Who Am I This Time? (1982); Dir. Jonathan Demme

Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann’d,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech;
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.

HAMLET, Act II, scene 2

The North Crawford Wig and Mask Company is a community theatre servicing a small New England town. Townspeople perform and direct, make the sets, and their neighbors come out in droves to see them do Shakespeare, Moliere, Thornton Wilder. Theatre is done for the love of it, in their spare time, with no pay. But the theatre company is a microcosm of the larger role that art can play in our lives, and in a way what the North Crawford Wig and Mask Company does is no different from what goes on in a multi-million dollar movie with movie stars as the leads. Acting is acting. The desire to play “make believe” into adulthood is at the heart of it. It’s what Angelina Jolie wants to do, it’s what Daniel Day-Lewis wants to do, and it’s what the actors in North Crawford want to do.

Who Am I This Time?, an American Playhouse production from 1982, is one of the best movies about acting, and what it is, and why, that I have ever seen. It’s up there with Cassavetes’ Opening Night, and if you know me, then you know that that is high praise indeed. Directed by Jonathan Demme, and based on a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, it is a funny and accurate look at why grown men and women put on costumes and cavort about with fake swords for a paying populace.

One of the misconceptions about actors is that they are show-offs and egotists. I have spent my life around actors, and this is hardly the case. For the most part, actors are introverts, sometimes socially awkward and quite shy. Most of them are very good listeners, better than most. The showoffs are the exception, not the rule. There is something freeing about pretending to be someone else, especially for natural introverts. There is an exhibitionistic quality in the pursuit, but that comes from the shy person who cannot “show up” in his real life and only can be “seen” when he is pretending to be someone else. This is not to say that acting is made up of neurotics and head cases. That is another misconception. It is really about the desire, and the need, to still play make-believe when you are an adult. The fantasy is preferable to the reality. You can do things, say things, even feel things, when you are acting that are not acceptable in society, things you would never allow yourself to do. What freedom, what beautiful freedom. It becomes an imperative for the actor: He MUST be someone else, and only then can he fully be himself.

The title of the movie, “Who Am I This Time?” addresses the open and eager dynamic of the actor willing to lose himself, to NOT be himself. He can be Lear, Oedipus, Felix or Oscar. Just tell him who to be, and he’ll be it. What’s Hecuba to him, you ask? He’ll figure it out and you can bet he will then weep for her. His life is nothing without those periodic “dreams of passion”.

Harry Nash (played by Christopher Walken) is a shy bumbling hardware store clerk, with a secretive strange past. He can barely speak without stuttering and he can barely walk without tripping over himself. There are awkward terrible pauses as the listener waits for him to say something … even if it’s just “Yes” or “No”.

And yet, he is a celebrity in North Crawford due to his intense passionate performances in the North Crawford Wig and Mask productions. When the movie opens, we are in the middle of the final performance of Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, with a rapt audience filling the community hall. Cyrano, in plumed hat and puffy black costume, staggers around on the stage, wailing to the sky, as his fellow actors look on. His performance is so intense that one woman forgets to say her line; in that moment she has become an audience member. We can’t see that it’s Christopher Walken because of the costume and the nose, although the voice is unmistakable. He gives a monologue that would rival Edmund Kean in its bombast and passion. His gestures are huge and dramatic, his voice supple and full, his eyes traumatized and pained. On some level, it is totally ridiculous (I laughed out loud), and on another level, it is painfully beautiful. He is on a small stage in a hall where they probably have community events, and also voting booths on election day, but for those brief moments, he transforms it into 17th century France. The set is hand-painted, the costumes second-hand, the acting over-the-top, but the play’s the thing. We get the sense that he is giving yet another performance that the town will be abuzz about … until the next one.

Harry is so shy that he can’t deal with the curtain call, and always takes one quick bow and then disappears, much to the befuddlement of his cast members, still onstage bowing. He never goes to cast parties.

