Thursday, January 26, 2012

Best Actress Birthday Party, Week 5

Another light week like last week, although this pace won't persist. I'll be dancing as fast as I can come mid-February. For now...

Born January 29–February 4:
Click here for the full list of entries

Jan 30: Vanessa Redgrave (75)
New Review: The Sea Gull (1968)
Vanessa's Best Work: Obviously, even Vanessa's second and third tiers of work would be a lot of actress's best efforts. If forced to single out her peaks, I always go back to her astonishing ingenuity in small roles in Julia (my review) and Howards End (my review, Favorite Films). Both times, she showed us the idea inside the woman and the woman inside the idea, in no time at all. I remember every beat of both performances. Her best lead performance, I think, was as Fania Fenelon, the increasingly dissipated, furious, and ambivalent concentration-camp prisoner in Playing for Time.
I've Also Seen: I've written academically on Redgrave's career, so I've seen a lot: getting her feet wet in Morgan! (Oscar ballot); opaque in Blowup (Favorite Films); so white-hot that miscasting was inevitable for a while, but especially in Camelot; taking risks, grand and garish, in Isadora; tremendous in a seemingly impossible role as a sex-crazed, hunchbacked Medieval nun in The Devils (my review); beautiful, uninhibited, but going down with the ship a bit in The Trojan Women; totally outwitted by Glenda Jackson in Mary, Queen of Scots; coasting on glamour, which is not a bad option, in Murder on the Orient Express; doing her best with odd scripts in Agatha and Yanks; saving Olive Chancellor from Henry James and from a stiff film in The Bostonians, without the easy route of making the character any comfier; very interesting as one of those impossible ciphers of David Hare's in Wetherby; very sly, if a bit overrated, in Prick Up Your Ears; a shrill, sexy, bold-stroke take on American South Gothic in Orpheus Descending (my review), and back on adjacent geography as the towering androgyne in The Ballad of the Sad Café; the raison d'être for Little Odessa, without even being in it very much; having fun in Mission: Impossible; extremely moving and unafraid of the icon in Mrs. Dalloway (my review); improbably stirring in Deep Impact; hitting another career peak, so devastating and candid is she in If These Walls Could Talk 2; soft but stalwart as Churchill's wife in The Gathering Storm; underseen, monologuing with theatrical stamina all through The Fever, directed by her son; trying her best to make Venus more than a wan Oscar play for O'Toole; doing her thing where she rides in to save a struggling film in Atonement; happy to co-sign the cause in The Whistleblower; and not as exciting to me as she was to many others, but still terrifically good, in Coriolanus
      She's also had blink-and-you-miss-her parts in A Man for All Seasons (my review); the rather moving Charge of the Light Brigade; the arch but hard-to-remember Oh! What a Lovely War; the turgid House of the Spirits, which she exits in high style; haunted in Smilla's Sense of Snow; a gaping jaw in Wilde, and again in Cradle Will Rock; institutional wisdom in Girl, Interrupted; haunted again in The Pledge; in The White Countess, nobody's favorite movie but surely a cherished memory for her; and fading away with everyone else in Evening, though her mates look appropriately awed by her.
Where To Go Next: I'm really intrigued by Laika's suggestion of Steaming and have it coming in the mail. Now that The Sea Gull has finally become available, though, I'm hoping some industrious outfit will distribute Red and Blue and especially The Sailor from Gibraltar, the two films Redgrave made early on with her then-husband Tony Richardson.

Jan 31: Jean Simmons (83; died 2010)
New Review: The Actress (1953)
Jean's Best Work: A controlled performance of a woman going in and out of control in Elmer Gantry, a film that intriguingly rides that line in every way, and allows this complicated woman a full-ish run of her dark, energetic, starchy, and ornery sides
I've Also Seen: A vague memory in Black Narcissus, but only because so much else is so overwhelmingly vivid; fine as Ophelia, a close-to-thankless part, and not well served by that track backward on the staircase in Olivier's Hamlet; fun once she's let loose in Guys and Dolls, though you can tell it's not her usual mode; not adding a lot in Spartacus; trying a bit hard at the start of The Happy Ending, but gradually quite affecting (performance review); hanging with the other ladies in How To Make an American Quilt, well after she'd virtually retired; lending a key voice to Howl's Moving Castle, well after having retired again
Where To Go Next: I'll eventually get to her Oscar-bait movies like The Robe and The Big Country, but first up will be her well-reviewed turn in Otto Preminger's acidic-sounding Angel Face. Still harboring hope I'll respond to this gal.

