Thursday, April 19, 2012

Glengarry Glen Ross: 20 Years of Fuck You, Boss Man

By Steve Evans

Since the dawn of cinema, movies have always offered catharsis for a receptive audience. I might even argue that emotional release is one of the most appealing aspects of enjoying good films.

We want our heartstrings tugged occasionally. We instinctively root for the underdog to prevail. We demand thrills and excitement. Sometimes we want provocative cinema that makes us see our world in new ways, with clarity.

And sometimes we want our cinematic heroes to vent their profound frustration on our behalf, because we share their anger.

Aristotle taught us that the resolution of a problem is the essence of drama. Tension is the typical sensation that grips us when the problem could not conceivably become worse. This is vital to a good Act III climax, when all the troubles of the world come down on our hero.

Will he prevail? Can he win? Does the enemy get away with his treachery?

Ah, but the best dramas deal in complex questions that seldom yield easy black & white answers.

Playwright David Mamet understands this simple truth perhaps as well as any writer working in the performing arts today. His Pulitzer prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross represents the penultimate example of desperate working men whose efforts to sell unwanted real estate bring their individual characteristics into sharp focus. One man will give up. The office hotshot will persevere and sell the company’s dirt no matter what. The men in the middle will choose varied paths on their own appointed destinies to self-destruction when the real estate company, known only as Mitch & Murray, forces these salesmen into a do-or-die and ultimately unwinnable sales contest:

“First prize is a new Cadillac. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”

Director James Foley’s 1992 film adaptation of the Mamet play resulted in an underperforming picture, in terms of box office, that in the 20 years since its release has become recognized as a small classic of cinema’s machismo genre. The once-in-a-lifetime ensemble cast includes Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey and Alan Arkin, with Alec Baldwin in the memorable role of a venal sales motivator who outlines the ludicrous monthly office sales contest.

Sam Peckinpah’s Western masterpiece The Wild Bunch (1969) covers similar thematic turf -- desperate men at the end of the line -- although Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a more direct ancestor to Glengarry Glen Ross.

My enduring admiration for this film continues to build with each viewing. I realized some years ago that the appeal of Glengarry Glen Ross has much to do with the fact that I can relate, on some level, to virtually every character. This is because every boss I have ever worked for in my 20+ years as a writer has been either a goddamned idiot or a degenerate sonofabitch, devoid of any redeeming quality except for his tendency to take an occasional vacation and get the hell out of the office so the rest of us could work.

I have felt the relentless pressure to reach ridiculous profit objectives. I have listened in contempt during staff meetings when some microcephalic cretin protested a proposed course of action with the pathetically lame observation that “we’ve never done that before.” My response has always been: “Yes, that’s why it’s going to work.”

Four years ago, I turned my back on the corporate world and started my own business. It was the second greatest decision of my life. Marrying my wife Claudia ranks as the first. I still deal with people in the business world, all over the world, although it’s on a contractual basis favorable to my own needs and objectives. Working for yourself affords these benefits. It is with this happy observation in mind that I recall Al Pacino’s breathtaking riposte into office manager Kevin Spacey near the end of Glengarry Glen Ross. Pacino's rant is catharsis, defined. It is a celebration of every profane thought that honest people will admit they harbor toward their stupid employers through every interminable moment of the working life.

Yes, Pacino’s character may not speak for everyone, especially those who live in fear or who are unencumbered by deep thought, but in delivering Mamet’s choice dialog he most certainly speaks for me, right now, as I proffer a hearty “fuck you” to every miserable fool of a boss I ever endured during my tenure in the insanity that is corporate Amerika:

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2012 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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