Rickman Rocked It (From Hogwarts to CBGB)

Today, news of Alan Rickman’s death flooded the internet, just days after David Bowie’s passing.

He played in many sf/fantasy films, including Galaxy Quest and as Snape in the Harry Potter movies. He also did films that had a more magic-realist spin–including the sweet Truly, Madly, Deeply, where he plays the ghost of a woman’s dead love who returns to her.  And his Hans Gruber was the best 1980s action-movie villain, period.

The last thing I saw him in was a rock and roll film: CBGB. He played the legendary club owner, Hilly Kristal, who gave New York’s early punk bands a place to play before the music had a following. The film shows him discovering The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Dead Boys, and other punk legends.

Rickman’s understated portrayal of Hilly made the film worth watching. He’s a guy who looks beaten before he ever started, who never shows enthusiasm even when he’s seeing something that he knows is amazing and ground-breaking. That’s a hard role to pull off. He nails it, suggesting a guy who admires these weird band’s enthusiasm and thrill of liberation, even though he’s not buying completely buying into their shtick.

The movie as a whole isn’t great, which is probably why it won’t be mentioned in many Rickman obituaries. As you can see from the trailer below, there are far too many moments where the dialogue seems lifted from a rock journalism  primer. But Rickman holds it together.

I think Rickman is one of those actors who could switch between the broad, elegant theatrical mode (a la Shakespearean drama) and the American film minimalist acting mode unerringly. His CBGB performance is definitely the latter. It’s worth a watch, especially if you’ve loved his work in the fantasy genre and want to see how he handles a rock bio-pic.





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