"'The Bachelor' and the Bull Runner:
Reporter Reflects on Role as Extra in O'Donnell Film"

by Neva Chonin, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 November 1999

It's one of those weird San Francisco days that's balmy and windy at the same time, and I'm sitting in a climate-controlled auditorium watching the bargain matinee of Chris O'Donnell's new movie, "The Bachelor." But unlike the 10 other people in the theater, I'm not here to kill a couple of hours with some mindless entertainment. And I'm definitely not one of the dewy-eyed O'Donnell fans up front giggling at his screen-size grimaces.

I have a vested interest in this movie, you see. I'd kind of like it to be good. Not Stanley Kubrick-good; maybe just Sidney Lumet-good. Why? Because I'm in it. Sort of. I was one of 900 extras in bridal gowns hired to pursue the comely O'Donnell through San Francisco as part of "The Bachelor's" climactic scene.

Those of you who read such things might remember the article in The Chronicle last December: Punk brides, drag brides, brides in leather and one disheveled journalist bride scampering after the star and hoping for a moment of fame. This is what it cost us: They made us arrive in makeup at 5:30 a.m. They made us wear wedding gowns of unspeakable design. We froze in the rain and ran in the streets all day. Even worse, they made me wear pink lipstick. Pink! And for what? Where's my close-up, Mr. DeMille? An eight-hour day, and the scene flashed past in 30 seconds. After O'Donnell is chased through town from North Beach — not being a sprinter, I bailed on that — he clambers up a fire escape in the Financial District. I remember this part. I'm down there in the mass of white lace, screaming and trying to overturn a police car.

In the film, you can see the cool Goth chick in front of me. Behind her you can see the top of a veil and a single curl. That, I believe, would be me, your industrious scribe. I remember the curl — and the curling iron. A curling iron is a terrible thing to face at 5:30 a.m. Watching the gowns sprint across the screen and looking for my telltale hair, I recall the film's producer telling me that the bridal chase was crafted after the battle sequences from "Braveheart." And the violent undertone is definitely there: What would happen if these Valkyries in white actually caught the reluctant groom? There goes the PG-13 rating.

Even O'Donnell acknowledged that his character was playing with fire when he told the Boston Herald recently that the brides were like frenzied beasts. "It was really funny," he chortled, "like the running of the bulls in Pamplona or something."

Female bulls? But Chris, bulls are — oh, never mind. OK, so my elderly Lithuanian mama will never get to see me in a cinematic wedding gown. So be it.

At least San Francisco comes off looking pretty good in the film, probably because it isn't wearing pink lipstick. The Palace of Fine Arts glitters in many sunsets. There's a scene at Harry Denton's Starlight Room that makes the swanky old joint look like a class act — even if O'Donnell is sitting in the middle of it, telling poor Renee Zellweger to "shit or get off the pot." This pivotal statement sets in motion the plot of the entire film, eventually leading to screaming brides and a scenic jog through the city by the Bay. Scenery aside, there's a lot to be learned from "The Bachelor." For instance, I now know that single men pathologically identify with endangered animal species — wolves, wild stallions — and express this by flailing in front of bargain-basement blue-screen projections of said animals. ("Ah!" cried my filmgoing companion during a shot of O'Donnell running with the mustangs, "computer animation at its best!").

The insights just keep coming. Women are parasites who spend their days plotting how to land a breadwinner — or, in the film's parlance, lasso a stallion and geld him. Priests are Irish. Education is bad. Feminism is worse. Brooke Shields is sexy and smokes very well onscreen. San Francisco has a busy heliport providing lifts to SFO. Renee Zellweger's hair is perfect no matter what.

The brides are the only good part of the movie, because they act out the film's primal thesis. They cut to the chase, so to speak, waving bouquets like swords and trumpeting the message: Breed or die, O'Donnell. And as I watch my compadres barreling down the street after callow Chris, veils flapping like death shrouds, I am sucked into the moment, hissing, "You go, connubial girls! Breed, breed! Kill, kill!"

After a while, I begin to notice something about "The Bachelor": It's — umm... a really, really bad film. It's so bad it isn't even bad enough to be funny. It rehashes moldering cliches and spotlights just how well O'Donnell doesn't act. It rips off Buster Keaton's classic "Seven Chances" without acknowledging that what flew in 1925 just doesn't fly in 1999. And not even 900 beautiful brides can save it.

Eventually the awfulness overcomes me. I flee the theater — my faithful filmgoing companion at my side — and keep running, just like in my bridal days, until I reach the Embarcadero. There I attempt to scrub my aesthetic palate clean by taking in another movie: "Boys Don't Cry," director Kimberly Peirce's adaptation of the true tale of transgendered Brandon Teena, who loved too much in all the wrong places.

The images fly past. Trailer parks. Psycho trash. The beautiful hero (Hilary Swank) destroyed by love and desire. Straight boys who, like the guys in "The Bachelor," identify with wild animals — and act out their identification sans a blue screen. Their violent vision of hetero masculinity illustrates the darker side of O'Donnell's "men are brutes" coin.

Rustic romanticism aside, the fact is that wild animals can be pretty darn dangerous. Maybe, I conclude as the credits roll, we need more bridal bulls to keep 'em on the run.

©1999 San Francisco Chronicle

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