Sunday, February 17, 2019

Great Performances

What exactly is a great performance by an actor or actress on stage or screen? Or if not exactly, because it involves something words seem unable to express fully, at least approximately.

It predicates a paradox or oxymoron, because it is both unique and universal, something we can identify with without even having imagined. Over decades of theater and movie going, I have  witnessed it not all that rarely, but not all that often either. What one gets frequently enough is good or even very good acting, but short of the prodigious, the unforgettable, the great.

As I look back, I encounter what may be the most often lauded performance by an American actress in all time, Laurette Taylor’s as Amanda Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie” (1944). As it happens, I saw it and liked it, but was perhaps too young to sufficiently appreciate it, or able to recall it now. The role certainly boasts writing good enough to attract fine actresses, but none other has achieved comparable glory in it, adulation even on hearsay from persons who weren’t there. And let us not forget that Julie Haydon, as daughter Laura, was pretty great too, but is not half so often cited.

Haydon, incidentally, was of a fragile loveliness seldom equaled in Hecht and MacArthur’s movie, “The Scoundrel,” opposite a likewise remarkable Noel Coward.
Why that film is not rereleased remains a mystery to me. But let me for the moment consider whom I view as the two greatest American male actors of stage and screen, Fredric March and George C. Scott. This despite my appreciation of James Robards, Paul Muni, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, William Holden, Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, John Garfield and certain others, all of whom could occasionally be great.

But, of course, greatness does come more often in great roles, like Scott onstage as Clarence Darrow in “Inherit the Wind.” On film, he was great in “Hospital” (with help from Paddy Chayefsky’s script) as early as 1972, and as late as1986 in “The Last Days of Patton.” He specialized in fanatics whom one could have hated even in good causes, but he knew how to make fanaticism admirable even in poor ones But then, onstage in Coward’s “Present Laughter,” he proved himself just as good in light comedy and British wit.

In Fredric March, too, the genius lay in the man, regardless of the part. He was incredibly handsome in diverse roles; let’s single out “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Death Takes a Holiday.” As diverse as the quality of their writing were the roles from light to heavy, whether based on Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain or whoever.

Thinking about both Scott and March, I conclude that their greatness lies not so much in individual performances as in their whole careers, in the aura of masterliness adhering to their mere starry presence. Versatility certainly, but personality even more.

Interestingly, more performances by British actors of stage and screen come to mind than do those by American ones, by which I mean born in the U.S. I would guess that this stems from more rigorous training and more frequent exposure to Shakespeare and other classics. Consider the legendary quality of Laurence Olivier’s performances, not only in “Henry the Fifth” and “Richard the Third,” but also in such modern roles as in “Rebecca” and “The Entertainer.”

Or think of John Gielgud, to whom being great in various roles came as easily as a suit of different clothes to a dandy. Hard to pick any one gem from such a treasure trove. but let me settle for the butler in “Arthur,” for which he deservedly got an Oscar. Gielgud was often praised merely for his extremely musical voice , but he could hold is own below that as well.

And what of my perhaps favorite British actor, Ralph Richardson, who had a quality that repeatedly dazzled me. It consisted of endowing a more or less ordinary man
with a core of nobility that transcended looks or mannerisms, as for instance in another butler in “The Fallen Idol,” or the surgeon in “The Elephant Man,” and on and on, even in such an awkward film version as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Great innumerably too on stage, for example in “John Gabriel Borkman” or “Home.”

Let me cite merely performances I have seen from a variety of great British actors. Michael Redgrave (“The Captive Heart”), Albert Finney (“Tom Jones,” “Gumshoe,” “Erin Brockovich”), Michael Caine (“Alfie), Peter O’Toole (“Lawrence of Arabia”), Robert Donat (“Goodbye, Mr. Chips”), Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons”). Peter Finch (“Network”), Donald Sinden (“London Assurance”). Robert Morley (“Oscar Wilde,” “Beat the Devil”), Ian McKellen (“Richard III”), Kenneth Branagh {“Much Ado About Nothing,” and “Conspiracy”),  etc.etc.

