“When people ask me if I am a feminist film maker, I reply I am a woman and I also make films.” — Chantal Akerman

It’s her birthday today.

The news of the death of pioneering Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman in 2015 came as a shock. She was young. 65 years old. Even worse, it was reported as a potential suicide. Either way, it was heartbreaking to lose her.

The impact of Akerman’s 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was such that it almost feels like its consequent fall – like not included on round-ups of great 20th century films, etc. – it’s like people couldn’t deal with the overhauling-revolution in film that Jeanne Dielman represented. It’s almost a call to arms. AND she was only 24 years old when she directed it. As much of a girl-genius as Orson Welles was a boy-genius, and yet we celebrate the boy-geniuses and ignore the girl-geniuses. Ever since, though, Akerman was busy, making films, making work, stirring shit up, giving great interviews.

Here she is in 1975 talking about Jeanne Dielman. Many film-makers have to work decades before they make a film as confident as this one (although there really IS no other film like this one. It stands alone.)

In the film Delphine Seyrig plays the widowed Jeanne, who lives in a flat with her son, filling her day with housewifely tasks (shown in excruciating real time: cleaning the sink, making veal cutlets, peeling potatoes, etc.), and from 5 to 5:30 every day she “entertains” men in her bedroom. It’s a compartmentalized part of her day, a part that seemingly does not touch all of the other parts. The film is considered (not surprisingly) a feminist classic (although Akerman didn’t like being referred to as a “feminist” film-maker – see quote in the title). The majority of the action is banal and may try your patience. Dennis Lim wrote a short essay about the film in the book Defining Events in Movies and his words capture what Ackerman was up to with her style of storytelling:

Covering 48 hours over three days, the film immerses itself in the ritualized minutiae of Jeanne’s household chores. These mundane events are captured with a static camera, often in real time. The viewer is compelled to experience the full monotony of each task …

Akerman so firmly establishes Jeanne’s routine that when the tiniest cracks start to emerge – overcooked potatoes, a dropped spoon – they play like major events.

YES. I wrote about seeing Jeanne Dielman in a crowded theatre and how exhilarating it was.

The film’s portrayal of deadening ritualistic housework is a critique of the concept of “woman’s work.” Alongside that is Jeanne’s matter-of-fact prostitution, also seen as “woman’s work” since time immemorial. What else could women do if they weren’t all tangled up in so-called women’s work? This topic has been covered in many films. But Jeanne Dielman breaks that mold, shatters it, forces us to endure the “homemaker” stuff, endlessly: each day the same, so that we watch the routine, we understand how it should go, we see how meticulous she is … and then, slowly, also mundanely, the routine unravels. How can a spoon dropped on the floor open up a crack revealing an abyss? Watch how Akerman does it. With no dialogue. Sometimes it is not the story that provides fascination or interest. It is the APPROACH, the HOW of it, that breaks new ground, and that’s the case with Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. There are moments of extreme boredom. But then the film’s insistent and ruthless commitment to its own rhythm pulls you along with it. You can’t stop watching because something is going on. And that “something” is not visible, but you can feel it.

We see her through what she does. When things go awry, no matter how small, we know she doesn’t have much time left. The routine will be shattered for good.

Chantal Akerman has made many more films since that masterpiece in 1975. Some I have seen, more I have not. While she spoke eloquently about how Godard inspired her to get into film-making (she and the rest of her generation, amirite?), she was that very rare thing in cinema, or in any art: an artist with a truly unique vision. An original.


She financed her first film by herself, and also played the lead. It is a 12-minute short called Saute ma ville, and it’s on Youtube. Out of the gate, Akerman was confident, bold, personal, and – most importantly – she believed in the validity of her own perspective, her own voice and vision. She was only 18 years old.

Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote a terrific essay about Akerman entitled “Chantal Akerman: The Integrity of Exile and the Everyday.” Rosenbaum writes:

This desire for normalcy accounts for much of the difficulty of assimilating Akerman’s work to any political program, feminist or otherwise. As an account of domestic oppression and repression, Jeanne Dielman largely escapes these strictures, and Akerman herself has admitted that this film can be regarded as feminist. But she also once refused to allow je tu il elle to be shown in a gay and lesbian film festival and, more generally, has often denied that she considers herself a feminist filmmaker, despite the efforts of certain feminist film critics to claim her as one.

On one hand, her films are extremely varied. Some are in 16 millimetre and some are in 35; some are narrative and some are nonnarrative; the running times range from about 11 minutes to 201 and the genres range from autobiography to personal psychodrama to domestic drama to romantic comedy to musical to documentary – a span that still fails to include a silent, not-exactly-documentary study of a run-down New York hotel (Hotel Monterey, 1972), a vast collection of miniplots covering a single night in a city (Toute une nuit, 1982), and a feature-length string of Jewish jokes recited by immigrants in a vacant lot in Brooklyn at night (Food, Family and Philosophy aka Histoires d’Amérique, 1989), among other oddities.

On the other hand, paradoxically, there are few important contemporary filmmakers whose range is as ruthlessly narrow as Akerman’s, formally and emotionally. Most of her films, regardless of genre, come across as melancholy, narcissistic meditations charged with feelings of loneliness and anxiety; and nearly all of them have the same hard-edged painterly presence and monumentality, the same precise sense of framing, locations and empty space.

More generally, if I had to try to summarise the cinema of Chantal Akerman, thematically and formally, in a single phrase, ‘the discomfort of bodies in rooms’ would probably be my first choice. And ‘the discomfort of bodies inside shots’ might be the second.

From Richard Brody at The New Yorker. The following bit about Jeanne Dielman is so important to keep in mind, especially when you think about how often women’s accomplishments are sidelined, ignored, diminished.

Akerman was younger than Orson Welles was when he made “Citizen Kane,” younger than Jean-Luc Godard was when he made “Breathless.” The three films deserve to be mentioned together. “Jeanne Dielman” is as influential and as important for generations of young filmmakers as Welles’s and Godard’s first films have been.

When she died, someone on Twitter (I can’t remember who) said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jeanne Dielman was eventually recognized as the greatest film of all time?”

It could happen. Give it time.

