It seems that the word ‘confusing’ does describe this performance best because it is one of the most affected and ‘obvious’ performances this category has ever seen but at the same time there is something incredibly fascinating and heartbreaking about Geraldine Page’s portrayal that so beautifully catches so many nuances of Alma and is able, despite all the obstacles, to rise to the occasion of this demanding role.
Piper Laurie created Sarah as a mysterious and pathetic presence that both doesn’t and does fit into the environment of The Hustler. She may not be the driving force of the story and is mostly reacting to Paul Newman’s Eddie but her moving performance which effectively shows her character’s fate and tragedy evokes some unforgettable images.
Audrey Hepburn portrays this character with an acting style that combines her usual openness and relaxedness in front of the camera with a distinct closeness that seems to come from a sadness and maybe even a depression inside. Her grandest achievement is not only to look like the part but actually bringing it to life in a manner that is very natural considering the eccentric and stylized nature of the character.
Natalie Wood is usually not among the most celebrated actresses of her area but her here she gives an absolutely luminous and daring performance in which she handles the difficulties of the character with astonishing ease and earnestness. Even though her character goes from one extreme to the other in a world she doesn’t understand, Natalie Wood always played her with a strong combination of subtle emotions and shocking realism.
It’s obvious in every frame of La Ciociara that Sophia Loren felt a very strong connection to her character and that her ‘home field advantage’ helped her to give a very natural and stupendous performance. She created a character that is both simple and complex and she thankfully always kept its directness as she seemed to get lost in the feelings of Cesira and gave a performance that is neither studied nor overly spontaneous but rather a thought-out collection of emotional and intuitive gestures.
Just as Hud two years later, The Hustler starred Paul Newman in a world of men, occupied by only one important female character that has to learn that to love a man like either Eddie or Hud will not lead to happiness ever after. While Patricia Neal took home the Oscar for portraying the hardened woman in a world of cowboys, Piper Laurie received her first of three unsuccessful Oscar nominations for her portrayal of a crippled, depressive and alcoholic short story writer in The Hustler, a gripping story set in the dark and dirty atmosphere of poolrooms and gambling.
Besides being the only important female character in movies that center around Paul Newman, Patricia Neal and Piper Laurie also share certain characteristics in their performances – both play women that seem to suffer from this world of men, that have learnt their lessons years ago and both of them also seem to be the conscience, the voice of reason in their surroundings even though they constantly reject this role. Both woman also deny the usual definition of womanhood as neither is really highlighting it but rather downplay their own sex. Ultimately, Patricia Neal’s Alma Brown possesses one characteristic that Piper Laurie’s Sarah misses – strength. Her ability to keep her dignity and escape a world which is slowly trying to destroy her will lead Alma Brown to an unknown but still probably better future while Sarah has given up her dreams, her hopes and ultimately herself years ago and her inability to face live will take her further and further down on her route of self-destruction.
Today, Piper Laurie is mostly remembered for her Oscar-nominated turn as Sissy Spacek’s fanatically religious mother in Carrie. Personally, my knowledge about her filmography is limited but I still remember her vividly as the passive mother in Children of a lesser God and the evil stepmother in Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death. All these mother-characters shared the distinction of being emotionally unavailable, sometimes by choice, sometimes because of their own feelings. Her Sarah in The Hustler isn’t a mother figure but she, too, seems to be unable to connect with other persons – only Sarah is actually desperate to find some human connection, a loving companion even if she appears to be a true lone wolf, living a mere existence of depression, pain and alcohol which slowly destroys her body and her spirits. Eddie first meets her in a café at a bus terminal and right from the first moment she seems already so lost in her own loneliness and addiction that her body seems like an empty shell without anything living inside. Only her deep, melancholic voice is a real sign of activity and as Eddie gets to know her better, it becomes apparent that Sarah is a woman who knows her way around, who experienced a great deal of suffering and pain and whose life has turned into a waiting for death. Still, she recognizes the charm in Eddie and senses the sexual attraction between them even though she refuses it at first. She tells him that her bus will leave at eight and that this doesn’t give them a lot of time. They have a coffee and it becomes obvious that Piper Laurie’s Sarah is the screenplay’s vessel to demonstrate a more intimate and theatrical form of living at the lower end of society compared to the stark realism that dominates the scenes in the poolrooms. Sarah becomes her own kind of philosopher who likes to find a bigger truth in Eddie’s behavior and who constantly answers his question with remarks that enshroud a deeper meaning or analyze his own intentions. This way, Piper Laurie suffers from the same fate that Patricia Neal faced in Hud – the fact that their female characters often are so neglected compared to the male characters that they almost seem unnecessary. But Piper Laurie was able to overcome these obstacles and made her Sarah a much bigger presence than usually given credit for. Her performance is often mentioned whenever there is talk about supporting performances nominated in the leading category but Piper Laurie is such an interesting and intriguing actress who always holds her own against the screen presence of Paul Newman that she, too, becomes a constantly noticeable presence. There may be something ghost-like about her performance but she also displays a more vivid, sharp and observing side in Sarah which helps her to create a character that is much more captivating than the written words of the screenplay would suggest.
During their first meeting, Eddie falls asleep after having been up all night and when he wakes up, Sarah is gone – and paid the bill. Piper Laurie and Paul Newman certainly showed the sexual attraction between these two lost souls but Piper Laurie also didn’t forget a certain roughness in Sarah, an unwillingness to become a toy for Eddie. It’s only when they meet again that Sarah begins to open up to him – and is more willing to accept his intentions. But even by opening Sarah up, Piper Laurie keeps a rather mysterious façade and shows that, in some ways, Sarah doesn’t make sense as a character, that everything in her is either a lie or a fantasy and that she wants to keep the little honesty for herself. She admits that she wasn’t waiting for a bus but spends her time in the bar – a sudden honesty but again combined with lies about her personal life. Piper Laurie demonstrates that Sarah may feel a little guilty for having left Eddie alone the last time they met – maybe that’s why she agrees to have another drink with him. She never brings Sarah into the light but always keeps her in the dark that isn’t the dark of the poolrooms but rather a darkness that she created herself and that will never again turn into light for her. Piper Laurie does some wonderful facial work when she meets Newman again and, only with her eyes, tells him that this time they can do what he wanted to do for so long. There’s no eroticism in Sarah, it’s a bitter decisiveness and desperation, the need for some physical connection with another being. In showing all the misery of Sarah’s life, Piper Laurie also chose a surprisingly carefree method – Sarah doesn’t care about her own sorrows but seems to have accepted them as part of her life. When she stands up and walks besides Eddie, Sarah tells him casually that she isn’t drunk, just lame. Piper Laurie shows that Sarah may need an emotional connection but that she doesn’t really expect it. She and Paul Newman create a couple that never belongs to each other but stays together for a while out of comfort and habit but Sarah isn’t the kind of woman that can hold a man like Eddie. Her loss of self-respect makes everyone else disrespect her, too, and she is a woman one might take to dinner, go to bed with and then leave her again without feeling bad about it.
