Celluloid Country: Payday is a Satisfying, Violent Tale of a Country Outlaw
Payday is probably the best Celluloid Country film to date. Unlike the other CC films, which are generally only nominated for Razzies, Payday was actually up for a Writers Guild of America award for Best Drama. Furthermore, Payday doesn’t feature am actual country musician in the lead role. Coincidence? Probably not. There isn’t actually a lot to make fun of, except the hair and wardrobe, but that can be chalked up to the 1970s. It’s apparently something of a cult film, having garnered a small, but devoted, sect of fans; its semi-recent DVD release will certainly introduce it to others.
Rip Torn stars as Maury Dann, a B-list country singer and A-list scumbag. He’s all class onstage and gladhanding fans, but when the spotlight’s off, he’s guzzling Wild Turkey, popping pills, and banging barely legals. Torn, who discerning viewers may recognize as 30 Rock’s Don Geiss, and/or That Guy Who Beat The Crap Out of Norman Mailer, delivers a stunning performance in his role as Dann, a slowly destructing egomaniac who uses everyone in arm’s reach, hence the slogan on the original Payday poster: “If you can’t smoke it, drink it, spend it, or love it…forget it.”
And that’s pretty much what the film’s about. Dann smokes, drinks, spends, and loves while he’s on the road between gigs (the film only shows one performance, and it’s the first scene). He stops in to see his ailing, despairing mama…only to shut her up with a random handful of pills from his guitar case. He doesn’t spare a thought for his so-called friends and employees; the movie implies that numerous band members have either quit or been fired, and when Dann kills a man, he gets his driver, Chicago, to take the fall. And let’s not forget how he dumps a groupie on the side of the road with a wad of cash…only to take said cash back because she hasn’t “[earned] it.”
The moral of the story: despite what we’ve learned in previous Celluloid Country installments, not all country musicians are boy next door types who just happen to anonymously happen upon some chick’s ranch or a haunted mansion. Sometimes they are straight up rotten, but you still sort of root for and loathe them at the same time, thanks to Torn’s multifaceted, polyester clad performance.
When it comes right down to it, Payday is probably the dudeliest country music film we’ve covered—perhaps the dudeliest country music film in existence. Not to perpetuate gender stereotypes, but it sure seems like every scene was written to maximize its Dude Movie potential (other Dude Movies: Roadhouse and anything starring Steve McQueen). This actually makes for a pretty excellent viewing experience as Maury gets into a fistfight with a band member over a hunting dog, sleeps with a SHeDAISY-sized group of young women, and stabs a guy in the parking lot–all in the span of approximately 48 hours. No wonder he gobbles amphetamines like they’re Skittles; I’m exhausted just writing about all of Maury’s exploits.
Though the film is more of a character study than a country music movie with a linear plot and climactic performance a la Pure Country or Rhinestone, there are some decent songs in Payday, including four penned by Shel Silverstein as well as an Ian & Sylvia track. The final scene, which juxtaposes the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side” with a horrific, violent ending, is by far the best use of music I’ve seen in any Celluloid Country movie to date. Granted, that’s not saying much, but just trust me: it’s a good ending. It does, however, leave one burning question: just which—if any—country outlaw is Payday based upon?
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