Logan’s Moving Pictures takes a long moment to consider the career, and life of Super Star Bruce Willis and reassessing ‘the chuffa’ in life. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means… you will.
Not too long ago action-star extraordinaire Bruce Willis announced his retirement from acting. Since I started this column proper with his sci-fi flick The Fifth Element, and given that I think I’ve mentioned Die Hard half a dozen times over the last year, you could probably ascertain that Willis is a somewhat beloved figure in the private pop culture world that my brother and I shared. And you’d be right.
Like so many others, it began with my father’s love of the man and his work. He was there in the early ‘80s when Willis began his rise to stardom in Moonlighting, and I remember watching one of his earlier starring roles, the romantic comedy Blind Date, more than once with my dad. Then, when THE greatest action film of all time hit theatres (That’s Die Hard for those that don’t know), my father was all in. So, by proxy, we were all in as well.
Look Who’s Talking, Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, Death Becomes Her, The Last Boy Scout, North…if Bruce Willis was in it, we were watching it. I actually went to IMDb and pulled up his list of credits, starting with the aforementioned Blind Date, and it wasn’t until 1999’s Breakfast of Champions that I stumbled on something that I hadn’t seen. But, even after that, there are maybe five or six films of his in the early part of the ‘00s that I (and my brother, I’m sure) hadn’t watched at some point or another.
I counted myself still a pretty big fan up until about a decade ago, catching even the obvious home video dreck he’d find his way into. I mostly enjoyed his performances in everything, it was always interesting to see what he’d do with material that was better suited to high school theatre than the dude who’d once uttered the phrase “Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead.” Then, shortly after the buddy comedy Cop Out was released, you started hearing stories of how difficult he could be on set. There was at least one instance of him being an absolute jerk to a reporter asking questions at a press junket for one of the Red movies (both of which I enjoyed), and Sly Stallone issued a few vague and pointed statements that were seemingly about Willis’ demands for appearing in The Expendables sequel. Eventually, the talker that he is, Kevin Smith (who directed Cop Out) went on record about Bruce’s behavior on set. And it wasn’t pretty.
So, I kind of fell out of love with Bruce Willis, and that was, I thought, the end of that. I still liked the performances I liked and even talked about missing the Willis of old when I rewatched The Fifth Element so many months ago. I’d resigned myself to the fact of that old adage about never meeting (or hearing about the personal lives of) your heroes being true
Then that announcement came.
Bruce Willis has aphasia, and he will be retiring from his chosen profession.
I’ll let you do the leg work as to what that truly means, but, simply put, he’s losing his abilities to express and comprehend, and probably had been for a while. That is essentially your two biggest necessities as an actor. If you can’t do those things you’re probably not going to make it very far.
Like everyone else who once loved the man, I was stunned and devastated. How heartbreaking to have your art, your ability to create it and understand it, and your love of it, torn away from you in such a debilitating way. And to have kept it hidden for who knows how long.
Suddenly I was reevaluating so many of my thoughts on both his output and alleged behavior over that last decade-plus, and I’d be lying if it didn’t make me think of so many of the hard times between myself and Ryan in the last few years of his life.
We weren’t strangers to arguing with each other or even outright fighting, but the last few years of my brother’s life saw him begin to slowly lose his autonomy, relying on others to do sometimes even the most basic of things for him. While he wasn’t bound to a wheelchair, he couldn’t walk more than twenty or thirty feet without having to stop, and he needed at least the help of a cane to do that. He shouldn’t have ever driven himself anywhere, and there were a few times when he did and he paid a thankfully small price for it. Either by being unable to get himself out of the car, not stopping in time and clipping a post in his own driveway, or possibly many other incidences no one was privy to.
There are other things, but none of it needs to be shared. To be honest, I’m sure I’ll get some unspoken curses thrown my way for even sharing that little bit. But it’s not about painting him in an undignified light. What he couldn’t do for himself made him angry, so when he thought he could, he gave it a go. I always saw some of those things as the actions of a man still trying to cling to what little independence he hoped he might still have. His own way of not going gentle into that good night. He was doing what he needed to do to still feel normal; to occasionally feel like a part of society, to keep himself somewhat sane.
But it’s that anger about his situation, about everything he’d lost, or what he knew he might be losing in the future, that’s what created so many of the rifts in the last years of his life. As yet another adage goes, hurt people hurt people. I didn’t understand that at the time, but more and more since he passed I see how true that is. While being in pain, whether physical or mental, may not give you the right to treat anyone badly, understanding that you may not be meeting people in their best moments (or more accurately, that you’re meeting them in their worst) can at least bring some understanding about why they’re lashing out.
At some point in his career, Willis coined the phrase “the Chuffa,” his derogatory term for anything in a movie script he deemed unworthy of his time or effort. “The bullshit that slows down the entire movie,” is how director Kevin Smith relayed Willis’ definition. I guess what we might call the fluff, or something akin. And, from the point of view of a man trying to do a job, I can understand wanting to eliminate anything that kept you there longer than you either needed or wanted to be.
There’s nothing worse than having to wade through a lot of unnecessary idiocy in order to do your job, which is just a means to an end. What you really want is to get your work done so you can get back to what’s important; your family, and your friends. I can’t speak for him, but it certainly seems like towards the end Willis began viewing his time on set as just that, a job. The work he had to do, as long as he could possibly do it, in order to get to a comfortable place of just enjoying the rest of his life with his loved ones. I’m sure that’s something that stings anyone who views acting as something grander (which it also is), but that became his truth.
The things Willis saw as necessary in film were the big moments. The drama, the explosions, the spectacle. Those little things, those small pieces that made up the journey…That was what needed to go. But it’s just not true. Not in film, and most assuredly not in life.
We spend so much time thinking about those huge moments; the promotions, the raises, the awards. Those things our journey seems to be building toward if we’re on the upswing. Or, if you’re on the downswing, the arguments that forced a rift, the unfortunate turn of events that were really no one’s fault at all, the accidents, the words you can’t take back, and the ones you can’t unhear.
None of the truly proud moments of my life would have been as worthwhile if I hadn’t gotten to share them with my brother. I think maybe sometimes it felt like I was gloating, but more than anything I just wanted him to be proud of what I was doing, and to collaborate with me. Every chance I could I tried to bring him along, and in the end, we found that collaboration through podcasting.
But even in that, there were plenty of bitter times. So many outbursts, so much tension, so much drama. But inside all of them, there are these tiny moments that, if you removed them, would make all of it worthless. That’s the chuffa, and we wouldn’t be the same without it.