Piper Laurie in Carrie (1976) - Supporting Actress Sunday

I think I'm correct in saying that, of all the nominees for Best Supporting Actress, only two happen to appear in films that have maintained their place among my short list of favorite films in the quarter century I've been thinking about such things. The first we hit in my first year of doing Supporting Actress Sundays. And the second? Well, lovely reader, it has, this Halloween, come time to attend the tale of...

...Piper Laurie in Carrie (1976)
approximately 19 minutes and 7 seconds
10 scenes
roughly 19% of film's total running time
Piper Laurie plays Margaret White, a pathologically religious woman whose daughter Carrie (Sissy Spacek, in what is likely my favorite screen performance of all time) has just "become a woman" in an unforgettable way (basically, the onset of menses has also opened the gates to Carrie's formidable psychic/telekinetic powers).
Laurie's first scene is a curious non-sequitur of a sequence that appears to be there solely for the purpose of adding dimension to the collision of normalcy and freakery that frames the central narrative. Laurie's Margaret knocks on the door of Mrs. Snell (Priscilla Pointer in a weird little performance that I just adore), who welcomes the black-cloaked Margaret into her well-appointed home. Pointer's Mrs. Snell feebly endeavors some small talk (wherein we confirm that these wildly different women are the mothers of the school's most popular girl and the school freak, respectively) and Laurie's Margaret and proceeds to peddle an evangelical pamphlet about teens and sin. When Pointer's Mrs. Snell rebuffs the pamphlet with a cash donation, Laurie lets Margaret's beatific smile fall, revealing a cold mask of judgment. In this quick, chattery sequence, Laurie establishes not only that Margaret White is a passionate evangelical (what we in the 1970s sometimes called "Jesus Freaks") but also that the woman is an utter loon. The film then follows Margaret, as she stalks home where Carrie is already home, still traumatized from what happened during her "first period/gym class." (It's worth disclosing, I suppose, that when I was a child in the 70s, there was a woman who wore rough cotton robes and stalked the rural roadsides near where I lived, shouting about Jesus and judgment and damnation. So, I s'pose I'm an easy mark for Laurie's performance in this role. You may see cliche but I see another version of my friendly neighborhood Jesus freak.)
Once home, Laurie's Margaret learns that her daughter Carrie has experienced her first menstruation and she prays feverishly over her child, slapping the young woman in the face with her prayer book as she beseeches her savior to remove the blood of sin that has passed through her daughter's flesh. Laurie uses the turgid religiosity of the dialog in profoundly unsettling way in this sequence, hollering and wailing like a 3rd-rate preacher as she rebukes her daughter's protestations as those of a demon.
Then, when Margaret grabs Spacek's Carrie by the hair and drags her kicking and screaming through the house to stuff her into her holy closet (the queer metaphors larding this story just thrill me), Laurie's expression remains remarkably unchanged. Laurie's Margaret is utterly convinced of her righteousness and absolutely willing to do anything in service of that religious certainty.
In this quick, intense sequence of scenes, as Laurie moves from friendly neighborhood proselytizer to crazed child abuser, the actress does so with untroubled alacrity. She may be screaming and huffing and hollering but Laurie invests a steadiness, a confidence, and a clarity to Margaret's irrationality in these early scenes.
Such a foundation proves absolutely essential to all that subsequently befalls the character. For later that evening, when Margaret begins to see and experience the force of Carrie's own rebellious spiritual power, Laurie begins to chart Margaret's devastating descent into doubt. Indeed, the onset of Carrie's telekinetic powers occasions a radical crisis of faith for Margaret.
As befits her religious certitude, Margaret sees Carrie's telekinetic powers as the force of the devil working through her own daughter and, with Carrie's every act of adolescent assertiveness, Margaret becomes more desperately anxious about the eternal fate of her daughter's soul as well as the human limits of her own religious will. Until the fateful night of the prom, when Carrie's decision to attend the dance instigates a final clarity in Margaret's understanding of what she must do.
I won't go into the prom sequence -- see it for yourself here -- but, suffice it to say, that the prom proves to be a fairly rough night for little Carrie. She arrives home, a little grubbed out, and her mother's waiting for her. Silently. Behind the door. Her eyes illuminated by a mysterious light. Not a good sign for Margaret's hold on sanity.
Anyway, Carrie wipes the blood away - AGAIN - and falls into the anticipated comfort of her mother's arms, professing her renewed confidence that everything her mother had warned her was true.
Alas, Laurie's Margaret is untouched my Carrie's redemptive discoveries. Instead, Laurie's Margaret lapses into an ebullient reverie through which it becomes clear that Margaret no longer sees Carrie as her own daughter but as the monstrous embodiment of her own original sin -- a sin Margaret's ready to cut away with a giant butcher's knife.
Of course, being super-psychic and all, being stabbed in the back by her own mother isn't quite enough to take Carrie out, so Laurie's Margaret -- fully subsumed in religious ecstasy -- stalks Carrie for a little more murder. This proves to be not a very good idea.
Drawing upon the instincts of self-protection that have guided her throughout the night, Spaceks Carrie deploys her own telekinetic powers to hurl kitchen utensils at her mother (my favorite is always the potato peeler), crucifying Laurie's Margaret in her own kitchen. (A whole bunch of other stuff happens right after this hauntingly gentle moment. Daughter and dead mother reconcile sorta. They both return to the crazed Jesus closet. Then whole house gets sucked into the earth, or is it hell... Anyway.)
Piper Laurie's performance as Margaret White is indelibly intense, a bizarre but plausible portrait of the devastating cruelties of religious certitude. With Margaret White, Laurie crafts a haunting portrayal of an utterly human monster, mixing malevolence and vulnerability, and creating an enduring vision of a heartbreaking, human horror. (Besides, she gives us some brilliantly enduring line-readings: "Dirty pillows" and "I liked it" and "They're all gonna laugh at you"...) It's polarizing work, as comments on the recent Smackdown indicate, but, to my simple mind, Piper Laurie's performance in Carrie is simply marvelous.

