"A Gift That Can Keep on Giving Pleasure" (Homo Heritage Fridays)

This holiday season, StinkyLulu invites you to do your XXXmas Shopping with Homo Heritage Fridays...
from MANDATE - The International Magazine of Entertainment & Eros
November 1983, page 31.
For details, click the image; then click again to magnify


Marisa Pavan in The Rose Tattoo (1955) - Supporting Actress Sundays

Yes yes yes, The 1955 Smackdown's already done and gone but SlackerLulu yet has profiles to post. My apologies for the delay. The Betsy Blair profile will be up...someday; luckily she's used to the wait...

Attentive readers among you already know that StinkyLulu's a little queer for Tennessee Williams. Indeed, few artists in any medium hold more enduring fascination for Lu than Thomas Lanier Williams. A special few among you will understand. (To you others, well...Tennessee geeks are born not made so just suck it up.) Anyway, as tends to happen with obsessions, StinkyLulu has all kinds of theories about Tennessee Williams. Most of which deal with the myriad ways in which civilians misunderstand or underappreciate the Williams ouevre, usually as a result of casual misogyny or crass heterosexism. Theories upon which StinkyLu's capable of holding forth ad nauseum at the slightest provocation (just ask Criticlasm, he's experienced this first hand). But, with this week's (long overdue) profile, Supporting Actress Sundays has now officially inaugrated StinkyLulu's Tennessee Williams Theory #369: "The Girl Ain't No Innocent Bystander." Theory #369 holds that the young/er women of TW's early plays (Laura, Stella, Rosa) are actually the central characters in their respective dramatic worlds -- hermetic family worlds in which the promise of love transformatively disrupts the internecine dynamics of dysfunction. Typically, these "girl" characters are presented as innocent bystanders to this familial pathology, the walking wounded weathering the family firestorm. Theory #369 holds that, in fact, these "girls" actually are perhaps the most instrumental characters in the mix, though their "action" is made to seem negligible because of their age, gender and position in the family. Indeed, the perfect case study of Theory #369 might be seen in the performance of...

approximately 26 minutes and 13 seconds
21 scenes

roughly 22% of film's total running time

Marisa Pavan plays Rosa, a young woman in full feminine bloom, desperate to escape the shadow her mother, the formidable Serafina (Anna Magnani in an elemental, enthralling performance).

The Rose Tattoo is premised upon the idea that erotic love offers the most potent confirmation that life is worth living. The story begins with Magnani's Serafina, turgid with delight that she's pregnant with the child of her adored husband while Pavan's Rosa -- all gawky adolescence -- is yet a child, naively awestruck by both her parents. When the husband/father is killed, Serafina transforms from a dynamic, proud woman to a shrieking, desperate emotional cripple. Here, the narrative jumps forward a handful of years to depict the squalid wreckage of Serafina's life, in which Rosa's resemblance to her dead father blinds the grief-stunned Serafina to the fact of her daughter's developing personhood. Serafina cannot bear to look at Rosa, for the girl so resembles her father, even as Serafina cannot bear to let Rosa from her sight, for her daughter is the only living reminder of Serafina's beloved.

For her part, Rosa reacts as any teenager might: she can't wait to escape the humiliation of her mother's controlling gaze. And, for Rosa, the occasion of her high school graduation is the opportunity for which she's been waiting. Rosa grasps the first accessory in reach that might aid in her escape: a sweetfaced sailor boy named Jack (the perfectly cute Ben Cooper).

Rosa and Jack embark on a typically insane adolescent whirlwind romance, falling in deepest swoon in the space of an afternoon.

Then, when Serafina -- through a fearsome intuition of which she is almost certainly unaware -- tries to confine her daughter instead of letting her graduate, Rosa realizes -- through an intuition of which she too is likely unaware -- that Jack is her ticket out...out of her mother's control, out of her invisibility imposed by her mother's grief.

But Rosa needs her mother's approval, and so returns with Jack in tow to introduce her new love to her mother.

And Serafina, remarkably, awakens ever so slightly to the reality of her daughter's passionate connection to this boy.

Serafina's acquantance with her daughter's new beau opens the door for what is the central arc of The Rose Tattoo, the story of Serafina's return to womanly life when she meets a man who is not her dead husband but who makes her feel, in some important way, as he did. While all this is happening, Rosa's out playing sailboat with her sailor.

You'll note, lovely reader, that throughout this summary I've assiduously avoided any discussion of Marisa Pavan's performance. And, frankly, I think that's because Pavan's work in the role does little to illuminate either the action or the character. Pavan's performance is, to my mind, a perfect misreading of the role. Pavan's Rosa is the innocent bystander, a sturdy reed withstanding the gale force winds of Magnani's Serafina. Which makes a kind of sense. BUT Rosa's name is Rosa in a play that's all about roses. She should be a prickling beauty, redolent and intimidating, the only creature capable of cowing her mother...

