Sunday, January 14, 2007

GREAT PERFORMANCE FIRSTS (FOR ME) IN PRE-1995 FILMS (A-E)

Okay, too many heavy political posts lately from me. Despite the urgency of the situation, with Dick and W.—Dumb and Dumber—or really Selfishly Short-sighted and More Selfishly-shortsighted—getting ready to take on Iran through other peoples bodies and lives and sacrifices, I thought I’d relieve the darkness with a few posts of more of those personal lists that I hope others can riff on with their own versions.

I was about to throw out an old movie guide from ‘95, when my compulsive list-making side said let’s look through it for outstanding performances that were also “firsts,” including debuts—or at least the first time I encountered these actors—which the * indicates; all of course just a matter of my taste and experience:

Judy Holliday in ADAM’S RIB (1949)*
Uma Thurman in THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1989)* a sight to behold
Michael Caine in ALPHIE (1966)*
Bruno Ganz in THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977)* one of my all time favorite actors
Tim McIntire in AMERICAN HOT WAX (1978)* looked and sounded nothing like Alan Freed, who he was playing—the 1950s disc jockey most responsible for the naming and popularizing of “rock’n’roll”—yet he captured the man and the period perfectly
Julie Andrews and James Coburn in THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964)* both terrific in it and James Garner too, who I knew from TV Westerns, but this was his first real movie star performance for me (a terrific flick, as I remember it)
Kerry Fox in AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990)* stunning performance
Marilyn Monroe in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)* first time I saw her
Harvey Keitel in BAD LIUTENANT (1992) not his first but his bravest
Willy Nelson in BARBAROSA (1982)* and the best performance of Gary Busey’s, whose acting I’m usually not crazy about, though Willie still steals the show
Melvyn Douglas in BEING THERE (1979) not his first, his last and maybe best, his performance, for me, is what holds the film together and made me really notice him for the first time, after a lifetime of unconsciously appreciating him in tons of movies
Harold Russel in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)* an amateur, it only makes his performance as a vet who lost his hands more poignant
Martha Vickers in THE BIG SLEEP (1946)* the sexy doped-up little sister
Sidney Poitier in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955)* first time I saw him, and even in a supporting role his screen presence almost overwhelmed everyone else’s
Everyone in BLACK ORPHEUS (1959)*
Daryl Hanna, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, William Sanderson, Sean Young in BLADE RUNNER (1982)* first time I saw or noticed all of them, it’s Hanna’s bravest performance, Olmos’ oddest, Hauer’s and Young’s most poignant, and Sanderson almost steals the film as the “toymaker” like he almost stole DEADWOOD as the smarmy, twitchy mayor
Marlene Dietrich in the BLUE ANGEL (1930)* why she became an instant legend
Yaphet Kotto in BLUE COLLAR (1978)* everyone was great in this Paul Schrader movie that was the first flick I remember seeing that nailed working-class life and interracial reality, and Richard Pryor’s best dramatic role
William Bendix in THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946) first time I saw him play a heavy
Dean Stockwell in BLUE VELVET (1986) his bravest, first time I saw him really stretch
Mickey Rourke in Body Heat (1981)* downhill from here, as far as I’m concerned
Michael J. Pollard in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)*
Clint Eastwood in BRONCO BILLY (1980) first time I saw him make fun of his image
Joe Morton in BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (1984)* simply amazing
Everyone but Brando in BURN (1969)* one of Brando’s tour de forces as well
Everyone in CAREFUL, HE MIGHT HEAR YOU (1983)* another overlooked favorite
Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in CASABLANCA (1942)* the first time I saw them as a kid in my memory, though it came out the year I was born so must have seen it in a Saturday matinee revival or on the first neighborhood TV
Genevieve Bujold, Rae Dawn Chong, and John Larroquette in CHOOSE ME (1984)* also Keith Carradine’s best performance, for my taste
Alastair Sim in A CHRSITMAS CAROL (1951)* he will always be the only Scrooge for me
Phillipe Noiret in CINEMA PARADISO (1988)* the first time I noticed him
Penelope Milford in COMING HOME (1978)* I was sure she was a Jersey girl, or at least a working-class girl, but she was just a really fine actress
Everyone in THE COMMITMENTS (1991)* most were amateurs and never acted again!
Dominique Sanda in THE CONFORMIST (1971)*
(Everyone in Shirley Clark’s COOL WORLD (1960?) This is in parenthesis, because it wasn’t in the guide, since it never came out on tape or dvd, so far, but I couldn’t leave it out since it has been one of my top ten films, top five, top three! from when it first came out, adapted from a novel by Warren Miller, Clark—a woman, which was almost unheard of back then—in this film about a Harlem gang of black kids in their early teens, acted by mostly amateurs—with Clarence Williams Jr. in his first film role as their tragic leader—almost single-handedly creates a viable artistic alternative to not only Hollywood films but the French “New Wave” and the precious but self-involved avant-garde films of the time, shot with handheld cameras in natural light, even at night, and in black and white, it is visually one of the most stunning films ever made, and musically as well with a soundtrack by Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz greats)
My voice in Ralph Bakshi’s COOL WORLD (1992)* As “Sparks” the cartoon jazz-scatting white haired hipster boyfriend of Kim Bassinger’s cartoon character “Holly Wood”—first, and so far only, time I voiced a cartoon
Jaye Davidson, Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Forest Whitaker in THE CRYING GAME (1992)* all terrific
Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin in DAVID AND LISA (1962)* hauntingly realistic performances in what was one of the first truly “independent” “hits”
The Dead End Kids in DEAD END (1937)* their first and best—also first film I saw with Bogart in one of his pre-Casablanca, bad-guy, supporting roles
Madonna in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (1985)* as far as film acting goes, all downhill from here
Walter Huston in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941)* first movie I saw the father of John and grandfather of Angelica in—his best comic performance, as the devil
Jean Harlow in DINNER AT EIGHT (1933)* first flick I saw Harlow in and thanks to Marie Dressler it’s the best comic performances for both.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) first lovemaking scene I ever saw that really captures the exhilaration and pure joy of it
Phoebe Cates in DROP DEAD FRED (1991)* she’s wonderful in this
Peter Sellers in DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) first time I got Seller’s genius, and I saw it while confined to an Air Force Strategic Air Command base, like the one in the film, because I had my pass taken away as punishment for some petty rebellion I no longer remember
Lili Taylor in DOGFIGHT (1991)* first movie I ever saw that captured the early 1960s accurately, and her talent was already obvious
Almost everyone in DRUGSTORE COWBOY (1989) I knew Matt Dillon and James Remar from previous films, though this is one of Dillon’s best, but it was the first time I saw or noticed all the rest who were terrific, especially Kelly Lynch
The Marx brothers in DUCK SOUP (1933) the first time I got their humor
John Cassavetes in EDGE OF THE CITY (1957)* and another memorable Poitier performance
Everyone in EL NORTE (1983)*
Everyone in ERASERHEAD (1978)*
Roberts Blossom and Jack Thibeau in ESCAPE FROM ALACATRAZ (1979)* two poets acting—and well—in a film, for their day job, reaffirmed my own recent decision, at the time, to do the same (I hadn’t yet heard of Harry E. Northup)

