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Entries in Close Encounters (6)

Sunday
Jul312016

Smackdown '77: Melinda, Leslie, Tuesday, Quinn, and Vanessa Redgrave

Presenting the Supporting Actress Nominees of '77. A mother with extraterrestrial problems, a highly neurotic swinger, a wealthy political activist, a precocious daughter, and a timid ballerina.

THE NOMINEES 

John Travolta opening the envelope

If the characters weren't quite typical this time, the shortlist formation was a familiar mix of career glories. Consider the slotting: Oh look, there's the child actor slot that the Supporting Actress category is famous for going to Quinn Cummings; Tuesday Weld wins the underappreciated enduring talent nod; No typical shortlist is complete without a newish critical darling with momentum which in 1977 was Melinda Dillon (she had created the "Honey" role in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf  on stage but didn't get to do the movie and was finally making film inroads via her role in the previous year's Best Picture nominee Bound for Glory ); Finally, you have to have a current Oscar darling with considerable prestige and fame (Vanessa Redgrave) on hand in any given year. Oops, that's only four. The last type is more rare but not unprecented. The final player fell under what you might call the "novelty" slot (Leslie Browne). When the latter happens it's usually either foreign-born non-actors or famous musicians but in this case it was a soon to be principal dancer with the American Ballet Company.

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

Here to talk about these five turns are our panelists: Mark Harris (Author of "Pictures at a Revolution," and "Five Came Back"), Guy Lodge (Variety, The Observer), Nick Davis (Associate Professor of English and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Northwestern), Sara Black McCulloch (Rearcher, Translator, Writer) and your host Nathaniel R (Editor, The Film Experience).

And now it's time for the main event... 

1977 
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

 

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Saturday
Jul302016

HMYBS: Close Encounters of the Julia Kind

Best Shot 1977 Party, Finale
Julia Cinematography by: Douglas Slocombe (2nd of 3 nominations)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind Cinematography by: Vilmos Zsigmond (1st of 4 nominations. His only win)

In case you missed our little Cinematography 1977 party we previously looked at the Oscar nominees Looking for Mr Goodbar, The Turning Point, and the little seen Ernest Hemingway inspired drama Islands in the Stream. Now that we're entirely out of time (SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN OF 1977 IS TOMORROW!) here's a quick look at our final two nominated pictures. This time we'll do it in the abbreviated spirit we always intended for the series but could never manage due to longwindedness: a single image and why we claim it as "best".

JULIA

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Thursday
Jul212016

Pick Your Poison: The Hallmark Homages of Stranger Things

Daniel Crooke here. For the past two weeks, I've walled myself off from any pop cultural offering that doesn't include the letters LGBT while working around the clock at Outfest Los Angeles, our seminal, international queer film festival here in the City of Angels. Naturally the only external filmic force strong enough to infiltrate this border includes the words Winona Ryder. Slay, queen, slay.

I too have taken a long, hungry taste of the ananchronistic (and extra-colorful) Kool-Aid that is Netflix's '80s-set Stranger Things, the sci-fi outing that investigates a humdrum Indiana small town as a local young 'un mysteriously disappears in their midsts without warning. Much has been made of the homage-heavy layers that bake into its Spielbergian, Carpenteresque, Lynchian, and Stephen King-adjacent baklava; although the reason it succeeds beyond the hat-tip recipe can be found within the rich, nitty gritty filling of its heart-achingly true familial dynamics, of which Super 8 would have been smart to expand upon beyond the basic ingredients. So let's take a big bite and revel in its delicious influences. My personal favorite so far - despite Ryder's irresistible parallel to Melinda Dillon's momma bear on a misson from Close Encounters of the Third Kind - goes beyond bicycles and plunges the references to disturbing depths.


Jonathan's secret photo shoot in the woods recalls Blue Velvet's voyeuristic view from the closet; despite their quests for homegrown veracity, neither he nor Jeffrey were invited to the peep shows of a teenage pool party or a transgressive Rossellini-Hopper assault, but they've shown up in the shadows nonetheless. And yet we're still glad to be in on the drama. We've spent some time getting to know the traumatic roots of their curiosity via their displaced family units but these Peeping Toms challenge that sympathy through sensually clandestine invasions of personal space.

