Jodie Foster: She’s Always Been There

I found this exploration of her life, her career and her identity as an actress/star really interesting. Much to chew on there.

I’ve always liked Jodie Foster – while, at the same time, I’ve never warmed to her. I warm to Drew Barrymore. I warm to Susan Sarandon. But Jodie Foster doesn’t have that kind of relationship with her audience – (she never has – and THAT is an odd thing, because most little kid actors engender that sort of protective feeling in an audience, naturally – she never did, even as a small child – very odd) it’s a different thing she has – it sets her apart. Also it’s not the kind of thing that seems to interest her. She is pretty much one of a kind, in terms of the career she has, and the trajectory it has taken. I’ve enjoyed watching her over the years.

There’s an odd relationship that happens when you feel you have “known’ a certain actress your entire life. Like: she’s been there as long as I can remember. She was in those movies I saw when I was first becoming a movie fan. I wouldn’t call her my favorite actress or anything like that, but there’s something about her that I have always liked. I can see her flaws as an actress (or, what I consider to be flaws) and yet I admire her work ethic, her willingness to ‘go there’ (some of those close-ups in Contact are among the best work she has ever done – naked.) – and also her staying power. I like her no-nonsense attitude, and I also like that you never hear anything bad about her. That is quite a feat. I liked her as a kid, too – she’s one of the few actresses I latched onto as a young one – mainly because she was starring in movies geared towards me – and so I saw them all.

One cool thing: the first movie that I remember seeing in the movie theatre as a kid was Candleshoe. I seriously need to see that movie again – I remember all of them sliding across the floor in that house – and i also remember Jodie Foster’s cat-eyed sharp-mouthed face … the mousy hair … the expression, the mature expression on the little girl’s face – and there it was, as big as a house up on the movie screen – and I was just blown away by the whole experience.


I was afraid of her as a kid, too. We aren’t the same age – she’s older than I am – but we’re close enough, dammit – and when I was a kid, I would see her in movies and she seemed KIND of like a peer – and I would think: That girl is from another planet. I am jumping rope in the dust, eating popsicles and wearing Keds. She is smoking cigarettes, wearing spit-curls and singing jazz-baby songs in that movie I adored and WANTED TO BE IN SO BAD that it nearly ruined my summer. I just thought it was UNFAIR that I wasn’t in that movie! bugsy1.jpgWho WAS that girl who was so like me in her tomboyish nonchalance, her intellectual clarity … and yet so UNLIKE me in that she seemed like she was 45 years old, world-weary, been around the block, baby, tell me about it.

I liked this paragraph in the article:

At its most generic, the word auteur has come to mean any filmmaker (almost always male) whose vision triumphs or at least survives the insults and script notes of the industrial moviemaking process. Actors aren’t auteurs; certainly not in the original French. But certain stars have always been auteurs of a kind, who with luck, talent, looks, timing, hard work, representation and any number of other factors, tangible and otherwise, manage to become more than just another pretty face, another desirable and disposable body. They are auteurs of self-representation — not, you know, what’s-her-name, you know, her, the girl.

Jodie Foster was never that girl …

A quick word on this:

If you think about the ‘personality’ actors – like John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo, etc etc … that is a great way to describe them: “auteurs of self-representation…” Way harder to do than it looks. And it is why folks who say stuff like, “He was just playing himself” (and that always seems to be an insult to such folks – it seems that they think “playing himself” is EASY) – are wrong.

Cary Grant said it best (and I actually don’t consider him to be a “personality” actor – he eludes classification, as far as I’m concerned) – but anyway, here’s what Grant had to say about “playing yourself”:

To play yourself — your true self — is the hardest thing in the world. Watch people at a party. They’re playing themselves … but nine out of ten times the image they adopt for themselves is the wrong one.

… nine out of ten times the image they adopt for themselves is the wrong one.

How true is that, huh? Someone like John Wayne was unselfconscious in presenting his personality to the world. He was unselfconscious in using those parts of himself (not just the good parts – but ALL the parts) … in role after role after role, finding the subtleties, the nuance – but always knowing: that John Wayne (TM) was the product.

MOST actors cannot survive such a thing.

They begin to repeat themselves, or they begin to hate themselves. Or they begin to hate their career because it feels so “same ol’ same ol'”. They begin to hate the fact that they are selling parts of themselves. These are all normal reactions.

