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« Curio: Elaine Hanelock's Psychedelia | Main | Links: Emmys, Normans, Books, Critics »
Monday
Sep172012

Oscar Vintage 1975: Carol Kane in "Hester Street"

A brief situational history: last year at a very crowded luncheon for the eventual Best Picture winner The Artist, I spotted the actress Carol Kane in the crowd. I'm not, as it happens, terribly shy about approaching actresses I admire at these things; they're there to mingle. But Oscargeek guilt and actressexual self-admonishment settled in before I could. "You've never seen Hester Street. Until you have, you may not speak with the Carol Kane!"

Our recent collective viewing of Dog Day Afternoon, reminded me of how much I love her face. The main attraction is, of course, those huge deer in headlight eyes. The small features around it are mere accessories and the whole doll-like delicacy is framed by a tangled mess of curly blond hair. 

the first shot of Kane in "Hester Street", an immigrant just off the boat in Ellis Island

[More on Hester Street and Oscar '75 after the jump]

In Hester Street, which I've finally just seen, the effect is even more dramatic. Her Married Lady orthodox wig has been rolled over her head like a pastry helmet.  

We don't meet Kane's Gitl until 20 minutes into the picture. We've spent the first twenty following womanizing Jake (Steven Keats) around his Jewish immigrant neighborhood (i.e. Hester Street) until the bomb is dropped that his wife and son (he's a married man ?!?) are coming to America to join him.

Gitl looks wide eyed and confused waiting for him in that crowded room. Sadly her expression won't change as quickly as she thinks given that she barely recognizes her husband who is now a very changed man with little patience for her Old World ways; he's an American now.

Immigration: For what purpose are you bringing her to America?
Jake: For the purpose she's my wife!" 

Hester Street is a fine portrait of a identity-based community in miniature with its tight 90 minute running time but even though it feels very small and streamlined it accomplishes quite a lot. It also manages to be a lightly charming portrait of emancipation, a sort of proto-women's lib period tale just in time for the volatile 1970s and a fish out of water drama and a fable about Reinvention in America. Gitl, is you see, not as naive as she initially appears. When she says "enough", you know she believes it.

1975 must have been a great year for Carol Kane with this underseen mini-gem and a stone cold classic Dog Day Afternoon both in theaters and impressing Oscar voters. I'm mystified that Hester Street is so rarely screened an undiscussed these days -- you even get Emmy favorite Doris Roberts in a crucial entertaining supporting role as a busybody neighbor -- so put it on your rental queues whenever you're filling out a retro Best Actress night. 

Oscar's Best Actress 1975

  • Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H (previous article)
  • Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest *winner*
  • Glenda Jackson, Hedda
  • Carol Kane, Hester Street
  • Ann-Margret, Tommy

It's an odd Oscar vintage, yes? Only three of the nominees were Golden Globe nominated (Fletcher & Jackson in drama & Ann-Margret in comedy) indicating a year without much in the way of consensus... at least for Best Actress. The Globe lineup was much much starrier with Babs, Goldie, Christie, Faye, and Liza (a terrific and randy star turn in the little seen Lucky Lady) in the drama / comedy sets. It's worth noting that Oscar's Best Picture lineup was, as is typical, films about men... but for Nashville which didn't have any female leads per se.

How fluent are you in Oscar '75? In Carol Kane? (At this writing Adjani would have my vote with Carol taking silver but I've yet to see Glenda Jackson in Hedda.)

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Reader Comments (22)

I know of her through quirky supporting parts in '80s movies. The last relevant thing she appeared in I can think of is Addams Family Values and she wasn't upstaging anyone in that movie.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

Pops (61 years young today) made me watch Taxi reruns when I was little, that's where you get the full Carol Kane experience.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I found this report: http://www.emanuellevy.com/oscar/oscar-1975-womenbrthe-worst-years-of-their-lives-9/

Actually 1975 is considerate one of the worst years by the female actors and a part of a serie of controversial years starred in 1973 and ended in 1976 with lukewarm responses especially in the leading category. From ramdom nominations -Marie-Christine Barrault and Carol Kane- to supporting performers in the leading category -Louise Fletcher, Talia Shire, Ann-Margret and Valerie Perrine- and even final controversies for disqualifications -Liv Ullmann's Scenes of a Marriage-. It was remarkable this comment:

Ellen Burstyn, the previous year's Oscar winner (“Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore”) asked her colleagues in the Acting Branch not to nominate actresses in the lead category as a protest against Hollywood's marginalization of women.