In short, Piper Laurie created a character that is incredibly heartbreaking but whose misery is shockingly nonrelevant – by refusing to win the audience’s sympathy she actually went a bit too far and seemed just as indifferent about Sarah’s fate as everyone else. Besides this, Piper Laurie’s acting style also seems too theatrical sometimes which might work very well besides other theatrical performances, but in The Hustler she faces the strong realism of Paul Newman which unfortunately only makes her own histrionic moments more obvious. This also leads to the fact that, sometimes, she doesn’t really fit into the environment of The Hustler even though Sarah is a true product of this ambiance. In some cases, she also loses her characteristic deep voice and changes into much higher registers which tends more to distract from her performance than widen it.
Even though this performance is not perfect, Piper Laurie still created some very moving and haunting images as Sarah becomes exactly what she seemed to want to avoid at the beginning – a toy for Eddie which he uses as he pleases. Her neediness and longing for his love makes her accept his behavior but it only fastens her circle of self-destruction. During this whole process, Piper Laurie finds an interesting alternation between drunk despair and sober happiness and even though Sarah is too weak in the end to cope with Eddie’s behavior and her life as it is, she still displays a certain strength during all these moments as if she might be able to find her own way of living instead of accepting his. And while this also serves her characterization well, Piper Laurie showed some inconsistency between the glowing and the dark moments of Sarah’s life – her acting is sometimes too extreme in both directions and exaggerates the difference of emotions. But still, she brings Sarah to a heartbreaking finale with some haunting scenes that shockingly show how unstable her character really is behind her often emotionless façade, how her life as a short story writer and her own fantasies couldn’t make her forget reality. And not since Kim Hunter in A Streetcar named Desire has an actress been so dazzling by walking down a stair…
Piper Laurie created Sarah as a mysterious and pathetic presence that both doesn’t and does fit into the environment of The Hustler. She may not be the driving force of the story and is mostly reacting to Paul Newman’s Eddie but her moving performance which effectively shows her character’s fate and tragedy evokes some unforgettable images. For this she gets
She may not have won the Oscar but 1961 surely was Natalie Wood’s year. Besides proofing that she isn’t the little girl who believes in Santa Clause anymore with her performance as a sexually confused teenager in Splendor in the Grass, she further showed her versatility when she also took on the part of the Puerto Rican heroine in the Best Picture winner and classic movie musical West Side Story. This strong combination of remarkable talent wasn’t enough to overcome Sophia Loren who also displayed a sudden change of image into a serious, dramatic actress but it forever cemented her status as a talented character actress and serves as a beautiful legacy to her willingness to constantly find new challenges for herself.
Splendor in the Grass is a gripping tale about sexual tension and the confusion it evokes in growing teenagers. The whole story may too often suffer from heavy symbolism or self-important dialogue but Natalie Wood’s strong portrayal of a young woman driven to a nervous breakdown by sexual repression and society’s conventions is the one element that brings everything together with unforgettable dedication. Deanie is essentially torn apart by her own desires and society’s expectations. There is a longing inside her, a willingness to give her body to the man she loves, Bud, the son of the richest family in town and the dream of every high school-girl but at the same time her mother keeps telling her that men don’t respect girls who go to bed with them, that she would ruin her chance to marry him and that, after all, women don’t enjoy sex anyway but let the man have it – after marriage. Deanie, being the good girl she is, doesn’t seem to be able to fully comprehend these advices – why does she want to have sex with Bud if a woman is not supposed to enjoy it? Should she follow her own desires or her mother’s expectations and advices?
Bud on the other hand, receives rather different advice from his father and the two conversations portray the differences in thinking between man and women, rich and poor and between the advices for sons and daughters. Bud’s father tells his son to find a girl that will fulfil his sexual needs – but not Deanie since he is serious about her and, even worse, it might force him to marry her. Both parents advice their children to not have sex but for different reasons.
In this atmosphere, a world in which it isn’t clear if people prefer to talk about sex but not do it or prefer to have sex but not talk about it, it becomes more and more difficult for Deanie to distinguish between her instincts and her thoughts, between her love to Bud and her feelings of responsibility. Splendor in the Grass comes from a time when the thought about a woman being mentally destroyed by sexual longings is seen as the most logical possibility and Natalie Wood is therefore cast in a part that is both a challenge and an obstacle for her. Deanie surely asks her to reach new heights as an actress and create much more complexity than she had done so far in her career but Deanie is also a character that reflects a conservative view from the 50s on women’s’ behaviour in the 20s. This way Deanie could easily have become a collection of nervous tics and hysterical breakdowns without any true core but Natalie Wood magnificently took this part and gave it an emotional honesty and heartbreaking clarity. Her Deanie isn’t the ‘queen of the school’ but a rather typical student whose beauty gains her a lot of popularity but Natalie Wood demonstrates right from the start that Deanie’s feelings for Bud are true and that Deanie is not a girl who uses her looks to her own advantage but rather focuses her own behaviour on her wish to make him happy. Besides that, she is also a typical, but surprisingly serious student who doesn’t only want to be loved by Bud but also by her parents and her teachers. She symbolizes a certain ‘American perfection’ but all this isn’t able to remain once the controversial and difficult subject of sex enters her life.
Natalie Wood remarkably found a very balanced way to portray this rather unbalanced character. She constantly shows that Deanie has honest feelings for Bud and that it’s the loss of his love and his affection that causes her mental instability. It’s a simple story told in a complex way. Natalie Wood also avoided all the expected traps that such a character brings. Yes, she may look too adoringly at Warren Beatty while she is walking down the hall with him but she doesn’t turn Deanie into a cliché in all the extremes, loud and quiet, of her performance but instead keeps her grounded and real. Especially the scenes with Bud’s ‘scandalous’ sister are so interesting because Natalie Wood shows how Deanie is both amused and appalled by her behaviour and her open talk of sex and love and that way always has her own character constantly guessing her own intentions.
In one of her first scenes, Natalie Wood is kissing Bud in a lonely car with a seriousness and passion that normally would lead to more but Deanie, as much as she is beginning to feel a desire in her, still rejects Bud’s advances. The picture of the river and a damn will appear again in the movie and it’s not hard to believe that the movie makers used the river as a symbol for Bud’s will to move forward while Deanie is the damn that keeps him from going further which only impounds the sexual tension in Bud that he will finally act out with another girl. From this moment on sex becomes the constant theme of Splendor in the Grass, a constant battle of desire and repression and Natalie Wood’s Deanie is right in the middle of this – she has to deal with all kinds of inputs but can’t find an output for herself. Her mother tells her that nice girls don’t have sexual feelings and since she wants to be nice but can’t deny her feelings, her confusion begins to grow. It’s clear that Deanie wants to find the best way to please everyone around her and she also wants to show Bud her love and devotion which almost makes her look like his loyal wife – the way she acts concerned when he is wounded after a football game is the best example. Later, Deanie finally decides to sleep with Bud to prove her love but again her mother irritates her by telling her about Bud’s sister who got pregnant and had an abortion – this again shows how much Deanie suffers from the various demands that are made at her. Should she follow Bud’s wishes or her mother’s advices?
