Let me take a break from the book world and admit to something that always becomes painfully obvious with films: I’ve got a thing for the bad guys– or better said, a weird infatuation with the cheesy villains.
I was reminded of this probably-disturbing fact last night when I finally got around to watching Spartacus (the Kubrick version). Crush on shirtless Kirk Douglas? No way! I was made aware, through the schmaltzy haze of ’60s nefariousness, that Laurence-Olivier-as-Crassus was downright hot, even as I was laughing at the scene that, back in the day, had people titillated with scandal. (Said minute or so pretty much boiled down to our patrician jerk letting his valet know, with Shakespearean-actor accent, that he buttered his bread on both sides, and wanted to encourage the incorruptible young Antoninus to join him in celebrating that fact.)
But anyway. It wasn’t the first time I found myself thinking I should pass my torch-bearing for scoundrels by a shrink; in spite of his ridiculous hair, Lucius Malfoy is delicious in every Harry Potter film he slinks through, and even Alan Rickman becomes attractive as the Sheriff of Nottingham (had his ‘do been slightly less greasy as Snape, I could easily have fallen for that weirdo, too). And need I mention Toby Stephens starring in the Masterpiece Theatre version of Jane Eyre: the hottest Rochester ever? (OK, so “bad guy” probably wouldn’t really apply to him, being a reformed scoundrel and all– but he still bears that lovely veneer of naughtiness.)
Part of my cinematic crushing may have to do with the fact that these guys are, for the most part, just more interesting than the heroes (Harry Potter accepted, methinks). Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, Kirk Douglas’s Spartacus: meh. Sheriff of Nottingham accepted, the boys in black could probably carry on some educated and witty conversation, (1) and provide some excellent meals to boot. (Admittedly: the fact that the latter, at least, would most likely be the product of others’ unwilling labor would cast an overwhelming, deal-breaking pall over well-aged wine paired brilliantly with dinner.)
The heroes are often just so one-dimensionally upstanding, they end up getting on your nerves in the same way in which a certain type of super-healthy amateur triathlete does, bright-eyed and unable to converse about anything other than his 20-k daily run and his zeal for cutting carbs and joy out of his diet, leaving you and your own dumb reasonable workout feeling morally inferior and lazy, somehow.
The same villain-love doesn’t happen in literature, though, maybe because the written word– when it’s good, and I have very little patience for it when it’s bad– provides enough nuance to turn good guys less dopey, and bad guys less suave. Given cinema’s apparent need to crush almost everything down to an under-two-hour narrative– and American cinema’s particular mandate to value special effects and airbrushing over story– I can only imagine how difficult it must be to produce a truly rounded character in film. And that may be part of what’s kept me devouring literature non-stop my entire life, and being increasingly picky about what I watch on screen. Then again, we’ve got multiple more centuries’ worth to choose from, when it comes to options in literature.
Anyway. I’ll just tuck back into a book now (currently António Lobo Antunes’ Fado Alexandrino, which so far, contains zero literary crushes and a lot of moral damage and hurt), and pay more attention, the next time I go in for a movie version of good vs. evil.
(1) Although anyone who remembers that un-great film will recall that our corrupt law enforcer did have some cleverness about him, at least more than his henchmen, to whom he had to explain why cutting someone’s heart out with a spoon was more of a threat than doing so with a massive weapon. Note, too, that this brand of sophisticated villain eliminates outright frat-guy-esque abusers, such as The Karate Kid‘s Johnny, or his idiot sensei. Not remotely attractive.