L13FC: The Actress as Saint or Sinner

Welcome back to this month’s discussion about the film industry. Have some fun and join in the conversation.

In literature and in film, females in the Judeo-Christian world throughout the ages have been portrayed as either saint typified by the Virgin Mary, or as fallen Eve, the sinner/seducer usually using her sexuality to control her situation. When I look at lists of popular actresses in the history of motion pictures, I’m struck by how that dynamic is visualized on the screen. It’s either or. That image stains the actress and it’s hard to shake it. In addition, with few exceptions, the youthful actress is innocent and naive while the mature woman is bitter and manipulative. If the actress has a long career, there are two faces to her. Good while young. Bad when older. Generally speaking, more actresses than not are cast in roles which fall into these two stereotypes.

Take one of my favorite actresses of all time, Shirley MacLaine. Her best films in youth portray her as sweet, innocent, and the adorable girl-next-door. Then she hit forty and the last half of her long career, she’s played nothing but cantankerous, conniving, and bitchy or “strong” women. I bet you can think of a dozen actresses who followed a similar path.

Best Classic Saint: Audrey Hepburn

Best Classic Sinner: Elizabeth Taylor

Then there are actresses who are remembered as one-dimensional. You associate her as the seducer/sinner or she was the embodiment of wholesome goodness. When they tried to veer away from their image, the public was disappointed. Meryl Streep is an interesting exception. She had the saintly features in youth, but she frequently played a sinner. Many of her characters from her earlier career were entangled in affairs or rejected maternal expectations. Then as Streep aged, she fell into the pattern of playing the mature woman who plays extreme personalities, often as the viper. Why is Streep considered the best actress of all time? Didn’t Katherine Hepburn buck the two stereotypes, too? Is there a correlation?

We’ve heard of child actors who can’t bypass their child image. We’ve heard of male actors who are only remembered for their villains. My question then: when you think of actresses and their best roles, do you find a pattern within yourself that prefers the saint or the sinner? 

I see a shift today where more actresses are playing roles that blend mental and physical strength combined with ethical clarity. And they look hot in their clothes, too. Emily Blunt’s characters are like that. Many of Jennifer Lawerence’s characters have the right combination. It is the modern scriptwriter who is changing the visual identity of what it means to be a woman. Do you see it?

Are You Not Entertained? A Pair of Movies and a Book

Here are a couple of movies and a recent book I can recommend to you.

You go right ahead and dislike Tom Cruise. Even if you sit in that camp, surely you can admire the star for performing his own stunts? What an exhilarating time I had watching the recent franchise installment written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. There a lot of reviews out there about Fallout, so read a good one by blogging buddy, Keith, found  HERE. Why is it good? It’s devoid of CGI, fast cuts, and the action sequences are shot on location. The team feels like a family and the twists and turns keep you predicting. Mentally and visually the audience is engaged. Are you interested in how films are created? I found these two video clips recorded on British television, The Graham Norton Show, with the principal characters, Tom Cruise, Rebecca Furguson, Simon Pegg, and Henry Cavill insightful.The first discussion surrounds the stunts and the second clip focuses on how Tom broke his ankle during production. Fallout is worth the price of admission and is the perfect summer adrenaline rush. 4.5/5.

The Royal Tailor (2014)

Lee Won-suk is a South Korean director whose 2014 film The Royal Tailor is one of the more beautiful films I’ve watched in a while. The story centers around jealousy, friendship, and betrayal during the Joseon dynasty of Korea (1392-1898). In the King’s palace, the Royal attire is run by austere Jo Dol-seok (Han Suk-kyu). For thirty years he has worked his way up from a commoner to the esteemed position as the head tailor. The neglected Queen (Park Shin-hye) needs a dress in a pinch and hires the innovative and charming young tailor, Lee Gong-jin (Ko-Soo). He falls in love with the Queen and becomes an unlikely friend. He introduces vivid colors and new styles which threaten the traditional offerings by Dol-seok, the head tailor. What’s worse, the young designer, Gong-jin, admires and likes Dol-seok, who secretly tries to understand his rival’s magical approach to creating designs. It is impossible to dislike the cheery young man. The story is more than a story about textiles (although one can’t help but be enraptured by the embroidery and see the costumes as art forms); the ache and betrayal felt by the royal tailor whose cerebral, traditional gowns can’t compete with the passionate, progressive creations of Gong-jin are heart-breaking. Highly recommended. 4.8/5