5 Stinky Thoughts on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew 2 - Episode 2: "Detox"

Each week I offer a quick recaplet on the latest episode of the second season of VH1's ongoing experiment in candid celebreality, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew 2. The fun commences this week with Episode 202: "Detox."

Thought #1: Where'd Rodney Go?
Last week I described Rodney as a brittle spectre of a man. This week, he was even more of a ghost, a nearly invisible man haunting the furthest edges of the episode. The previews suggest that we'll soon see more, but -- even with all the familiar Jeff-nonsense and all the Gary-whackadoodleness -- Rodney's presence has haunted each episode in startling ways, like there's yet a big shoe to drop. I'm especially wondering how the rest of the rehabitants will or will not be able to connect with Rodney. So, I guess I'll keep coming back...

Thought #2: Severe Chronic Assholism, Exhibit 2B.
Good golly. That Vikki Lizzi. Just when we think she's taken her last bow before being safely locked down in some distant unit for the Terminally Not Famous...here she comes again, seeking the heat of the spotlight, for a set of uninvited encores. In this single episode, Vikki's high drama reprises comprised their own little three part mini-series. First, we have the basically hilarious romantic tragedy, "Touching Palms Through Frosted Glass" (a heartbreaking melodrama in which all that we see of Vikki is her palm, pressed against the glass, as Jeff and she holler sweet nothings to one another through the door jamb before being interrupted by the Wicked Witch of the Ward, aka The Fabulous Luisha). Then comes the hair-raising sequel, "They Stopped My Xanax," in which Vikki storms the forbidden Celebrity unit in search of her beloved, the barely conscious Jeff. ("All I could think of that I'm doing this for us," Vikki wails before noting, "And you're yawning!") Finally, the most terrifying installment of all: "Vampire Kisses, or I'm Gonna Suck Your Face Off." I know that my rant on Vikki -- that she's a drama-addict always over-behaving as though she's auditioning for the lead in a direct-to-dvd movie based on her own life -- is a familiar one. But this episode, jeepers. Vikki hit newish, pathetic heights in drama-mongering. It's clearly the behavior she relies upon to rationalize her own sustained substance abuse and also what she does to maintain the tight weave of her enmeshment with Jeff and his use. Thus, Vikki earns the spotlight -- for once -- as this week's exhibit in Severe Chronic Assholism.

Thought #3: Moments of Clarity with NurseShelly.
I love how kickass Luisha is, and I'm especially glad that they put a hardass rehab tech on the unit for the evening. (That other guy in the scrubs seems very sweet but, well, whatever.) Yet...as smart, and funny, and savvy as Luisha is: she ain't Shelly. I look forward to falling in love with Luisha, I do. But Shelly is my one true hero. I may crush on Dr. Drew but I want to be Nurse Shelly. And seeing Luisha in action this week helped me appreciate one of Shelly's subtle gifts: Shelly's always asking the Rehabitants questions, even when she's giving them directions. It's sort of like the Platonic method goes therapeutic. (And, sure, everyone sorta does this, but Shelly's really good at it.) When Shelly asks a question (ie. "Could you please give me your phone, Gary?") she does so in a way that both affirms the clear options while also, somehow, leaving the answer entirely up to the Rehabitant. She -- and we -- know what the "right" answer is (ie. "Yes, Shelly, here's my phone.") but somehow Shelly offers each question with little expectation of how the Rehabitant will answer. I love how this interaction style works to help the Rehabitant to take a little ownership of their own actions, even when they're basically doing what they're told. It's a great model for helping folks to relearn how to take simple but conscious action in their earliest days of recovery. Very adept, Shelly, very adept. I love Nurse Shelly.

