Media Circus: Bacon bits

Six degrees, and a retrospective: The coronation of film auteur Kevin Bacon

By Sara Kelly
March 12, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)
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Taking the mike to ponder the significance of the first-ever Kevin Bacon film retrospective, the 38-year-old actor referred to an intimate moment late last week when he and his wife were lying around (in bed, presumably) discussing his impending trip to the Philadelphia Weekend Film Festival. "My shirt was off and my wife noticed a gray hair. I only have four hairs on my chest and one of them is gray. That means a quarter of my chest hairs are gray ... It's like the chicken and the egg. Which came first, my first gray hair or my first retrospective? Either way, I'm absolutely thrilled about both."

In its annual tribute to all that is right and good about show business, the Philadelphia Weekend Film Festival picked its 11th year to go stark-raving Seventeen magazine crazy on us all. After a decade of kneeling at the altar of such esteemed filmmakers as John Schlesinger, Sydney Pollack, Richard Brooks and Arthur Penn, this year the Fest heads opted to honor ... Kevin Bacon. With some 30-odd (some very odd) films under his belt, the man was clearly ripe for a retrospective.


Bacon, a Philly-born local hero and son of Ed Bacon, Philly's foremost urban planner and famous guy in his own right, humbly expressed his gratitude to the town that had provided him with the dramatic laboratory in which he developed his many talents, ultimately becoming the leading character in a cult trivia game. "It was the best thing for an actor," Bacon said. "The people I bumped shoulders with for years were the people I portrayed in film -- although 'Sleepers' was the first time I got to use the Philly accent -- and I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean to offend anyone ..."

Then came the tears. Bacon got choked up telling the story of his mother's first gift to him -- a box of old clothes. At first I didn't quite understand what he was getting at, thinking it a loosely veiled confession of transvestitism. But Bacon was quick to set the record straight, explaining that the clothes were simply props for characters he might someday dream up.

Bacon's unassuming performance was enough to make me bow my head -- out of reverence, I first thought. Soon afterwards, however, I realized it was stomach cramps. A full weekend of cinematic reverence offered just a little more than I wanted to know about the man whose toe-tapping virtuosity in "Footloose" not only launched my decade-spanning dependence on Converse All-Stars but may have also played a part in my decision to attend Pepperdine, a fundamentalist Christian college (and future Kenneth Starr home) that forbids such sinful acts as dancing and voting Democrat.


Even though the Patrick Swayze doppelgdnger who is best known for playing weaselly little guys you'd like to shoot into outer space only recently made his behind-the-camera debut (directing wife and blond Julia Roberts doppelgdnger Kyra Sedgwick in the Showtime drama "Losing Chase"), Dr. Annette Insdorf, a film professor at Columbia University, had little trouble finding fodder for her multimedia lecture. "The Work of Kevin Bacon, Actor & Director" explored "so many facets of Kevin Bacon," she could hardly bring herself to stop the projector.

Before the assembly of 200 mostly older women in brightly colored business suits who'd each paid $480 ($395 double occupancy) to spend the weekend in one of Philadelphia's fanciest hotels, hobnobbing with the man who broke into show biz with a thankless role in 1978's "Animal House" (and "broke through" in 1984's "Footloose," a film that "established his physicality"), Insdorf recounted a career of theatrical genius.

Not long after "Animal House," Bacon appeared in "Friday the 13th." For some inexplicable reason, Insdorf declined to talk about his role in the horror flick, moving on instead to "Diner," in which Bacon played a "self-deprecating but brilliant preppie guy" called Fenwick. The accompanying film clip had a pudgy-faced Bacon looking a bit like Ron Howard as Opie Taylor, feigning his own death with the help of a ketchup bottle. The good doctor cut the clip short in the interest of time -- it's amazing how quickly time passes when speaking of Kevin Bacon -- and because "Diner," after all, would be that evening's midnight movie.


Insdorf moved on. 1986 brought us "Quicksilver," another ready venue for Bacon's physicality. And in 1987, she explained, Bacon portrayed his first villain, in a film called "White Water Summer." This little factoid came as a big surprise to me: I thought of Bacon as a bad guy from the very start, ever since he corrupted that poor farming town with bad choreography in "Footloose." Then again, I was pretty shocked to learn that "Footloose" was actually considered a musical: At 13, it had seemed pretty darned serious to me.

But then again, so had "Three's Company."


Insdorf was actually the second speaker of the afternoon to perform a dramatic reading of Bacon's CV. The first was Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who presented the prodigal actor with an official Philadelphia "proclamation." Rendell made the weekend's most valiant attempt to put the starry-eyed affair into proper perspective -- noting that just last Thursday, he'd presented a similar award to the founder of a bug and insect museum.

Undaunted, the bashful, diminutive Bacon posed for photo ops with the mayor and endured several tongue-in-cheek closing references to his fourth career (after actor, director and dancer) as musician. (He and brother Michael have formed a folkie duo called the Bacon Brothers -- they're headlining next month at the Sands, Atlantic City.) He even sat silently as a festival emcee dubbed him "a new Gene Kelly for a new century of film." But somewhere, in a place only Kyra Sedgwick can see, you can bet a second gray hair was taking root.

Sara Kelly

Sara Kelly is executive editor of the Philadelphia Weekly.

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