the intention of being sneery about him, or anything (I’m sure the fact that he’d probably earn around $15,000 in the time it would take me to write anything would soften the blow somewhat anyway), but out of a genuine interest to find out why he’s so damn popular. I mean, I’ve seen him once or twice. I watched Southland Tales years ago, and I know that he was in one of the Brendan Fraser Mummy films, but I honestly can’t remember a single thing about either of those performances. I’ve also discovered that he was in the terrible Adam McKay cop comedy The Other Guys, but I appear to have wiped all memory of that film from my internal hard drive, and have added a program called “Directive Z”, which forbids me from ever viewing it again. But my question is: why The Rock? I mean why not *looks around for fairly popular bullet-headed action man with similar level of talent* Jason Statham, for example?
A day later, and I’ve just watched the short, two-reel silent comedy Cops, starring the man they called The Great Stone Face, Buster Keaton. As silent comedies go it’s quite good: funny at times, and well-constructed, although certainly not on the level of Keaton’s own masterpiece The General. The narrative is vaguely Kafka-esque, as Keaton’s nameless chump / hero ends up on the wrong side of the entire LAPD during a botched removals job, and is subsequently persecuted by the law despite an endearing, unwavering and innocent desire to help others. The stunts are pretty good (although relatively safe when compared with the kinds of gravity-defying acts Harold Lloyd was performing around the same time) and while it lacks the belly laughs of Charlie Chaplin’s best work it still contains an excellent, extended chase sequence which accounts for around half the 20 minute running time.
In Cops, predictably, Keaton is fascinating to watch. He’s on screen for nearly all of it and you can’t take your eyes off him. It’s not just his face, which seems to permanently represent a state of puzzlement or bewilderment, like he can’t ever make sense of the world or the people that inhabit it, but also his general physicality. He’s slight, on the small side (the same height as Chaplin, interestingly), and the way he moves is funny, whether he’s waddling around, running, balancing precariously on a ladder or falling out of a trunk. Given that the success of a silent comedy was almost entirely dependent on the ability of the star to make people laugh through physical humour, that’s hardly surprising, but it reminded me of something which applies equally to – hey, I got there in the end – The Rock: viewers have always been drawn to actors with physical attributes that are, for want of a better word, extraordinary.
You may think Keaton was more talented than Johnson will ever be (I do, anyway), but his success and popularity is partly (mainly?) due to the way he looked on screen, just as Dwayne’s is today. Sure they are completely different physical specimens, but both are memorable primarily for their physicality. They both stand out against a backdrop of ordinary extras, just as Chaplin did, and just as Schwarzenegger did.
Even allowing for this incredibly obvious observation that cinemagoers like to marvel at unusual bodies and will pay to do so in their tens of thousands, it’s still incredible that one person can earn so much simply for acting (or being big) in a film, but I guess that’s what society has deemed such a skill (or size) to be worth. It makes me idly wonder what Keaton’s talents would amount to, in purely financial terms, if he was in his prime today. Would he even trouser half of the fees charged by Jim Carrey for a couple of months’ work? Would he earn as much per movie as Dwayne Johnson? Who knows? Certainly not I.
I watched Cops on the train to work, at around 7am. Even though I was still half-asleep I chuckled to myself a few times during the short film, particularly when a prosthetic device attached to a car with a boxing glove stuck on the end accidentally punches a traffic officer in the face on two occasions, which shows you that (a) good comedy is timeless and (b) what I consider to be good comedy is pretty juvenile indeed. Buster Keaton’s films are still pretty funny today, I think, around 100 years after they were made. In 2114 will anyone be watching anything starring The Rock with a similar level of admiration? Possibly, but I doubt it somewhat.
Fifty two million dollars. Sheesh. Fair play to the guy.
Directed by: Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton
Written by: Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton
Starring: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox
Running Time: 18 minutes
[Note: Incidentally, I didn't write this simply to try and get more hits at a time when Johnson has a new film out. I would never be that #sex #planetoftheapes #usainbolt #obama #mileycyrus #x-men #nudes #starwars #marvel #frozen #disney #2girls1cup brazen.]