Supporting Actress Smackdown - 1975

The Year is...

And the Supporting Actress Smackdowners for November are NICK of Nick's Pick Flicks; TIM of Mainly Movies; KEN of Canadian Ken On...; and welcoming CRITICLASM! And though NATHANIEL of The Film Experience hadn't the time to fully blurb us, he did bestow the incomparable delights of one of his (now legendary & elusive) NatReels!

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1975'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.)
Ronee Blakley in Nashville
Criticlasm Sez...
The songs she wrote serve to give her the greatest platform for her work. Alive when she's performing and unsure when she's not, she remains a mystery on to which the other characters can project their needs and desires. Fascinating, compelling, leaves you wanting more.
Tim Sez...
Manages a warbly breakdown one agonising step at a time, and does almost all of it publicly, without the safe retreat of backstage contrast. The film says music is life, death, madness: with her skilfully precarious playing, Blakley exemplifies how.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Blakley conveys the cavernous distance between Barbara Jean's electrifying performance persona and her near absence of self with haunting, guileless poignancy and thus contributes the essential link for Altman’s extraordinary chain of events. A fascinating, formidable and enduring accomplishment for a neophyte actress.
Ken Sez...
Altman supposedly let Blakley build Barbara Jean herself. Result - a stunning portrait of what a saint might be like in the modern world. Blakley's earthy and ethereal. And - when she sing "Dues" - astonishing, capturing both star-power and soul. Wonderful.
Nick Sez...
Attains two remarkable accomplishments: giving an unridiculous performance of a vaguely absurd person, and rendering a highly theatrical character without calling undue attention to her own acting. Sings beautifully and emanates a persuasive, disconcertingly cheerful sadness. Shifts and shines like a prism in the light..

Lee Grant in Shampoo
Stinkylulu Sez...
Grant's Felicia – an almost endearingly elaborate assemblage of tics and pouts and fussinesses – somehow devolves as the narrative complicates, becoming a shrill one-note of steely glares and ranting asides. A curiously grim performance.
Nick Sez...
For every interesting, unexpected mannerism in a Grant performance, there are two or three more that feel incongruous and over-rehearsed. Plus, this rigid script needs all the lightness and personality it can get. Hawn, Christie, and Fisher have them. Grant doesn’t.
Ken Sez...
A nice showcase for Grant's tightly coiled style. She attacks the part with gleaming precision. And dominates the climactic restaurant scene, delivering a series of reactions that can best be described as nuclear implosions. A worthy nominee.
Criticlasm Sez...
A focused performance of an unfocused character that's written as a shrewish neurotic wife stereotype. I was more interested in her story than the one I was watching. It made me wish for a Lee Grant/ Carrie Fisher mother daughter road movie.
Tim Sez...
A spiky turn that keeps getting better, so much so that I found myself more engaged with Grant’s Felicia than anyone else: her dagger-staring in the party scene really draws blood. Too generic to be a worthy winner, but a perfectly respectable nominee.

Sylvia Miles in Farewell, My Lovely
Tim Sez...
Makes sense and acquits herself in two economical if poorly edited scenes. But this aging floozy is dead before you know it, and her surroundings are so dismally lethargic I lost track of what she’s even doing here.
Ken Sez...
Jessie's a boozy old tramp who generally misses the glass when she pours the bourbon. By Miles' standards, pretty laid back - even the stagger down memory lane to relive the days when she had "a lotta pep." But nicely fermented.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Miles' signature emotional forthrightness converges with Jessie's devastating isolation to accomplish an almost shockingly open-hearted performance, the singular instance of nuanced and textured work in a film loaded with stock characters and familiar types. Memorably effective.
Criticlasm Sez...
At turns sweet and unexpected when she easily could have been broad and tragic drunk. Watch the way she deals with objects: drink glasses, the ottoman she steps over, her robe; the brown paper bag. A charming, hopeful performance that could have dissolved into bathos in the hands of a lesser skilled performer.
Nick Sez...
A textbook case of a pearl cast before a swinish film. Miles sets the sad, seedy, peripherally comic tone that the movie should have adopted. There’s not enough of her, and her second scene isn’t as good as her first, but she’s a trouper, and inimitably so.

