My current Top 5

My current Top 5

8/26/2010

Best Actress 1985: Geraldine Page in "The Trip to Bountiful"

In 1960, Geraldine Page was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth but lost the award to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker (in fact, this Broadway legend never won a Tony Award). Two years later, Geraldine Page recreated the part for the film version and was nominated for an Academy Award – but lost to Anne Bancroft who also recreated her role in The Miracle Worker. 30 years later, Geraldine Page took the lead role in the Broadway production of Agnes of God but when this story was turned into a movie, the part went to – Anne Bancroft. At the 1985 Academy Awards, both women again faced each other but this time Geraldine Page’s name was finally called.

The five nominees in 1985 were certainly an interesting mix. Both Jessica Lange and Anne Bancroft already had an Oscar at home, Meryl Streep even two. The only nominees without a little golden guy were Whoopi Goldberg and Geraldine Page – two actresses from complete different ends of the career spectrum. Whoopi Goldberg gave only her second screen performance and received her first nomination while Geraldine Page was an acclaimed, famous and award-winning actress nominated for the eight time. So, when F. Murray Abraham announced that the winner was the women whom he considers to be the greatest actress in the English language, it couldn’t have been a surprise to anyone to whom he referred.
The fact that this was Geraldine Page’s eight nomination and her movie had basically disappeared after the awards again made it easy to accuse the Academy of ‘sentiment’ and refer to her win as a ‘career award’. But thanks to the Internet and DVDs, The Trip to Bountiful has found its way back to the public eye to prove that, even though Geraldine Page was certainly overdue for an Oscar in 1985, her performance is an outstanding achievement all on its own.

In The Trip to Bountiful, Geraldine Page played Carrie Watts, an elderly woman who lives with her son and her shrill, uncaring daughter-in-law in a little apartment and dreams of returning to her childhood-home. But this wish is not a priority for her son and his wife – he is struggling to get through the rough economic times and wonders if he should ask his boss for a raise while his wife is mostly concerned with going to the movies or drinking a Coke. The movie shows right from the beginning that Carrie Watts is living in a typical situation that so many elderly people know – living with your relatives, but being more a burden than anything else, not taken seriously. Her son is not ill-willed when he denies his mother her wish to go back, but this is simply something that he hasn’t the time nor means to do. And since she is living with them, she has to live according to their own rules.

The rule that Carrie Watts most likes to break is that of her daughter-in-law that she shouldn’t sing any hymns – Carrie is constantly singing or humming some melody while she runs around in the little apartment (even though running is another thing her daughter-in-law forbids). Geraldine Page works wonderfully to bring all the different aspects of the story together right in the first scenes – her desperation to return once to her childhood home, her misery about her life, her constant fights with her daughter-in-law but she also makes sure that she doesn’t portray Carrie is a poor victim of circumstances – she shows that it’s certainly not easy to live with this old, stubborn and hymn-singing woman around the house who, like so many old people, constantly dreams and talks about the past and the better days while the younger people have to concentrate on the present and the future.

The Trip to Bountiful has one of the most wonderful openings ever – not because of any special visual sights but because of Cynthia Clawson’s hunting rendition of “Softly and Tenderly” in which she repeatedly sings the words “Come home”. This is not to be meant literally – she refers to the sinners who should come home to Jesus and even though religion is not a theme of the story, it still describes the journey of Carrie Watts very well. For her, it’s also not just a trip home – it’s a journey to the past, in a better life that only exists in her memory, a time that seems pure and innocent and when she still had everything ahead of her. In this part, Geraldine Page becomes a symbol for lost hopes and dreams, for regrets and happiness, for the questions of life, if we made the right or the wrong choices and how could things have been otherwise. Carrie Watts has the easy to understand wish to return once to her childhood home but she also escapes reality into a world that is long gone. It’s a feeling that everyone, young or old, can understand, a longing for happiness that doesn’t exist, a mind game made of ‘If’ and ‘Maybe’, a theoretical question that will never be answered but everyone likes to pose to themselves anyway.

