Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saturday, March 23, 2013

“It's the dark cloud--Jane Fonda's stubborn strength, in glimpses of her sitting at the typewriter, belting down straight whiskey and puffing out smoke while whacking away at the keys, hard-faced, dissatisfied--that saves the film from being completely pictorial...."
                                    Pauline Kael

"....Jane Fonda can quiver like a tuning fork..."

                                    Kenneth Tynan (in a review of the play Invitation to a March, 1960)


Jane Fonda was making a return to mainstream American movies in 1977. Two films early in the decade--They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Klute--had established her as the premier American dramatic actress of her generation. At that time in her mid-30's, her intelligence, edge, and talent made her a peer of Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis at a similar age.

But then Fonda traveled to North Vietnam and posed with the Vietcong--enemies of American soldiers during the height of the Vietnam War. She became widely hated in the United States and, reportedly, was effectively blacklisted from Hollywood.

By 1976, after the Vietnam War had ended, and President Nixon had resigned following the Watergate scandal, the mood of the country had changed. Films starring Fonda were able to find financing. Her first film back, Fun With Dick and Jane, released early in 1977, was a comedy. Dick and Jane were a suburban couple who, after Dick lost his job, turned to robbing banks to maintain their lifestyle. Despite its theme, the film was fluff, and Fonda was lightweight in it. But somehow she got some rave reviews. Molly Haskell, Vincent Canby, and John Simon all cheered loudly for Fonda, and Stanley Kauffmann, over a year later, wrote, "..

Julia, released in October 1977, was next. Fonda played the playwright Lillian Hellman to Vanessa Redgrave's Julia, a friend Hellman had written about in her memoir, Pentimento. The British Redgrave, herself highly controversial politically, was also highly regarded as an actress. The casting of Fonda and Redgrave put Julia at the vanguard, with the The Turning Point and some other movies, of what at the time heralded as a new age for women in film. For the second time in her career, for its October 10, 1977 edition, Fonda made the cover of Newsweek.

Critics were ecstatic over Redgrave's performance as Julia. Although the title role, Julia actually has only a few scenes, in which we see her through Lillian's reverential eyes. Julia is heroically courageous; a wealthy young woman who has joined the underground movement against the Nazis in Vienna in the years leading up to World War II.  Pauline Kael wrote,
"…. This saintly Freudian Marxist queen … might have been a joke with almost anyone but Vanessa Redgrave in the role…. Redgrave is so well endowed by nature to play queens that she can act simply in the role (which doesn’t embody much screen time) and casually, yet lyrically, embody Lillian Hellman’s dream friend….
Redgrave won the Academy Award as a heavy favorite despite ..... Her acceptance speech.....

Fonda's Lillian Hellman is in almost every scene. In her introduction to Pentimento, from which many of the episodes of Julia come, Hellman wrote, "....." Julia captures some of that feel. Flashbacks of Lillian's freindship with Julia are woven with Hellman's emergence as a successful playwright under the tutelage of Jason Robards's Dashiell Hammett. In the latter half, Julia tells of Lillian's smuggling money into Berlin for the underground. About this episode, David Thomson wrote, "....."

Although Fonda was second runner-up to Diane Keaton and Shelley Duvall for both the New York and National Society of Film Critics awards [actually, I need to verify that], the critics were divided over her performance, as can be noted below. Two of her earlier, strongest supporters, Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffman--although they differed, as usual, about her performance itself--both felt she was limited by the script.

For me, though, Fonda's Lillian Hellman was for me the premier contemporary film performance when I first started paying close attention to them. I was not a maverick--In an outstanding year for film actresses, Fonda's performance had weight. As expected, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and she was in the running for the win. She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Dramatic Actress, and was a second or third runner-up in the New York Film _____ and National Society of Film Critics. That's a distinction for 1977.

