Margaret Avery in The Color Purple (1985) - Supporting Actress Sundays

Lo those many years ago, Inez inaugurated StinkyLulu's early fascination with Alice Walker by dragging a teenaged Lulu to a book signing in the “University area” on a school night. Inez had just made Lulu read Alice Walker’s novel that spring (the spring of Lu’s sophomore year & way way way before The Color Purple was assigned in high schools). Indeed, it’s sorta funny now to think of how Inez & Lu – two teenage boys in the sticks outside ABQ – doubtfully loaned our personal copies of The Color Purple to our respective moms, not at all certain our mothers could fully appreciate Celie’s story. (Precocious snobs from way back, Lulu & Inez were mortified by our moms's devotion to the oeuvre of Catherine Cookson...) But Lulu remembers also being just a little possessive of the story, in part because Lil Teenaged Lulu had fallen in love with the character of Shug. In. Love. (Having fallen almost as hard as Celie.) StinkyLulu just loved the character’s rawness, her rudeness, her riotousness... (Notably, the character of Sofia made no comparable impression whatsoever.) But when rumors swirled that Tina Turner (one of Lulu’s other big swoons that year) offered the role but turned it down...well, Lulu was more than a little devastated. And wondered who would – who could? – play Shug? And who was this.....

...Margaret Avery in The Color Purple (1985).
approximately 36 minutes and 25 seconds
21 scenes
roughly 25% of film's total running time

For StinkyLulu (& for Celie I'd propose) Shug Avery represents a kind of illicit abundance. Shug probably shouldn't doing some of the things she's doing, but while she's doing them, she's going to do right by them & enjoy them to the fullest. No nihilist, though, Shug's got a heart, and it's a heart Shug comes to know better by coming to know Celie. Shug's also that absent beloved, the one who blows into town every so often making everything a lot more alive... Indeed, the character of Shug's got it all -- highs, lows, scenes of her own, scenes to steal, plus a few songs -- it's the kind of role (not unlike Effie White) that seems almost guaranteed a nomination, if not the win.

@ 1985 seconds - "...fo the next aay or ten month Olvuh was the victim of a sisstem metack corss of teachry..."

Margaret Avery was, like most of the principal female performers in the cast, a little known actress when she snagged the role that garnered a Supporting Actress nomination. A charismatic, elegant performer, the teenaged StinkyLulu found Avery all wrong for Shug. (Developing something of a grudge against the actress as a result.) The space of a few decades forces StinkyLulu to acknowledge that, while not perfect, Margaret Avery's performance is very good. Not perfect. But very good. And even though she doesn't do her own singing, Avery's still often quite effective in the role.

The essential piece to Shug is that, on the one hand, she's a rural preacher's daughter while, on the other, she's a free-living, free-loving blues diva living in the big city on the big river. Part street cat, part barn cat. The character's arc follows Shug as she reconciles both halves of herself, a journey galvanized by Celie's doting worship.

Unfortunately, Avery makes the inexpert actor's mistake of playing the destination rather than the journey. Avery's performance amplifies Shug's gentility at the expense of Shug's crassness. And while Avery nails Shug's desperation to reconcile with her father (click images below to enlarge), Avery is less vivid in her depiction of Shug loving the life she lives when away from her rural roots.

Avery's Shug is always a preacher's daughter, but rarely does Avery's elegant performance offer even a glimpse of Shug's unrepentant side. The result? Avery's Shug is more saint than sinner. Indeed, the character's critical early scenes, in which Shug is at her least refined, seem -- in retrospect -- as somehow less "true" than the later scenes when Avery's Shug glows with mature, radiant elegance. In Avery's portrayal, Shug's life as an iconic blues diva reads almost as a diversion, as Shug straying from her true self, rather than a fully inhabited "other" life.

This is not to say that Avery doesn't do a largely good job. She's often quite effective, offering the kind of knowing glances Spielberg requires. It's just that the architecture of the performance is a bit wobbly, and Avery's Shug feels a lot more "church lady" than "juke joint mama." (All of which tosses the character's sexuality into a curiously gauzy relief, an issue that's just way too big for StinkyLulu to do justice here.*)

Avery's Shug is good, not great, and nowhere near as glorious as the role might have been in a different actor's hands (or in a different director's film). Even more, little has been heard or seen from Avery since her ill-advised "epistolary" Oscar campaign. (Commentators felt the Avery's "letters to God" -- as published in Variety while humping for an acting trophy -- were in poor taste.) (PS: If anyone has a scan of one of those ads, I'd love to publish/link it here.) So it's hard to know what Avery's gifts are beyond what's on display here. But, after all these years, StinkyLulu's force to admit that Margaret Avery brings a great deal to Shug Avery.