UPDATE: I wrote this post in 2020. A mere two years later, it happened. Sight & Sound held their critics’ poll, and Jeanne Dielman was voted the greatest film of all time, knocking Vertigo out of its primary spot (which, only recently, had knocked Citizen Kane out of the prized #1 shot.) Now. I am not a list person. And the problem with lists is that it brought out the usual suspects, and it makes the assumption that Jeanne Dielman is “better than” Vertigo or whatever, which … I just am bored by that kind of comparison. It’s pointless. What I WILL say, though, is Jeanne Dielman deserves FAR more attention than it has gotten, as a ground-breaking pioneering sui generis work of art – a masterpiece – and it deserves to be “in the conversation”. As I wrote wayyyy back in 2020:

If you see any extensive list of Great Films of the 20th Century and Jeanne Dielman isn’t on it, or Great Directors of the 20th Century and Chantal Akerman isn’t on it, toss the list, it’s no good.

^^ I stand by that.


Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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On This Day: June 6, 1944: “I really think I’m too young for this.”

Today I honor the memory of the men (and boys, in many cases), who were willing to risk their lives to bring down a tyrannical fascist government, who were willing to lose their lives to protect and restore the liberty of others. The winds of tyranny are blowing again, and not just on foreign shores. Democracy must always be fought for: every generation has its battles, and we can learn from the brave people in the past.

Here’s a catalog of quotes I found from those who were there that day (references listed at the bottom of the post). I admire these men so much.

Sgt. Lee Pozek:

“We yelled to the crew to take us in, we would rather fight than drown. As the ramp dropped we were hit by machine-gun and rifle fire. I yelled to get ready to swim and fight. We were getting direct fire right into our craft. My three squad leaders in front and others were hit. Some men climbed over the side. Two sailors got hit. I got off in water only ankle deep, tried to run but the water was suddenly up to my hips. I crawled to hide behind a steel beach obstacle. Bullets hit off it, others hit more of my men. Got up to the beach to crawl behind the shingle and a few of my men joined me. I took a head count and there was only eleven of us left, from the thirty on the craft. As the tide came in we took turns running out to the water’s edge to drag wounded men to cover. Some of the wounded were hit again while on the beach. More men crowding up and crowding up. More people being hit by shellfire. People trying to help each other. While we were huddled there, I told Jim Hickey that I would like to live to be forty years old and work forty hours a week and make a dollar an hour (when I joined up I was making thirty-seven-and-a-half cents an hour). I felt, boy, I would really have it made at $40 a week. Jim Hickey still calls me from New York on June 6 to ask, ‘Hey, Sarge are you making forty bucks per yet?'”

Pvt. Len Griffing of the 501st:

“I looked out into what looked like a solid wall of tracer bullets. I remember this as clearly as if it happened this morning. It’s engraved in the cells of my brain. I said to myself, ‘Len, you’re in as much trouble now as you’re ever going to be. If you get out of this, nobody can ever do anything do you that you ever have to worry about.'”

Journalist Holdbrook Bradley:

“The sound of battle is something I’m used to. But this [the opening bombardment on D-Day] was the loudest thing I have ever heard. There was more firepower than I’ve ever heard in my life and most of us felt that this was the moment of our life, the crux of it, the most outstanding.”

Lt. Cyrus Aydlett wrote in his diary:

“It was like the fireworks display of a thousand Fourth of Julys rolled into one. The heavens seemed to open, spilling a million stars on the coastline before us, each one spattering luminous, tentacle-like branches of flame in every direction. Never before has there been any more perfect coordination of firepower than that unloosed by our air and naval forces on this so-called impregnable coastline which ‘Herr Schickelgruber’ had so painstakingly fortified with every obstacle man is capable of conceiving. Pillows of smoke and flame shot skyward with great force – the resounding blasts even at our distance were terrifying – concussion gremlins gave involuntary, sporadic jerks on your trouser legs – the ship shrugged and quivered as if she knew what was occurring.”

Pvt. Dwayne Burns, 508th PIR:

“Here we sat, each man alone in the dark. These men around me were the best friends I will ever know. I wondered how many would die before the sun came up. ‘Lord, I pray, please let me do everything right. Don’t let me get anybody killed and don’t let me get killed either. I really think I’m too young for this.'”

Sgt. Malvin Pike, E Company:

“I jumped out into waist-deep water. We had 200 feet to go to shore and you couldn’t run, you could just kind of push forward. We finally made it to the edge of the water, then we had 200 yards of open beach to cross, through the obstacles. But fortunately most of the Germans were not able to fight, they were all shook up from the bombing and the shelling and the rockets and most of them just wanted to surrender.”

Unnamed G.I. commenting on the Higgins boats:

“That s.o.b. Higgins – he hasn’t got nothing to be proud of, inventing this boat!”

Sgt. Cliff Sorenson:

“Aerial reconnaissance had estimated that the flooded area was maybe ankle deep, except in the irrigation ditches, which they estimated to be about eighteen inches deep. Well, they made a big mistake. That flooded area was in some places up to your waist and the irrigation ditches were over your head. Some brave souls would swim across the irrigation ditches and throw toggle ropes back and haul the rest of us across. So much for aerial reconnaissance. And we waded and waded and waded. An occasional sniper shot would be fired and didn’t hit anybody. We were mostly interested in keeping from drowning because the bottom was slick and the footing tricky. You could slip down and maybe drown with all that equipment. I was so angry. The Navy had tried to drown me at the beach, and now the Army was trying to drown me in the flooded area. I was more mad at our side than I was at the Germans, because the Germans hadn’t done anything to me yet.”