And what of my beloved Trevor Howard in an undeservedly forgotten film, one of my favorites, “Outcast of the Islands,” and in everyone’s beloved “Brief Encounter.” Also, while we are on Noel Coward, himself as actor in “In Which We Serve,” and Harold Pinter as actor, before he turned, less felicitously in my view, into a playwright.

But enough of men. Let me turn now to American actresses, at least those who weren’t deformed by the Actors’ Studio or really British, as, for example, Vivien Leigh and Gertrude Lawrence. This would include exceptional achievements even by, as I see it, undesirables such as the later Judy Garland, except very fine in the seemingly forgotten, underrated “The Clock,” and also an early version of the continually reinvented “A Star Is Born.”

Also, of course, Mary Martin, especially in “South Pacific,” Claire Trevor (“Key Largo,” “Murder, My Sweet”), Gloria Grahame (“Man on a Tightrope,” “The Big Heat”). Uma Thurman (“Henry & June”), Sono Osato in anything she touched, Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman” and “Erin Brockovich,”) also in an abundance of parts too numerous to catalogue, the wonderful Jan Maxwell (“House and Garden”), Lauren Bacall, Elaine Stritch, Julie Harris, Evelyn Keyes, Geraldine Page, Kim Stanley, Meryl Streep, Patricia Neal, Katharine Hepburn, Janice Rule, Ina Claire, Elizabeth Ashley, Lynn Fontanne, Donna McKechnie, Dee Hoty, Marian Seldes, Dorothy Dandridge, Halle Berry, Lena Horne, and a good many others of whom I cannot think at the moment. But there are two ladies I want to particularise here, namely Alexis Smith and Lee Remick, two incomparable stars, both of whom played one of the leads on different occasions in “Follies.” I quote from “John Simon on Theater”: “Were there ever two more maturely beautiful women on our stages, more ladylike and sexy, more aglitter yet accessible, more totally theatrical and not the least bit stagy? Where are you now, Alexis and Lee, you two marvelous Phylisses of the 1971 premiere and the 1985 concert revival? You are built into the accruing glory that is “Follies,” as surely as Daphne lives in the olive tree, as Andromeda lights up in the night sky.

I will not even try here to go into great performances by men beyond those by two actors’ already mentioned. Rather let me try to develop my notions what constitutes greatness in theater and cinema.

Let’s turn to John Howard Wilson’s book “All the King’s Ladies: Actresses of the Restoration” for the pages about the magnificent Anne Bracegirdle, who lived from presumably 1663 to 1748 and played in more shows than any dozen current actresses rolled together. It takes Wilson 3 ½ pages just to list them. Included is this description by Anthony Acton:

She was of a lovely height, with dark-brown Hair and Eye-brows, black sparkling Eyes, and a fresh blushy Complexion; and, whenever she exerted herself, had an involuntary Flushing in her Breast, Neck and Face, having continually a cheerful Aspect, and a fine set of even white Teeth; never making an Exit, but that she left the Audience in an Imitation of her pleasant Countenance.”

That essentially translates as good looks, felicitous stage presence and natural charm, producing delight in her audience even after she has made her exit. This may be the place for my tribute to Jane Fonda in “Klute.” “As irresistible as a surfy beach in July, her performance washes over you like a tartly cooling, drolly buffeting liquid benediction, bringing wave after wave of unpredictable, exhilarating delight. There is a perfect blend here of shrewdness, acerbity, toughness, anxiety, and vulnerability. A quintessential femininity is caught in transition between a badly dented girlishness and a nascent womanliness as innocent of its past as a butterfly of its larva. Note the play of Miss Fonda’s febrile hands when she is sweating it out with her therapist, the dartings and hesitancies of her voice, with its sudden leaps and falls of temperature, the faint seismic tremors of her facial play, indicating turbulences valiantly repressed.”