At the reception following the performance (which Harry, of course, does not attend), Doris, the director (played by Dorothy Patterson) pulls aside one of the actors, George (Robert Ridgely) and says that she doesn’t think she will be directing the next play which will be Streetcar Named Desire. “Mother’s sick, I won’t have time… Besides, I think it’s about time the club started developing some new directors”. She then makes an impromptu announcement to the crowd that their next show will be A Streetcar Named Desire, and it will be directed by George. Everyone cheers. George is stunned and afraid. He runs a successful business installing storm windows, but this will be a new experience for him. He doesn’t know how to direct a play.

But he already knows who will play Stanley. Who else could do it but Harry Nash?

The following day, George has an errand to run at the phone company. There is a shy serious woman behind the counter, and she informs him that the phone company has installed a new automatic billing system and there are still some bugs in the system. She will remove the incorrect calls from his bill immediately. George, now in directing mode, considers the woman behind the counter. There’s something about her. Something about her that says ……. Stella. North Crawford is a small town. “I’ve never seen you around before,” says George. She is taken aback, and says her name is Helene, and she works for the phone company and travels around from town to town, training the local girls in how to use the new machines. “How long will you be here?” George asks. “I stay in each town eight weeks,” replies the woman. Her manner is unfriendly, but George presses on. “Have you ever acted before?”

What a question. She is startled. He tells her that they are having auditions for a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and he thinks she would be great for the part of Stella, they’d love to have her. The woman, with a white headband, and crisp white shirt, doesn’t know what to say. She finally goes for the truth: “I’ve been traveling from town to town for two years now, and this is the first time anyone has ever approached me about participating in a community thing.” The woman is named Helene, and she is played by Susan Sarandon, and this is the moment, the moment where we see her truth. The perpetual outsider, seen as such by the towns she visits, and George, in his casual offer, has cracked through that. He says (and truer words were never spoken), “Well, there is no better way to get to know a nice group of people than by putting on a play.”

Auditions follow. Doris and George sit in a room at the local library, and hopeful actors line up outside running lines. George is getting frustrated with the auditions. He murmurs to Doris, “All we have out there are Blanches.”

It’s one of my favorite lines in the movie because it is so smart not just about acting and life, but about theatre. A Streetcar Named Desire has passed into mythical status in terms of its place in American culture, but it remains a challenging work, difficult to capture correctly, and that line shows one of the main problems. Blanche is, yes, a difficult part, and a bad Blanche can derail the whole thing. But the really challenging part, the key to the whole thing working, is Stella. Everyone wants to play Blanche, “all there are out there are Blanches”, but without a good Stella, Streetcar can’t work. Kazan had issues with Kim Hunter in the beginning, so did Tennessee Williams, she was too actor-ish, she pushed too much. She improved, but it goes to show you the challenges in that part. Blanche and Stanley are not the only leads, and actually if you read that script, Stanley is a relatively minor role. The two leads are the sisters.

Is it enough for the actress playing Stella to loll about in a negligee, pregnant? No, it is not enough. We must see how far she has fallen. We must see her degradation, her willing enslavement to sex, and we must see around her, like an aura, the society girl she once was. If you don’t get THAT, then you don’t have Stella. It is a very very hard part.

Who Am I This Time? barely deals with Blanche at all. The focus is on finding the Stella. What a pleasure it was last summer to go to Williamstown to see Sam Rockwell play Stanley in David Cromer’s Streetcar Named Desire, and to finally, finally, see Stella take her proper place in that play.

Helene surprises everyone by showing up at the audition. George is thrilled. But his excitement quickly dwindles when he witnesses her wooden reading. She doesn’t look up from the script, she loses her place, she is stiff and nervous. She doesn’t even know what is being asked of her. She has never acted before. She reads a scene with Doris, Doris playing Blanche, and Doris stops to coach her from time to time. “Can’t you put more fire into it? Stanley brings out the animal in Stella.” Frankly, Helene doesn’t know what Doris is talking about. George, trying on his director’s hat, tries to get her to remember a time when she was in love. “I move around too much to meet anyone,” says Helene. “Well, how about puppy love, high school?” Helene goes blank. “We moved around a lot when I was a kid, too.” Doris murmurs to George, “We finally find our perfect Stella, and she doesn’t know what love is.” Helene breaks down in tears. “I’m a walking icebox,” she cries.

