Take Any Shape But That: Fat Men on Film

Lynne Murray says

Macbeth was talking to the ghost of the man he murdered when he said, “Take any shape but that and my firm nerves shall never tremble.”

Briony Kidd’s short film , Starring Xavier, about an Australian fat man on welfare playing Macbeth, was inspired by a “trashy TV report” presenting a real fat man’s mobility problems as if he were a bizarre creature, despite the man’s obvious charisma and intelligence. Kidd writes,

In film (and in life) people who are different are often dismissed as unheroic or comical… Why shouldn’t a fat man play Macbeth? [I]t seemed to me that someone like Xavier would understand the themes of ambition and desire better than most.


She sets her scene in what she calls the “harassment under the guise of assistance” setting of Australia’s compulsory make-work projects. These so-called “Mutual Obligation” programs are also known as “Do what we tell you or we’ll cut off your payments!” Rather than learning job skills, those forced to participate can actually be branded with a stigma that damages future job opportunities.

Kidd’s hero, Xavier, beautifully played by actor, Jason Seperic, finds himself an object of ridicule in an amateur theatrical for “unemployed losers.” Gradually, he begins to understand Macbeth’s dark ambitions and finds ways to dig himself out of his depression and fight for what he wants. By the end of the film, he discovers a voice he did not know he had..

Starring Xavier is a 15-minute film and, due to my elderly TV/DVD player, I had to watch on my computer, but it was an uplifting experience. In an email, Kidd mentioned that a small film like this can take years to put together. My admiration for independent filmmakers increases the more I learn about this kind of devotion. Watching this film got me searching the internet for “fat men on film.”

The first thing I found was a luminous 1999 essay by Dana Gioia, “Warner Brothers’ Fat Men.”

Nowadays no one is safe. Even Godzilla had to lose his trademark beer-belly for the 1998 remake. How sad to watch movies where even the heavies are skinnies.

In the Hollywood I love best, fat men filled the Silver Screen, innocent and unabashed. Few of these oversize talents played leads, though some managed top-billing, but they all knew there were no small parts, only small actors.

Gioia’s piece contains such wonderful insights that I’m tempted to quote it all–okay, just one more–his appreciation of Sidney Greenstreet, whom most remember best as Kaspar Gutman, a.k.a. “the fat man” in The Maltese Falcon:

Greenstreet never tried to act around his weight. He made it so intrinsic to his identity that it seemed not only stylish but handsome. Beauty, he understood, is not mere prettiness. It is the truth finding expression in its perfect form. Greenstreet’s rich bass voice and perfect diction also drew its distinction from his enormous physique. No small man could have ever spoken with such supernal authority.

The only other discussions on fat men in film I could find online were two documentaries.

Some of the issues of shyness and living on the fringe that Kidd examines in Starring Xavier appear in Jeff McKay’s 1994 award-winning documentary, Fat Chance about Canadian music therapy teacher, Rick Zakowich, learning to live a size positive life at 400 pounds.

I also came across Do I Look Fat?, a 2005 feature length documentary on eating disorders and body image in gay men. That’s only tangential to what I started searching for, but I’m including the link. As the filmmaker puts it: “fat is the little word with big meaning.”

A recent article suggests that Bollywood heroes are allowed more size, not to mention age and baldness, although the quotes from the actors make the acceptance sound a bit conditional. To the extent that there is a wider scope for larger actors: Go Bollywood!

I have to close with something downright silly, but too much fun to omit. As a long-time fan of big guys, I cannot resist sharing my new favorite YouTube video.

The song captivated me a few weeks ago when I heard it enlivening a chase scene on ABC’s sadly canceled unique cop show The Unusuals. At first I thought it was belly dancing music–well, not exactly. When I found the YouTube video, I discovered that the artist is big, charming guy. Although the singer/dancer is more stocky than really fat, who could resist his dancing seductively with clones of himself? A little searching revealed more about Daler Mehndi, a major star of Bhangra pop music.

Wikipedia explains the video:

The “strange” dancing and presence of only the singer in this video was a response to criticism from the world of Bhangra pop. Many critics at the time complained that his music was popular due to his videos which featured beautiful women dancing; his response was to create a video that featured only himself. As he predicted, the song was still a huge success, but the phenomenon of foreign language and unusual dancing made the video a cult hit in other countries as well.

I think of it as Bhangra caffeine. It certainly gets me dancing. My cats are quite scandalized.