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    Vanessa's Matter-of-Fact Dedication

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Vanessa Redgrave, who marks the milestone birthday of 80 today, was mildly matter-of-fact in her 1994 autobiography about how she secured the role that would win her an Academy Award®. She was making her Broadway debut in the spring 1976 production of Henrik Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea. “One night as I came into the Circle in the Square to get ready for the performance, Pam, one of the usherettes, who used to baby-sit for [Redgrave’s son] Carlo on her night off, gave me a book. ‘You must read this – it should be made into a film and you should play Julia.’ That night when I got home I read Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento from start to finish….Next day at the theatre I found a message from Fred Zinnemann. I telephoned his office the following morning and heard that he was casting for the film Julia (1977), with Jane Fonda, and wanted to meet me. Zinnemann was kind, but he was also extremely cautious. I decided to take the bull by the horns and told him I wanted to play the part of Julia. He gave me the script to take away and read. Julia’s role was very small, but that did nothing to affect my desire to play her. I rang my agent and told him that he should accept their first offer without argument….Not long before she died, Lillian also told me that her own part in the story was true, and I believed her. I did not meet her until 1984, but after I had done the film she revealed that she had insisted on my being cast as Julia. ‘You’re so like the lady in question, it’s uncanny.’” The director was also straightforward and prosaic in his 1992 Fred Zinnemann – An Autobiography: A Life in the Movies: “Logically, this part should have been played by an American actress, but movies have very little to do with logic (except for bookkeeping, of course). The person who seemed to combine all the essential qualities of style, breeding and an almost mystic dedication – Vanessa Redgrave – is English. Having worked with her 10 years earlier, when she played Anne Boleyn in A Man for All Seasons, I knew her well. Because of her politics there was strong opposition at the studio to casting her, but she was undoubtedly the right actress for the part and she kept her personal convictions pretty much to herself until a memorable moment at the Academy when, being warmly applauded upon receiving her Oscar®, she made a political speech. In 30 seconds the temperature dropped to ice while she, smiling happily, descended the steps, gave me a big kiss and sat down.” In between the images these two reminiscences conjure came the work itself, in which Fonda played Lillian, the writer-in-the-making who must battle her own doubts and fears about her talent, and Redgrave embodied Julia, a lifelong friend who would draw her into purposeful pre-World War II anti-Nazi activism by her selfless, life-endangering example. In Saturday Review, Arthur Schlesinger would proclaim: “What a marvelous pair these two are! They play off each other wonderfully, Redgrave with her exquisite and steely passion, Fonda with her tremulous self-doubt and involuntary commitment. Each performance is a triumph of professional skill and personal spirit.” And within the work came “the scene” which crystallized its effect on audiences. As Danny Peary describes it in Guide for the Film Fanatic: “Their final meeting is heart-wrenching. You see the love these women have for each other, how being politically committed has ravaged Julia’s beauty (she has lost a leg), and – I believe this is the most interesting point of the film, because it breaks with movie stereotyping – that being a leftist has not deprived Julia of her warmth, her humility, and her concern for people like Lillian who are not as politically dedicated as she is. Julia, communist or humanist, is a person with tolerance, heart, anger at the evils in the world; with thoughts about the entire world but also genuine interest in Lillian’s private life, her writing, her happiness.” Now, more reflective and more restricted in activity after surviving a near-fatal heart attack in April 2015 and being diagnosed with emphysema, Redgrave nonetheless continues working on stage (last summer’s London production of Richard III with Ralph Fiennes) and screen (narrating Call the Midwife, whose sixth season premiered in Britain this past week and will arrive here on PBS later this year, and appearing in the upcoming The Secret Scripture and three more 2017 projects in the pipeline). For those who have valued her passions and performances across the past eight decades, there’s nothing matter-of-fact about her. While watching the astonishing work on view in three-time Oscar® winner Julia on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, be sure to access co-star Fonda’s Audio Commentary to learn what she values in her dear friend Vanessa.

    Chilly Scenes of Winter and the Comedy of Sentimental Pessimism ~ Part 2 of 3: John Heard's Heroic Nature and the Movie's True Identity

    Note: This essay features excerpts from Daniel Kremer’s forthcoming book Joan Micklin Silver: From Hester Street to Hollywood.It is difficult to imagine the role of Charles in the hands of the role’s other early contenders, as John Heard is so quintessentially forlorn as our heroic schlemeil. United Artists initially suggested Robin Williams, Treat Williams, John Ritter, Richard Dreyfuss and [...]

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    The Road Between I Do and I Don't

    When it first opened nearly 50 years ago, Two for the Road (1967) felt quite fresh and seemed to travel the cinematic road less taken. Polish and professionalism prevailed courtesy of director Stanley Donen (who made his name in blissful Hollywood musicals but had branched off into the areas of stylish adventures like Charade and Arabesque and smart romantic comedies [...]

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    Black Comedy Mother Lode

    For over 50 years, Beverly Garland (1926-2008), born 90 years ago today, was a memorable go-to mother for many a TV series, from The Bing Crosby Show and My Three Sons to Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. She played wise and witty as well as an intrusive busybody and unwitting aggravator with [...]

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    Acting Natural-Lee

    From 1948 until his death last year at age 93, Christopher Lee (1922-2015) spent nearly seven decades as the very towering embodiment of the term “working actor,” from bit parts to supporting actor to star attraction to distinctive voice player, leaving an indelible mark. Turner Classic Movies has selected him as Star of the Month and designated Mondays throughout October [...]

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    Heard to the Bone

    In director Joan Micklin Silver’s Between the Lines (1977), actor John Heard, still going strong and celebrating his 71st birthday today, played an award-winning investigative reporter for an alternative weekly (in the era when there were a ton of them) who has become worn at the edges, dismayed by what he perceives as the dying embers of social activism at [...]

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    The Alternates

    Congratulations are in order for the recipients of and fellow nominees vying for the 88th Annual Academy Awards® bestowed last night. As with any movie industry laurels, there are partisans and detractors, particularly in the wake of each year’s Oscar® ceremony, and malcontented Monday Morning Quarterbacks can be bummed out with the omission or defeat of their favorites. Many fans [...]

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    Scream Kings

    Scream and Scream Again (1970) seems like a rather “normal” genre moniker for the loopy and shockingly violent movie that bears it. But attention must be paid to a movie boasting horror royalty trio Vincent Price as a rather transgressive surgeon, Christopher Lee as a mysteriously imperious investigator and (quickly) Peter Cushing as a ruthlessly fascistic military man. Reviewers who [...]

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