Monday, January 22, 2007

Lunchbox Heroes: Alex Winter

Okay, maybe there was a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Lunchbox back in the day, but while Ted “Theodore” Logan’s alterego Keanu Reeves has enjoyed a most excellent career , Alex Winter -- Bill S. Preston, esq. -- has languished in obscurity, a most bogus journey, indeed.

The surprise success of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures made Keanu and Alex instant hunkasaurus rexes. The pages of Sassy and YM were filled with their dreamy photos and fact sheets. The exotic and seemingly-intellectual Keanu was gobbled right up as a yummy teen idol and later, action hero, but Alex wasn’t cut from the same cloth. His boyish good lucks and charm couldn’t erase the fact that at his very core, he was and is a freak.

Born into a family of performance artists, dancers and musicians, freakishness was in his blood. Alex’s mutant tendencies were cultivated while growing up in England, a mysterious island populated by people who drink motor oil and call it beer and love fart jokes, and St. Louis, Missouri, a strange city where people drink carbonated urine and call it beer and love fart jokes. Alex attended NYU film school in New York City, a bizarre island city where people thumb their noses at fart jokes, unless they’re off-off-Broadway fart jokes and then they’re okay.

In film school, Alex met Tom Stern, who as a child made the award-winning 8mm short Blowing Stuff Up. Birds of a feather, Alex and Tom flocked together in making the cult classics Squeal of Death and Aisles of Doom, regularly shown on the hip latenight USA Network show Night Flights and now available through Film Threat Magazine Video. Alex and Tom relocated to Los Angeles and shot Impact Video Magazine, a series of subversive short films and sketches, including a Butthole Surfers short, and documentaries on Public Enemy, Jane’s Addiction, comedian Bill Hicks, artist Robert Williams and others.

In the meantime, Alex got his first taste of teenybopper fanlust as one of the adolescent vampires in Joel Schumaker’s The Lost Boys. His turn as a bloodsucking creature of the night led to his role as Bill. Unfortunately, the Excellent Adventure sat on a shelf for over a year. Bill was content to work with Tom, directing music videos for Ice Cube and the Chili Peppers, commercials and whatever paid them for their unique visions.

When Orion finally released Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in the summer of ’89, the film was a runaway smash hit and Bill and Ted and all their catch phrases were stamped into the cultural consciousness. The Excellent Adventure spawned a cartoon, an abysmal cable sitcom, and the sequel Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Reeves (Ted) became the Next Big Thing. Alex (Bill) used his acclaim to churn out more twisted and imaginative comedy with his partner Tom Stern. They produced a sequel to Squeals of Death for the Hard Rock Café Saves The Planet special (which also features Bob Goldthwait’s hilarious parody of Bono singing “YMCA” to the tune of “With or Without You”) and a short for Playboy’s Inside Out. For MTV, Alex and Tom produced six episodes of the insane sketch series, The Idiot Box, perhaps the funniest sketch comedy show no one knows about.

Alex’s last film as an actor was also his debut as a director, the weirdly comic Freaked. Blanketly dismissed as a direct-to-video misstep by Fox, Freaked is in fact a hilarious film with satirical and gross-out elements that pre-date The Farrelly Brothers and South Park by several years. Alex Winter plays a former child actor. Randy Quaid is a redneck sideshow entrepreneur. Bob Goldthwait is a man with a sockpuppet for a head. Keanu Reeves is Ortiz the Dogboy. And Mr. T wears a dress. What else do you need?

Disappointed by the lack of studio support, Alex returned to England in 1993 to direct commercials and music videos. His long-awaited second feature Fever finally debuted at Cannes this year.

Be excellent to each other…and give Alex Winter a lunchbox.

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