Lily Tomlin in Nashville
Ken Sez...
A minimalist approach although, frankly, I don't think Tomlin has the dramatic firepower to do it any other way. Her big scene ("I'm Easy") depends on how much expression she can drain out of an already mask-like face. And it does work.
Nick Sez...
Tomlin wins a place in movie history by doing exactly the right thing—i.e., very nearly nothing—while Altman hands her the loveliest, saddest scene in a deliriously perfect film. She’s solid in the rest of her scenes, but picks the right moment to be transcendent.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Tomlin transforms her comedian’s rubber-face into a half-smiling mask of serene implacability, communicating the fact of her experience – not necessarily what's happening, more that it's happening – almost electrically through her eyes. Defiantly private yet embarassingly open, meticulously constructed yet casually expressive – it's uncommonly confident screen acting.
Criticlasm Sez...
Easily one of my favorite performances of the last few decades. Her work with her children, the stillness in the I'm Easy scene, her self-possession and presence when she's gone through with the affair, all combine in an electric, riveting, unforgettable perf.
Tim Sez...

Now we’re talking. Tomlin’s face, a slightly impassive mask at times, seems tragically composed here with minute flickers of sadness and longing playing over it. The most complete characterisation in the movie, its most moving performance, and the part of a lifetime.

Brenda Vaccaro in Jacqueline Susann's Once Is Not Enough
Criticlasm Sez...
Against the vapid blankness of Deborah Raffin’s performance she looks like Duse, mostly notable for her energy in an otherwise languid, lackluster film. I can hear the HS choir director: "You should all have energy like Brenda. Just look at her jazz hands.”
Tim Sez...
Vaccaro always comes over as a good-time husky dame to me, but an Oscar nod for this?! She’s wooden or under-rehearsed in scene after scene, charging through her atrocious dialogue in the hope that – who knows? – there might be a cosmopolitan or a fuck waiting after take two. Truly baffling.
Ken Sez...
She says words like "horny" and "screw" right out loud. Imagine! But like Deborah Raffin's unfurrowed brow, the script offers no subtext, no undercurrent, no nothin'. Still, next to David Janssen's blood-clot of a performance, Vaccaro's at least energetic.
Stinkylulu Sez...
Vaccaro provides a brash breeze of energy and zest that whips through the deadly dullness of the film, hitting every note of the performance with clarity and verve. Yet without an emotional architecture to connect the disparate moments of the character's desperation, Vaccaro's Linda remains a mildly amusing accessory.
Nick Sez...
Hardly one for the ages, but there wasn’t a moment in this performance that I didn’t enjoy; nor was there one that didn’t help the film. Vaccaro endows her stock character with genuine gusto and humor, without straining herself like Mira Sorvino or leaning on broad affectations like Marisa Tomei.

Oscar awarded Lee Grant...
What the hell is on Lee's noggin?

For the SMACKDOWN, on the other hand, it's a close one -- a near tie between Ronee Blakley and Lily Tomlin -- a tie that would have certainly even been tighter had Nathaniel been able to contribute his blurbs.

Consider what Nathaniel Sez about Lily Tomlin's Linnea:
The holidays have thwarted my efforts to investigate all five performances thoroughy enough to do them justice. But I did feel the need to send y'all my praise for Lily Tomlin's work in Nashville. Every time I see this great film her work improves. She'd certainly get my vote. It's the kind of performance that rarely gets enough praise: she makes it look too easy. It strikes me as very similar to Catherine Keener's recently lauded work in Capote -- the actresses in question don't appear to be doing much but the character is commendably complete and of value to the film without any showboating.

I love Tomlin's subtle reveal of a totally compartmentalized woman. Linnea keeps each piece of her life separate from the others which only adds to the refreshingly complex and adult sequence in her lovers hotel room in which you see her, briefly, with her guard down: that mix of her selves in his bed (the sign language instruction is a beautiful moment) before she quickly packs up her separate selves again, disappointed with his other selves and hers. She heads out the door, all separated again. It's just masterful stuff from a regularly underappreciated talent. She doesn't work enough.

Because the tally's so tight, because the sentiment's so strong among the Smackdowners (see below), StinkyLulu feels compelled to defer to the general consensus that underscores the Smackdown's Blakley/Tomlin near tie.

Therefore, The Smackdown gives
a special New Year's celebration trophy to:

Lily Tomlin, Karen Black, Shelley Duvall, Barbara Baxley, Geraldine Chaplin, Barbara Harris, Cristina Raines, Gwen Welles, & Ronee Blakley.

