Al Pacino in Beverly Hills collage, where he is wearing a loose, dark outfit, headphones and dancing...
Maxine McCrann, screenshots via Daily Mail
A Small Good Thing
Originally Published: 

Lord give me the vibes of Al Pacino dancing alone on a Beverly Hills sidewalk

Everything is collapsing. The senators are insider trading. The algorithm is relentlessly selling the most tepid, flavorless version of your life back to you. The last remaining industries are meal delivery apps, “cloud software,” and threadbare money laundering schemes. Your account has been deducted a fee and you’re just now hearing about it for the first time. We fluctuate between rage and limp nihilism and back again, and while this column won’t fix that, it will provide you with a small good thing to appreciate, a recognition of something weird and valuable and beautiful, despite it all.

Behold Al Pacino in Beverly Hills, in an outfit that looks like it was assembled with pieces from three different sized people, clothes that are three different shades of black, a shoelace untied and dragging on the concrete, a total disregard for an aesthetic of any kind, never heard of it, not my business. No AirPods, no synthetic fabric luxury brand athleisure wear, just a kinked headphone cord dangling, tan cheeks and sunglasses, moving with a little halting bounce past remote-operated Rich People gates, open wide so Porsche SUVs can come and go. The grass is clipped short like a golf course fairway. He crosses behind the giant trunks of the palm trees and back into sight, pausing to find the right song and eye the progress wheel before he starts moving.

I think if you tried to explain the metaverse to Al Pacino he would wince and wave his hands halfway through, like you’d just pulled a sheet back on the cadaver of a loved one he was asked to identify. He cannot hear you, he cannot see you, the cars are speeding by him and I’m not sure if at that moment he would believe he is sharing the planet with anyone else at all. And you’re saying they call it a “virtual reality”? He cannot be reached. How did he find this place? Here is my attempt:

Imagine you’re 31-years-old and you’ve just been hauled in from nowhere to make The Godfather. They say it’ll never work and you really don’t believe it will either but it does, it’s a masterpiece, you’re the smoldering mystery who outsmarts all his enemies and even himself in the end. You make Dog Day Afternoon, two hours of bug-eyed, spasming mania. You make The Godfather: Part II, you do this and there is maybe no one who has ever been as good as you and you’ve done it all in just four years. Then you make a sad movie about a racecar driver that doesn’t quite work, all of it accumulates and the fame makes you insane, you lose your nerve and disappear and start to drink too much.

You get comfortable being invisible for half a decade, but you’re running out of money and your girlfriend tells you to figure it out, so you do, you come back, you harness that feral spirit only this time it’s different, what’s in your heart is different. You make movies about men on the back nine of their lives who can’t stop chasing some fugitive ambition inside themselves. Glengarry Glen Ross, Heat, Any Given Sunday, The Insider. Men who are getting tired and know there is a warm bed in the distance, if only they could get there.

You make every wrinkle of the human face your instrument, and they tell you that this is a contrivance.

You do Broadway, you do off-Broadway. You make millions of dollars again. You make movies with your not-a-rival-but-audiences-can’t-help-but-compare-you, movies with pop stars, a movie with Adam Sandler. In most of these roles you are absurd and pitched to an almost comical volume, a mushroom cloud, a man shouting at toilet water that won’t flush down and now it’s rising higher and you’re going to have to call hotel maintenance. You get older, 60s, 70s. You make every wrinkle of the human face your instrument, and they tell you that this is a contrivance, Al Pacino playing The Al Pacino Pull String Doll and maybe sometimes they’re right, but you emerge from this too and are almost invincible because of it. You say in an interview, “I think sometimes I went there because I see myself kind of like a tenor. And a tenor needs to hit those high notes once in a while. Even if they’re wrong. So sometimes they’re way off. There’s a couple of roles that, you know, the needle screeched on the record.” You make a bunch of versions of an Oscar Wilde play with your own money. You give us moments like this from only two years ago, Jimmy Hoffa in a paranoid frenzy, strands of his perfectly combed hair flying loose, “36 FUCKING grand” that vaults out of your mouth like an Olympic gymnast.

Imagine that. You have done it all and now we return, 81-years-old and it’s February but in Beverly Hills it’s 75 degrees and, honestly, it’s ridiculous how much hair you still have, like a blow-dried lion. What are the appetites of this man? You’re at the foot of the warm bed now. What would you do if you were rich and it were Thursday? What would any of us do? Something like this, probably. An invented dance routine, taking our time, wearing head to toe elastics.

Some years ago paparazzi got pictures of Pacino in a three piece suit walking his two white terriers. He was old already then too but looked like he still had a young man’s ideas, lean and untucked and grinning with the slightly debauched air of someone at the end of a wedding. His posture is different now, last week he lurched along the sidewalk, poking at a phone screen with his index finger like it was an elevator button.

But then suddenly, there he goes, he’s playing the air piano and doing a quick shuffle step with the grace of a cat leaping up and landing on a kitchen countertop. Nimble and strutting, he’s starting to uncoil, the chorus is approaching and the sun is on his face. A tenor needs to hit the high notes.