What could very easily have turned into a clichéd soap-opera at this point thankfully made a drastic but also intriguing turn when the relationship between Deanie and Bud suddenly ends and the combination of humiliation, frustration and confusion leads Deanie to a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt. Why did he leave her when she so hard tried to behave as society expected of her? She tried to be respectable and proper when Bud wanted to sleep with her and when she basically throws herself at him, he reminds her to be a ‘nice girl’ and rejects her – it’s clear that sex overstrains Deanie. Especially at the school ball, Natalie Wood portrays the neediness and desperation of Deanie very well. In showing this path of desperation, Natalie Wood is able to deliver various outstanding moments that completely dominate her performance and make other, rather conventional scenes, pale in comparison. Her scene when she slowly breaks down in school while reading a poem that so obviously mirrors her own situation is a heartbreaking moment and Natalie Wood beautifully combines everything that Deanie’s character wants to express – confusion, fear, inability to cope with life as it is right now. She believable walks this character’s path and it doesn’t seem like she is only walking it because the screenplay asks her to but because this is the path she would both choose but also be forced upon. Natalie Wood keeps the heartbreaking element in her performance when she tells her mother that she wants to die – it’s a shocking moment that Natalie Wood does incredibly beautifully because she whispers the words in a rather helpless way, without any hysterics or exaggerate gestures. The anticipated outburst of emotions that seems to have swollen up inside of Deanie finally comes during her breakdown in the bathtub which is probably one of the most exciting moments this category has ever seen. The way she completely lets herself go, seems so affected but also unaffected at the same time, throws her head in the water, moves her hand to her mouth, laughs, cries, shouts and shivers is almost painful to watch and she believably brings herself into a state of more and more hysteria with every word – a chilling moment that is surprisingly subtle despite the nature of the scene.
What could have been over-the-top and filled with sexual suggestions turned into a fascinating and captivating tour-de-force. Since Deanie doesn’t know how to act in these surroundings she tends to go too far in either direction, trying to save her reputation too hard or being willing to throw it away too easily. A lot of the movie’s themes and messages could have been lost in the sometimes unfocused direction but Natalie Wood carries and represents them wonderfully. At the end of the story, she doesn’t ‘solve’ the character but leaves her future open. Deanie may have recognized that she doesn’t need Bud anymore but it’s not sure if she will always follow her own realisations and how her sexual morals will affect her life from now on. But just like for the entire movie before, Natalie Wood always kept the essence of her character even though she underwent so many radical changes.
Natalie Wood is usually not among the most celebrated actresses of her area but her here she gives an absolutely luminous and daring performance in which she handles the difficulties of the character with astonishing ease and earnestness. Even though her character goes from one extreme to the other in a world she doesn’t understand, Natalie Wood always played her with a strong combination of subtle emotions and shocking realism. For this she gets
Geraldine Page’s side on wikipedia claims that her performance in the off-Broadway revival of Summer and Smoke in 1952 was an ‘earth-shattering and legendary’ event and started the off-Broadway movement in the New York theatre (I don’t know if this is truly correct since wikipedia is not exactly the most trustworthy side) and the trailer of Summer and Smoke loudly and proudly states that its leading lady was proclaimed the greatest living American actress by none other than Tennessee Williams. All this, combined with her Golden Globe Award and her Oscar nomination, naturally arouses great expectations in her performance – and while she doesn’t completely fulfill those, she is still able to create some captivating moments and deliver a remarkable character-study that may be too overdone as a whole but fascinates nonetheless.
Geraldine Page is an actress that is often mentioned in connection to the words ‘tics’, ‘mannerisms’ or ‘calculated’. For those viewers who have only seen some part of her filmography, like The Trip to Bountiful or Interiors, these words can be rather surprising since her performances in those movies are, undoubtedly, the result of careful and thoughtful preparation but there is still something natural and unknowing about her work, more like a woman driven by her instincts than by her thoughts. But to fully understand the meaning of Geraldine Page’s ‘tics’ and ‘mannerisms’ one need to look no further than her performance as Alma Winemiller in Tennessee William’s Summer and Smoke. Considering that this is Tennessee Williams it’s no surprise that Geraldine Page played a sexually frustrated and inexperienced woman whose spirits are destroyed by her own desires and the people around her.
This performance is rather confusing, especially at the beginning. Her acting from the first moment on is incredibly affected and unnatural, every word she delivers gets its own gesture and facial expression, every body movement appears not only prepared but studied and every word is spoken in the most awareness of her own acting. It’s obvious that there is a constant self-awareness in every moment of Geraldine Page’s performance that guides her through all of Alma’s emotions. And right from the start the movie makes sure that everybody realizes that there are many of those. Alma is suffering from her mother who is both domineering but also a little child and who apparently suffers from a mental illness that turned her into a kleptomaniac and made her mean, hateful and difficult to bear. Especially Alma suffers from her constant insults and mind games and it becomes obvious very soon that her life with her mother, whose condition also forced her to grow up quite early and take over a lot of tasks that normally wouldn’t be hers, turned her into a withdrawn, insecure, shy and sexually frustrated woman. Unfortunately Geraldine Page’s interpretation seems too aware in these early moments, rather like a presentation than a performance. I compared Jane Fonda to a talented drama student – Geraldine Page rather seems like the teacher who is showing everyone how to do it with a collection of gestures, facial expressions and deliveries that always work well in the context of the story and her character’s development but are simply far too self-evident. There is nothing really natural about her work, everything she does is much too obvious. The way Geraldine Page displays every single emotion or feeling in Alma is a combination of expected and anticipated gestures that range from covering her mouth with her hands or turning her head to trembling her lips or putting her hands at her chest.
Everything about Geraldine Page’s work becomes even more confusing when Alma talks to her neighbor John (Laurence Harvey, again working opposite an Oscar-nominated actress during his short reign of success) and learns from him that she is actually imitated at parties for her way of speaking and behaving. It’s this moment that suddenly seems to cast a different light on Geraldine Page. Is her whole interpretation actually circling around this little detail that has so grand consequences? It is indeed called for to look at her performance from this point of view. Is Geraldine Page using her own tics and mannerisms to portray a woman who is so unsure of herself, so considered of her reputation and her appearance, so hesitant to have a conversation and so careful not to make the wrong impression? It seems that there is some sense in this view especially considering how long Alma has been oppressed and mentally tortured by her sinister mother – combined with her own self-repression, her restrained feelings of love and passion, Alma seemed to have created an artificial shell for herself, one that seems fitting for the daughter of a minister but also one that has overtaken her whole personality. Yes, there does seem to be some sense in it but at the same time this answer isn’t totally satisfying. Because even though Geraldine Page has created a complete and complex character, it’s much too obvious at the same time that two women are calculating every step of their doings – Alma Winemiller and Geraldine Page herself. Geraldine Page has a unique talent for getting in touch with her characters and bringing out every emotion of their existence but she didn’t disappear in Alma. Instead, Geraldine Page’s own thoughts and calculations are just as visible as those of Alma in Summer and Smoke. Her acting style does fit the character perfectly – but she can’t hide the fact that she is acting, she is always pulling the strings of Alma instead of truly becoming Alma. It’s a curious case of an actress creating a character accordingly but still being too large a presence herself. Because she isn’t able to fully create the feeling that her acting is really just an interpretation of her character – instead, her interpretation is the result of her acting. Because even in moments when Alma is showing emotional honesty, Geraldine Page displays her studied gestures and prepared pronunciations that never truly support this honesty but feel rather distracting and sometimes even irritating.
