Monday, January 19, 2015

A few thoughts on movies (C.I.)

Jim: I loved C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" and wasn't surprised that it had a huge response.  While we were on a break, C.I. was typing away and I asked her about it when she took a break for a minute.  She was responding to the e-mails and I offered it would be a great piece for Third.


An e-mailer offers, "The victims of Falluja probably got more attention from the snapshot than from anything else you've put up in the last 12 months."

Probably so.  Saturday's Iraq snapshot name checked a wide field.

Miriam Hopkins is a name popping up repeatedly in the e-mails to the public account.  Miriam was a great actress and not one that's often mentioned today.

We're moving over to the private e-mail account -- which is where community members e-mail.  Calvin wonders if I've made an error in saying Jane Fonda couldn't have played Cindy Sheehan because Jane's persona onscreen is (like Susan Sarandon's) a little faster than everyone else she shares the screen with?  He points out that Jane did win the Academy Award for Coming Home where she plays a politically awakened character.

Jane did win an Academy Award for that film.

There's always been an argument -- and some book entitled Alternate Oscars, I believe, makes it in print -- that the award should have gone to Jill Clayburgh (for her performance in An Unmarried Woman).

It was a weak year nomination wise.

It's not one of Jane's best performances.

But her career was in shambles due to her political stances (both speaking out and wasting all that time on Tom Hayden's career) and then she rebounded with the huge hit comedy Fun With Dick and Jane -- proving to the studios she was still bankable -- and the critical success of Julia.  When she won the award in early 1979, she won it for 1978's Coming Home but also probably for 1978's Comes A Horseman (which was not a hit but had a critically praised performance by Jane) and 1978's California Suite (which was a hit and had a critically praised performance by Jane).

She played three very different characters in films released in 1978 and the most talked about film of the three was Coming Home.

But of the three performances she gave on the big screen in 1978, Coming Home was the weakest.

It remains one of her weakest to this day.

There are a few moments of brilliance to it but it's a saggy performance overall and goes to the fact that Jane Fonda the producer was the worst enemy of Jane Fonda the actress.

She goes from leading lady to bit player in the film's climatic scene.

And that's because she's too much of a coward to stand up for herself.

On the set of Something To Talk About, she could insist that Julia Roberts needed to assert herself in a scene that was just not coming together and you had to wonder, "Gee, where was that Jane when she floundered through one film after another as producer?"

Jane as producer is responsible for Jane the actress in Coming Home, The China Syndrome, On Golden Pond, Rollover, 9 to 5 and Old Gringo.  Not one of those performances are worthy of large praise.

Some confuse endless sidelong glances and a sudden burst of outrage (On Golden Pond) with a performance.  It's not.

More often, Jane delivered a washed out performance.

In Coming Home, she's married to Bruce Dern and sleeping with Jon Voight while Dern's in Vietnam.  The climatic moment is after military intelligence shows Dern photos of Jane and Jon having sex.  He's at their home after loading his gun and she's called Jon who arrives.  The three are now together.

And what happens?

A lot for Bruce Dern and Jon Voight.

But Jane just disappears in a scene so bad it's been mocked for years.  Playing statues is what some call it and note that time may not last an eternity but the scene makes clear bad acting is an eternity.

They're referring to Jane.

Sally stands like a statue -- no one stands like that.  It's uncomfortable you wouldn't hold your arms like that.  It's artificial, showy and fake and Sally has nothing else to do but stand there with her arms at awkward angles.

Why is Jon Voight having all the lines of reason?

Because Jane doesn't respect herself.

Bruce Dern is her husband in the film.

She's the one who should be able to reach him.

Not this stranger Jon who Bruce doesn't know except to know that this stranger has been having sex with his wife.

That's ridiculous.

It's fake.

It's complete bulls**t and it goes to the fact that scene was improvised and producer Jane won't fight for actress Jane -- or maybe any actress at all -- and she's forever claiming to be a feminist but surrendering to men.

As a hired gun, that's not how she was in her career prior to Coming Home.  And her behavior on location filming A Doll's House, for example, is legendary.

But thing is, she gives a great performance in that film.

Once she starts producing she gives the same bland performance over and over.

She's the weakest thing in 9 to 5.

Yeah, Barbra Streisand may be accused of vanity when she directs herself, but she also delivers a performance.

When Jane produces herself, she disappears.

China Syndrome is a great movie.  She's pretty much unimportant to the entire film and phones in a weak performance (external details like her character has a large turtle for a pet were her focus instead of characterization) that has one showy scene at the end where she comes alive trying not to cry on camera.

Did she lose her acting talent?


As hired gun during the same period, she delivered some wonderful performances.

She's engaging and spirited in the comedy The Electric Horseman.  She rivals the amazing work she did earlier in her career with Klute, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and The Game Is Over when she performs in Agnes of God and especially The Morning After.

Coming Home?

Again, there are a few moments of brilliance from her in that film but she guts the character in the big final scene.  She turns Sally -- and development Sally might have had -- into a joke.

Sally's husband is going to kill himself (he will go onto after that scene -- and who wouldn't escape Sally?) or he's going to kill her or he's going to kill Jon Voight because Sally called him for help.

