It’s Steve Buscemi’s Birthday—Let’s Get Weird

One day in my sophomore year of college, I walked into my Contemporary American Cinema class at IFC Center and there was Steve Buscemi just chillin’ with my professor. I froze a bit—seeing him out of context was an odd thing at 9 AM on Tuesday, and is anyone ever fully prepared to just bump into the wonder that is the lovably wonky smile and buggering eyes of Steve Buscemi? He wasn’t doing anything particularly weird—just hanging out in a sweater before going off to pre-production Boardwalk Empire rehearsal. He had stopped by my class to screen and talk about his 2007 intimate drama Interview, which he wrote, directed, and starred in opposite Sienna Miller. And although nowadays he’s mainly known for his role as the anti-hero political/gangster Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire—for which he has won multiple Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe—it’s his early film roles that truly exemplify the talented but always weird Buscemi we love so much.

And as today is his 55th birthday, what better way to celebrate his career chock-full of cult favorites than to look back on his best roles—spanning from his work with Jim Jarmusch in the late ’80s, Tarantino and the Coens in the ’90s, and the other goodies in between and after. Enjoy.

Charlie the Barber in Mystery Train (1989)

Told through a series of vignettes all centered around one hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, JIm Maramusch’s 1989 ode to the spirit of Elvis Presley, featured Buscemi in the small but memorable role as Charlie the Barber in the final story of the film, “Lost in Space,” for which he was nominated for an Indepedent Spirit Award.

Mr. Pink in Resevoir Dogs (1992)

In 1992 Quentin Tarantino made his directorial debut with Reservoir Dogs, shooting his career forward and garnering him an obsessive fan base. And in the role of Mr. Pink, Buscemi was embedded as a violent and bizarro cult icon for movies to come. The role also won him his first an Independent Spirit Award.

Buddy Holly in Pulp Ficton (1994)

After Reservoir Dogs, of course Buscemi would make a cameo in Tarantino’s next and most acclaimed film, 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Unless you’re paying close attention you might not catch him, but he’s surely there as Buddy Holly in the iconic Jack Rabbit Slim’s Restaurant scene.

Carl Showalter in Fargo (1996)

As the star of Joel and Ethan Cohen’s Fargo, Buscemi got to sink his wonky teeth into the character of desperate criminal, Carl Showalter. The zany 1996 crime drama wasn’t only a career hit for Buscemi but also won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

Donny Kerabetsos in The Big Lebowski (1998)

Reuniting with the Coen Brothers again, Buscemi hopped onboard the cult favorite The Big Lebowski. In the 1996 comedy, he plays the timid bowling buddy Donny  Kerabetsos opposite the beloved Jeff Bridges and John Goodman.

Dave Veltri in The Wedding Singer (1998)

It’s been years since I’ve seen the ’80s-set Adam Sandler comedy The Wedding Singer, but when I look back on it, the first thing I think of is Buscemi drunk in a teal suit. His role as Dave Teltri is strange and ridiculous with that Buscemi creep factor you know and love.

Homeless Guy in Big Daddy (1999)

Reuniting with Sandler in the 1999 comedy Big Daddy, Buscemi makes an appearance as a homeless man. Enough said.

Seymour in Ghost World (2001)

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Ghost World tells the story of two teenage outsiders, one of which becomes involved with a misanthropic older man, Seymour. Played by Buscemi with the right mix of humor and sadness, the role got him a Golden Globe nomination and won him a second Independent Spirit Award.

Personal Faves: Crushing With Kitty Pryde

Instead of ending the year with a slew of Best Of lists, BlackBook asked our contributors to share the most important moments in art, music, film, television, and fashion that took place in 2012. Here, Samantha Young shares the teenage dream of Kitty Pryde.

The first time I saw Kitty Pryde was on the first night of a three-day bender commemorating my expulsion from graduate school. The 19-year-old rapper released her haha, i’m sorry EP on the same day that I got the email saying, “We regret to inform you that you are flunking out.” The weekend after that was the Northside Music Festival, featuring Kitty’s New York debut at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. It was mid-June, and she had already gotten notable press from the New York Times, Complex, and the FADER. Her mere existence seemed like blog bait. Here was a teenage white female rapper/Claire’s employee from Florida with a song called “Okay Cupid,” well aware that people weren’t going to take her that seriously and seemingly fine with it. I had what was probably an average amount of curiosity for a music writer, finding the semi-viral track reasonably catchy but nothing that particularly jumped out at me. I wasn’t totally hooked, but I knew that attending Kitty Pryde’s show would capture something—I wasn’t sure what—about that specific point in time in the music blogging environment.

