10.30.2006

Ketty Lester in Blacula (1972) - The Film Experience's Vampire Blog-a-Thon

For years, StinkyLulu's been longing to screen Blacula, the legendary blaxploitation horror classic. Horror is a genre best screened en ensemble, and blaxploitation's something of a specialized taste, and most of Lulu's movie buds don't much go for either, and well -- it's been 20 years and Lulu's still never gotten 'round to Blacula. But now -- thanks to The Vampire Blog-a-Thon at The Film Experience -- the opportunity finally arrived & StinkyLu was a brave lil Lulu & went for the adventure of Blacula all alone just last night. Skeery. And funny. Lulu's favorite....

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The narrative scenario of Blacula is pretty simple: in the late 18th century, the regal African Prince Mamuwalde (played here by classically-trained actor William Marshall, known best by many as "The King of Cartoons") travels to Transylvania with his African queen Luva (Vonetta McGee) to enlist Count Dracula's help in stopping the slave trade. The meeting doesn't go well (that pasty faced Dracula's all into slavery and he wants to keep Luva for hisself) and Prince Mamuwalde -- being a badass as well as an African prince -- fights back. But Count Dracula is a tricksy one and wreaks his own eternal vengeance upon Prince Mamuwalde by turning him into a vampire & locking him in a fancy coffin. Then...well, truth be told, lovely reader, Blacula's theatrical trailer tells you pretty much everything you need to know. (Watch it now!)


click image for video

And, yes, lovely reader: Blacula's as beautifully bad as it seems...straight black sexist camp. And golly. S'good, so so good. (Take a quick gander at the hilarious yet gorgeous opening animation for another whiff of this crazy concoction.) But even better, Blacula's just ripe with Supporting Actress talent -- "fine" women like Denise Nicholas, Vonetta McGee, and Emily Yancy on their way to being fine actresses -- among the many black women of their generation whose careers got jump-started by their actressing at the edges of blaxploitation era cinema. But among them all, nobody thrills StinkyLulu more than...


...Ketty Lester in Blacula (1972).

Yes, lovely reader, that Ketty Lester: the "Love Letters" singing actress and featured player on 70s tv who has long been among StinkyLulu's most favorites. In Blacula, Ketty Lester plays Juanita, The Lady Cab Driver. Lester's Juanita becomes one of Prince Mamuwalde's more energetic victims. In the first of her two main scenes, Prince Mamuwalde is chasing the beautiful Tina (McGee) who he believes to be the reincarnation of his beloved African queen Luva. (One of the tastiest treats of Blacula is the most excellent, though uncredited, costume design for the female characters. Possibly it was "Wardrobe Woman" Sandy Stewart who developed the the quilted leather cab driver bustier worn by Lester's Juanita, or the glittery purple a-line mini, with matching purple patent wedge-heeled pumps, worn by McGee's Tina as she fled from Mamuwalde through the darkened streets of Los Angeles. Ahhh, blaxploitation fashion. Good times...) Anyway, Lester's Juanita hits Prince Mamuwalde with her cab and then proceeds to tell him off. Somewhere in her tirade, Lester's Juanita grows a touch fearful and then all of a sudden Prince Mamuwalde becomes Blacula & feeds on Juanita.

After this brief, hilarious and energizing scene, it would seem that Blacula's through with Lester's Juanita. But noooooooooo. That's the treat of a vampire movie -- the dead come back -- and Lester's Juanita does so with verve. See, the Lady Cab Driver is among Blacula's first few victims in Los Angeles and the suave medical examiner is particularly interested in this wave of black victims seeming to go unnoticed by the LAPD. Bringing Juanita's body from the morgue proves to be a mistake, however, because Lester's Juanita awakens with a thirst for blood. In the film's only genuinely thrilling sequence, Lester's Ketty chases down and chomps on the morgue attendant. The close-ups and the long shots of Lester's Juanita running to attack create some of Blacula's few true frights. And then! In the movie's most exhilarating sequence, the suave investigator totally undoes the vampire Juanita with a killer cocktail -- a bit of sunlight, stirred by a crucifix -- and Lester just goes for her "death of a vampire" scene with a skeery vengeance. She shrieks, she howls, she convulses, she wails, she flails, she just does it...an honestly fearless & fearsome performance that echoes through the rest of the film. Itsa scary. Itsa wowza.