Now compare this with what I wrote about a German actress, Ingrid Ernest, in Hauptmann’s “Before Sundown,” as reprinted in “Acid Test.” “She gave herself in every form of giving: a girl’s, shyly proud; a woman’s, quietly eager; a tomboy’s, a small child’s, a spoiled princess’, an unknown somebody’s—unknown even to herself; astonished, frightened, and very, very sure. We were confronted with a reality so overwhelming that life would have found a way of diluting it, just so as to get us over it and beyond. But in the theater it was there, pure and immutable and ours.


From both of the above, we conclude that great performance consists of layers, contradictions reconciled or not, emotions and actions that intensify reality recognized or not, components we realize as ours, but not ordinarily proffered in such abundance. Make of it all great performance. Sadly, we lost track of Ms. Ernest, but Ms. Fonda, still active, still radiant, is with us still.

48 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Damn straight. I love when Simon talks movies. Plus, we get some views on older films, which I don't see too often.

      I have to do some research. I want to list some of my favorite performances in films. Off the top of my head, I loved Martin Balsam in "Psycho." Anthony Perkins was great in that film, also. Michael Caine in "The Man Who Would be King." There are so many.

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  2. I'd like to point out most great acting performances are in great films. In other words, the director makes a big difference (there are exceptions, of course). Some of my favorite acting roles were the smaller parts, supporting roles (the aforementioned Martin Balsam-Psycho part)

    Billy Bob Thorton--A Simple Plan
    Sydney Greenstreet--The Maltese Falcon
    Chris Cooper--Adaptation
    Richard Basehart--La Strada
    Laurence Olivier--Marathon Man
    John Malkovich--Being John Malkovich
    Julianne Moore--Maps to the Stars
    Lily Tomlin--Nashville
    Liv Ullmann--Shame
    Jennifer Lawrence--American Hustle
    Laurie Metcalf--Lady Bird
    Jessica Tandy--The Birds
    Jodie Foster--Taxi Driver

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  3. Your critic awaits

    John Simon argued with great pith,
    Golden-hearted hookers are a myth.
    Intellect or other tingle tricked,
    His hard-fast rule to contradict?

    Fonda reprise to new heights take,
    Most vulnerable the most did fake?
    With heartfelt sob, dear John did thank,
    Then exited laughing to the bank?

    But who am I to sit and talk?
    Imogen Poots I'd love to stalk
    Into the flick, "She's Funny That Way,"
    For her any fool to play!

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  4. Patriotism prompts me to point out that Peter Finch was Australian.

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  5. Patriotism doesn't prompt me to point out that Bruno Ganz, who just died, was possibly the best "foreign" actor of his generation.

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    Replies
    1. Ganz was very good in two terrible films. The American Friend, and Wings of Desire. He also was (supposedly) good as Hitler in Downfall. I don't know, I haven't seen it. If I was an actor, which I was (briefly) in my earlier years, I'd never play Hitler in anything. How would you ever get another part? Can you imagine the casting call?

      ME--"Why yes, my best role was Hitler, back in '85"

      PRODUCER--"Okay, we'll call you. Don't call us."

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    2. By the Bale full

      On the contrary, lefty actors love playing
      Right-wingers, it goes without saying:
      Villains everyone (of them) loves to hate;
      Who on Machiavellianism sate,
      Richard the Third-like scheming of course,
      For Babylon kingdom scale going hoarse.

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    3. Love this. Who but Scotty W could work "machiavellianism" into a poem.

      Is this trochaic?

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    4. Thanks Pop. Two dactyls and a trochee? Had to look them up.

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  6. Thank you, John. Brando in Streetcar?

