My World of Flops Spacey Oddity Case File #104/My Year of Flops II #1 : Kevin Spacey's Let Me Be Frank
What do you do when society as a whole has collectively and definitively cancelled you? How do you move forward when you’re so toxic that your colleagues and coworkers are called upon to publicly condemn you, lest they appear complicit in your transgressions? What’s the next step after it’s determined that your crimes are so extreme, unforgivable and distracting that you’re cut out of a movie that has already been finished and replaced by an actor who goes on to be nominated for an Academy Award for his heroic work rescuing a troubled production from your sinister and, frankly, unacceptable presence?
What’s the next chess move when you’re so hated that the television show that resurrected your career and that you in turn helped make an iconic hit decides to proceed for a final season only in your absence, killing your character so that it might live? How do you face each morning knowing that simply seeing you in your previously fabulously successful career as a theater, television and film actor is enough to ruin previously beloved movies and television shows, to trigger unwanted, deeply painful associations with sexual harassment and assault?
What do you do when decades of dark whispers and gossip about you being a handsy sexual predator explode into a firestorm of accusations, kicked off by a beloved Rent star, spurred by the avalanche of damning revelations and accusations of the #MeToo movement, accusing you of attempted sexual assault when he was fourteen years old?
What do you do when your career is essentially over and, for the first time in your shadowy, secret-filled existence, your malevolent double life, there are criminal charges being filed against you for trying to force yourself on an unwilling eighteen year old? How do you win “your” public back when news of your heinous sex crimes, including attempted child rape, makes it necessary for a Content Warning for sexual assault and harassment to accompany your hopelessly tarnished, scandal-plagued name?
If you’re Kevin Spacey, star of such films as K-Pax and Pay It Forward, you grab granny’s camcorder from the attic sometime around Christmastime and decide to make a fun little three minute long Youtube video that should finish killing what’s left of your career.
The video, entitle “Let Me Be Frank” and uploaded to Youtube by Spacey himself the same day that formal charges for Felony Sexual Assault were filed against him, represents far and away the shortest subject for a My World of Flops piece. But it played out so disastrously for the actor and says so much about his wildly unsuccessful, decades-long crusade to win the public’s love that I figured the video merited a very deep dive into a seemingly bottomless pool of ego, self-delusion and arrogance.
When the video dropped the question on everyone’s mind was “Why?” Why would someone savvy and guileful enough to have risen to positions of incredible power and prominence in film, television and theater be self-destructive, eccentric and self-deluded enough to release something so damning?
The answer has a lot to do with the way Spacey sees himself and his relationship to the public, and his inveterately doomed attempt to make the world fall in love with him as an entertainer and a celebrity and not just respect him as an artist.
Even for an actor, Spacey is emotionally needy. Spacey has consistently illustrated a need not just for constant validation but for something closer to rapturous adoration.
Early in his career, Spacey reportedly tried his hand at stand-up and while he ultimately chose the path of the Juliard-trained thespian, he clearly never lost the comedian’s bone-deep neuroses, insecurity, and desperate need for the laughter and approval of the crowd.
To that end, Spacey tried to wow, dazzle and bowl over the public not just with his gifts as an actor but also with impressions of acting heroes like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, colorful anecdotes that felt just a little too good to be true and even song and dance.
Spacey was the whole package, baby! He could do it all, and do it well, if he said so himself. How could you not be charmed? How could you not be entertained? How could you not love a guy who so clearly loved himself, and was so generous, even gratuitous, about sharing his gifts with the world?
Spacey clearly did not want a career like Christopher Plummer, the man who would end up replacing him in All the Money in the World, to much acclaim and an Oscar nomination, but rather the career of people like Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Stewart.
Despite Spacey’s conception of himself as a lovable leading man, the oily probable sex criminal was typecast as a bad guy, a villain and a supporting player early in his career for a very good reason. He’s an extremely unlikable performer. As an actor, Spacey just doesn’t naturally convey arrogance and intelligence: he conveys the intimidating, belligerent, badgering intelligence of someone who knows exactly how smart they are and is a total asshole about it. That’s what made Spacey’s casting in The Usual Suspects so inspired: Spacey’s brilliant assholes use their ferocious intelligence as a sometimes deadly weapon. They act as if the rules that govern the actions of mere mortals do not apply to them because they’re smarter, sharper, better, more evolved and civilized than the rest of us.