But Pavan's Rosa is tentative where she should burst with youthful confidence, shrill when she should be bold, defensive when she should be strident.

Pavan's Rosa becomes a supplicant, beseeching her mother's blessing. This is not, in and of itself, wrong. But Rosa's love for Jack does not need Serafina's blessing. Rather, Rosa's discovery of love is the blessing, a blessing for Serafina -- a miraculous revelation, really, of the lifeforce veiled by the caul of Serafina's grief.

But Pavan's Rosa provides little in the way of revelation, little light amidst the shrieking shadows. As Rosa, Pavan offers a functional but misguided performance, one that tips the balance of The Rose Tattoo, one of Tennessee's most stubbornly, redemptively hopeful works.


To Dos Day

___ Item 1: BE AMAZED...
...by just how close the voting turned out as y'all voted to determine the year of the December Smackdown. 'Twas perhaps the closest contest in StinkyLulu history. 'Tis perfect, though: another year full of classic films (tho' I am perhaps the single person looking forward to this performance). All told, December's month of Supporting Actress Sundays promises to bring a great finish to the 2nd year of Smackdowns, so thanks to all who voted. As you know, Supporting Actress Sundays goes on hiatus during Award Season and, thus, will remain (sorta) "dark" after the Supporting Actress Blogathon until April (or March). Which means, lovely reader, that December represents your last chance in 2007 to be a Smackdowner! To be a Smackdowner, you must have a blog or website, you must be able to acquire the films on your own, and you must be willing to commit to re/screening the films and submitting your zingers no later than the crack of dawn on December 30. If you're seriously interest and if you meet these criteria, shoot StinkyLulu an email and we'll get you looped in for what I hope will be a mostly newbie New Year's Blast. (Veterans - there may be room for you to play with the new kids; holler if you're interested.)

___ Item 2: CHOOSE...
...your favorite among these brilliant holiday gift ideas. I can't settle on the one I love best. Yes, indeed, I want them all...

___ Item 3: TASTE...
...the Macho. What's your flavor?...

___ Item 4: PLACE YOUR BETS...
...whether or not StinkyLulu will ever finish 1955 Supporting Actress profiles. The Smackdown's behind us yet Marisa Pavan's still begging for attention and Betsy Blair's still being taken for granted (though she does have one not-so-secret admirer). Wish me well, dear one, my momentum's dragging and I'm finding it difficult to muster...

___ Item 5: CHECK OUT...
...this quickie slideshow I built from images of the Japanese actor, Komagiro Wada, who also happens to be the great-grandfather of one of my students. These are images from a family scrapbook of Wada's early days as a working actor near Osaka in the early 20th century. The girl child is Emiko Wada, my student's grandmother, who emigrated to the Oklahoma in the middle 1950s after marrying an American GI. I haven't been able to find anything on Komagiro Wada, let alone the surprising range of roles he performed (traditional Japanese stock characters as well as more Western roles). The grandmother is apparently something of a pill and it's not clear whether or not she knows much about her father's career as a young actor. So, enjoy, and if you happen to be able to help me with any research hints on finding out more about Wada, all the better.

___ Item 6: GET YOUR THEME ON...
...by contemplating suggestions for StinkyLulu's 3rd Year of Supporting Actress Sundays. The big question is: how do I determine the year under scrutiny for each month? We've discussed some strategies in the past -- taking things decade by decade, letting selected people select, etc. BUT two realities to consider: first, I like having y'all vote, at least some/most of the time; second, I'm craving something a little different from my old numerology technique for grouping each month's possible fields of contenders. SO I've been thinking of running the voting along THEMES: selecting among years that have features in common, like "one scene wonders" or "controversial upsets" or "worst nominations" or somesuch? Whaddaya think? A good idea? Too esoteric? Too random? What themes would you suggest as best? And, aside from all that, are there particular years that are -- in your humble estimation -- just MUSTS for 2008 -- fields that the Smackdown MUST get to sooner rather than later? (And, yes, I know it's way early to be thinking about something that's not even gonna start for at least another 4 months but, hey, StinkyLulu's old and old Stinkys move slow, so shuddupayaface.) Let me know in comments what you're thinking, lovelies...

Have at it, lovelies...


Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1955

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 28th Annual Academy Awards are...
BRAD of Criticlasm/FagYerIt
GOATDOG of goatdog's movies
KEN of Canadian Ken
NATHANIEL of The Film Experience
NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks
RBURTON of Adam Waldowski Doesn't Watch Non-Oscar Nominees
yours truly, STINKYLULU.
And featuring...
click image to be routed to video

1955'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.)

