Perhaps best-known for thug roles (he is superbly menacing opposite Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours) here Remar portrays a session guitarist named McQueen, a man of veiled, artistic passions. With skills like McQueen's, in a sea of rock and roll cutthroats, a man has to keep his head and guard his dreams.
Remar anchors the storyline like a steady hinge on a wild-swinging, double-jointed restaurant kitchen door. Summoned into a studio milieu as a hired-gun, McQueen is screwed in tight and fixed on his convictions, an versatile artist with mercenary credentials who still hasn't buried his last, best hopes to take part in a thriving, permanent collaboration. Under the stress of a recording deadline, the session player must be instantaneously brilliant. Most people spend their lives avoiding that kind of pressure, McQueen seems born for it.
The contrast is where the film shines. How does a man fully cloak his fire, assured that he can turn on the furnace at the exact moment he needs to bring the heat? And then, once the heat is exposed (making him vulnerable to colder souls) how does he keep his wits in a world of shifting allegiances? Remar is front and center, even in McQueen's background moments, from the first beat to the last, and for a short-format film, the story offers a surprisingly wide character arc for him to traverse.
For Remar, there is the aching irony of hitting such a penetrating bullseye in a such a rarely-seen Oscar-winner while playing a character of prodigious ability who yearns for the shot at a genuine, long-distance flight in the cramped skies of rock and roll.
One of my all-time favorite live-action shorts, this film dwarfed the competition in its Academy category in 1991. I saw all the short film nominees in one sitting at an AMPAS screening that year; "Session Man" was the only one that stirred in my imagination every day for weeks afterward. To this day, I've only seen the film one time, but I couldn't help but feel that "Session Man" and James Remar were two incredible quantities that crossed paths at precisely the perfect moment - I can't imagine one without the other.
Why is this film not more readily available to the public? The time is right for the release of award-winning, short-format film compilations on DVD.