Well according to this line-up, Fletcher was fine but she's supporting. I still don't understand how Ann-Margret got that nomination and Jackson overacts a lot in "Hedda". For me, Adjani was the best of the bunch. Kane was fine and next in line. According to many sources, Hester Street was a small film nobody in Hollywood saw, but Kane and a friend made campaign going door to door to most of Academy voters. If Melissa Leo was enough...

My 1975 lineup:
-Isabelle Adjani - The Story of Adele H. (Winner)
-Katalin Berek - Adoption
-Fatem Hamama - I Want a Solution
-Carol Kane - Hester Street
-Diane Keaton - Love and Death

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleon

Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H (previous article)
Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest *winner*
Glenda Jackson, Hedda
Ann-Margret, Tommy
I saw Hester Street last year in one of my burst of trying to see all the nominated best actress and supporting actress performances. I thought Carol Kane was wonderful, she can always say so much with those big pool eyes of hers, I didn't care much for the film though.

As far as the other nominated performances: I've seen Louise Fletcher in Cuckoo's Nest, she was fine but I thought her win was a tagalong for the film. Not to take anything away from her performance but I always thought it was a shame that Angela Lansbury had to turn down the part because of family problems, I think she would have been brilliant.

Tommy gave Ann-Margret a chance to really cut loose and use all her talents but I don't think the role itself was Oscar worthy.

I've only ever been able to catch bits and pieces of The Story of Adele H. and from what I've seen Isabelle Adjani is great but I haven't seen enough to fully judge the film. I've never seen any of the elusive Hedda, a film that never seems to be shown at all.

From what I've read and heard Adjani's was by far the best performance of the bunch but she was just too young, and in a foreign film at that, to get the prize. From the ones I've seen Ann-Margret's was the most fun but Carol Kane's was the best overall.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I saw Hester Street last year in one of my burst of trying to see all the nominated best actress and supporting actress performances. I thought Carol Kane was wonderful, she can always say so much with those big pool eyes of hers, I didn't care much for the film though.

As far as the other nominated performances: I've seen Louise Fletcher in Cuckoo's Nest, she was fine but I thought her win was a tagalong for the film. Not to take anything away from her performance but I always thought it was a shame that Angela Lansbury had to turn down the part because of family problems, I think she would have been brilliant.

Tommy gave Ann-Margret a chance to really cut loose and use all her talents but I don't think the role itself was Oscar worthy.

I've only ever been able to catch bits and pieces of The Story of Adele H. and from what I've seen Isabelle Adjani is great but I haven't seen enough to fully judge the film. I've never seen any of the elusive Hedda, a film that never seems to be shown at all.

From what I've read and heard Adjani's was by far the best performance of the bunch but she was just too young, and in a foreign film at that, to get the prize. From the ones I've seen Ann-Margret's was the most fun but Carol Kane's was the best overall.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Leon -- i'm not crazy about that article. I mean, like every time someone says it I feel they just aren't looking hard enough. I thought Liza Minnelli was pretty sensational in LUCKY LADY. Yes the film is kind of a hot mess but she's really really good in it. Total star turn. She doesn't even sing really and I was still entranced. And if you're going to play fast and loose with categorization there's no way that Ronee Blakely in NASHVILLE couldn't be promoted up to Lead and also be a worthy winner.

i still haven't seen a few things that might apply for 1975 but I refuse to believe that any year doesn't have a handful of worthy performances.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

My pick would be Karen Black, who's simply sensational in The Day of the Locust.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulien

Unfortunately, I haven't see Adjani or Jackson yet, but I have always thought Diane Keaton's performance in Love & Death is just sublime in every way - funny, sexy, smart, weird. So Keaton gets my vote. Fletcher should have been in supporting, but Lily Tomlin should have won that for Nashville. And yes, Carol Kane is good in Hester Street, and this was nice of you to post. have you ever done a thing on the most snubbed actress ever? MIA FARROW. I swear she was screwed out of like 8 nominations.

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Krasner

UGH, loved this performance and this film, which I just saw like two months ago. Kane was such a delightful nomination, since it's a small film without much backing and then BAM, there she was. I'm still blind on a lot of 75, and of the nominees I've only seen Fletcher and Kane, but I would have nominated Julie Christie as well, who was just delightful in Shampoo. I also second (third, fourth, whatever) the Keaton love for Love and Death. For me though, this year belonged to Susan Sarandon for her marvelous turn in Rocky Horror Picture Show!