But the stars who manage it … who are “auteurs of self-representation” … fascinating. I could watch Bogart be Bogart all day long. It is NEVER monotonous to me.

Anyway, I really liked that piece about Jodie Foster – it’s how I enjoy contemplating actors and careers as well.

For example:

This combination of emotional connectivity and composure, a sense of ease and well-being with her own body, is an important part of her on-screen presence. Like any number of SoCal kids, she played tennis, rode a skateboard and studied martial arts. Then as now, she was slender, compact and athletic-looking without being overly muscled or sinewy. She rarely appeared out of place or sorts; even as a child, she projected a sense of calm and absolute control. She looked as if she could take care of herself.

And check out this psychedelic drug-trip of a clip. Jodie Foster, on a swing, wearing a white tuxedo, singing in French. I just … you have to experience it to believe it. Is everyone on drugs??

She is all child there – undeniably a young girl … and yet … also NOT. Hard to describe. She’s not precocious – at least not in an obnoxious way … she’s not a “mini-adult” like lots of little kid actors (actually, my main man Mr. Stockwell talks a lot about that – and how he had his adolescence in his 20s and 30s because he was never allowed to be a little kid WHEN he was kid) … but with Jodie Foster, especially there, it’s like she’s BOTH: little girl and world-weary woman. Sophisticated, yet giggly.

Fascinating to watch.

Another excerpt from the Times article:

Whatever the case, like Warhol, she has become a genius escape artist, capable of being at once visible and somehow apart. Her entire life has been shaped by such dualisms: she is simultaneously brainy and beautiful, Disney and edgy, child and woman, girl and boy, the meticulous technician who cried on command but was bored by Mr. De Niro’s Method rehearsals.

Whole article here

And I freakin’ LOVE the poster for her latest movie. I don’t know why – it’s pretty cliche, I think … but I’m not against cliche if it works. And this works. To me, it REALLY works.


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32 Responses to Jodie Foster: She’s Always Been There

  1. tracey says:

    Yeah, I saw this for the first time the other day and it just reached out and grabbed me. How it’s so taut. I love the kind of retro feel to it — and the tension in her gun hand. There’s an espression with her eye/eyebrow even though the eye is closed. There just is. I love it.

  2. ricki says:

    I loved Candleshoe, too.

    And I agree with you on the “distance” thing – it’s like she’s more guarded, she keeps people more at arm’s length. (Perhaps, that’s actually a HEALTHY thing…that her whole life isn’t a big open book for the whole world to comment on).

    I always got the feeling that she was very at-home in her own skin, that she didn’t need to put on some fake identity to act or for the public…maybe that’s part of the child-yet-not part of her.

  3. Dan says:

    I will see pretty much anything Ms. Foster is in.

    I also want to tell her to take her finger off the trigger and observe proper gun handling – but it is a very striking image as the poster above noted.

  4. red says:

    Dan – hahahahahaha

    Haven’t we discussed Candleshoe before?

    I honestly can’t remember that much about it … I need to see it again. Do you think it’s bad?? Or does it hold up?

  5. Dan says:

    I haven’t seen it in 30-odd years, so your guess is as good as mine. I was kind of hoping you’d see it and let me know. Cause you know, I hardly EVER request a blogging topic from you. It’s like your my Casey Kasem in blogland.

  6. red says:

    Dan – HAHAHAHA I had no idea you were waiting for me!! Candleshoe is, indeed, on my Netflix queue but since Dean Stockweel is not in it, it has been pushed back to the year 2017 or some such decade by all the Stockwell-stuff I need to see.

    (Yes. “Need”.)

    You did a post about all those old Disney movies and wanting to see them again and it really sparked a curiosity in me to do the same.

  7. Dan says:

    I did watch ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ but the rest fell by the way side. Now that the semester has started again I don’t have much time for my languishing netflix queue.

  8. red says:

    Dan – I hear ya. I need to compile a list of all those old flicks and make my way thru them.

  9. red says:

    Oh and actually Computer who wore tennis shoes is only a couple weeks away on my Netflix queue.

    Now THERE is a movie I adore.

  10. JFH says:

    Wasn’t the original Freaky Friday a Disney movie, too?

  11. red says:

    JFH – I believe so, yes! LOVE that movie.

  12. Alex says:

    This is so funny you should write about this, Sheila. Chrisanne and I were JUST discussing her last night.

