11.26.2006

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1974


The Year is 1974...

And the Supporting Actress Smackdowners for November are NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks; TIM of Mainly Movies; KEN of Canadian Ken On... and welcoming NEWLAND of As Bold As Brass. But alas, there is no NatReel or other montage but there is much to be said about...

And 1974's Supporting Actresses are...
(Each Smackdowner's comments are listed in ascending levels of love. A summary comment from each Smackdowner arrives at the end. Click on the nominee's name/film to see StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sunday review.)
Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express
Ken Sez...
If this were an acting exercise from an unknown, it'd probably be roundly criticized by coach and classmates. Busy. Superficial. But because it's the famous Miss Bergman, everyone genuflects. And the Academy dutifully comes through with an Oscar. Go figure.
Nick Sez...
Okay: I like movie stars, too, but not when they’re gnawing away at barely dimensional characters in frivolous projects, and not when they win gratuitous third Oscars for their pains. (Paging you, too, Mr. Nicholson.) Unembarrassing, but utterly plain.
Newland Sez...
Bergman gave her all to dignify an absurd character, using all the tricks in the book to make an impact on the spectator. Fidgety and with a perennial expression of astonishment, she failed almost completely.
Stinkylulu Sez...
A solid and distinctive enough performance of a basically uninteresting character, nearly pitch-perfect to what the Agatha Christie formula requires. But sheesh. Bergman’s quirked out performance is alternately unremarkable and unwatchable. Ack.
Tim Sez...
Dear oh me – a much worse perf than I remembered, giving even the excruciating Finney a run for his money. Seemingly panicked by her all-star surroundings, Bergman does piety gormlessly and shiftiness fussily. Cretinous acting, and a shocking win.

Valentina Cortese in Day for Night
Stinkylulu Sez...
There's much to admire about this sensible, sensitive performance but something is missing from Cortese’s Severine– a vestigial "sensationalness" perhaps? a casual radiance? A merely good performance of a potentially magnificent role.
Nick Sez...
She conjures exactly the warmth, the laughs, and the sympathy she seeks in those early scenes, culminating in her sad, famous bouquet of blown takes. Still, the poignancy of the turn is shaped more by the director than by Cortese, and cliché is not entirely avoided.
Tim Sez...
Amuses as a self-pitying diva sighing at her reflection, and conjures a daffy-sad highlight from her multiple takes walking into the wrong door. But I was frustrated Truffaut didn’t make more of her in the second half.
Ken Sez...
A much-praised performance. Good - but is that all there is? There's a reason Cortese never achieved full-fledged stardom. She's capable and authoritative - but rather generic. Practically indistinguishable from other continental second-stringers like, say, Rosella Falk. Still, in this tepid field, a front-runner.
Newland Sez...
Flamboyant, decaying diva Sévérine is a delicious treat in the hands of Valentina Cortese. Seeing her repeat the same sequence once and again, and each time in a different way, gives a perfect example of what great actressing at the edges is like.

Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles
Nick Sez...
Like Lesley Ann Warren’s in Victor/Victoria, this parody of blonde floozydom is seriously impaired by the film’s poor staging, structural problems, and limited objectives. Kahn’s walk-on is funny, sure, but it doesn’t resonate.
Tim Sez...
Little more than a skit but a skit to die for, Kahn’s drawling piss-take of a Dietrich floozy is all you could ask of it – sensationally silly revue material. She’s well worth her nomination but only helps this cruddy film so far.
Ken Sez...
The picture's barely worth a schoolboy snigger. But Kahn herself is deeply droll, nailing the Dietrich insolence, the off-key singing, the sang-froid. And socking home the patented Dietrich moment of romantic transfiguration with her rapturously delivered "Wot a nice guy!"
Stinkylulu Sez...
With uncommon precision, Kahn spins gold from this shallow gag of a character and effects an unexpected, accumulating magic, transforming a crass role into one that leaves a tender, comic afterglow.
Newland Sez...
Rising above her material, Kahn gives a memorable performance that transcends the Marlene Dietrich spoof and makes Lily Von Shtupp an instant classic. Her musical number “I’m tired” is hysterical, and from the moment she disappears from the screen, you’re left craving for more.