Thought #4: What I Didn't Need To See.
G-A-R-Y = Grandiose Arrogance Reeducating You. To which I say: No GARY for me, thank you very much. (Though Celebrity Brain Injury Rehab would likely be a really surreal spinoff show. Should we look for it in 2010? And the interview with the shrink was pretty f'n hilarious. As was Tawny's line about "another facility.") I feel bad-ish for the guy, but really: No. GARY. For. Me. Thank. You.

Thought #5: Celebrity Rehab 2's Lessons in Sobriety.
Detox sucks. Or perhaps, given Amber Smith's gruesome experiences featured this week, it might be more apt to put it this way: detox blows. Amber's quickly becoming my favorite this season, sort of like Seth "Shifty" Binzer did on the last merry-go-round. Someone I barely knew before the show, but whose visibly painful (and terrified) journey through rehab made my cruel cynical heart crack open. And Amber's experience of detox this episode was just devastating. (And I must say I'm liking the more measured, explanatory approach to the rehab process demonstrated in this week's episode. This season already feels a little less stunty than the first few episodes last time around, though we are clearly undertaking a necessarily disastrous "outing" soon. I hate it when the Rehabitants go on adventures. Ah well, there will nearly surely be comedy gold. And maybe the police!)

SEE ALSO previous "Stinky Thoughts" on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew 2:
Episode 1 (Premiere)

And, yes, be sure to tune in next week for every addict's favorite thing: MORE!!!


Congratulations to Manuel Muñoz!

Some time ago, a little birdie told StinkyLulu that Manuel Muñoz was a sometime reader of StinkyLulu's "Supporting Actress Sundays." Such chisme normally doesn't sink into my consciousness much but, in the case of Mister Muñoz, it sorta snuck in on me. See, in the case of Señor Muñoz, StinkyLulu had been hearing buzz about this excellent emerging queer Latino writer named "Manuel Muñoz" and it sorta freaked me out that this cool writer guy was reading my stuff, that he had actually incorporated Supporting Actresses Sundays into his own Sunday writing rituals (or so said the little birdie). It made me all shy and stuff. You know how it goes. Anyways. Fast forward to today, when I got all weirdly HAPPY to learn that the one and the same Manuel Muñoz was just named recipient of one of the best prizes an emerging writer can get: The Whiting.
So, congratulations, alleged StinkyLulu reader Manuel Muñoz.
You rock.

And for the rest of y'all, buy the book!


To Dos Day

___ Item 1: POW.
Philip Toledano's amazing installation, America The Gift Shop. Just. Wow. (via Andrew Sullivan)

___ Item 2: OMG.
The Oscar Completist takes on High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

___ Item 3: EEK.
Fabulon shares the scariest thing I've seen in a long time. Followed by the prettiest.

___ Item 4: AHH.
And Your Little Blog Too reminds us that nothing's so much fun as A Barrel of Bitches.

___ Item 5: HMM.
Who looks fabu in a red turban? I wonder...

___ Item 6: OOH.
A couple announcements: I've decided to start the Women on the Verge Monthlies series in November; I'll soon decide on the date, though I haven't quite yet decided whether to pick the film via vote or not. November will also bring a month of Supporting Actress Sundays devoted to 1969, starting this coming Sunday with Goldie Hawn, of all people. (The Smackdown panel for 1969 is wide open; holler if you're innersted but remember the Smackdown's on Thanksgiving weekend.) Piper Laurie will pop up over the next couple days and Celebrity Rehab will continue on Fridays. Look for the 3rd Annual Supporting Actress Blogathon poster in this space next week; in the meantime, save the date (January 4, 2009). I think that's about it. Whew. Any reminders or announcements from y'all? Give your shout-outs in comments.
Have at it, lovelies...


Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1976

The Year is...

And the Smackdowners for the 49th Annual Academy Awards are...
ALEX of Alex in Movieland
of Criticlasm & Oh, Well, Just This Once...
MATT of MattLand888
of She Blogged By Night
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

And this month, Alex in Movieland has graced us with a brilliant clipreel.
Click image to be routed to video.

1976'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.)

STACIA Memo to Jane: the dowdy, disheveled look while refusing to blink does not automatically equal good performance. Alexander is stone-faced, exudes false emotion, and one is never convinced she's really scared. Irritated, but not scared.
ALEX Allow me to doubt a performance based on deep breaths and nodding. She’s not bad, but I like my cameos when they’re loud, bold or naughty.
Except for Testament and her recent television work, Jane Alexander’s performances are dreary; she hasn’t smiled on screen since 1970, and her emotional spectrum ranges from careworn to woebegone. Admittedly, her cheerlessness serves the character here, but the role’s little more than a cameo.
Alexander delivers an admirable bit of actressing that uses emotion and empathy to mark an essential node in a plot overstuffed with intricate detail. Adept, memorable work in a basically unremarkable role.
Subtle performance mostly accomplished with looks and slight mouth movements. Extremely skilled, but I'm not sure if it was nom worthy, as it still feels slight.

