Supporting Actress Sundays: 1971
My pals Stinky and Queering the Apparatus both raised articulate objections to Ann-Margret's work, but because the visual and tonal atmosphere of Carnal Knowledge verges so heavily on the sterile and abstract, I admired the inertia of Ann-Margret's performance, its unironic woundedness, her simultaneously dim and pointed pauses, and the sad way in which her voice and face and body hover away from the script instead of getting drawn into its angular shapes and severe rhythms. In a strange paradox, I think she's the least talented and resourceful of the nominated actresses (also to include Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, double Tony-winner Margaret Leighton, and the indomitable Barbara Harris), but, save for Harris, she does the ablest job of fighting for her character and shifting the ground of the movie, quite against the efforts of her director. Most of the directors of these films were greater hindrances than helps to their actors, but whereas Peter Bogdanovich turns the credible, interesting women in The Last Picture Show's script into glassy, symptomatic figures of Womanhood, and Burstyn and Leachman find no way out of his oppressive and reductive aesthetic, Ann-Margret inherits a glassy and symptomatic script and creates a real woman inside itpalpably real in her anomie and neglect, and her barely adolescent despair inside a ripely adult bodyand she complicates rather than adhering to or betraying the style or flow of the piece. (And to Stinky's objections that Ann-Margret forgets that Bobbie is supposed to be fun, I'd counter that it's Nicholson and Garfunkel who keep insisting that she's "fun," but surely their myopic and cruel perspectives are not to be trusted, at least not necessarily.)
I'd seen Carnal Knowledge once before and found its atmosphere so noxious and its aesthetic so highfalutin in relation to its subject that I forgot how impressed I was with Ann-Margret, and I probably underestimated the film a little bit, too. I still wouldn't recommend it, exactly, although Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, and a late-arriving Rita Moreno are all quite good, and I wouldn't recommend any of the other films, either, except insofar as Oscar found five performances that are truly worth arguing over in this field, and all of them relate to their films (often redeeming whole chapters of their films) in curious and memorable ways, even when they don't always work out. Go read the post and the long necklace of Comments that have since been added, and keep chiming in... and come back for 1990 next month, when I suspect I will once again fall into a critical minority on at least two counts. But we'll cross that crazy grifter and that happy medium when we get to them.