8.31.2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1966



The Year is...

1966
And the Smackdowners for the 39th Annual Academy Awards are...
BRAD of Criticlasm & Oh, Well, Just This Once...
BROOKE CLOUDBUSTER of Boy on Film
KEITH of In Which Our Hero
MATT of MattLand888
NICK of Nick's Flick Picks
with
yours truly, STINKYLULU.

1966'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.)

MATT Initially, Sandy Dennis overdoes her role but reaps major rewards once Honey gets hold of the brandy. Alternately plunging into emotional depths and broad comedy--both with remarkable spontaneity--Dennis suggests a drunken, goofy Ophelia, a hapless, tragicomic pawn in an explosive power match.
STINKYLULU
In Honey, Dennis’s Method tic-ishness combines with her insectlike appearance to create extraordinary glimpses of anxious, despairing, elemental vulnerability. It’s feral, terrifying work…and, for me, the most enduring performance in this legendary film..
BRAD Certainly the most interesting of the nominated roles. The strength of her performance comes from not knowing how much she really knows. It's that secret that keeps me interested in the character. She's somewhat in her own world, but aware to all of the emotional subtleties around her.
NICK
Indelible, however enervating or occasionally self-indulgent. Dennis keeps Burton and Taylor from gobbling the movie, and she builds the bridge this piece sorely needs between wildest affectation and heartbreaking vulnerability. Long before the finale, we comprehend through her that these ideas can converge, intellectually and emotionally.
KEITH A spectacular performance, by far the pick of this month's crop. Honey is smarter than anyone realizes, but tragically incapable (as who wouldn't be?) of surviving George and Martha's cruelty and depravity. Brilliant comic relief and heartbreaking dramatic moments – Dennis does it all.
BROOKE There is no Oscar winner that treads quite that fine line between madness and genius quite like Sandy Dennis' turn as Honey. Nothing seems out of place with her interpretation of Honey and it becomes a tragic performance that blooms as the film continues; in my mind, Dennis is the peak that no winner before or after has ever reached.
TOTAL: 28s

Wendy Hiller in A Man for All Seasons
BROOKE This film exists to bow down before the Almighty Holy Flawless Thomas More; not his wife Alice. Hiller is not allowed to deploy any of her (considerable) talent in this role and ends up giving a non-performance because she has nothing to work with. A tag-along nomination is the only explanation.
MATT Hiller plays every element allotted the slivery part, but director Zinnemann’s restraint deprives her of audience empathy, and she plays the role crustier than necessary: why would the refined statesman Thomas More have married this hedgehog?
STINKYLULU Hiller’s irascible practicality provides an often worthy counter to Scofield’s stoic idealism. But something in Hiller’s bearing blunts the character’s earthy immediacy, especially as a Lady on the verge of being demoted to being another Lady’s maid. (Would that Hiller could have played Cromwell, though. Just imagine….)
BRAD Workmanlike stagey performance, like most of the film. She does all that can be done in a whimple, and I imagine that she was nominated for the last scene on the stairs. Solid perf, but Susannah York had more to do, and I was a little more interested in her.
NICK A nice surprise, because I’d seen it before and dismissed it. As always, she looks like she drank vinegar for breakfast, but she mixes an evident, unsentimental love for Thomas with an impatient, wifely skepticism that he’s making a show of himself without admitting it. Thank God someone cuts him down to human size, if often only in silence.
KEITH A solid piece of work, capturing Alice More's devotion to her husband, her inability to understand his motivation, and her anger at his intractable nature. But this is a movie filled with very fine acting, and against that backdrop, it's hard for merely solid work to make a strong impression.
TOTAL: 15s

