Dear Jessica Lange

For decades, I’ve questioned your talent. I concluded you were overrated used solely for your sex appeal, and I did not take you seriously. A Marilyn Monroe. A Tippi Hedron. Less than Faye Dunaway and slightly more than Melanie Griffith. You are a combination of breathless ambiguity and sexual coquettish that appears helpless and manipulative — a true femme fatale.

The 1982 biopic of Hollywood actress, Frances Farmer, was a muddled mess, but what a treat to see you in an unforgettable performance garnering an Oscar nomination. That year Meryl Streep won for Sophie’s Choice. Frances was the right performance but the wrong year to go up against Streep’s best delivery of her career. You gave Frances depth and subtlety to wide-sweeping emotions; do you think it was the best performance of your long career?

Frances is based on the sad, troubled life of the precocious teenager in the 1930s whose journal-to-essay concludes there is no God. It alienates her community but attracts enough attention to get Frances to Hollywood and Broadway. During the thirties and forties, her defiant personality marks her as a trouble-maker. She is taken advantage of, black-listed, and sent to various mental hospitals. Her civil liberties are denied and her body violated. What’s worse is her relationship with her mother who takes the phrase “vicarious living” to extremes. The wimpy father is powerless to stop the catfights and institutionalization of their daughter.

How does one control the spirit of Francis? Why, ice-pick therapy, of course. Somehow she survives a lobotomy and Frances became a soulless version of herself. Sam Shepard is the quasi-narrator-strange love interest who loves her unconditionally throughout the decades, but his role as a Hollywood reporter, Harry York, is ambiguous and wasted. But what does shine through is his love for Frances. Shepard does a fine job given the limitations of the script. Their chemistry continued two years later when Shepard and Lange co-star in Country (1984).  

I don’t blame you, Jessica, I blame the scriptwriters Nicholas Kazan, Eric Gergren, and Christopher De Vore who failed to get on the same page about what the film was about. I do like institution movies. There is some perverse horror in watching how patients are mistreated. Sorry to tell you, although, I bet you will agree The Snake Pit (1948) is better solely because the film had a coherent vision.

In 2017, I watched you play Joan Crawford in the television series Feud. Jessica, you were marvelous! I started to think I was wrong about your acting abilities. The other day, I was curious enough to look at your filmography. I forgot you had won Best Actress in Blue Sky (1995). You won Best Supporting Actress in 1983 for Tootsie. You have had great success in television with multiple Emmy wins for American Horror Story–were you good as that demonic nun? I never watched the show, but I can imagine that unearthly, breathless cadence of yours. I can see your smoldering eyes and deceptive smirk and bet you were unnerving. You also won a Tony for the 2016 production for the lead in Long Day’s Journey into Night. Were you as good as Katharine Hepburn? There’s more — three Golden Globes, and a slew of sandbox statues. My, your mantle is crowded.

I confess I have been wrong about you. Mea Culpa, Jessica. You are quite more than the sex toy of King Kong.

Sincerely,

Cindy

 

 

L13FC: WWII from 2000 to the Present

It’s Friday the 13th and my lucky day. We get to share thoughts about a topic in the movie industry. Never has there been an event in the twentieth century that has instigated a global outpouring of stories documenting the best and worst in humanity than World War II. The movie industry has had a love affair with making World War II films. According to Wikipedia, over 400 films have been devoted to the event. In timing with anniversary dates, one has come to expect new narrations muscling for a chance to share their perspective. Outside of battles and key events, the Holocaust is a genre of its own. We have a macabre sense of duty to understand the atrocities and mindset of a time where everyday common people were thrust in the way of world domination. Today, let us discuss the cinematic touches that made recent World War II films compelling and effective. 

A smattering of films since 2000. What should be added to the list? Before you criticize me, I think a lot of Hollywood films about WWII are too romantic and silly. For instance, I don’t think Pearl Harbor is a good film overall, but I do think the filming of the attack on Pearl Harbor to be outstanding. So, what SCENE or PERFORMANCE has stuck with you over the last two decades? For me, World War II movies that moved me the most in the last twenty years were the ones involving children.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 

After watching a few burps (The Sandpiper, The VIPs, Dr. Faustus), Richard Burton’s acting was never finer than in Albert Albee‘s vicious play set to the screen. It was Mike Nichol‘s directorial debut. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) received 13 Academy nominations. Although Richard Burton lost to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons, Elizabeth Taylor won her second Best Actress award (BUtterfield 8 was her first)  and Sandy Dennis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Other winners included Haskell Wexler‘s cinematography, Irene Sharaff’s costumes, and Richard Sylbert and George James Hopkins‘ art direction. Richard Burton did receive the British Academy Award for his performance of George, the emasculated history professor who rises to the surface to sting his brass and bawdy wife, Martha.

From the sing-song chant of the title, one understands this is a play about games. An all-night party turns carnal as the young academic couple, Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) fall prey to the daughter of the college president, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and her husband George (Richard Burton). The hosts have a lustful appetite for ripping and shredding the mental and emotional selves of their guests and themselves.

The young couple could very well be the future George and Martha. They watch with morbid curiosity. Illusions mask reality. Invention and the dubbing force of alcohol is the playground where George and Martha escape from their trapped lives. George’s dreams of creative authorship are denied by “Daddy”, the president of the college. Martha’s dream of livin’ la vida loca outside the boundaries of the conservative college and her boring husband is denied. Unable to conceive, she punishes herself and her countenance is as sour as her soul. So used to playing corrosive games to spice up their lives, they become dependent upon them and disintegrate.

When George speaks Latin like a priest presiding over the death of their invented son, Martha wails. Under the harsh light of dawn and stripped of their games, will Martha and George survive? The audience is left to speculate without much hope that they will.  “Martha and George,” she chants earlier in the play. “Sad, sad, sad.” Burton and Taylor are a tour de force. It’s exhausting. 4.5/5. 

This is one of my favorite scenes. Burton shows the complexity of frustration and rage.

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