Seabee Orval Wakefield:

“By middle afternoon the beach had changed from nothing but obstacles to a small city. It was apparent that we NCD units had done our job well because as far as I could see to one side of the beach was all the way opened, there was nothing holding the landing craft back. We figured our day was well spent, even though no one knew who we were. We were being questioned. ‘Who are you guys? What do you do?’ The coxswains didn’t like us because we always had so many explosives with us. When we were inland, the Army officers wanted to know what is the Navy doing in here. [An Army medical officer] said, ‘Are you guys going to just sit here or are you going to volunteer?’ We didn’t think much about that idea, we had just come off the hot end of the demolition wire but finally we did volunteer [to carry the wounded to the evacuation ship] for him. We carried the wounded down to the shore. German shells were still coming in. It was no longer a rush of men coming ashore, it was a rush of vehicles. All of a sudden it seemed like a cloud started from the horizon over the ocean and it came toward us and by the time it got to us it extended clean back to the horizon. Gliders were coming, to be turned loose inland. [At dusk, I] had my most important thought that day. [Wading onshore that morning] I found that my legs would hardly hold me up. I thought I was a coward. [Then I realized that my explosives weighed well over 100 pounds, so I cut the bags off.] When I had thought for a moment that I wasn’t going to be able to do it, that I was a coward, and then found out that I could do it, you can’t imagine how great a feeling that was. Just finding out, yes, I could do what I had volunteered to do.”

Sgt. Carwood Lipton:

“We were so full of fire that day. I was sure I would not be killed. I felt that if a bullet was headed for me it would be deflected or I would move.”

Maj. David Thomas, regimental surgeon for the 508th PIR:

“The thing that I remember most was a soldier who had his leg blown off right by the knee and the only thing left attached was his patellar tendon. And I had him down there in this ditch and I said, ‘Son, I’m gonna have to cut the rest of your leg off and you’re back to bullet-biting time because I don’t have anything to use for an anesthetic.’ And he said, ‘Go ahead, Doc.’ I cut the patellar tendon and he didn’t even whimper.”

Capt. Roy Creek:

“The bridge was ours and we knew we could hold it. But as with all victors in war, we shared a let down feeling. We knew it was still a long way to Berlin. When would the beach forces come? They should have already done so. Maybe the whole invasion had failed. All we knew was the situation in Chef-du-Pont, and Chef-du-Pont is a very small town. At 2400 hours, our fears were dispelled. Reconnaissance elements of the 4th Infantry Division wheeled into town. They shared their rations with us. It was D-Day plus one in Normandy. As I sat pondering the day’s events, I reflected upon the details of the fighting and the bravery of every man participating in it. We had done some things badly. But overall, with a hodgepodge of troops from several units who had never trained together, didn’t even know one another, engaged in their first combat, we had done okay. We captured our bridge and we held it.”

Pvt. John Fitzgerald:

“The impact of the shells threw up mounds of dirt and mud. The ground trembled and my eardrums felt as if they would burst. Dirt was filling my shirt and was getting into my eyes and mouth. Those 88s became a legend. It was said that there were more soldiers converted to Christianity by the 88 than by Peter and Paul combined. When the firing finally stopped, it was midafternoon. We still held the town and there was talk of tanks coming up from the beaches to help us. I could not hold a razor steady enough to shave for the next few days. Up until now, I had been mentally on the defensive. My introduction to combat had been a shocker but it was beginning to wear off. I found myself pissed off at the Germans, the dirt, the noise, and the idea of being pushed back.”

German Lieutenant Frerking, looking out at the approaching boats:

“Holy smoke – here they are! But that’s not possible, that’s not possible.”

Captain Robert Walker:

“I took a look towards the shore and my heart took a dive. I couldn’t believe how peaceful, how untouched, and how tranquil the scene was. The terrain was green. All buildings and houses were intact. The church steeples were proudly and defiantly standing in place. ‘Where,’ I yelled to no one in particular, ‘is the damned Air Corps?'”

Navy beachmaster Lt. Joe Smith:

“They put their ramp down and a German machine gun or two opened up and you could see the sand kick up right in front of the boat. No one moved. The coxswain stood up and yelled and for some reason everything was quiet for an instant and you could hear him as clear as a bell, he said, ‘For Christ’s sake, fellas, get out! I’ve got to go get another load.'”

Sgt. Thomas Valance:

“As we came down the ramp, we were in water about knee-high and started to do what we were trained to do, that is, move forward and then crouch and fire. One problem was we didn’t quite know what to fire at. I saw some tracers coming from a concrete emplacement which, to me, looked mammoth. I never anticipated any gun emplacements being that big. I shot at it but there was no way I was going to knock out a German concrete emplacement with a .30-caliber rifle. I abandoned my equipment which was dragging me down into the water. It became evident rather quickly that we weren’t going to accomplish very much. I remember floundering in the water with my hand up in the air, trying to get my balance, when I was first shot through the palm of my hand, then through the knuckle. Pvt. Henry Witt was rolling over toward me. I remember him saying, ‘Sergeant, they’re leaving us here to die like rats. Just to die like rats.’ [I was shot again in the left thigh] and I staggered up against the seawall and sort of collapsed there and, as a matter of fact, spent the whole day in that same position. Essentially my part in the invasion had ended by having been wiped out as most of my company was. The bodies of my buddies were washing ashore and I was the one live body in amongst so many of my friends, all of whom were dead, in many cases very severely blown to pieces.”

Sgt. Harry Bare:

“As ranking noncom, I tried to get my men off the boat and make it somehow to get under the seawall. We waded to the sand and threw ourselves down and the men were frozen, unable to move. My radioman had his head blown off three yards from me. The beach was covered with bodies, men with no legs, no arms – God, it was awful. I tried to get the men organized. There were only six out of my boat alive. I was soaking wet, shivering, but trying like hell to keep control. I could feel the cold fingers of fear grip me.”

Pvt. John Robertson, F Company:

“Behind me, coming at me, was a Sherman tank with pontoons wrapped around it. I had two choices: get run over by the tank or run through the machine-gun fire and the shelling. How I made it, I’ll never know. But I got to the shingle and tried to survive.”

