Friday, October 7, 2011

Julie Christie in McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Julie Christie received her second Best Actress nomination for playing Constance Miller, a opium-addicted madam who becomes the business partner of gambler with whom she runs a whorehouse. I used to think this was a very obvious nomination and she was closest to Jane that year but now I understood how shocking it was, especially considering the fact that she had the very succesful The Go-Between. But that's also the case with Glenda. I think she was more likely to be nominated for Mary Queen of scots (despite what we now think). This is all to prove how unusually original the Academy's list was for that year (Which is by the way what we would need now! Ignore the precursors Academy!).

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a pretty great movie, which starts a little bit too slow but it gradually becomes more and more interesting as we get to know the story and the characters more. I'm quite a big fan of Robert Altman so I wasn't really surprised to be impressed by this celebrated work of his. However, I must say that the cinematography is the best part of the movie. Not because Vilmos Zsigmond is Hungarian (by the way, he had a legendary teacher), without any bias I can say that the cinematography is the most responsible for creating such a dazzling dream-like atmosphere. Warren Beatty (an actor I am not particularly crazy about) gives a very proper performance but I don't think that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is that much of an actors' movie.

And there's the indescribably beautiful Julie Christie. Although I wouldn't say that I'm a fan of hers, I have tremendous respect for her talent and I'm always haunted by her astonishing beauty. If you look at her face, it feels like if the world was created only to let her be born. She radiates more than a nuclear plant. She's just a thrilling presence in short and that's probably she became an iconic personality and the embodiment of the spirit (and the morals) of the sixties' Swinging London and that's probably why she seems to be such an unusual choice to play the role of Mrs. Miller. It's far from everything she had done before and yet if we take a closer look at the performance, we see how many similarities it has with the previous works of hers.

After finishing the movie, I was just stunned by how short and underwritten part Julie got in this piece. Mrs. Miller is only present like a ghost, she appears relatively late into the film (very unusual with a title role) and every time we see her, it doesn't last more than five minutes. Could she have really succeeded with such obvious drawbacks and put on an amazing performance? I'm sure many would nod in a very enthusiastic way, but I'm not one of them, unfortunately. First and foremost, I am not saying that she was weak and insignificant as Mrs. Miller (actually, she's one of the most strong and consistent parts of the movie). Far from it. When I first got to see her on the screen, I was completely taken away by her unsual, dreamlike presence and I expected to be blown away by the end of the movie. I think I have to find out why it did not happen.

The most plausible explanation must be the lack of huge screentime. Although the performance benefits a lot from the sudden, short appearances of Julie and it adds a very mysterious and a bit frutstrating quality to the character, I would say that Julie clearly would have deserved to work on the background story of this character. That being said, she's still wonderful within the limits of the character and that's something that she can be proud of.

Now I might sound to be a tiny bit negative about this performance, which is not true as I was quite impressed by Julie's Mrs. Miller. The distant sort of personality which is sort of a trademark of Julie's characters shines so brilliantly. Whenever we see her getting high on opium, it's like we did the very same thing, we're just flying along with the character. You just have to look at her eyes (SPOILER! It's so great that we see just that in the end) and you're in another world. Many would call this a weird feeling but somehow I felt it was more uplifting. Strange, for sure but I wouldn't say weird.

Another aspect of this performance that I clearly deserves to be applauded is the chemistry between Julie and Warren Beatty. They fit each other so well and they succeed in showing a very complex and interesting relationship between these two characters. But Julie is equally impressive at showing Mrs. Miller's relationship with her girls. She seems like a mother and a sister at the same to these girls who seem to be a vulnerable and yet unbeatable when Mrs. Miller is by their side. The scene where she gives advice to Shelley Duvall's character is just spot-on, priceless and anything you can and cannot imagine. Everything works incredibly and the character finally gets the depth it really deserves.

So, despite the obvious limitations of the screenplay, Julie Christie was able to put on a wonderful, unforgettable and otherworldy performance as Constance Miller, the opium-addicted madam. Although it's a very unusual character for Julie, she played her exceptionally, making this one of her most memorable efforts on the screen.

So, I'm back from outer space. Seriously, it was a really long break with this blog and I really did not enjoy that. I just want to thank you all for your patience! I hoped you like(d) my comeback! :)


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back! :) Great analysis, as always. I haven't seen a whole ton of Christie's work, so she's an interesting one for me.

dinasztie said...

Thank you Derek!