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Entries in Linda Blair (4)

Thursday
Jul312014

Smackdown 1973: Candy, Madeline, Linda, Sylvia, and Tatum O'Neal

Behold the five Oscar-nominated Supporting Actresses of 1973: a "bitchin' babe" (Candy Clark), a pint-sized con-artist (Tatum O'Neal), a possessed teenager (Linda Blair), a selfish carnival dancer (Madeline Kahn), and a vinegary New York institution (Sylvia Sidney). 

THE NOMINEES

 

Last month's featured year, 1964, gave us an extremely senior acting shortlist of Oscar regulars but the corresponding shortlist of 1973, apart from Sylvia Sidney who had been a respected working actress for nearly a half-century, skewed very new and very young and not just because it gave us the youngest Oscar winner of all time in Tatum O'Neal; she was 10 years and 148 days old. The four actresses nominated with Sidney were in their first flush of stardom and only acting in their first (O'Neal) second (Kahn & Clark) or third films (Blair). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences obviously approved of their career choice.

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

from left to right: Chambers, Delany, Harris, Longworth, Rogers, Turner

You've already heard 'what 1973 means to them' and now here to talk about these five performances are authors Mark Harris ("Five Came Back") and Karina Longworth ("Anatomy of  an Actor: Meryl Streep"), film critics Bill Chambers (Film Freak Central) and Kyle Turner (Movie Scene), your host Nathaniel R (The Film Experience) and our special guest: two-time Emmy winning actress Dana Delany ("China Beach", "Body of Proof", and the forthcoming "Hand of God").

And, as ever, we must thank StinkyLulu for the original Smackdown inspiration in which we revisit Oscar shortlists of the past without all the campaigning and heat-of-the-moment politics that infect each awards race. Without further ado, part one of the main event.... (here's part two which is a podcast conversation)

1973
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN 

 

LINDA BLAIR as "Regan" in The Exorcist
Synopsis: The daughter of a famous actress begins acting strangely. Can two priests save her from the demon inside?
Stats: 15 yrs old. First and only nomination. 41 minutes of screen time (or 34% of running time). 

Dana Delany: William Friedkin clearly created a set where Blair felt free to perform. She is naturally real as a pre-teen and then fully committed  in the physicality when she is possessed. I know it's McCambridge's voice, but Blair deserved this nomination just for what they put her through; the crucifix in the crotch, alone! ♥♥♥

Bill Chambers: This isn't one performance but three--four if you count the makeup unto itself. Blair provides the base coat, of course, and the guilessness she brings to her early scenes is perhaps easy to underrate; she's not just natural, she's impossibly ordinary. (Her squirms and grunts in the hospital scenes are also viscerally authentic.) But Regan is a puppet in both concept and execution, manifesting fewer reactions than she provokes. In the end, this isn't unlike nominating Yoda or something. ♥♥

Karina Longworth: In a movie full of terrible performances, at least Blair's gives you something to think about, in that it takes some work to separate out what she's actually doing on her own, and what is being accomplished via makeup, effects, and voice dubbing. The things that are wrong (dated, laughable) with the movie are not Blair's fault, exactly, but she also doesn't exactly give a sense of the agency or invention that she brings to the role that another actress wouldn't.  ♥♥

Kyle Turner: Though part of what’s memorable about Blair’s performance has to do with Mercedes McCambridge’s voice work, she adds an absolutely crucial element of that innocence and naiveté suddenly taken over by evil. The film is not only horrifying on a visceral level, but on a human level because we sympathise for Regan. She’s going through Hell. Literally. ♥♥♥♥♥ 

Mark Harris: Revisiting this, I found myself surprised by how little Blair is in the movie—unlike the adults, she’s not a character but an object, and William Friedkin uses her shrewdly but sparingly, in short, carefully chosen takes, sort of the way Spielberg deployed the shark in Jaws. It’s far from great acting, but her ordinariness works well for the part, and even though it’s a largely lip-synced performance (all hail Mercedes “Pazuzu” McCambridge!), she’s impressively game in every scene. ♥♥ 

Nathaniel R: Those doctors and priests are such fools. Little Regan definitely has an unholy spirit inside her and its name is "McCambridge". Though the sound design, dubbing, and makeup are doing major heavy-lifting, Blair does just fine with her half portions, believably slipping towards catatonic trouble. Plus: watch her demon scenes with the sound off (I tried it!) and there’s still solid physical acting. In short I believed this young actress scratched “Help Me” into her own stomach from the inside. ♥♥♥ 

Reader Write-Ins: "Even with all the help this performance gets (makeup, sound, voice actors, etc) I still think Blair was ahead of her age and completely believable. Even after all the spoofs and rip offs I still find her creepy and during the "normal" scenes she's very natural." - Mauro. (Reader average: ♥½)

Actress earns 19½ ❤s 

4 more actresses after the jump


Click to read more ...

