Happy Birthday, Warren Oates

When he smiled, sadness and grief billowed off of him almost visibly. The smile came either out of his pain – whatever that pain was – or was a defense against the pain. Either way, the pain was always there. Either way, I am hard pressed to think of an actor who makes me want to cry when he smiles.

Who replaced him? Who could play those roles now? It’s a moot question because Warren-Oates-roles aren’t written anymore. We have lost a lot in our understanding of human nature with the vanishing of Warren Oates from the screen, because he revealed things about humanity – about men, in particular – that The Powers That Be have a vested interest in suppressing. I don’t mean to sound paranoid. But seriously: perhaps only in the 70s was the burden of masculinity – the burdens of manhood – the LONELINESS of manhood – seriously and deeply explored. This was Warren Oates territory.

That smile. That smile trying to seem jolly and jocular and confident but … you could feel the anguish wafting out of him, beyond his control.

Kim Morgan is the Poet Laureate of Warren Oates. SHer essay on Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is essential reading: there’s been a lot of ink spilled on that film, but Kim’s is the one to read. She wrote and narrated a video-essay on Oates for Criterion’s release of The Shooting/Ride in the Whirlwind. Oates was Monte Hellman’s muse.

Along those lines, I touched on Oates a little bit in my tribute for Monte Hellman in Film Comment.

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7 Responses to Happy Birthday, Warren Oates

  1. Scott Abraham says:

    Warren Oates in Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia: I really can’t imagine anyone else but Warren riding out that nervous breakdown of a movie. Just sheer dirty nasty grim anguish.

    • sheila says:

      Right?? God, that movie …

      I was just talking with someone else (or “talking’ on Instagram) about him and how … he died, and … nobody has replaced him. Part of it is that those types of roles are just not written anymore – and his particular brand of anxiety may be … out of style now? I just don’t know.

      I think – and this is just speculation – I think that his willingness to reveal those deepest darkest parts of the soul – (and it’s universal but I think it’s also specific to men – and maybe specific to men of his generation?) – I think his willingness to do that and to do it so wholly and completely – sets him apart, then and now. People in general don’t want to reveal just how … insecure they are, and unprepared, and … just totally NERVOUS about life. Like, GTO … he’s so slick and smiley – but you SEE all this insecurity and trying to be “cool” to these hot-rod cool cats and … you just ache for the guy. How does he do it, I ask you??

      I am trying to think of anyone who could even approach his performances and Denzel was the only one I came up with – but he too might have insecurities about LIVING in the kind of human weakness that Oates – as tough as he is – was able to do. I have no idea if I’m making any sense.

      Kim wrote an incredible piece on Alfredo Garcia – it’s on her blog – if you Google her name and his you’ll find it.

  2. Scott Abraham says:

    I think Frederic Forrest was supposed to be that guy, but he peaked at the wrong time and place.

  3. José Gabriel Ferreras says:

    The Hired Hand (the three of them together, Fonda. Bloom and Oates): oh-my-god

  4. Bill Wolfe says:

    I remember when I saw Stripes, thinking, “That’s not really a Warren Oates role.” More than that, it felt like a denial of the *idea* of the Warren Oates role – an almost conscious closing down by the movie pashas of the era in which there could *be* Warren Oates roles. And not long after that, he was gone.

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