And now some "Final Thoughts" from our intrepid SMACKDOWNERS:
Nick Sez: Can you tell I’m a nut for Nashville? Here’s some more proof: I think this whole roster could have (and should have) been filled by the women of Altman’s masterpiece, and we’d still be looking at a richer-than-usual Supporting Actress lineup. In fact, there are too many deserving performances to accommodate in one race. My own impulse would be to bump Blakley up to Best Actress and give the Supporting slots to Tomlin, the delightfully fruity Geraldine Chaplin, the blowzy but finally heroic Barbara Harris, the fierce and mysterious Cristina Raines, and the bravely, sympathetically idiotic Gwen Welles…and that still means leaving out the nattering but charismatic Barbara Baxley, the most fluid, graceful turn of Karen Black’s career, and the spaced-out minimalism of Shelley Duvall. Miles and Vaccaro were nice surprises in dreadful films; under the circumstances, let’s console them with well-earned Good Sport awards. And while we’re at it, let’s invent some special award for Marisa Berenson in Barry Lyndon, whose unique achievement has less to do with acting than with so sublimely enabling Kubrick’s vision, emerging as a nonpareil object of pristine, painterly, and period-specific beauty.
Ken Sez: Most of the supporting actress action in '75 comes from Nashville, with Blakley's work - a beam of clear white light - setting the bar pretty high. Not too high, though, for Barbara Harris, whose sublimely unsinkable Winifred bobs along on a current of slightly punchdrunk shrewdness. And surely Duvall's selfish walking scarecrow is a vivid enough monster to meet Abbott and Costello. No faulting Karen Black either as the conniving Connie White. "Turn that off," wails Barbara Jean when Connie's on the radio. If Barbara Jean's a saint, then Connie White's just the one to try her patience. Meanwhile Barbara Baxley serves up so much extra piss 'n vinegar one almost expects Susan Sarandon - in full Bull Durham mode - to spring Athena-like from her forehead. Tomlin does fine. But, in his DVD commentary, Altman casually mentions that Louise Fletcher was originally cast. Wow! Double wow! Now there's a performance I'd love to see!
Criticlasm Sez: What a confounding year. Although all but Vaccarro are strong, they are all over the map. Miles and Grant don't stand up for me to the work of Geraldine Chaplin or the curiously overlooked and heartbreaking Gwen Welles. And I love Lee Grant. I can't help thinking the group is an indication of where women were in the mid'70's, each character struggling with a relationship to a man and finding her worth in it. Although the same could probably be said for most years, I can only think they "liberated woman" vote went for Vaccarro to get her the nom, and the wronged wife wins the prize. And although I loved Miles, it's strange that she garnered a nomination against the Nashville troupe, not only Chaplin & Welles, but Barbara Harris and Shelley Duvall as well. Puzzling year.
Tim Sez: The first time I’ve had a full spread of s, as befits a wildly uneven year which would be a grim one if you took Nashville out. It seems criminal neither Blakley nor Tomlin managed to win for giving among the best in a huge gallery of terrific performances in a Best Picture nominee, but if ever a film made the case for a Best Ensemble Acting category all by itself, Nashville does. Geraldine Chaplin must have just missed out on a nod for Opal From the BBC, but she’s the film’s snarkiest source of laughs and I’m not having it; Gwen Welles instead, please, for that heartwrenching striptease. Also from this year I’d want ex-nominee Rachel Roberts, at her stern best as the headmistress in The Picnic at Hanging Rock… and then I run out of suggestions. Nashville aside, it strikes me as a year of great male ensembles mainly – Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws – so as usual it’s lucky for this category (and us, and cinema) that Altman was around.
StinkyLulu Sez: Seems a fitting tribute both to Altman, and to the delights drawn from this first year of Supporting Actress Sundays, that 2006 end en ensemble. Well done, gents. Thanks for a great year! And here's to a great 2007! To actressing at the edges!!!
So, lovely reader, tell the Smackdowners what YOU think!
Join the dialogue in comments.

(And don't forget to
sign up for
The Class of '06
Supporting Actress Blogathon!)

Lily Tomlin in Nashville (1975) - Supporting Actress Sundays

Each week, re-screening and clocking the relevant scenes for the Supporting Actress stats always proves at least a little revelatory. Not infrequently, the performance in question starts to look quite different for this extra attention. Tics and mannerisms become more conspicuous in concentrated consecutive doses. Same for nuances, for sidework, for the glancing moments in the in-between. But rarely has a performance so opened itself -- exploded with flourish like a time-lapsed blossom -- than that of...