    We both agreed on how much we loved her and how enigmatic she is on screen. Her performances are really wonderful.

    But I have to say, her limitations are apparent to me as well. They don’t bother me really, because like you, I still admire her….but they are apparent. Most obviously, in films like “Anna and the King”, and “Maverick”. There’s a part of Foster that’s shut off, unresponsive, a bit unavailable, I think.

    But in “Contact”, and “Taxi Driver” she is unparalleled.

    Chrisanne compared her to Bette Davis. I said there was really no comparison. Although Davis had a strength and shell around her, I think about “Dark Victory”, “Dangerous”, and “Now,Voyager”, and the softness, the femininity and female openness in Davis’ work is right there. I don’t see that in Foster’s.

    But…..I adore her. She really is fascinating to think about.

  13. red says:

    I want to sit around with you and Chrisanne talking about Jodie!!

    I don’t think it’s an accident that some of her best work (in my opinion) has either been when she is by herself (Contact – staring out the window of the time travel machine at the cosmos) – or in deep deep close-up where she is staring directly at the camera (Silence of the Lambs).

    And to get really picky and actor-teacher-y, I think she could work on her facial tension. She might have some breakthrus in her work if she relaxed the area around her eyes.

    But honestly, as a kid actor? i think she was a phenom. A true genius.

    Think about her in Taxi Driver. That is such a terrifying performance and I never get the creepy sense (like I do with other young actresses) that she is being exploited. She seems totally in charge of that performance.

  14. Alex says:

    I have a theory about all this. Really interesting to me.

    I think I need to blog about it.

  15. red says:

    I need to hear it.

    Write it up.


  16. JFH says:

    So, who’s a better actress in Freaky Friday‘s:

    Teen Foster or teen Lohan?

  17. red says:

    i thought Lohan was great in Freaky Friday. I don’t know. The two were different. Foster is a phenom – I’m convinced she is an old soul, or a time traveler (quantum leap?) – her maturity was uncanny, and never seemed forced or pushed. It just seemed to BE her.

    tatum o’neal had that, too. See Paper Moon. She was a tiny little kid, and she’s smoking cigs, conning cashiers, yelling at her dad – that is a complicated movie … and she never EVER traded on her cute-ness.

    Foster didn’t either.

    Old souls. from another time or something.

  18. red says:

    Alex – have you seen taxi driver recently?

    I recently re-watched it – and it’s her performance that really stood out for me this past time. (Oh, that and Peter Boyle, rest in peace).

    There’s that one scene where she sits in a diner with DeNiro – and I think she’s eating toast, or a PB& J – some really KID food – and he’s trying to get her to stop hooking – and she’s all blase about it – and he’s saying stuff to her like, “How can you sell your tight little pussy?” – you know, like – WOAH – and she’s rearranging her sandwich, you know like little kids do – she takes off one of the pieces of bread, smears the peanut butter around the way she likes it – takes off some of the jelly – and then eats …

    It’s the scariest part of the movie, for me. Not the bloodbath at the end. But her with her sandwich, not really getting why this guy is so weird and emotional.

  19. red says:

    Also, JFH – you’re asking me like you think there might be a right answer. There obviously isn’t.

    What do YOU think?

    I happen to prefer the first version – due to nostalgic reasons, and also because it had more grit to it – felt more like the book.

  20. JFH says:

    I agree, Sheila, I don’t think there is a better child performance than O’Neal’s performance in Paper Moon. She DID win the Oscar, of course… Then again, who was she up against? I had to look this up:

    Linda Blair, The Exorcist
    Candy Clark, American Graffiti
    Madeline Kahn, Paper Moon
    Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon
    Sylvia Sidney, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

    I’ve never even HEARD of Sylvia Sidney, nor the movie (though I doubt that’s true for you and Alex)… Candy Clark? To be honest I thought she was “type cast” until I saw her in other movies. Linda Blair? Think the special effects people should get the award before she would.