Monday
Jul282014

Introducing Pt 2... Blair and Candy

Previously on "Introducing"Tatum, Sylvia & Madeline

It's just 3 days until the Supporting Actress Smackdown of 1973. Bless StinkyLulu for dreaming up this event years ago because it's still so fun. But first some unfinished introductions: how do Candy Clark and Linda Blair enter their movies. If you hadn't yet seen the movie would you be expecting an Oscar nomination from these first scenes? What do the scenes telegraph for first time viewing? 

Sure do love you.

Hi, Mom!

11½ minutes in. Meet "Regan" (Linda Blair in The Exorcist)
How fitting that she first appears in bed, since she'll spend the bulk of the movie in one albeit it under far more horrific circumstances than a good night's sleep. As the scene begins her mother Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has heard noises in her Georgetown rental and checks on her daughter first. Sound asleep. But there's a telling pan left to the open window, curtains blowing, and despite the maternal warmth and blissful lack of scoring or over-done sound design at this moment (it does sound plausibly like a rat or racoon in the attic) the scene is subtly chilling. The Exorcist understands the slow build and modulation and starts pianisssimo.  Chris kisses her daughter and pulls the covers up. When we see Regan again five minutes later she's just a typical bouncy teenager who talks pretty horses and steals cookies. If you'd never heard of The Exorcist before you first saw it (fat chance) you could safely assume that both the mom and the daughter might soon be in peril, but nothing else. The Exorcist establishes home life normalcy first before demonic insanity betrays its fragility.

Babe. What a bitchin' babe!

30¾ minutes in. Meet "Debbie" (Candy Clark in American Graffiti)
American Graffiti is about four friends after high school graduation but by the half hour mark they've all split up and the film becomes four parallel films as they cruise around the strip in different cars or on foot. We meet so many characters, first spotted from car windows, including one previous blonde fantasy girl that Debbie's entrance doesn't seem major... at first. Initially Debbie is presented in completely objectified fashion as Terry (Charles Martin Smith) calls her a Babe (to himself) and hears other men cat call her. He follows her in the car and she's getting nervous in this neighborhood and walks faster. But after a minute of fruitless one-sided conversation from his car he tells her she looks like Connie Stevens. Her temperature changes and she beelines straight for him, suddenly a different person. It's a special entrance just from Clark's offkilter switch. She's the one suddenly objectifying... only its the car she's lustfully eyeing and possibly more compliments, too.

She'd get the ultimate compliment with an Oscar nomination.

Be here on Thursday afternoon when our awesome panel discusses these five nominated performances in the monthly Smackdown event. This is your last day to vote on the 1973 supporting actress shortlist by sending me heart ratings -- for only the ones you've seen -- on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being unimproveable feats of acting. (Reminder: Next month is 1989)

Wednesday
May092012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "The Exorcist"

The Hit Me With Your Best Shot series is deceptively simple. Choose a single shot from a pre-selected movie that you think is best, best being in the eye of the beholder. Tonight we're looking at The Exorcist (1973). And for me at least, it's the first time I've looked at it. That's not quite as shocking as your 12 year old daughter's head spinning 'round 180º, but maybe it's close.

Nearly every horror classic I've seen I've resisted in some ridiculous way: I saw Halloween at a sleepover movie marathon but it took my horror-loving friend five holidays to convince me; I first saw Silence of the Lambs because I had five nightmares about it beforehand and wanted them to end; I can't remember what prompted Rosemary's Baby but I'm willing to bet that I rented the video five times before actually watching it. And so on. 

If I was ever going to watch The Exorcist, the power of blogging would have to compel me. And so it did.

And here we are in the haunted upstairs bedrooms of actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). The first thing that impressed me about the  movie was how rooted in character it was. Director William Friedkin and the novelist screenwriter William Peter Blatty spend more than half hour with the four main characters before the devil (The Devil?) crashes the party. The first shot that I truly loved foreshadowed the horrors to come in a wonderfully lived-in nonchalant way. After Chris MacNeil unleashes a stream of profanity on an angry phone call (including, pointedly, several "Jesus Christ!"s) we cut to the middle of the night when she's woken by a phone call. I love that the shot starts in the dark and when Chris flips on the light the only face that's really illuminated, given her bleary banged face, is Regan's in a photo on the bedstand; the young girl looks actively worried for her mother which is a brilliant set decoration move. Chris hangs up the phone and the camera tracks her movements to the right until we and she realize that her daughter has crawled into bed with her. It's the first time Regan is essentially split in the film, surrounding her anxious still oblivious mother.

Chris: What are you doing here?
Regan: My bed was shaking. I can't get to sleep.

Here in a sweet mother/daughter moment, Regan's telling us where all the horror will be found. The next voice we here, overlap edited over the end of this shot but just barely is the devil's if you want to get metaphoric about it is Captain Howdy's (The Devil's) who is banging about in the attic. Oh Chris, soon to be overwhelmed Chris, it's not rats. 

