Part One

Kirstie Alley to Rebecca Hall

by PopMatters Staff

26 September 2010


Mia Farrow and Rebecca Hall

Mia Farrow
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), September (1987), Another Woman (1988),  Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), New York Stories (1989),Alice (1990), Shadows and Fog (1991) and Husbands and Wives (1992)

Mia Farrow was a celebrity sensation long before Woody Allen came along. Her father was a film director and screenwriter (John Farrow won the Oscar for Best Screenplay in 1956 for Around the World in Eighty Days), and mom was Irish actress Maureen O’Sullivan (best know as “Jane” in Tarzan). Her godmother was the alternately celebrated and feared gossip columnist Louella Parsons. Farrow herself, by age 18, was seasoned actress thanks to a two-year stint on the popular television series Peyton Place (1966 – 1968). In the aftermath of teenage stardom, the actress would go on to work with Roman Polanski (delivering an iconic performance in 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby), Peter Yates (John and Mary, 1969), and Robert Altman (A Wedding, 1978). Farrow was even married to Frank Sinatra for a brief, scandal-filled time. But in inspiring Allen for over a decade to write what are arguably some of his best female roles, Farrow was catapulted into a whole new celebrity status during the ‘80s: legend.

Over the ensuing years, Farrow has been the focus of much intense media scrutiny, both for her public and her private lives as an actress, a committed activist and humanitarian, a mother, a wife and a woman. In this decades-long conversation shamefully little attention is usually paid to the fact that Farrow’s longevity in the business is most certainly due to the fact that she is an actress of capable skill, depth and instinct. All of these qualities were greatly enhanced by her partnership with Allen, which began with A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) and continued through her one of her most assured, bare performance in their final collaboration, Husbands and Wives (1992). As Judy, a brittle but ultimately at peace woman who is full of contradictions and conflicting desires, many critics speculated that the character was an abrasive send off by Allen, given the timing of the film’s release, though it could be argued that the role actually provided Farrow with one of her meatiest parts to date, perfectly balancing her talent for switching from bright comedy to searing drama sometimes within the same frame, as well as reflecting her maturity and experience as a performer.

Two years earlier, her sublime work in Alice explored and enhanced the tertiary colors and textures Farrow had extensively, artistically experimented with throughout her career in a way that perhaps no other role she has played has. Farrow’s performance in the film is constantly engaging, she’s in almost every scene, and she must anchor Alice with her charm and effervescence; remaining whimsical and magical without ever being precious. Displaying formidable range, Farrow’s sweet, nostalgic ingenue Cecilia in The Purple Rose of Cairo contrasts beautifully with her other memorable characterizations from this period in underrated Allen constructions Zelig (Dr. Eudora Fletcher, a psychologist working on a legendary case)  and Broadway Danny Rose (Tina Vitale, a blonde-bouffanted gangster’s moll in tight capri pants). Each of these women marks a new adventure for the actress, who gamely puts it all out there, every time, without hesitation, vanity or unnecessary braggadocio. It is a crime that an actress of Farrow’s stature has never been nominated for the Oscar despite a career of unique female characters both in and outside of the Allen ouevre.

While it’s undeniable that the union of Allen and Farrow has lead to something much more complicated than their filmic collaborations (and much more personal and private), their names will likely forever be linked because of the unforgettable cinema they created together, and what their artistic union yielded is truly remarkable. As Allen’s hero Ingmar Bergman showcased the work of Liv Ullmann, Farrow became a similar compatriot during their time together; a determined, nurturing, reflective presence that elevated the women she played – who at times were perhaps unfairly or more slightly drawn than others –  into a pantheon of unforgettable pairings of director and muse. When you think of John Cassavetes, you immediately associate his work with Gena Rowlands. When you think of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro comes to mind. It is the same with Allen and Farrow.

Though it is very difficult to separate the public and the private, their once friendly, romantic, goofy on- and off- screen love is a force to be reckoned with, and their legends were not always marred by scandal and tragedy as we now remember them. From the beginning to the end, this relationship that ended in pain, in a very public forum that poured down judgment on both Allen and Farrow, is forever immortalized in celluloid, laid out for the spectator to either embrace or reject . I choose to embrace their cinematic partnership and follow the example of Molly Haskell, who addressed the major conundrum of being a feminist film critic in her book From Reverence to Rape, by declaring the “critic” came first, the “feminist” second. The film critic side of me cannot deny their legendary achievements, the synergy and symmetry born of their coupling, and I can truly enjoy these fruitful collaborations, particularly the under-appreciated work of Farrow as an actress, something most people and most critics have shamefully overlooked in all of the gossipy hullabaloo. In a 2008 interview with the Guardian, a peaceful Farrow puts the Allen years quite succinctly into perspective as “all just part of a strange history.” 

Matt Mazur


Rebecca Hall
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Hall was a relative newcomer to the world of feature film when she was cast as one of the title character’s in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Prior to the 2008 release, she had only been in two films: Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige and the English Starter for Ten. It was Vicky Cristina Barcelona that really got her noticed.

Despite not having the name recognition of Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, or Javier Bardem, it was Hall’s character that was the central focus of the film. Hall was Cristina, one half of the globe-trotting pair of American college students out to discover European culture. While Scarlett Johansson’s Vicky was out for romantic flings and dark men, Vicky’s intentions were a little more academic: she was studying Catalan culture for her master’s degree.

Hall’s performance as the neurotic and self-aware intellectual is a major part of the movie, but it’s her dichotomy from Cristina that is the major thrust of the film. You almost wonder how the two are best friends at all. Their ideas about life and love are so very different. Vicky knows exactly what she wants, and she has it: she is engaged to Doug, a smart, good-looking, and successful man. Cristina on the other hand, doesn’t know what she wants, but she knows exactly what she doesn’t want: Doug. But they both shove off to Vicky’s relatives’ house in Barcelona. The one thing they do both have in common is their chase for romanticized ideals, Cristina’s of love and Vicky’s of European’s high culture.

The first scene where Vicky’s identity and persona become self-apparent is the scene where the two women first make contact with Javier Bardem’s Juan Antonio. Not one to mince words, Juan Antonio propositions the two of them. “Look, señior, maybe in a different life,” Hall quips back. When Juan pushes further, Vicky suggests that his desires come from the pain he feels from his former failed marriage. Cristina, on the other hand, agrees to go to his room.

Although Hall’s performance exhibits characteristics of a Woody Allen surrogate performance (particularly in delivering her lines), there is something that feels very different. She’s just as smart and neurotic, but she seems more practical and has undercurrents of inner-doubt, features that most of these type performances do not have.

Vicky scoffs at Cristina’s willingness to accept the stranger’s invitation, but as the trip goes on, she begins to fall for Juan Antonio herself. Here, Hall allows that inner-doubt to take over. As she questions what she wants out of a partner and out of life, she begins to question herself. “I was always someone who thought I knew exactly what I wanted,” she tells a classmate. The feelings she is experiencing now are new to her. She is experiencing the ephemeral romance that Cristina set out to find, not Vicky. “I just married the guy I wanted,” she continued with her classmate. “I thought so.”

In the beginning of the film, Vicky know what she wants and has it, while Cristina doesn’t know what she wants. In the film’s bittersweet ending, they both go back to where there started off, yet Vicky is no longer sure that she wants it. It’s the status quo for Cristina, but there’s a bitterness where Vicky ends up. There is a hefty amount of tragedy in Hall’s performance.

Joshua Jezioro

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