[Robert De Niro image courtesy of Shutterstock. Used with permission.]
A big milestone today in Hollywood for Robert De Niro, who, after nearly 50 years is one of Tinseltown’s most revered and vaunted cinematic heirlooms: the filmdom pioneer who remains of the slim few of his generation who bridges the gap of Old Hollywood and the New Hollywood, which he was hugely instrumental in helping shape, turns 70 years old.
Born on August 17, 1943 in New York City, Robert De Niro’s career spans an arc over many different eras and tastes in American history, film history, and world history. He has made an absolute and finite art of the character of the tough guy, who harbors an emotionally stilted, bottled-up rage inside the color of the darkest of spectrums, within his characters. His style is from an old school, yet a school which teaches the approach of its technique well into the perpetuity. The man’s resume is like a rundown of some of the all-time top American films. With influence that runs deep like an electrical current to all involved with cinema, be it his co-workers, craftsmen, artists, and fans, Robert De Niro sits high atop a mighty short shortlist of actors who have reached zeniths again and again and continue to stimulate, accentuate, gravitate, and mediate to all parties involved in the Tinseltown game.
He puts films out today at a much faster clip than his halcyon years, when each title released (within about 2 years or so of each other), like Mean Streets, Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull, were like epic events, and are thusly to this day still revered as much. Today, however, it seems like he’s in three pictures a year. And while some of them has not been of the kind of highest pulpy standard and quality of his seminal work, it keeps De Niro in the public eye, and just his presence brings the film to stratospheric levels, even if the payoff comes up blank most of the time, contemporarily. But it’s totally acceptable for a man who is just still enjoying transmitting and receiving the joy of what acting is and does for the performer, the kind of cathartic release in which the fantasy land one goes into combined with the branches of reality creates a kind of stardust in the eyes synergism that when done successfully by people like De Niro and much of his generation (Pacino, Hackman, Duvall, etc.), it becomes a kind of river deep, mountain high intensity. When we see De Niro in his silver hot wire element on screen, we see mirrored, surreal reflections of our darkest fringes of the soul, manifested on screen in sequences and characterizations that are usually found salvation by the film’s end, by way of extreme violence which acts as the metaphoric balm and liniment.
Films usually are the cotton swabs to the raw exposed nerves that exist in life, with the New York actor’s approach (usually in pictures helmed by directorial swashbuckler Martin Scorsese), the safety pins are firmly applied in the skin, by the course of the picture, the cotton swabs are used to dab the bloodshed. It is because of this raw, naked totally immersed exposing of the characters Robert De Niro manifests time and time on screen again (Johnny Boy from Mean Streets, Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, Jake La Motta in the rollercoaster of a biopic Raging Bull, Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy) that endears him to not only the everyman in the world, but the afflicted, crippled, emotionally frayed individual everymen as its core, and then ripple effects to the rest of his fan base. And now, as he enters his seventieth year, his dimensions of roles can be even further expanded as he can now play individuals tormented or afflicted perhaps by the ticking hands of the clock forcing the autumn years upon one’s self. Regardless, the moxie will still remain there, the fire-breathing approach of the way De Niro parlays himself on screen. That will never diminish even as the notches on the hourglass keep presenting themselves.
So today celebrate the works of one of the monarchs of the filmic industry, a true spark to a flame and one of the most original spectacles of an actor the world has ever seen, the marvel to behold on screen, the rare once-in-a-blue-moon talent, Robert De Niro. Happy 70th, Bob!