Sunday, May 27, 2012

Vanessa Redgrave in The Bostonians

Vanessa Redgrave received her fifth Oscar nomination for playing Olive Chancellor, a 19th-century suffragette in the Ivory-Merchant film, The Bostonians. I honestly don't know how much chance of winning Vanessa had. I suppose she was fifth in the end for several reasons. First, she was already an Oscar winnner who delivered a shocking speech when she won (they were probably afraid of giving her the Oscar once again). Second, her movie wasn't really successful in terms of nominations. I suppose in the end, she had to make do with some British and Jane Fonda's votes. I suppose at that time, she wasn't really concerned about her Oscar chances (since she had just lost her father, Michael Redgrave). 

First of all, let me just say that I dislike Ivory-Merchant movies quite and The Bostonians is a typical Ivory-Merchant movie. It's very fancy on the outside, but inside I don't see that much real content. However, I must say that I was impressed to a certain extent, especialy by the acting part. It was delightful to see some childhood (Christopher Reeve) and new favorites (Nancy Marchand, Linda Hunt) give wonderful, believable and impressive performances in their respective roles. I have to underline Nancy Marchand's work here, which may not be discussed at all, but is masterful, in my opinion. I think I would have rewarded her efforts with an Oscar nomination (I'm not kidding). But I don't want to rave about Marchand's wonderful work when I can rave about Vanessa Redgrave as well. :)

And now it's confession time: I've seen The Bostonians twice now and I was ready not only to condemn not only this particular performance of Redgrave but also (dedicated fans stop reading) Vanessa Redgrave as an actress (in a way, not completely) since now that NONE of her nominated leading performances impressed me as much as I expected based on the ravings of Redgrave's adoring fans. However, a second time (many should give a second chance to certain performances, now it was more of a co-incidence, though) made it all too clear why so many people idolize Vanessa (including the best of the best, Jane who always has to be right). Now I get not only this particular performance of Vanessa but also her as an actress and how she works as an actress and works miracles.

From a sexist point of view, it would be so easy to condemn Olive Chancellor's character as a man-hating, crazy lesbian who just wants to bang her little girl after executing all the men in the world. Crazily enough, this view can even be justified by some of Vanessa's choices in her performance: she doesn't show Olive as a perfect, gentle human being, instead she draws a much more complex and intriguing portrait of a woman who has very strong principles. Moreover, she was not even afraid of making her character an unlikeable, overdramatic, theatrical woman at certain points.

I would say that Olive is quite a bit like Barbara in Notes on a Scandal. She's in love with another woman but more in a platonic, poetic way. I'd say that sexuality is only a minimal part of her affection, it's more that she wants to have a noble, beautiful relationship with tenderness and intelligent conversations. However, neither Olive nor Barbara is afraid of blackmailing their true love. I was crazily impressed by the way Vanessa was portraying Olive's fake, theatrical  breakdowns whenever her darling Verena was meeting a man and therefore "cheating" on her. I always felt that Vanessa suggested that Olive was totally aware of her actions and the possible consequences on Verena.

Vanessa is simply a thrill to look at in the scenes between her character and Verena. The range of emotions that she's able to portray there is just fantastic: we can see her in love, being desperate, happy, devastated, deceited and lonely. Her face at the first meeing is just unforgettable: her teary eyes, her lips make you wonder how Vanessa can be so masterful and natural at the same time (I guess that's what we call talent). The same could be said about her previously mentioned breakdowns: it all becomes so haunting even despite the fact that Olive acts way too possessively with Verena. We can never find out if she wants to save Verena because of her own selfishness or the fact that she can really see the potential in that girl. It's unbelievable for me how wonderfully mysterious and haunting Olive's character becomes in the interpretation of Vanessa. For most of the time, it seems as if Olive was a spirit because that's what Vanessa does best: becoming one soul and body with her character (with the soul being the more significant one). This could have turned into crazy overacting (as some people consider this performance) but Vanessa wonderfully toned herself down whenever it was needed. Again, it's just amazing that she can be so natural and calculated at the same time (or not even calculated).

Olive's interactions with Christopher Reeve's character could have become scenes with bitchy one-liners and petty fights and instead they all turn out to be very realistic and unspectacular, just like how they would happen in real life. They become great opponents for each other and it's like looking at two worlds and belief systems battling on the screen. Every time Vanessa literally turns her back to Reeve, she seems so noble and superior (at least to me).

I also loved how Vanessa made all of Olives lines sound so solemn as if she was constantly putting on acts and delivering rousing speeches. Olive keeps saying that Verena is the one with the grace and the elegance and she's awkward and dull. One of the greatest achievements I can imagine from Vanessa is looking awkard and dull. It's interesting hwo Vanessa showed the "dull" side of Olive: we get to discover that she's a fascinating personality in private but in public she's rather artificial. Just look at her final speech: we can see that Olive is full of passion and fire and she 100% stands for what she believes in.

Overall, I can say that Vanessa is nothing short of fantastic  in The Bostonians. The screentime may not be on her side, she does a mighty fine job with her role, making her character a really inrtiguing and complex woman. Thanks to her beauty, radiant presence and fascinating personality, (just as Katharine Hepburn said) Vanessa is just a thrill to look at and listen to. An interesting, wonderful portrayal full of layers and mysteries.     For some, this could be the perfect example of overacting but for me, this performance was a real thrill.
What do you think? 


Louis Morgan said...

I have yet to see a performance of hers that has truly amazed me, but I also have not seen that many films of her's including this one.

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of Vanessa's, so I'm glad you liked her in The Bostonians.
May I recommend you Wetherby (1985)? Vanessa is truly wonderful in one of her best performances,and was not nominated. She's my pick for 1985.


hey deanie said...

She's perfect. This might be her best performance ever – maybe Isadora. (I am also one of those people who thinks she is the greatest living actress, etc)

dinasztie said...

Eddie: Never seen Wetherby but it's on my list now that you mentioned it.

hey deanie: Well, I don't think she's perfect but she's really great anyway. :) She didn't blow my socks off but I loved her. I know you adore her. :)

mrripley said...

where is sissy?

dinasztie said...

Mrripley: She's coming on 21 or 22 June. I'm finishing my exams then. Don't have time now, sorry. :(