This post is kind of a thought piece and is only very tangentially related to VDO so you might want to move on if you’re were hoping for something more on point.
Last night ABC TV’s (in the USA) Primetime aired a piece on the actor Daniel Baldwin and his latest attempt to rehabilitate himself from his apparently very long-term addiction to cocaine. For whatever reasons, Daniel let the ABC cameras be turned on him while he spent several months in a $50,000 a month rehabilitation facility in Malibu California and also while he went through various criminal court proceedings on drug-related charges as well as him going on a movie location shoot. The ABC report also delved into his relationships with his family a little bit, especially mentioning Daniel’s also famous actor brothers.
For those who don’t know who Daniel is, he was one of the stars of the highly-regarded US TV series ‘Homicide: Life On The Street’. Daniel played Detective Beau Felton and left the show well before VDO did his Emmy-nominated guest appearance in the H:LOTS episode ‘The Subway’.
Felton was not a very popular character on Homicide. He was not meant to be pretty or brilliant or particularly likeable. But Daniel played Felton well, figuring out how to balance Felton’s repellant qualities and the character’s downward spiral with a sprinkling of humanity that would cause you to soften your initial negative judgment of his worth. That certainly takes some skill on the part of an actor and Daniel Baldwin proved he had the talent to find just the way to play that character.
I for one learned to like the Felton character enough to write a short piece of fan fiction a few years ago that would allow me to combine the Felton character and that of Ned Beatty’s perfectly archetypical cop Detective Stanley Bolander with Detectives Goren and Eames of Criminal Intent fame and play around with some ideas I had into what has turned out to be a not utterly embarassing piece of writing that lingers on the ‘net in the archive of the excellent peer-reviewed fan fiction site Apocrypha (for those who care to read it see “What It Feels Like For A Girl”).
Frankly of the four established characters I was writing for, Felton was the most difficult to make believable and consistent with what most Homicide fans would know about him and yet not appear as a simple strawman or too stereotypically the ‘bad boyish cop’. I don’t think I succeeded totally capturing the complexities of Felton but at some point you have to put an end to a story for it to be published. So you could say I carried the idea of Felton and my conceptions about around in my head for quite some time.
So it was with more than a little interest that I tuned into watch the Daniel Baldwin piece.
In that story I wrote of Felton:
“The younger man is somewhat burly and boyishly attractive, but Goren notes that excess is taking its toll on those inherent good looks and prematurely aging the man”.
You can imagine that my description pretty much fits Daniel Baldwin the man as much as and maybe more so than it fits Felton, especially as he appeared before ABC’s cameras.
At this point in the Primetime show I was utterly hooked into watching in the same way that I was initially hooked into watching VDO’s film ‘Guy’, the story of a relatively ordinary and average man who lets a strange woman filmmaker turn the camera on him to make her next movie. ‘Guy’ to me is a watershed moment in filmmaking not only because it predicts the rise of ‘reality’ television in our culture but because it plays around with the idea that the act of turning a camera on someone causes them to alter their personality and become someone other than they normally would be. Maybe this isn’t acting in the professional sense of the word but it could be called posing or persona building.
The thing that makes a movie like ‘Guy’ different from a ‘reality’ program like Primetime is that it is 100% clear to me that ‘Guy’ is a character being made by Vincent D’Onofrio and being masterfully fashioned into an utterly average guy trying to figure out on the fly who to be before a camera and in the process not only distorting his own identity but how he relates to the films few other characters. I can’t say enough good things about how brilliant D’Onofrio’s performance in ‘Guy’ is, how I am haunted by it when I think of it and how I find much more to thoughtfully consider in it every time I actually watch the film.
Anyhow the ‘Daniel Baldwin’ in front of the Primetime camera struck me as less of a real person and more of a character like ‘Guy’ as the camera rolled on. The TV program does give some glimpses of a person in real pain but there are also moments when we see Daniel trying out being an actor, trying out being a contrite defendant, trying out being a part of a family, trying out being religious. You are left at the end of the hour wondering how much of what you saw was due to drugs, how much was due to his fear of being incarcerated, how much was an actor trying to suss out what his audience wanted at any given moment and how much was the actual human being underneath all of the layered-on roles.
I looked at the comments on Primetime’s website after the broadcast and found that the comments about ‘Daniel Baldwin’ were very mixed but one comment lead me to what is purported to be Daniel’s MySpace page. I found the possibility of ‘Daniel Baldwin’ having a MySpace page both intriguing and repellant.
I should mention that a few years ago after an experience I had online at a Yahoo! group purporting to have had the actual Vincent D’Onofrio as one of its members that my opinion of celebrities who venture online into public fora and with no intermediation from others is inclined to be negative and mistrusting. You can read about my experiences elsewhere on my blog if you choose to (just search on ‘DASH’).
But given my viceral reaction to the similarities of Felton as I envisioned the character and the ‘Daniel Baldwin’ of Primetime, I felt compelled to go to the MySpace page. I went there not taking for granted the fact that the page’s author might not be the actor I have seen on fictional or ‘reality’ TV.
I have read every entry at ‘Daniel’s’ blog at MySpace and I can say that I am now more thoroughly concerned confused and repelled by what I saw. Again ‘DB’ or ‘Deebs’ as the author calls himself is by turns misogynistic, angry, despairing, flippant, profane, insecure, self-absorbed, meek, playful, despondent, conflicted and contradicts much of what was said in the Primetime program. If anything “Deebs” is far more villainous, self-destructive and frightening to me than I would have imagined the character Felton to be (and if you read my story you will see that I only have the Felton character drinking heavily, hitting on women while he is still married, and utilitizing the services of a prostitute). That confuses and bothers me in a way I cannot adequately express but I also accept that it is not up to me to do anything about it other than to not encourage “Deebs” to make a spectacle of himself.
If I were his lawyer I would demand that the MySpace page be taken down: If it is *the* Daniel Baldwin writing the page there are admissions that could be used against him in court (not to mention calls into question what was said before Primetime’s cameras) and if it isn’t some of what is said potentially defames a whole panoply of people. But the one thing that seeps through the entire MySpace blog is that there is a troubled person behind the writings even though the medium of a MySpace page further distorts the true identity of the author and may pile on some more roles, poses and personas that have to be stripped away from who ‘Daniel Baldwin’ and/or ‘Deebs’ truly is/are.
I only know that whoever all these people may be, they are beyond my very limited capacity to help them. I also have confirmed why as a rule I choose not to watch ‘reality’ television. Unlike my experience of the film ‘Guy’ where I know I am dealing with an invented premise and characters, with ‘reality’ programming, I don’t believe the picture represents reality anymore than Salvador Dali painted with absolute fidelity the world around us. If I want to ponder alternate realities I can choose a good piece of fiction like a Phillip K. Dick story or I can daydream.
But I fear for a world where this sort of ‘reality’ television and unfettered access to the well-known via the Internet is considered to be a healthy diversion or a legitimate form of entertainment.
Anyway if ‘Deebs’ or his people should stumble upon this blog post this song is for you and all the complexity within and around you. I hope for your sake and for those who know and love you that you have an ending at least as upbeat as the one Primetime wanted to attach to its report on you. I also hope that with what you’ve done on TV and online that if you can’t redeem yourself, you help one other person who is similarly situated.
Music: ‘The Beast In Me’ by Nick Lowe