Pvt. Harry Parley, E Company, 116th:

“As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell. I shut everything out and concentrated on following the men in front of me down the ramp and into the water. I was unable to come up. I knew I was drowning and made a futile attempt to unbuckle the flamethrower harness. [A buddy pulled Parley forward to where he could stand.] Then slowly, half-drowned, coughing water, and dragging my feet, I began walking toward the chaos ahead. [The machine-gun fire] made a ‘sip sip’ sound like someone sucking on their teeth. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t dump the flamethower and run like hell for shelter. But I didn’t. Months later, trying to analyze why I was able to safely walk across the beach while others running ahead were hit, I found a simple answer. The Germans were directing their fire down onto the beach so that the line of advancing attackers would run into it and, since I was behind, I was ignored. In short, the burden on my back may well have saved my life. Men were trying to dig or scrape trenches or foxholes for protection from the mortars. Others were carrying or helping the wounded to shelter. We had to crouch or crawl on all fours when moving about. To communicate, we had to shout above the din of the shelling from both sides as well as the explosions on the beach. Most of us were in no condition to carry on. We were just trying to stay alive. The enormity of our situation came as I realized that we had landed in the wrong sector and that many of the people around me were from other units and strangers to me. What’s more, the terrain before us was not what I had been trained to encounter. I remember removing my flamethrower and trying to dig a trench while lying on my stomach. Failing that, I searched and found a discarded BAR. But we could see nothing above us to return the fire. We were the targets. I lay there, scared, worried, and often praying. Once or twice I was able to control my fear enough to race across the sand to drag a helpless GI from drowning in the incoming tide. That was the extent of my bravery that morning.”

Pvt. Parley, what are you talking about, “that was the extent of my bravery”???

Sgt. Benjamin McKinney, C Company:

“I was so seasick I didn’t care if a bullet hit me between the eyes and got me out of my misery.”

Capt. Robert Walker:

“Here I was on Omaha Beach. Instead of being a fierce, well-trained, fighting infantry warrior, I was an exhausted, almost helpless, unarmed survivor of a shipwreck. I saw dozens of soldiers, mostly wounded. The wounds were ghastly to see. [The scene reminded me of Tennyson’s lines] in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’: ‘Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them / Cannon in front of them / Volley’d and thunder’s.’ Every GI knew the lines ‘Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die.'”

Sgt. John Robert Slaughter:

“I watched the movie ‘The Longest Day’ and they came charging off those boats and across the beach like banshees but that isn’t the way it happened. You came off the craft, you hit the water, and if you didn’t get down in it you were going to get shot. [The incoming fire] turned the boys into men. Some would be very brave men, others would soon be dead men, but all of those who survived would be frightened men. Some wet their britches, others cried unashamedly, and many just had to find it within themselves to get the job done. This is where the discipline and training took over. There were dead men floating in the water and there were live men acting dead, letting the tide take them in. Getting across the beach to the shingle became an obsession. I made it. The first thing I did was to take off my assault jacket and spread my raincoat so I could clean my rifle. It was then I saw bullet holes in my raincoat. I lit my first cigarette. I had to rest and compose myself because I became weak in my knees.”

Pvt. Raymond Howell, D Company:

“I took some shrapnel in my helmet and hand. That’s when I said, bullshit, if I’m going to die, to hell with it I’m not going to die here. The next bunch of guys that go over that goddamn wall, I’m going with them. If I’m gonna be infantry, I’m gonna be infantry. So I don’t know who else, I guess all of us decided well, it is time to start.”

Pvt. Albert Mominee (who was 5’1″, and had the nickname “Little One” in his regiment):

“The craft gave a sudden lurch, as it hit an obstacle and in an instant an explosion erupted followed by a blinding flash of fire. Flames raced around and over us. The first reaction was survival; the immediate instinct was the will to live. Before I knew it I was in the water. About fifty yards from shore the water was shallow enough for me to wade. Thirty yards to go and then twenty. I was exhausted and in shock. I heard a voice shouting, ‘Come on, Little One! Come on! You can make it!’ It was Lieutenant Anderson, the exec, urging me on. It seemed like someone had awakened me from a dream. I lunged toward him and as I reached him, he grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the water, then practically dragged me to the cover of the seawall. Only six out of thirty in my craft escaped unharmed. Looking around, all I could see was a scene of havoc and destruction. Abandoned vehicles and tanks, equipment strung all over the beach, medics attending the wounded, chaplains seeking the dead. Suddenly I had a craving for a cigarette. ‘Has anybody got a smoke?’ I asked.”

Ernie Pyle, June 12, 1944 column:

Now that it is over it seems to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all … As one officer said, the only way to take a beach is to face it and keep going. It is costly at first, but it’s the only way. If the men are pinned down on the beach, dug in and out of action, they might as well not be there at all. They hold up the waves behind them, and nothing is to be gained. Our men were pinned down for a while, but finally they stood up and went through, and so we took that beach and accomplished our landing. We did it with every advantage on the enemy’s side and every disadvantage on ours. In the light of a couple of days of retrospection, we sit and talk and call it a miracle that our men ever got on at all or were able to stay on.

All quotes taken from D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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Happy Pride, wherever you may be

This past Saturday I attended the very first Pride parade held in a little seaside town in my home state. There’s a big parade in the capital, and the state is so small people in general attend that one. But this was the first one held in this quaint little town, surrounded by docks and ocean. My nieces were marching in it with their color guard team. Waving and twirling flags. My sister Jean and I started the day at an 8 a.m. lacrosse game, where my niece was goalie (heart-crack), and then we all piled into the car and drove to the parade. We forgot to bring a pair of shoes for my niece so she marched in her cleats. lol The parade went past in, no lie, 10 minutes. Maybe less. There were more people on the sidewalks than in the parade. This was somehow very moving to me. It was a fragile little parade, a small group of people, everyone knew each other, a small seaside community. There was a little parking lot by the dock, where everyone parked, and so the short little parade ended up in the parking lot, and so did the spectators, so it was a big crowd scene impromptu block party in the parking lot – the smell of the sea, that unmistakable smell that says to me “HOME”, and it was impossible to leave, because the crowd of laughing happy people, families, friends, kids, elders, and everyone in between.

A community taking care of each other. Celebrating each others’ joy, and showing up for each other. I don’t have people in my life who don’t live by those rules. These are my people. Real family and chosen family.

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Brando Back-ting

On the Waterfront

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Substack: Rachel, Rachel (1968)

I wrote about Paul Newman’s directorial debut, Rachel, Rachel, starring Joanne Woodward, for my Substack.

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“Rock n’ roll! It’s the music of puberty.” — Suzi Quatro

Suzy Quatro was born on this day.