Attentive readers will note that The 1985 Smackdown was yesterday... And, with this profile, 'tis now complete. So just keep a'scrollin' for all that SmackDowning fun...


Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1985

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 58th Annual Academy Awards are...
KEN of Canadian Ken On...
Yours Truly,

Seems those goddesses and muses of Actressing at the Edges
intended for the first Smackdown of the 2007 Season
to be an intimate affair...

1985's Supporting Actresses are...
(Each Smackdowner's comments are arranged according to ascending levels of love. Click on the nominee's name/film to see StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sunday review.)

Canadian Ken - There’s not much meat on her bones – or fat in her performance. She’s elegant. Accomplished. But never that memorable. Handed several big scenes, Avery plays with taste and restraint. Still, that lean style probably helps counteract the pervasive Spielberg sentimentality.....
StinkyLulu - Avery's performance amplifies the character's gentility at the expense of the character's crassness. Avery allows Shug to always be a preacher's daughter, but rarely does Avery's elegant performance offer even a glimpse of Shug's unrepentant side...
TOTAL: (6)

StinkyLulu - With undeniable screen charisma and an uncommon facility with language, Huston makes Maerose – a reworking of the mistreated/rebellious crime daughter – a hoot really to watch. But, while the wedding scenes are award-worthy all by themselves, the seams really show throughout the remaining two-thirds of Huston’s performance....
Canadian Ken - From her first appearance – a distraught, defiant haute couture giraffe at a mob wedding – to her final moment, bathed in the kind of light usually reserved for saints and space visitors, Huston creates a character as original as Mae West. Nicholson thinks he’s ccol. Huston really is...
TOTAL: (7)

StinkyLulu - Madigan's a tightly coiled spring, so watch out. Here, as the movie's only spark of life, she's a woman rocked to the core when her parents’s marriage dissolves. Madigan lets loose with a startling rage, a wounded animal fighting and biting back, but tramples the character’s more pensive, existential aspects...
Canadian Ken - Madigan’s got tomboy baggage. Even at her most feminine, she’s Dennis the Menace with a deeper voice. A natural for women’s prison pix. But here, trapped in domestic twaddle, she nails it. Part family cheerleader, part family shit-disturber – and the picture’s only full-blooded character...
TOTAL: (6)

Meg Tilly in Agnes of God
Canadian Ken - The bumpkin who hears Voices. Jennifer Jones made it work. Even Milla Jovovich. Tilly? No. With her wan voice and high-school drama approach, she’s just a bad version of otherwordly. In the none-too-interesting dogfight between Fonda and Bancroft, Tilly’s Agnes is just an irrelevant bone...
StinkyLulu - A half-great performance, with Tilly flailing to stay afloat in a role that’s way beyond her depth. But Tilly “gets” Agnes – exuding her essentially sweet weirdness, her fabulously beatific pieface sticking out of Agnes’s nun’s habit. A noble effort, but a spectacular failure....
TOTAL: (3)

Canadian Ken - Oprah the actress shows up here. And delivers the goods. Her aging makeup’s excellent but the effects come from deep inside. She’s genuinely wrenching during the abortive family reunion. And the silently mouthed “Thank you” to Celie – that by itself rates the nomination....
StinkyLulu - As Sofia, Winfrey both “steals” & “anchors” the film. Winfrey’s Sofia is enormous – in voice, in girth, in spirit – and to see her broken, then reborn, is marvelous. Enduring proof of Winfrey's potential as an actress....
TOTAL: (9)

Oscar awarded Anjelica Huston...
But the SMACKDOWN gives it to:
Oprah Winfrey
with a total of (9) hearts

