Thursday, March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson (1963-2009)

"She was so beautiful. I still look at that movie and I can't believe it. It still makes me cry, the beauty of it. I could go on and on — in that white fur hooded thing, when she comes through the forest for the first time. You've never seen anything so beautiful!".
-the late Natasha Richardson, on seeing her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, for the first time in Joshua Logan's 1967 screen version of Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot," the moment that convinced her she wanted to be an actress.
Like mom.
Natasha Richardson was not the kind of actress about whom people obsessed but she was very much the kind of actress whose talent we took for granted. She was always, effortlessly, excellent and she transported us only when she was on screen (or stage), not off. Her private life was, well, private, despite a high-profile marriage to Liam Neeson and the royal lineage of being Vanessa Redgrave's daughter.

Consequently - sadly - we might have slighted her, not giving her the attention and regard that she so richly deserved. But all that's changed in the last 24 hours. News of her disturbing death has sent a rush of memories through my mind, with forgotten films and performances suddenly haunting my thoughts, enriching them.

Suddenly, I realized that one of my dream remakes is now lost forever - "The Quiet Man," with Liam in the John Wayne role (ready-made for Neeson) and Natasha in the Maureen O'Hara part. Oh, well...
"There's so much more to say about the sylphlike actress with the dazzling smile and talent," my friend Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquire writes so eloquently on her blog, FLICKgrrl, "the voice like ginger and grit, the young woman who emerged from the towering shadow of her prodigiously gifted grandfather and mother and blazed her own path, about the devoted wife and mother, and about her shape-shifting ability to be patrician, slatternly, insecure and confident - sometimes all at once."

"...the voice like ginger and grit..."

That line says it all, a perfect approximation of Richardson's most distinctive feature, her voice - like her mom's, only less honeyed.

Perusing her filmography, I realize an at-home Natasha Richardson Film Festival is in order. If we are of the same mind and you are contemplating your own mini-retrospective, consider these twelve essential titles:

--Pat O'Connor's "A Month in the Country" (1987)

--Paul Schrader's "Patty Hearst" (1988)

--Volker Schlöndorff's "The Handmaid's Tale" (1990)

--Paul Schrader's "The Comfort of Strangers" (1990)

--John Irvin's "Widow's Peak" (1994)

--Nancy Meyers' "The Parent Trap" (1998)

--Paddy Breathnach's "Blow Dry" (2001)

--Ethan Hawk's "Chelsea Walls" (2001)

--Jordan Brady's "Waking Up in Reno" (2002)

--David Mackenzie's "Asylum" (2005)

--James Ivory's "The White Countess" (2005)

--Lajos Koltai's "Evening" (2007).

In "The White Countess," Richardson had a rare opportunity to appear with both her mother and her aunt, Lynn Redgrave. Her final film, an Emma Roberts vehicle titled "Wild Child," was scheduled to be released here in 2008. It's played just about everywhere else in the world but has thus far evaded the United States.

Among Richard's memorable stage turns are "The Seagull" (in the same role that her mother once played), "Anna Christie" (with Neeson), the Sam Mendes revival of "Cabaret," the Broadway production of "Closer," the Roundabout revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the recent staged reading of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," in which she appeared (in the role of Desiree Armfeldt) with her mother, Victor Garber, Christine Baranski, Marc Kudisch, Jill Paice, Steven Pasquale, Alexandra Socha, and Kendra Kassebaum for one performance only last 12 January.
And according to the New York Post, Sondheim was eager to have Redgrave and Richardson share the stage again for the first full revival of the Broadway show, which had been tentatively scheduled for 2010.

A missed opportunity, regretfully.

Note in Passing: In his otherwise fine appreciation in The New York Times, writer Bruce Weber writes that the role of Sally Bowles played by Richardson in the hit 1998 revival of "Cabaret" was "created" by Liza Minnelli. Not so - not so by a long shot. Jill Haworth created Sally in the original stage production of "Cabaret," and before her, Julie Harris played the role in both the stage and film versions of "I Am the Camera." Minnelli, of course, was in the big-screen version of the material, which was Fosse-ized to death for the occasion.

The many views of Natasha - as we will remember her; with Liam; poster art for "Patty Hearst"; with Robert Duvall in "The Handmaid's Tale"; the poster for the Roundabout Theatre revival of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," opposite John C. Reilly; with her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, following the 12 January staged reading of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music"; Sondheim applauding at the curtain call; in a scene from "Asylum"; with her mother in "Evening," and as a child (below) with Vanessa and little sister Joley.


jkaiser said...

I loved her in "Widow's Peak".

Carlye said...

A marvelous actress. A truly sad loss.

John said...

Extremely sad. She was wonderful in "Asylum." A true artist who took chances in her work rarely going just for the commerical buck.

Anonymous said...

She was great in the movie "Zelda." She played the insane wife of F.Scott Fitzgerald. I also enjoyed her in "Patty Hearst","Parent Trap", and "The Handmaid's Tale". Gone too soon..

Annie said...

She was great in the movie "Zelda." She played the insane wife of F.Scott Fitzgerald. I also enjoyed her in "Patty Hearst","Parent Trap", and "The Handmaid's Tale". Gone too soon..