Spacey was a natural for roles like bosses from hell (Swimming With Sharks, Horrible Bosses), an ambitious serial killer with a philosophy (Seven) and a brilliant criminal mastermind (The Usual Suspects).
Then in 1999 the worst possible thing happened to Spacey’s career: he won the Best Actor Oscar for the iconically shitty blockbuster American Beauty. The film industry was unwisely feeding into Spacey’s delusional sense of himself as a man the public was eager to root for and identify with rather than enthusiastically boo.
Despite what Spacey might want to believe, the public did not fall in love with him as a human midlife crisis in American Beauty so much as they rooted against Annette Bening’s misogynistic nightmare wife.
The movies that Spacey made after American Beauty illustrated that he tragically misunderstood the nature of his appeal in ways that would plant the seeds for “Let Me Be Frank.”
Spacey decided, in his ignorance and his arrogance, that he, rather than someone like Robin Williams would be perfect to play a lovable oddball mental hospital resident who thinks he’s a space alien in K-Pax. Spacey similarly imagined that the public’s love for him was so deep that he could get away with playing Bobby Darin in 2004’s Beyond the Sea despite the actor being, at 45, nearly a decade older than Darin was when he died at 37.
Spacey seemed to think that the child-like faith and belief of the moviegoing public could will Spacey into being young enough to play the complicated lounge lizard turned hippie folkie without it seeming ridiculous.
Spacey was adrift before House of Cards brought him back by offering him a juicy role smack-dab in his wheelhouse of arrogant, charismatic, larger-than-life bastards. Spacey has spent a whole lot of his career talking to audiences, often in the form of narration delivered directly to the camera, in his biggest, most beloved roles in American Beauty, The Usual Suspects and House of Cards. Spacey’s bond to his public is so strong that even his character’s death in American Beauty did not keep him from serving as narrator, jabbering at us about life’s elusive meaning from beyond the grave.
Spacey as Frank Underwood attempts a similar feat in “Let Me Be Frank”, one of the weirdest, saddest and most fascinating amateur fan films ever made. It finds the arrogant actor reprising his House of Cards role of Frank Underwood for a three minute, seven second long monologue delivered directly to the camera while wearing a Christmas apron in which Spacey, through Underwood, comments bitterly and angrily on both the demise of his House of Cards character and his own dramatic, exceedingly public fall from grace.
Spacey as Underwood greets us as an intimate confidante who has been by his side for a good half decade while he did his sinister deeds. He’s a villain to be sure, and a scoundrel but also someone who has, in his own strange way always been true to us, the audience, his audience, people so mesmerized by Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood that they’ll happily lap him up in this bootleg, degraded yet inflated form.
I’ve read comments asking if Netflix was involved in the release of “Let Me Be Frank” and figured that was roughly as likely as Michael Jordan and Nike being officially involved in a behind the scenes capacity making Space Jam-themed furry porn.
I’m guessing that at this point the streaming giant is feeling very bad and guilty about their decision to do business extensively with Kevin Spacey. The last thing they want to do is to get back in bed with Spacey, to respond to a theoretical outpouring of public support for the Nine Lives star by rebooting the show with him back in the lead and, I suppose, also back from the dead. But as Frank mentions here pointedly, did we really see Frank’s corpse? No, we did not, and considering that we are, at that very moment, watching a seemingly non-zombified Frank Underwood talk to us in a non ghost-like fashion we can’t help but assume that—HOLY SHIT—Frank Underwood is still alive, Kevin Spacey should DEFINITELY still be playing him and furthermore we should give actor Kevin Spacey the benefit of the doubt regarding the many, many charges of sexual assault and harassment made against him (there are more than a dozen) because Spacey is a great actor and storyteller who has alway been honest and forthright with us about who he is and how he sees the world and operates in his real life through his iconic portrayals of lying, evil sociopathic criminals with dark, sinister secret lives.
Spacey as Underwood is saying to us, clear as day, “If I were such a bad guy, which I am, and did the horrible things I am accused of, would I be talking to you now about what a bad guy I am and how I did horrible things? Of course not. The fact that I am a bad person guilty of horrible crimes PROVES that I am innocent of certain crimes and ultimately vindicates me!”
Spacey’s peculiar brand works very hard to sell the Oscar winner as a razzle-dazzle entertainer with a powerful, direct line to his adoring fans but also as an ACTOR, a thespian, someone skilled in the dramatic arts, a classically trained craftsman of the highest order.