KEITH LaGarde's phonetic performance is a dehumanizing stunt, turning her into a cross between a lifesized prop and a trained parrot. She survives with more dignity than you'd expect, but the stunt leaves no room for spontaneity or creativity. LaGarde gets the lowest score allowed, not because it's bad acting, but because it isn't really acting at all..
NICK Occasionally inert, plowing through space and through phonemes alike. Not an intricate artist. But she can be sly and very affecting, and she gets the audience roundly rooting for her incestuous marriage: no mean feat..
MATT Jocelyne LaGarde flip-flops amusingly between huggy benevolence and queenly ire. But, as a non-native English speaker, this likable nonprofessional suffers from Simone Signoret-itis: her facial expressions and body language don’t correspond to her lines, and LaGarde offers only flashes of spontaneity and depth.
BROOKE A very easy performance to like and get carried away with, but very hard to admire or get behind critically. LaGarde seems to know what to do in front of the camera and how to speak and move fluidly, but the cracks show in her characterization and it becomes easy to tell that this is not a professional job. Good for what it is, though, with some sparkling moments.
STINKYLULU A perplexing nomination that is, nonetheless, the most affecting performance in this vastly overblown film. Although her line readings aren't especially nuanced, LaGarde delivers a vivid consistent characterization – amplified by occasional flashes of startling emotional depth – of one leader’s sincere attempt to embody deeply contradictory ideals.
BRAD I love this performance. I don't know if she's a great actress, but she's the only reason to watch this movie. Who knows if she would've been nominated in a better movie, but in this she's warm, childlike, maternal, wise, and the only reason to see this movie at all. I wouldn't give her an Oscar, but I'm glad she's on film.

TOTAL: 15s

Vivien Merchant in Alfie
BRAD I can't decide if this is a one-note performance, or the role is written to be extremely sad. The most egregious example of the casual destruction of Alfie's world view, she gives a strong performance, though telegraphing pathos a little too much for me. I think I ended up interested in Shelly Winter's perf in some ways more.
MATT The role’s potentially touching: a plain Jane blossoming under a Casanova’s attention, with tragic results. But Merchant isn’t allowed enough close-ups to hold our attention. Her quiet dignity peeps through, and her crying scene is effective, but hers is a wan, numb nomination.
NICK Has two huge, almost unfair advantages: the script insists that we Learn Something Poignant from her character, and anyone would look great next to Julia Foster or Shelley Winters. Still, her economy of gesture is admirable, and her various fragilities are all moving. I love her contemptuous look when Alfie disobeys her and snoops where he shouldn’t.
STINKYLULU Merchant’s wise to play against the film’s Caine-esque style of glib directness, opting for a more oblique approach that aptly conveys the human intensity of Lily’s broken spirit and depressed ambivalence. But, in the morality play Alfie, the character of Lily might as well be named “Human Consequence,” and the film does little to showcase Merchant as anything more than a plot device.
KEITH Merchant is the victim of a script that cares no more for its women than Alfie himself does. She gets the movie's juiciest storyline, though, and has one indelible moment when she caresses a teddy bear as if it were her aborted child. It's a chilling, heartbreaking moment, and the only time that any of Alfie's women feels like a real person.
BROOKE Merchant is astonishing as the most tragic, and interesting, of Alfie's girls. She's playing Lily to a whole other level, some of the other actresses tend to sway towards basic caricatures, but Merchant is just as vivid and detailed in her choices that she becomes as real as the titular character. A great performance where a non-starter could've been.
TOTAL: 17s

NICK Absolutely not. Purchases her character from the same Big & Tall Store for suffocating clich├ęs (Kooky Harridans on Aisle 9!) where she previously purchased her Repressed Spinster for Summer and Smoke. Striking but arrogant, and quickly unbearable.
STINKYLULU Page invests depth and dimension to a shallow, non-dimensional role. Yet by cloaking her Margery in a jittery caul of defensive self-obsession, Page – perhaps inadvertently – quashes the character’s comic potential, making her presence in the farcical final throwdown utterly incongruous. Unpleasant, unfunny, unfortunate.
BRAD Outlandish, over-the-top farcical performance. A spoof of some roles she's known for – high-strung control freaks. Not funny, sadly, just really big. Chain-smoking – wha? Rover – wha? She's game and plays it to the hilt, but it just doesn't work.
KEITH Handed a stock character – the overbearing, possessive harpy/mother – Page gives a stock performance. She is shrill, unpleasant, and loud, which makes her right at home in this movie. It's so bland and routine a performance that I found myself forgetting it even as it was happening.
BROOKE Page is a talented actress, if perhaps over-technical, and seems incredibly committed to her character. It's a pity that whatever character she is committed to isn't in this movie, and she ends up giving a performance that works against what Coppola is giving her. A different film would have boded well, but this is just a mish-mash of poor choices and even misdirection.
MATT
Playing the title character’s Oedipal nag of a mother, Page shrewdly operates on her own (amusingly) hammy wavelength, rather than attuning herself to the film’s awkward Mod whimsy. Too bad Coppola throws her away in the climactic chase sequence.
TOTAL: 10s

