Originally posted at PopBunker.com, in April 2010.
This is not the post I meant to write.
The post I meant to write was titled Retro Crush: Jeff Goldblum, and included certain musings on three separate films.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension.
Earth Girls Are Easy.
And Mister Frost.
The genesis of the post was this: Yesterday, Chelsea G. Summers, who writes achingly beautiful, brutally honest, and often hysterically funny prose about death, sex and hope, retweeted an observation about Jeff Goldblum.
And I started to wonder – just when did Mr. Goldblum enter my sphere of consciousness?
I went through his IMDB profile, and realized that Transylvania 6-5000 must have been the first thing I saw him in, but I don’t remember crushing on him then.
Buckaroo Banzai would have been next. I saw that in a tiny, makeshift theater at the back of a bar built into, yes, an old movie theater in Laramie, Wyoming, and I loved it. As I remember, though, Perfect Tommy was the object of my adolescent affections, not the darkly affable New Jersey.
Mister Frost I didn’t see until much, much later—on video at a friend’s house. It was, I think, sometime after Jurassic Park hit the theaters, but well before I’d seen Earth Girls Are Easy (which I didn’t catch until years after I’d lost the Julie Brown cassette containing “I’m a Blonde” and “I Like ‘Em Big and Stupid”).
I watched Buckaroo Banzai just a couple of weeks ago (in French, which was very confusing because the voices were all wrong), so yesterday, I settled in to watch Mister Frost (which was never released on DVD in the US, but is available to stream from Netflix), and realized two things:
First, this film deserved a post of its own. (As do Buckaroo Banzai and Earth Girls Are Easy.)
And second, there’s a moment, forty minutes in, that is the moment when I noticed that besides being dark-haired, talented and attractive, Jeff Goldblum is also damned sexy.
He looked like this at the time:
And was about to take over the mind of this unfortunate, and very beautiful, young man:
Mister Frost, you see, is the devil. In this incarnation, he’s killed 24 people—he is, in fact, burying one of them the first time he appears on screen—and managed to get himself committed to a very fancy mental institution called St. Clare’s, where he sets about convincing Doctor Sarah Day of his true identity. As a woman of science, Dr. Day refuses to believe him, and that’s exactly why he’s come. “You took a few years, and undid centuries of effort,” he tells her. “It used to be simple – good on one hand, evil on the other. There was a struggle. We had a game, and yes we made it up. But then you came along—the scientists, the geniuses… You believe in nothing… these days I know you think you don’t need Mister Frost, but where’s your enthusiasm? There’s no passion, there’s no life! I must reveal to the world your impotence in the face of the age-old power of the wild side.”
It’s not, to be honest, the most subtle of films. (We won’t even talk about the inverted crosses—though they are used to good effect near the end of the movie.) It is, however, slick and stylish, with plenty of atmosphere, and it raises some interesting philosophical questions about the nature of evil and the limits of sanity, even as it fails to question the identity of the title character.
The entire cast (an interesting mix of American and European actors, with a memorable cameo by the late, lamented Vincent Schiavelli) turn in good performances—making allowances for some stilted dialogue, often delivered by actors who speak English as a second or third language, and the overall leisurely pace of the film, which undermines any sense of urgency, despite the piles of fresh corpses—and it the director has made an effort to steer the movie toward an ensemble piece. It is not called The Staff of St. Clare’s, though, and for good reason. The story revolves around the character of Mr. Frost, as the film revolves around Jeff Goldblum’s portrayal of the devil himself.
Roger Ebert, I discovered last night, was not as enamored of Mr. Goldblum’s performance as I was. In 1990, he wrote: “When the lights came up after ‘Mr. Frost,’ I was wrestling with a thorny theological question: If Satan chose to reveal himself to man, would he manifest himself as Jeff Goldblum? I ask the question because the Mr. Frost of the title is indeed Satan, and yet possesses all of Goldblum’s usual mannerisms, those little personal tics that I found effective in movies like The Fly but less convincing, somehow, in the devil.”
I see it differently, though. Where a number of actors have played the devil as always slick and charming, Goldblum’s Frost has a shy, boyish charm that tips easily into seductive manipulation, soothing gentleness, frustrated rage or imperious command. He is, by turns, awkward, endearing, ridiculous and terrifying, and—as the devil is often reported to be—he is both repulsive and fascinating.
While I don’t believe that Mister Frost produced any changes in my conception of the cosmic order (and indeed, it shies away from the question of just what God is doing while the devil murders people on Earth), it did create a lasting impression of Jeff Goldblum as something other than an “all-around nice guy”(to quote his premature “Today Show” obituary). And as a result, every performance I’ve seen since then has been colored by the murky blue light of Frost, so that even when he’s infecting an alien spaceship with a Mac-borne virus, I think Jeff Goldblum is a very sexy man—and a very fine actor.