And in this crisis, in this moment, the wife of the man with the gun has nothing to say in a scene that goes on forever and one where he's talked down by the guy who's been f**king his wife while he was overseas?

It's fake and the scene's ridiculous.

The Jane Fonda of A Doll's House would have screamed her head off and stormed off the set until (a) motivation for her character was found and (b) lines were provided for her to say.

In that scene, Jane does what the studios did to actress earlier in the 70s, turns them into decoration and puts them on the sidelines.

As a producer, Jane Fonda pretty much destroyed the actress Jane Fonda.

And it's that kind of a performance Jane would have delivered as Cindy Sheehan (and if you doubt that, check out Stanley & Iris where Jane struggles -- and fails -- at playing working class).

Jane the producer accomplished much and delivered audience friendly films.  But she short changed Jane Fonda the actress in every one of them.

So, no, she couldn't have succeeded as an actress in the role of Cindy Sheehan.

At the public account, three e-mails dispute my claim that Susan Sarandon wasn't able to deliver an audience as a leading actress:

She notes Susan Sarandon was attached -- or at least mentioned --  to the film proposal in 2006 and 2007.
And that's about 10 years after Susan could deliver any real audience at the box office.
That's why Susan's doing films like Tammy (where she's not the lead) and the Lifetime film playing Marilyn Monroe's mother.
I don't mean that as an insult to Susan.  We're talking realities here -- the things Cindy avoided in her post.

[. . .]
Back when studios still thought Susan could carry a film -- she couldn't, some actors can't, some very good actors can't,  she starred in Safe Passage.  That's more or less how she would have played Cindy and it wouldn't have worked nor would it have sold tickets.

A box office hit in the 80s on forward is $100 million in ticket sale or higher.

How many films of Susan's crossed that line?

One.  Enchanted.  (From the 70s, her Rocky Horror Picture Show -- which has played non-stop as cult movie -- has crossed the $100 million mark.)  Enchanted really isn't her film but you can pretend that she was the calling card for audiences who saw that.

Even if you do that, you ignore the many flops: Lorezno's Oil, Light Sleeper, Sweetheart's Dance, Safe Passage, etc which all made less than $10 million.  Even a 'hit' like Bull Durham only delivered $50 million in ticket sales.

When Rolling Stone threw her on the cover in the nineties most people in the industry laughed because the article insisted Susan was proving women of a certain age were bankable.

No, she wasn't and she didn't. (Susan didn't make the claim, to be clear, the writer did.)  And Jane's the one who carried the ball the furthest and only Meryl Streep's matched her (in terms of being the lead in films after a certain age and delivering an audience).

A few wanted to insist that Thelma & Louise was a huge hit.

I think it's a classic film but it only made $45 million and I know the person at the studio who fought for that film and he blames the casting for the box office -- the rather weak box office when you consider all the press that film got.

Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn wanted to play Thelma and Louise.  Ridley offered his objection insisting that they were too well known and he felt they would throw the film off.  The studio -- which wanted Meryl and Goldie -- then suggested Jodie Foster and Michelle Phillips and, for a brief time, Ridley acted as though he was interested in them but he wasn't.  He wanted Susan and Geena Davis.

Susan's most talked about film didn't make a hundred million domestically, didn't even make fifty million.

The film's a classic.  It will live a long life, it will outlive many films that were in the top 20 that year.

That's why I note some people are not box office -- it's not a crime and it doesn't make them less of an actor.

The biggest films of any year are not always the ones that get remembered.

I'm not trying to attack her but the reality is most of the films Sandra Dee starred in are forgettable and few people know who she is now. But she delivered huge box office, she sold tickets like few others before her.  Or let's note that   Bringing Up Baby was a bomb in its original release but it's a classic today and it's better known than many of the films Katharine Hepburn starred in that made huge money.

Susan Sarandon has real talent and casting her in the past or in the future is a smart move because it will increase the chances that your film has a life beyond theatrical and initial DVD release.  Talent will deliver over the longterm.

With Geena, she carries Thelma & Louise and, with Kevin Costner, she carries Bull Durham.  Both of those films are classics and some films released at the same time that were blockbusters at the box office are already forgotten.

Jillian brought up Stepmom -- but it didn't cross the $100 million mark either -- despite having Julia Roberts as a co-star when she could still deliver an audience.  To me, the problem was Julia the producer and the other producers including director Chris Columbus.

Not one of them had the brains to either kill the shirtless scene or tell Ed Harris, "Shave your damn back."

Nobody wanted to see tufts of hair on his upper back.  It was gross, it was disgusting.  He was, in the film, the object of Julia's love and Susan was still hurting over losing her husband to Julia.

Two women vying for the man who can't get rid of those large bushes sprouting from the backs of his shoulders?

Do you think they'd let Anne Hathaway get away with showing up on the set to film a love scene with bushy armpits?


And this was a 'weeper' -- a film whose primary audience is "femme" -- as Variety used to put in code back in the day (meaning women and gay men).  So Ed, who is an attractive man, needed to look like solid eye candy.  Instead, he looked like candy that had been dropped on the floor and gunk and fuzz got all over it.

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