Diane Ladd in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Ken Sez...
Diane Ladd hung around till Claire Trevor was too old to play Claire Trevor. Then pounced. She's more hard-bitten (and Trevor herself was no Little Nell). But a solid actor and re-actor. And if her Flo-Burger's only bite-sized, it's still tasty.
Nick Sez...
I used to begrudge this nomination, based on its stock-character aspect and Ladd’s limited screen-time. Upon review, though, Ladd does a fresher, scrappier, more inventive job than Cortese of imagining a full, interesting life beyond her glancing role.
Newland Sez...
Delivering her wisecracking lines or being sweet n’ sour in the sunbathing scene, Ladd makes you want to have breakfast with Flo every day of your life. A breeze of fresh air and a performance that really works.
Tim Sez...
Nicely underplays the sass, and provides a crucial bulwark to Burstyn in the late going. I don’t think Scorsese gives Flo quite enough independent life or pushes her anywhere that interesting, but it’s a pleasingly droll, dexterous bit of support.
Stinkylulu Sez...
She talks nearly nonstop but it’s Ladd’s wordless moments – her tentative glances and sideways looks – that anchor Flo's vivid emotional reality. A blowsy yet precise, understated, and palpably vulnerable performance.

Talia Shire in The Godfather, Part II
Nick Sez...
There is at least consistency to Shire’s hard, sour take on this part, but her approach feels flat and discordant compared to the rest of the vivid supporting cast, and the script begs for more dimension than she provides in her final plea to Michael.
Ken Sez...
You know the phenomenon. Big hit movie attracts nominations like iron filings to a magnet. Even in unlikely categories. What other explanation can there possibly be for nominating Shire's perfectly okay (and perfectly ordinary) contribution to Godfather 2? De Niro, though - wow!
Newland Sez...
Connie undergoes various changes throughout the film, from hapless tart to clan matriarch, which is enough to show Shire’s range. However, her scenes are so scattered that you barely notice the performance. Plus, she’s been better in both Parts I and III.
Stinkylulu Sez...
A thin but sturdy reed of a performance. When Shire's on-screen, she’s not at all bad; when she’s off-screen, the movie seems to forget about her. And so do we.
Tim Sez...
Registers only at the start and finish, but packs each close-up with expressive detail, reinforcing the whole arc of the movie with Connie’s switch in attitude – from defiantly abrasive to diplomatic and imploring. Her supplication for Fredo is a disciplined masterclass.


Oscar awarded Ingrid Bergman...


But, by a heart, the SMACKDOWN gives it to:

Valentina Cortese
Valentina snagged 17 total hearts;
Madeline and Diane grabbed - respectively - 16 and 15.

But the big news is: For the first time in the history of the Smackdown, not only did a single performance receive unanimous single-heart votes BUT that very performance happened to be the one awarded by the Academy. So, by executive fiat, StinkyLulu hereby inaugurates a special Award...

THE STINKTRESS
Awarded to an Actress on The Edges
Honoring Special Achievement
in the Receipt of Acclaim, Awards, and Accolades
for an Exceptionally Mediocre, Overhyped, or Just Plain Bad Performance in a Film.

SO, until further notice (and future smackdowns),
Ingrid Bergman will wear the tiara as
the Supporting Actress Smackdown's first (& reigning)
STINKTRESS!!!

Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express
Congrats, Ing!

