Timothy Noah of Slate suggests that Richard Griffiths was skipped for an Oscar nomination, because he’s overweight.
Needless to say, the lovely and zaftig Jennifer Hudson’s “supporting” nomination, compared to Beyonce Knowles’ “lead” nomination, is the next logical conversation. I haven’t seen the film, but Hudson’s character is what really shoots Dreamgirls into orbit, and the most memorable.
But how many of us have caught a film – modern or classic, it doesn’t matter – where you were drawn to watch the imperfect, not conventional “second lead”, and were more interested in them than the bland leading lady or lad? For example, in 1940s wartime romances The Very Thought of You and Hollywood Canteen, I didn’t care as much as I could about the leads – because Dane Clark had a lot more energy and was fun to watch. Modern actress Lili Taylor made herself a lead, after years stealing scenes, beginning with her role in Say Anything.
Other than in comedy, a person who appears to weigh 10 or more pounds than they should is usually not going to be treated as a lead, and even then, their imperfections may be held against them. But that’s casting – not acting. Talent tends to win out.
Most classic media fans are impressed by the beauty or good looks of one of their favorite stars, but it’s the combination with their talent, or some ineffable quality in their character, which keeps the audience coming back.
While some may debate whether Veronica Lake was a good actress, she had her own mystique and was at her best playing psychologically conflicted noir heroines. Her “opaque”, even morose quality worked for her – she wasn’t just another pretty blonde with flippy hair, and her role in So Proudly We Hail suggested that maybe, she was just the right actress in the wrong time. She might have soared higher in the era of independent films.
Meanwhile, Hedy Lamarr – once known as one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood – doesn’t have the following of less conventional leads like Bogart, Bette Davis, and Betty Hutton. Not that they were “plain Janes” ever, but the cute-not-compelling Jane Wyman, Judy Holliday and Judy Garland became well known and loved for their work – more like whirlwind forces of nature in their best roles.
Beauty alone without any unusual show of talent could even be a handicap – for years, the meatiest roles on soaps have not gone to the loveliest ladies, but to the ones who could best captivate and motivate an audience to tune in every single day. Erika Slezak may not have Elizabeth Taylor’s bone structure, but try telling that to the fans who find her riveting.
Now, truthfully, I haven’t posted much about the Oscar nominations that came out this week, despite being gung-ho about Oscar pools in the past. (I won a tidy little sum in 2001, beaten out for first by a guy who guessed dark horse Marcia Gay Harden would get a best supporting nod for Pollock.)
Frankly, it’s a real shame that so many quality films — stories that will be future classics — are squeezed into one section of the year. In order to try and qualify for the Oscars and remain in voters’ minds, they are all squeezed into holiday movie season. It’s great fun to see so many good films during a week off from work, but why not spread them out and help boost the overall, flagging box office?
You know, get adults – and discerning teens – back to watching movies on a regular basis. Pushing all the strongest contenders at the end of the year, letting a few great films flail about in summer, during the popcorn season — well, it doesn’t encourage people over the age of 20 to take on the retro habit of going out to 1-2 movies a week!
If you follow any sort of entertainment news, you’ve probably seen word about Dakota Fanning’s new independent film Hounddog, and the controversy over its rape scene. For several months, former child actors involved in the industry group A Minor Consideration, run by Paul Peterson (formerly of The Donna Reed Show) have been trying to get the word out. As former child actors, they know that even with the most well-meaning directors, writers and crew — even if everyone on set really adores a young performer, and is trying to look out for them — caution must be exercised, while using underage actors in this kind of subject matter.
Perhaps Hounddog will end up setting a precedent, and augur a new level of explicitness in film. One thing is for sure – it has not been popular at Sundance or caused any bidding wars. Possibly because no one wants to spark off a ferocious boycott, as News Corp. discovered with the recent O.J. Simpson tell-all.
On the other hand, Girl 27, a classic film documentary covering the grim story and reminiscences of a Hollywood rape survivor, has received critical nods. If you’re interested in classic Hollywood, the studio system, the lives of performers – and want to know what an Enron sized scandal would have been like in 1937 – this is your film.
It is very difficult to separate out the truth from rumors of classic Hollywood (i.e. Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and its children). Some stories were spread for wish-fulfillment and/or exploitation, others to deliberately ruin a career; still others continued to be repeated in books and articles, because no one bothered to go back and check.
But this film has been helmed by writer David Stenn. Anyone who read his bios on Clara Bow or Jean Harlow knows that this fella goes the extra mile to ensure accuracy, painful honesty, and sensitivity in retelling Hollywood history. He helped debunk rumors about both actresses, but in Girl 27 he uncovers one of Tinseltown’s dirtiest secrets.
Remember Virginia Rappe, the young starlet who died after a San Francisco party — a woman whose death in 1921 ruined the career of Fatty Arbuckle, despite his being formally acquitted after three different murder trials? Arbuckle was accused of raping the young actress and causing her death. Most film fans consider this, along with the William Desmond Taylor case, and the death of Paul Bern, as one of the great mystery-scandals of Hollywood.
But few of us had heard of Patricia Douglas, a young extra who was, along with over a hundred other young bit players, tricked into attending a “wild party” for MGM’s sales staff in 1937. Whatever doubts there were about events at Arbuckle’s party, and their involvement in Rappe’s death – Douglas’ story is straightforward and all the more heartbreaking. The twenty year old dancer was assaulted by an salesman within sight of at least one witness. It is all the more amazing that these events were caused by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, a studio who was remembered fondly by many of their contract players for their paternalism and protectiveness.
After being victimized at the party, she would continue to suffer at the hands of MGM, who organized a harassment campaign and may have paid off witnesses, other players and even members of Douglas’ family. The LA Times’ Robin Abcarian details more about the picture. (There are spoilers, needless to say, about the film’s content.)
A loathsome corner of Hollywood history, but one we’re all better off knowing about – at least to stave off other abuses in the future.
Update: The Platinum Pages blog has a large excerpt of the Abcarian story, if the LA Times ceases to make it available.