In July of 2020 , I reviewed the documentary Suzi Q, about Suzi Quatro. Because it was July 2020, the tour she had planned, alongside the doc, had to be canceled. Or, at least, postponed. July 2020 was some serious shit. I was bummed because I was so turned on by the documentary I would have sought her out to see her. Her journey is an interesting one: she knew what she wanted when she was very young. She was already touring as a teenager. She didn’t get caught up in anything bad, drugs or men or exploitation: something in her was strong enough to resist all those temptations. She got married young. Had a baby young. Was a rock star (at least in Europe) young. Her fame in Australia, to this day, almost rivals the Beatles. Ask an Australian. When she toured there in the 70s, she was greeted by screaming throngs at the airport, she was transported via motorcade to the venue, with throngs lining the roadways. She was massive in Europe. #1 hits, songs she wrote. She is mainly known in America for one shmoopy duet-ballad, the only song that charted over here – a total departure from her normal aggressive sound – as well as her regular appearance on Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero. America just didn’t fuck with her at all. 10 years later, Joan Jett came along, and we embraced Joan Jett, maybe not realizing that someone else did it all FIRST.

Debbie Harry, Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett

Joan Jett took everything from Suzi Quatro, which she fully admits in the interview she gives in the documentary. She had a poster of Suzi Quatro on her wall as a teenager. She was so inspired by this tiny girl playing a huge bass. Suzi Quatro paved the way for Joan Jett and so many others. Understand the continuum, and respect your elders. Or at least KNOW ABOUT your elders, because they got there first, and they made possible the things that came along after.

Just tripped over this and I love it: Quatro discusses her favorite bass riffs.

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“Literature is the written expression of revolt against expected things.” Happy Birthday to the least happy man ever, Thomas Hardy

“A certain provincialism of feeling is invaluable. It is the essence of individuality, and is largely made up of that crude enthusiasm without which no great thoughts are thought, no great deeds done.” — Thomas Hardy

That quote above from Thomas Hardy is something I have thought of, often, and used quite a bit in my own work, as a critic and also as a writer of other things, here, my script, everywhere. It is a reminder to stay specific, to not worry about being universal, to let that (and the reader) take care of itself.

He was criticized often for the “provincialism” of his novels. They all took place in a 10-mile radius. He delved deep into one particular slice of society and never left it or branched out. But depth is as valuable as WIDTH. I love some of his novels, although I had to come BACK to them after being forced to read them in high school (here is my post on Tess).

The interesting thing is: I think because he’s so firmly established in “the canon”, it makes it seem like he’s part of the status quo or something. I’m not a scholar, I’m just talking about the vibe. He’s seen as one of those Dead White Males who represent gatekeepers and canon and establishment. But that’s just retrospect and a lack of … people actually reading him? lol Hardy’s views were so anti-establishment he was basically perceived as a radical in his day. His first novel was rejected because its satirical lampoon of society was judged too harsh. He did not look around the world and find any of it good. This was then – and is now – a radical standpoint, and in some circles, damn near heretical. It could be seen as a very conservative viewpoint, the kind of conservatives who yearn for the past, seeing it as some sort of Eden, disliking the complexity of modernity – OR it could be seen as a rejection of the status quo, a firm NO to upholding the existing structures – burn it all down, in other words – which is basically the opposite of classical conservatism. The establishment now “claims” him but they rejected him when he was alive. Hardy published all these novels, famous great works – titanically angry and compassionate for the suffering of the “little” people, those with no voice or power – and then – abruptly – switched to poetry. He then wrote VOLUMES of poetry over the last decades of his very long life. He was born in 1840 and died in 1928. Look at the changes he witnessed. He watched an entire world pass away.

More after the jump:

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“I’m not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful.” – Happy Birthday, Marilyn Monroe


Marilyn Monroe:

People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.


Billy Wilder from Conversations with Wilder:

She had a kind of elegant vulgarity about her. That, I think, was very important. And she automatically knew where the joke was. She did not discuss it. She came up for the first rehearsal, and she was absolutely perfect, when she remembered the line. She could do a 3-page dialogue scene perfectly, and then get stuck on a line like, “It’s me, Sugar”… But if she showed up, she delivered, and if it took 80 takes, I lived with 80 takes, because the 81st was very good …

She had a feeling for and a fear of the camera. Fright. She was afraid of the camera, and that’s why, I think, she muffed some lines. God knows how often. She also loved the camera. Whatever she did, wherever she stood, there was always that thing that comes through. She was not even aware of it.

Eve Arnold:

If an editor wanted her, he had to agree to her terms. She knew how she wanted to be seen, and if her cooperation was sought, she reserved the right of veto.

She knew she was superlative at creating still pictures and she loved doing it.

She had learned the trick of moving infinitesimally to stay in range, so that the photographer need not refocus but could easily follow movements that were endlessly changing.

At first I thought it was surface technique, but it went beyond technique. It didn’t always work, and sometimes she would tire and it was as though her radar had failed; but when it did work, it was magic. With her it was never a formula; it was her will, her improvisation.

Peter Bogdonavich from Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors:

The fact is that Marilyn was in bad trouble from the day she was born as Norma Jean Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in the city of angels and movies, a poor bastard angel child who rose to be queen of a town and a way of life that nevertheless held her in contempt. That she died a martyr to pictures at the same time as the original studio star system — through which she had risen — finally collapsed and went also to its death seems too obviously symbolic not to note. Indeed, the coincidence of the two passing together is why I chose to end this long book about movie stars with Marilyn Monroe.

What I saw so briefly in my glimpse of Marilyn at the very peak of her stardom (and the start of my career) — that fervent, still remarkably naive look of all-consuming passion for learning about her craft and art — haunts me still. She is the most touching, strangely innocent — despite all the emphasis on sex — sacrifice to the twentieth-century art of cinematic mythology, with real people as gods and goddesses. While Lillian Gish had been film’s first hearth goddess, Marilyn was the last love goddess of the screen, the final Venus or Aphrodite. The minute she was gone, we started to miss her and that sense of loss has grown, never to be replaced. In death, of course, she triumphed at last, her spirit being imperishable, and keenly to be felt in the images she left behind to mark her brief visit among us.