BOOKS 

Author Patrick DeWitt wrote a witty tale that felt like a Mark Twain fable with quirky characters and outrageous scenes the two brothers find themselves in. But the comedy is darker. There’s a sadness one can’t help feel for the narrator Eli who follows his raucous brother. They are assassins and it’s 1851 as they travel from Oregon to California. There is a quiet morality to Eli. He instantly falls in love with a whore and gives her all his money. He cares for a boy they find orphaned and is concerned for him. He saves his horse that most would kill. In the ruthless West, Eli is a lonely, lost soul and Dewitt creates a real voice in Eli. If you like dark comedy, you would appreciate this easy to read and beautifully written period novel. 4.5/5

And so I picked this novel because I saw the trailer in the theater and I liked the looks of the cast and the storyline. I wonder if they can translate the beauty and horror of the plot and the delicate yet ruthless brothers whose last name is Sisters. That’s the hard part about turning books into film. The imagination does a much better job creating an alternate reality that you can suspend your disbelief on. It’s a lot harder capturing the magic of words on a page to the film. I am hopeful.

L13FC: Play into Film

 

It’s Friday the 13th. You all are my lucky charms. Welcome back to this month’s rendition of the Lucky 13 Film Club. I have been thinking about plays which were adapted to film. Ever wonder why what works on the stage somehow gets lost in translation on the screen? Why do some films feel like a play but never were? Whether a satire or silly or serious, a successful adaptation from the stage to the screen is not easy. Why? Let us focus our discussion on plays and NOT MUSICALS.

Thinking beyond a list of favorites, who are your favorite characters? Often I am so-so about the film adaptation as a whole, but an actor’s delivery or a line by the author has been tattooed on my heart. What are some of your lasting impressions?

Cindy’s choices:

When Rev. Hale tries to atone for the death warrants he has assigned in Arthur Miller’s The Cruciblehe begs Elizabeth Proctor to persuade her husband John to confess to witchcraft in order to save his life.

John Proctor (DDL), Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor

For the principle of honesty, she answers, “I believe that be the Devil’s argument.”  I see and hear actress Joan Allen say this on the Cape Cod shore in the 1996 film version. When situations arise in my life where I hear people bend and rationalize the truth including interior dialogues with myself–should I or not? I hear Goody Proctor’s voice.

The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams is an enjoyable 1964 film in all regards. Richard Burton gives an energetic performance especially when he’s sweating it out wrapped up and trapped in the hammock.

Deborah Kerr with Richard Burton in The Night of the Iguana (1964)

T. Lawrence Shannon: I thought you were sexless. But you’ve just become a woman. And do you know how I know that? Because you like me tied up! All women, whether they wish to admit or not, would like to get men into a tied-up situation.

Is there truth in his statement? Hmmm. The gender relations in the 1960s. The dynamic between a mother and son. A husband and wife. The femme fatale and her victim. What intrigues me about the comment is that Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) is “good” and “cerebral” thus lacking the qualities that make her female. To be sexless also means she lacks the qualities that make her male. How interesting to be neither sex. She abstains from the hypocrisies and degradation of both sexes and becomes the Buddha in the film whether she likes it or not.

David Mamut‘s play/film Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) scorched with an excellent script and meaty acting from the entire cast.  Alec Baldwin played the worst boss imaginable and typecasts himself for twenty more films in his future. Anyway, Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) was exceptional. The scene that stuck was the one where he was battered and worn by his colleagues and Blake, and then, with a snap of a finger, he got on that phone to made a sale like his life depended on it. His demeanor changed from weak to aggressive remarkably. I was wowed by Lemmon’s performance and truly felt horrible for Shelley and his outcome. Here’s more on Jack Lemmon found HERE.

Al Pacino as Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (2004) made me smile. It is my second favorite play by Shakespeare and the film version directed by Michael Radford was entertaining and visually interesting due in part to the cast: Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, and Lynn Collins. The Act III, scene I monologue by Shylock rouses indignation, and I see Shylock in a whole new light.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, 1947, starring Marlon Brando and Scarlett O’Hara as Blanche

My ultimate favorite line is Blanch DuBois when she pitifully says, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Poor Blanche. When her beauty faded, so did her options. Loss of hope and desperation makes for desperate decisions. Haven’t we all been there at some point in our lives? Is Williams suggesting there’s a bit of Blanche in all women? Trying to exist with the cards stacked against us, encouraged by men to use whatever charms for their enjoyment while simultaneously condemned for using them? Smarts and ingenuity were not readily accepted by society prior to roughly 1980.  We’ve come a long way, baby. Right?

Plays bring up issues that are fun to think about and discuss. I’ll list some plays to jar your memory. What character or line sticks with you?

Raisin in the Sun, Amadeus, Barefoot in the Park, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Arsenic and Old Lace, Doubt, Closer, Long Day’s Journey into the Night, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, August: Osage County, Fences, Driving Miss Daisy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dial M for Murder, On Golden Pond, The Lion in Winter, and countless Oscar Wilde & Shakespeare adaptations…

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