When Diane Keaton won the Oscar for Annie Hall, she exclaimed, "You just don't beat Jane Fonda, or Shirley MacLaine, or Anne Bancroft, or Marsha Mason...", with special emphasis on Fonda's name. By that point, Coming Home, for which Fonda would win the Academy Award the next year, had also been released. And she was Jane Fonda.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Monday, September 05, 2005

Pauline Kael

“It's the dark cloud--Jane Fonda's stubborn strength, in glimpses of her sitting at the typewriter, belting down straight whiskey and puffing out smoke while whacking away at the keys, hard-faced, dissatisfied--that saves the film from being completely pictorial. It's a cloud-of-smoke performance; Bette Davis in all her movies put together couldn't have smoked this much--and Fonda gets away with it. It's in character. She creates a driven, embattled woman--a woman overprepared to fight back. This woman doesn't have much flexibility. You can see that in the stiff-necked carriage, the unyielding waist, even in the tense, muscular wrists, and in her nervous starts when anything unexpected happens.... When she's alone on screen, Fonda gives the movie an atmosphere of dissension, and she sustains this discordant aloneness in her scenes with everyone except Julia, with whom she's soft, eager, pliant. Her deliberately humorless Lillian is a formidable, uningratiating woman--her hair sculpted out of the same stone as her face. If you like her, you have to like her on her own implacable terms....

“The most difficult thing for an actor to suggest is what goes into making a person an artist.... [I]n the case of Lillian Hellman, ... anger seems to be her creative fount. If Julia's last advice to Lillian actually was to hang on to her anger, it was bad advice. Anger blinds Lillian Hellman as a writer. But anger is what holds the story "Julia" together, and the movie doesn't have it. At moments, Jane Fonda supplies something better, because she understands how to embody the explosive Hellman resentment. She gets at what anger does to you. It won't let you relax. It boxes you in: you're on your own. When--as Lillian--she walks into Sardi's on the opening night of her hit, twitching slightly from drunken nervousness, reveling in the attention she's getting while stiffly living up to her own image of herself as the distinguished playwright, you want more of her. You feel that Fonda has the power and invention to go on in this character--that she could crack this smooth, contemplative surface and take us places we've never been to. The film's constraint--its not seizing the moments when she's ready to go--is frustrating. Perfectionism has become its own, self-defeating end.”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, October 10, 1977
When the Lights Go Down, p. 306-10

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Stephen Schiff

“....Fonda, meanwhile, simply dazzles. She is one of those actresses whose very instincts attract you, who know how to register afterthoughts and how to convey those moments when people find themselves stranded between social roles, wondering who they will be next. During her long perilous train ride to Berlin, she shows you what terror feels like -- her shoulders hunch, her lips purse, she communicates every anxiety inexperienced people feel when in danger, and the result is the kind of Hitchcockian suspense that comes from immersing oneself in another's fear. At home with Hammett, Fonda concocts a splendid version of Hellman the writer, from the fashionably shabby sweater to the jittery energy that seems to pull all her bones tight. Watching her act is a little like reading Hellman: though you see conclusions being drawn without always knowing exactly what they are, you're moved by her struggle to make moral choices...."

Stephen Schiff
Boston Phoenix, get date

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Stephen Farber

“…. Vincent Canby called it "a film that is both well meaning [sic] and on the side of the angels but, with the exception of a half-dozen scenes, lifeless." Yet the truth is that Jane Fonda's characterization of Lillian Hellman adds considerable life to the anti-Fascist polemic. Hellman is depicted as an often weak and frightened woman, irresistibly attracted to money and glamour. There are sharp, biting moments in the portrait, for instance when Hellman exhibits a social climber's hunger to rub elbows with Hemingway.

“What makes the film dramatic, and not simply "well meaning," is the contrast between Hellman--an enlightened but essentially cautious woman--and her friend Julia, who fearlessly sacrifices herself for what she believes. Fonda supplies the human quirks that make the character something more than a liberal role model….”

Stephen Farber
"Why Do Critics Love Trashy Movies?", American Film, April 1981

“In the years from 1977 to 1979, Jane reached her peak as an actress. In Julia, Coming Home, Comes a Horseman, California Suite, and The China Syndrome, she created a gallery of sharply etched characters. She seemed to undergo a remarkable physical transformation from one role to the next… In all these movies, Jane worked with a miniaturist's attention to nuance and detail , and an uncanny responsiveness to women who were often quite different from herself… Piercing to the core of every character she played, Jane seemed incapable of a false or predictable gesture, and her performances won the respect of critics and audiences alike.”

Stephen Farber and Marc Green
Hollywood Dynasties (1984), p 160

Friday, April 01, 2005

Gary Arnold

“Unfortunately, even though the film doesn't seriously explore the consequences of hero-worshipping inspiration and emotional dependence on the formation of a writer's personality and outlook, one may consider this the undeclared subject of the movie.

