You might want to sell any stock you have invested in major labels, especially if it’s EMI. After some belt-tightening, they’re now shuffling around personnel, causing a rift with artists that they can’t afford to piss off (including Coldplay and Robbie Williams): Artists’ managers protesting EMI shake-up. Even after that bit of bad news, they compound it by having their pink slip machine work overtime: EMI’s drastic belt-tightening. But there is one piece of good news coming out of this as they’re now thinking of cutting off money to everyone’s least favorite industry slimebags: RIAA might be doomed. Ah, but fear not… When it comes to fresh ideas to save themselves, the industry is full more useless, empty platitudes than a candidate’s speech as witnessed by this pathetic MSNBC article.
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A recent column by Tyler Cowen (of Marginal Revolution fame) in the New York TImes caused a little flap in the econoblogosphere recently about whether lenders or borrowers are more to blame for the recent credit crisis/subprime meltdown/imminent recession. Inhis piece, a sort of year end wrap up of things that surprised economists, Cowen offered this
IT’S NOT JUST THE LENDERS
There has been plenty of talk about “predatory lending,” but “predatory borrowing” may have been the bigger problem. As much as 70 percent of recent early payment defaults had fraudulent misrepresentations on their original loan applications, according to one recent study. The research was done by BasePoint Analytics, which helps banks and lenders identify fraudulent transactions; the study looked at more than three million loans from 1997 to 2006, with a majority from 2005 to 2006. Applications with misrepresentations were also five times as likely to go into default.
Many of the frauds were simple rather than ingenious. In some cases, borrowers who were asked to state their incomes just lied, sometimes reporting five times actual income; other borrowers falsified income documents by using computers. Too often, mortgage originators and middlemen looked the other way rather than slowing down the process or insisting on adequate documentation of income and assets. As long as housing prices kept rising, it didn’t seem to matter.
In other words, many of the people now losing their homes committed fraud. And when a mortgage goes into default in its first year, the chance is high that there was fraud in the initial application, especially because unemployment in general has been low during the last two years.
Perhaps because this plays faintly echoes a particularly repugnant free-market talking point—caveat emptor ad omnium—or because Cowen was sounding like an apologist for a typically exploitative and greedy industry, Barry Ritholtz of the Big Picture went apoplectic.
Anyone who works in this area knows that the reality of the situation was far more blatant. To begin with, most people are naive when it comes to any financial product. They rely on the experience of the professional they are working with, even if this person is a SALESMAN or another party in an ADVERSARIAL NEGOTIATING ROLE.
I work with many builders and mortgage lenders; I take personal responsibility for a major builder selling much of his company’s stock in 2005 (more than $100 million worth). The rest of the family hated me—for about 6 months. I know how their company works, and I know what they and others in their field do in actuality.
During the hey day of the no-income verification, “No Doc” loans, the builders finance people, as well as other mortgage brokers walked people through the application process. Mr. Cowen writes that “Too often, mortgage originators and middlemen looked the other way.” That’s a rather generous read on it. The reality is that THEY TOLD PEOPLE WHAT INCOME TO WRITE. They used sentences such as “Put down $150k.” OTHER TIMES THEY APPLICANTS LEAVE THE INCOME SPACE BLANK; The reps later conveniently filled in the data on the own.
To claim mortgage originators and middlemen only looked the other way is putting too fine a point on it. THEY WERE ACTIVE COLLABORATORS IN ANY FRAUD.
Oh, and, don’t take my word for it—find some people from the industry and ask them yourselves. This is a very well known fact amongst real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and builders.
I side with Ritholtz here, because I think in order to commit fraud, you have to understand the meaning of what you are doing, and most people, I’d guess, have no idea what is going on in the midst of the mountains of paperwork necessary to secure a mortgage and buy a house, something we are all led to believe is as fundamental to being an American as pledging allegiance to the flag and eating hamburgers. And unlike the brokers, the borrowers have the loans in their name and ultimately would be held accountable for the lies by having to pay the consequences, while brokers skate away relatively scot-free—at least until they started becoming unemployed—permanently if our society has any justice.
Housing blog Calculated Risk today excerpted comments by Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in which he seemed to imply that brokers were not doing such a good job assessing risk, to put it euphemistically.