Betsy Blair in Marty
NATHANIEL The old sexist chestnut: a woman who exists solely to find beauty in the beast. She's not a "dog" but the role is. Depth eludes but the surface is right: shy rote politeness and short bursts of an introvert opening up.
It's a warm, sweet performance that reveals loneliness, sadness, and then hope. Though likable, it's also nothing to write home about. She works well with Borgnine, but his characterization is stronger. A minor problem is her character's not just plain, but ugly ("a dog") and Blair doesn't match that.
Nice, serviceable performance of a thankless role. She mostly listens, and suffers nobly. The interest she gives in the steeliness with which she refuses Marty a kiss. She may be sad and sweet, but she's resolute. It's the flash of steel that I liked the most. Still, in some ways the third girl in this year that's full of them.
Blair’s a kind of lower-case Julie Harris, gently delivering her spinsterish lines like melting snowflakes. She’s talented. But “Marty” ’s an artifact – one of Hollywood’s awkward baby-steps toward “realism”. Brandishing a cement rattle, but leaving potentially explosive issues timidly unexplored. Blair’s blameless. But the film keeps shifting tones half-heartedly without ever quite committing to any of them.
It's hard to separate Blair from the film's relentless frumpishness, but her silences and pauses are so sparkling and alive that she emerges as the best thing about the film, even though for long stretches her task is to silently occupy 1/3 of the screen while Borgnine carries on.
Blair’s breathy warble of a voice belies the sharp clarity of her Clara. Using only silence and smalltalk, Blair deftly charts a complex emotional journey for this smart, opinionated, desperately lonely woman, in whose eyes Marty transforms from life-preserver to mildly annoying schlub to prince charming.
While preserving the character's protective, carefully cultivated shield of muted politeness, Blair shows us the sincerity and intelligence that Marty sparks to without making her too overtly "attractive." A great listener, and a vaguely uncanny presence.
TOTAL: 20s

Peggy Lee in Pete Kelly's Blues
NICK Yep, she sells her tunes, but Peggy only registers when she's singing or ghosting around the back of a shot. When called on to sustain a scene, she seems stolid and unsure of herself. The mad scenes at the end are pitiable.
GOATDOG She's a step closer to acting than Ella Fitzgerald's get-me-outta-here nervousness, but it's a baby step--unsure what to do when she's on camera, and unhelped by Joe Friday's leaden acting and directing, she plays every scene exactly the same--immobile. I'm baffled by this nomination.
She gets to look melancholy, drink, sing, and then go nuts. It's the stuff Oscars are made of, but Lee lacks the necessary charisma and talent. There are hints of intelligence, but a rotten screenplay, worse direction, and Lee herself thwart what might have been a rounded, sympathetic performance.
The kind of doomed lush part Shelley Winters might’ve torn into. Sometimes less is more. But Lee delivers a bit less than less – a whisper of a performance. Seriously charismatic when she’s singing (dig that killer smile in “Sugar”) but rather tentative in dialogue segments. Muted stunt casting. But I enjoyed the film.
All the makings of something great – ethereally apt line readings, vividly enigmatic screen presence, an intuitive understanding of the role – squandered by the film’s flat-footed, obsequious direction. The 2nd heart is for Lee’s reading of the line (“He was mean to my baby”) – a haunting description of this tragically failed performance.
Jack Webb is like Medusa or Midas, but everything he touches turns wooden. Lee is the single performer to avoid this, but she still seems lost. I love her laugh line "I won't here the pitter patter of little feet-unless I rent some mice", and it's the only laugh in the movie. Once she's gone, there's no reason to care about this story. I would give her 4 hearts, but it's still somewhat a sketch of what could've been an award-winner.
Initially I felt concerned: try to act, Peggy. There's beauty in her singing but limited drama in her face. Finally, this same muted expressiveness serves the character, a slightly wooden woman zombified by internal miseries.
TOTAL: 13s