    Donald Trump, playing the buffoon as President? Tom Parker

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    Replies
    1. I shall mention what I think is the mass audience's bizarre indiscriminateness in its tastes in acting. Acclaimed performances like, off the top of my head, Tom Courtenay in The Dresser, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (and to a considerably lesser and different degree, in general--glad John Simon didn't mention him), George Kennedy in Cool Hand Luke, Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain, the usually lovely Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman and even worse, Out of Africa, the list goes on. My question is: how can a mass audience who certainly shows some degree of responsiveness to many undeniably great performances, and to the things that I think make them great, place these performances alongside ones like those I mentioned and not see a vast difference, that they are basically the opposite of each other in every respect to quality? George Kennedy's ridiculous empty bluster and facial calisthenics with nothing behind it, Streep's mummified, brick-wall stiffness of presence and machine-cranked, preposterously affected voice and accent in Out of Africa, and more are some of the most outrageous offences against acting and uninhibitedly stupid and embarrassing behavior I have seen. And how about the many underappreciated and underused actors and even more so actresses in film especially? My favorites include: the divine and sexy Julie Hagerty, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Kelly Macdonald, Barbara Loden in Splendor in the Grass, Eric Roberts, Paul Rhys (brilliant in Altman's Vincent & Theo), Amanda Plummer (who even Simon seems to dump on, seemingly because she's not 'feminine' enough), Madeleine Stowe, the utterly adorable Bridget Fonda (my favorite Fonda!), Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mysterious Skin, Joanna Cassidy, and so many more.

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    2. And I have to single out one of my favorite actresses of all time: Mary Astor!!! Who was only nominated for one Academy Award where there should have been about a billion nominations. Her licquored-up (but not smelly or pathetic) way of hurling herself into a film, like the bad-ass (a word I hate to use) high-rolling party girl she was in life, never ceases to amaze me. And I don't get why there is any complaining at all about her perf in The Maltese Falcon. She manages the constant lying and queasily unstable eliciting of sympathy from the audience and Bogie as well of course, very expertly. She was always sort of a more-sympathetic-than-average femme fatale of a kind, from even what little I've seen of her work.

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    3. I agree about Mary Astor. Hell of an actress. Her work in 'The Maltese Falcon' was sublime. At once sexy, humorous, scary, and pathetic, it's truly one of the great film performances of all time. But, as I said before, we have to give credit to the director, and in this case, he's one of the best who ever lived.

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    4. I love the idea of the truly sympathetic femme fatale. Astor in TMF is one, and the ultimate has to be Anjelica Huston in her two greatest performances, in Prizzi's Honor and even more so, The Grifters. Talk about great acting, one of Anjelica's greatest feats with these two turns of hers is how imperceptibly she insinuates these characters, who are ruthless and pretty amoral, into the viewer's sympathy, so much so that she is really the star of both films. And her last scene in The Grifters rightly belongs in any compendium of great performing. I'm sure John Simon thinks The Grifters is trivial as a film, or worse, haha! But I wonder what he'd have to say about Anjelica.

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    5. 1990 was a wonderful year for films, and "The Grifters" was easily Top 5 for that year in large part due to Huston's performance. She was also good "The Dead." John Huston did a terrific job with one of the best short stories ever written. "The Dead" is a story that doesn't lend itself to filming, either.

      My Top 5 films of 1990:

      5) Goodfellas
      4) Life is Sweet
      3) The Grifters
      2) Trust
      1) Miller's Crossing

      Honorable mention: Wild at Heart, The Match Factory Girl, Reversal of Fortune

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    6. You really love John Huston! Me too. There seems to be a bit of snobbishness directed at him-I mean, I just don't know if he was especially creative, there are some early original screenplays that I haven't seen or read, and he wasn't especially gifted with visuals (quite apart from whatever the cinematographer may have supplied on any given film). Although I actually think he had a knack for Cinemascope visual composition, strangely, when he did kind of suck at most other aspect ratios. But who cares when the result is The Maltese Falcon, Sierra Madre, African Queen, Fat City, or The Man Who Would Be King! Some of the most--the very few--consistently literary films ever. He was a great visionary craftsman, perhaps the best.

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    7. I love Huston and all of the films you listed. Don't forget The Asphalt Jungle. Huston was a very good actor, as well. I disagree about his use of mise en scene. I think he frames shots exquisitely, especially when working with the top-notch DPs like Rosson and Edeson. The framing in The Asphalt Jungle was quite intoxicating.