This is a lesson that’s been learned over and over about broker originations, they perform much worse than our own originations, and if you separate home equity into we call it kind of good bank, bad bank, and broker so I would say it’s less than 20%, but a lot of the losses are coming from that 20%, which is high LTV [loan-to-value], broker originated businesses. High LTV business is also bad in its own.
And the 20% you referred to a minute ago in round numbers is the sort of specifically high LTV and originated away [by brokers] is that right?
It’s been very consistent In both our own originated and broker originated, high LTV, stated income is bad. It is three times worse in broker than it is in our own.
Wow, indeed. This suggests that banks were constrained by the size and nature of their institutions, but brokers had no such scruples; they behaved like the fly-by-night operators they so often seem to be. The Caluclated Risk post prompted Felix Salmon to wonder why brokers have not yet been disintermediated (to use another fun euphemism), drawing the same conclusion that prompted me to start this entry:
Frankly, in an era where people can get mortgage quotes online almost as easily as they can buy car insurance, I fail to see why mortgage brokers should exist. It would be an industry crying out for disintermediation even if it weren’t obvious that mortgage brokers are top of the list of people to blame for the current mortgage crisis. In the debate about “predatory lenders” and “predatory borrowers”, the bigger truth is that the real problem was predatory brokers - people who abused the trust of both lenders and borrowers. If they do disappear, they shan’t be missed.
By Matt Mazur
In discussing her method, or lack or method in her eyes (she never was an Actor’s Studio girl), Lange tried to give the audience a sense of what it is like to really create a character from the inside out. For her quiet storm of a performance in Music Box, her “in” was music. “That character’s sound was a cello. I listened to it all the time.” She went so far as to bring a cello with her on location—her daughter was conveniently taking it up at the time. The infamous film critic Pauline Kael, upon the film’s release, likened Lange’s work to a cello concerto.
For Titus, she had to learn another language: Shakespearean. And on top of that, her co-star would be one of the greatest living British thespians, Sir Anthony Hopkins. “I was intimidated by the language, but reading Shakespeare is a thousand times easier than reading dialogue from a bad writer,” Lange said. “It’s beautiful, organic. It just takes you. It’s like a locomotive.”
She gave props to Hopkins’ being able to recount his final monologue in one take, during the film’s Grand Guignol finale at the dinner table, as Titus murders his guests one by one (“he had already baked my children into pies,” she laughed). She told a hilarious story about Hopkins going around the table to each of his “victims” and subsequently chastising them one by one, still using the script’s dialogue, only performing as a different actor for each take. “He did [Burt] Lancaster. He did [Ralph] Richardson. He did [John] Gielgud. And he came over to me and he said “I’m saving Larry [Olivier] for you!”
At 50, in one of her most experimental roles, as Tamora, Queen of the Goths, Lange showed she was unafraid to use her body as a canvas. “She’s a ravenous character. All of them are. They’re devouring.” She went to some dark corners that would send most other 50 year old actresses running for the exit: she wore alternately outrageous and beautiful costumes (some rather bondage-inspired), she engaged in evil, murderous plotting, her body was covered in tribal tattoos, and she was frequently in some state of blowsy undress - sometimes nude. It was a testament to her bravery in giving her all to the character, even if perhaps, this state of heightened physicality wasn’t her preferred one.
As French director Jean Renoir once commented on the visage of an actor, “their art is stronger than their physical appearance. The spiritual supersedes the material.” Physicality has always been a double-edged sword for Lange. Insdorf remarked that the use of her body and her physical presence in inventive ways has always been a Lange trademark, especially in relation to actresses who came of age in the ‘80s alongside her like Meryl Streep, Sally Field, and Diane Keaton. Of all of the actresses in her age group, Lange has consistently been praised as being the most intuitive. Even still, as she has aged, her work has been consistently dogged by rumors of cosmetic surgery to her face, more so than other actresses in the same age bracket.
For everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, clamoring about to know if Jessica looks like Jocelyn Wildenstein in person, you can all chill out: in person, she looked natural and gorgeous in a slim, tailored jacket and pants, with hot black boots, but she also appeared to be in the best shape of her life. When her 2005 film Broken Flowers (opposite Bill Murray, directed by Jim Jarmusch) was released, Village Voice critic Jessica Winter had this to say on the women of the piece: “At least the somber stillness of his [Murray’s] visage is a matter of choice, which can’t be said for a couple of the female performers here, who don the plastic surgeon’s ghoulish mask of Botox, collagen, eye lifts, and cheekbone implants.”
This has not been the only time Lange’s face has been called into question—it is something critics have been buzzing over for about ten years or so. David Edelstein once snarked about her cameo in the film: “It’s a troubling sequence, made more troubling by the way in which Lange has aged. I’m afraid it has come to this with regard to actresses these days: You think, ‘Nature? Cosmetic surgery? Bad cosmetic surgery?’ Only her plastic surgeon knows for sure. But until we have sexual parity, we’re going to have to grapple with the problem of great actresses whose faces have gone slightly haywire.”
It is incomprehensible that, if indeed this is the route Lange has chosen to go it is insulting that the same industry that demands women over 40 chase this particular dragon of youth should then turn around and demonize, and in some cases, belittle a woman for trying to look her best. The age of women getting surgery today is getting younger and younger—why isn’t anyone talking about how absolutely fucked up it is that another Jessica (Simpson, 27), has seen more work done on her face and body than the perpetually under-construction highways of Michigan? This is much more of a telling red flag that our society is more interested in an accomplished woman of a certain age making a personal choice to enhance her appearance, rather than a young woman mutilating herself to become someone else’s idea of what “beautiful” is.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Lange’s appearance has always been a hot-button topic, perhaps because her critics can’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept of how someone so naturally beautiful could be so gifted and remain firmly outside of the conventional Hollywood systems. When she was younger, she had to fight off persistent stereotypes about being too beautiful to be taken seriously after a stint as a model and her deliciously sexy turn in the 1979 remake of King Kong.
In a 1995 interview with Mal Vincent of the Virginian-Pilot she said “At first, I was so worried that no one would take me seriously, I thought I was too pretty. Then, it seems like only a day later, I’m 45 and everyone asks me about aging. Now, there are younger actresses and they’ll get some of the roles I might want. People ask why I don’t get plastic surgery—a little nip or a tuck. I don’t think so, although I’ve thought about it.”
In an interview with Dana Kennedy of Entertainment Weekly, Lange had this to say on the subject: ““In all the interviews I’ve done lately, I always get asked about plastic surgery. I think: ‘Would this same interviewer be asking this question of males in my age group?’ Would they actually say to De Niro, ‘Hey, you’re 50 years old, have you thought of having work done on your face?’ It’s such bullshit. It’s very insulting to assume that every woman as she ages is going to become so anxious about it that she’ll consider it.”
As far as I could see in my research, she has never confirmed or denied anything about actually altering her face, but over the subsequent years, she proved herself to be chameleonic, a woman who was able to transcend her appearance and toss aside vanity like few other performers can, surgery or no.
The Glass Menagerie on Broadway
Now that she is older, and challenging the conventions of what a woman of 58 should look like, she’s having just as many problems. So, in a brilliant move, for the upcoming Grey Gardens, in a grand theatrical tradition, she will be nearly unrecognizable as “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale, a distant cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy who resides with her daughter “Little Edie” (played by Drew Barrymore) in a crumbling mansion in the Hamptons.
“Wait until you see this one!” Lange squealed with delight. The project will offer her another opportunity to separate her own identity from her character’s, and for the first time ever, she underwent a daily four-hour transformation via the make-up chair that included putting on a fat suit, a bald cap, a wig, putty, and the whole nine yards. They even sprayed fake “cellulite” onto her arms to get the characters’ body just right. Playing the woman over a span of 40 years offered Lange the chance to play the kind of dynamically-arced part she thought was non-existent. “It’s reassuring there are still these kinds of parts for actresses.”
And she sings for the first time as “Big Edie”! “I’ve never done that before,” she revealed. “I really can’t sing. I have a neurotic thing about singing deep in my psyche.” Fans may try and cite her turn as singer Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams, but Lange said on that film, while she had the sound man turn the volume all the way up so she could synch with Cline’s real voice and nobody would hear her singing along, her real fear was that one day someone would turn the volume all the way down as a practical joke and expose her terrible voice.