The Exorcist builds beautifully towards its truly grotesque last act but at least half of the reason it's so effective is that it never forgets who is terrified while it's terrifying us. My second favorite shot in the film is a beautifully quiet character beat for the title character(s) in the "intermission" of the exorcism. 

The Exorcist(s): Father Karras and Father Merrin

One of the movie's most disturbing famous images is "Help me" scrawled on Regan's stomach from the inside.  If Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) were to remove his clothing, wouldn't we see a similar cry for help from his private hell?

It's these quiet glimpses of internal terror that really sell the movie for me, whether it's Ellen Burstyn's increasing impotent understanding (when no one else has accepted it -- not even the priests) or Father Karras's personal doubts. This silence, this vacuum, lets the terror flood in, often courtesy of the Oscar winning sound work. In the shot above we still hear Regan's possessed wheezing from inside the bedroom, less shocking but even more unsettling than her loud profane outbursts.

This push and pull between external and internal terror, room-shaking chaos and sudden absences of sound but for Exorcist chanting to fill the void powers, for me, the most hypnotic shot in the film. The room suddenly goes quiet and we see Regan lift off the bed in crucifix pose until she's nearly touching the ceiling. A simple familiar image, yes, like you'd see in a magic show. But somehow alien and unnatural, too. Only the exorcists can break this unholy spell.

The Power of Blog Compels Them
Movies Kick Ass is Hollywood the devil?
The Tomas Experience "as sure as the sun rises, you can find evil anywhere"
Film Actually the mysteries of faith and science
The Sketchy Details Regan split in two
Antagony & Ecstasy a single mother's personal hell
Cheerful Cynicism the slow burn is the best part 
Cinesnatch has mixed feelings about the movie 
Okinawa Assault colours and threats 
Encore's World is moved by the mother/daughter bond 
Beau McCoy "The Exorcist and Nothingness" 
Stranger than Most find horror in the hospital
Pussy Goes Grrr "body and soul" and Linda Blair's eyes

Next Wednesday: Edward Scissorhands (1990)... will we catch you dancing in it?
Previously: Pariah (2011), Raise the Red Lantern (1991),  Serenity (2005)

Friday
Oct282011

Oscar Horrors: In (Mild) Defense of Linda Blair 

In Oscar Horrors, Team Film Experience explores Oscar nominated contributions to the horror genre. Here is new contributor Mayukh Sen.

HERE LIES...Linda Blair’s reasonably complex turn in The Exorcist, slain by the prodigious work of fellow pubescent Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon). 

Brian de Palma apparently hated The Exorcist, and it’s not difficult to see why.  I generally fall on the unimpressed side with the film, because none of the psychological trauma undergone by the characters finds aesthetic articulation.  Everything is so clearly, obviously constructed on a Hollywood set that it borders on the parodistic. What is superlative about a director like de Palma is that he understands the trappings of genre conventions and mocks the notion of film as a classically escapist, populist medium, managing to extract a modicum of truth out of such a framework.  Friedkin doesn’t understand this.  Interpreting what should be perfunctory entertainment as a parable of human suffering – that’s dreary city.         

I won’t waste a second pretending Linda Blair’s performance is any great shakes.  Her nomination was largely the product of inertia – The Exorcist (1973) was just a cultural phenomenon that the Academy couldn’t ignore, Dan.  Yet reading Glenn’s wonderful piece on Sissy Spacek’s performance in Carrie made me realize the extent to which Blair’s performance has become underrated.  Spacek’s performance is a masterpiece because of her fearless, but still graceful, physical expressivity.  She is a performer who understands body language.  The way she continually destructs, contorts, and fractures her body often acts as a reflection of the character’s emotional distress. 

Somewhere along the line, it became fashionable to oversimplify Blair’s performance as a lot of “sitting there” caked with makeup.  Those in defense of her performance often point to the luminosity of her earlier pre-possession scenes, rightly claiming that she is replete with youthful charm.  I agree.  She’s wonderful there, and she sets up a foundation for the supposed tragedy that occurs later in the film. 

Beyond Mercedes McCambridge’s voice, plastic turning heads, body double controversies and other stunts that may not have much to do with acting talent, though, Blair’s work is solid.  She demonstrates remarkable control over her facial expressions and body language, subtly communicating the “devil’s” continual torment, lack of patience, and frustration.

How does one externalize the psychological state of demonic possession?  I’m not quite sure, but we can say that Linda Blair succeeded, to a degree. Her work is highly gestural but still controlled, and this degree of expressivity works wonders. I’ve noticed a tendency of certain critics to dismiss horror film performances as merely “acting scared” and “being terrified”.  Though Blair’s performance is ultimately a cheap narrative trope, it shouldn’t be evaluated so lazily.  I’m not a fan of praising performances because of the sheer amount of work put into them (see Meryl Streep’s string of performances in the 80s), but, in this case, the physical work is brutally effective.  There is increasingly little appreciation for what actors communicate through physical gestures, and this might be part of why Linda Blair’s nomination is something of an afterthought these days.

Previously on Oscar Horrors