At that moment, Harry enters the library unannounced, already in character, and shouts in a rage, “ARE YOU READY FOR ME YET, GEORGE?” It’s Stanley Kowalski. In the flesh. When he is acting, Harry has no fear. It is the only way he can actually get a taste of what it is like to live, to engage with others. It’s a hilarious performance from Walken.

George decides to have Helene read with Harry. Harry struts and swaggers around, and Helene is struck dumb by his behavior. To get “in character”, Harry slowly takes off his shirt. Helene stands back, gulping, the camera zooms and pulls back at the same time, showing her disorientation and, frankly, awakening lust. Harry is unaware of her. He is not doing it for her. He is doing it for him. They then read the scene, Helene desperately trying to keep up with Harry. In her nerves and in his intensity, she forgets trying to ‘act’, and finds herself arguing, cajoling. It is the famous “Napoleonic Code” scene, with Stanley rifling through Blanche’s suitcase, and criticizing all of her belongings. Walken uses whatever is close to hand, picking up his shirt and saying, “What’s she doing with a solid gold tiara?” Sarandon reaches out and snatches it back saying, “She bought that for a costume ball.”

The power of make-believe. The saying “Yes” to the given circumstances. A shirt becomes a gold tiara just by an actor SAYING that it is so. Helene doesn’t think twice. She is a rational businesslike woman, with a big job, but she doesn’t scoff at his make-believe. She starts to play. She says Yes. Jonathan Demme lets the Streetcar scene play out. At one point, they go off script, they get so into it. Walken, in a gesture that makes me laugh out loud, stares at her and suddenly flips the script off into the air, like, “Fuck this script – what’s going on between you and me RIGHT NOW?” Helene finally collapses into a chair, breathing heavily, unaware of where she is, who she is. Who am I this time?

George and Doris are stunned. They have found their Stella. When the scene ends, Harry suddenly becomes Harry again, and nervously says to George, “So … do you think … uhm … do you think that there’s a chance … uhm … that I could play Stanley?” George says, “We are seriously considering you.” “Thank you.”

Rehearsals begin.

When Harry and Helene are onstage together, their chemistry is electric. Helene emerges from backstage in a white negligee, for the denouement of the “STELLA” scene, and you cannot believe that this is the same uptight woman in the telephone office. She trembles at Harry’s touch. Harry is lost in his part, weeping and kissing her. There is a very funny moment, look for it, you might miss it: Right before he calls for Stella to come down, the poker game breaks up. Stanley is out of control. Walken tips the table over. For no apparent reason. He punches one of the other guys, and when he punches him, Walken shouts, “BANG!” He is doing his own sound effect! Like anyone would ever punch another man and shout, “KAPOW.” It’s such a mixture of amateurishness and passion that it broke my heart. The best part is, it doesn’t matter. What Walken shows in that moment, that funny moment, is that Harry is totally in the dreamspace where he IS Stanley, and when you are in that dreamspace, everything you do is right. The other cast members stand back and watch Helene and Harry grope one another, Helene suddenly ripping his T-shirt down his back. The actress playing Blanche whispers to George, “You aren’t directing this play. Mother Nature is directing this play.”

But what happens when you fall in love with your costar? Are you falling in love with him as himself, or him as the character? Aren’t the lines blurred? Meryl Streep was once asked how she created all of these different characters, and she replied, “Well, they’re all in me already.”

Personality is a fluid thing, especially when you are talking about something like art, and Helene starts to learn that. She reaches out to Harry in between scenes, and finds him so shy he can’t even speak. He almost runs away from her to avoid conversation. But onstage? He is all over her. He is fearless, shouting, “Stella, where’s my dinner?” Helene doesn’t question any of this at first. The actress playing Blanche tries to warn her that Harry is very different offstage than on. “I played opposite him when he played Abe Lincoln and I was almost convinced by the end of the play that he had freed the slaves.” Helene, lost in the fantasy of the scene she had just played, states, “He is the most wonderful man I have ever met.”

