Tuesday, April 10, 2007
I love stories dealing with Satan, don't you? There's something about evil which is s-o-o-o-o deliciously seductive. Of course the man downstairs that we've come to know and love is an invention of medieval Christianity, whose purpose was to scare up converts and justify all manner of inexcusable activity. Speaking inquisitionally. And of course the faithful will insist that the dark one has been around since the old testament (not exactly true, at least not the Satan that has become the staple of Christian mythology). But none of this matters, for I'm talking about the character Satan, the metaphorical figure that we've all come to adore. I'm speaking about Satan the Trope, the Symbol, the MAN!!!!
The American Satan, or rather the Western version of Satan (no, not Dick Cheney) is a wonderful figure born of concern over class structure and class warfare. He is a tempter, primarily offering economic reward and power. But the spin I adore, created during the Great Depression by Stephen Vincent Benet in his classic "The Devil and Daniel Webster" suggests that one can deal with Satan and win. This recreation and destruction of Goethe's "Faust" gave us a archetype that has become a staple of American film and literature.
Consider these uniquely American incarnations of Satan, all memorable celluloid creations:
--Ray Walston brought his Broadway Mr. Applegate to screen in "Damn Yankees". Lucifer meddling in the world of professional baseball. It was a perfect marriage.
--Victor Buono, he of tremendous girth, played the Dark Master in "The Evil", a wretched film where everyone is killed off one by one, but Buono relishes his role and chews the scenery with such unbridled delight Satan becomes the only likeable character.
--Jack Nicholson. Seeing Nicholson in "The Witches of Eastwick" probably made God chuckle. His scene in the church, where he speaks before a horrified congregation about the opposite sex, is a classic moment in film. "Women...did He do it to us on purpose or by accident.? I'm only asking because if it was by accident..then maybe there's something we can do about it!"
--Al Pacino is a deliciously seductive version of Mr. Scratch in "The Devil's Advocate". If I had been Keanu Reeves, I would have embraced the dark side, enjoyed the penthouse, and cast caution to the wind. I mean...Al Pacino was that appealing.
--Robert DeNiro in "Angel Heart". Now, DeNiro is a more traditional Satanic figure in this film, but worth the ride nonetheless. He plays Louis Cyphre (Lucifer...get it?) as a sophisticated, shadowy figure come to collect his due. Not an inspired character or performance. But hey, it's DeNiro.
--Viggio Mortensen played Satan in "The Prophecy". I think I applauded when I first saw this. I loved the idea of warring factions of angels, and Satan stepping in because they were invading his turf.
--and coming next year some time, hopefully, "I, Lucifer". Based on a book by Glen Duncan, this fantasy, currently in production, is about God giving Satan one last chance at redemption, provided The Dark One can live a blameless life as human.
I know there are some who will read this who will roll their eyes and think my fondness for Lucifer is somewhat blasphemous. Well, yeah. Thank God. But before you cast a finger of accusation, allow me to recall an extraordinary piece written by Ray Bradbury. It appeared in Playboy. It was an alternative ending that he wrote for "Rosemary's Baby". In his piece, Rosemary narrowly escapes the Satanists, who are unable to enter a church, and brings her infant before the altar. She falls to her knees and raising the baby, she implores God to forgive his son.
Only Bradbury. Or Alice Cooper. Or...me?