Okay, I’ll stop—for now.

6 comments:

-K- said...

Just to go out on a limb, I'll say all the performances, all the everything of "The Misfits."

Its not just because its the very last performance of Monroe, Gable and Clift (altho that's certainly a part of it) but the script (Arthur Miller), the film score (Alex North), the direction (John Houston) and the whole thing coming together very realistically in, all of all places, Reno, Nevada in the late Fifties.

I'd also like to put in a quick appreciation for "Book TV" which plays every weekend on CSPAN. A camera gets turned on and a writer talks at length about his non-fiction book. It's tremendous.

Lally said...

I didn't get to the "M"s yet, but I dug all the things about The Misfits you mention, without really ever quite totally digging it either. Maybe time for me to check it out again.

Tom said...

Interesting list: but to fix on one instance -- do you know why Shirley Clarke's work (most of it) is unavailable on DVD or VHS? "The Connection" is on tape and there's a DVD of "Portrait of Jason" in the UK from http://www.secondrundvd.com/release_poj.php
but nothing else (including Agnes Varda's "Lions Love" with Clarke in the cast.

Lally said...

I don't know. I always assumed either she didn't want it released that way, she was pretty adamant about doing things her way, or that no one wanted to distribute it. I saw it three times after the initial release: once when ralph bakshi and I first met and discovered it was each of ours favorites flick so he somehow arranged a private showing for the two of us in a screening room on the Paramount lot, my first such experience and a total kick, then on a video machine in a room at the UCLA film library, and lastly when it was re-released to a few art houses in the 1980s, at which Clarke sometimes appeared to answer questions, but not the one I went to so I never got the chance to ask. Does anyone else out there know?

RJ Eskow said...

Judy Holliday! Brilliant, underrated talent - comedienne, actress - and songwriter.

She was also hounded mercilessly for her leftist politics, if I recall correctly.

As for Shirley Clarke, it would be tremendous to be able to view some of her work again. Let us know if you find anything. (I may try to track down that tape of "The Connection.")

You have a unique talent for listmaking, Mr. L. I'd love to see your shopping list.

Lally said...

RJ no word on Clarke yet, but thanks for your posts on Alice Coltrane/Brecker passings and on Iran. I'm still mourning the loss of Eric Dolphy in 1964.