Monday, March 31, 2014


So – my three favorite Starbucks in Manhattan – at Bond and Broadway, at 17th and Union Square, at 39th and 8th – always remind me of Diner.  Why is that?  At first blush it seems these types of hangouts are quite different.  Of course, they are.  I’ll confess that when I’m in one of these places I’m not, like the ensemble six of Diner, debating the relative merits of Mathis vs. Sinatra or engaging in braggadocio about how  I can get a girl to grab my pecker on our first date – but I certainly see groups of young men who are the 2014 versions of these guys.  I often wonder if they even know what Diner is.  No longer young myself, I feel nostalgic pangs for the days when I and my buddies were on the precipice of busting out into the world.  I always think of Barry Levinson’s initial effort in these situations, and I guess it’s an open question as to whether or not allowing a movie to intrude on your consciousness so often is a wise idea. 
            Whatever!  What I hope to do on this blog is, eventually, get to discuss each of the six male ensemble characters in the film a little bit (the wife portrayed by Ellen Barkin is a cardboard cutout; in my estimation Levinson at that juncture in his career could not create authentic female characters, otherwise I would include her), one by one.  This will hopefully be at sporadic and unpredictable intervals.  At random, we’ll begin with Fenwick (played by Kevin Bacon; on the DVD Bacon gives an interesting insight into something he did that helped him play the role very effectively, for anybody who’s interested to that degree) and five scenes he figures in prominently.  Fenwick is an impenetrable character.  His motivation is hard to understand.  His burgeoning alcoholism is not explained.  His harsh sarcasm and cynicism has no given backstory.  All of this, in my opinion, is to Levinson’s credit.  He doesn’t cave in to the fear of presenting things without reasons behind them. 

            I list these simply for the sake of compilation:
1.      At the very beginning of the film, on Christmas night, the camera picks up Fenwick in the basement of the building where the Christmas party is being held, smashing windows and obviously drunk.  Boogie (Mickey Rourke) appears and asks him why he’s breaking the windows; he has no answer other than “It’s a smile.”  He also makes an intellectual remark about the composition of glass that presciently anticipates a later scene that shows off his intelligence.  He tells Boogie that he dumped his date for five dollars with a kid named Frazer; when Boogie observes that she’s only an eleventh grader and thus her intelligence is not fully developed, Fenwick’s answer is “Yeah but her tits were.”
2.      Reconciled, through Boogie’s efforts, with his date, Fenwick speeds his car down the road well ahead of the others (as they leave the party to go to the diner) so as to be able to turn the car over and fake a serious accident, smearing his face with catsup as fake blood.  Once the gag is found out and Beth remarks, “Very mature, Fenwick” his answer is “Fuck mature!”
3.      He watches a quiz show hosted by Allen Ludden (between students from Cornell and Bryn Mawr!) and knows all the answers, bitterly mumbling them or calling them out, confirming his intelligence and mastery of this material.
4.      When Boogie gets into serious economic trouble due to his wild, out of control betting habits, Fenwick tries to help out by going to his brother Howard, whom he despises, to try to borrow money.  Here we learn that he has a small trust fund, doesn’t work, is estranged from the family, and hates Howard.  Howard lectures him about reading Dale Carnegie and refuses to lend him the money to help Boogie.
5.      Smashed, he strips to his underwear and climbs into the manger in the life sized nativity scene on the front lawn of a local church.  (There’s a continuity error here.  The manger is empty, without the baby Jesus statue in it – as is the case in most scenes of this kind up until Christmas eve, when the baby would be placed in the crib.  However, the first scene of the film was shown with the title Christmas Night, so presumably this scene is occurring later, so presumably the baby would have been placed in the crib already.)  When Billy, Shrevie and Eddie come to try and fetch him he creates a scene of general chaos, fighting and knocking over statues, landing everybody in jail for the night.

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