Wednesday, May 11, 2005

La Streep

Click on the title of this entry for a worthwhile think piece on Meryl Streep in The Independent by Elisabeth Vincentelli. It's a practical analysis of Streep and her place in show business, and how the business has shunned her methods while celebrating her status. At one point, Vincentelli says that Streep has a "serious lack of humor." Preposterous. Death Becomes Her is a gas, as are her moments in Adaptation, and look at any awards show where Streep is presenting -- her comic timing and ease with improv are effortless. Other than that, though, the article is on the money.

Here are the best excerpts:

'Still, an idea has developed over the years -- and it has been assisted by such judges as Pauline Kael and Katharine Hepburn -- that her brilliance is intellectual, theoretical, or mechanical. It is sometimes said that she is so good an actress, or a pretender, as to be out of the common range of feeling. I think that's nonsense, and doubly unfair in that it amounts to an actress being criticised or envied because of her astonishing ability. But it is a fascinating issue, and one that leads to a pernicious fallacy that has hovered over American acting ever since the foundation of the Actors' Studio -- that "sincerity" is more important than pretending in acting.'

'[Streep] takes the attitude: I want you to believe every time that you are seeing a new person -- it is my job to be empty until a character fills me up.'

On the difference between Method actors and Streep: 'In On the Waterfront we are always watching Brando (made up to seem damaged); in Sophie's Choice we are riveted by this pale, delicate, Polish woman and the inner damage done to her.

'Furthermore, if you were to suggest to Meryl Streep that the "pain" of being an actor might be so great as to prevent her working, I think Streep would tell you to brush your teeth and get on with it. She is eminently professional, and she works to the assumption that if she is a cellist playing Bach, then Bach was the genius and she is the performer and the enabler.'

'Too many actors have fallen into the thinking that the movies are about them.'

'And nothing has done more damage to movies in the last 20 years than the power of actors to shift their characters so that they become guaranteed "likeable."'


Anonymous said...

I once almost met Meryl in an elevator. But I was too scared to say anything, and all that came out was a grunt that was supposed to be a "hello."

Middento said...

Dan, thank you thank you thank you for linking that article. I think her assessment is dead-on and I believe that, thanks to this, I may have to put Streep into my "Stars" class for the spring -- if only to assess what kind of "star" she is, or if we still consider her one. (Indeed, is she as "actor" or a "star"? I think I may screen The Hours for this one...

And her daughter's at Dartmouth?? I knew she and I were fellow alumni, but oh, to go up for that graduation. (My only brush with Streep is that I apparently arrived to Christmas-shop at the MOMA gift store five minutes after she left. I guess that qualifies as being able to bask in her dissipating aura. I still haven't forgiven our friends Jeff and Ellen for going and getting married on Labor Day weekend the very year that Streep was one of the Silver Medallion recipients at Telluride...*sob*)

J.J. said...

What kind of "star" she is ... Hard to say. I think Streep's singularity comes from her utter absence from tabloids. She does not have an absurd private life that is played out in public. No messy divorces. No tantrums. No rehab. No exhaustion. Consequently, when we see her on screen, we still have no preconceived notions. Whereas when we see someone like Angelina Jolie or Russell Crowe (though I'm not knocking their talent), the headlines can obscure the art. Meryl has no such baggage, and it allows her to start fresh and be perceived as fresh every time.