Geraldine Page has the advantage of a complex and demanding character in a well-written story by Tennessee Williams – ultimately, this means that all the problems in this performance are actually coming from her own work because they can neither be found in the script nor in her character. And this leads to the most confusing aspect of her work – that all these faults, as obvious and distracting they may be, somehow are able to slide in the background and get lost behind Geraldine Page’s already mentioned ability to show all emotions and feelings in her characters. Yes, it’s done in an obvious way and these feelings of artificiality do not get lost as the movie goes on but somehow it seems that they become less important and the whole result is still much more satisfying than expected at the beginning. Geraldine Page is simply a master in her own area of acting – like Susan Hayward, she excelled in her specialty. Susan Hayward was always over-the-top but she was so good at it that it somehow almost never mattered. Geraldine Page may display an aura of ‘Look how it’s done’ much too often but she was so good at it that it somehow almost never mattered. She maybe doesn’t disappear in Alma but she still creates her, brings her to life, makes her her own. The role of the sexually frustrated spinster with a domineering mother is a cliché in movie history as been done before (think Deborah Kerr in Separate Tables) and would be done again (think Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel) but she still does the most with it and gives a remarkable, beautiful and often devastating portrayal of sexual longing and broken will.
Tennessee Williams was always able to write wonderful characters for women and even though his Alma Winemiller may not be the greatest of them, it’s still a part that demanded a certain vulnerability coupled with an underlying sensibility. It’s no surprise that Williams held Geraldine Page in such a high regard because she was certainly an actress who could do everything and must have been every playwriter’s dream. Like a machine, she was always able to produce the wanted results but that way was often too technical. The part of Alma is very wordy and never reaches the fascinating levels of Blanche DuBois or Violet Venable but she is still an engaging representation of fear, repression, insecurity and its fatal consequences.
As written before, Geraldine Page may not be able to loose the impression of acting and is rather floating above Alma instead of getting behind her, but she still does justice to the part and excels in the difficulty of the screenplay. All moments in her performance may be too obvious and prepared but she still fulfills them and even though she doesn’t disappear in Alma, she still shows her wonderful talent to get an emotional connection with her, to give her a core of suppression and confusion that slowly changes, but always in believable steps which helps Geraldine Page to make Alma a full, complete creation. Something in her work may ring false but somehow her emotions seems honest. Alma’s insecurity, her hidden anger, her frustration and her slow awakening when she suddenly begins to get interested in John which will ultimately be too much for her is always done in a way that keeps the viewer’s interest and gives the movie a surprising amount of depth and complexity. It’s a very quiet, touching and surprisingly delicate portrayal that burns with both passion and inhibition and she is quite impressive in showing how Alma slowly begins to change but she always keeps the awkward nature of Alma intact, no matter if she is alone with John in a quiet place or arguing with her mother. She doesn't reach the overwhelming devistation of Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar named Desire but it's a touching and dedicated portrayal that ultimately is more memorable for its strenghts than its faults. Geraldine Page doesn’t have a real chemistry with Laurence Harvey but considering the nature of their parts there is no actual reason why she should have. Her best moments actually come opposite her mother, especially when Alma finally stands up to the terror and accuses her of stealing her youth. It’s a very moving scene when Alma tells her mother that everybody thinks of her as an old spinster even though she is still young (but while it’s a wonderful scene in itself, the context surely worked better on the stage when Geraldine Page was 10 years younger and that way made more sense).
So, it seems that the word ‘confusing’ does describe this performance best because it is one of the most affected and ‘obvious’ performances this category has ever seen but at the same time there is something incredibly fascinating and heartbreaking about Geraldine Page’s portrayal that so beautifully catches so many nuances of Alma and is able, despite all the obstacles, to rise to the occasion of this demanding role. In the end, the strengths of this performance don’t fully cover its weaknesses but they are intriguing enough to get
Since this is the Internet, I have no idea who voted
for me to win this award,
but I want to thank everyone who did!
It's really a great honor but most of all it's just wonderful to know
that so many people like to read my little blog.
Nothing is as subjective as acting performances so I know you don't always agree with me but I am happy if you are interested in my thoughts.
I couldn't be happier if I won an Oscar myself! :-)
And since I want everyone to enjoy this blog in the future, too, just post in the comment sections if you have
suggestions or complaints!
Again, a big, fat THANK YOU to all of you
and, of course,
also a big THANK YOU and my deepest appreciation to
Dempsey, Christian and Kerry from TheMovie411
for all your hard work!
And in case you have missed my acceptance speech, I post it again here.
Okay, I may have borrowed some sentences from actual Oscar acceptence speeches...
Can you guess whose?
Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?
Well, this surely isn’t how I imagined it would be in the bathtub! It is a long journey to this moment and I can’t tell you how encouraging a thing like this is! To put it simple: This is the highlight of my day! I hope it’s not all down-hill from here! And I guess this proves that there are as many nuts among the bloggers as everywhere else! I mean, I am just a girl from a trailer-park who had a dream…and I may have the baby right here! But for now, I’m the king of the world!
And I would like to thank Emily Watson and Fernanda Montenegro, and my friend Cate Blancett and the greatest one who ever was, Meryl Streep. And everybody I ever met in my entire life.
This moment...is so much bigger than me! And I thank you all for choosing me as the vessel through which this blessing might flow! And to my mother and my father…you are seeing my dream come true! I think it’s one helluva honor and I am thrilled! And I can’t deny the fact that you like me…right now! You like me! This is a moment of joy and I want to kiss everybody because you are the makers of the joy! Oh, Russell Crowe told me not to cry and now I’m crying… What am I doing here? Especially considering the extraordinary group of Oscar-bloggers that is writing on the Internet! All we bloggers were fortunate enough to have the choice, not just the opportunity, but the choice to create such rich, complex blogs… Anyway, the thrill of this moment keeps me from saying what I really feel…
In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosities this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it . . . the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it . . . must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth of the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow.
I guess this doesn’t mean that I am somebody…but I guess I’m on my way. Thank you life, thank you love! Everybody, I love you! I love you all! Thanks to all of you who voted for me and those who didn’t…please excuse me! God bless that potential that we all have for making anything possible if we think we deserve it.
It’s New York City, apparently very early in the morning. Hardly any people are on the streets. A small, delicate woman leaves a cab, carrying a plastic cup, wearing an elegant and yet also simple black dress. Big sunglasses cover her eyes while she looks at the jewellery in the display windows of Tiffany’s.
Of all her famous appearances, this is undoubtedly the decisive movie moment in Audrey Hepburn’s career. The black dress, her hairstyle, her almost fragile figure have become one of the most iconic images in movie history, copied on countless posters and covers. But what is behind this perfectly executed scene?
Audrey Hepburn is an actress who was much too often cast for her charming and winning personality but she never let the viewers and the critics forget that, underneath the cute smile and the doll-like face, was the soul and the ambition of a true artist. So, Audrey Hepburn very often found herself cast in two types of roles – those which depended on her movie-star qualities and those which depended on her talent as an actress. In the first case, Audrey Hepburn always gloriously displayed everything that was so unique and loveable about her, a wonderful combination of charm and instincts that was able to turn every role of hers into a much more memorable and enjoyable experience but she seldom was able to improve the material beyond her own personality. Roman Holiday was a wonderful display of perfect combination of actress and part and even though she did a lot more ‘acting’ than would have been expected or even necessary, the results would have been forgettable if it hadn’t been for her unique and captivating appearance.