Oscar chose...
Sandy Dennis
in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Remarkably, I was unable to locate an image of Sandy Dennis holding her trophy.
The closest thing I could find was the above image --
a fan snapshot of Sandy's goldenboy (image source)


And
the SMACKDOWN emphatically concurs...
SANDY DENNIS is the
Best Supporting Actress of 1966!


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

8.29.2008

"The Look Is High-Tech. The Mood Is Now." (Homo Heritage Fridays)


from MANDATE:
The International Magazine of Entertainment and Eros.
December 1980 ~ page 24-27.
For details, click the image; then click again to magnify
Lacquer. Short shorts. Marlboro Reds.
Welcome to the Big 80s.


8.26.2008

To Dos Day

___ Item 1: BE HAPPY.
Today is the first day of a new academic year of teaching for me, so indulge me as I indulge myself with a list of things that make me happy today. Like my favorite freak of the moment, Cheroin.

___ Item 2: YAY FOR MATT MICHAM.
It's been 20 years since Greg Louganis competed in Seoul, a heartstopping and (we later learned) poignant triumph. And, once again, Olympic diving makes me cry. So to Matt Micham -- he of the cutest "wave to the camera" in sport. Just - YAY.
___ Item 3: HORNY PIG TROLLS HOT DANCER IN BATHHOUSE, CIRCA 1977.
I'm sure it happened many many times in cities around the globe, though likely never quite like this.
___ Item 4: GUARANTEED GIGGLE #826.
I'm an easy mark for silly cat videos. But this one? Cracked. Me. The. Ef. Up. I especially enjoy it when kitties swing from the chandeliers, or light fixtures...
Via MrStinky

___ Item 5: TASTE THE GRIT IN THAT HEDDA LETTUCE.
My favorite interview of the week. And I, too, agree that Sweetie and Korto were ROBBED!
___ Item 6: WHAT'S IN A STUNT ANYWAY.
An interesting bit of controversy emerged over my most recent Supporting Actress Sunday profile of Jocelyne LaGarde in Hawaii. The profile/nomination/performance raised the question for some: what's the line separating an acting stunt and a genuine performance? (My speculative theory is it all depends on whether the person performing the stunt is perceived to be a "real" actor before the stunt.) But the conversation compelsa me to wonder: what are your favorite acting stunts or incidents of stunt casting? And do you consider the work to be a legitimate performance? Or something else? Let it rip, with love, in comments. (And, btw, we'll be doing 1969 in September...)
Have at it, lovelies...

8.24.2008

Jocelyne LaGarde in Hawaii (1966) - Supporting Actress Sunday

A couple weeks back, I posted a brief meditation on Oscar's fondness for little girls. The category of Supporting Actress, since its very first year, has on occasion made room for younger actresses, especially little white ones. Yet an implicit question always haunts such nominations? Is a kid really capable of "Acting"? (Note my capitalization of the letter "a".) Is a performance by a younger actor evidence of their actual skill or talent? Or is it a something more like a spectacular stunt, a combination of adept grooming and coaching and manipulation, all of which sully its integrity as a worthy performance? The kid actor conundrum ("but are they really acting?") goes round and round, with partisans of all stripes weighing in on what are the necessary circumstances for "good" acting. But, even though I've done my share of the volleying in such discussions (or dodging them altogether, depending on my mood), I don't think I've yet been as perplexed but fascinated by this conundrum as I was when parsing this week's performance by...

