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Fast-Walking (1982)

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Fast-Walking (1982)

Over 20 years before Twitter banned conservative, award-winning actor James Woods for his controversial tweets and The Gersh Agency dropped him from their client list because of his outspoken views, the Los Angeles Times reported that the actor "can be as brash and politically incorrect in person as he is on screen." Written as a compliment during the premiere of Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) and titled "James Woods is So Good at Being Bad," the L.A. Times profile of the actor concluded that, "few people play as nasty and threatening as well as Woods." Indeed, Woods has made a career playing arrogant, creepy and morally conflicted. Given both his recent inflammatory social media remarks and his oeuvre-- which includes, among many others, a celebrated performance of white supremacist murderer Byron De La Beckwith in Ghosts of Mississippi, a shifty pimp in Casino (1995) and even Roy Cohn in Citizen Cohn (1992)-- it is no wonder that he's secured his place as American pop-culture's "bad guy."

Woods's involvement in James B. Harris's midwestern prison film, Fast-Walking (1982) (also released under the title, The Joint) is often overshadowed by his more prominent roles. Yet, it is a significant precursor to the politically questionable dynamics in which the actor is often entrenched because he not only starred in the film but was also its producer. In it, Woods plays Frank "Fast-Walking" Miniver, a corrupt, but rascally prison guard who regularly smokes marijuana during his shift and runs prostitutes to Mexican laborers out of his cousin Evie's (Susan Tyrrell) convenience store. Frank's other cousin, foul-mouthed and racist Wasco (Tim McIntire), is incarcerated in the same prison and he sells drugs and women to the other inmates with the help of his spunky and seductive girlfriend, Moke (Kay Lenz). When black political prisoner William Galliot (Robert Hooks) arrives at the prison, Wasco plots to have him killed. But Galliot offers Frank $50,000 to have him escape.

Tonally, the film is less that of an action film and more that of a cheeky dramedy, lending itself to exploitation film conventions like explicit sex, sensational violence, car races, rebellion and drug use. These elements paired with a rather screwball soundtrack seems to make light of the racial tension in the prison (targeted murders of black and white inmates) and the precarious position of Galliot. The writer and director, Harris, is best known for his production work for Stanley Kubrick's films, and Fast-Walking might be thought of in terms of influence, particularly dark humor and cinematography. Yet, Harris's film not does not share Kubrick's penetrating mood.

Described by The New York Times as a "prison melodrama of such consistent, proud witlessness that it deserves mention though not attendance," Fast-Walking nevertheless provides an archetypal frame for the particular roles Woods takes on and also for other films about racial justice that rely on a seemingly indifferent white-male anti-hero, like Marc Forster's Monster's Ball (2001) and Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino (2008). Moreover, Fast-Walking might be thought of in terms of contemporary prison reform conversations, as the topic as garnered bipartisan attention in recent years. That actor Robert Hooks is an activist for racial equality in real life, one who pioneered roles for African Americans in theater and in the movies, adds another important layer to the film. Fast-Walking was filmed in Montana, shortly after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens which delayed production. It was distributed by Lorimar Productions, Inc., a subsidiary of Warner Bros.

By Rebecca Kumar

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