Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kael on Duvall in The Shining

(posting this here until I'm able to do the blog for Shelley in The Shining!)

"Wendy, the drudge who does the work at the hotel while Jack sits at his typewriter, is a woebegone, victim role until this woman, who has been driven into hysteria, must pull herself out in order to protect her child. Though at the start Shelly Duvall seems not quite there, as if her lines were being spoken by someone else in another room, she becomes much stronger. We can feel that she's held down; she usually brings a more radiant eccentricity to her parts. But she looks more like a Modigliani than ever, and even in the role, which requires her to have tears welling in her Raggedy Ann eyes almost constantly, she has her amazing directness and her odd, flip gallantry. There's a remarkable moment when Wendy picks up her child and screams at her husband. And in what is probably the most daringly sustained series of shots Wendy, who is carrying a baseball bat in case she needs it with Jack, backs away as he moves toward her; he keeps advancing, she brandishing the bat in front of her to keep him at a distance. It's a ghoulish parody of a courtship dance, staged with hairbreadth timing (though overextended), and Duvall is superbly simple even when Wendy is palsied with terror. Yet Duvall isn't entirely convincing as a mother; she's more like a very conscientious nurse.

"The Torrances don't really seem to interest Kubrick anyway--not as individuals...."

Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, June 9, 1980; Taking It All In, p. 4

Monday, September 26, 2005

Pauline Kael

“There are no forebears or influences that would help to explain Shelley Duvall’s acting: she doesn’t seem to owe anything to anyone. She’s an original who has her own limpid way of doing things—a simplicity that isn’t marred by conventional acting technique, but that by now whe has adapted to a wide range of characters. In the new Robert Altman film, Popeye, from Jules Feiffer’s screenplay, in which she plays Olive Oyl, she sings in a small, wavering voice, and she hits tones that are so flat yet so true that they are transcendently comic. Her dancing has the grave gentleness of the Laurel & Hardy soft-shoe numbers, though she doesn’t move anything like either of them. Se’s Olive Oyl of the long neck and stringbean body and the clodhoppers, and at the same time she has a high-fashion beauty. The screwed-tight hair twisted into a cruller at the neck seems just what Olive needs to set off her smooth, rounded forehead. She curls her long legs around each other—entwining them in the rubber-legged positions of the cartoon figure—and it seems the most natural thing for her to do.

“Olive lives in Sweethaven, a tumbledown seacoast Dogpatch, and she’s the local belle. When she’s teased about getting engaged to the domineering, wide-as-a-barn Captain Bluto, the most hated and feared man in town, she gets the desperate, trapped expression of a girl who knows that she has made a terrible mistake, and trying to find a virtue in Bluto (who snorts like a bull and looks as if he’d be more comfortable on all fours), she answers, “He’s large.” And the plaintive defensiveness—the sense of hopelessness—she breings to those words is so pure that you may feel a catch in y our throat while you’re smiling…. Olive is very uppity to Popeye and to everyone else; she holds her head high on her tube of a neck and sniffs like a duchess. “Persnickety” is the word for Olive, but there are delicate shades of stubbornness and confusion in her face, and sometimes a frightened look in her eyes. Shelley Duvall takes the funny-page drawing of Olive Oyl and breathes her own spirit into it. Possibly she can do this so simply because she accepts herself as a cartoon to start with, and, working from that, goes way past it. So far past it that we begin to find chic in her soft, floppy white collars and her droopy, elongated skirts….

“Part of the reason Shelley Duvall takes over is that she’s an oasis of stillness (until the end, when she adds to the commotion). At times, when she stands at a tilt, or just listens, she has the preternatural quiet of Buster Keaton. And it may be an homage or it may be just an accident that she has been given a scene of trying on hats that recalls Keaton’s great headgear scene in Steamboat Bill, Jr. Duvall may be the closest thing we’ve ever come to a female Buster Keaton; her eccentric grace is like his—it seems to come from the inside out. And the exaggerated sensitivity in her face might be called an equivalent of his mask of isolation. But Popeye is far from a silent movie.

“Sometime the components of a picture seem miraculously right and you go to it expecting a magical interaction…. But [Popeye] comes off a little like some of the Jacques Tati comedies, where you can see the intelligence and skill that went into the gags yet you don’t hear yourself laughing. Altman may have been trying too hard, taking the task of creating a live-action musical version of a comic strip (the screenplay was based on Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre) too literally….

“…. In cartoons, the creatures can do anything; their bodies don’t get in the way and can’t be hurt. But when you watch the actors in Popeye doing cartoon stunts, you’re aware of gravity and how difficult what they’re doing is. When you see an actor lifted up and put on a hot stove, the leteralneess is dumb and oddly unpleasant. Maybe certain kinds of jokes—especially the ones involving transformations and mayhem, and the ones that derive from the absence of gravity—need the shift in imagination that we make at a cartoon….”

“The picture does have lovely moments in the middle section, though…. Olive, proudly infaturated with Popeye, twirling herself around a lamppost as she sings “He Needs Me,” seems to be wafted to Heaven. Her goofy ducling-swan lyricism has its own form of weightlessness. If the remainder of the film had concentrated on these three and the shades of feeling that develop when she sings “Stay with Me” and he sings “Sail with Me,” it might have been a moonshine classic, even with the deadly slapstick and the ragged editing and the spatial jumble….”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, January 5, 1981
Taking It All In, pp. 119-123

Stanley Kauffmann

“…. [Altman’s] casting is good. If I say that Shelley Duvall was born to play Olive Oyl, I confirm my past reservations about her, I think; but since she is playing it here, she’s good in it.”

Stanley Kauffmann
The New Republic, January 3 & 19, 1981

Friday, May 27, 2005

David Denby

"E.C. Segar's cartoon figures were based on music-hall types; Altman and Feiffer exaggerate the music-hall dowdiness for a tone of melancholy futility and clumsiness.... As played by Shelley Duvall, Olive Oyl is a starched, perpendicular lady with flattened face and pointy bun who rocks upward on her construction boots, moaning "Oh, Oh! OH!" Duvall's petulance becomes wearying, but what is she to do? In this movie she can't become a person."

David Denby, New York, Dec. 29, 1980--Jan. 5, 1981

(originally posted here May 27, 2014)