And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:
Nick Sez: Jesus, what’s that smell??? One would be tempted to say that this race is one stinky lulu, if those terms hadn’t been so transcendentally reappropriated for the powers of good. As it stands, I’m just mystified: Bergman is as fully the idling, slumming star as Shire is the inexpressive, nepotistic inevitability. Kahn is as funny as she can be in a role and a movie that only want (and therefore get) inconsistent kitsch. Cortese and Ladd do very well, but not superbly well, with the sharply limited assignments they inherit. Admittedly, 1974’s bumper crop of masterpieces—with Chinatown, The Conversation, and A Woman Under the Influence leading the crop—have barely anything to offer to this category, and the actors apparently hated the double Oscar-winning Great Gatsby too much to toss a bone to the inimitable and Golden Globe-winning Karen Black. One film the actors clearly did see and deservedly enjoy was Claudine, so it’s a shame they didn’t acknowledge the fierce, wounded maturity of Tamu Blackwell as the eldest daughter of Diahann Carroll’s character. And it’s a shame that Valerie Perrine’s agent didn’t seize a pretty incredible opening on behalf of his client, who nonetheless must have relished her Best Actress nomination for her borderline lead/supporting role in Lenny. Ah well. I guess the rigid laws of Hollywood sexism demand that in the one year, rare as a unicorn, when all five Best Actress nominees are superlative and award-worthy, the supporting gals turn out to embody an all-time low. Can’t have too many good roles running around at one time, after all.
Ken Sez: Once the moral climate thawed out a bit, Hollywood never seemed to stop apologizing to Ingrid Bergman for the Rossellini era tar and feather treatment. But the Oscar for Orient Express was carrying it entirely too far. Even the actress herself seemed needled by the award. In a prickly acceptance speech, she virtually re-gifted it to Valentina Cortese - a clumsy gesture that can hardly have endeared her to the other three nominees, sweeping them implicitly, as it did, into her "I am not worthy" club. Still, four years later, she came back with a knock-out performance in Autumn Sonata (beautiful, nuanced work, confirming to the world that Bergman was still a brilliant - and growing - artist).
Newland Sez: The 1974 bunch of supporting actress nominees is indeed an unusual one for Oscar: rather than nominating archetypically dull mother or girlfriend roles, they chose five brief but pivotal performances, which is what the category should be about. Especially in the case of Kahn and Ladd, you’re left wishing for a bit more of their characters, who appear in the middle of the film and are sorely missed once they disappear. While Shire suffers from a thankless sister role with an unexplained character arch, Bergman was undeservingly rewarded for playing against type, uglifying herself and not appearing ridiculous while talking about brown children born backwards. She was right when she said on her acceptance speech that her Oscar belonged to Valentina Cortese, a performer of great skill who gives an acting masterclass playing a mediocre one.
Tim Sez: I’m on record for rating 1974 as one of Oscar’s banner years, but I’d forgotten quite how much of a dent the Bergman win – and Finney’s nomination – put in the acting categories. Still, knock her out (as I’m sure we have) and this is a good spread of nominees across wildly divergent genres: it’s nice to see voters having the balls to nominate brilliant comic work even in a rank misfire like Blazing Saddles. It strikes me that all these characters are fighting for more space in their movies, making do with curtailed screen time in jostling ensemble pieces, and while Kahn, Ladd and Cortese make more than enough of their opportunities to be nom-worthy, it’s Shire who really pulls out all the stops: only the heartbreaking, inexplicably unnominated John Cazale can match her for scene-playing in their film. There’s only one really rotten egg in this basket, right? And Bergman’s win, I have to concede, is Academy starfucking at its grimmest.
So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!
Join the dialogue in comments.

And be sure to...

VOTE
for December's Roster of
Supporting Actress Sundays
(current results here)

(And don't forget to
sign up for
the "Class of 2006"
Supporting Actress Blogathon!)

16 comments:

StinkyLulu said...

Be sure to check out more 1974 fun in Ken's "Overlooked - 1974" series...

Nick Davis said...

No Jerry Springer "Final Thought" from you, Stinky? Don't hold back, sister. Do it for yourself.

Again, I ask myself: Am I an ungenerous bastard? I seem to have found myself right in consensus or near-consensus about most of these perfs, and yet I'm consistently withholding one more ♥ than my fabulous fellows. I console myself with memories of 1996, when I was tossing out the ♥s like they were SweetTarts. I'm not always this reminiscent of Miss Hannigan.

As for the interesting issue of the short, dispersed perfs in this year's roundup: I agree with Newland that, even if I didn't relish the work, and even if I wonder if it wasn't a default solution to a thin year, I like the inclination toward brief, specific character work... and I think it's interesting how our responses were often forced to read the actressing through the prisms of structure and direction, even more than in some years. Are we faulting or crediting Shire too much for the fact that G2 doesn't always know where to place her or how close to get to her? Can we divorce our response to Kahn from our reaction to her resoundingly un-Oscary vehicle?

StinkyLulu said...

Alas, I'm a little 74'd out at the moment... I think I broke something pounding out 3 profiles & the Smackdown in the space of 4 days. Whew.