For now, I'd keep Fletcher in Lead (for the sake of this post and since I haven't seen enough from 75 to fill a complete ballot) and rank my five like so:

1) Sarandon
2) Kane
3) Fletcher
4) Christie
5) Keaton

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

for your consideration: rachel roberts in picnic at hanging rock (i realise it wasn't released in the usa until 1979, but it was a 1975 film down here)

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Off topic but does anyone else see a resemblence to Andrea Riseborough?

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeigh

I've only seen Tommy with Ann-Margret who is just the crazy cherry on top of an already insane movie. Once you see an actress dry hump a pillow covered in baked beans, you can't unsee it.

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelsy

I thought the actor playing Jake was Viggo Mortensen.

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSanty.C

Oy. I just finished a full 1975 retrospective (this morning, actually)...but HESTER STREET was a title I had to skip due to its limited availability 'round these parts. Of the four I have seen, I'd keep all but Louise Fletcher, and really that's only because I consider her performance a supporting one. But for underseen, surprising performances, I gotta go with Corinne Clery in The Story of O. She nails the arc from doormat to master, and makes the erotic scenes more than just titillating.

Hedda, btw, is available on YouTube in its entirety. I've seen a non-YouTube transfer and it's little better. The yellowed VHS version seems to be the only one available. Jackson's FABULOUS, though.

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWalter L. Hollmann

What about supporting actresses in 75.

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Haven't seen Story of Adele H. or Hester Street, but my ballot, ranked, would currently go like this:

1. Julie Christie, Shampoo
2. Maria Schneider, The Passenger
3. Ann-Margaret, Tommy (saying any kind of role is "not Oscar worthy" smacks of at least a little pretension in my eyes. This was great work, even if not particularly "dignified.")
4. Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Yes, it's definitely on the fence, but I usually err on the side of lead in those cases, while the Academy has increasingly erred on the side of supporting.)
5. Susan Sarandon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Great pop consciousness introduction and definitely a fun movie, but, if we're to make a slight gymnastics comparison, the role has a very low degree of difficulty.)
6. Diane Keaton, Love and Death (A good second stab at a leading part, but in my view, it's even easier than Sarandon and is fairly one note. I can just imagine the direction, "Jerkier! Jerkier! You hate my character! Condescend! Condescend with your eyes!")

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Love Carol Kane and love this post! Hester Street is now at the top of my list of movies to find and screen as soon as possible.

Of the Best Actress nominees I've seen Adjani (sublime), Fletcher (great but Supporting), and Ann-Margaret, who is just as sublime as Adjani but in a completely different way. That has to be one of the craziest acting nominees ever, and I love it! She just goes completely balls-to-the-wall BESERK and that is something I always appreciate in actresses.

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Nat what about 75 supporting actresses i know about the nashvilee girls and lee grant but who else,not brenda vaccaro.

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

mark -- well the nashville girls coulda justifiably filled up the entire category given that BARBARA HARRIS was snubbed and she's a-ma-zing in that film. and honestly, if Judi Dench, for instance, did what Doris Roberts did in Hester Street she woulda been nominated for it too.

September 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I really enjoyed the movie Hester Street. I've always loved Carol Kane - great actress. I thought Steven Keats did a stellar job playing husband Jake. He was such a versatile actor and could literally, take on any role. He was excellent in this movie. In the DVD special features section, the filmmakers said Steven even helped find someone to do the music/score. I can't imagine this movie without him in it. I wish he too, had received an Oscar nod on this one. Carol Kane, Dorrie Kavanaugh and the rest of the cast were superb as well. Thanks for the article, I enjoyed the read and the flashback. :)

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Oh man, the missed opportunity of not bumping Ronee Blakely to Best Actress and having both Ronee & Lily win for NASHVILLE is killing me. And then they could probably have made room for Barbara Harris or Gwen Welles (do I have that name right?), but I wouldn't have wanted to dilute Lily's chances. Oh well, what might have been.

I agree with the people who find this line-up not desperate or forlorn but rather amazing. I've seen Adele H. and Isabelle should at least be a one time Oscar winner at this point, but young and French-speaking isn't going to do it even in 1975. Simone Signoret had to speak English to get her award.

Ann-Margret rolling around in beans. I hated it at the time (I was a snotty teenager), but love it now. She and Ken Russell were just willing to go there!

September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Adjani way out ahead of the pack. Jackson and Kane also deserved the nominations. Keaton gets the 4th slot and for the 5th slot it would be a Bob Mackie costumed tossup: Minnelli, Streisand, Ross or Ann-Margret . Fletcher belonged in supporting along with Sylia Miles and Grant and then 2 Nashville women.

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk
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