At his most self-parodic, Spacey isn’t just an actor, he’s a goddamned ridiculous cartoon of an egotistical star of the stage and screen. That’s Spacey here. He might as well punctuate the whole ridiculous, tragicomic performance with a lusty howl of “ACTING!” like Jon Lovitz in those great old Saturday Night Live sketches.
Spacey’s bizarre piece of performance art begins with him washing and drying his hands while wearing an instantly iconic Santa Claus apron. Then the actor’s lizard-like gaze fixes on us, his adoring audience, House of Cards super-fans, people who visit the disgraced actor’s Youtube channel for whatever reason, people somehow desperate to hear Spacey’s side of the story rather than the preponderance of damning evidence against him.
Spacey begins by re-affirming his bond with the audience, a connection he delusionally imagines is so strong that we’ll take out a scale of judgment and place fresh charges of, among other things, trying to sexually assault a fourteen year old on one side and our enjoyment of Spacey’s performances in movies such asThe Ref on the other and they’ll come out more or less even.
This is not subtext. It’s text. Spacey as Underwood starts off by whispering into our collective ear, “I know what you want. Oh sure, they might have tried to separate us, but what we have is too strong, too powerful.”
There’s something heartbreaking about the naked desperation of these words. There’s something tragicomic about their wounded, child-like belief that what has been hopelessly shattered into a million pieces, namely Spacey’s reputation and relationship with Netflix/House of Cards/House of Cards fans, can magically be put back together through the magic of ACTING!
Spacey wants to believe that his connection with his audience is strong that it transcends everything, including the public’s revulsion at the nature and extent of the crimes he’s accused of.
Spacey seems to think he can do an end run around an industry that has judged him unemployable, and a media that has done its job following Anthony Rapp’s allegations and written about the allegations against the actor by appealing directly to his public through his chosen medium, ACTING!
Louis CK clearly also imagines that he can avoid the scowling judgment of a media and entertainment establishment that has responded to his comeback with angrily folded arms, scowling faces and an overall attitude of “Oh hell no!” by popping up unexpectedly out of the dark and giving unsuspecting ladies a fright and a laugh with his confessional (but not too confessional, of course! Gotta keep some spicy secrets from the public for the sake of your image and career!) brand of stand-up comedy during unannounced drop-ins at comedy clubs.
Alternately, CK might be able to move to Europe, where his new “American women are so uptight that you can’t even abuse your power and privilege by masturbating in front of them for a period of decades, then lying about it without suffering serious repercussions!” hour would undoubtedly kill.
Or maybe it would be received like “Let Me Be Frank”, which continues with Spacey/Underwood reaching through the fourth wall to confide in us, “After all, we shared everything, you and I. I told you my deepest, darkest secrets. I showed you exactly what people are capable of.”
Sounding every bit the smarmy politician he implores, “I shocked you with my honesty but mostly I challenged you and made you think. And you trusted me, even though you knew you shouldn’t.” Spacey continues before infamously lifting an empty mug to his lips to drink from thin air.
Growing more intense and undeservedly confident with each methodically delivered word and hammy sentiment, Spacey/Underwood insists, despite AMPLE evidence to the contrary, “So we’re not done, no matter what anyone says and besides, I KNOW what you want.”
This is not the first time in the video where it would seem weirdly appropriate, even fitting for sleazy stripper music to come on and for Spacey to start seductively taking off his clothes while purring in a comically sultry voice, “You want to see Santa’s yule log, don’t you?!? Well you’ve all been naughty AND nice so I’m going to give you all a good look at daddy Frank's candy cane!”
But no, Spacey/Underwood merely strikes multiple inappropriately sexual notes before continuing, in an orgy of paranoia and self-pity worthy of another President Spacey portrayed, Richard Nixon, “You want me back. Of course some have believed everything and have waited with baited breath for me to confess it all. They’re just dying to have me declare that everything said was true and that I got what I deserved. Wouldn’t that be easy?”
At this point in the video Spacey/Underwood is carving something for emphasis, and, I suppose, to give him something to do with his hands while his brain and words spiral into madness.
Spacey/Underwood sternly insists, “But we both know it’s not that simple, not in politics and not in life.”
At this point, Kevin Spacey, a man accused of over a dozen sex crimes, who has been more or less been shunned from society, and Frank Underwood, a villainous fictional dead character Spacey played, turn the tables and begin pointing an accusatory finger our way.