Before Helene and Harry start to rehearse their scenes together, as everyone bustles around them getting ready, they often make eye contact, and smile, and stare … getting themselves into the world of the play. You wonder: Does Helene know that he may only be doing that to get into his part?

Helene is so caught up in the process that she requests from the telephone company a permanent transfer. George is worried. Everyone is worried. The actress playing Blanche says to George, “What is going to happen to that girl when the play is over? When she discovers who Harry really is?”

The play opens. I thought of Cassavetes’ Opening Night while watching how Demme films some of the actual performances. The camera is onstage with the actors. Sometimes we can see the watching audience behind them. There are things blocking our view, people, furniture, so that we really feel we are crouching behind the table onstage. The camera is sometimes handheld, giving the action an immediate live-theatre feeling. When Harry first walks onstage in the first scene, the audience, locals all of them, burst into applause. He is their celebrity. You can see Helene backstage, waiting for her entrance, looking out at him, basking in the glow.

Helene has tried to open up to Harry a couple of times at rehearsals, and those conversations were agonizing. Walken barely says two words to her and takes 20 minutes to get those two words out. He is desperate to get away from her. He hides from her in between scenes. Helene, someone who described herself as a “walking icebox”, now finds herself behaving in a nurturing womanly manner, bringing him hot soup, trying to get him to open up, feel comfortable. Frankly, she doesn’t know who she is anymore. Now she’s in the dreamspace.

Sarandon is beautiful in the part. She’s in love. The great equalizer, and the great discombobulator.

His strange behavior, familiar to the townspeople, is now apparent to Helene. Why won’t he stay onstage with her to take their bows together? Why won’t he go to the cast parties? Something has opened up in her through playing Stella, something long dormant, or something that was never born at all, and she cannot separate Harry from that awakening. She tries to tell him that, in a very funny exchange on the sidewalk in front of the hardware store. He is agonized for the entire conversation, and she is just as nervous. She says to him, looking off to the side, “Because of you … I’ve faced my fears …” Meanwhile, Harry has taken the opportunity of her not looking at him to sneak off without her noticing. So there she is, opening up her heart to him, as he tiptoes away in a panic.

Poor Helene. Poor Harry.

Helene eventually finds the key to Harry. He can only express who he is through the words of others. What he does onstage is not a lie, or a pretense, it is an illumination of a part of him, of his truth. She felt that from the beginning. Could she somehow get in there with him? Could she somehow find a way to NEVER leave the world of Streetcar?

I am in love with this film. I suppose I am in love with it because it thinks important what I think important. It honors what I honor. I love Waiting for Guffman as much as anyone, but there’s a mean-spirited quality to its take-down of people who spend all their time in community theatre that cuts a bit too close to home. Be careful of who make fun of because you may be making fun of the best parts of yourself. Community theatre is often the only chance for certain towns to see live theatre on a regular basis, and if you’ve been to a play, even a bad one, you know there’s nothing quite like it. Good and vibrant community theatres can do anything. They’ll do Macbeth, no problem. They don’t worry about who has done it before, or precedents of other productions. It’s a damn good play and it’ll get the asses in the seats and so-and-so would be a great Lady Macbeth, did you see her play Nora in Doll’s House last year, she was amazing!

People everywhere, in every culture, have the desire to put on costumes and say other words written for them by someone else, and have people watch them do it. We can certainly make fun of it, but I think that is a needlessly hostile way to look at one of our most primal impulses, in existence since men told stories about killing woolly mammoths around the campfire.

What we are saying in those moments is: “This is what it was like for me. Was it the same way for you? What was it like for you?”

There are shots of audience members with tears on their faces as they watch the last scene of Streetcar, the scene where Blanche is taken away. They sit quietly in the dark, men and women, in tears. Shedding tears for a fictional character. Weeping for Hecuba, vicariously. These moments of identification expand us, they expand our capacity for compassion and understanding. That’s what theatre can do. Demme does not make fun of that, he has a great affection for the world he is portraying, although he certainly allows for the humor that can come in amateur productions. (For example: why is the couch placed downstage facing away from the audience? It makes no sense, blocking-wise. Everyone has to walk around it, and it blocks everyone upstage of it from the waist down!) But what matters is Tennessee Williams’s words, the story being told, a story everyone already knows, and the passion and commitment of the actors up on the stage.