But I have to concur with how refreshing it is to consider genuinely supporting performances. (Cortese's was the biggest, both in terms of percentage and length, and even it was only 18 minutes in a 2 hour film.)

And, in terms of being an ungenerous sort, don't worry your pretty little noggin. I had to restrain myself -- I'm serious -- from taking back a heart from dear Valentina when it became clear that Cortese would squeak away with the Smackdown's win. (I find myself liking that performance less and less as the days pass.)

Now that it's all said and done, I'm really glad we hit this year; it provides some very interesting context and perspective.

NATHANIEL R said...

reading your writeups was as always fun... but also I wasn't missing having sat through these based on the ungenerous hearts ')

hopefully next months' choice will have great work from the nominees.

newland said...

Sorry Stinky,

It was only thanks to my five stars to Valentina Cortese that she managed to win over Madeline Kahn. I am to blame. :-(
Still, I'm happy with the result of the smackdown, I think she was the truly deserving winner, although it was really a very very weak year.
I was very happy to participate!

Raybee said...

Hey, Cortese deserved to win!

The one thing I really miss is the lack of a clip real this year. :(

My rankings!

1. Cortese
2. Kahn
3. Bergman
4. Ladd
5. Shire

Nick Davis said...

Wow, Raybee: Bergman above Ladd and Shire. Do tell! It would be really interesting to hear some advocacy for that performance, even if it isn't unqualified.

StinkyLulu said...

Indeed, Raybee, Nathaniel's clipreels do make life worth living. Perhaps we should take up a collection to pay Nathaniel for all the work they take...but I doubt we could afford it even then.

And, to ditto Nick, you really must elucidate your Bergman fondness. I know you're quite a fan, but I'd love to hear more specifically about your appreciation of this performance in particular.

tim r said...

Had great fun reading these as usual, and I like being out on a limb with poor old Shire, I must say. Hard, sour and discordant seem like perfectly fair comment, but I see those qualities as sharp interpretative strokes on her part: remember how mistreated Connie was by Michael at the end of Part I, and how much pride she's swallowing in getting down on her knees to beg in this one. I disagree about Connie being "mismanaged" by Coppola in any way actually – there's exactly the right amount of her to make her aloofness from/rejection of Michael's authority register, dramatically, in her very absence during the film's middle third. And I don't think the role's thankless so much as deliberately squeezed to the margins and fighting to make more impact than she's allowed, which is an interesting challenge for any performer and hardly the kind of nepotistic indulgence we might have expected. (Morgana King's the one who could tell you a few things about thankless.) Anyway, this is clever screenwriting I say, coupled with tight, intelligent playing, and I was determined to give someone a fourth ♥. "Inexpressive", Nick? Handbags at dawn... ;)

Raybee said...

As newland said, this was a very weak supporting actress lineup. I didn't think Shire, Ladd, or Bergman really did anything of note. So, the bottom three could just as easily been ordered in a completely different order and it wouldn't really matter.

Nick Davis said...

My take, aka my handbag:

My beef with G2, despite all its ambitions and glories (to include Strasberg, Gazzo, and Cazale, all wonderful) is that its structural decisions seem so blatant and oversized. To my mind, Coppola rarely allows the logical flow of his story or of the actors' characterizations to dictate the structure, rather than being controlled by it. I do agree that these enormous, speculative leaps and implied connections afford a rare creative opportunity for his very talented actors, but they are very severe requirements, too, and not everyone keeps up. On the plus side, it's incredible that De Niro is able to play such a laconic person in such naturalistic scenes and still lay a convincing groundwork for the more mannered, quietly grandiose figure we've already met in the first Godfather (though I do think De Niro's work is a bit more labored in those later scenes than he is at first). Less happily, Pacino has to play a Michael who is the logical outgrowth of G1, AND keep up with the psychological, intramural, international, and governmental plot strands of G2 (which are affecting HIM simultaneously but which the FILM tends to parse out in distinctive movements)... AND he has to mirror De Niro's Don Vito AND Brando's Don Vito, too. Apparently, the only way to manage all of this is to adopt this Kuleshov blandness that bugged the hell out of me both times I watched the movie, but I wonder, what else could an actor in his position reasonably do?