Elia Kazan from Elia Kazan: A Life:

Relieve your mind now of the images you have of this person. When I met her, she was a simple, eager young woman who rode a bike to the classes she was taking, a decent-hearted kid whom Hollywood brought down, legs parted. She had a thin skin and a soul that hungered for acceptance by people she might look up to …

The girl had little education and no knowledge except the knowledge of her own experience; of that she had a great deal, and for an actor, that is the important kind of knowledge. For her, I found, everything was either completely meaningless or completely personal. She had no interest in abstract, formal, or impersonal concepts but was passionately devoted to her own life’s experiences. What she needed above all was to have her sense of worth confirmed. Born out of wedlock, abandoned by her parents, kicked around, scorned by the men she’d been with until Johnny, she wanted more than anything else approval from men she could respect. Comparing her with many of the wives I got to know in that community, I thought her the honest one, them the “chumps”. But there was a fatal contradiction in Marilyn. She deeply wanted reassurance of her worth, yet she respected the men who scorned her, because their estimate of her was her own.


Marilyn Monroe:

Being a most serious actress is not something God has removed from my destiny as He chooses to destroy my chances of being a mother. It’s therefore my perogative to make the dream of creative fulfillment come true for me. That is what I believe God is saying to me and is the answer to my prayers.


Marilyn Monroe:

Well-behaved women rarely make history.


John Strasberg (son of Lee Strasberg, Marilyn’s acting teacher):

I think I was talking about cars to Mother and Father. You know how I loved cars. I’d just come home and it was going to be my eighteenth birthday. I’d wanted to come for that.

Mother and Father hadn’t wanted me to come. “Why don’t you wait till the end of the year?” Well, i’d already been kicked out of college. They didn’t know yet.

When I’d gone off at the airport, I’d turned to Mother and said, “For two cents, I won’t go.” Nobody gave me the two cents, but I’d meant it. What I’d wanted to do was work. I’d wanted to work from the time I was fifteen, and they were always against any effort on my part to be strong or independent. I remember how much I resented it. “You don’t have to work, we’ll take care of everything,” undermining me.

So I was talking about cars, no one was listening, and Marilyn was there and out of the blue said, “Why don’t you take my car, Johnny?”

I thought I hadn’t heard her right, and I said, “What?” She had remembered the summer before, in California, I’d had that Chevy I’d rented. God, I loved that car, a ’57 Bel Air silver Chevy, and she had the Thunderbird.

She continued, “I’ve got the Ford Mustang the corporation gave me, and Arthur and I have a car. That one’s just sitting in the garage, we don’t use it.”

I was stunned. I couldn’t believe she meant it.

Mother and Father were horrified; they didn’t like it at all. I don’t know if it felt like too much to give me or if they were worried about my driving in my state of mind, but they objected strenuously. “He’s too young. Maybe later, Marilyn. You don’t have to. It’s impossible, he can’t afford it, it could be dangerous.”

Marilyn just said, “Well, don’t worry about any of that, it’s in the corporation’s name, so I’ll take care of the insurance.”

I’ll never forget that … There were so few, so very few people who were generous like that. Especially to me, who couldn’t do anything for her.

I think that car saved my life.


Ella Fitzgerald:

I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her time. And she didn’t know it.

Billy Wilder:

I never knew what Marilyn was going to do, how she was going to play a scene. I had to talk her out of it, or I had to underline it and say, “That’s very good” or “Do it this way.” But I never knew anybody who … except for a dress that blows up and she’s standing there … I don’t know why she became so popular. I never knew. She was really kind of … She was a star. Every time you saw her, she was something. Even when she was angry, it was just a remarkable person. A remarkable person, and in spades when she was on the screen. She was much better on the screen than not on the screen.


Marilyn Monroe:

Some people have been unkind. If I say I want to grow as an actress, they look at my figure. If I say I want to develop, to learn my craft, they laugh. Somehow they don’t expect me to be serious about my work.


Billy Wilder:

It’s very difficult to talk seriously about Monroe, because she was so glitzy, you know. She escaped the seriousness somehow; she changed the subject. Except that she was very tough to work with. But what you had, by hook or crook, once you saw it on the screen, it was just amazing. Amazing, the radiation that came out. And she was, believe it or not, an excellent dialogue actress. She knew where the laugh was. She knew.


Marilyn Monroe:

For breakfast, I have two raw beaten eggs in a glass of hot milk. I never eat dessert. My nail polish is transparent. I never wear stockings or underclothes because I think it is important to breathe freely. I wash my hair everyday and I am always brushing it. Every morning I walk across my apartment rolling an empty soda bottle between my ankles, in order to preserve my balance.

Monroe’s recipe for stuffing

If you’ve seen “The Misfits,” and if you haven’t you really must, you’ll know what a hoot this scene is. It’s the drink in her hand, staying steady, that is so funny. Or, ONE of the things about this scene that is so funny.

Eve Arnold:

I never knew anyone who even came close to Marilyn in natural ability to use both photographer and still camera. She was special in this, and for me there has been no one like her before or after. She has remained the measuring rod by which I have — unconsciously — judged other subjects.


Marilyn Monroe:

It’s not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on.

Ernest Cunningham (photographer):

I worked with Marilyn Monroe. A rather dull person. But when I said “Now!” she lit up. Suddenly, something unbelievable came across. The minute she heard the click of the camera, she was down again. It was over. I said, “What is it between you and the camera that doesn’t show at any other time?” She said, “It’s like being screwed by a thousand guys and you can’t get pregnant.”

Peter Bogdonavich:

More than forty years have passed since Marilyn’s mysterious death, but her legend and persona have survived. This is all the more remarkable because she actually made very few films, and even fewer that were any good. But there was a reality to her artifice — she believed in the characters she played, even if they were inherently unbelievable. “Everything she did,” [Arthur] Miller said to me, “she played realistically. I don’t think she knew any other way to play anything — only to tell you the truth. She was always psychologically committed to that person as a person, no matter what the hell it was, rather than a stock figure. Because the parts she got could easily have been stock figures, which had no other dimension. But she wouldn’t have known how to do that. In other words, she did not have the usual technique for doing something as a stock figure … She was even that way when [director] John Huston used her the first time [in a memorable walk-on bit] in The Asphalt Jungle [1950].”

