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Entries in Oscars (70s) (66)

Thursday
May222014

Throwback Thursday FYC: Diahann Carroll in Claudine (1974)

The Film Experience time travels so consistently between the now, the future, the distant past and the recent past that Throwback Thursday, that grand internet tradition, hasn't meant much. But then I chanced upon this old FYC and a lightbulb appeared reflecting off my bald head "Throwback Thursday... The Oscar Campaigns"

Diahann Carroll in Claudine (1974)

click to enlarge

Diahann, deglamming to play a welfare mother in Harlem as MANY of the critical blurbs highlights, lost the Oscar to Ellen Burstyn in one of the all time greatest Best Actress rosters. The blurbs are interesting time capsules, both in the tell tale signs of 'this is still what people like for "bests" and in uniquely "holy hell" ways. Consider this provocative bit from the Gannett Syndicate:

...the first three dimensional portrait of a black woman."

I'm sure that Diana Ross and Cicely Tyson, both nominated two years prior would not approve! But it just goes to show you how deeply entrenched the problems were (and sadly still are) for actresses of color in terms of which films get made and what kind of roles are offered. The movies have made some progress, yes, but that we're still fighting this fight when we've got actresses as gifted as Viola, Lupita, Audra McDonaldAnikaAdepero, Kimberly Elise, and Emeyatzy Corinealdi available to us is, shall we say, maddening. 

Have you seen Claudine? Unfortunately it's on "very long wait" status at Netflix. (sigh)

Tuesday
May062014

"We don't like the twins" - On Robert Altman's 3 Women (1977)

I've seen 3 Women exactly 3 times. Look at me all numeriffic. Each time it shapes-shift fluidly like its still half submerged in the embryonic waters of pools, aquariums, nursing home baths, and dream floods that keep engulfing the women, particularly Sissy Spacek as "Pinky" (or "Mildred" depending on how you read the picture). She's the most permeable of them all.

Permeable, maybe, but never painlessly transforming; if the movie camera had never discovered Sissy Spacek's face in various stages of psychotic breaks (see also Carrie) it would have missed its calling entirely. 

The first time I saw the film it was like looking a crystal clear umbillical cord between Persona (1966) and Mulholland Dr (2001). The second time it was a singular experience, untethered to other films from my favorite genre (Women Who Lie To Themselves™) and played as a remarkable feat of interiority and actressing (Shelley Duvall won "Best Actress" at Cannes and that jury deserves a prize of its own for going there.). With this third screening 3 Women morphed into a messy horror comedy, a pitch black and deeply uncomfortable but still funny horror comedy about social autism, menstrual cycles, and the terrors of having no center and no support system to reinforce your youness. Follow?

Whichever film 3 Women is while you're watching it, it's impossible to miss its obsession with twins.

We don't like the twins. You'll learn about them soon enough"

Or, I'd argue more emphatically, its obsession with triplets; two identical, one fraternal. Though Altman's undervalued picture spends most of its time with the odd twosome of Millie (Duvall) and Pinky (Spacek) and though Pinky's initial trajectory seems to be very Single White Female in her urge to be with (or just be?) Millie, we're almost always dealing with triplets; the third is easy to miss, never identical and nearly always silent. Whether we're looking at actual twins (unfriendly blondes Polly & Peggy) or one woman reflected who appears to be two, or two women who appear to be three or four (reflections galore and too many images to screencap) or an actual rarer three-shot of the film's stars there's always some sort of triangulation going on when the image is placed in its narrative context.

Which is why my choice for "Best Shot" multiplies the multiples yet further and encapsulates absolutely everything that's so rich and weirdly specific yet vaguely disconnected about Millie and the movie itself. Millie has just been displaced from her own bedroom by Pinky when she returns to work and talks about nothing but Pinky.

I think she'll be back to work next week. The doctors really thought she was going to die. What's worse there could have been brain damage! 

Millie, singular and perpetually out of place Millie (note how Duvall towers over the other women like some absurd weed that needs pruning), trails her oblivious co-workers down the hallway in a continuous shot, talking non-stop as she does for the entire film. No one is listening despite her dramatic flourishes. Each of them are paired with their twin, literal or figurative ("Doris the Chinese one - she and I are best friends") shutting Millie out entirely. The last line as the undifferentiated women begin to dissipate out of the shot is brilliantly apt. It starts out all inclusive before it shuts someone out with its casually exclusive desperation. It's as lonely as Millie's foldout bed outside the now shuttered bedroom door. 

She asked about each and everyone one of you... especially the twins."

There's every reason to believe that Millie didn't like Pinky as her perpetual shadow/other before the medical drama. But now she's alone again. And what could be worse than that?

More 3 Women?
Here's a Visual Index of all the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" entries 'round the web. 

Oscar Shut-Out
Oscar voters had no time at all for 3 Women despite their fondness for Altman in the 1970s. I'd gladly hand it nominations for Actress, Director, and Art Direction for starters. In fact, an early aborted mental draft of this article was entirely about the art direction. 

Programming Note
One change in the upcoming schedule. I didn't realize that Warner Bros / DC had chosen an official day for Batman's 75th (the date of his birth is complicated) so we'll postpone that Batman-related Best shot episode until July in the second half of this season

 

Monday
May052014

A Smackdown Summer Cometh

When I announced that The Film Experience would be the new home of the long departed series Stinky Lulu's Smackdown last summer I figured you would be thrilled. It's our kind of party. I promised Stinky we'd do at least six smackdowns if we brought it back. With four battles already behind us -- pie throwing 1952shady and sinister 1968, warm and kooky 1980, and troubled histrionic 2003-- let's wrap it up with four more. 