...Lily Tomlin in Nashville (1975).
approximately 16 minutes and 2 seconds on-screen
11 scenes
roughly 10% of film's total screen time

Tomlin plays Linnea, an unassuming woman with a lot going on. She's the attentive wife (to a music-industry lawyer), the impeccable homemaker, and the devoted mother (to two vivacious pre-teen kids, who both happen to be deaf). She's also a gospel singer with a modest recording career. And amidst all of this, Tomlin's Linnea somehow also finds herself squarely -- pun intended -- in the salacious sights of a lonely horndog superstar (the improbably hot Keith Carradine). And Tomlin's Linnea manages all this with shocking aplomb.

An often rubber-faced comedian, Tomlin here instead opts to use her face as a mask of sorts, giving Linnea a kind-eyed, half-smiling mask of serene implacability. Prim, polite and well pressed, Linnea embodies the socially appropriate behaviors befitting her myriad responsibilities. Nevertheless, Tomlin efficiently conveys at every moment that Linnea's got a lot happening just behind that wan smile. It's a remarkable accomplishment really, especially considering the actress seems almost blithely unconcerned about letting the audience in on any of the whats or the whys. As a result, Tomlin's Linnea emerges as a magnetically compelling enigma, a cipher like her remote compatriot Barbara Jean but not nearly as lost.

Which is all the more remarkable considering that Linnea's "story" in this film is all about being sorta lost. Linnea fits nowhere. A vocalist who teaches her deaf children to sign "Sing". The white soloist of a black choir (adding to the incongruity, Tomlin's Linnea sings jubilee style in front of a contemporary gospel choir). The church lady being horndogged by a rock star. The married mother of two who's suddenly a single woman in a bar, ordering apple cider but asking that it be served in a wine glass. Tomlin's performance, however, derives the essence of Linnea's vivid inner life from this discordance, blazing the experience through her uncannily expressive eyes. Whether she's bored out of her mind while partychatting pointlessly about brain injuries, or beaming while her son tells her of his day, or deciding to not slam the phone on Carradine's Tom... Tomlin communicates the fact of her experience -- not necessarily what's happening, more that it's happening -- almost electrically through her eyes.

And Tomlin even does this in long-shot. Witness it here -- in what is certainly one of the most enthralling examples of actressing at the edges that Lulu knows, something that makes Lulu just love Robert Altman forever and ever -- when Tomlin's Linnea discovers what it feels like to have someone sing for her, to realize that she's the most important person in this crowded room...where Tomlin wordlessly conveys what is very possibly a life-altering moment of being for Linnea.

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And in her next scene, as Tomlin's Linnea reassembles herself after the banality of sex with Carradine (especially when he pathetically tries to make her jealous enough to stay), it's clear that Linnea's experienced something big (but it's not Carradine). As she quietly but efficiently extricates herself (and her panties) from the tumult of Carradine's bed, it's almost as if she's saying aloud: "Whatever it is I'm about to find, it's not you." Each beat in Tomlin's performance is like this: defiant in its privacy yet almost embarassingly open. So meticulously constructed yet so casually expressive -- it's uncommonly confident screen acting on the part of performer and director alike. And it's very nearly the perfect example of "actressing at the edges"...

• • • • •

Tune back on shortly for
1975's Supporting Actress Smackdown!


Supporting Actress Blogathon: THE VIDEO!

The Cellar Door worked up this amazing promo for the upcoming Class of '06 - Supporting Actress Blogathon. It's sooo good...

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MalePoint (Homo Heritage Fridays)

from Mandate: The International Magazine of Entertainment and Eros.
November 1983, page 30.
For details, click the image; then click again to magnify.
Mmmm. Crafty.


5 Stinky Thoughts on Dreamgirls

The Stinkys just yesterday finally saw Dreamgirls, after weeks of wishing and days of pining for the opportunity to get to one of the two screens in the state of New Mexico (!) on which it was showing. The crowd was biggish, mostly Oprah's demographic, but with pocketfuls of queens sprinkled throughout. So so glad to finally have seen it, but rather than just piling on another review, it seemed better to just blather about the things on Lulu's noggin since seeing what is arguably the most anticipated movie of 2006.

