BUST Magazine, Issue #6 (US), Summer / Fall 1995
by Lisa Palac
Did you know that Keanu means "cool breeze over the mountains" in Hawaiian? It also means "warm breeze between my legs" in the pornographic candyland of my subconscious. Not since Madonna have I melted-down so completely in the luminescence of a star. His mezmerizing beauty, of course, was the beginning. Looking at his face is like looking at a Boticelli or watching the snow fall. It's the sense of awe that comes simply from witnessing the beautiful. Sometimes all I have to do is look at him and I feel, wow.
I like his goofball deflections of life's complexity, too, the way things can be totally excellent. And then, not so excellent. His understated alienation and his far-away brown eyes drift off the screen. He doesn't have a place to live, except the Chateau Marmont. Apparently, he acts really weird during interviews. He retreats into manic laughs that cut off into sudden silence. He jumps out of his chair and recites obscure lines of dialogue. He answers the question, "Why do you act?" with "You know, man, whatever." He crashed his Norton a few years ago in Topanga Canyon and it left him with a thick scar that snakes from his navel to his heart. But he's no James Dean. He isn't a bad boy, see. There's no tough shell, no unforgiveables, no edges to soften. He's pretty on the outside. He's like a girl, that way.
Keanu is my boyfriend. Occasionally, I'll get a message on my answeringmachine, sing-songing, "Your boyfriend is on TV tonight in Dangerous Liaisons" or "Your boyfriend is going to be on the next cover of Wired" or "I just heard your boyfriend is making a movie called Feeling Minnesota with your girlfriend, Courtney Love. (Oh, to be sandwiched in the middle of that one). Friends clip and save pictures of Keanu for me like so many coupons. Pictures of him as Prince Siddhartha in Little Buddha, where he has this bad Yul Brynner-as-King-of-Siam makeup happening, but he is mostly unclothed, which is very good. A few GIFs from Speed, old issues of Details, Interview, Buzz, Entertainment Weekly. There is a muddy black and white taken by Gus Van Sant during the making of My Own Private Idaho which I treasure, because Keanu tries so hard, but his honesty gets in the way.
But my favorite is the one where he is wearing a black leather biker vest, unzipped all the way, and black jeans. His hair is parted in the middle and hangs in a sloppy bob just above the chin. He is not smiling. His hands are on his hips, and his hips, I must say, have a bit of baby fat on them. He looks deliciously rough trade, showing off his rather hairless chest, his nipples and most importantly, his scar. For Christmas last year, I got copies of Speed, Point Break and a dub of Life Under Water, a PBS drama starring Keanu and Sarah Jessica Parker. In one scene, he is completely naked -- from the back -- and if you watch it frame by frame, you can glimpse his scar when he turns around. I want to run my tongue up and down the length of that jagged pink road.
Or do I? Do I actually want to see the scar up close, in real life? It might break the spell. The magic is made up of bits of ink stuck to glossy paper, projections on a screen, my dreams. Besides, why risk ruining the illusion when there are plenty of other people out there who are out to ruin it for me?
"He can't act his way out of a paper bag."
"Did you see Dracula? He was pathetic."
"You know what the critics said about his performance as Hamlet? 'At least he remembered all of his lines.'“ Whenever I mention my thing for Keanu to outsiders, it's usually met with the slag, "He can't act." As if my enchantment is supposed to evaporate on the spot when I'm informed he might not be Oscar material.When the no-talent tactic doesn't work, they bring out the big guns: He's stupid in person, his band Dogstar is shit and he's a fag on top of it all. The level of hostility is impressive. They're hell-bent on convincing me he sucks. They attempt Keanu-intervention.
Keanu can act. Granted, some films are better than others and he is the first to admit it. "I didn't give a performance," he told Newsweek, referring to Dracula. Oh, so what. He was amazing in River's Edge, the story of a group of disaffected teenagers who discover one of them has killed his girlfriend. His character is stoned, streaked with compassion and troubled that he can feel so much nothing for what is going on. Is it a great performance, or is he just playing himself? Does it matter?
His performance in Speed is good. My only complaint is that there was no gratuitous male nudity. After all of those death-defying, sweat-soaked adventures, didn't Keanu need to take a nice long shower? Or when he was under the bus, dismantling the bomb, why didn't his shirt get ripped off so we could drool over his scar and newly buffed torso?
