“Eric Roberts is great actor, and you should all give him a break like you did me.”
Mickey Rourke, Independent Spirit Awards, 2009
“That was before my time” is the dismissive mantra of the moron. Guess what? Most good stuff happened before you were born. With a predilection toward the macabre, Hollywood deaths have long been a personal predilection, and it’s on that subject that Mr. Eric Roberts made his name in 1983’s ‘Star 80’. He was good in ‘Raggedy Man’, three years earlier, but as the odious Paul Snider he set himself a precedent that he’s only reached again in ‘The Pope of Greenwich Village’ (crap film, brilliant performances) and ‘Runaway Train’. For that trio, his descent into straight-to-video is moot. Unleashed and fully motivated, he’s one of the greats. Good in both Nolan’s ‘Batman’ visions, apparently, his villain performance in the long-awaited ‘The Expendables’ is depressingly low key. Eric does madman better than the majority.
And he’s going on a reality TV show called ‘Celebrity Rehab’. Say it ain’t so, Eric.
If you’ve never seen Bob Fosse’s ‘Star 80’ about the doomed Playboy bunny Dorothy Stratten, you’re missing a classic. Spotted on TV as an pre-adolescent glumly anticipating a feelgood TV movie with added cleavage, the film’s a bleak masterpiece. Pressured into the business by Snider, her tinpot-svengali of a boyfriend, Stratten achieved some fame before her jealous partner raped her and shot her in the head before tying the body to a bondage bench, almost thirty years ago to the day, engaging in some necrophilia (the latter is based on real reports and thankfully, not depicted in the film) and blowing his own head off. Not a strong look. It’s a tour-de-force of a film that plays out like a car crash at the speed of Marcus Brambilla’s ‘Power’ promo.
Ernest’s granddaughter, Mariel Hemingway is extraordinary, but Roberts’s swearing, scowling, blubbering lunatic turn was robbed of an Oscar. His Snider is the lowlife’s-lowlife — mustachioed, unnecessarily tight suits and all, but his onscreen antics had a major impact on a young viewer. 1981’s ‘Death of a Centerfold’ told the same tale with Jamie-Lee Curtis as the victim, and Bruce Weitz in the Snider role. It wasn’t as good, lacking the edge, the language and the cinematic mastery Bob Fosse possessed. Like many dealing with the whole Stratten affair, the story seems to have affected Fosse deeply, going on the sensitivity of his portrayals, which even extends to the gradually uncoiling villain of the piece.
Oddly, Dorothy’s onetime lover, genius director Peter Bogdanovich, unimpressed by the film, bar Eric’s turn, decided to write a particularly personal true-crime book, ‘The Killing of the Unicorn’ about the case, published in 1985 that’s a little odd. He also married her much younger sister in 1988, and apparently encouraged her to get surgery. He was evidently quite a Dorothy fan. Mariel’s sister Margaux — excellent in ‘Lipstick’ — killed herself in 1996. The whole incident, down to the filmic reconstructions, has a certain heart of darkness that’s fired several imaginations. ‘Star 80’ is the best telling, regardless of sensationalism — from innocent beginnings, to wide-eyed mansion visits, faux-documentary scenes and bookended brutality. Eric’s still got the potential for a performance of equal caliber in him somewhere. Even if his current excesses seem to be occurring off-screen.