This went for every picture she did in her surprisingly, painfully short career as a star, barely a decade, little more than a dozen pictures. Though she managed to work with quite a number of major directors, it was not necessarily always in their best efforts; but still they were Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks (twice), Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder (twice), George Cukor (twice, if you count her last unfinished one), John Huston (twice), Laurence Olivier, Joshua Logan, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (bit part in 1950’s classic All About Eve). In my conversation with Miller, he said, “I thought she had the potential for being a great performer if she were given the right stuff to do. And if you look at the stuff she did do, it’s amazing that she created any impression at all because most of it was very primitive. And the fact that people remember these parts from these films is amazing … She was comitted to these parts as though they were real people, not cardboard cutouts. Even though the director and author and the rest might have thought they were cutouts and would deal with them that way. The way the two men [Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon] in Some Like It Hot felt with their parts, or George Raft with his part. She was real. And therefore she had the potential of being a great comedienne.” (Norman Mailer, in his book on Monroe — he never met her — wrote that starting with 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she was a great comedienne.)


Marilyn Monroe from The Making of the Misfits:

I’d prefer not to analyze it [acting] … it’s subjective; rather, I want to remain subjective while I’m doing it. Rather than do much talking I’d rather act. When it’s on the screen, that’s when you’ll know who Roslyn [her character in The Misfits] is. I don’t want to water down my own feeling … Goethe says a career is developed in public but talent is developed in private, or silence. It’s true for the actor. To really say what’s in my heart, I’d rather show than to say. Even though I want people to understand, I’d much rather they understand on the screen. If I don’t do that, I’m on the wrong track, or in the wrong profession…. Nobody would have heard of me if it hadn’t been for John Huston. When we started Asphalt Jungle, my first picture, I was very nervous, but John said, ‘Look at Calhern [the late Louis Calhern, a veteran actor], see how he’s shaking. If you’re not nervous, you might as well give up.’ John has meant a great deal in my life. It’s sort of a coincidence to be with him ten years later.


John Strasberg from his sister’s book Marilyn & Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends:

The first time I met her I remember she came out of the living room and Pop said, “This is my son,” and my first impression of her was that she was different from most of the people who came to the house. I’d watch all these people trading their most human qualities, betraying themselves for success at all costs, to become rich and famous, and afterward, when it was too late, they’d realize they had lost the best part of themselves along the way, but she, she was like me. When I looked into her eyes, it was like looking into my own, they were like a child’s eyes. I was still a child. You know how children just look at you. My feeling was she had less ego or was less narcissistic than most of the actors who never really bothered with me. She was just another person to me, another one from that world I felt cut off, excluded, from. She was nicer, real simple, no makeup, and she really looked at me as if she saw me. It wasn’t that I wanted people to look at me, but I knew the difference when she did. I knew everyone said she was the sexiest, most sensual woman in the world. Not to me. I thought there was something wrong with me for not feeling that from her. I’d felt it from other women who came to the house. I was pretty sexually frustrated then. She was so open, so loose, and her sensuality as such was so totally innocent, nothing dirty in it at all, and the first time it was just like talking to an ordinary person, only realer than most who came into the house in those days. She was quiet, too, I remember, like an animal is quiet, and I was like that too, survival tactics. She seemed smart, but not in an educated way, instinctively smart, nobody’s fool.

Couldn’t resist, especially since Bloomsday approaches:


Judging from where she is in the book, she’s in full-on Molly Bloom mode. She would have made a perfect Molly Bloom.

Marilyn Monroe:

I am a failure as a woman. My men expect so much of me because of the image they have made of me and that I have made of myself, as a sex symbol. Men expect so much and I can’t live up to it. They expect bells to ring and whistles to whistle, but my anatomy’s the same as any other woman’s. I can’t live up to it.


Marilyn Monroe:

My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn, to change, to improve!


Arthur Miller from Timebends: A Life:

She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence. Sometimes she seemed to see all men as boys, children with immeidate needs that it was her place in nature to fulfill; meanwhile her adult self stood aside observing the game. Men were their need, imperious and somehow sacred. She might tell about being held down at a party by two of the guests in a rape attempt from which she said she had escaped, but the truth of the account was far less important than its strange remoteness from her personally. And ultimately something nearly godlike would emerge from this depersonalization. She was at this point incapable of condemning or even of judging people who had damaged her, and to be with her was to be accepted, like moving out into a kind of sanctifying light from a life where suspicions was common sense. She had no common sense, but what she did have was something holier, a long-reaching vision of which she herself was only fitfully aware: humans were all need, all wound. What she wanted most was not to be judged but to win recognition from a sentimentally cruel profession, and from men blinded to her humanity by her perfect beauty. She was part queen, part waif, sometimes on her knees before her own body and sometimes despairing because of it — “Oh, there’s lots of beautiful girls,” she would say to some expression of awed amazement, as though her beauty betrayed her quest for a more enduring acceptance.


Peter Bogdonavich:

The year before her much-speculated-over death at thirty-six (rumors of presidential involvement, etc.), playwright Clifford Odets told me that she used to come over to his house and talk, but that the only times she seemed to him really comfortable were when she was with his two young children and their large poodle. She relaxed with them, felt no threat. With everyone else, Odets said, she seemed nervous, intimidated, frightened. When I repeated to Miller this remark about her with children and animals, he said, “Well, they didn’t sneer at her.”


Burt Glinn (photographer):

She had no bone structure — the face was a Polish flat plate. Not photogenic in the accepted sense, the features were not memorable or special; what she had was the ability to project.

Billy Wilder:

Marilyn was not interested in costumes. She was not a clotheshorse. You could put anything on her you wanted. If it showed something, then she accepted it. As long as it showed a little something.


Henri Cartier Bresson (photographer):

She’s American and it’s very clear that she is – she’s very good that way – one has to be very local to be universal.

Frank Taylor (producer of The Misfits):

Monty and Marilyn were psychic twins. They were on the same wavelength. They recognized disaster in each other’s faces and giggled about it.

