Charlotte Rampling: Fearless


I think I first saw Charlotte Rampling in Angel Heart, her one hauntingly weird scene, with the piano keys, her quiet intense voice, the clinking of her spoon against the side of the cup. Her eyes, man. Her eyes. They can be creepy, or sad, but always intense.

She’s my kind of actress. Fearless. Un-pin-down-able. A survivor. Doesn’t seem to give a fuck.

Still resisting classification and limitations.

But it was 1974’s The Night Porter (with Dirk Bogarde opposite) that cemented my belief that she – along with Gena Rowlands – was the scariest actress of her generation. You don’t cuddle up to Charlotte Rampling. You don’t warm to Gena Rowlands. Actresses like those two are scary. Raw meat, on display. Flayed, whipped, beaten by life. Clinging with ripped fingernails to some ledge, laughing hysterically and wildly as they hang over the abyss. Their cover-ups are jagged, incomplete, their pain long-lasting, inseparable from the look behind their eyes.

All can do as an audience member is sit back, shut the hell up, stop judging, stop wondering why they are so DIFFERENT from other actresses (where is the clean-up, where is the resolution, where is the “moral”??), and let yourself be overwhelmed by them. Frightened by them. “Holeeee shit.”

Still from The Night Porter, below – and a clip of its most famous (and, actually, least controversial) scene:


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15 Responses to Charlotte Rampling: Fearless

  1. She’s fantastic in The Verdict and Stardust Memories. I like her in all of her films (Georgy Girl – she’s striking in that one, The Night Porter) but in Verdict and Stardust she’s just incredible. Her broken down characters in those movies seem more real to me than almost any other “broken down” characters I can think of in movie history. She got them both dead on.

  2. red says:

    Yes – her work in The Verdict is also haunting. It almost seems, sometimes, like she does nothing. You never catch her “acting” – but she’s deep, pained, quiet – it hurts sometimes to even look at her.

  3. Bud says:

    Brilliant comments, Sheila, on a truly mesmerizing talent. I watch Night Porter at least once a year. (Dirk’s no slouch either! The Servant is another amazing piece of acting from him.) She was outstanding in Swimming Pool and Great Expectations as well. Too many performances to mention. Speaking of those eyes, it was evident even when she was a teen:

  4. Bud – What a gorgeous picture!

  5. red says:

    Bud – yes, I did not at all mean to slight Bogarde!! You’re so right – he was terrific (in that film and all the others).

    And wow. That photo you sent. Something about her face gives me the chills.

    Fascinating career. To me it has real integrity, true integrity.

  6. Brendan says:

    Swimming Pool! Wow!

  7. Stevie says:

    Swimming Pool freaked me out – she’s exceedingly mesmerizing. Thanks for pointing out so many great performances, Sheila! Hate to admit I’ve never seen The Night Porter. I’m running to Netflix right now!
    xxx Stevie

  8. red says:

    Oh Stevie – you are in for such a treat. (If an absolute mind-fuck is a treat!!) It is RIVETING.

  9. Jon says:

    And if you haven’t seen Rampling in “Heading South,” a small(ish) but ridiculously intense film released a couple years ago, about three middle-aged, North American white women who travel to Haiti in the late 1970’s to have themselves serviced by young men, then you best put that film on your list, too. Rampling is extraordinary in that one (playing a deeply cynical academic driven jealous by her cohorts’ activities)–as are the other women, including a heartbreaking Karen Young (whom you might recognize from “The Sopranos,” where she played the hard-as-nails FBI agent who gets Adriana to inform on Tony and Christopher). Really a powerful movie. But then again, what isn’t when it’s got Rampling?

  10. Rob says:

    I saw The Night Porter at the theater when it came out. I was 17 and entirely too young for it. When I saw it many years later, it was a dramatically different experience. Nuance, subtlety, and adult themes were lost on me at 17. Charlotte is amazing. I don’t think she’s done two roles that were even similar.

    Another film I saw too young was Cabaret. After seeing it again for about the 4th time just recently, I can say with certainty that I didn’t get that movie at 15 when I saw it in the theater.

    These are great movies, Sheila. Hadn’t thought about The Night Porter in a while. I’ll be setting the DVR to search for it. That they both have Nazis in them is mere coincidence but I find a connection in the two. Neither are about what they appear to be on the surface.

  11. red says:

    Rob – speaking of Bob Fosse, I had a similar experience that you had: I saw All That Jazz when I was probably 12 years old – and the majority of it went WAY over my head – although it made an enormous impression. It wasn’t until I saw it later, in my 20s, that I really “got” it.

  12. Bud says:

    Sheila – I’ve been visualizing Charlotte all day. And I thought you might enjoy this photo coupling of Rampling and Knightley:

    It almost feels like Knightley and/or the editors are committing blasphemy!

  13. red says:

    Ha!! Yeah, the second one just doesn’t have the subversive frightening feeling of the first. Totally true.

    Rampling is the definition of subversive. She doesn’t have to ACT it, she IS it. And it’s not about her sexy body and her belly button and her breasts … it’s more than the fact that she’s half naked. It’s what’s beneath that outfit … and that’s what many actresses of today, and the culture of today, cannot handle.

  14. Ken says:

    Powerful. Did you watch the guy at about the 2:00 mark? I think he’s scarred for life. Very effective, not that I’m an expert in these matters.

    Seen in isolation, the scene was evocative of Salome. I wonder if it still does in context? Have to see it one day.

  15. Hot, hot, hot

    Two hot dudes. The smile lines are Bogarde are melting my kneecaps. (Speaking of Charlotte Rampling and Night Porter)…