July Character Actor Blogathon: “Always a Bridesmaid”

Posted on June 30, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Copyright 2019 Hollywood Genes

This is a great idea for a blogathon! A month-long tribute to the often-neglected character actors, orchestrated by Zoe Krainik of Hollywood Genes. She writes:

While, of course, we love the main characters of our favorite films, often truly great characters and performances end up unnoticed, unremembered, or under appreciated simply because the characters were supporting, relegated to the background, or deemed less than perfect per society’s norms of the time.

With this concurrent Twitter challenge and blogathon, we hope to celebrate the bridesmaids instead of the brides, small parts with big heart, and the characters who are way too familiar with the background and the friend zone.

Follow along on Twitter or Instagram! #BridesmaidChallenge2019

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Reel/Real Women: AWFJ Pays Tribute to Movies About Real-Life Female Characters

Posted on March 6, 2019 at 6:59 pm

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has published a new list in honor of Women’s History Month — our favorite portrayals of real-life women in feature films. AWFJ founder Jennifer Merin writes:

Throughout cinema history, films by and about women have enthralled audiences, accrued awards and honors worldwide and scored at the box office while influencing out social social mores and enriching our cultural conversation. Although some Hollywood honchos and haters assert that female-centric movies are less likely to be commercial successes, our list proves them wrong. Movies that tell women’s stories have legs.

Released to celebrate Women’s History Month, AWFJ’s REAL REEL WOMEN List is an annotated roster of 50 fascinating real women whose remarkable true stories have been told in narrative features since the earliest days of moviemaking. The REAL REEL WOMEN List is a companion to AWFJ’s WONDER WOMEN List of iconic fictional females, published as a five-part countdown series in 2016.

AWFJ members selected our 50 iconic REAL REEL WOMEN from more than 150 nominees, all of whom have had their stories told in watch-worthy films. Short essays about our REAL REEL WOMEN’s lives, accomplishments and the films made about them have been written by AWFJ members Betsy Bozdech, Liz Braun, Sandie Angulo Chen, Carol Cling, Leslie Combemale, Linda Cook, Laura Emerick, Marilyn Ferdinand, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Kimberley Jones, Loren King, Sarah Knight Adamson, Cate Marquis, Brandy McDonnell, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Lynn Venhaus, and Susan Wloszczyna.

We hope that reading about these REAL REEL princesses and pilots, artists and actors, poets, political activists and other women from all walks of life will prompt you to add all the films about them to your watch list, and that you’ll then be motivated to seek out and enjoy additional current and classic movies about other real women whose stories are memorialized in cinema.

One of my contributions to the list was Fanny Brice, unforgettably portrayed by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.”

Fanny Brice, born Fania Borach, was the daughter of Jewish immigrants who dropped out of school as a teenager to work in burlesque and began her association with vaudeville impresario Flo Ziegfeld two years later. She headlined the Ziegfeld Follies from 1910 through part of the 1930s. Best known in sketch comedy as bratty little girl “Baby Snooks” and performing songs like the comically self-deprecatory “Second Hand Rose,” her signature was the heartbreaking torch song, “My Man,” which inspired her first film, My Man (1928). She played herself in the Oscar-winning The Great Ziegfeld (1936), acted in several other films, and had a hit on radio with the “The Baby Snooks Show,” but there is no question that her own fame has been eclipsed by the performer who starred as Brice on Broadway and in her first film—Oscar-winner Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968). It was a perfect match—one brash, prodigiously talented, unconventionally pretty, New York Jewish singer equally adept at comedy and drama portraying another. Streisand sings “Second Hand Rose,” “My Man,” and original songs created for the Broadway show, including the now-standard “People.” The story of Brice’s determination and resilience despite the heartbreak of her marriage to a handsome scoundrel is now a classic and prompted a sequel, also starring Streisand, that told more of Brice’s story, 1975’s Funny Lady. Brice helped pave the way for unconventional-looking lead performers, and her few films are well worth watching.

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How Screenwriters Described Iconic Female Characters

Posted on April 10, 2018 at 3:22 pm

We’ve seen so many awful stories about the way that female characters are described in movie scripts that it was a real relief and pleasure to read Vulture’s list of the way that fifty great characters were first imagined and described by their screenwriters.  There’s a whole extra level of delight in getting to see writing by some of the best writers in Hollywood that we would normally not get to see.  We think of them as only being responsible for the witty dialogue, but they are also every bit as good at defining a character in a few short sentences of description as they are with what we will actually hear her say on screen.  (Note: The odd capitalization of character names and other words is standard for movie scripts.)