Rather than announce at the end of each month, I figured we'd give you all four lineups in case you'd like more time to catch up over the hot months and cast your votes in the reader polling that accompanies each battle. Those votes count toward the final outcome, so more of you should join in. 

These annums were chosen after comment reading, dvd searching, handwringing, and also to rope in prospective panelists (to be announced later) though I know you'll go bonkers for a couple of them.

Saturday May 31st
The Best Supporting Actresses of 1941

Mary Astor won an Oscar for The Great Lie in which she co-starred with Bette Davis. Davis herself was something of a good luck charm that year for this category. Two of her other co-stars, Patricia Collinge and Teresa Wright, were nominated for their roles in The Little Foxes (a film we'll be covering very soon in "Seasons of Bette"). Rounding out the category were two formidable mamas in men's pictures:  Margaret Wycherly for Sergeant York and Sara Allgood in the Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley.

Monday June 30th
The Best Supporting Actresses of 1964

Women of a certain age for the awesomeness - somehow this shortlist escaped the usual attack of the ingenues. My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins were splitting the statuettes that year but neither took home a Supporting Actress trophy. That honor went to Zorba the Greek's Lila Kedrova. Also nominated that year were regular Oscar losers Gladys Cooper for My Fair Lady and Edith Evans for the Deborah Kerr picture The Chalk Garden, and two actresses from perpetually overheated... and perpetually wonderful genres: Agnes Moorhead in the grand dame guignol Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte and Grayson Hall from the Tennessee Williams Night of the Iguana

Thursday July 31st
The Best Supporting Actresses of 1973

One of Oscar's most fascinatingly diverse Best Picture years also produced quite a range of peculiar one-offs right here. All five nominees were first timers and only Madeline Kahn (Paper Moon) was ever nominated again. The other contenders were showbiz trouper Sylvia Sydney (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams) and three young film newbies 26 year-old Candy Clark (American Graffitti), 15 year old Linda Blair (The Exorcist) and the youngest competitive Oscar winner of all time, 10 year old Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon).

Sunday August 30th
The Best Supporting Actresses of 1989 (Season Finale!)  

Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot) took home the gold for playing mom to Daniel Day-Lewis on his first Oscar win. Her shortlist sisters? Quite a famous bunch they were. Oscar chose Oscar winner Dianne Wiest for the ensemble comedy Parenthood, both Lena Olin and Oscar winner Anjelica Huston from the underseen but  actressy Enemies: A Love Story, and brand new starlet Julia Roberts, then considerably less famous than brother Eric, for Steel Magnolias.

Drink your juice, Shelby, and join us for all of four Smackdowns. Queue up those DVDs. You know you want to for more movie merriment.

Sunday
Apr272014

April Showers: Midnight Express (1978)

Waterworks some nights at 11. This one is from the vaults from the first season. But it's worth a revisit as the film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.


I've always been a little bit a lot perplexed by the famous shower scene in Alan Parker's Midnight Express (1978). I'm not exactly sure why it's in the movie. Midnight Express strongest asset is arguably its expressive physicality and gritty tactile quality; you feel like you're right there in the grotty hellish Turkish prison, sweating and suffering along with Billy Hayes (Brad Davis). But the sexual vibes coming off of the movie are at times unfathomable. Is it gay? Is it bi? Is it straight? Is it just horny? Or is its ambiguous eroticism simply a by-product of casting a star as carnally charismatic as Brad Davis in the lead role?

As warm up to the famous shower scene we get a montage detailing the friendship of Billy and Erich (Norbert Weisser) a fellow prisoner. They've been in this hellhole for years. We see them do yoga togethe and bathe each other. They even duet on a private meditation mantra...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Apr012014

Morning Confession: I've Never Seen an Ali MacGraw Movie

Happy 75th birthday today to Ali MacGraw. "Who?" Some of you might be asking, which is telling.

My first and only significant memory of Ali MacGraw, who was quite famous when I was a child, was seeing her face on the sheet music to the theme from Love Story (1970) that my sister used to play on the piano when I was tiny. I have no idea why I remember this so vividly but I do. I also remember my mom grumbling about the movie's tagline which she said was 'TOTALLY UNTRUE'.

love means never having to say you're sorry

My sister had quite a few movie theme songs on sheet music and the other ones I remember looking at were Ice Castles, Jaws and Star Wars. The only one that I had actually seen was Star Wars. I don't remember seeing it in theaters. My true movie memories don't start until the following year in 1978 with Superman and Return From Witch Mountain. (If you're curious here are two of my earliest movie memories in comic book form)

Ali MacGraw was, in the late 70s / early 80s something of a symbol of flash in the pan movie stardom for complicated but, as I'd come to understand it much later, totally normal celebrity reasons: addictions, tough marriage, unlucky film choices, you name it. But this morning as I went to type this up I made the horrifying realization that I've never seen ANY of her films, no not even Love Story (1970). That's a significant gap in my Oscar viewing since it was nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Picture.

Have you seen Love Story. And have you ever played a movie theme on the piano?