But thankfully, there were also the other kind of parts Audrey Hepburn played – those which actually didn’t care about her charm or her smile but were only interested in exploring Audrey Hepburn, the actress and not Audrey Hepburn, the star. In Wait until Dark, she was cast in the showy part of a blind woman terrorized by a brutal gang of murderers but the structure of the movie, the average quality of the screenplay and the, to some extent, difficulty of the part didn’t do her any favours and it proved that Audrey Hepburn was the kind of actresses who needed everything going for her, the right kind of script, the right kind of character, to really shine. Wait until Dark showed that she had enough talent to give a good performance simply based on her acting – but it wasn’t truly outstanding in any way. But thankfully, there was also her splendid turn in The Nun’s Story where she showed that, if she felt comfortable in a demanding part, she possessed a unique talent, a deep understanding to portray a woman who quietly suffers and mourns underneath that smile which brought joy so easily.
But what does all this ultimately mean? Where does her turn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s fit into this? Well, among her Oscar-nominated performances, it holds the distinction of being the only that one that doesn’t mostly focus on either her charm or her talent, but finds a striking balance between these two. The part demands of her to be her usual charming self, a little bird that flies too high for most of her life, but at the same time, it asks her to create a complex and intriguing character that could very easily be overly annoying or lack any credibility. Here, Audrey Hepburn found a perfect vehicle to use both her gifts – her talent and her personality. The Nun’s Story was her greatest display of acting and Roman Holiday was her greatest display of charm – Breakfast at Tiffany’s is her greatest display of both.
From the first moment she appears on-screen, there is something strangely youthful and non-caring about her, a woman, or maybe a girl who doesn’t give too much thought to anything. Even though Audrey Hepburn was over 30 when she did this movie, she had the wonderful ability to preserve an inner child that could also dominate her whole exterior. Does Audrey Hepburn look like 16, 17 or 18? No, but is it believable? Yes. It seems like a cliché to say that she is ‘ageless’ or ‘timeless’ and even though this refers to a completely different understanding of the word, it is strangely accurate in directing it at her physical appearance. But her grandest achievement is not only to look like the part but actually bringing it to life in a manner that is very natural considering the eccentric and stylized nature of the character. Marilyn Monroe, the actress Truman Capote had actually in mind while writing his short story, could also have done wonders in this role since she also possessed a magnificent talent for both comedy and drama and the childlike naivety of Holly Golightly would have fitted her personality just right but Audrey Hepburn was able to insert a strong intelligence into this naivety which turned Holly into a much more unique and complex character.
She constantly shows Holly as a woman who is a dreamer and who is longing for a different life but just as much as she pushes reality aside, she also never lets her dreams come too close to her. When she watches the windows of Tiffany’s at the beginning, Audrey Hepburn doesn’t do it with a body language that speaks of envy, of desire or lost dreams, but rather in a very common way that shows that this is simply a ritual for her, a nice way to start the day but she doesn’t let it get too close to her. It’s fear of change, fear of life, fear of reality that dominates Holly’s life. The same way she flees from a man into the apartment of Paul, a writer who lives above her, she flees from the consequences of her own doings. It’s a non-caring attitude inside her that helps her to never let anything or anyone come to close to her. Holly wants to be high-spirited and free but is not made for this kind of life. The way she acts at the police station, as if she couldn’t care less shows a woman who would like to be a true diva but ends up a scared, lost soul. Her aggressive “So what?” when Paul confesses his love to her is the main motto of her life – with the same “So what?” she reacts to everything else that happens to her. She constructed a golden cage for herself that keeps everyone out but also keeps herself inside. Despite all her parties and her apparent popularity there is obviously a grave loneliness that dominates her life because she seems unable to get too close to any other living creature. Even the prospect of having a cat is something that’s too final for her and so she decided not to name it – even a name might create too much intimacy and closeness. In the end, it’s the thought of a jewellery store that is giving her apparently the most hope in life, a combination of wealth, security and stability.
Marilyn Monroe’s more ‘obvious’ beauty might have made the relationship with Paul rather simple but Audrey Hepburn’s delicacy, that could also be surprisingly sharp, and approach to the relationship with Paul turns Holly into his buddy instead of a love-interest and that way she created some wonderful and believable moments. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard share a magnificent chemistry that goes from friendship to love in small, beautifully portrayed steps. The fact that she prefers to call him ‘Fred’, the name of her beloved brother, shows how uncomfortable Holly is inside, that she needs something familiar around herself. Even in her most charming roles, there was always something down-to-earth about Audrey Hepburn. Even her Princess Ann seemed surprisingly real. In Holly, Audrey is both down to earth but also high above the ground. There is something very practical about Holly in her own way of thinking but also impossibly naïve and inexperienced.
Audrey Hepburn portrays this character with an acting style that combines her usual openness and relaxedness in front of the camera with a distinct closeness that seems to come from a sadness and maybe even a depression inside. Her Holly is a very impulsive woman who doesn’t plan ahead, probably doesn’t want to plan ahead even though she has decisive goals about her own life. She is a woman with a serious cause, a hope to be able to take care of her brother but even though she is a woman who gets paid for going to the bathroom (the movie doesn’t make it clear if that’s a polite way to say that she sells herself), money just as easily slips through her fingers again. She is a young girl who doesn’t know how to handle life so she chose a way of life where she doesn’t have to. Just as much as she pretends her naivety and non-caring to everyone else, she also pretends it to herself. Holly seems like a perfectly chaotic but at the same time irresistible young girl but the longer one knows here, the clearer it becomes that the phone in her suitcase or her confused look in the morning before she realises that she is still wearing her earplugs are mostly a façade that has taken over Holly’s life in such a strong way that she herself has begun to believe it. Audrey Hepburn does all this in a performance that combines humour with pathos and drama and that is allowing her to constantly parody her own image. Scenes of Holly trying to charm everyone with a noticeable artificiality turn her own image upside down. While Audrey Hepburn has mostly used her own personality in her career to create characters that immediately captivate the viewer and never let them go again, she used her charm this time to both captivate and repel the audience. Her Holly is the kind of woman who fascinates everyone she meets at first sight. Her chirpy voice, her unusual personality, the way she walks through live without ever really noticing it combined with her winning smile, her charming naivety and her lovely looks result in a woman who naturally receives the utmost attention of everyone she meets. She’s the kind of woman everyone wants to be close to, she has the ability to make a person feel special if she notices him or her, she is a ray of light that can shine on everybody around her. Audrey Hepburn wonderfully displays this effect on Paul, the way she is interested in his writing, goes with him to a library or simply spends some time with him show how much she is able to capture another person. But this time, Audrey Hepburn showed the limits of these attributes if they come connected to a woman who refuses to let anybody come too close and rejects and truth. Because as quickly as Holly can fascinate someone, she also loses this fascination. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn miraculously takes all her strengths and turns them into weaknesses. Holly is the kind of girl who becomes annoying very easily, who isn’t able to really hold anyone close to her. When her Brazilian millionaire leaves her at the end, it may be because of her behaviour but it could just as easily be because Holly simply loses that ray of light after a while. Even Paul, whose thoughts might be blinded by his love for her, sees beyond the light and discovers the shadows that actually define Holly’s character, her unpleasantness, her (as Addison DeWitt would say) inability to love or be loved. Holly fascinates with superficiality but she disappoints with reality. All the characters in Breakfast at Tiffany’s are fake in one way or the other (no, this is not referring to Mickey Rooney…) and Holly is a woman who has so adjusted herself to her live in an aura of self-chosen naivety and denial that she only seems real when she is fake and seems fake when she is real. Whenever Holly tries to show a bigger truth behind her masque, she becomes much more artificial than usual. Only in some small, unnoticed moments does she really let herself go. It’s a magical moment when Audrey Hepburn sits alone in her window and sings ‘Moon River’. Her unrefined, simple singing voice may not be very special but seldom has so much feeling been put into one song. Audrey Hepburn uses various different nuances in her voice and certain mannerisms to bring all the shades in Holly to live and it is thanks to her magnificent acting in the final scenes that the ‘Hollywood-ending’ of Breakfast at Tiffany’s works. The sudden change of Holly’s character could have been too rushed to be believable but Audrey Hepburn’s silent stares, her hurt pride which slowly turns into a wonderful act of self-realization is a wonder in wordless acting and it’s in this moment Audrey Hepburn suddenly lets Holly drop everything that defined her so far and shows that, for now, there is nothing fake about her anymore. Holly was an impossible character so far and it should be highly doubtful that she will stay with Paul but at this moment, Audrey Hepburn again creates this image of an elfin-like, charming and, most of all, honest character that the whole ending is just incredibly uplifting and heart-warming despite feeling so rushed and manipulative. Who is Holly Golightly? The question receives no answer but there is a feeling that Paul will find out someday – and Holly herself.
