We’re still trying to sort out what irritated us so about Lynn Hirschberg‘s New York Times Magazine piece on Vera Farmiga and the difficulties of being a Serious Actress these days. There’s much to choose from, between the strange mythologizing of Meryl Streep and prudish head-tossing at celebrity and beauty. For instance, this:
Like Streep, who insisted on auctioning off all her designer costumes from â€œThe Devil Wears Pradaâ€ for charity, Farmiga is wary of the red-carpet dress-up component of show business. Hollywood has always been the land of dreams, of gorgeous people in stunning clothes. But in the eras of Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and even Cher, Oscar gowns were not an opportunity for product placement. The red carpet has become another marketplace, and most of the top actresses today (Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore and others) sign lucrative advertising contracts with fashion or cosmetics companies. To a point, this kind of fame does help when courting the studios; studio executives are interested in brand recognition, as long as the brand is not too tawdry or disruptive. But even Kidman, with her Oscar, global name recognition and photo in nearly every issue of US Weekly, could not lure audiences to â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ or â€œBewitched,â€ two recent expensive studio flops. As an actress, Kidman was more interesting when she was less of a style icon. In a movie like â€œTo Die For,â€ in 1995, she dissolved into the character of a ruthlessly aspiring TV personality. Now she has become too famous as Nicole Kidman to disappear fully into any other persona.
Yes, she must be punished, punished, PUNISHED for being the face of Chanel No. 5! Who would want those wicked trappings of fame? Hirschberg seems to want things both ways: Classical Hollywood stardom is dignified and thus fine, while the "new generation of female stars" "did not attend drama school" and therefore are "programmed for stardom rather than for acting," which is not fine â€” they could not possibly have ambitions beyond being red carpet bobbleheads. Hirschberg also writes that "[a]s recently as the 80â€™s, women were often the sole stars of mainstream studio movies like ‘Terms of Endearment,’ ‘Moonstruck’ and ‘Out of Africa’… But today, women in
mainstream films more often populate the margins as girlfriends,
mothers and wives, often with stereotypical personalities. Meryl Streep‘s challenging role as a Polish holocaust survivor in ‘Sophie’s Choice’ in 1982, to pick perhaps the most famous example, is an increasingly distant memory." Christ on a cracker, these must be dire times indeed if we’re yearning for the days of "Terms of Endearment" and "Sophie’s Choice"?
We’re not trying to poo-poo the idea of acting as a craft, but Hirschberg’s earnest stratification of actresses is simplistic and often silly. Unfortunate, because the lack of solid female lead roles (which is still not enough to make us wax nostalgic for 80s melodrama) is a topic that deserves some pointed discussion.
If Scarlett Johansson can continue to land the roles that showcase her brains as well as her beauty, she really will be in with a shout of being the modern-day equivalent of the golden Hollywood sirens. Wowing crowds at film festivals is one thing; a true screen icon requires a little more.
A scene filmed over a couple of sweltering nights under the Macombs Dam Bridge, on the edge of Spanish Harlem, called for her to comfort a drugged-out teenage prostitute in the back seat of a shabby pimpmobile and then, when things turned ugly, to blow the pimp away. The prostitute was not much older, come to think of it, than the one Ms. Foster played in "Taxi Driver," 30 years ago, and now here was Ms. Foster turning into a kind of Travis Bickle.
He had something else as well, and it’s the missing ingredient from today’s movies: He knew it was all right to be hated. Hollywood historian David Thomson once called Wayne "the crown prince of difficult men." The stars of his generation knew that the price of heroism, of domination, of certitude, of command, was loneliness — or possibly, since they were so disconnected from their emotions they’d never acknowledge such a thing — aloneness.
Michael Thornton at the Daily Mail writes about Laurence Olivier and how "Olivier’s bisexuality has been subject to denial, prejudice and an extraordinary kind of censorship." Of course, the only remedy is to rattle off all kinds of juicy anecdotes:
In 1950, when the Oliviers returned to Hollywood for Vivien [Leigh] to film her Oscar-winning role as Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite Marlon Brando, David Niven walked into the garden of their Hollywood mansion and discovered: ‘Brando and Larry swimming naked in the pool. Larry was kissing Brando. Or maybe it was the other way around.
"I turned my back to them and went back inside to join Vivien. I’m sure she knew what was going on, but she made no mention of it. Nor did I. One must be sophisticated about such matters in life."
Though Affleck’s career and, one hopes, mental health have never sunk as low as Reeves’, there is a certain poignancy in the role choice and the performance. The actor’s own salad days â€” the Butch and Sundance partnership with Matt Damon, the 1998 Oscar win, the magazine covers, the breathless universal interest in what he would do next, whom he would date next â€” have been over for quite some time.
And David Thomson at the Independent writes that Tom Cruise‘s problems had nothing to do with the crazy, or the religion, and everything to do with the universal plague of actors and actresses everywhere: "[I]n the history of Hollywood box office very few people – men or women – have had their best days still to come at the age of 44."
+ On These Mean Streets, Going a Little Travis Bickle (NY Times)
+ The Lost Action Hero (Washington Post)
+ Larry gay? Of course he was (Daily Mail)
+ Don’t call him a movie star (LA Times)
+ Film Studies: You’re risky business, Tom (Independent)