Tuesday, 17 May 2011

“I, along with the critics, have never taken myself very seriously.”

This month, courtesy of CS of Big Thoughts From A Small Mind, the LAMB is paying tribute to Elizabeth Taylor. I’d meant to celebrate Ms. Taylor’s birthday earlier this year by doing the usual top 5s, but other responsibilities prevented me. It’s been over a month since her death, but now’s as good a time as any for a retrospective Elizabeth top 5.
Angela Vickers in A Place in the Sun (1951)
Seems like we always spend the best part of our time just saying goodbye.
Elizabeth’s Angela is often forgotten. She didn’t earn an Oscar nod for it, and Stevens film endures less for her contribution and more for its general grace (with the exception of Alice Adams alone, perhaps Stevens films always seem to tower over their actors). Yet, I remember Angela. Elizabeth’s still in that limbo between child prodigy and smouldering temptress and the performance exudes that self-effacing sincerity which I find appealing. And, that final scene is just a beauty.
Gloria Wandrous in BUtterfield 8 (1960)
Mama, face it: I was the slut of all time.

Maggie Pollitt in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Maggie the cat is alive. I’m alive.”

Both Maggie and Gloria depend on that vaguely vampish charm which Elizabeth is often remembered for, but for a number of cinephiles they exist on opposite ends of Elizabeth’s spectrum of talent. I love The Apartment, and Shirley MacLaine in it, but I’m always unable to succumb to the general loathing surrounding BUtterfield 8. In fact, other than that ghastly ending I’m a fan of the film itself. Yes, Maggie is significantly more iconic – as is Cat On A Hot Tin Roof I remember them both as fine performances.
Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
Of all things living, a man’s the worst!
Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1968)
You’re flops. I’m the earth mother and you’re all flops.

It is perhaps not accidental that my two favourite performances of Elizabeth are opposite the excellent Richard Burton. For me, Elizabeth’s natural cadence is marked by her ability to go to toe with her fellow actors. She’s not, for example, a Vanessa Redgrave who’s at her best with long monologues. So, it’s only natural with both Martha and Katharina the fact that she has all those combative moments opposite her co-stars contribute to brilliance in the performances.
These are only five, but Elizabeth has contributed a number of indelible performances to the screen. Which is your favourite?


MovieNut14 said...

My favorite is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but her best is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Ironic since both roles have her stuck in dead end marriages.

Brandon said...

No question that she's at the top of her game with her larger-than-life characterization of Martha. I've said this a zillion times, but it's so very satisfying to see this kind of powerhouse acting in one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever. Burton's my favorite performance of the bunch, but Taylor's is just as textured and compelling.

MovieNut14 said...

My favorite's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but her best is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

anna your comments have been returned! incidentally, i wouldn't call either of the marriages dead. maybe i have a masochistic view on life.

brandon burton's my favourite too, but i love the entire cast. always wish segal would get more love, too.