Marilyn Monroe:

Acting isn’t something you do. Instead of doing it, it occurs. If you’re going to start with logic, you might as well give up. You can have conscious preparation, but you have unconscious results.


Arthur Miller:

To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.

Marilyn Monroe:

I’m not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful.


Marilyn Monroe (this is what she pleaded at the end of the last interview she gave):

What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers.

Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe.


The Death of Marilyn Monroe
By Edwin Morgan

What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?

Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,

white hearse, Los Angeles,

DiMaggio! Los Angeles! Miller! Los Angeles! America!

That Death should seem the only protector –

That all arms should have faded, and the great cameras and lights

become an inquisition and a torment –

That the many acquaintances, the autograph-hunters, the

inflexible directors, the drive-in admirers should become

a blur of incomprehension and pain –

That lonely Uncertainty should limp up, grinning, with

bewildering barbiturates, and watch her undress and lie

down and in her anguish

call for him! call for him to strengthen her with what could

only dissolve her! A method

of dying, we are shaken, we see it. Strasberg!

Los Angeles! Olivier! Los Angeles! Others die

and yet by this death we are a little shaken, we feel it,


Let no one say communication is a cantword.

They had to lift her hand from the bedside telephone.

But what she had not been able to say

perhaps she had said. ‘All I had was my life.

I have no regrets, because if I made

any mistakes, I was responsible.

There is now – and there is the future.

What has happened is behind. So

it follows you around? So what?’ – This

to a friend, ten days before.

And so she was responsible.

And if she was not responsible, not wholly responsible, Los Angeles?

Los Angeles? Will it follow you around? Will the slow

white hearse of the child of America follow you around?


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“[My ambition is to] give something to our literature which will be our own.” — Walt Whitman

“I like to think that eventually he will shame us into becoming Americans again.” — Guy Davenport on Walt Whitman

Whitman is the organizing principle behind my review of Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue. Bob Dylan quotes Whitman all the time. If you put them together, it contextualizes the way we think about them both. Or at least that’s true for me.

More – lots more – about Whitman below the jump.

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“In my films I always wanted to make people see deeply. I don’t want to show things, but to give people the desire to see.” — Agnès Varda

It’s the birthday of Belgian filmmaker Agnès Varda, a pioneering force in the development of the French New Wave – she was French New Wave before it was even named “French New Wave.” When she died at the age of 90, you could feel the waves of loss and tribute breaking over the landscape. My first disoriented thought when I heard the news was, “But what am I supposed to do now?”

Here’s an anecdote about Varda as a director, an anecdote that has always stayed with me. Maybe it stayed with me because of my actor background: I love examples of directors who know how to give good direction.

Here is the great Sandrine Bonnaire giving her unforgettable performance in Agnès Varda’s Vagabond.

Like all great directors, Varda knew when to give direction/guidance, and when to stay silent. When Varda DID give direction, it was specific and action-oriented. Bad directors talk about abstractions and themes, none of which an actor can really play.

Bad director: “Remember, your character represents innocence in a fallen world.”
Actor: “….. Okay. Got it.” [Inner monologue: WTF.]
Scene begins. Actor tries to represent innocence in a fallen world.
Bad director: “Cut! Okay, so maybe this next take think of a really happy circumstance in your childhood that you now look back on and feel sad about.”
Actor: “So … I wasn’t really getting across innocence in a fallen world, is that what you’re saying?”
Bad director: “No, it was great, what you were doing was great, I just want you to maybe think about something personal.”
Actor: “So … a happy childhood memory that makes me sad now?”
Bad director: “Yes. Let’s try it.”
Actor: “Should I keep trying to be innocence in a fallen world?”
Bad director: “Let’s forget about that for now.”

This is not an exaggeration of what it is like to work with a bad director who
1. does not know what he/she wants
2. does not understand the actor’s process

Good directors always give actors something to DO. If you’re a bad director, and you don’t know how to do that, then just say NOTHING to the actor, let the actor work, stay out of their way. (Unfortunately, of course, bad directors don’t know they’re bad. That’s why they’re bad.) Good directors know how to say one tiny thing, one tiny suggestive thing, that sets the actor’s imagination on fire, or makes the actor know, “Got it. I know just what you want.”

Varda didn’t “help” Bonanaire give the great performance she did in Vagabond. That’s a misunderstanding of the relationship between director and actress. Bonnaire is, quite literally, brilliant – all on her own. It’s what she brings to the table. But every actor needs guidance, or at least information from the director that helps contextualize what the director wants, what the movie is, what the director envisions. So Varda made one comment, one very pointed comment early on, and this was THE thing that gave Bonnaire her “way in” to the character.

In the early development stages, Varda said to Bonnaire, “Your character never says ‘Thank you.’ To anyone.”

Something in this simple statement sparked something in Bonnaire. She was curious about it, she hadn’t thought about it in those terms, she wondered what that would look/feel like. Also, on a practical level, it was something she could DO. Specificity is ALWAYS preferable to generalities. No exceptions. Even in highly stylized work.

Bonnaire began experimenting in her own life with not saying “Thank you,” just to get a feel for it, just to see what it might provide her in understanding the character she was going to play. She said she was surprised at how difficult it was. It felt wrong. It made her confront all kinds of things in herself, how you internalize society’s rules until they are automatic, how we all use good manners to get by the best we can in this world. This is not a bad thing. But what happens if you opt out of it? The “why” isn’t even as important as the “what.” Choosing not to say “Thank you” in the preparation phase of the film made Bonnaire realize how often she said “Thank you.” A cashier hands you change. A guy holds a door open for you. You trip off a stair and someone reaches out to help you. A waitress clears your table. You say “Thank you” for the help in every single circumstance. Or you should.

But not if you’re playing the lead character in Vagabond.

Bonnaire got into the groove of what it was like to accept help and never say “Thank you.” It was a whole other world and it opened up all of the possibilities of the character for her.

And it all came from a six-word sentence of direction. PLAY-able direction.

It set Bonnaire – already enormously gifted – free. Keeping those words in mind, she literally could do no wrong in her performance. It showed her how to be, where to go, what to do, what not to do.

Young directors, take note: THAT’S how you give direction.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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