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Daphne Merkin

Requiem for a Mustache

There was more to Burt Reynolds than his hypermasculinity, but he was a man for a cultural moment.

It was the Age of the Mustache — and of men who acted genially boyish while exuding testosterone-fueled swagger. It was also the Age of the Burgeoning Female Gaze, when women shed the last vestiges of being the “finer,” relationally attuned sex and began to participate in the pleasures of objectification.

The man for that ’70s moment was, unmistakably, Burt Reynolds, who died on Thursday, and who embodied — in a world before the advent of gender fluidity, metrosexuality and queer theory — an easygoing sexuality seemingly free of conflict. With his gridiron build, manifestly hairy chest and crinkly dark eyes suggesting an abiding sense of humor, Reynolds — hard though it may be to believe now — topped the list of box-office stars for five years, from 1978-1982, a feat equaled only by Bing Crosby before him.

From the beginning, the vehicles — “Shark!”, “White Lightning,” “Smokey and the Bandit” (which eventually went on to a second and third iteration), “The End” — seemed to matter less than the actor’s insouciant presence in them, but there were also the strong dramatic performances he delivered in “Deliverance,” “Semi-Tough” and, much later on, in a brief but potent appearance in “Boogie Nights” as well as his autobiographical role in the 2017 film “The Last Movie Star.”...

New York Times | September 8, 2018.


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