Kyle Buchanan and Jordan Crucchiola lead off with one of the most vivid characters in the history of movies, aging theatrical star Margo Channing, as played by Bette Davis in “All About Eve :”

How do you create a memorable female character? It helps if you get it right from the very beginning, as Joseph L. Mankiewicz did in his screenplay for All About Eve when he introduced the woman who would be played by Bette Davis. “The CAMERA follows the bottle to MARGO CHANNING,” wrote Mankiewicz in his stage directions. “An attractive, strong face. She is childish, adult, reasonable, unreasonable — usually one when she should be the other, but always positive.”  

via GIPHY

One of the best ones is this wonderfully evocative introduction of the faded movie star played by Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard:”

via GIPHY

Norma Desmond stands down the corridor next to a doorway from which emerges a flickering light. She is a little woman. There is a curious style, a great sense of high voltage about her. She is dressed in black house pajamas and black high-heeled pumps. Around her throat there is a leopard-patterned scarf, and wound around her head a turban of the same material. Her skin is very pale, and she is wearing dark glasses.

Few women but Audrey Hepburn could truly live up to this description in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s:”

The girl walks briskly up the block in her low cut evening dress. We get a look at her now for the first time. For all her chic thinness she has an almost breakfast-cereal air of health. Her mouth is large, her nose upturned. Her sunglasses blot out her eyes. She could be anywhere from sixteen to thirty. As it happens she is two months short of nineteen. Her name (as we will soon discover) is HOLLY GOLIGHTLY.

via GIPHY

One of the best screen couples has got to be Nick and Nora Charles from “The Thin Man.” If you haven’t had the pleasure of falling in love with them onscreen, rest assured that this description of Nora will do it for you:

NORA CHARLES, Nick’s wife, is coming through. She is a woman of about twenty-six… a tremendously vital person, interested in everybody and everything, in contrast to Nick’s apparent indifference to anything except when he is going to get his next drink. There is a warm understanding relationship between them. They are really crazy about each other, but undemonstrative and humorous in their companionship. They are tolerant, easy-going, taking drink for drink, and battling their way together with a dry humor.

via GIPHY

I especially enjoyed the contrast between the descriptions of Sarah Connor in the first and second “Terminator” movies. And the quiz to try to guess the character from the description.

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AWFJ: Best Female Characters of 2017

Posted on December 27, 2017 at 10:16 pm

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has a list of the most significant female characters we saw at the movies this year.  I got to write about Meryl Streep’s performance as Katherine Graham again!  Other characters selected by the group included Agnes Varda (as herself) in “Faces Places,” Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Frances McDormand’s Mildred in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,” writer/director/star Zoe Lister-Jones in “Band Aid,” and Gal Gadot’s Diana in “Wonder Woman.”

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For the What a Character! Blogathon: Thelma Ritter

Posted on December 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

I am honored to participate in this year’s “What a Character!” blogathon, featuring essays about great character actors by movie bloggers across the internet. And I am thrilled to have an opportunity to write about one of my very favorite character actors, the magnificent Thelma Ritter. Whether in comedy or drama, her honest earthiness gave her characters a blunt authenticity that was enormously appealing.

She was nominated six times for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, still a record, three Golden Globes and an Emmy. And she won a Tony for “New Girl in Town.”

She was born in Brooklyn on Valentine’s Day in 1902, and never tried to lose her New York accent, which gave a lot of flavor to the characters she played. She did some acting and was an agent while her children were growing up, but did not get her first movie role until 1945’s “Miracle on 34th Street,” where she had a brief, unbilled scene as a tired mother who could not find a special toy for her son.

Her characters were usually blunt and smarter than the more educated and upper class characters around her. She brought warmth, humanity, street smarts, and crackerjack timing to all of her roles, opposite the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Ritter nursed James Stewart in “Rear Window.”

She was a tipsy maid in “Pillow Talk,” starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.  And she was Bette Davis’ assistant in “All About Eve,” memorably responding to Eve’s sad story with, “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.”

One of the most complex characters she played was a sometime police informant with her own code of honor in “Pickup on South Street.”

She also appeared in the very silly romantic comedy “A New Kind of Love,” with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and in “The Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe.

One of my favorite Ritter performances is in “The Mating Season,” where she a hamburger joint owner whose new daughter-in-law mistakes her for a maid.

And another is opposite Kirk Douglas and Mitzi Gaynor in “For Love of Money.”  It’s a rare role for her because she plays a woman who is wealthy and powerful.  Douglas plays a lawyer she hires to get her estranged daughters to marry the men she has picked for them.

Ritter is the very essence of the character actor, creating vitally real, relatable characters who made the world around the stars real and illuminating the story’s themes.

Announcement: Sixth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

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