Sunday, 19 August 2012

Essential Performances of the 90s: Showdowns 31 and 32

And here goes, the final two match-ups for the first round of the Essential Performances of the '90s Tournament. There'll be a two day break and things will get back under-way with round 2 on Wednesday. The bracket continues to be updated HERE and I'm inviting all you readers to help me make round 2 a success by submitting write-ups for any of the performances you love especially (information HERE.)

If you haven’t voted as yet all the open games are HERE and if you’re now joining us the background for this project is HERE.

These two polls close on Wednesday night.

GAME THIRTY ONE: Juliette Binoche in Three Colors: Blue VS Billy Murray in Groundhog Day
Moderator: Paolo of Okinawa Assault Incident

Seed 7: Juliette Binoche in Three Colors: Blue (1993) as Julie de Courcy
What separates Three Colours: Blue from the other movies I’ve seen from the master Krystof Kieslowski becomes related to the same elements keeping it apart from Juliette Binoche’s other work. Kieslowski’s characters’ slight paranoia is put on the backburner. Blue also puts a mask of immobility on Bionche’s presence that’s more blatant in her later gigs. Although the performance portrays the irrational nature of humanity Kieslowski (and Binoche) go further deciding to make Julie cross lines of surprising European conservatism. Nonetheless, this challenge of recovery from emotional numbness after overwhelming sorrow, expressed through less dialogue, has its benefits. In other movies Binoche can blush on command, and she can do the same with her body with precision. There’s a scene where Julie is under thick hospital issue covers, watching her husband and daughter’s funeral, killed in an accident that spared her. Here, a twitch of a finger, her quivering lips and flaring nostrils complement the meticulous demand of an intimate camera. The rest of the movie feels like watching the reawakening of someone’s synapses and the passions that go with them. Since we’re talking about body parts, Binoche’s collaboration with Kieslowski has the same effect of a scientific discovery and emotional miracle. Their meditative pace is more naturalistic than the clunky, sutured exaggeration of more mainstream fare. Her work is also compelling, making us realize that we have devoted time and understanding to a hurdle that in other hands would have otherwise begged for our patience.

Seed 10: Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993) as Phil Connors
Like his later contributions in movies, Bill Murray’s performance in Groundhog Day makes exasperation and misanthropy palatable. He even negotiates the paradox where he tries to impress and elicit laughter from people he hates or condescends to. But he also manifests the old adage that comedy comes from suffering, and making people laugh is the only way for people to make others listen to their whining. How else is he going to survive needing to attract a talentless actress whose character Rita has no sense of humour about studying 19th century French poetry and drinks to world peace? Besides, he fulfils our desire to be snarky, destroy an alarm clock and throw ourselves off buildings. He even makes eye rolling into an art form. His character, Phil, conveys an all-American weatherman stuck in the same ‘hick’ town that ignites his egoistic, elitist xenophobia and stuck in the stormy, wintry day. And when he realizes that this conundrum means that his actions have no consequences, Murray becomes this cartoony pillar of mischievousness while simultaneously being adult and deadpan. He also has a deadpan approach to his lines, letting the other characters express their shock towards him and his occasional self-destruction.

GAME THIRTY TWO: Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List VS Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies
Moderator: Yojimbo of Let's Not Talk About Movies

Seed 2: Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List (1993) as Amon Göth
I pardon you.” It’s an eerie scene. When told (by Oskar Schindler) that real power is to have the opportunity to kill, Amon Goeth looks in his mirror and practices how he would look when doing so. He repeats the line several times in several intonations, weighing the words with his own body language and stance. Then, reaches to the mirror, touches it, as if to a felon and says the line one more time. “I…pardon…you.” But, who’s he saying it to…could he be saying it to himself? When the film Hitler: The Last Ten Days came out (starring Alec Guinness as Der Feurher), it was remarked that it wasn’t an exciting film…or an interesting performance…except in its lack of histrionics, drama and perspective on the carnage that the participants perpetrated. “The banality of evil” was the phrase used in one review. Fiennes’ Goeth (a real Nazi officer—there’s even a photo of him taking his morning “target practice” as depicted in the film) is a prime example of evil’s banality. Goeth is not a fire-breathing, moustache-twirling villain, despite the unconscionable things he does. He’s a bureaucrat, a Nazi flunkie, overseeing the business of killing. Intelligent, well-read, he does what he does because it is his job and the refraining from killing is a dangerous thrill for him. It’s a complex performance, one of the ones where Fiennes conveys the duality of the character through a dyspeptic weakness through the eyes. Eyes are the mirrors of Fiennes characters, where he concentrates and focuses his performances. Goeth wants to be a wheeler-dealer like Schindler, admires the man’s brio, but Goeth is merely a functionary, only as powerful as that which is granted to him. He barely thinks for himself, a pitiable monster who gets everything he deserves.

Seed 15: Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies (1996) as Cynthia Rose Purley
Any performance in a Mike Leigh film is a tight-rope walk: you’re given the parameters of the film, the scene break-downs… And then you play with it. Write your own dialogue, form your own thoughts, frequently with cameras rolling and spontaneity is high. In Secrets and Lies, Brenda Blethyn plays Cynthia Rose Purley, a London housewife with a family…and a past, one not involving her family and unknown to them. There’s enough family dysfunction already without the appearance of that past further putting a wedge between them. So Cynthia Rose keeps it a secret, until it shows up in the flesh. This sort of surprise depended on keeping some things (and cast-members) secrets on-set to bring an “authentic” reaction from the players. In Blethyn’s case, it might have been unfair, as she runs the risk of showing too much surprise in a situation her character should realize all too well. But, despite that handicap (or maybe because of it) Blethyn’s Cynthia Rose becomes a confluence of mixed emotions and instincts, not all of them good but all of them effectively rendered. And it is only the actress’ facility for turning them on a dime that makes the character as ultimately sympathetic and embraceable.


So, round one ends. Have you voted? Excited for round 2?


Lasso The Movies said...

I didn't think that Juliette Binoche and Bill Murray would be such a close call for me, but I really struggled with the one!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

lass it's interesting how you don't think of x performances as your favourite compared to y until they're literally face to face. (i struggled with the ralph/brenda pairing.)