Bye, Bye Roy…
Yes, he was 75 and yes, this is the way it happens, but the news of Roy Scheider's death made me so sad last night that his brilliant, sexy, grizzled depiction of the ultimate macho fey Joe Gideon in All That Jazz acquired an extra level of poignancy. Though the movie’s Dexedrine fueled refrain of Gideon facing his sinewy and handsome image in the mirror every morning with “It’s Showtime folks!” still made me smile (I rewatched it, at 3 AM this morning), it was with an even more curious blending of morbidity and freaky inspiration. Maybe it’s not so unhealthy -- maybe that’s how real life is supposed to feel -- self medicated and eyes blazingly alive. Revel in all your mistakes and regret! Fuck 'em if they can’t take a joke! "Bye Bye Life" indeed.
I’m sure this emotional reaction would have been to Bob Fosse's immense delight, and certainly to Scheider’s, whose gritty dose of razz-ma-tazz revealed just what an actor and entertainer he was -- just how much physical presence his ex-boxer, intelligent, malleable mug, body and voice commanded on screen. And dear God that fantastic profile! I fear I’m being effusive but, sincerely, Scheider’s potent masculinity mingling with all those layers of sensitivity makes me so giddy that I can only become depressed. Is there any man like Scheider? On screen or off?
One of the '70s greats (and he was terrific after the 1970’s as well), Scheider's best remembered by the movie-going public for his role as Martin Brody, the gentle yet undaunted police chief in Steven Spielberg's Jaws. I love this performance (would you see anything as natural and lived-in from a monster movie today?) and though his most memorable line is "You're gonna need a bigger boat" (reportedly created by Scheider), one of my favorite moments comes when he asks his kid for a kiss. "Why?" his young son asks. "'Cause I need it," he answers. It's so off the cuff and touching, showing a sad-eyed paternalism that remains strong and healthy and brimming with real love dammit!
But there are so many brilliant Scheider performances that go a little unnoticed and underrated through time. Sorcerer, The French Connection, Marathon Man, Still of the Night, The Seven-Ups, 52 Pick-Up, Naked Lunch and Klute (the film's greatest scene finds Jane Fonda's Bree staggering across a dance floor to the twisted, comforting arms of her pimp Scheider, who grabs her hair, looks into her eyes, then soothes her as only a predatory pimp/daddy figure can -- a genius scene of manipulation that didn't require one word of dialogue -- it makes me insalubriously swoon) are among some of his most outstanding.
Even with his dazzling, womanizing, pill popping triumph in All That Jazz and that iconic showdown with the world’s most famous shark, I can’t think of any bells and whistles and "I’m walking here!" moments associated with Scheider. He typically wasn’t a scene chewer and chose to mark his territory with a unique, subtle (and uniquely subtle) power that was so world-weary and frequently moving (even when playing a psycho) that he resonated with a curious mixture of timeless recognition and absolute mystery. Like how we know ourselves but…not really.
Whatever Scheider was processing when he gazed at our complicated, corrupt world, we’ve similarly attempted to handle (and still do), and like him, we often keep it a secret. He didn’t have to explain any further why he needed that kiss, it was as simple and complex and profound as he stated: "I need it." Everyone needs it.