Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gone in 240 seconds

I was thinking about actors. Female actors, specifically, and why the famous ones from Europe are so much better than most of the famous ones from the U.S. Maybe, to begin with, in Europe they start as theater students; in the U.S. they start as models.

And really this is just an excuse to share one of my favorite scenes from the past ten years. It's Fanny Ardant as Mary of Guise, matching wits with Sir Francis Walsingham. The film is "Elizabeth." For those who have seen the movie, put all the ghoulish heads on sticks you want, and shoot them in a creepy cave. Ardant just sat in a chair and stole the entire movie in 4 minutes. (Geoffrey Rush practiced a bit of larceny himself.)

You tell me. Watch this


  1. True confession: I've never heard of her. But that just proves what an onion-eyed...wait, that was last week - Well, "Elizabeth" is about #10 on my Netflix list, if that extenuates me.

    WV - recut, which reminds me, going back to the clip, I was little distracted by all the stuff with knife.

  2. The nephew had a few moves of his own. But you're right, it's all her. Without one blink of the eye.

  3. I think the nephew might have been in "Queen Margot" ("La Reine Margot"), if not I know I've seen him around in movies.

    When it comes to movies built on subtle acting and smart dialog, I liked Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman in "The Interpreter."

  4. I'm going to disagree with you a bit. It's a generalization to say "the famous ones from the U.S." start as models. In fact, my friend, much of your first paragraph is a generalization.

    However, stereotypes are often based in truth, I'll give you that.

    Ms. Ardant was fine in the role, though for my tastes unmemorable. But I wouldn't judge her by that scene. She did more than just sit in a chair. As K pointed out, the knife stuff was distracting (did the director make her do it?). But they didn't give her much to work with.

    I loved the movie for many reasons, and one of them was Blanchett. Though the film was loaded with fine actors (Daniel Craig in a tiny role - I was so taken by him I was determined to remember him), I don't think the movie was stolen from Blanchett by a long shot.

    She isn't European, either. Though she did study theater, as many American actors do (even famous ones).

  5. She surely is NOT European. And she studied at NIDA (national institute of dramatic art) up along Anzac Parade, as did Geoffrey Rush and Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger, albeit separated by time.

    I fear that K is comparing apples (acting) and oranges (celebrity)- or the other way around if that offends the orange growers of your state.

  6. Hey Julie, don't get mad at K, get mad at Karin. I'm the one who likes the actresses from Europe.

    But discussion is always healthy.

    My wv is examoso, oh so.

  7. Karin, do you have to do a word verification on you own blog?

    Ooh. Mine is bilthsx. I'm likin' it.

    Julie, as an actor, I am not the least bit offended by your differentiation between acting and celebrity. Karin did say she was talking about "the famous ones." There are celebrities (from many countries) who are excellent actors, but I think we can agree one doesn't necessarily follow the other. In either direction.

  8. And to stir up the pot, or perhaps stir it down, I was not comparing the actors within this movie (tho I still say FA was the scene stealer), my thought was that FA, as a 50 year old woman (at the time of this movie, 60 years old now), is considered one of the top stars in France. And I don't know which top star we can pit against her in these states.

    (And yes P, my own site doesn't trust me. I have to wv.)

  9. Ah, a different issue entirely. We have actresses of her kaliber, but top stars? No. It's not because they aren't as good. It's because American film makers don't care to feature actresses over a certain age. That has nothing to do with talent, screen presence or sexuality.

  10. Same issue, damn it. Point of this post.

  11. Well, I think I'll take our superior US model training over the euros.

  12. It's all about how one rises to the top.

  13. My WV is "endisms."

    And what's a better endism than a comment about ones WV?

  14. I hate controversy. So no comment.
    Well, a little one. I didn't see the movie, but I will now. Gotta see the knife in context of the whole character.
    I was thinking about whose movies I'd always see - Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson (I even saw the HORRIBLE one Kate did about swapping houses at Christmas.) One of my faves - Sense & Sensibility, of course. And Juliette Binoche. And Zooey Deschanel.

  15. I've always loved French actresses as a rule. There is something so comfortably strong about them -- well into their 70s -- that is so often lacking in American actresses. It's the culture here, one that allows women to become sassy and strong -- but somewhat odd in old age (like Hepburn, or Redgrave) or with that embalmed plastic surgery artificiality of faux youth (too many to mention) but never retain the seductiveness and casual strength of youth. I always wondered why it was that we insisted our American actresses play matrons, or mentally unstable crones, or asexual, unemotional, plot-moving supportive roles as soon as they get past 40. French films have always celebrated women as vital, attractive, and interesting well into their later decades. I don't blame AMerican actresses -- they're just fitting in to get parts in a film culture here that is still slightly unevolved, in my opinion.

