By Trevor Pyle
It would be easy for a writer to jumble himself into knots of frustration writing about Tom Sizemore, the incendiary “Saving Private Ryan” and “Strange Days” actor who died last week at 61. Faced with just that challenge Matt Zoller Seitz found the perfect tool to slice neatly to the point: a straight razor.
To be more exact, the straight razor as metaphor.
Seitz is a filmmaker, author and critic of remarkable range: the editor-at-large of , he’s written for The New York Times, Sight and Sound and many other publications; been a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and written books on “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos.”
While Seitz is excellent in seemingly any format he takes on — including video essays — I’m a particular fan of his remembrances, which are both warmly empathetic and disarmingly clear-eyed. (If you take nothing else away from this piece, I hope you read and marvel as I did at the mournful, melodic 18 syllables that compose its final paragraph.)
Seitz needed all of those skills to write about Sizemore, an actor so electric he stood out in a Mount Rushmore of tough guys in “Heat,” but whose personal life was riven by addiction, convictions and accusations.
In “Tom Sizemore Made You Uncomfortable,” Seitz recognizes the actor’s skill, pointing out: “When Sizemore played corrupt cops, gangsters, drug-addled public servants, assassins, rapists, black marketeers, and other unsavory types … the film or TV episode around him came alive with chaotic possibilities.” He also doesn’t shy away from the Sizemore’s troubling real-life moments: “His career started to ebb after that, thanks mainly to the fact that offscreen, Sizemore was a mess—and profoundly disturbed.”
But it’s toward the end when Seitz sums up Sizemore’s appeal by springing open an uncanny metaphor:
The darkness that Sizemore channeled onscreen was uniquely disconcerting. He was a straight razor in the form of an actor: functional, elegant, beautiful in repose, but capable of unfolding himself without warning and cutting the viewer to the bone.
What’s particularly impressive is how far Seitz follows the comparison. If he’d written, “He was a straight razor in the form of an actor,” it might have implied the danger and skill that both seemed inextricable from Sizemore’s on-screen work. But Seitz goes further, drawing out how the razor invokes not just Sizemore’s technical skill but also the beauty of his art; not just the volatility of his performances, but also the danger inseparable from their honed edges.
It’s the best kind of metaphor: the kind that makes readers consider the original subject from a different angle; one that startles, like an opened blade catching a hint of light.
Trevor Pyle was a newspaper reporter in the Pacific Northwest for several years, and now works as a communications officer for a regional nonprofit.