Anthony Michael Hall: An Appreciation


In 1984, when the movies needed a young lad to ask Molly Ringwald in exactly the right way if he could borrow her underpants for ten minutes, only one young lad would do. Already, in another picture, he had asked Chevy Chase to bring him to Wally World, also in exactly the right way, and by the time he’d arrived at this moment of truth with Ms. Ringwald, you could sense the cohesion of a cultural destiny. He was Anthony Michael Hall, and he would be ours forever.

Let me use this space to say how much I have enjoyed his work. No, he hasn’t died or anything. At least I don’t think he has. Wow, wouldn’t that be terrible? Like one of those end-of-an-era things, but with an era that isn’t done. I mean, when an Ossie Davis goes, or an Arthur Miller, it’s a huge loss, but it makes sense; you knew it was coming. No way is time up for Hall’s generation.

Well, maybe for Robert Downey, Jr. He’s someone you half expect to check out at any moment, and in a manner that won’t be pretty. Or maybe, in a way, it will. It’ll be Hollywood, fireworks. It’ll suit him. That crazy bastard’s already on borrowed time anyway, right?

Hall, though? He seems unfinished. Look, this guy made it through the ringer of child stardom pretty well when you think about it. Better than some. How many of those people would you really want to have a beer with nowadays? Oh, wait, is he not drinking now? Club soda then. Anyway, with him, there’s some humility there, some recognition of what life has given and taken, which reads on his face, honestly, appealingly.

I think that’s why his ownership of the character in the Dead Zone show—injured, weary, apart, miraculously and dubiously gifted—is so total. It’s a pretty dusky show, emotionally, but look how his humor somehow makes it in there. Now, I loved Christopher Walken in that role, and sometimes I think the movie of it was my favorite thing that both he and David Cronenberg ever did. I didn’t think I’d go for the TV version, but it caught me. And it’s all about Hall. Really. He produces it too. I’m telling you, he’s got some surprises in him yet.

It may sound nuts to you, but I can imagine him aging into some kind of American Victor Sjostrom, tapped at eighty-something to anchor some 21st-century masterpiece, the equivalent of Wild Strawberries for a generation that’s barely out of diapers right now. You watch.

Meanwhile, having rounded 35, he’s now starting to look a little like Steve McQueen. Have you noticed? That threw me at first, but I’ve gotten used to it, and actually, I think it suits him. I saw McQueen in Bullitt again recently, and I was thinking that if they go through with the probably stupid idea of remaking it, they should give Hall a call.

See, McQueen, on a good day, had charisma like one of those Easter Island heads. Know what I mean? With those heads, what you see is pretty much what you get, but it is hard to take your eyes off them. Anyway, Hall, if you put him behind the wheel of an old Mustang and send him into the hilly haze of San Francisco at a hundred miles and hour, might just, I don’t know, take it further. Yeah. He’d look good.

It’s been on my mind because a while ago AMC showed Sixteen Candles, from which that geek of his seems in hindsight like a never-bettered prototype. AMC used to be called American Movie Classics, sort of in the way KFC used to be called Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fast-food franchise wanted to downplay the “Fried” part, and I guess the movie channel, whose more recent broadcasts include Hard Target, apparently wants to downplay the “Classics” part. Well, let me tell you why Jean-Claude Van Damme is no Anthony Michael Hall.

No, right, no need.

But more important: Before too long the people who won’t call Sixteen Candles a classic will be dead and those of us who grew up on it will be in charge. We should get them to do a whole series of his movies.

They could call it AMH on AMC.

He’s funny, beguiling, insouciantly sincere. Is that such an achievement? Sure it is, on a couple of levels. For one thing, born Michael Anthony Thomas Charles Hall in Boston, he apparently had the potential to become a serious Brahmin asshole. For another thing, well, see Weird Science again and try not to have a good time.

Or—hello? The Breakfast Club? I mean, for crying out loud.

Grateful though Hall was to John Hughes, he reportedly turned down the part of Ferris Bueller. That took balls. So did complaining about Stanley Kubrick’s fussiness enough to get himself canned from Full Metal Jacket, though I wish we could have seen him instead of Matthew Modine in that. I think we lost him after Johnny Be Good. A Gnome Named Gnorm couldn’t have helped. He played Bill Gates and Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange in TV movies, and I’m going to give him those. Casting him as a kind of Henry Higgins to Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation was inspired, even if, like just about everybody else in that cast, he seemed to have a rough go of the movie’s inert theatricality. I don’t believe I’ve seen much of his year on Saturday Night Live. I should.

You may be thinking, okay, anybody who likes Anthony Michael Hall so much must know a thing or two about geekdom, from the inside. Hey, congratulations, Sherlock.

I’m not saying honorary Oscar or anything like that. Just that I don’t want to think about where we’d be without him. Just a thanks and a pat on the back.

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