ALEX The performance doesn’t have enough heart, nor contrast. Jodie’s a natural and a nice presence, but there’s no fire to it. The role required a better grip.
STINKYLULU Foster layers just enough idiosyncracy (and not too much intelligence) into the role, transforming the screenplay’s hollow holograph into a plausibly human person.
A performance that I could've had a little more of. Flashes of the girl come through, just when you're forgetting how young she is. Unsettling, honest, and impressive.
Jodie Foster gives a remarkably accomplished performance as Iris, a twelve-year-old hooker. Foster not only exists as the film’s icon of sexuality, but also digs inside the role and unearths toughness, quirkiness, and vulnerability—all with believability rare for a child actress.
Jodie easily mixes naivete with world-weary intelligence. She is strong, determined, and compelling. Like Travis we're captivated by her youthful spirit; we want to know everything about her, how she got here and why she won't go home.
TOTAL: 18s

BRAD Grant must have been nominated for displaying one of the few emotional moments in a film about dread. Not helped by having a scene partner like Lynne Frederick, who is as full of life as a Resusci-Annie.
ALEX Grant’s robotic reading of “THERE ARE THINGS I HAVE TO DO” reminded me of Kathy Griffin imitating Paula Abdul. To me, it doesn’t feel tragic or deep, just uncomfortably bad.
Grant illuminates Lili's psychology with an often electrifying vivacity while, at the same time, providing only a bare sketch of the character. A confoundingly “partial” performance.
STACIA Grant practically disappears in this all-star cast full of scenery gorging costars. Her dim, stereotypical performance is brightened only by some Oscar-nominated hair shearing, yet even that is upstaged by a desperate Dunaway.
MATT This torpid all-star ship-flick almost capsizes Lee Grant’s performance—by pairing her with a histrionic Sam Wanamaker and giving her an inadvertently hilarious haircutting scene with Faye Dunaway that’s prescient of Mommie Dearest. Grant stays afloat by imbuing her role with emotional honesty and alertness (though she seems to be playing herself).

Piper Laurie in Carrie
ALEX In order to succeed, the role requires no hesitation. And it works, as I saw both the monster and the loving mother. Her last big speech is delivered perfectly and the unexpected orgasm while touching death is a nice bonus.
BRAD Does what Dunaway pushed too far in Mommie Dearest, pushing the character almost to farce and humor but just stopping short, due to incredible fierce groundedness. Add to that playing off of Spacek and it's just thrilling.
MATT Scary and campy is a combination difficult to pull off, but Piper Laurie works miracles as Carrie’s crazy mother. Laurie’s commitment to the role is remarkable; her vocal ingenuity and power are impressive, and she lets you see in her eyes the demons swirling in Margaret White’s head. A rousing success.
Laurie's performance holds the entire film together. Over the top, campy, and effective. Only Piper could have portrayed this walking nightmare of a mother with enough earnest emotion to make it believable.
Laurie crafts a haunting portrayal of an utterly human monster, mixing malevolence and vulnerability to create a vision of heartbreaking horror. Simply marvelous.
TOTAL: 24s

MATT The nadir of supporting actressness. Saddled with Chayefsky’s hyperarticulate gobbledygook and a ridiculous character trajectory, Beatrice Straight makes the clichéd role of a scorned wife insufferable and unconvincing. Listening to her demand “allegiance” from her husband and intone “I hurt badly!” in her highfalutin’ accent made me cringe. Simply awful.
ALEX Straight risks by playing it hard and it pays off, also managing to keep it real and humane. Her face is so expressive and that haunting voice gives a heartbreaking edge. Five minutes more and it would’ve been magic.
STINKYLULU Straight's deft work contributes a blast of emotional clarity within a narrative mostly characterized by manipulation, hype and deception. The role’s brevity is transcended by Straight’s humanity, clarity and dexterity within it.
STACIA In a thankless peripheral character role as the wronged wife in a movie that satirizes such notions, Straight retains dignity and believability. She dutifully glides through anger and grief, emerging as the necessarily accepting ex in a single brief scene..
BRAD Full, complex riveting work in a very short amount of screen time. I like it a lot, and it completely fulfills one of Lulu's SA criteria, which is wanting to see more of her than you did. The strongest acting in the film for me.
TOTAL: 16s

Oscar chose...
Beatrice Straight
in Network
sees things somewhat differently...

Best Supporting Actress of 1976!
(We liked it, Piper, we liked it.)

BUT, lovely reader, what do YOU think?
Please share your thoughts in comments.