Internet veterans may remember the heady days of December of two-thousand and aught-six. In those days an inter-meme spread through the web, cutting down many a blogger in a flurry of third-party-prompted self-absorption. The theme? List five things that people don’t know about you.
Pretty much everyone I know — myself included — was afflicted, but the most interesting response came from Sommer, who revealed that she had been an extra in the movie adaptation of Super Mario Brothers. In her comments, I immediately swore to find and download the film.
And I did! But editing the video to highlight Sommer’s contributions proved to be tougher than I had expected. It turns out that Apple’s consumer-level editing tools are great for making videos of, say, Steve Jobs’ kids playing soccer, but are significantly less well-suited to highlighting your friend’s performance in a confused early-nineties film adaptation of a popular videogame. I finally got the job done with Parallels and a couple of ugly but powerful (and free) Windows applications.
But before you click through to the video, let me set up the clip for you so as to best equip you to appreciate Sommer’s performance. Cantankerous New York plumber Mario (Bob Hoskins) and his headstrong but well-meaning younger brother Luigi (John Leguizamo) were minding their own business… when they stumbled into a world beyond their imagination! Chasing after the kidnappers of a friend, the pair find themselves in the Mushroom Kingdom, a subterranean land and/or parallel dimension populated by human-like creatures of reptilian descent and ruled by the tyrannical King Koopa (Dennis Hopper). Koopa is determined to wage war on the human world and claim their plentiful natural resources. But how does the kidnapped Daisy (Samantha Mathis) fit into this fiendish plot? And — more to the point — how will Mario and Luigi save her?
The answer may lie with a mysterious woman in red (Francesca Roberts) and an even more enigmatic power crystal that she’s come to possess. It is the singleminded pursuit of this crystal that drives Mario and Luigi in the scene.
As you watch it, consider Sommer’s motivation. It’s true that her character is unnamed, but in some respects this makes her role all the more universal and important. In a very real sense she represents the Mushroom Kingdom Everyman, living life under an oppressive regime that is all she’s ever known. Despite her presumable ignorance of the human world, she must have a sense that something is deeply wrong with her own. The contradictions of a society technologically advanced enough to produce jump-boots yet unable to provide clean air and water are so profound that they will inevitably pervade its citizens’ minds with dread, even as they — having never left their world’s rotting subterranean embrace — can’t quite name what’s so desperately wrong, much less escape it. Instead, Sommer and her ilk are doomed — in a nearly Greek tragedian sense — to be storm-tossed by fate, unable to act even as powerful actors move through their midst (sometimes in the very same rooms!). All that she can do is seek panicked, choking respite in the grim, tomblike nightclubs of her dying world as she unknowingly waits for salvation — or the liberating release of death.
And, on a more Inside-The-Actor’s-Studio sort of note, it’s worth mentioning that the kidnapped Princess Daisy is played by Sommer’s own sister. Immersed in the Method but still green to the trade and desperate to conceal sororial concern for someone that should be unknown to Sommer’s own character, it’s an understatement to say that the emotions at work within the young actress must have been heady and barely-tameable. It’s a distinct privilege to watch their interplay over the course of her performance.
Finally, let me offer my apologies for the resolution of this clip — for now, it’s the best that I could find. There’s no mention of it on the webpage yet, but I can only assume that the Criterion Collection anamorphic DVD print is forthcoming.