And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:
Ken Sez: Didn’t love any of these pictures. Though I did cry at the end of The Color Purple. Except for Madigan, Twice in a Lifetime’s a mess. Even Gene Hackman’s dreary. And that’s unheard of! Burstyn’s soft-spoken Edith Bunker’s disappointing. But still leagues ahead of aging starlet Ann-Margret’s “I’m a pretend barmaid” act. Jane Fonda’s crisp neurotic edge keeps Agnes from blowing away like dandelion fuzz. But, you know, I’d like to have seen Jill Clayburgh at 20, 40 and 60 play all three roles. Her inspired messiness and unpredictability might have salvaged something special from the shipwreck. As for Prizzi, I don’t get William Hickey. Never have. Never will. Turner starts out strong but gets dragged down by Nicholson’s smug silliness. There are some actors on hand (John Randolph, Robert Loggia) who can do no wrong. But only Ms Huston manages to execute a striking series of droll bull’s-eyes.
StinkyLulu Sez: For me Winfrey and Huston are the only real contenders in the bunch, and Winfrey just belts it out, with Spielberg's overwrought sentiment serving the character rather than disrupting it. In contrast, Huston's performance suffers a touch from Prizzi's general problems of tone, but she does stellar work in that first scene. (I betcha that Avery and Winfrey split Color Purple votes, allowing Huston to sneak through with the win...) All told, 'twas an innersting year -- though if I ever have to watch Twice in a Lifetime or Agnes of God again, I will know I'm really paying down some karmic debt.
So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!
Join the dialogue in comments.

And voting for next month (at right) continues til late tonite...


The Hoax (2007) - A Haiku Review

weird meditation
upon the vicissitudes
of truth gone awry

the film squanders a
finely tuned lead performance
richard gere's best yet

but boasts great outfits
beads belts big patterns bigger hair
hope davis is divine


"Shirts That Invite A-C-T-I-O-N" (Homo Heritage Fridays)

from DRUMMER - America's Mag for the Macho Male.
#41, circa 1980, page 72.
For details, click the image; then click again to magnify.


"God Grant Me..." (PhotoQuote of the ThursDay)

"Oswald (L), frustrated with a lost cab driver, said, 'God grant me the patience to withstand the things I cannot change. And the intelligence to hide the body of this man once I'm done killing him.'"

Priceless moment from The Amazing Race 11
- Captured by Andy Dennart @ Reality Blurred


My Realities...

Quick rant: Me hates it when The Realities ditch out & don't eliminate. That walk of shame, smiling through the tears, pack your bags and go is why me lurvs these programs. And, tonight, not 1 but 2 realities skimped. F'ers. But at least one Reality did it's best to maintain, with not 1 but 2 boot-ees... Yet another reason to appreciate the absolute absurdity of Shear Genius.


To Dos Day

___ Item 1:
WELCOME another actressexual to the fold.

James Henry over at Rants of a Diva inaugurates his new series (Oscar Cockfights/ Oscar Bitchfights) today with an entry on the leading ladies of 1939. It's a worthy homage to a great year in actressing!

___ Item 2:
QUESTION StinkyLulu (or vice versa).

Lil Lulu just had such a nifty time answering GayProf's 5 Questions. So much so that StinkyLulu's craving more...more...MORE!!! So, lovely reader, whether you want to ask or would prefer for StinkyLulu to do the asking, Lu's ready for some serious querying. Holler & we'll start the nosiness!

___ Item 3:
CONTEMPLATE the inanities.

Elis decry ban on stage weapon use & Stage Fright

___ Item 4:
REVEL in the existential cinematic glory...
...of Nathaniel's awe-inspiring 20:07 series (complete with able assists by JA).

___ Item 5:
PRAY for all the academented.

At this very moment, the current school year is lurching ...wheezing ...staggering ...hurtling ...screeching ...gasping ...grasping ...convulsing ...to its annual halt. So, please toss your best lovin' vibes to all StinkyLulu's comrades toiling in the roiling pits of academentia. Throw some traffic, too, if you're so inclined. StinkyLulu's academented sorority includes: Nick, girish, GayProf, Middento, Queering The Apparatus, Rants of a Diva, In Which Our Hero, Dr.S, Afrofuturist, Your Mom & Sarcasm In A Light Cream Sauce. (Whew. Did I miss anyone?)

___ Item 6:
READY yourself for April's Supporting Actress Smackdown.

Sunday morning brings the festivities of April's Big80s Smackdown! Featuring a tres intime gathering of Smackdowners (just Ken, Catherine & StinkyLulu it seems) who'll certainly rock that casbah. And Monday brings the announcement of next month's roster (voting continues at right until late Sunday). It's a giddy giddy time...

Have at it, lovelies...


Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple (1985) - Supporting Actress Sundays

It's been somehow easy for StinkyLulu to forget that Stephen Spielberg's controversial film version of the The Color Purple featured the film debuts two of the most formidably iconic African American performers of the last quarter century: Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. In the leading role of Celie, Whoopi Goldberg offers an exuberantly simple performance, a quiet bloom of naivete and hurt and tenderness. Goldberg's performance is raw and mostly silent, unimpaired by her later comedic shticks and vocal tics. Goldberg's Celie blazes with human emotion, a carefully crafted portrait of an abandoned child staggering and stumbling on her way to confident womanhood. Goldberg's work in the picture provides a startling reminder a fleeting moment when Goldberg's gifts as an actress were unfettered by the ossifying effects of her celebrity persona. The same can -- even more emphatically -- be said for...

...Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple (1985).
approximately 23 minutes and 21 seconds
19 scenes
roughly 15% of film's total running time

20:07 (CELIE - We can write. ~ NETTIE - Can you read good enough?) CELIE - Nah can't say dat I do. (NETTIE - Then I'll just have to go school for both of us!)

Based on Alice Walker's acclaimed novel, The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a variously abused young African American woman living in the American South at the beginning of the 20th century. As she works and works, Celie's reminded at every turn, and by everyone, that she's ugly and black and poor and a woman and thus worth nothing. With a grand flourish, the film charts Celie's slow and steady journey toward a conscious, empowered womanhood and Celie quietly emerges as the de facto matriarch of a family of women. Most of these women dismissed or disregarded Miss Celie upon their first acquaintance, but the beauty of the story flows from how Miss Celie nonetheless learns from each of them a lesson of womanist strength.

One of Celie's most fundamental lessons comes from Sofia (Oprah Winfrey). Upon their first encounter, Goldberg's Celie and Oprah Winfrey's Sofia regard one another with a kind of awe. Celie's amazed at Sofia's bigness, in girth and spirit and voice, while Sofia's stunned at Celie's hangdog humility. In these early scenes, Winfrey -- a novice actor but experienced broadcaster -- conveys Sofia's youthful confidence with zeal -- standing up to Mister, marrying Harpo, taking Celie under her gossipy, bossy wing. Winfrey's Sofia quickly appoints herself Celie's big sister, and Celie...well, she just does what folks tell her to do. So the betrayal when Celie encourages Harpo to beat Sofia to keep her in line? Well. Winfrey's Sofia lashes back, reminding Celie that not even love is reason to accept being beaten by a man.

"I loves Harpo. God knows I do. But I kill him dead 'fore I let him beat me."

Winfrey tears through this speech with charismatic power. With ease, Winfrey establishes Sofia as a formidable, seemingly indomitable woman, not easily reckoned with nor easily swayed. All of which provides essential groundwork for Sofia's shattering fall. When she hauls off and decks a white man -- the mayor no less -- Sofia is literally beaten back to earth by the stark realities of Jim Crow racism and patriarchal authority.

Imprisoned, hobbled and disfigured for her uppity-ness, Winfrey's Sofia is released from jail...to an extended torture program administered by Miss Millie (a perfectly delusional and brittle and mean Dana Ivey).

What Winfrey gets so right in these scenes is that Sofia's still huge -- in body and spirit and voice -- but she's utterly broken...by fear, by shame, by terror. Sofia's a massive hulking wreck. Winfrey's Sofia heaves and strains to be as small as she can be, but to no avail. And Goldberg's Celie sees this, she knows that Sofia's s'posed to be big and loud and defiant and proud. Both actresses just nail this mutual witness...it's really good, really poetic, really honest work. And it's what leads to Sofia's revival, when Celie reminds Sofia how to laugh...

Winfrey's performance as Sofia is just really really good. The very skills that underwrite her extraordinary success as a television personality -- her enormous charisma and unusual capacity to "cue" empathy -- serve the character of Sofia in surprising and effective ways. And if some of Winfrey's speeches tend toward the declamatory -- escalating scales of emotional testimony -- Oprah sells it. Just sells it. Every time. Indeed, Winfrey sells Sofia's story almost too well, with the emotional impact wrought by Winfrey's Sofia arguably tipping the balance away from Celie's true guiding star, Shug (Margaret Avery)...but you'll just have to hold your purple blossoms to hear more about Miss Avery...

Tune in this Saturday for StinkyLulu's final profile for 1985 as well as the 1985 Smackdown, a trés intime affaire, on Sunday...