Thought #1: The Best Supporting Actress
The Best Supporting Actress performance in this film, without a doubt, comes from Anika Noni Rose as Lorell. (And, let it be clear, StinkyLulu sez that with Jennifer Hudson in the category -- see Thought#5 below.) To be sure, Hudson's Effie delivers showstopping number after showstopping number while Rose's Lorell mostly brings on the back-up BUT taking things note-for-note and step-for-step and beat-for-beat it's clear: Rose's Lorell is perhaps the most fully executed characterization in the film. Consider how the three principal Dreams bridge the "on-stage" musical numbers with their "off-stage" scenes. Hudson's mostly just "doing choreography" with Effie nowhere to be seen, at least until she's working in close-up. Knowles' confidently radiates Deena when singing and posing but becomes distractingly tentative when a dialogue scene begins. In electrifying contrast, Rose's Lorell is as vividly present and alive in every ensemble number as she is in every "off-stage" scene. Every one of Rose's "on-stage" oo-oohs and hip swirls and waving hand gestures show Lorell as clearly as her "off-stage" giggles, mediations and heartbreaks. Rose's performance is, quite simply, the best in film.

Thought #2: Faster! Louder! Flashier!

The backlash against Dreamgirls has begun, perhaps inevitably given the year of unrelenting hype. And while it would be frankly nasty if the timing of this backlash led to the film's being disregarded by the major awards, the consensus emerging among Lulu's critically inclined pals (exhibits A & B) is spot on. The pacing in this film is just awful -- unrelenting and exhausting. So many goodies just piled on the tray, with little chance to relax and savor the treats. (Thankfully, some of the production design -- the video montages, the album covers, the interiors, the photo shoots -- gave some time to catch up, but even that's rife with sensory overload.) It's like Hollywood now thinks a musical has to have more glitz than Chicago and more energy than Moulin Rouge! but what often results -- especially without the applause breaks that come in live theatre -- is an onslaught of entertainment so glib and so manic that it's just tiring.

Thought #3: Why're People Being So Mean to Beyoncé?

The queens have really had it in for poor little Miss Knowles, haven't they? It's not like StinkyLulu's a fan (at all) but...Knowles' performance as Deena is absolutely competent, with flashes of genuine power even. To be sure, Knowles is at her best in the musical numbers, where she's able to track Deena's growing confidence and style as a performer, and in wordless poses, where she ably conveys Deena's myriad insecurities and misgivings even as she discovers that she loves being in the spotlight. And, at a crucial moment, she acts circles around her more celebrated, newly "introduced" costar. So, while StinkyLulu would have rather seen the compelling Sharon Leal in the role of Deena (instead of in the thankless part of Michelle), Knowles' Deena is by no stretch the weakest link in this acting chain. (No, that honor belongs to the only Oscar winner among the principals.)

Thought #4: StinkyLulu Loves Loretta Devine
Why oh why oh couldn't there have been more cameos? Ken Page and Loretta Devine and Eddie Mekka and Hinton Battle all just whetted StinkyLulu's voracious appetite for more bit parts as quiet homage to great stars of the musical in the 1970s. (On a different tack, even seeing Jaleel White was a kick.) But it's just strange and wrong not to have Sheryl Lee Ralph somewhere in the mix -- like the reframed role of Deena's mother for example. And though it's hard to imagine Jennifer Holliday fitting on a movie screen -- perhaps as Curtis' Aunt? -- it's sad that the opportunity was missed...

Thought #5: Jennifer Hudson's Limits
Oh boy. All of StinkyLulu's greatest hopes and biggest fears were realized in Jennifer Hudson's performance as the iconic Effie. She brings down the house again and again and again (the late afternoon Albuquerque audience burst into spontaneous applause for Hudson's Effie no fewer than three times) and yet...it's a distressingly incomplete performance. And it basically boils down to the fact that, over and over and over again, Hudson gives next to nothing unless she's in close-up. Within the focal moments of the narrative and score, Hudson's Effie is captivating and often thrilling. In the in-betweens, it's mostly Hudson just standing there or awkwardly shoopadooping while wearing Effie's costume. Unless the camera's right up in her face, Hudson gives nothing -- least of all the necessary emotional architecture to bridge Effie's big moments. It's a strangely discordant thing: Hudson's performance contributes some of the year's best screen moments while also punctuating most of them with some of the worst flat-footed, boring and banal acting StinkyLulu's seen in some time.

So, lovely reader, do you have any Dreamgirls thoughts? Do tell...