Itsa Lady Cab Driver Vampire!


And thanks to Ketty Lester, it's also frickin' fabulous.

• • • • •


But what would a blaxploitation vampire movie from the 70s movie be without a mad dash of homo horror? In Blacula, the requisite manic homo panic arrives in the form of an interracial pair of swishing interior decorators who buy the contents of the Dracula mansion and ship it to LA (thus bringing Blacula to America as cargo). These two -- referred to repeatedly as "those faggot interior decorators" -- are Blacula's first kills and reappear in fascinating ways throughout the narrative. Indeed, like Lester's Juanita The Lady Cab Driver/Vampire, "those faggot interior decorator" vampires have a few fabulous moments. Hardly enlightening queer representation but something's sorta cool transcends the film's homo horror...

• • • • •

10.29.2006

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1982


The Year is 1982...

And the Supporting Actress Smackdowners for October are NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks; NATHANIEL of The Film Experience, and KEN of Canadian Ken On.... But first, after a brief respite in which his contributions were much much missed, do pause to admire the wonderment of the NatReel for...


click image to be routed to The Film Experience for video

And 1982'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.)
Glenn Close in The World According to Garp
Ken Sez...
She constantly sounds like a library lady reading to a gathering of intimidated six year olds. Enunciation just so, Close carefully assigns each sentence its own theatrical rise and fall. Demonstrating, along the way, very little faith in the audience's ability to grasp things.
Nick Sez...
As compared to the acuity of later Close performances, her Jenny Fields seems a little hazy around the edges to me. However, the actress' mercurial shifts among serenity, intensity, irony, farce, and ethereality add valuable depth to a dubious plotline.
Nathaniel Sez...
Given that Jenny is a humourless woman, the humor of this performance: all quickchange moods and matter of fact line readings is especially welcome. But even with a lesser actress, the eccentric role itself would've snagged a nomination.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Close's Nurse Jenny -- single mother and patrician New England prig-cum-radical -- hovers as a formidable and enveloping presence, the singular point of constancy for the narrative's picaresque swirl. Close's is a theatrically huge performance that, especially in moments of pungent intimacy, becomes palpably human.

Teri Garr in Tootsie
Stinkylulu Sez...
Garr's deft mix of utter cluelessness and wounded pride girds the comedy of the performance with a memorable poignancy. A prickly wisp of a performance.
Nick Sez...
I absolutely love Teri Garr in this movie for investing Sandy with such a rattle-bag of anxiety, gusto, inadequacy, and appeal, without ever being coarse or condescending. In no time at all, she's winning and warm, and a complete mess.
Nathaniel Sez...
She never topped the comedic heights she hit here but no other role ever fit her so well, did it? Isn't this manic, ditsy, self-esteem challenged actor Garr's screen persona distilled? Memorable, funny, and certainly nomination worthy.
Ken Sez...
Perpetually and hilariously lodged on the top floor of a house of cards, gales approaching from every direction, Garr is literally breathtaking as she plays non-stop ping-pong with her insecurities. One of the great comic performances - and touching too.

Jessica Lange in Tootsie
Stinkylulu Sez...
Lange's performance registers Julie's many halting steps in her transformation from a woman trapped by her pretty life to a woman willing to chart her own happiness. It's a complex character performance that never betrays the simplicity of the character -- no mean feat.
Nick Sez...
Her bruised emotional transparency, funny and gently self-mocking but palpably rueful all the same, is indispensable to the movie, never more than in the finale, when her underplayed ambivalence keeps the movie from tying too big of a bow around itself..
Ken Sez...
Her initial moments seem light as an air bubble, but that bubble soon reveals a rainbow of reflected colors. There's a lovely intimacy to her acting. And a delicate touch. Furthermore, Lange supplies "Tootsie" with something it vitally needs - fresh air.
Nathaniel Sez...
Confession: Lange is one of those acclaimed stars that I don't really get, usually finding her too mannered by half. Still, there is something about the minor demands of this role, that bring out a fine tuned perfectly realized character arc. She's luminous.