“Jane Fonda's intriguing tensed-up performance as Hellman corroborates the impression. Irritable, intent and agonizingly self-conscious, Fonda suggests the internal conflicts gnawing at a talented woman who craves the self-assurance, resolve and wisdom she sees in figures like Julia and Hammett…. Feeling perpetually inferior to a vision of militant feminine virtue like Julia must provoke a resentful reaction, even if it's directed not at the person but at the wealth and security that make her grand gestures easier to afford. Fonda's tautness, the inability of her Lillian to relax, to achieve the poise whe tries to affact [sic], appears to be a symptom of something. Perhaps it's not unreasonable to read it as repressed anger and resentment at one's own real or imagined limitations. Hellman can't seem to get free of her mentors, who remain moral and artistic authorities. At time she appears to torment herself by aspiring to their perfection, which doesn't necessarily suit her temperament and capabilities. But who could be worthy of a Julia?

“Ironically, Hellman attained something of the status of Julia at the last Oscar ceremony, where she was introduced by Jane Fonda to a standing ovation…. It was a love feast evidently predicated on sweet misapprehensions, inspired in part by Hellman's self-serving account of her rather perplexing response to Cold War politics, the blacklist and a summons from HUAC in … "Scoundrel Time."

“The woman at the Oscars was a righteous conquering heroine accepting tribute from a filmmaking generation probably too young to appreciate her authentic, complicated significance. It played, but it was an act.

“Despite its gentility and evasiveness, "Julia" may have come much closer to the truth about Lillian Hellman on the strength of Jane Fonda's edgy, persuasive performance, which reveals an intelligent woman who couldn't feel more unsure of herself or less like a conquering heroine.”

Gary Arnold
Washington Post, get date

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"....That is not to decry Jane Fonda's performance. She is the center of the film and has the great variety of stress, suffering, and brooding of a woman too committed to relax. She does sometimes look like Hellman, and she does catch the awful threat of appearing afraid. Equally, Jane herself in the last two years has moved rapidly enough from denim to Oscar-night satin to understand Lillian's confused feelings for pretty clothes...."

David Thomson
Real Paper (Boston), get date

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Stanley Kauffmann

"....What saves the writing scenes here, and the reading-and-opinion scenes, is that Jane Fonda is Hellman and Jason Robards is Hammett. They concentrate so hard and well, knowing that they are bucking every composer-and-teacher painter-and-master film ever made, that they legitimate the scenes, even if they can't really make them overwhelming.

“Fonda, not made up to look like Hellman but certainly looking less than her usual knockout self, always has a base-line of authenticity in her acting beneath which she simply cannot go--she is just too instinctually sound. But there are corners smudged in her performance here, lines not etched quite sharply enough, actions and reactions "told" us, rather than fulfilled. For instance, in here scenes with Julia's courier in Paris--played agreeably by Maximilian Schell--I kept wondering about Hellman's feelings, instead of feeling them. The stabs were missing: I saw only the knife flashes. Generally I felt I was watching Fonda work toward the part: I kept wishing that most scenes had been filmed about two weeks later….

“I expected the casting of Fonda and Redgrave to be a wonderful match. It turns out to be a bit one-sided, not in contest but in art. Fonda, as I was early to say and still know, is exceptionally gifted; but here Redgrave cuts finer and goes further, even allowing for the fact that she has the better part.”

Stanley Kauffmann
New Republic, 1977

Friday, March 25, 2005

Andrew Sarris

“…. I have never considered it a particular privilege to worship at the shrine of Lillian Hellman .... Jane Fonda has worked hard to interpret Lillian Hellman without merely idolizing her, but it is in the very nature of the self-absorption of Hellman, and the inescapable solitude of writers, that Fonda's performance slips into posing, particularly when she chain-smokes in front of her typewriter and goes into paper-crumpling tantrums when she is dissatisfied with her copy. Her scenes with Robards's Dash are pleasant, but portentously cryptic.... [Fonda's] emotionally and dramatically obligatory scenes must be those with Vanessa Redgrave's Julia, and they are simply not there. Fonda and Redgrave stare at each other intensely enough, but these two extraordinary actress-personalities completely fail to connect or communicate in an interesting manner. We must take their relationship on faith, and my faith, in this instance, is very shaky.”

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice, get date

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Jack Kroll

“….[N]o actresses could be more appropriate, professionally and symbolically, to play these roles than Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, both remarkable performers, both born 40 years ago, both members of distinguished theatrical families, both controversial women who insisted on playing highly visible roles in left-wing politics. In "Julia," Fonda and Redgrave are close to perfection, and the pathos and power of friendship they create is the movie's great virtue.