I was fascinated by her sudden internet fame but not enough to analyze it totally sober, which I told an acquaintance at the festival’s open bar before her Friday night set. Waiting for her to go on, I also found myself standing a few feet away from noted author/drug user Tao Lin who naturally exudes a disconcerting aura that compounded with my whiskey-and-beer haze. This was how I watched Kitty take the stage in a frilly party dress, accompanied by her BFF Annie and brother George. I didn’t have any major breakthroughs about the nature of internet culture, but what I did take away was that she was probably more self-aware and having more fun than I was when I was 19—even though she was obviously awkward and unused to performing.

I am young enough that my teenage years are still somewhat within reach, but old enough that I was surprised that I could relate so much to someone who was born that deep into the ’90s. When I was 19, I was locked into the most powerful infatuation of my life, the kind where I was so invested that knowing this boy was dating someone else was almost physically painful. If only I’d started rapping instead of sitting in my dorm room watching Ghost World and feeling sorry for myself. “Okay Cupid” is the kind of crush song that could only come from a teenage girl, which relegates it to guilty pleasure status by default for some people, but fuck it, I’ve been there and I can’t deny its truths.

Two days after the Knitting Factory show, as the festival and the constant flow of free Jameson came to an end, I reunited with the man that I would soon start associating with “Okay Cupid.” Our connection was tentative and based on misguided ideas about what we could do for each other’s careers, but I ended that night feeling optimistic, like I could bounce back easily. His number was safe in my phone, and it felt like something was going to happen.

Not much actually did happen. We went on what I thought was a cute date until he ended it with a hug instead of a kiss. I knew he probably thought I was too young for him, and we kept hanging out on his terms instead of mine. I let him call the shots because my love life was otherwise a complete dead zone and his cheekbones provided a distraction from the abrupt end to my academic life. I passed the time with songs about longing, and “Okay Cupid” was at the top of the list, full of lines I could easily apply to my embarrassing situation.

“The more you taunt me, the more I think I’m wanting you.” Check. “Lordy, shorty you’re a 10.” Check. “I don’t care how long it takes to get you after me/I wrote our names on my binder and everybody laughed at me.” Check. “My flattery makes me look like a fool again.” Check.

By the second time I saw Kitty Pryde in August at Santos Party House, I was firmly a member of the Kitty Committee. Now that there was some sort of fledgling intrigue in my life, she was someone I related to and felt a stronger connection with. It also helped that this time around, the crowd was there because they wanted to be there, not just out of morbid curiosity. Her stage presence was more confident and relaxed, and when she threw glitter into the crowd, it felt like a blessing from the internet in 2012. I was sober and it was the most fun I’d had in a long time. It was what I needed after freaking out over the school year beginning, even though I had mostly come to terms with my former program not being a good fit for me in the first place. Kitty also had a new song that featured the line “I’m just a little girl and you’re a grown-ass man” and a tougher, more serious flow than any of her previous work. I was immediately sold. She was still going through the same stuff I was going through, at least on the crush front.

A few days later, “You were a tool again, but you’re the one that I’ve chosen” ended up being the line from “Okay Cupid” that was the most relevant to me. I had a misunderstanding with the object of my affection and didn’t see him for a couple of months. During this span, I saw Kitty Pryde two more times and was self-conscious about being one of the more enthusiastic people in the audience. I shouldn’t have been, because she’s the kind of performer who’s just plain likeable, even if she’s not the most technically gifted rapper on the internet. She’s grounded in the real world, and she affirms that it’s okay to have feelings, even the weird ones that I kept dwelling on.

When Kitty remixed Marina and the Diamonds’ “How To Be A Heartbreaker,” she delivered some real talk about playing hard to get that I needed to hear, even if it wasn’t advice that I was taking. “Rule number three is don’t assume it was meant to be,” she said, younger but wiser than me. “Disregard your heart and never ever wear it on your sleeve.”

These weren’t words I was thinking of when I finally saw my crush again, pulling him into a stairwell at a party and vaguely mumbling, “It was because I like you,” hoping enough cheap bourbon was involved on both our parts to cloud over what was or wasn’t happening between us. The answer was still nothing, but “Okay Cupid” was there for me when I was sitting alone in my room at 3am, already rehashing the night.

Kitty Pryde is what resonates when you’re into an older guy who you know is kind of shady, but who’s good-looking and personable enough to keep your interest anyway. Kitty Pryde is what resonates when you can’t help it and revert to your teenage self. Kitty Pryde is what resonates when you want to ignore your real problems and daydream about your dumb crush instead.