Lange’s pet project, an adaptation of Collette’s Cheri has been on again and off again for many years, and the performer acknowledged that it is finally being made—without her! “They needed somebody younger [than me]. It’s proceeding,” she said with a trace of rue and a giggle. “I still feel like I’m probably about 30. I assume that people see you that way, until you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and go ‘Whoa!’”. She went on to say that this was a lesson in humility that she learned while walking in the character’s shoes.
When Insdorf asked Lange a question about no longer playing the part of a sexually desired object in adolescent boys’ fantasies, it looked for a brief second like fire was going to shoot out of the actresses eyes, or like maybe she was going to answer as Frances Farmer on a bender.
Her character Ginny Cook-Smith, in the misunderstood A Thousand Acres (which I think is one of Lange’s best performances), famously says to her bitter ex-husband “you have it [the last word]. I don’t care.”
The real-life Jessica Lange, however, isn’t such a wallflower. The actress tossed her long blonde hair around after this question, and with a look of perplexity on her face, coupled with a moment of impeccable comedic timing (a skill that should be utilized more often, casting agents!), she said, after a pregnant pause, “Well, shit!”
A few years back, when it seemed like every mainstream media outlet was jumping on the Giuseppe Andrews bandwagon, the unpredictable auteur announced the unthinkable. After working almost exclusively in the domain of the trailer park, after focusing on the residents there and the relationships he forged, he was abandoning everyone’s favorite surreal cinematic backdrop for ‘greener pastures’. Having gained his regal reputation via his doublewide workouts, leaving behind the setting for something else appeared antithetical to his overall aesthetic. More disconcerting, where would he go next, and what would this new direction look like?
Fans needn’t have worried. While recent efforts have indeed moved to motels and interesting homesteads for their locations, Andrews remains the Salem Cigarettes of the marginalized. In essence, you can take the director out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the director. Two new films - the vegan variety act Garbanzo Gas and the poignant portrait of one man’s misery, Cat Piss, proves that even when devoid of an RV vista (as in Gas), there is still enough of the filmmakers’ fascinating spirit to propel his passions forward. Indeed, as with the Americano Trilogy, these newer offerings suggest a growing confidence that is occasionally frightening to behold.
When a lucky cow wins an all expense paid weekend at a local hotel, it can’t believe its good fortune. It gets to relax, unwind, and avoid a trip to the slaughterhouse - at least for a few days. Of course, it couldn’t imagine the menagerie of madmen it would run into. Down the hall is a pair of drug addled dimwits who are desperate for something to eat. The cow becomes their main focus. Meanwhile, two different spree killers are wrecking havoc. One murders at the command of some erroneous bath linen. The other listens to a voice inside his shoe, the instructions resulting in even more dead bodies. All the while, our contented animal tries to accommodate everyone’s needs, which typically revolve around a room service meal of meat and potatoes.
Garbanzo Gas is either the most brilliant pro-vegetarian film ever made, or the most maddening deconstruction of meat’s magical allure since the Sawyer clan discovered the value in human hamburger. Centering on the mythical, mouthwatering promise of steak (and a fully dressed baked potato side dish), and using the actual source of such succulence as the pro/con catalyst, Andrews expands outward, taking on suicidal tendencies, homicidal madness, insanity, and fixation. Overflowing with the filmmaker’s trademark deranged dialogue, and incorporating a tender performance from Andrews’ staple Vietnam Ron, this well-meaning message movie is far more effective than a perverse PETA rally in reiterating the value of animal life, and the uselessness of human existence.
Every person we meet in this stunning celluloid statement is an asshole. The two tweaking lowlifes awaiting the hotel’s check-out time to literally do the same are desperate dope fiends, foaming at the mouth over vending machine chips and in-room coffee. They are so hapless and hungry that they even go down to the seashore and try to catch some fish. On the opposite end are two serial killers - one driven to his deeds by a talking towel, the other who imagines he’s mandated by a shoe promising chili cheese fries. While the premises seem laughable, the analogy is crucial. All man wants to do is kill - be it for sustenance, or to fuel some insane psychological desire. And thanks to the performance of Walt Dongo, Matt Dougal, and Tyree, we get that concept loud and lamentably clear.