Marisa Pavan in The Rose Tattoo
STINKYLULU Pavan’s performance is tentative, shrill and defensive when it should be strident, bold and bursting with youthful confidence. A misreading of the character that pitches the entire film off-balance.
Perfectly adequate in individual scenes but it's difficult to see a full characterization. In a movie so attuned to (and reflective of) its emotionally volatile star, she doesn't have the chops or the star quality to keep up.
GOATDOG She embodies a dizzying array of types--rebellious against the mother she's ashamed of, wallflower and oversexed hoyden--and she manages the screenplay's rapidly shifting gears with little evidence of strain,but unfortunately with all of the rest of the film's piercing shrillness. This one goes to 11.
A hard performance to rate, because Pavan seems capable of more, and the script, like the play, can't decide whether to explore the character in earnest. As is, she's fully competent as a sad, restless teen, but this feels like a default ingénue nomination.
Who is she? I kind of felt like it was Natalie Wood doing Anna Magnani – a little girl trying to act like her mother. Pavan gets the hysteria right, but lacks the depth to help us understand the character’s frustration. Perhaps the limitations of the role, but she was the most “high 50s” and the least interesting to me of the field.
Transplanted from her neo-realistic habitat to the more decorous confines of Paramount’s VistaVision preserve, Magnani sometimes seems more exhibit than character. But Pavan manages to dodge and weave gracefully through the diva’s fireworks display, delivering some lovely, honest emoting - her scaled-down outbursts and quiet moments frequently more affecting than Magnani’s (admittedly impressive) showboating.
Pavan holds her own against Magnani, which is a remarkable feat in itself. As 1955's other angsty teen (though Pavan looks too old for the part), she manages to be vulnerable, alluring, and rebellious as Williams' script demands. Accordingly, her subplot with Ben Cooper works wonderfully.
TOTAL: 16s

Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden
RBURTON It's a terribly dark performance, and one I find more admirable than extraordinary. Her expressiveness is formidable, manifesting itself in grimaces, smirks, and a range of other emotions. But Van Fleet simply seems weak beside Dean, and he's not only better in the film, but far more memorable.
Totally working that walk and that big hat on that misty path between towns, Van Fleet comes to fascinating life once she spars with Dean: treacherous but surprisingly receptive and trusting. Adds gravity, force, and her own peculiar mysteries to the part as written.
Small performances around which entire films orbit, are tricky to judge. How much is the actor doing versus the audience projecting? Van Fleet is cooly impressive continually sizing up her lost son and shooing away less familiar emotions.
Vivid, meticulous, and memorable – a horrific, biblically-inflected, psychoanalytic archetype made human by surprisingly vulnerable actressing. A haunting, fascinating spectacle.
Expert performance of a ghost of a role. She does what is required, that is to be the ghost over the proceedings, and also creates a nuanced, fearless portrayal of a woman has lived trapped and running. It's fascinating, and arguably the only real, full woman of the pack.
GOATDOG I'd love her just for the way she says, "We don't exactly move in the ... same circles," but that's just the beginning of that dazzling bonding/apologia scene with James Dean. She's the only person (besides Dean) who reaches past the artifice to grab hold of the real, damaged person inside the labored allegory.
Icebergs are often 80% underwater. Van Fleet (who’s marvelous) doesn’t suggest ice – but rather a nearly submerged mountain of radioactivity. What’s above the surface - impressive and alarming; what’s suggested below - mind-boggling. Kate’s caught in her own lacerating, destructive rays but she’s still standing. And a more imposing gate-keeper to Hell would be hard to find.
TOTAL: 30s

Natalie Wood in Rebel without a Cause
KEN Though Rebel marked the beginning of her real stardom, the acclaim hardly seems justified by this performance. She just appears to be biting off more than she can chew. And – unlike Marisa Pavan – never finds a way to share the screen with a flamboyant icon in any interesting or creative way.
Wood's opening monologue in the police station augurs a standout performance to follow. The script doesn't hold up its bargain with her, and she's a little rote at times, but her kissing scene with her father, especially in her reactions, is memorably pained, spontaneous, and persuasive.
Surprisingly interesting performance that's more than it seems at first glance. She's all about the looks here, and for me it's all in what she doesn't say. She brilliantly makes us realize that we can't trust a word she says, and telegraphs the lost-ness of the character to show us why she belongs with the other two misfits, and perhaps nowhere else.
GOATDOG Wood's edge-of-adulthood confusion manifests in her constantly adjusting which version of Judy we're seeing, often within the space of a glance: sometimes she's a scared adolescent, sometimes a woman, and sometimes an adolescent's idea of a woman. It's a remarkable performance from so young an actress.
Smart, effective, understated. Wood’s at her best when she’s not speaking and, in the in-betweens of this role, Wood crafts an enduring, ecvocative portrait of teen identity experimentation. Powerfully subtle work.
Half femme fatale, half gawky teenager, and all daddy issues, it's a legendary performance because it lives up to every bit of the hype. Wood pulled it off seamlessly at age seventeen. Her layered Judy has a powerful, convincing story arc that makes you hate her, love her, and desire her in under two hours.
She vacillates wildly: psychosexual panic, studied 'too cool for school' mannerisms, little girl tremulousness -- but the character coheres beautiful. Judy is trying too hard and Natalie (an actress often accused of the same) nails this classic role.
TOTAL: 28s

Oscar chose...
Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden!
And, dagnabbit, for the 2nd month in a row...
the SMACKDOWN agrees:

So, lovely reader, what do YOU think?