...Jocelyne LaGarde in Hawaii (1966)
approximately 23 minutes and 59 seconds
16 scenes
roughly 15% of film's total running time
Jocelyne LaGarde plays Malama, the reigning Queen of the Hawaiian islands, a woman whose imposing physical enormity is more than matched by the magnitude of her generous spirit. (And who happens to have one of the most bizarre entrances in all my experience of Supporting Actressness.)
LaGarde's Malama is also a devoted and intelligent leader of her people, wary of the haoli (white folks) landing with increasing frequency on her islands while also recognizing the imperative that she lead her people in adapting to the changing times.
Within her first scenes, it becomes clear that LaGarde's Malama rules by instinct, yet -- as also becomes quickly evident -- Malama's seeming impetuosity is girded by an unfailing wisdom. The film conveys this paradox when Malama meets the narrative's protoganonists.
LaGarde's Malama immediately adores the minister's wife (Julie Andrews doing a warmed over version of her Maria von Trapp -- you know, after she's married and gets all prim and boring) while loathing the minister upon first sight (Max Von Sydow in a nearly intolerable performance of one-note priggishness). The audience, I dare say, couldn't agree more with Malama on these quick assessments.
Malama effectively adopts Andrews' Jerusha as her teacher (Malama wants to learn to write English so she can pen a plea to the American president, James Monroe) and so the Hales settle on Maui, as missionaries to Malama and her people.
The character of Malama is, for me, one of only two genuinely interesting characters in this vast and overwrought epic of colonialism, evangelism and capitalist expansion. (The other interesting character would be Malama's son, Keoki, played here with generosity and strong potential by Manu Tupou.) The character of Malama is a formidable, charismatic presence whose apparent simplicity is belied by her strategic sophistication in maintaining the integrity of her people in the face of the haoli threat.
The character of Queen "Ruth" Malama provides a jolt of complexity into this deadly dull epic -- not quite enough to bring the film completely to life, mind you, but enough to make it mildly interesting for its middle hour or so.
Jocelyne LaGarde's performance as Malama brings its own jolt of complexity, but in an entirely different way. LaGarde's nomination is notorious for being the only nominated performance by an actor for their single film role. Biographical details on LaGarde are scant (note how I couldn't even find a headshot of her out of character), but, as the story goes, the French-speaking Tahitian was "discovered" for the role because of her great look and impressive screen presence; thus, in spite of the fact that she spoke neither English nor Hawaiian, LaGarde was hired for the role and learned her lines phonetically with the assistance of a voice coach. (I am not attesting to the veracity of any of these details. That's just the way the story goes.)
LaGarde's performance, then, emerges as an emblematically curious conundrum. Is it LaGarde's work merely that of an extraordinary physical specimen poked and prodded into enacting the tasks of the pivotal role of Malama? Or does LaGarde's performance represent an unlikely but formidable acting accomplishment?
I'm not sure. There are times in LaGarde's performance when I'm struck by the curiosity of it, when I'm mostly stunned by the spectacle as LaGarde appears to channel Hope Emerson, Yul Brynner and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson all at once.
But there are other times when I find LaGarde's performance to provide some of the only moments of genuine emotion in the entire picture. And it's striking that LaGarde's performance emerges (along with Gene Hackman's and Lou Antonio's, though they're in bit parts) as the only characterization to permits meaningful complexity. Indeed, I find that I'm adamantly disinclined to dismiss LaGarde's performance as a mere stunt.
LaGarde's line readings aren't always the most nuanced, but her characterization is vivid and consistent, bearing a subtlety that surpasses that presented in most of the principal roles.
LaGarde's is a perplexing but memorable and, at times, fascinating performance. Nomination worthy? I'm not so sure. But a valid, worthwhile performance contributing some of the most interesting actressing in the film? Absolutely.