Robin Williams played one. As did Matt Dillon, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Nick Nolte and Samuel L. Jackson. The same goes for Liam Neeson. And Will Smith. Even Alice Cooper.
Yep. They all played bums.
When I was fifteen, I had a profound, life-altering experience. I was strolling around downtown Vancouver, my stomach full of Canadian bacon (or as Canadian’s call it, “bacon”), when all of a sudden I got accosted by an angry, disheveled bum. He demanded that I give him ten cents. I didn’t have ten cents (on account of my previous bacon binge). So, the angry bum chased me for a couple of blocks until I cleverly ducked inside a grocery store and cowered behind a stack of Ho-Ho’s and Zagnuts.
Ever since then, I’ve had a disturbing fascination with bums and apparently word has gotten out, since they seem to harass me wherever I go. I guess it’s a mutual, beneficial relationship.
Which brings me to the great, unsung heroes of film; the grizzled and ornery men who, every once in awhile, get to shine. I’ve come to notice that I immediately perk up whenever a bum strolls into a scene (or crawls, lays down and staggers). I also perk up whenever I see a midget, a fat kid or Steve Buscemi, but that’s for another blog.
While the aforementioned actors have dirtied themselves up and glued on smelly beards, their portrayals lack a certain authenticity. So, I’d like to comment on two character actors who constructed long and fruitful bum-centric careers.
Stan Yale has pretty much cornered the market on playing winos, derelicts and homeless men. He’s probably best known as the “Derelict in Alley” who appears at the beginning of The Terminator. After Reese snags the bum’s pants, Yale screams “That son of a bitch took my pants!” If this proclamation isn’t enough, Yale’s voice continues to trail off into garbled bum-speak, which perfectly encapsulates the bum’s dissatisfaction and his inability to form complete sentences.
According to Imdb.com, Stan Yale is still alive and kicking and was last seen as “Homeless Man” in an episode of My Name Is Earl. His acting credits are loaded with great roles, with such diverse characters as “Bum,” “Alley Bum,” “White Wino” and “Stinky’s Friend.” I respect and applaud anyone who can carve out their own niche in the world of filmdom, especially when they’ve honed their craft by playing a wide variety of grubby bastards. Here’s to you Mr. Yale, may you forever stink up the screen!
Another actor who parlayed a career out of various tramp and wino roles was George “Buck” Flower. With a nickname like “Buck,” it was fairly certain that Mr. Flower was predestined to play drunken hobos. And holy fuck-balls did he ever suckle the rancid milk out of that teat.
“Buck” cut his teeth on John Carpenter films (even appearing as, you guessed it, a bum in Escape From New York), but really came into his own as “Red the Bum” in Back To The Future and Back To The Future Part II. With only one line spoken in each film (the immortal “Crazy drunk driver” line in Part I and “Crazy drunk pedestrians” line in Part II), “Buck” effectively pimp-slapped the scenes he was in and collectively made all of us his bitch. Unfortunately, Mr. Flower passed away in 2004, but his smelly legacy will forever live on.
In honor of these two acting juggernauts, I figured I’d pay tribute by embarking on a Stan Yale and “Buck” Flower movie marathon, where I would “bum out” by eating beans and drinking cheap liquor. This wouldn’t take too much effort though, since that’s how I normally spend my weekends.
Anyway, while few actors have soared to the stratospheric heights of bum-lore quite like Stan Yale and “Buck” Flower; there have been a couple of other memorable actors and sequences.
Peter Jackson cooked up a few tasty bum-nuggets in his film Dead Alive (or Braindead to non-U.S. folks), that rightly deserve a place in the bum pantheon. It’s extremely rare to achieve the sublime majesty of a bum cheering on a man as he punches a zombie baby in the face. Anytime you can juggle a wacky bum and a fucked-up zombie baby together, you’re on the way to mining pure comedy gold.
Also, the cult classic Street Trash asked the probing question “What would a bunch of bums do if one of them had a severed penis handy?” Apparently, the answer involves the bums playing a game of “hot potato” with the detached appendage.
Just thinking about this scene makes me teary-eyed.
So there you have it. And next time you see a famous actor try to “stretch” by playing a down and out homeless person, take time out to reflect on the brave character-actors who have paved the way.
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