It’s a true movie star performance that Audrey Hepburn beautifully turned into a character study and for this she gets
According to various sources, Sophia Loren had an impressive share of success in Hollywood during the 1950s, but soon she became more and more frustrated about the parts she was offered. So, to prove to herself and the world the seriousness of her dedication to her craft and her refusal to be mainly recognized for her sex-appeal, she went back to Italy where she starred in the neo-realistic movie La Ciociara as Cesira, a woman who flees from Rome with her young daughter Rosetta during World War II and suffers from air raids and rape in the Italian countryside. When La Ciociara opened in American cinemas, critics responded very positive to her change of image and Sophia Loren’s plan to prove herself as a talented actress worked out perfectly when she began to collect various international awards for her performance – from Cannes, New York and also from Hollywood where she became the first person to receive an Oscar for a performance in a non-English-speaking role. Mission accomplished!
Going back to Italy was probably the smartest thing Sophia Loren could have done at this point in her career – because La Ciociara makes one thing perfectly clear: how relaxed and comfortable Sophia Loren is in her own language, in her own country, with co-stars and a crew from her own background. More than that, she obviously has an enormous talent for bringing women like Cesira to live – ordinary women from her home, strong and proud, true fighters who won’t have their fate decided by somebody else. It’s obvious in every frame of La Ciociara that Sophia Loren felt a very strong connection to her character and that her ‘home field advantage’ helped her to give a very natural and stupendous performance.
In some ways, this performance is surprisingly full of stereotypes. But it becomes clear right away that they aren’t ugly or untrue but rather become a collection of cultural behaviour and Italian mannerisms. Her temperamental outbursts, her way of shaking her fist in front of everybody’s face, the way she claps her hands together, it’s all just so magnificently…Italian. Her Cesira is a very authentic and earthy creation and not once does Sophia Loren’s extraordinary beauty distract from the seriousness of her performance as a determined and protective mother and widow. Despite her unique appearance, Sophia Loren achieves the remarkable goal of turning Cesira into an average ‘every-woman’ who is neither very special nor very extraordinary but who turns into a symbol of womanhood and motherhood in Italy during World War II and presented all the strength and pride of these women and their ability to adjust themselves to difficult times. This way, Sophia Loren’s performance is both a private story of personal experiences but also stands for so many similar stories that remain untold.
The high level of ‘Italian-ness’ in her performance guarantee a lot of very loud and emotional moments and Sophia Loren never holds anything back in expressing every feeling inside of her and carrying it on her face but there are also many small moments that could easily be overlooked or forgotten but with these little details she brings everything in her work to a full circle and achieves the goal of creating a fully-realized character with all sorts of edges and flaws and strength and courage. The way she walks through a kitchen and puts food in her bag, eats ice from a window or drinks wine from a plate is not only wonderful to watch in its simplicity but also helps to show everything that Sophia Loren wants to express – it gives her character a very natural and realistic basis that makes her instantly recognizable but also demonstrates how completely she inhabits this typically Italian, out-spoken, temperamental, emotional and fierce woman with a big heart, a strong will to survive and a strong dedication to her daughter whom she wants to protect from the terror of war.
This complete dedication of a mother to her daughter’s well-being is also the most critical point of the story and also Sophia Loren’s biggest success. This kind of strong determination that completely dominates the character might have easily resulted in either an overly sentimental or too two-dimensional character but Sophia Loren avoided all these aspects thanks to the realism of both her performance and the movie and her dominant, no-nonsense but still loving characterization that always reflects to the various situation that Cesira and her daughter find themselves in. From the first moments on-screen, Sophia Loren portrays this strong bond between Cesira and her daughter but her strong screen-presence avoids that this storyline dominates her performance and Sophia Loren’s loud and strong, but equally subtle performance becomes almost naturally the centre of attention and makes it appear that she influences the action instead of the other way around. The quiet moments between these two women, mostly underlined by unnecessary but still effective background music, create a very stark contrast to Sophia Loren’s emotional outbursts but they all blend perfectly together and she creates Cesira as a flowing character who goes through quiet and slow, loud and fast moments but never changes its substance.
Sophia Loren also never becomes too ‘dramatic’ despite all the suffering and tragedies she goes through. Cesira’s determination and strength keeps her from wallowing in her own pain but lets her solely focus on the effects these events have on her daughter, as hard as they may be to accept for herself. Besides that, Sophia Loren also finds various other traits in Cesira – her talk with some elderly women about Mussolini’s sex life, which she explains to her daughter with a giggling “We’re talking about politics” is a very amusing moment. And even though she was able to create Cesira as an ordinary woman for who looks don’t seem to matter, she still understands the physical attraction of herself and the character but never uses it to gain any advantage. Instead, her romantic chemistry with Jean-Paul Belmondo shows a woman who refuses to be seen as an object which becomes just as clear in a scene in a train when she reacts disgusted to a man who was starring at her breasts. At the same time, the danger of war doesn’t prevent Cesira from admiring the physical features of a Russian deserter. Ultimately, Sophia Loren plays Cesira as a woman who isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind or to demand a favour.
Sophia Loren also showed Cesira as a woman of complex intelligence. She seems neither overly smart but she is certainly not stupid either. She has a very practical will of survival and has adjusted herself to her situation but at the same time, she always tries to get something better for her daughter and herself. She leaves Rome in hope for a better life in the country but she cannot escape the terror of war and so she keeps on going, always hoping for a better tomorrow. At the same time, her temperamental character often gets her in unnecessary trouble, especially in connection to her daughter. When two men try to get closer to Rosetta she immediately pushes them away even though they are in a highly influential position. When she later hears a German officer talking about the children who will pay for their parent’s behaviour, she immediately attacks him to ask angrily what the children have to do with all of this. Cesira surely isn’t a political woman – she gives food to some Allied soldiers, even though reluctantly, but not because she truly believes in them but only because she hopes that the war will be over sooner because of them. She obviously prefers the Allies to the Germans but she also doesn’t care about the war or Mussolini, she only wants it to end. And for her own protection, she carries a knife in her bag – and Cesira is the kind of woman who doesn’t care against whom she would use it.