    I think things are starting to change here. I am NOT making an argument for judging women as sexual objects. But I do think it's weird that we allow men in film to stay vital and sexy and desirable and powerful no matter how old they get, but we often cast a French actress when we want the same sort of older woman in a role.

    I think actresses like Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslett and on the indie side Parker Posey and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Robin Wright Penn are great examples of how things are changing. Also, there is SO much ground-breaking, genre-busting work by older actresses in television. And, of course, I adore Helen Mirrin and Charlotte Rampling and Judy Dench. But wait, now I'm naming European actresses.

    Anyway, thanks for the cool clip, Karin. I love Fanny. I still can't believe she's 60 now.

  16. Firstly, I need to apologise to K. I was not referring to him but to KB. I just forgot that he headed ths list of comments.

    Sorry K ...

  17. This is an interesting post, KB. Taa ...

    I agree that the link between being an actor and being a celebrity is tenuous. I like to think of them as completely unlinked. An actor is someone in the limelight because their craft is acting. A celebrity is someone in the limelight for reasons other than their job, eg looks, loves, ability to drive a car or not. I think of movie stars as celebrities. An actor is an altogether different creature.

    I am treading on turf with which I am unfamiliar here but from this distance it appears to me that American film makers (and studios and distributors) should not be lumbered with all the blame. Could they just be responding to the buying habits of the American people? May I say that America comes across as a nation obsessed with youth and with staying young, no matter the price?

    Vanessa Redgrave is English and she was kookie when young. She can act the socks off people way younger, eg as the older Briony in Atonement and as a resident of an old people's home in a film about two years ago that I cannot find the title of. Just watch the red dance at the end ... reminiscent of her role as Isadora Duncan.

    I agree with the naming of Thomson (although her latest with Hoffman is a shocker), with Dench (especially Dench), with Mirren, with Rampling. But also add Scott-Thomas, Fricker, Winslet and Knightley. I think I have covered all the age groups. But they are all UK trained actors. I am sure the list is longer. In France there is Ardant, yes, but also Binoche, Deneuve, Tatou, Beart and Huppert.

    For American female actors I like to name Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Jodie Foster,Scarlet Johannsen, Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Frances McDormand, Julianne Moore and quite possibly the incomparable, the one-and-only, Meryl Streep. You will notice they are in alpha order - I used a wiki list.

    Quality is on both sides of the pond, one just has to know where to look for it.

  18. Comme dessert, que me suggereriez-vous pour effacer le goût du plat de resistance de ma bouche?

    Je n'y crois pas à ces conneries!

  19. I believe I would escort any of the ladies mentioned, well perhaps not Thompson or Winslet, at 50 or 60.
    Emma and Kate W.; ya gotta wait.
    Note, the knife was dull, as Ms. Ardant displayed late in the scene,
    in an absent-minded, encouraging manner.

    Something about...never mind.
    I have a story of when I was young...I should intrude no further.

  20. Now I get ya, Karin.

    Julie: Agreed.

    Note: it is possible to be beautiful and talented and young (Knightley) and even American (Johanssen). I don't know if either of those actors studied theatre.

  21. That was lively!

    Bandit, you made me laugh and laugh.

  22. Oh boy, lively is a nice way to put it. Be careful about starting anything controversial among the girls, KB!

  23. galpal and I watched Camille with Garbo this weekend. Is she the greatest ever? And check this year's Oscars, one American winner amid all the major categories....we can't even make movies anymore

  24. Julie - no problem. If I had had my wits about me I would have paraphrased "Moonstruck":

    What I don't know about French actresses is a lot.

  25. Replace Fanny Ardant with Dixie Carter and replace the knife with gum.


  26. Is it Candice Bergen that she looks like? I may have the wrong one. I need to go to the movies more, that's all there is to it.

  27. Can I talk about Geoffrey Rush? He steals every scene of every movie he is in. He's one of my favorites.

  28. I couldn't agree with you more. Nuance instead of over-acting. In addition, Kate Blancett was perfect in the lead role. But look who received the Oscar that year? Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. There was no comparison.