Kim Stanley in Frances
Nick Sez...
Stanley's approach is deeply, uncomfortably unusual, wielding her vocal and facial mannerisms like bludgeons, sometimes indiscriminately. And yet, her eccentricity makes Lillian a specific, desperate, and disappointed person, rather than a boring archetype..
Nathaniel Sez...
It's disturbing to watch her swat away her own awareness like its a minor annoyance. The ferocity with which she clings to simple fantasies at her daughters expense is compellingly performed. Unfortunately that's all that the role requires.
Stinkylulu Sez...
As Lillian Farmer -- the centrifugal force impelling Frances' emotionally apocalyptic downward spiral -- Kim Stanley acquits this tricksy role with savvy restraint, calibrating the bathos and the pathos of this inhuman monster mom with humane grace.
Ken Sez...
It takes her awhile to unpack just the right combination of effects. But when she does, watch out! Stanley cuts right to the complicated, thorny heart of a spotlight-hungry woman, bedeviled by the knowledge that the prize egg in her nest is a ticking time bomb.

Lesley Anne Warren in Victor/Victoria
Ken Sez...
I love this lady. So it's always bugged me that the one Warren performance I dislike is the one that got her Oscar-nominated. She exercises her inner Lina Lamont with a vengeance. But it's just a party trick - and not a good one.
Nick Sez...
Like her character, Warren's always hurling things at her co-stars and her audience: that voice, those eyes, that laugh, that bit of crockery. I appreciate and enjoy her committed lunges into wild comedy, but the routine still feels a bit limited.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Unfettered, untrammeled, utterly trashy genius abounds in Warren's performance as Norma. She never bores, often surprises (those line readings!) and -- like the best drag personas -- stays in on the joke while also completely oblivious to it. A genuine treat.
Nathaniel Sez...
With absolute commitment to a stock role (dumb blonde gangsters moll) and zealous showmanship, she raises the game of an already funny comedy. So genius that she's even hilarious from offscreen, her disembodied voice earning big laughs.

Oscar awarded Jessica Lange...


But the SMACKDOWN makes it a mathematical tie:

Teri Garr AND Jessica Lange!

Teri & Jessica end up with 3.75 hearts each.
Glenn & Lesley got 3.25 hearts each, with Kim getting an even 3.
Looks like it's time for a TIE-BREAKER (see below).

And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:

Stinkylulu Sez: This roster remains just startlingly accomplished. Each of these actresses work wonders in their variously limiting roles. So much so, in fact, that it's hard to think of any one of these films without remembering its nominated Supporting Actress/es right off the bat. Add to that the fact that the characters are among the more clich├ęd roles available for women -- smothering mothers, abandoned girlfriends, a breathtaking beauty of unappreciated depth -- and then imagine these roles in almost anyone else's hands... Well. The Supporting Actresses of 1982 done real good. Which is why it's so odd that Lulu can't really pick a favorite. One performance falls out of the mix purty quick (sorry Teri) but the others, just keep jockeying... Maybe that's why StinkyLulu loves 1982 so much -- it's easy to just keep thinking about these performances, over and over and over and over again which (at least for actressexuals like StinkyLulu) is the stuff of orgiastic delight. Thanks, Ladies...
Nick Sez: Nice to have a field without any stinkers, but perplexing, too, to discover that nobody stakes a definitive claim on the award. I love what Lange's performance style enables for Tootsie, leavening the calculated zaniness with credible feeling, and almost embarrassing Hoffman with her openness and honesty, so that his own performance as Dorothy, as well as Michael Dorsey's, has to work to keep pace—to deserve her, really. At the same time, I'm going to buck conventional wisdom and cast my vote for Garr. Her Sandy is just as humane and sincere a creation as Lange's Julie, but with a much wider range of tone and personality to survey in much less time, and with much less audience investment. She also, for me, scores the heartiest laugh in the movie, when she implores Michael to be honest with her, and then explodes into hysterical denials when he finally is. Garr is much more willing and able to embody a joke than Lange is, and yet, I'm not sure Michael deserves her, either. Good show..
Ken Sez: Glenn Close undoubtedly has the steel backbone to project Jenny's formidability. But steel's not the best building material for whimsy. Clearly not an incompetent performance - but an unnecessarily chilly one ... In a better adaptation of the source material Lesley Ann Warren might have shone playing Victoria. More, certainly, than Julie Andrews who, as usual, doesn't so much deliver her lines as dispense them, ever the patient and practical school nurse ... Lange and Stanley acquit themselves beautifully. But it's definitely Garr at the head of the class. She emerges from the bathroom, plunger aloft, does a quick virtuoso run up and down the comic scale - then miraculously maintains that dizzy level of accomplishment. When she makes her final exit, you want to follow her and watch THAT movie..
Nathaniel Sez: This crop of nominees are all respectable and enjoyable choices for a shortlist and one is, for me, an unqualified triumph (Warren). That the category skewed so heavily comedic in this year (only Stanley's performance is free of jokes) is yet another reminder that Oscar voters are willing to laugh, so long as the chuckles are coming from the sidelines. On another note, again and again with these smackdowns I'm reminded of how much of the acclaim that greets any actors performance is such a tangle of influences: casting, the character as written, their previous films, their chemistry with co-stars. These "contests" are truly complex. How much of it is ever the performance itself? If you shuffled the women here to each others roles, how different would the results be?.