Sophia Loren creates some very beautiful and fascinating images during the first three quarters of La Ciociara and uses the script mostly to establish her own character. Her strong screen-presence and the creation of Cesira help to overlook the fact that, in some moments, the script is actually asking very little of her. But all these early scenes help to lay the foundation for the horror and pain that dominate the last 20 minutes of the movie and give Sophia Loren the possibility to use all the aspects of her performance so far and bring them together in various haunting and devastating scenes. The convulsing scenes in the church are disturbing to watch and Sophia Loren shows how Cesira is overwhelmed by her fear and panic in these moments – fear for herself, but even more for her daughter. The realization that she isn’t able to protect Rosetta in these moments is disturbing and heartbreaking and creates a powerful mix of grief and helplessness. In the next scenes, Sophia Loren’s sorrow, her grief, her pain and her humiliation are portrayed in just a few seconds before she again focuses all these feelings towards her daughter. In these moments, it becomes clear how much Cesira blames herself and how unable she is to cope with these feelings as she constantly tries to make her daughter forget what happened and go on. But it’s surely her scene when she stops a car with American GIs and yells her anger at them that stands out as Sophia Loren’s most powerful moment – an outstanding, moving and harrowing scene that is unforgettable in its tragedy and realism.
There was surely no doubt in Sophia Loren’s mind that this is her movie, that she is its centre and that she symbolizes motherhood in its most protective and pure, even though her strength is tested by her environment. In the hands of Sophia Loren, Cesira became a very straight-forward character without any surprises or secrets, she isn’t a deep fountain of untouched emotions but this way she became one of the most realistic characters in this category – a woman who is trying to protect her daughter and escape the terror of war. Cesira doesn’t seem like a character that was invented for a story but instead, she is always the driving force, a woman who doesn’t begin or end with the movie but who appears to exist even before and after. Because of that, Sophia Loren created a character that is both simple and complex and she thankfully always kept its directness, she seemed to get lost in the feelings of Cesira and gave a performance that is neither studied nor overly spontaneous but rather a thought-out collection of emotional and intuitive gestures. If the first three quarters of her performance and the movie had been on the same level as her last scenes, it would have been perfect but so she still gets a strong
Barbara Stanwyck provides some unforgettable moments and is able deliver a moving and emotionally engaging portrayal but unfortunately it is mixed with too many moments of uncomfortable over-the-top acting that almost ruin the entire experience but at the same time, she deserves some credit for following the screenplay and showing the ugly and unlikable sides of her character.
It’s a performance that could have been a lot of things but unfortunately settled for only a little bit. Janet Gaynor does all the things she is asked to do but, despite a role that seems so juicy and challenging on paper, all this is actually rather undemanding and simple. The movie doesn’t ask much of her but she adds her own charm and grace to give a quite loveable performance.
Nothing in Irene Dunne's work feels forced, ever line is delivered in a rather casual way but still always includes a little irony, a little sarcasm or some hidden meaning. With the gifts of a real comedian, she plays her part in a way that never seems to try to be funny even thought her Lucy is very aware of her own behavior and her merry character. She jokes, she trades sarcastic bon-mots with her husband and recognizes even the slightest bit of humor in (almost) every situation.
In a part that was tailor-made for her, Greta Garbo didn’t need to stretch herself as an actress and she solely concentrated on the dramatic effects of her work but at the same time, these dramatic effects are so wonderful to watch and so easy to admire. She created something flawless here even if it’s not. Marguerite Gauthier isn’t her greatest performance but everything that made her such a legend is on full display.
Overall, the whole performance could have been a complete disaster – the obvious miscasting of European actors and the nature of the part might have ended in a boring, inappropriate or at worst unbelievable performance but in the hands of Luise Rainer, O-lan becomes one of the great female characters in movie history. She often seems invisible because she is so withdrawn and always prefers to stay in the background but when her husband tells her that everything they have is owed to her, it becomes really clear how strong O-lan’s and Luise Rainer’s presence really is. An all-around stunning achievement.
Somewhere between her celebrated work in silent movies, her acclaimed transition to talkies and her well-known reclusiveness, Greta Garbo has made the step from actress to legend, from star to myth. Her name has become a synonym for timeless elegance, class, intelligence, culture and eternal grace. She was able to portray a seldom-known feeling of joie de vivre in front of the camera even though she was mostly cast in dramatic, suffering roles that asked her to anticipate an almost unknown level of happiness before everything would crush right in front of her eyes. Stars like Bette Davis praised her instincts for the camera and her face that seemed to haven been made for movies – like a mystic character out of an old saga she possessed the most distinctive features, a face so memorable like set in stone but soft and delicate, almost surreal in its reality. In her movies, she was a mature woman and a little girl at once, a character who seemed sublime and arrogant at the first look but turned out to be warm and gentle, spending too much time thinking of the needs of other people or the consequences of her doings. Her voice seems so deep but always turns out to be just a whisper, even though still strong, like her whole appearance that is so delicate but imperturbable at the same time. Yes, there is something magical and mystical about Greta Garbo and most critics and viewers in 1937 seemed to agree that she found the perfect vehicle to immortalize all her qualities forever in Camille.
With a New York Film Critics Award and critical praise under her belt, plus her legendary reputation as one of the greatest stars and actresses of her time, the Oscar win must have seemed like a sure thing but the audience at the Academy Awards gasped when Luise Rainer’s name was called for the second time in a row. Maybe it was Greta Garbo’s apparent indifference to the Oscars (but this didn’t stop Katharine Hepburn from winning an Oscar a few years earlier) or the fact that The Good Earth seemed to have had more supporters among Academy members than Camille – or maybe Oscar voters simply preferred Luise Rainer’s performance which shouldn’t be a surprise since it is one of the finest ever captured on the screen. In the end, it’s all pure speculation. Today, the question is if Greta Garbo’s celebrated performance can really live up to its legendary reputation. The answer: yes and no.
In her movies, there always seem to be two Greta Garbos: the star and the actress. For Greta Garbo, the star, this is the perfect vehicle. The character is tailor-made to highlight everything that is so admirable and captivating about her. Marguerite Gauthier is a well-known ‘Dame’ in the high society of Paris, a careless woman who enjoys life and spends far too much money. But once she falls in love with a young man, her life makes an unexpected, tragic turn and on top of that, a fatal illness is slowly taking her strength and her life…It’s a showy and dominating part in a movie that only exists to worship its leading lady and offers Greta Garbo the possibilities to demonstrate her ability to laugh and smile, enjoy life with her whole body and emotions, and to suffer and be in agony. These things always came surprisingly natural to her even though she very often still expressed them in a highly stylized way but this always worked very well in the context of the stylized movies she starred in – and Camille is no exception. Greta Garbo seems like a little sparrow, observing and delicate, but with the elegance of a swan and the glamour of a peacock (okay, not the most sophisticated comparison but somehow it fits).