    Now, we get to Madeline Kahn who probably SHOULD have won the award, if Tatum had been put into the proper category, Lead Actress. Look, it may have been obvious in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams that Joanne Woodward was the lead actress compared to Sylvia Sidney (remember I’ve never even heard of the movie). But, there’s no way (at least in my memory) that Ellen Burstyn as much significant “screen time” as Blair compared to Kahn and O’Neal…

    Bottom line, I doubt Tatum would have beaten the Best Actress in a Leading Role candidates:

    Touch of Class, A (1973) – Glenda Jackson (WINNER)
    Cinderella Liberty (1973) – Marsha Mason
    Exorcist, The (1973) – Ellen Burstyn
    Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973) – Joanne Woodward (I)
    Way We Were, The (1973) – Barbra Streisand

    Perhaps that’s why they pushed O’Neal to the supporting role category at Kahn’s expense.

    What do y’all think?

  21. JFH says:

    Sheila, of course, the original version was closer to the book (but, still far away from the actual plot line), that said, each has its own positives and negatives… I think I’d need to see both together (realizing it’s not fair to compare 70s production techniques to the 2000’s decade), to make a determination

  22. red says:

    Sylvia Sidney was a huge star in the 30s. She worked til the end, though – I remember a particularly great guest spot she did on 30 something. Wonderful actress. Always played lower class, girls who struggled – waifs. Flower girls, etc.

    I think a lot of times they push those performances into “best supporting” so they have a better shot.

    Like Mercedes Ruehl in Fisher King – that comes to mind (it’s one of my favorite performances ever by an actress). She WON, mind you. But that role is NOT supporting. That was a lead role.

    Then of course there’s Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs … In terms of screen time, he’s in that movie for less than 17 minutes. !! That always amazes me – because he hovers over the whole damn thing. Yet he won Best Actor in a lead role.

    But you can’t call that part supporting, regardless of the screen time.

    That was a LEAD.

  23. red says:

    Oh and JFH – I just watched Paper Moon again with Bogdonavich’s commentary track on – and it was great stuff, hearing about how he worked with Tatum, how challenging that part was – for anyone, never mind a little one – how much admiration he had for her … and also how funny she was (there were a couple of bloopers included on the disk – very very cute -) It was neat to see.

  24. red says:

    JFH – yeah, I haven’t seen the original Freaky Friday since I was a kid myself.

  25. Alex says:

    I agree about the sandwich eating scene. I LOVE it! Leave it to you to recognize that kind of subtlety.

    I love watching that way she looks at Deniro and the way she continues to attempt to concentrate on the sandwich. It’s miraculous, meticulous acting.

    Also- I have to say something about The Little Girl Down The Lane. This is a B movie horror film at best, but Foster is STUNNING here. She never goes into panic mode….which could be easy in this kind of villainous role. She’s walking through her life and dealing with her situation as best she can. You’re rooting for her by the end. Hoping she never gets caught, never gets taken back to school or made to face retribution for killing people and shoving them in the cellar.

    Wonderful work.

    I have to write this post.

  26. JFH says:

    Still, ya gotta admit, O’Neal’s role was the lead, and Kahn’s role was supported, in this case both in plot and screen time was a no-brainer.

  27. steve on the mountain says:

    re Jodie – Last week in the library I browsed the bio written by her brother. She was walking and talking at 9 months of age. After her first day in kindergarten she was enraged because she had to hang out with the little kids and not the 5th graders.

  28. red says:

    Alex – do it! Go!!!

    And I know Mitchell is very very fond of Little Man Tate – I haven’t seen it but he keeps tell me to SEE IT DAMMIT.

  29. red says:

    JFH – it’s funny tht you say it’s not fair to compare the 2 – yet you started out by asking me to compare Lohan and Foster!

    This isn’t a competition, hon – we’re all just shooting the shit here. I very often get a competitive vibe from your comments. It’s tiresome. I don’t know what button I push in you – and I’m sick of trying to figure it out.

  30. red says:

    steve – hahahahaha I can so see that about her! Like: I have to do finger-painting and crap?

    No WAY. I want to be with the big kids.

  31. Genevieve says:

    You MUST see Little Man Tate. As soon as possible. It is simply fabulous, despite a few chiche plot moments.
    And read Roger Ebert’s review of it, where he ties it to her life as a child prodigy.

    Candleshoe is next up on my Netflix queue for my son . . .

    And I love both versions of Freaky Friday. They’re very hard to compare. The plot in the newer one makes more sense, and it resonates to me more (the original is pretty dated), but Foster is terrific in the original.

  32. red says:

    Genevieve – My friend Mitchell just raves about Little Man tate!! It’s on my queue – I will certainly see it!

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