This universal and touching theme combined with Geraldine Page’s incredibly moving and effective performance in which she leaves all her tics and mannerism behind her that so often end in very memorable but too actorly performances and instead displays a variety of simple and, most of all, honest emotions results in an unforgettable and hunting story that should touch even the most cynical heart. In this role, Geraldine Page creates a woman that seems both delicate and strong like a tiger, dedicated and impulsive. It’s maybe a simple story but Geraldine Page creates a very human and layered character who never asks the audience to love her and instead simply invites us to accompany her on her journey – Carrie Watts knows what she expects from it but she leaves it to the audience to find out for themselves.

Geraldine Page works wonderfully to create a character who carries her heart on her tongue and successfully establishes her as a woman worthy of all the sympathy that the script asks us to give her. It’s a magical and incredibly moving performances and the eyes of the viewer are just as wet as those of the main character. Her expressive and experienced face shows the excitement but also the expectations of Carrie Watts right from the first moments on the bus.

Considering that this woman is up to return to the home of her childhood, it could be very easy to lose interest in the story because so many questions seem so come up – who is Carrie Watts anyway? Why should we follow her? But Geraldine Page’s performance during the journey in which she opens the character up to another traveler who is the receiver of all the information the audience wants is among the most heartbreaking work she has ever done. Memories of misery and happiness, of sorrow and denial come up, things that Carrie Watts has kept inside of her for all these years but now that she comes back, she is overwhelmed by the power of her memories. In a performance where Geraldine Page spends most of her time sitting, it’s only her facial work that tells the story, past and present. And Geraldine Page is so subtle in her emotions and keeps the simplicity of Carrie Watts always afloat while never forgetting to suggest all the things that she was and could have been. Just like Carrie Watt’s life is full of ‘What would happened if’ and ‘Why didn’t I do’, her whole character is also made of ‘If’ and ‘Maybe’ – and Geraldine Page accomplishes all this with a performance that creates such a real and believable woman in the most hunting and moving way but thanks to her strong screen presence and ability to always find a greater truth behind the surface, she completely transforms herself to create an unforgettable character, an epic symbol of a simple desire.

It’s a performance that touches so many emotions and feelings that one is almost left with a feeling of emptiness – all the tears seem to have been cried, all the laughter been laughed. Especially the scenes at the bus station almost break your heart when Carrie Watts seemed to have lost the battle, only a few miles away from home but her astonished relief and sad smile when she is given the possibility to go turn everything around again. If Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda achieved to create the illusion of having spent a lifetime together in On Golden Pond, Geraldine Page did the same thing with a piece of land and an old, abandoned house. It’s an almost intimate moment when she walks around through these rooms and breathes the air, full of memories. In these wordless scenes, Geraldine Page tells the whole story of Carrie Watts’s life without telling anything at all – she leaves everything up in the air, a past of possibilities. And it’s in these moments when she shows how this trip has changed her life, no matter how many years are still to come. Seeing the abandoned town of Bountiful has given her peace and allows her to let the past rest – the desire is gone, the past is over and seeing the old houses, she realizes that it also will never return. This visit has satisfied her for now and for the future. Everything seems to look much different now, even her relationship to her daughter-in-law.

Like few others this performance is able to move the viewer with things that are never seen – it’s only an elderly woman and her dreams of the past, there are no heartbreaking images except the ones that Geraldine Page displays on her face. She has only herself to carry the story and create these images and she succeeded completely without ever making everything too corny or exaggerated. In her performance, she perfectly balanced her own experiences as an actress and the experiences of Carrie Watts to heartbreaking results for which she gets

7 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

Oh absolutely agree...I'm glad she's been one of the few who received a 5 from you.

Louis Morgan said...

She probably will be your choice. It is a shame that performances like her's, and Art Carney's are hated merely because of who they defeated.

joe burns said...

She'll probably win,,,,, I'd say that she would be a five from me too. Can you do Anne next?

Fritz said...

Yeah, I can review Anne next.

I hope the little review was worth the wait. I don't know when I will write about Anne yet...

dinasztie said...

This performance is so heartreaking. Like Art Carney's. Her happy face when her bus leaves made my sob very hard (just like Whoopi's letter scene). Damn it, I hate when to such brilliant performances are in competition and there are years when Sally Field is the best with her Places in the Heart performance. But I think Geraldine gets my vote simply because I give another win to Whoopi and this is the only time when I think that Geraldine totally deserves it.

The Eye said...

One of the most well deseved wins in Oscar history and in my top 3 performances of all time.

Fritz said...

I'm glad you like her so much!