Then there is Greta Garbo, the actress. There is no denying that Greta Garbo possessed natural instincts for the camera, how to move her head, her eyes, how to create an aura of sophistication and poise and how to use her talents to maximum effect. But at the same time, there is something…too obvious about Greta Garbo, especially in her dramatic work that never truly reaches her relaxed, hilarious and artistically much more exciting work in Ninotchka. The same things that are so fascinating about her as a personality sometimes seem to stand in her way as an actress. There is something very distinctive about all her performances. The way she moves her upper body, mostly to the back, the way she lets her head move to the side or throws it into her neck when she is laughing is very enthralling but unfortunately becomes repetitious too soon. There is never something truly deep about her work. Instead, Greta Garbo seems to be so concerned with creating an image of Greta Garbo that she seems to forget about Marguerite. Everything that happens in Camille seems to stay on the surface of her face. Greta Garbo doesn’t possess an inner fire or an inner strength, there seems to be rather something reflecting about her. Her face doesn’t seem to create this famous magical glow but rather projects the feelings and emotions directed at her. Greta Garbo knows how to pose but somehow she doesn’t get beyond the posing and actually craft a real character.
So, this may not be a character study but it’s a true movie star performance and while one can mourn the fact that Greta Garbo didn’t seem to truly grab the part in its fullest, there is still very much to admire and praise nonetheless. The character of Marguerite may have been a simple farm girl before she became a ‘Dame’ in Paris, but Camille begins right with the glamour and the fancy costumes – because nobody could do this better than Greta Garbo. Camille is not a movie that aims for realism. Blanche DuBois said she wants magic instead of reality – Camille would have been the perfect movie for her. It’s highly stylized and presents life not as it is but as the audience imagines it and it exists in its own universe of romance and tragedy. And Greta Garbo perfectly understood this. There are constant moments that a woman of her expressiveness could have played much more complex and interesting but instead she focused every bit of her talents to the style and rhythm of the story and used her acting precisely to express what she and director George Cukor wanted. It is only thanks to Greta Garbo’s wonderful combination of movie star qualities and talent that Camille could become such a classic. It’s basically cheap melodrama but thanks to her, it reaches a very high level nonetheless. Thanks to the beautiful art direction, the beautiful costumes and the beautiful people it creates an aura where an actress like Greta Garbo can exist and act without any barriers. Marguerite may be a woman from a small farm but Greta Garbo plays her almost like a Queen nonetheless because that’s what she is best at. Camille is the perfect movie for her because everyone and everything in it only seems to exist to let her shine – and make it easy for her to do so. There is no sense in denying the simple fact that Camille is Greta Garbo. The supporting players do well but there is one bright ray of light around Greta Garbo that leaves everyone else in half-darkness. Robert Taylor gives a competent performance and has the handsome face to create a believable aura of romance but he is stuck with a character that constantly drags every bit of life and energy out of the story. Armand is the kind of man who makes a hard face and flat lips whenever his girlfriend laughs and says bitterly ‘Are you laughing at me?’ or who suspects betrayal and affairs behind every act or word. That way, the passionate love between the two seems too unexplainable and not even Greta Garbo’s talent for soft romance and playing a victim of uncalled jealousy can change that. But strangely, it doesn’t really matter because even the love story of Camille feels more like a one-woman-show – everything that happens in Camille only seems to exist in relation to Greta Garbo and her performance.
In this aspect, Camille easily succeeds. There is something dreamlike about Greta Garbo and like few other actresses, she is able to grab the audience’s attention in a quick and complete way. She portrays a very believable devil-may-care attitude and especially her beginning scenes in the theatre reflect a wonderful sense of enjoyment, of a fun-loving little girl who appears like an alter ego of Greta Garbo in these moments – both women know how to use their smile, their eyes, their mouth, their carefully constructed personality. There is nothing truly original about her performance. Camille couldn’t have been announced with a slogan like ‘Garbo talks’ or ‘Garbo laughs’ because she isn’t doing anything new here. Her whole performance is essential ‘Greta Garbo’ – the way she acts surprise, embarrassment, laughter, the way she moves her head or makes a pout. She’s been there and done that but there is still something that makes it seem much more special in Camille. It’s a performance that could be describes as ‘standard’ but Greta Garbo is still so otherworldly that ‘standard’ is more than enough. And it’s still commendable that Greta Garbo obviously knows exactly what she is doing and, more important, what she can do. She never leaves her comfort zone but since the character is perfectly tailored to her abilities as an actress and her personality as a star, she doesn’t need to. Sure, there could have been other ways of playing Marguerite, there could have been other actresses who might easily have created a deeper and more complex woman but Greta Garbo and Camille exist in a world of glamour, of drama and of pure movie style storytelling that doesn’t need or want too much complexity. Greta Garbo doesn’t aim for the top but settles for less – but she does that admirably.
Greta Garbo’s strong presence that is so natural and artificial at the same time also helps to cover the fact that, basically, Marguerite Gauthier isn’t really a challenging part. She laughs, she cries, she suffers but she does it all very straightforward, without any rough edges and ultimately acts very ‘scene by scene’ without every creating something ‘whole’. But still, all these single moments are of incredible beauty and poise. There are some wonderful moments when Greta Garbo, who seems so transcendent all the time, becomes suddenly very earthy. A visits to the countryside with Armand gives Marguerite the opportunity to question the maid about milk and the cows – it’s a wonderfully human and even amusing moment that connects Marguerite for a few moments with the past that was never shown.
Unfortunately, Greta Garbo too often lets this ‘acting by scenes’ change her character and she continuously jumps between a mature and deciding character who takes charge in the relationship to Armand and the helplessness of a little girl who retreats frightfully whenever she might have upset him. Generally, Greta Garbo’s face seems like an open book but unfortunately, she very often retreats into this mask-like hiding place whenever a moment becomes too dramatic or demanding. There is something very tense about the scene when she asks her older partner for money even though the relationship is basically over but her face appears too empty to make it truly captivating. On the other hand, Greta Garbo deserves a large amount of praise for her noble suffering. She doesn’t play the sympathy card but everything she does, she does with dignity. When she wants to meet Armand late at night but is interrupted by her partner, she doesn’t show the pain of unfulfilled love but a rather cold and unforgiving face that seems to suggest a grand schemer. But overall, Greta Garbo’s performance mostly concentrates on the emotional side of her character and she doesn’t portray Marguerite as a thinker but as a spontaneous, emotional woman. That way, she plays a very real character but does it in an almost surreal way due to her light and flighty acting style. She is a magician who creates illusions, she is a ballerina who expresses real emotions in a very stylized way.
But even though her performance may sometimes be unsatisfying from an acting point of view, Greta Garbo saves the best for last in her famous and celebrated final scene which certainly lives up to its reputation. She portrays a wonderful amount of emotions from disappointment, fear and weakness to a girlish excitement and happiness. Her weak smile, her whisper of the word ‘Yes’ when Armand makes plans of their future, her final moments before she leaves him forever are as subtle as they are attention-seeking. Only Greta Garbo could have been so alive and so ghost-like at once.
Yes, Camille is a true showcase for Greta Garbo – but only in limits. Greta Garbo, the star, has never been better used. Greta Garbo, the actress, also delivers on a very high level but the feeling remains that there was still room for more. Greta Garbo didn’t need to stretch herself as an actress in this part and she solely concentrated on the dramatic effects of her appearence but at the same time, these dramatic effects are so wonderful to watch and so easy to admire. She created something flawless here even if it’s not. This isn’t her greatest performance but everything that made her such a legend is on full display. It’s Greta Garbo’s in her fullest bloom and for this she gets