Which brings me back to Shire: the extremity of her formal marginalization at the very beginning and very end of the movie seem to dictate her performance more than the other way around. But, in her hands, the threads don't connect for me. I don't see much continuity from her Connie in G1 to her Connie at the beginning of G2 to her Connie at the end of G2; the script maintains that she need not be consistent (given her obvious, out-of-sight out-of-mind suppression by the family and by the film), but I think Shire leans too heavily on that invitation and fails to composite a credible person, even a transformed person. Her vociferous embrace of Kay? Her pitying affinity for Fredo? Her willingness to kneel before Michael? The Laura Wingfield demeanor of that long-ago coda sequence? What explains these discontinuties, beyond some very general abstractions (that innocence is always infuriated in these movies, and then domesticated back into the guilty fold; that black-sheep siblings empathize with each other, even siblings as different as Connie and Fredo; that wronged women empathize with each other, even women as different as Kay and Connie)? I can imagine these arguments—I can see that the script and the direction want us to imagine them—but Shire doesn't flesh them out or bind them together for me, and the script both forbids her from doing so and excuses her from trying.

I do like her in Rocky, though. And Huckabees. ;)

tim r said...

Well, it works for me. I agree that Connie is parcelled out in jarring portions, but it gives us the creative opportunity too of reading backwards to understand where the transformations may have been seeded. The effect of the coda sequence is all the more poignant because we see that these characters have been shaped, involuntarily all along, by external circumstances and pressures. And that helps reinforce the connections Coppola wants us to feel with classical tragedy – there are malicious gods at work shaping the Corleones' destinies, distorting them as people, forcing them to perform "out-of-character" gestures of self-preservation or self-denial, or to make effortful movements back into the fold that seem virtually out of the blue. (It's stylised, yes, though I can think of plenty of instances in Greek tragedy of a character kneeling before a hated enemy with similar lack of hesitation. I was always taught that "out of character" was an unhelpful notion to apply in those plays because the characters are only ever the sum of what they're forcing themselves to do or say, and the same in a way goes here. Plus, a funeral is so often the occasion in families for bygones to be buried, right? It's entirely crucial to my belief in those scenes that they've just buried their mother.) Your argument vs GPII is superb and plausible as long as we agree that the players aren't up to "explaining" the jumps: I just don't, in most cases. Though I have to say I'm with you on Pacino, whom I struggled with more than ever on this viewing. "Kuleshov blandness" is lovely. Hollowed fatalism? Michael's decisions drive the movie much more than anyone else's, so it's rather perverse that he adopts the most zombified and overdetermined demeanour, as if everything were out of his hands and in the lap of those pesky gods. I want to slap him for most of the picture. No doubt I'm meant to. The make-up doesn't help...

John T. said...

I've seen Kahn, Bergman, and Shire, and would have given the trophy to Kahn by a nose over Shire out of those three.

However, am I the only one who is in love with Diane Keaton in The Godfather, Part II? Her abortion speech alone is worthy of the Oscar that year. I also think that Wendy Hiller in Orient Express and the Leachman/Kahn duet in Young Frankenstein is better than any nominee I've seen. Keaton would have won for me, hands down.

And though it's not this category, a gripe about Supporting Actors of 1974-I know that Fred Astaire is an acting and dancing god, but when his role in The Towering Inferno trounces the nervous trickle of John Cazale's Fredo or the overarching menace of John Huston's Noah Cross, what is the world coming to?

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

A fun read, as always (and for once, I'd seen all the competitors), though I was devastated all over again to see my beloved Madeline Kahn lose to a capable but ultimately underwhelming performance.

I was hoping the Smackdown panel would compensate for Kahn having had the Oscar stolen from her for the second year in a row.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I'm surprised the Academy didn't give the award to Talia Shire, considering she was in their BP winner and all and they've already given Bergman two trophies and, well, it ain't much cop that performance, is it?

It's funny that Nick should mention Warren in his bit about Kahn, because is there anything better than watching those two (and Eillen Brennan too) make funny in 1985's Clue? I think not (okay, maybe there is, but 'tev)

Nathaniel said...

Since 1975 won it'll be fun to see, too, if the ACADEMY redeemed themselves the next year after this reportedly horrid lineup (confession: I haven't seen one of these nominees from 74. Not one)