So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!
Join the dialogue in comments. And be sure to
VOTE on who you think was

"Best Supporting Actress - 1982"!

(results here)

(And don't forget to take a gander at what's NEXT for the Supporting Actress Smackdown!)

Kim Stanley in Frances (1982) - Supporting Actress Sundays

It's somehow fitting that StinkyLulu's hitting Frances last in the sequence of 1982 Supporting Actresses. Because -- truth be told, lovely reader -- StinkyLulu's been avoiding this film for nearly 25 years. It's an avoidance that became, at times, nearly comical in the later 1980s when video store trips with friends (including Fag Yer It, among others) would inevitably include a moment when one or another would rush to the group with the video box of Frances in hand, only to be greeted by a chorus of "Ohhhhhhh Nooooooo Toooooo Intense." The routine became so rote 'twas nearly a chacha. But, finally, tonight, at long last -- StinkyLulu's survived a complete screening of the film, not to mention the final Supporting Actress performance for 1982...


...Kim Stanley in Frances (1982).
approximately 23 minutes and 37 seconds on-screen
21 scenes (nearly half of which clock at less than 1/2 a minute)
roughly 17% of film's total screen time


Legendary stage actress Kim Stanley plays Lillian Farmer, the passionately devoted mother of the rebellious actress, Frances Farmer (played here with electrifying intelligence and devastating emotion by Jessica Lange, the 1982 trophy-snagger for Supporting Actress). Stanley's Lillian is her daughter's greatest fan. Indeed, Lillian Farmer wants nothing but for her daughter to be a star, and, for a time, it seems that Lillian's many wishes upon her daughter will come true.

Indeed, Lillian's pride in her daughter fills her near to bursting and Stanley's adept performance shows just how difficult it is for Lillian to keep the lid on that bubbling pot of maternal pride. In what is one of the performance's most elegant aspects, Stanley gilds her performance with a surprising coyness. For example, in the film's earlier scenes, as her daughter's insouciance gathers attention and notoriety, Stanley's Lillian just beams -- but she does so almost shyly. This curious touch proves suggestive of the fatal paradox of the eviscerating mother-daughter dynamic at the core of this film: As the pride and passion Stanley's Lillian feels for her daughter's potential grows, so too does her belief that she must keep herself (and her daughter) properly stifled.

This pathology for propriety causes Lillian -- Frances' greatest fan -- to also become her ficklest. Stanley's Lillian needs for Frances to be something perfect, something marvelous, something other than the complicated woman she is. And Stanley's performance expertly conveys the rankness this kind of self-absorption, the cruelty of this need. And as Lange's Frances catches on to her mother's childish games, Stanley's Lillian fights back -- meanly, viciously, inhumanely. It's as though Frances' identity is a plaything for Lillian, and the power of Stanley's performance comes in showing just how far this woman will go to maintain her grasp upon her favorite toy.

As Lillian, Kim Stanley (aka The Female Brando) acquits this tricksy role with savvy restraint (imagine either Stapleton or Page in the part...), thereby calibrating the bathos and the pathos of this classic cinematic monster-mom with uncommon grace. And while the film's devastating impact derives from Lange's elemental and astonishing performance, it's Stanley's performance as Lillian Farmer that creates the centrifugal force driving Frances' emotionally apocalyptic downward spiral. She's a doozy, she is. (So, take that, little sister...)

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Tune in shortly for the
1982 Supporting Actress Smackdown
(featuring Nick, Nat, Tim, Lulu & Ken)!

And in the meantime, there're still a few more minutes to
VOTE
for NOVEMBER's roster of
Supporting Actress Sundays!