Apart from the bedroom posters of The Thing and Evil Dead, which Stranger Things visual reference sets your bicycle afloat?

Monday
Oct132014

75th: Absence of Melinda

Two time Oscar nominee Melinda Dillon turns 75 today. Since we don't like any major actresses to totally fade from public consciousness when they stop working, let's look back. Though her last working year was 2007 her most recent high profile gig goes back much further to a SAG nomination as part of the ensemble of Magnolia (1999, pictured left) in which she played wife and mother to Phillip Baker Hall and Melora Walters. 

Though she'd been working for a decade before it in small parts (TV guest gigs and improvisational comedy) her first real claim-to-fame came as "Memphis Sue" Woody Guthrie's wife in the Best Picture nominated bio Bound for Glory (1976). She received a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Acting Debut" (a now long defunct category) even though it wasn't her debut. Dillon's breakout led to bigger parts and two well-regarded Oscar nominations though curiously the Globes, who had first honored her, skipped her both times when her major hits rolled around. Her first Oscar nod made actually history: as the wide-eyed young mother in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1976) she was and will forever remain the first actor to ever receive a nomination for a Steven Spielberg film (it wasn't until The Color Purple when anyone else followed). Later she was nominated as a particularly fragile soul and key character at the heart of a war in Absence of Malice (1981) between journalist Sally Field and businessman Paul Newman (also Oscar-nominated).

Melinda Dillon as "Teresa" in Absence of Malice (1981)

Though Dillon's heyday preceded the birth of my own film/actress obessions I remember getting the sense that she was a critical darling, the kind of actress with a devout if not populist following. By the time I was watching movies regularly and passionately though the roles were all mom roles sometimes with lots of screentime as in A Christmas Story (1983) and Harry and the Hendersons (1987) and sometimes on the peripheries as in those very blonde family flashbacks in Prince of Tides (1991) or "Merna" in To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar (1995).

If you're familiar with her work what's your favorite of her performances? If she could be coaxed out of her retirement what would you have her do?

Tuesday
Nov012011

How Long Has It Been Since You've Seen "Close Encounters"?

Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind turns 34 this month. On a whim recently we put in the 30th anniversary edition Blu-Ray* and gave it a spin. I hadn't seen the movie since I was a kid and my memory of it was hilariously incomplete and childlike.

a production sketch shown on the special edition DVD

I remembered, for example, the oft repeated five musical notes that always made me nostalgic for that old light-up Hasbro game "Simon Says" and I remembered all the glowing lights and alien children at the end. My third most vivid memory was Richard Dreyfuss's mashed potato replica of Devil's Tower in Wyoming (a shape to which all the characters are drawn). Strangely I had zero recall of the far more narratively pronounced massive sculpture he builds inside of his house of the exact same structure. Funny the things you remember. The mashed potatoes must have stuck in my child brain because little kids play with their food but they're fully aware that adults aren't supposed to.

To my great astonishment, given decades of familiarity with Spielberg films, the movie is miraculously open ended. It's also open sided and open fronted which is to say that there are dozens of emotional entry points and next to nothing in the way of force-feeding or exposition. You can feel whatever you want to feel about it all the way through without the director telling you how you should be feeling (aside from free-form "wonder" which he expects and earns) or explaining any of those feelings away. In short, were his filmography a bookshelf, this would a lonely inkblot nestled between dozens of how-to instructional textbooks. 

Oscar History and 70s Nostalgia after the jump

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Tuesday
Jul052011

Curio: Fotonovels

Alexa here.  Seeing Super 8 this holiday weekend left me with nostalgia for its template, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  And that brought to mind one of my favorite bits of 70s movie kitsch, Fotonovels. 

Fotonovels were "a collection of books that were filled from front to back with photos from a particular movie" and had "a shorter life than disco itself." Like comic books, but with real photographs! They were so exciting to me as a child. Grease was my favorite; before I even saw the movie I wore out my copy. I also loved Ice Castles (I was especially taken with the "Lexie" embroidered on her collar).  Recently, I scored a copy of the Close Encounters version. Here are some pictures of mine, as well as some I've spotted around the internet.

Click for The Champ and Ice Castles...

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