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Blogger Sam Brooks said...

Wow. That's a whole lot of Redgrave you've seen. Out of the ones you haven't, maybe Anonymous, which I hear is fun if entirely inaccurate or Letters for Juliet, which is inoffensive trash. Neither are anywhere even near the middle-range of her work. (I would've given a few limbs to see her in Long Day's Journey into Night or The Year of Magical Thinking.)

As for Simmons, the only one I've seen outside of the ones you list is an apparent cameo in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Divorce, American Style, which was fun enough!

Good luck with whatever you pick. Can't wait for the reviews.

12:16 AM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger Tim said...

Simmons isn't in it all that much, but David Lean's Great Expectations is about as good as Dickens adaptations get. She's also one of the only non-soporific things about The Robe, which you know you're going to have to see at some point. Ah, Oscar completism! So many Henry Koster films you've made me watch.

The only Redgrave I've seen that you haven't is Miral which she barely appears in, but it's a great example of how bad she could actually be; and Anonymous, where she's camped-up enough to be fun, but I hardly imagine you can get your hands on that at this point.

I am, at any rate, very eager to see what rarity you can scrounge up.

1:00 AM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger Walter L. Hollmann said...

Do I take it, then, that you've missed out on The Big Country, wherein Jean Simmons plays the enabling landowner at the center of a dispute between clans? Great movie, actually, a Wyler western that challenges the idea and values of the frontier.

As for Redgrave, if you can get Letters to Juliet or Anonymous, you will be rewarded by, respectively, a glowing warmth that sells the central love story and a twitchy, completely bats performance that livens the proceedings. Though I personally loved Anonymous.

1:36 AM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@All 3: Have heard nice things about her in Letters to Juliet but not sure I'm feeling that just now. Plus, didn't she film it right after Natasha died? I know this is weird, but I've always been embarrassed to watch it, out of a fear that I'll think too much about how she must have felt at that moment, and go looking for it or projecting it in the performance.

I'm still waiting to here a single nice thing about Miral, and it's way, way over my Freida Pinto quota (as a Palestinian????). As an English professor, I cannot possibly watch Anonymous in any context except as a drinking game among friends and colleagues. For which plans exist.

I want to see Robe and Big Country eventually but cannot do a 3-hour extravaganza just now. But I love having these recs for later, especially since your endorsements for both are well above the median.

2:18 AM, January 26, 2012  
Anonymous goran said...

I was briefly obsessed with Simmons after seeing Great Expectations, which also a movie more enthralling than you could ever expect a Dickens adaptation to be.

As for Redgrave, I've barely even heard of most of the movies you listed. I am deeply deeply embarrased.

3:50 AM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger Dave said...

Bringing nothing new to this party, but: the only Redgrave I've seen outside your list is Miral, and she essentially goes down the miserable ship. I have to say, despite my admiration for the woman herself (which is a contentious position in itself), I've never quite 'got' Vanessa - impressive in small doses (Julia, Howards End, Coriolanus), but rest the success of a film on her shoulders, and she seems to lose grip on things. That said, there are enough stirring moments in a wonky characterisation (in a wonky film; and no, I've never used the word "wonky" in my academic work, promise) like Isadora that I sense she's one of those performers who reach finer peaks by enduring deeper lows, and will prove a lasting fascination for that.

I suspect you've chosen this anyway, but I must make a strong push for Simmons in Great Expectations - easily my most vivid and exciting memory of what is a very striking and marvellously atmospheric Dickens adaptation regardless. She's always disappointed me since that introduction, but I probably haven't seen the right things.

7:13 AM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger Fritz said...

I totally agree with your thoughts about their best work - Redgrave was sensational in Julia and Howards End and Jean Simmons would have made a very deserving nominee (and winner) for Elmer Gantry.

8:29 AM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Everyone: I'm loving the vociferous push for Simmons in Great Expectations, but the sad truth is, I was somehow passed along through American public high school without ever reading the novel, and it's one of those cases where I really do want to enjoy that book eventually without knowing exactly where I'm headed. (Somehow, I'm not expecting my threadbare memories of the Cuarón to stand much in my way.) So, this is a great recommendation, but it's not where I'll be headed right away.