On the other hand, Vietnam Ron’s quiet, considerate cow is projected as the voice of reason and accommodation. Anything these vacation interlopers want, he is more than willing to provide. Even when faced with dealing out free versions of himself (not literally), he happily obliges. It’s a brilliant casting step by Andrews. Ron is, without a doubt, a subversive superstar. But he’s also an inherently interesting actor, and a man seemingly incapable of outright anger. Sure, he’s been malevolent in the past, but it has always been a put on. Here, his genuine personality comes through, and it’s a stunning display. It makes his last act conversation with a man from the slaughterhouse all the more emotional. Any other member of the Andrews’ crew would not have worked. Garbanzo Gas needs Vietnam Ron to resonate.
And it really does work. While he avoids the standard abattoir shock treatment (no blood and guts here), Andrews uses shots of sunbathing bovine - and another one of his amazing songs - to finalize the attitude. Yet it’s a cleverly confused conceit. Because of the main characters fascination with steak and all the trimmings, because of how dedicated they are to their misguided mastication, Gas seems to suggest that, while murder, meat is pretty damn tasty. Sure, the contemplative animals argue against the senseless slaughter of same, but when recognizable archetypes scream for slabs of cow carcass, the carnivore in everyone is tantalized. Of course, as a staunch vegetarian, Andrews would argue with that assessment, but when it comes to his art, Garbanzo Gas is more intricate than a standard protest piece.
If you’re looking for simplicity, Cat Piss is the answer. Hailed as a literal return to the trailer park, it centers on Andrews’ newfound friendship with resident Wally Lavern. Under the premise that he would live with the man 24/7 and record their “relationship”, Piss provides the kind of retro-realistic view into the world of the marginalized that few films - let alone filmmakers - would ever dare discuss. As our director helps out around the decaying trailer, as Lavern has imaginary political debates with a broken TV, as flutes are practiced and cats are comforted, this is what the end of one’s days really looks like.
Equally heartbreaking and hilarious, Cat Piss calmly revises our view of Andrews’ environ. Where before, everything was scatology and sexual drive, the implied gimmickry of seeing old people prance around in the all together, here is the way things really are. Matter of fact, unexaggerated for the looming, omniscient camera, this is the very fringes of what we consider to be civilized society. Lavern is not viewed as a joke, or something to be pitied. Instead, Andrews uses his own goofball grace to turn his costar into a perturbing poster boy. It’s the kind of portrayal that we can feel - we can smell the dank air inside the trailer, taste the featureless food bought on a carefully controlled budget. If they were smart, political candidates would hire Andrews to create their pro/con economy ads. No one has a better eye for the travesties of retail existence.
Indeed, this is one of the filmmaker’s most ideological offerings, perhaps even more than Gas. Since Lavern is allowed to rant at the blank boob tube, selling sentiments that may disturb a more liberal mindset, Andrews must counter said caustic conservatism with visuals: the unhappiness on the man’s face; the docile pleasures of playing a plastic flute; the look on a friendly feline’s face. It’s the haves vs. the always have nots all over again. While Gas may have taken the trailer park out into the real world, this is the literal landscape Andrews understands best. It makes what could have been maudlin and morose into an uplifting and quite special experience.
This is true of all of Andrews work, no matter how smutty or silly. His desire to delve beyond the limits of so-called “legitimate” cinema to seek art where it is ample is commendable. Painters know that the imitation of life - any life - is better than a faked foundation. Why shouldn’t filmmakers follow the same inspiration rules? Giuseppe Andrews understands this all too well. This is why his oeuvre is so outstanding. This is why, no matter the pronouncements, he’ll never fully leave behind his trailer town roots.
Scores: Garbanzo Gas
Scores: Cat Piss
by Matt Mazur
Jessica Lange in Bonneville
“She’s like a delicate fawn crossed with a Buick”
—Jack Nicholson on Jessica Lange
Spending the night with Jessica Lange is a rare and lovely thing. She is an enigmatic icon who guards her privacy with the same fierceness with which she approached her most famous acting roles. We can safely say Lange has been given the shaft by Hollywood, like most actresses of her age. Lange has been relegated, essentially, to cameos in films by directors like Tim Burton, Jim Jarmusch, and Wim Wenders.
