Get Shorty.

Get Shortyi sees John Travolta star alongside Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito,ii and some blonde chick Rene Russo in this comedic gangster-meets-gangster-meets-shylock-meets-a-movie-about-the-movie-industry-set-in-LA. But if that nauseatingly-hyphenated description makes you tentative as to the metatardation potentially lurking within, fear not ! This isn’t anywhere near the unwatchable post-post-modern morass that was “Synechdoche, New York.” The mid-90’s were a glorious time to be an American, perhaps the last glorious time for the foreseeable future, and Get Shorty embodies the swagger of a country assured in its status as “winner” of the Cold War.iii

Travolta is fittingly icey in this role (his character’s name is Chili Palmer, after all), and his forward demeanour and unmitigated confidence mean that he’s an absolute pleasure to watch on-screen as he unflinchingly commands both the viewer’s attention and admirationiv to the point that you’d have to be blind not to see why he was still such a big deal well into the 90’s and early 2000’s, more than two decades after Grease. The baby-blue-eyes–with-dark-features combo was simply a force to be reckoned with.

Get Shorty has a far more complex narrative structure than even the “trippiest” and “mind-bendingist” prisoner’s gruel in theatres at present (eg. Interstellar). Based on Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel,v the story weaves several threads together, tying up most of them (hey, what happened to the Mexican gangsters?) and crocheting a tapestry of power struggles, film industry eccentricities, humour,vi and the Manichean contrast between the pretense of life in Hollywood and the will to action of Miami gangsters, ultimately depicting a thoroughly gratifying molestation of the collective delusions of the Silver Screenists and the would-be barnacles in orbit around the film industry’s ephemeral and superficial circle-jerks, those which grant fame and fortune with such stochastic regularity but only to those willing to pile up a few bodies to get there, as the moral of this story teaches us.

Still another lesson embedded within this charming little film comes unencrypted, right from Travolta’s lips :

Chili Palmer: You know, Welles didn’t even want to do this movie. But he had some studio contract he couldn’t get out of. Sometimes you do your best work when you got a gun to your head.

Which happens to tie in to Schopenhauer’s observation about the happiness of those with strictly defined boundaries.vii In effect, yes, ignorance is bliss. Having a gun to your head makes your life easier ; as does being a slave. Of course there are the trade-offs. In exchange for spiritual ease comes the loss of material ease, but so too is the reverse true. There are no free lunches no matter how many pockets you pick in the name of “fairness” and “progress,” and no matter how hard you want to believe that communism will work this time.

Which also points to the immoral and indefensible tragedy that is representative democracy as seen in the Western World at present, where cannaille uninclined towards and incapable of broader perspectives are encouraged forced against their true will to be “informed citizens” desperately drowning rats, gasping for breath (and grasping for cheese) in the deluges of digital information that make up the rivers of ever-present simultaneity in the Internet Age. It’s what makes the ever-twitchy Present Shockviii a thing amongst the 14-year-old redditards who want to vote for Bernie Sanders,ix complete with the sense of foreboding doom, always having to be somewhere other than where they are lest the music stop and you fail to find a chair on which to sit, and the sense that “It’s all connected, dood!”

In 1995, Future Shock was still in the future, and this light-hearted film is a very watchable transport to that simpler time, back when Hollywood could still make a half-decent movie. Get Shorty is just tricky enough, and no more. It’s just cheeky enough, and no more.

It hit the spot.

___ ___ ___

  1. 1995, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.
  2. If you’re a fan of Mr. DeVito, as I know some of you are, please do watch It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – a most delightful comedic TV series – in fact, it’s one of only 3-4 TV series that I’d seriously recommend. Period. For “Sunny,” which DeVito joined after abysmal ratings pushed the show to the brink of cancellation after only a single season, I can confidently vouch for the first five seasons, but the second five seasons (yes, there are 10 seasons!) is terra incognita for me.
  3. HaHA ! Trickedja ! The US never “won” the Cold War. Hell, it’s still fighting the shit out of the socialist mind-virus as we speak, but now instead of fighting the enemy with-out, it’s fighting the enemy with-in, which is very much like watching Zaphod Beeblebrox in a boxing match… against his second head.
  4. Even when thrown curveballs, Chili doesn’t beat an eyelash :

    Chili Palmer: What is that?
    Rental Car Attendant: It’s an Oldsmobile Silhouette.

    Chili Palmer: I ordered a Cadillac.
    Rental Car Attendant: Oh, well, you got the Cadillac of minivans.

    Now I happen to have a softspot for “The Duster” aka. Oldsmobile Silhouette aka. Pontiac Trans Sport aka. Chevy Lumina minivan, as it was in the latter of these essentially identical, badge engineered models that our family made the 9`000 km round-trip trek from Edmonton to the Gaspesie and back one summer, my younger brother and I spending the entire time playing a computerised version of Risk on a top-of-the-line 15″ Powerbook that struggled not to overheat, as well as the 5`000 km journey from Edmonton to Vancouver to San Fransisco and back a few summers later, back when San Fran wasn’t quite so such an unrepentant shithole (or before I was such an unrepentant asshole).

  5. Leonard, who died in 2013, also notably influenced Quentin Tarantino, who turned the book “Rum Punch” into the movie “Jackie Brown” (1997).
  6. But, oddly, without the faintest whiff of romantic intrigue, as if that sort of thing had no influence on struggles for money and power (or comedy!). Yes, Russo implicitly bangs Travolta and Hackman, but there are no sparks to speak anywhere on screen and the “bedroom scenes” depict little more than Russo nagging the men to wake up and see what’s downstairs. That’s it, that’s all. If there was room for improvement in the film, it was here.
  7. Limitations always make for happiness. We are happy in proportion as our range of vision, our sphere of work, our points of contact with the world, are restricted and circumscribed. We are more likely to feel worried and anxious if these limits are wide; for it means that our cares, desires and terrors are increased and intensified. That is why the blind are not so unhappy as we might be inclined to suppose ; otherwise there would not be that gentle and almost serene expression of peace in their faces.

  8. See Daniel Rushkoff’s book by the same name, a riff of the the 1970 pop-culture “classic” Future Shock. While I can’t speak for the latter, the former’s worth a skim for its description of the ever-present Now that we experience by being indelibly connected to the digital world 24/7, even if Rushkoff’s grasp of monetary history leaves much to be desired. But for that topic, there’s always David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5`000 Years. Both of these titles are on my mega-recommended reading list.
  9. Reference (archived).

3 thoughts on “Get Shorty.

  1. I’m in the camp that enjoyed Be Cool more than Get Shorty, mainly cause I love the interaction between Cedric the Entertainer and John Travolta. If you haven’t seen it yet I would recommend it.

    It even modernizes the Cadillac joke:

    Chili: What’s that? I asked for a Cadillac.
    Rental Attendant: The Insight is the Cadillac of gas-electric hybrid cars.

    And hopefully MP gives Always Sunny a try.

    I guess you and I have similar tastes in humor.

    • Pete D. says:

      It’s funny how hybrid cars are the 21st century equivalent of “The Duster” : the uncool ride of choice for utilitarians with no personality whatsoever.

      Goooo green!

  2. […] of losses, outside a posh furniture store on Palm Canyon Driver, this Chevy Lumina (aka Duster) at the back of the row was no match this Citroen SM, Bentley S1, Mercedes R107, and Mercedes […]

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