12:01 PM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger CCW said...

Redgrave brings quite a bit of class to just a handful of scenes in Henry Jaglom's Deja Vu. She also, if I remember correctly, gets to share the screen with mum, Rachel Kempson, which is a lovely little treat.
If you can find it, A Quiet Place in the Country, is an interesting "Euro-thriller" re-teaming with Franco Nero from the late 60s.
Both films are definitely between those second and third tiers you mentioned, but, I think, worth a look.

4:27 PM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger Dan Callahan said...

Nick, if you haven't seen Redgrave as Renee Richards in the TV film "Second Serve," oh, do that one if you can find it. For me, that is her greatest lead performance, neck-in-neck with only "Playing for Time," done on a less-than-a-month TV schedule and filled with just staggering imaginative empathy for her character.

She has to play a man in the first scenes, then a woman as Renee makes her transition. There's a scene where Renee hasn't had the operation yet but goes out in woman's clothes and gets attacked, and the flux of gender identities Redgrave pulls off in this scene just makes my head swim.

For Simmons, "Angel Face" has to be her best work and her best film. And she's also wonderful in Cukor's "The Actress." Those are her Big Two, I think.

10:28 PM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Dan: That was exactly the movie I wanted to see for this round, but it sure is a tough varmint to track down. Even Interlibrary Loan reports that no major university holds a copy of the VHS—a disturbing fact, too, about Playing for Time, as I discovered when I was hunting that one down a few years ago. I think I've got a bead on a copy now, but it might have to wait till Louise Fletcher's birthday. Or (shocking thought), I could just watch it cuz I want to. Really, really excited about it, but not at bat for Monday.

11:37 PM, January 26, 2012  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Dan: You're dead-on, though, about my Simmons choice. It's one of those two.

@Everyone: Is it annoying that I don't just tell you what I'm planning to watch? I kind of like the suspense, and I suspect from past experience that you'd be less forthcoming with suggestions, even exhortations, if you knew where I was headed. At the same time, if I'm being irritatingly coy, I hope you'd tell me. And—real talk—if you actually think you'd hunt down some of these movies and be eager to chat about them on the day of the review if I announced them ahead of time, that'd be a great incentive for me to err on the side of early disclosure.

12:08 AM, January 27, 2012  
Blogger Walter L. Hollmann said...

Well, definitely. Like Lulu's Smackdowns and Nathaniel's Best Shot, I find that blogger projects are the best way to motivate me to finally watch something. As the great Mr. Green said, "Let us in! Let us in!"

12:30 AM, January 27, 2012  
Anonymous Laika said...

I've forgotten if I've already posted to suggest this, but...

Joseph Losey's final film 'Steaming' (1985) is one of the few Redgraves I've seen that you haven't. I'd hesitate to recommend it exactly - my interest was literally academic - but it does have a curiosity value for its range of performance styles (Vanessa Redgrave and Diana Dors together, at last!) and it was clearly one of those projects Redgrave was interested in for its overt political concerns (like a lot of work by its writer Nell Dunn, it plays as a weird fusion of Brechtian drama and Carry On film). It might just top 'Tim' in the oddness stakes, if that's an incentive. I'm desperate to have some other source acknowledge this film's existence, so be warned that I'll be plugging it again once Sarah Miles comes round at the end of the year...

7:14 AM, January 27, 2012  
Blogger Dan Callahan said...

I like the suspense, actually--and the chance to talk about what you've seen and haven't seen.

Oh, and isn't it exhausting to be a Vanessa completist? In the time we've written these comments, she's probably filmed four more cameos and a ten-hour miniseries in Russia.

I've seen around 100 of her 122 credits, and there's just always more, and always, always so hard to find! I'll probably never actually see her famous Rosalind, which she filmed for TV, or her miniseries from the '70s about Katherine Mansfield. And I'm dying too. I mean, I've sat through things like "Consuming Passions" and "Mother's Boys." And that whole "Peter the Great" series on YouTube!

"Two Mothers for Zachary" was on YouTube, where her co-star is Valerie Bertinelli (!) and she's cast as a trashy Southern Mama (!!) She has some fine moments in that.

9:19 AM, January 27, 2012  

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