Spacey isn’t afraid to ask who the real criminal is, the guy who tried to have drunken sex with a fourteen year old in addition to a plethora of other allegations, or you, a person seemingly inclined to judge Spacey harshly without a proper criminal trial where he and a highly paid defense team could present the strongest possible legal defense? So, in a way, maybe YOU should face criminal charges instead of Spacey.
Speaking with the kind of unimpeachable moral authority that comes with being accused of heinous and extensive sex crimes, Spacey/Underwood jabs an accusatory finger into the chest of the public, needling us, “You wouldn’t believe the worst without evidence, would you? You wouldn’t RUSH to judgment without facts, would you? DID you? No, not you! You’re smarter than that.”
Sounding increasingly Southern, Spacey/Underwood drones on, “Anyway, all that presumption made for such an unsatisfying ending. And to think, it could have been such a memorable send-off! I mean, if you and I have learned nothing else these past few years, it’s that in life and art nothing should be off the table. We weren’t afraid. Not of what we said or what we did and we’re still not afraid. Because I can promise you this. If I didn’t pay the price for the things we both know I did do, I’m certainly not going to pay the price for the things I didn’t do. Oh of course they’re going to say I’m being disrespectful, not playing by the rules. Like I ever played by anyone’s rules before! I never did and you loved it.”
Spacey/Underwood is clearly talking about the actor with the dead career and the dead character he played and is somehow, inexplicably still playing, sort of, when he says, “Oh of course they’re going to say I’m being disrespectful, not playing by the rules. Like I ever played by anyone’s rules before! I never did and you loved it.” The key difference is that the rules Spacey didn’t play by, according to the allegations against him, are those involving the age of consent and consent in general. I don’t think anybody other than fans of pedophiles loved it when Spacey reportedly decided that the rules governing how old a person must be before you can have sex with them did not apply to him, being such a rapscallion and all.
Sounding more than a little like Colonel Sanders, Spacey/Underwood further blusters, “Anyhow, despite all the poppycock, the animosity, the headlines, the impeachment without a trial, despite everything, despite even my own death, I feel surprisingly good. And my confidence grows each day that soon enough you will know the full truth.”
Spacey/Underwood then stops and, as if startled by the magnitude of what he’s about to reveal, by the power of his revelation, continues, “Wait a minute. Now that I think of it. You never saw me die, did you? Conclusions can be so deceiving! Miss me?”
Spacey/Underwood then leaves the kitchen and the video to a dramatic musical sting suggesting that we’re ending on a cliffhanger and that we’ll be seeing more of Spacey/Underwood in the not too distant future.
I should reiterate here that everything that I just described happens in three minutes and seven seconds, including lots and lots of dramatic pauses devoid of words but chockfull of the ACTING! Spacey has become legendary for.
I don’t want to minimize the incredible serious nature of the allegations about Spacey. But Spacey always struck me as a bit of a Keyser Soze type. I don’t know why, but when I think of that Machiavellian schemer Spacey’s face and voice immediately spring to mind. So maybe Spacey is similarly a criminal mastermind and he made this video to use as evidence that he’s not guilty by reason of insanity for whatever future crimes he’s charged with. On that level, “Let Me Be Frank” might just qualify as an unqualified success. The man on it really does appear to have lost the plot. It’s an act, to be sure, or maybe it isn’t?
Besides, the media can only really handle one idea at a time, and at the time of its release “Spacey Releases Bizarre Youtube Video” morbidly fascinated the press and public in a way “Oscar-winner Spacey Charged With Felony Sexual Assault” did not. “Let Me Be Frank” may be deeply, unforgettably, career-definingly bizarre and terrible but it distracted a public already inclined to think the worst of Spacey, an actor they strongly dislike, from even worse news and even worse headlines.
As I write this, Let Me Be Frank has been viewed over six and a half million times. Those are six and a half million all too revealing glimpses into Spacey’s psyche, ego and myopic sense of self-delusion. In the space of just over three minutes Spacey did significant, even fatal damage to a career that was already hanging on by the thinnest of threads.
Consider Let Me Be Frank the Zapruder films of disgraced movie star Youtube videos. Only in this case it’s the actor’s flailing career that’s being killed onscreen in front of the whole world instead of John F. Kennedy.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Fiasco
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