Best Actress Birthday Party, Week 5
Born January 29February 4:
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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.