I believe the "He Can't Act" vitriol is a symptom of something else. Do we really want to have a discussion about actors in Hollywood who can't act? Let me bring out my list. Kim Basinger. Matt Dillon. Tom Cruise. Demi Moore. Elvis Presley. But to be fair, they've all had a shining moment or two. Well, except for Kim Basinger. Perhaps we really want to talk about the envy and the unfairness of it all; that someone is making millions of dollars with their good looks and we're not. Ah, the aroma of jealousy fills the room. Not surprisingly, the rancor comes mainly from straight guys. They can dismiss his acting, but they can't dismiss his beauty. In fact, they can't even allow themselves to recognize it long enough to reject it because they might wake up the next morning with the letters h-o-m-o branded on their forehead.
Now there have been good-looking screen idols who have received the seal of approval: Brando, Newman, McQueen. Even dolls like Luke Perry or Johnny Depp get the gree night. But they have the cool cachet of virility beyond their pretty faces. Keanu, on the other hand, is not the Marlboro man. Not simply because of his exotic comeliness, but because of his innocence. Innocence, particularly sexual innocence, isn't what makes a man. Innocence is for children. Innocence is for girls. Or sissies. Obviously Keanu, blessed with the right cheekbones, a heavy dose of naivete and an enigmatic sexuality, must have slept his way to the top. ...
Is he stupid in person? I've never met anyone who knows him in real life, so I wanted to see for myself. I flew to LA to see his band Dogstar play at the Hollywood American Legion on Highland Ave. "I have restrained the rage of the dogstar," wrote Samuel Johnson, the famous 18th century writer and lexicographer. What kind of rage does Keanu restrain? I wondered.
I invited my friend Cintra and her boyfriend Kevin to join me. I was buying. How could they refuse? As expected, Kevin pulled out the stops about how lame Keanu was in the acting and brains department. But my loyalty wouldn't budge. ...
The crowd was a mix of Melrose Place chicklets with perfectly penciled and tweezed eyebrows, kneesocks and brown lipstick from MAC; big-hair Valley babes in white heels flashing teeth at their pinky ring dude escorts; club hipsters and white people with dreadlocks wearing flannel. Interestingly, I noticed a fairly large contingent of Boho guys. Were they simply the boyfriends of the girlfriends who dragged them there? Maybe they were there to see the first band.
The minute Keanu walked on stage and picked up his bass, the females started screaming. He wore a baggy black t-shirt and black jeans. A sea of short girls lapped at the front of the stage, giving me a continuously unobstructed view of Keanu, but I still couldn't see his shoes, which would have given me much additional non-verbal information about his character. If only Keanu was into stage-diving and I could touch my Object of Desire. Touch. It's the mythical action that passes along the currency of soul and hopefully leaves atrail of charm dust on your fingertips.
Keanu was gee-whiz gracious to his fans. Smiling, accepting their demo tapes, and thanking them. They threw flowers; I should have thrown my panties at him. Instead, I quietly enjoyed my buzz. This tingly sensation of, there he is. The boy in the pictures. It was like the first time I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I'd seen reproductions of it for years and then, finally, the real thing. Keanu was even more beautiful in real life. But the beauty trip only lasted about 20 minutes and then I came down. The band sucked.
They were beyond suck. The mix was so muddy, Dogbreath could have played the same chord all night and no one would have noticed. ... Much to Keanu's credit, however, he did not head-bang or make rock-and-roll face. He only sang one tune, the barely decipherable "Isabelle." Cintra claimed the lyrics were, "Isabelle/Is a spell." Man, like that is so deep.
After the show, we all walked back to the car. "So, did you get a moistie?" Kevin asked. It's the girl version of a boner.
"Yeah, I did. Did you?"
"Well, if I had to suck a dick, it would probably be Keanu's. He really is beautiful." The smart ones, they eventually come around.
Keanu's the lucky one who will always get the girl (or boy) in the end because he's so incredibly beautiful. Manly, yes, but a bit of a dork. A bit of a femme, too. I like to imagine him taking a bath by candlelight, filling his place with roses, crying and finding beauty in melancholy, saying fuck you to failure and then asking me to lick the blood off his face after a fight. He ain't always got something to prove, but I bet he could prove it all night if he wanted to. But what do I know? All I have are the pictures.