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    8. Mr. McArthur, here some links to images of three of Huston's best films showing the excellent mise en scene I'm referring to.

      https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS681US681&biw=1366&bih=663&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=-DmMXJfJBebs5gKRkISICQ&q=the+treasure+of+the+sierra+madre&oq=the+treasure+&gs_l=img.1.0.0l10.39348.44578..47011...0.0..1.194.2185.19j5......2....1..gws-wiz-img.....0..0i24j35i39j0i67.HZkOYsybS1k


      https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS681US681&biw=1366&bih=663&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=UzmMXNH_Eamq5wKv-LTYAQ&q=the+maltese+falcon&oq=the+maltese+falcon&gs_l=img.1.0.0j0i67l4j0l5.5252.5863..8825...0.0..0.107.354.3j1......1....1..gws-wiz-img.......0i7i30.CiVQzRg_6Vw


      https://www.google.com/search?q=the+asphalt+jungle&rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS681US681&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwj9-9KAqoXhAhWHZVAKHbGtBy8Q_AUIDygC&biw=1366&bih=663

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    9. Why do I always have to try and impress people with some fancy shit writing? I shouldn't use a phrase like "in large part."

      I need to write just like The Hem used to write. No adjectives. No adverbs. Preferably, not much of nothing. The Hem could write a classic with about 25 words. I need to write like The Hem. I'm enclosing a sample of one of The Hem's Pulitzer Prize-winning short stories in its entirety.



      Camping---(by The Hem)

      I was fishing. I became hungry. I hung my pole between the branches of a tree. I hoped a fish might bite on a worm while I rested. I sat on the bank and pulled a sandwich out of my canvas knapsack. I warmed some coffee on the campfire. The coffee was strong. I forgot the sugar. I was okay, though. The sandwich tasted good. It was ham. It also had cheese on it. It goes without saying that the sandwich had bread surrounding the sandwich (Editor: should I leave this line? Yours truly, The Hem)

      The wind was picking up. It was swirling now. I looked down towards the whirlpools in the bend of the gloomy creek. (Editor: I'm allowed one adjective, bitch) The whirlpools were starting to make me think. I remember that time in the war when I almost died. The bullet barely missed me. My coffee was cold now. The fish were sleeping. I stood erect and began to urinate.

      Fin

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    10. I found another obscure short story penned by The Hem. He was quite prolific during this era. Such a great writer.

      The Serengeti Adventure (by: The Hem)

      It was Africa. I was drinking in a bar. I lion walked by the window. That's how I knew I was in Africa. That and the goddamn monkeys. Dirty bastards. Sometimes the monkeys would walk by the window playing with their penises. I screamed at them to stop, and they just laughed at me. They screeched at me and climbed nearby trees flaunting their red buttocks.

      Africa was disgusting, and my wife was late joining me in the bar. Finally, she strolled through the beaded doorway in a white, lion-hunting outfit that accentuated her hardening nipples. She rubbed the head of masturbating monkey and sat down next to me. She screamed, "Garcon! I need a drink!" All of a sudden, I fell off my stool and passed out on the greasy floor full of peanut shells.

      Fin

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    11. Trump is a fool but Jew-run media pushing Russia Collusion was the real clown show.

      https://twitter.com/mtracey/status/1112570425454796800

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  7. Fine writing from Mr. Simon. Of the men, I'd like to add Robert Shaw, for many roles, whether in relatively obscure films such as The Luck Of Ginger Coffey to the still well remembered A Man Fr All Seasons.

    Then, in the Seventies, Shaw emerged as a character star of vast charisma and equally vast skill, first, as the moody Irish villain in The Sting, which he easily stole from his higher billed co-stars, Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

    Then a couple of years later, Shaw walked off with Jaws, in which he blew his gifted fellow players (both excellent, btw) off the screen, most notably in his justly famous "sinking of the Indianapolis" monologue, to which he brings a laconic quality to the words he speaks even as there are a lot of them.

    A great actor, Robert Shaw. I wish he'd got better roles in his prime; and of course I wish he had lived a lot longer.