And now, the actress is about to come back in a big way with a role she calls “huge”, nicely balanced by subtle, nuanced work in an indie feature. But where exactly did she go?
On the final night of the 92nd Street Y’s excellent 2007-08 film/lecture series, Reel Pieces in New York City (which has, of late, included whip-smart guests like Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day Lewis, and Laura Linney), Lange roared back about the state of women in film, her body of work, and her next project, an adaptation of the Maysles’ brothers’ elegiac documentary Grey Gardens.
Striking and commanding at age 58, the dramatic powder keg who gave us, among other expert creations, Frances Farmer (in Frances), Tamora Queen of the Goths (Titus), and the sex-a-holic Carly Marshall (in 94’s Blue Sky, which won her the Best Actress Oscar), is poised for a special kind of return with several promising projects in development and/or in the can, this despite the fact that she never really went too far away in the first place.
After she won her second Oscar in early 1995 (her first was for Supporting Actress in 1982’s Tootsie), Lange, like many actresses in her age group, began appearing less and less on the big screen. According to the actress and activist, she was just not being offered the kinds of roles that would inspire her to leave her home and her family. She wasn’t being offered anything of substance at all, really. In a sharp contrast to say, France, where legends like Catherine Deneuve are working consistently (with success) into their golden years, the landscape of American film seems to be devoid of interesting women over 50.
To combat this, Lange is gearing up for battle by putting on layers of prosthetic putty and theatrical make-up as armor for her next film, and challenging the stereotypes of how audiences expect a woman of nearly 60 to act and look in both Grey Gardens, and to a lesser degree her newest offering, the female buddy picture Bonneville, in which she appears onscreen as a new brand of woman over 50—sensual, at ease, and soft.
The normally reclusive and shy star appeared onstage following the American premiere of her newest film Bonneville (co-starring Joan Allen and Kathy Bates), relaxed and engaging, opposite moderator Dr. Annette Insdorf (Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University) for an open, honest chat about her technique, the power of rehearsal, and her inspirations. Insdorf cannily captured a side of the performer that is normally closed to the public, eschewing the discussion of almost perfunctory Lange myths, instead drawing out delicious anecdotes about the actresses’ craft that had remained hitherto hidden.
Insdorf, following the screening of Bonneville, asked Lange about working with first time writers and directors, something the performer isn’t afraid of. “I had a safety net”, said Lange, referring to co-stars Allen and Bates. “There was a genuine affection that kind of rises to the top in the story”. She acknowledged being shocked at seeing a script that included three plum roles for women over 50. “Wow! That was beyond our reality in a way, and it was worth investigating.” Lange pointed to 2007’s most acclaimed films—Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men, and stated the obvious - “There aren’t a lot of big Hollywood films that come my way, there never were. That well has dried up pretty much,” she chuckled. “There are a few, small, decent roles for women.”
Influenced by Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, the music of The Band, and studying Buddhism, the Lange on display in Bonneville is not like the damaged, overtly sensual sirens audiences have come to expect from the actress. In the film she plays Arvilla, an Idaho native whose older husband has suddenly died. She enlists the help of her two girlfriends to drive his ashes back to his daughter in California. It’s the first time in a while that the actress has turned her fury inward producing some of her most introspective work. Bonneville is very much an indie-spirited road movie (Lange said that her favorites of the genre include Five Easy Pieces and Badlands), but its nature is light, and it is buoyed by three veteran women’s chemistry.
As unusual as it actually is to see three women over 50 carrying a film, it has become even more unusual to find Lange in a leading role. “You don’t say one day that you’re just going to start playing mothers,” she said, indicating that she had been pigeonholed into a certain niche. Between 1999 and 2006, Lange appeared primarily in supporting roles, and according to her, this was all she was getting offered because of her commitment to her most treasured role as a family woman. She said that when her kids were younger, they would gamely go on location like “gypsies” with their dogs and their stuff and have fun. As her family grew older, and the children started to have lives of their own, Lange found it more interesting to not take work. ““Its amazing being an actor,” Lange cooed. “[But] I didn’t want to leave my house.”
