Short Starts is a column devoted to kicking off the week with a short film, typically one tied to a new release. Today we look at an early performance by John Hawkes, star of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which opens in limited release this Friday.
John Hawkes is one of those actors you forget has been around for 25 years, because he's just now getting a lot of exposure. It's almost as if he was as fresh as his "Martha Marcy May Marlene" costar Elizabeth Olsen, yet he's been in movies since before she was born. I was reminded of his long resume last week, when Moviefone's Mike Ryan posted an uncomfortable interview snippet about the actor's appearance in 1988's "Johnny Be Good." Around the same time, the now-Oscar-nominated Hawkes starred in a surreal short work by pre-"Bill and Ted" Alex Winter that also features the acting debut of Gibby Haynes and the rest of Butthole Surfers. Depending on where you're looking, it's titled either "Bar-B-Que Movie" or "Entering Texas."
Shot on Super 8, the 11-minute film is described most places as a spoof of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," but I think that's a useless comparison. Hawkes plays the patriarch of a three-member family on a road trip vacation who wind up at a cookout hosted by an insane clan of cannibals, but the rural Texas setting and the preferred diet of the antagonists are the only shared elements. One thing that's fun about the short is that while it's meant to showcase Butthole Surfers -- and they do get a big moment where they perform "Fast" (a.k.a. "Fart Song") -- the spotlight is primarily on Hawkes. At first he's just an off-camera voice, because his character is the one filming this home video, but he soon makes his way on screen to be beaten by the camera and act loopier than you've ever seen him.
Watch the short after the jump.
This early stint reminds me of the short featuring Michael Shannon I posted a couple weeks ago. Before they're well known, great character actors tend to do very nutty stuff, which is probably helpful in gaining them easy notice, even if it's through gross, manic and possibly embarrassing means of stealing a scene. In "Mullitt," Shannon is wonderfully wacky as a crack addict, and here Hawkes is equally hilarious as a man who goes crazy after being drugged and fed his own son. The fast-talking bit is especially awesome, presenting young Hawkes' comic talents as a flexible-faced combo of Jerry Lewis and John Moschitta, Jr. It's weird that nowadays he's often a straight man in comedy, such as in "Eastbound and Down," or in serious roles like "MMMM."
After this short, Hawkes reunited with Winter for a film in which they played brothers (I think), Percy Adlon's "Rosalee Goes Shopping" (see them together here). And then Hawkes costarred as Cowboy in Winter's fantastic 1993 cult comedy "Freaked," though most of his role consisted of his face being hidden by a cow mask. Here he is in that part below:
It's been a while, so I'd love to see Winter and Keanu Reeves (who was also in "Freaked" and costarred with Hawkes in "Hardball") find a silly role for the actor in the next "Bill and Ted" movie.