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    Replies
    1. I agree with your assessment on Shaw. Terrific actor. The look on his face when he loses to the four jacks is priceless. Here is that scene if anyone wants to revisit.
      https://youtu.be/cPtEClW8M1I?t=7

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    2. Thanks, Pop. Shaw had one of the many "special somethings" that even a journeyman player needs to pull off a routine performance: credibility. I think of the heavy set, rather obscure S. John Launer, the best Perry Mason judge I've ever seen. One believes one is watching a real judge in a real courtroom whenever he's on screen; and I say this with all due respect for the other Perry judges: Willis Bouchey, Morris Ankrum, Kenneth MacDonald, Richard Gaines.

      Also solid: David Janssen, maybe not the most versatile of actors, he none the less scored big playing a character in a profession most actors just plain "get wrong": medicine. When Janssen's Dr. Kimble speaks as a doctor, he's wholly believable.

      It's in this area that more skilled actors,--Charlton Heston, for example--sometimes fail to measure up. They have voice training, body language, attitude,--it's all there--but I know I'm watching an actor putting on a good show when I'm seeing Heston in something, anything. He was very good when at the top of his game, yet he seldom "sold it". It fits and starts, not for the entirety of a film.

      Another great actor worth mentioning: Roger Livesy. What would Powell & Pressburger done without him? Also grand, in a more limited range, the Canadian Raymond Massey, who could play backwoods or big city with equal skill.

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    3. John, I believe there are four types of acting performers. Great actors, actors that have that "it" quality, actors that have both, and of course, bad actors. Here are some examples, and please note that I'm not a fan of the "over-actor."

      Great actor (but not much "it"):
      Laurence Olivier
      Dustin Hoffman
      Anthony Hopkins
      James Stewart
      Meryl Streep

      Good actors (with the "it" factor)
      Harrison Ford
      Charlton Heston
      Cary Grant
      Julia Roberts
      Al Pacino
      Nicole Kidman


      Actors with both:
      Robert De Niro
      Humphrey Bogart
      Michelle Pheiffer
      Sidney Poitier
      Faye Dunaway

      Bad actor:
      Keanu Reeves
      Angelina Jolie
      Ashton Kutcher
      Brad Pitt
      George Clooney

      PS, I'll do my foreign version soon.

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  8. To the list of good (some might argue otherwise) actors who definitely had "it": William Holden, Richard Widmark, Robert Stack (yes!).

    Of actresses, classic era mostly, so many: Eleanor Parker, Susan Hayward, Dorothy Malone, Loretta Young, Ann Savage, Jennfer Jones (sometimes I think she's great, same with Vivien Leigh, who WAS great two or three times), I also believe that some of the sex symbol types just happened to have "it" without maybe a ton of talent, but "something": Lana Turner, Carole Landis, Marilyn Monroe.

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  9. Not surprisingly ,there's no mention of any performances of BRANDO in your list. Did you always dislike him from the beginning or somewhere along the way?

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    Replies
    1. Brando's best screen work was his monologue in the room with his dead wife in 'Last Tango':

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh4XkC0-_Zc

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    2. But John didn't care for it, any more than any of his other roles.

      Delete
    3. Most of Brando's best work was before the main thrust of Simon's reviews. And I love how I used the term "main thrust" to emphasize John's oeuvre. Very Brando-ish, don't you think?

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    4. Here's a link to N. Mailer's review of 'Last Tango in Paris':

      https://scrapsfromtheloft.com/2017/11/12/last-tango-in-paris-1973-a-transit-to-narcissus-review-by-norman-mailer/

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    5. This is a wonderful piece of work! Never read it. He's right up there with Simon.

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    6. I'm pretty sure the Mailer piece is collected in his book 'Pieces and Pontifications'.

      Delete
  10. It would be very nice indeed if Mr. Simon could live and write forever.

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  11. I assume Mr. Simon means "Jason Robards" instead of "James Robards."

    Typos afflict all writers, especially after we pass a certain age or two. Thus our gratitude for editors --

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  12. Here's a nice Stanley Crouch quote I stumbled over, from his essay "Barbarous on Either Side: The New York Blues of 'Mr. Sammler's Planet'": "The role of the civilized man is, finally, to fight for a compassionate consciousness that is neither sentimental nor overwhelmed by the stark and brutal facts of a world known to move with almost whimsical suddenness from the elevated to the barbaric."