This is why theatre matters. This is why we do what we do. This is what it was like for me.

Harry Nash is a troubled man who can only come alive when he speaks the words written by someone else. Helene, unlike his co-stars before her, does not write off his odd behavior as “just the way Harry is”. She knows that what she feels onstage with him is real. She knows he is not faking it or pretending. She, the outsider, the woman who has never loved before, the icebox, she knows she loves him, and figures out a way to get him to speak. Perhaps it is a solution only an actor would understand, but I don’t think so. We all have “roles” in life. Falling in love is not easy on the best of days, and it is tremendously difficult when you are uptight and out of practice (or have no practice at all, like these two). We are assigned “roles” early on in life: “You’re the shy one”, “You’re the outgoing one”, and Helene realizes that that is the way to Harry’s heart. Don’t fight the fact that we are all acting at all times, to some degree. Embrace it.

Who Am I This Time? stars Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken at the height of their relatively new-found fame. Both had been around for years (Walken had been a child actor, a song-and-dance boy), but had recently hit paydirt with a couple of important films that put them on the map. Sarandon had just done Atlantic City. Walken was still riding the wave of Deer Hunter, appearing in diverse films such as Heaven’s Gate and Pennies From Heaven. Here, they are given two roles unlike anything they were being asked to play at that time in their careers, and not only that, but also Stanley and Stella.

The final scene packs a huge punch. Who knew that the words “Charming day, Miss Fairfax” would carry such weight and emotional impact? (Well, Oscar Wilde probably knew.) It was unexpectedly emotional for me, in a way that felt earned rather than pushed, and has that rare magical energy of something that is, actually, perfect.

When Helene first confides in George, the director, early on in the rehearsal process, that she is thinking of staying in North Crawford permanently, George says, “Have you talked to Harry about this?” Helene, baffled, girlish, starts laughing nervously and says, “Well, he’s been so busy learning his lines and getting into his role and everything.” George says gently, in a tone of warning, “If he gets any further into his role, he’ll never get out of it.”

But for some of us, George, that is the whole point. Because when you have “wept for Hecuba”, even saying the words that somebody else wrote, when you have experienced that singular “dream of passion” that only actors can experience, then you know that there is nothing quite as real in all the world.

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30 Responses to Who Am I This Time? (1982); Dir. Jonathan Demme

  1. Another Sheila says:


  2. sheila says:

    Have you seen it??

  3. Ann Marie says:

    Sheila: Was this on Netflix? If so, must get it. I think I mentioned in a tweet or comment or something that I *loved* this film. We read the short story and then watched the movie in class, and I remember loving every minute of it and re-reading the story several times (IIRC, the teacher photocopied it in… sorry copyright police). So good to read your recap and analysis of it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. sheila says:

    Ann – I didn’t see your comment on twitter. Of COURSE you love the movie!! And yes, it is on Netflix!!

  5. Ann Marie says:

    Eek! Just added it and bumped it to the top of my queue. May even stream it when I get home from Atlanta!

  6. sheila says:

    Isn’t is just so much fun and also so emotional?

  7. JessicaR says:

    I love this movie. And I love how it’s funny without making fun of its characters. They’re doing what they love to do and what could be better than that? It brings back warm memories of a few productions I was involved with or saw at the local community college.

    They have a nice drama department and put on one show in the fall and one in the spring. There was one man who was a real country boy, bad teeth, overalls, smoking in between breaks but very kind. He helped build sets and haul props and acted too. And he was a marvelous actor. I remember him vividly in a production of Our Country’s Good. Blanking on the name he was the character in love with Duckling. And it was amazing seeing him play so well the character’s bluster in dealing with his superiors, his bafflement in being in love with woman like Duckling and yet being very tender with her, and finally the terrible delirium of the fever that claims his life.

