actors, culture, femme fatale, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

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?

culture, In My Opinion, movies

Best Performances In Film By A Leading Lady

Early this morning on a walk, I started thinking about the best performances by an actress of all time. My first choice was Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz because it is the singular performance seen more times by me than any other. But let’s face it, Dorothy had that whining, shrill voice that made it hard to listen to, so while it’s one of my favorite films, did she give one of the best performances by a leading lady?

There are hundreds of solid acting performances. But I’ve noticed the BEST performances incorporate that something extra. I am wowed by the performance of an actress who does more than say her lines. For example, in one performance, she might sing (Sorry, Judy, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is magnificent, isn’t it?) or dance, play an instrument or speak a foreign language. She might embody the innocence of youth and exude the wisdom of old age in one performance. She might portray multiple personalities or switch genders. Maybe she captured the essence of a historical figure superbly. It takes a great script to allow her to impress on multiple levels. Sometimes, her personality comes forward with few words. Always, you don’t see the actress, you see the character.  Inspired by blogger ALEX RAPHAEL and his game of guessing by image, do you recognize the film and actress?

This list is subjective and in no particular order. 

ONE
TWO
THREE
FOUR
FIVE
SIX
SEVEN
EIGHT
NINE
TEN
ELEVEN
TWELVE

ONE. Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria (1957)    What a spitball of moods and vivacity.

TWO. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (2013)   The best of her best which is saying a lot.

THREE. Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (2007)   Totally convincing.

FOUR. Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944)    Her descent into madness was convincing.

FIVE. Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968)  A queen with multiplicity.

SIX. Natalie Portman in The Black Swan (2010) Who else could have danced that?

SEVEN. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (2004) Who else could have fought/acted like that?

EIGHT. Holly Hunter in The Piano (1993) Without a word she was a fierce, complex character.

NINE. Liza Minnelli Cabaret (1972) Act, sing, dance. Exuberance defined.

TEN. Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008) beauty, ugly, cold. She did it.

ELEVEN. Meryl Streep in Sophies Choice (1982) The languages and sensitivity. A ghost.

TWELVE.  Salma Hayek in Frida Kahlo (2002) Passionate and complex. A total transformation.

 

Who is your BEST PERFORMANCE by a LEADING LADY? (not supporting. That’s coming….) 

 

actors, Film Spotlight, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

Lucky 13 Film Club: The Duality of Meryl Streep

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The L13FC involves analyzing an aspect of the film industry. A co-host joins me on the thirteenth of the month to lead the discussion. Attract new readership as I will link your blog. Don’t be shy; email me at cbruchman@yahoo.com, and let’s shape an idea together. Too busy next month? That’s okay. Co-host in the spring or the summer. There is no pressure and it’s a lot of fun. 

Today is my birthday, and I thank you for stopping by to share it with me.

Cindy’s thoughts: 

Have you ever noticed Meryl Streep‘s characters are either feminine or masculine? Do you sigh with incredulity because Streep was nominated again for a role? I have. Not everything she does is Oscar-worthy, but she has been consistently fantastic for decades. No one can replicate her accents, her subtleties, or her range. She is our modern-day Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis. What do we know about Streep’s choices? She is a feminist via her characters. They show us that women are capable of anything and are strong enough to survive in the harshest of circumstances. Since high school, I have followed her career, growing up and old with her. I’ve seen the majority of her films, and I have noticed Meryl is binary. Her feminine choices are fragile, manipulative, vulnerable, sexy, soft and confused. Her masculine roles are durable, forthright, strong, unsexy, hard and determined. She is yin or yang. She is female or male depending on the role.

MERYL AS WOMAN

MERYL AS MAN

Check out this clip, and you’ll see what I mean. When Meryl plays the man, the character not only defeats but devours those around her. A few of her male roles show the worst attributes (greed and egomania) a man can have. It makes me wonder what kind of feminism is this? Women who break glass ceilings are just as corrupt as the worst of men? What of the other extreme, that is, the woman who manipulates by her sexuality? I find myself scratching my head.

I prefer Meryl Streep best when she’s chosen characters with both the yin and yang. The female who is strong yet sensitive. The female who adapts to her hardships and survives without resorting to greed or power. I am a fan of Meryl Streep’s acting but have grown weary of her as the symbol of womanhood and Hollywood.

I find her earlier roles more satisfying; the mix is apparent and her characters are subtle and graceful. Streep’s melodramatic, manic roles are off-putting. Which are her best? Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa, Silkwood, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman.   

What I WISH would happen is that a great script would fall in the laps of Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep simultaneously. I would love to see those two greats in a film together.