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  13. Another curious thing about acting, or perhaps just film acting, in general: if you look at the whole history of movies, I think you have to admit that the actresses put their feminine wiles, intriguing beauty, sexuality, sensuality (if they have them, and for no doubt unsavory reasons, they usually do) etc. to _way_ more, and much more frequent, interesting and creative use than what men have done in the same department. Is female sexuality just a that much more fun, idiosyncratic, various, interesting ingredient of acting, and perhaps life, than the male counterpart? I can't understand it. I can think of exactly one really effective and interesting performance from a man that was largely centered around sexuality off the top of my head: Montgomery Clift in the part of Red River that I have seen (if I remember correctly), and he was a very selfless, dedicated, mysterious, creative, and all-around unusual actor.

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    Replies
    1. In the past, publicly expressed idiosyncrasies were detrimental to a man's attempt to achieve prominence in war, business, sports, or any field outside of the arts. An ambitious man could only let his hair down behind closed doors.

      Delete
  14. I should think Mr. Simon did not include the great Christopher Plummer only because Simon has written at great length elsewhere of his very high regard for Plummer.

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    Replies
    1. I was looking at the book 'Paul on Mazursky', in which he's interviewed about each film he made --- he heaps praise on Plummer for his work as FDR in the 1988 Mazursky film 'Winchell'. The book also has a funny anecdote about John Simon that I tried to link to:

      https://books.google.com/books?id=qBAwbRvDcsQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=paul+on+mazursky&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwix6ZiRwLnhAhWjdN8KHQ6LDTgQ6AEIKjAA#v=onepage&q=john%20simon&f=false

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  15. Some actors are excellent in technique. They are meticulously practicing a craft.

    Some actors may not be best in terms of technique but they have personality and style. This kind of actor make excellent character actors. Like Danny Devito. He can't do everything, but what he does, he does marvelously.

    Then you have actors who may not be best in technique or most memorable in personality but have the drive and will to deliver performances that transform the material beyond expectations. They aren't merely practicing a craft but taking part in creation. They are expanding and enriching than merely serving the role as written.
    This kind of actor is unstable and volatile because creativity is more chaotic than craft.
    This is why Brando mattered. He did a lot of bad work, but he always tried to do MORE with the role, and when he hit the mark, he really hit it hard. This kind of acting requires total investment of the soul than involvement of the body. Done badly, it can be embarrassing, but done right, nothing compares to it.

    Brando breakdown before his dead wife in LAST TANGO is a great moment in cinema.

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  16. Actors I like:

    Alain Delon
    Patricia Neal
    Maureen O'Hara
    Toshiro Mifune
    Jack Nicholson
    Bill Murray
    Max von Sydow
    Gian Maria Volonte
    Charles Bronson
    Jon Voight
    James Mason
    Tatsuya Nakadai
    Anthony Quinn
    Peter Ustinov
    Faye Dunaway

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  18. Here's a conversation between Quentin Crisp and David Dubal over what makes a great performer:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01qkRrojpJQ

    Excerpt:

    David Dubal (DD): Why do some people have this sense of style, that it goes even beyond their technical capacity? For instance, Paderewski could not play as well as his contemporaries physically, and yet he just drove the crowds wild. The same with [Anna] Pavlova.

    Quentin Crisp (QC): It is, I think, a knowledge of yourself. The great pianists, or the great musical people of any kind, their main knowledge is their knowledge of the works they’re playing. With the great performers, their study has been their study of themselves, and how to appear to great advantage. Most of them have physical advantages. Mr. Iturbi, whom you mentioned earlier, was a handsome man. Mr. Paderewski was a significant-looking man.

    DD: Very. He could actually become, and did, the President of Poland.

    QC: Yes.

    DD: Think of a pianist ruling a nation, how dangerous.

    QC: That’s right. And with Pavlova, she had this beautiful, frail look. And they were aware of this, and they cultivated it, and this is what made them great performers. And you know when the performer is greater than the performance, if they are known to people outside their profession.

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