    It’s why people who sneer and dismiss art as inherently elitist rankle me. Art is innate in all of us, the need to create, to share I was here and this is what I saw. I’m not religious in any traditional sense but if there is something divine or magic in the universe I believe in it most when I see the man in workboots who repairs A.C. units effortlessly become a lovesick officer in an 18th century Australian penal colony.

  8. Jeff says:

    I saw this on PBS when it first came out, and watched it again with my family this summer. We watched it with our teenage sons, who have grown up expecting to see certain things from Christopher Walken. We had to talk them into it, but even they loved it. It’s because of movies like this that I am most thankful for Netflix.

  9. sheila says:

    Jessica – I am really moved by the image of that man you describe and his performance. I wish I could have seen it. Yes, I’ve never understood that – “elitist”? How sad! A movie like Who Am I This Time shows the egalitarian spirit of such enterprises – yes, people have ambition to do better (I love the one actor who really wants to play Stanley and accosts George on the street, screaming, “STELLAAAAAA” to show him he can do it) – but to me the film totally captures the energy of community theatre. The feeling of the GROUP, and how tight a cast becomes. I also love how there’s one night when the show doesn’t go well – the actors are “off”, the audience is bored. The people out in the audience are not portrayed as sheep who will accept anything – which is a condescending view of such audiences. They, too, want to lose themselves – that’s the whole point of theatre, and why so much of it can be disappointing: People want to get LOST. When a play can do that, or a movie – on whatever scale – you never forget it.

    I saw a production of As You Like It in Philadelphia by a brand-new company (at the time) called the Arden Theatre Company – they were not community theatre, I think they had a couple of Equity contracts – but still: nobody was getting paid a ton of money, and they were struggling to stay afloat. (They are still around, by the way – and are now very very successful) – but it is, to date, one of the most exciting live performances I have ever seen. They did it outside on the waterfront in Philadelphia, and a storm was coming on – with lightning flashing, and huge gusts of wind – and all of these actors just went with it, incorporating the natural world into their performances – I mean, the whole play takes place outside anyway, so it wasn’t a stretch. But there was MAGIC going on that night. We in the audience were all sitting on steel bleechers, in rows, like this was a makeshift kind of night, very little comfort – There was kind of a carnival atmosphere and these actors just insisted that we join the world of their play. Sometimes I wish I had a videotape of that performance, but in a way it’s better that it is just in my memory.

    The audience was RAPT. That’s the word. It was like we all were under a spell.

  10. sheila says:

    Jeff – I know, I love that it is on Netflix. I don’t think I saw it in its first showing, but I remember years later my dad mentioning it to me in a conversation and I’ve never forgotten it. I have always wanted to see it since then.

  11. Another Sheila says:

    Sheila – No, I haven’t seen the film (though I will now!) I meant your post itself.

  12. sheila says:

    Oh. Thanks.

    Yes, see the film!!

  13. tracey says:

    /I’m a walking icebox./

    Wow. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I’m not sure I even know why. Fantastic review, Sheila. I NEED to see this movie. I’d never even heard of it before this.

  14. Marissa says:

    When I was in high school, Kenneth Turan, the film critic for the LA Times, came and guest-taught my English class for a day (I think he was the uncle of one of the other students). He screened this movie, “Who Am I This Time?” and then discussed it with us. “It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and it’s only an hour long,” he said, by way of introduction. Nonetheless, I was skeptical at first–with a high-schooler’s prejudice, I thought “How good can some hour-long PBS TV movie, that I’ve never even heard of, actually be?” But I was very, very happy to be proven wrong–Mr. Turan was right, this movie is a little gem. I am a theater person, so of course I related very strongly to what the movie has to say… but, as Mr. Turan pointed out, not only is it a good movie about the theater, it’s just a good MOVIE, period. Now I think I should see it again–thanks for the lovely essay, Sheila!

  15. sheila says:

    Tracey – I am 100% confident that you will FLIP over this movie. As an actress/drama teacher – you will totally GET it!!
    And yes, one of the special things about it is that it is really about this woman who feels outside the human race (a “walking icebox”) coming out of her shell by playing a character in a play. It’s magic.