"...."Julia" is moving in its glowing commitment to the power of friendship. The climax of the film is Lillian's last meeting with Julia in a Berlin restaurant, a powerful scene staged definitively by Zinnemann and acted stunningly by Fonda and Redgrave, who create a heartbreaking interplay of emotions without a taint of sentimentality. Lillian and Julia will never see each other again, but in the paranoid air of Nazi Germany in 1937 they can't fully express their feeling. They exchange information tersely about the latest events in their lives--Julia has had a baby, Lillian has had a Broadway success. This enforced casualness forces their faces into dramatic emblems--Julia's luminous, valedictory smile and Lillian's bitten-back, angry tears....

“Aliveness and immediacy are what's most important about Jane Fonda. She's never used her acting to project any kind of ideology or dogma; it's always the electric impact of observed life that comes through sharp and clear.... [Fonda] is likely to be the most important figure in this latest, uncertain cycle [the re-emergence of women in central film role] in a notoriously cycle-happy industry. In the end, a Jane Fonda is more important for the pleasure and enlightenment of audiences than the unseemly scrambling of moneymen. Her career already has the shape, the grace, the movielike drama of the most interesting female movie careers, like Hepburn's or Lombard's. She's a fine actress whose very behavior seems to mean something to us even before we connect it with the role she's playing. And despite her sometimes strident radicalizing that angered many Americans in a divided time, she's an image in the American grain--direct, clear, appealing, with the resilience of the old American optimism, good faith and high spirits in her movements and her voice.

"In this, she's very much her father's child...."

Jack Kroll
Newsweek cover story, get date

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Molly Haskell

“In Julia, one word of grown-up dialogue, one exchange between Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave as conversing adults, would have been worth the thousand pictures in bucolic settings designed to show the wordless harmony of their friendship. Here we have two of the most electrifying women in movies in a casting coup that is not only iconographically but politically inspired: Redgrave as Julia, the total activist and martyr to Fascism; Fonda as the acolyte, the rebellious but self-doubting playwright Lillian.

“We expect some sort of fireworks, yet all we get is one scene in which the two meet as adults, and connect: the brief, vivid scene in the railway café--taken straight from Hellman's story-- in which the baffled Lillian turns over contraband money to her friend. The rest is mostly filler, as Zinneman tries to suggest the scope and historical context of the period with dazzling location sequences that are a poor substitute for the emotional and political terrain left unexplored....

“Fonda catches some of the moral severity that is gathering into Lillian's face, but her portrayal of Lillian-the-writer falls back on the usual absurd hyperboles by which movies have always tried to inject action into an essentially inactive operation: She sits hunched and frazzled over the antique Royal, nonfilter cigarette dangling from her mouth. Then she rips the page from the machine, balls it up, and throws it away. (Has any writer ever done this? Aren't we usually, if not delighted with the just-finished page, at least content to sit on it for a while?)

“Dressed in baggy sweater and heavily unmade-up, Fonda strains to convince us she is a Real Woman and an Important one. But in equating sartorial seediness with seriousness of purpose Julia resorts to the kind of skin-deep visual clichés that it presumably means to avoid. Why not suggest the surprising Hellman--the woman who will become a legend in mink, the woman Sheilah Graham refers to in The Garden of Allah--as a sexy dish!”

New York, October 19, 1977

“If I’m leery of so-called “breakthroughs” in women’s roles, it’s because I’ve heard this tune before. Back when 1977 was turning into 1978, critics and pundits made the somewhat belated discovery that something had been missing from movies and acknowledged what that missing something was by dubbing 1977 “The Year of the Woman.” That was the year of Julia, The Turning Point, The Goodbye Girl, and Annie Hall, and what all the shouting meant was that there were finally enough women in leading roles to fill the five slots for the Academy Award nominees without voters having to upgrade supporting actresses for that purpose.

“Not that these films, particularly the first two, weren’t interesting and noteworthy in themselves. Julia … took its women, and its politics, fairly seriously....[I]n Julia, the reckless heroism of the radical Redgrave character is used to expose the caution and timidity of the Fonda “moderate.” But at least in those few tantalizing scenes in which they come together as adults, one feels, beneath the differences, the sparks of attraction and intimacy, strong ties of friendship….”

Molly Haskell
Psychology Today, January 1983

See Haskell’s comments “riveting performances” in Playgirl?