Instead, she headed, like many astute women her age, for television, and the stage, two safe havens in the American pop culture landscape that offer women over 50 a respite.
“I must have been crazy or delusional or something,” Lange said. “To go from Blanche (Dubois, in the New York and London productions of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire), to Mary (Tyrone, in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night), to Amanda (Wingfield, in The Glass Menagerie). I’ve been really lucky to play those parts. Mary Tyrone is bar none the greatest female character in the English language. She’s bottomless. She’s a joy to play. I want to get back to play her again.”
Lange has not ever been afraid to criticize her own work. When Insdorf brought up one of her little-seen roles, in 2001’s Prozac Nation as a recent highlight, Lange seemed shocked. “Really?! I’ve never seen it.”
Jessica Lange in Normal
Her role in the underrated Normal, in which she plays Irma, the small town wife of a transsexual, almost didn’t happen in the first place—she initially didn’t want to take the part because she was hesitant that the film’s subject matter wouldn’t be translated with the proper dignity. She said that when she learned her co-star would be Tom Wilkinson, she was willing to give it a shot.
Lange felt like the character’s face should begin as very “tight” and slowly become softer and softer, until she was “radiant” and filled with light by the end, as she gave her husband, who has just undergone gender reassignment surgery, a strand of pearls as a gesture of love and acceptance. This was the point in her life where she began studying Buddhism, and the principles of unconditional love, and said this immeasurably helped her in this difficult performance.
Despite being one of her most singular characters, this perfectionist still feels that the finished product could have been even better. “It feels like the ball was dropped”. She credited HBO (producers of Normal and Grey Gardens) with being the premiere place for women over 50 to find these kinds of interesting, multi-dimensional roles—the kind that she prefers to watch on her own time.
My stock question, to let you all in on one of my little secrets, lately, has been “what are your favorite female performances?” When I have asked this question in the past to film fans, directors, and other actors, almost instinctually, many automatically respond: “Jessica Lange in Frances”. When I was offered this potentially once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend this event, I became determined to ask Lange, too, this very question during Reel Pieces.
The format of the lecture that followed the Bonneville screening allowed only for questions written on index cards and fielded by the moderator—no mere mortal would address Lange directly. Somehow, my question was one of three audience questions Lange responded to. And I immediately was afraid she wouldn’t answer the question at all after the incident earlier in the evening, when someone asked “who are your heroes?” (for one of the three questions). This provoked her response: “I hate those questions! I should be prepared for these kinds of questions!” She then buried her face in exasperation until she came up with the Dalai Lama.
Almost immediately, caught off guard, she cited Vivien Leigh’s work in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire as one of her all-time favorites. “She was really out of this world. What she did was brilliant.” She went on to cite both Katharine Hepburn’s later work (notably in On Golden Pond—she loved the realistic details of the relationship between Hepburn and co-star Henry Fonda), and Myrna Loy. “She was always perfect. I’ve been watching a lot of movies from the ‘30s, preparing for Grey Gardens. Those babes, they were great. They were all great.”
What we have in Bonneville is Lange at a crossroads emotionally and physically, joining the pantheon of women she admires, much like Hepburn and Loy did. Women of their generation enjoyed working well into their older years, in a variety of roles, light and heavy. She plays her age, and her experience shows through. As Arvilla, she comes across as more warm, vulnerable, and vibrantly sexy than ever (but more on that later…). It’s a vanity-free, relaxed portrayal that finds her in a place where the tastes of a fickle ticket-buying public are changing as quickly as the technology of filmmaking.
“There is a disconnect between the actor and the director,” she offered, citing her work with directors Costa-Gavras (Music Box, Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Karel Reisz (Sweet Dreams, and Tony Richardson (of Blue Sky, whom she called “a great, exotic bird”). “You could really feel his energy. That doesn’t happen anymore. There is a separation. Nothing went past him. That, to me, is an actor’s director. There is an art to film directing and directing an actor that, in a lot of cases, falls by the wayside. Not one of these directors ever sat behind a monitor, nothing went past them.”
Stay tuned for Part Two on Thursday.
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