  16. sheila says:

    Marissa – That is so cool about Turan! I love to hear that that is what he showed you guys!!

    I agree with him: great movie about the theatre, and great movie period.

    That last scene outside the hardware store just chokes me up – beautifully written (mostly by Oscar Wilde) and really emotional. Love Sarandon and Walken. Charming performances, you just love the both of them.

  17. MrG says:

    Thank you Sheila for writing about this. My brother introduced me to this movie when it came out and of course I always loved it. It holds special mention for me several ways now – family, theatre, etc. I loved your descriptions as always!

  18. phil says:

    I love this and still have a grainy copy on tape from when it first aired. American Playhouse was always great.
    Susan was never more sensual.
    Thanks for reminding me of it. I will watch it again tomorrow.

  19. sheila says:

    I love how many people remember this film. It just warms the old cockles!

  20. Darroch Greer says:

    I love that you are a fan of this movie. I used to have a copy of WHO AM I THIS TIME on 3/4″ tape, and I tell people about the moments I best remember all the time. I am also a very big fan of OPENING NIGHT. Of course, CHILDREN OF PARADISE is perhaps the all-time great theater film. Not quite in the same league, but a great deal of fun, is John Turturro’s ILLUMINATA, also with Chris Walken, the guy from planet Show Business.
    Thanks for the memories.

  21. sheila says:

    Darroch – What are the moments you remember best??

    Yes, I love all of those movies, too – I love movies that attempt to explain the theatrical pursuit. Who Am I This Time treats it with poetry/romance/understanding – I’ve been in shows like that. The movie gets it JUST RIGHT!!

  22. Robert says:

    Wasn’t sure where else to leave this question… This post seemed most appropriate.

    Watched a movie randomly the other night with my wife, “Phoebe in Wonderland”. Wondered if you’d seen it and what your take on it is. It surprised me with its depth AND it reminded me of the core spirit of “Who Am I This Time?” — that is, the healing power of acting on lost souls.

  23. sheila says:

    Robert – You have me totally intrigued. I have not seen it, but now I will be sure to. It sounds wonderful.

  24. KathyB says:

    I was reading something else on your blog and spotted this title in the list down the right side. Saw it as broadcast in 1982. It has never left me. Perfection.

    Happy to hear it can reach new audiences on Netflix. Almost tempting enough to renew lapsed subscription. Already have Amazon Prime though.

  25. KathyB says:

    Ooh! On Amazon too. Added to watchlist :)

  26. Mookie M says:

    It is amazing that with all you say about this film you never once mention the screenwriter who adapted the short story. Unfortunately, screenwriters are seldom given credit for creating the foundation upon which such artistic endeavors are based. As a reviewer you should know better.

    Demme and Sarandon and Walken certainly make this film very special, but without the words and action to guide them, the outcome would have been quite different.

    • Sheila says:

      If you’re familiar with my work (which you obviously are not), you’ll know my main focus is always on performance. Been doing this a long time, and acting is my way in, my main interest, my focus. You may not like it (a lot of people don’t and get scold-y like yourself), but a lot of people do! If you scan my gigantic “writers” archive, you’ll find a lot there too. Always best not to assume things about people (also, I’ve written scripts myself, one of which was made into a short film – DOH!)

      I agree with you that writers often get short shrift. But maybe adjust your tone into something more civil next time – maybe you’d have better conversations on the Internet (and in general).

  27. Nancy L says:

    I was curious, what did you think about the screenplay? I certainly enjoyed your review and agree with you

    • Sheila says:

      Obviously I adore the film. If I had issues with the screenplay I would have said so.

      My interest- as I stated in the review – was its deep understanding of the importance of Stella (something many productions lose) and its celebration of the community-bonding experience of theatre.

      Everything I have to say is right here.

      Two comments in 10 hours asking me (or scolding me that “I should know better” – for real?) what I thought of the screenplay? Is there a group term paper due that I’m not aware of?

      All this conversation has made me want to pop the film in again.

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