Wednesday, April 30, 2014

façade: Glenda Jackson

The Great Glenda with Peter Finch and Murray Head in John Schlesinger's lacerating masterwork, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1971)

My previous essay on ”Stevie” brings something to mind.  Or, rather, someone...

Watching Meryl Streep giddily go through her "She Can Do No Wrong" phase brings to mind two major actresses from the 1970s who enjoyed the same free pass - Liv Ullmann and Glenda Jackson.

But my mind is really on Jackson. Ullmann still works in movies - occasionally as an actress, more often as a filmmaker herself - but Jackson, always something more of an activist than an actress, made a crucial decision to walk away.

And when she did, people - her fans, the critics - seem to have walked away, too. In the opposite direction. Jackson's name is rarely invoked these days in movie reviews or film essays. I don't know why - because when she was active, she was positively electric. There was always this unquenchable hunger in a Glenda Jackson performance. It was as if she wanted to make acting so much more than what it was.

In retrospect, she was far too serious for what is essentially a silly profession - play acting. At least Streep seems to be aware of the joke (see her performances in "Mamma Mia!" and "Julie & Julia") but Jackson couldn't really make light of it. And so she left.

It was during her last few years of acting that Jackson became actively involved in politics in her native Great Britain and she formally and officially retired from acting in order to enter the House of Commons in the 1992 general election as the Labour Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Highgate. She is currently Labour MP for the constituency of Hampstead and Highgate in the London Borough of Camden.

I feel fairly confident that she is giving an on-going passionate performance in her new role. It would be nice to once again witness that no-nonsense Jackson drive - that sometimes frightening energy that she brought to not only the aforementioned "Stevie" by Robert Enders, but also such Ken Russell films as "Women in Love" (her Oscar winner) and "The Music Lovers" - as well as John Schlesinger's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Charles Jarrott's "Mary, Queen of Scotts" (opposite Vanessa Redgrave!), John Irvin's "Turtle Diary" and even her wicked cameo in Russell's "The Boy Friend" and her romcom turn in Melvin Frank's "A Touch of Class." I could go on.

Thinking about her makes me long for her once again. Glenda Jackson will turn 78 on Friday (May 9th). It is unlikely she will ever make another movie.  It is also unlikely that we will never see the likes of her again.

But thank heaven for film!

15 comments:

J. Dickman said...

Glenda Jackson, what an actress! Her performance in Elizabeth R is incomparably great. It makes all the recent performers of the role look like silly school girls.

Fiona said...

Whether hypnotizing a bull in "Women in Love" (an actual bovine, not Oliver Reed)or giving George Segal "A Touch of Class," Jackson was the definitive actress of the early '70s (until Diane Keaton came along), a formidable and intelligent presence and one hell of a stage actress. I saw her on Broadway in "Strange Interlude" in the late 1980s and I'm still processing the many layers of that performance.

Alex said...

Easy to forget that Jackson won a second Oscar just 3 years after her first, for A TOUCH OF CLASS.

joe baltake said...

"A Touch of Class" is pretty much a forgotten film in general, which is curious, considering how huge it was in its day. Speaking of Oscars, Jackson deserved one for the affecting "Stevie."

Shawn said...

Yes, "Stevie" - Turtle Diary" - exactly the type of movies that I can see you writing about here in "Cinema Obscura."

john said...

I always wondered what happened to her. She was one of favorite actresses.

godard said...

There seems to be an unwritten clause in the contract of nearly every intelligent actress - one saying that she must appear to apologize for her brains. Jackson never did, and that was bracing.

Lorianne said...

Glenda Jackson remains one of my all time favorite performers, so much so that I named my cat Glenda in 1975. She was my greatest cat ever by the way, living up to her namesake.

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Groggy Dundee said...

Really loved her in Sunday Bloody Sunday and her turns as Elizabeth I.

rob said...

There's really no problem with Glenda Jackson's career: rather than go through the bull about parts for aging actresses, she turned to another passion, politics. She really wants to make a difference in the world, and (hopefully) she's doing what she can. But show business isn't the only thing in the world, and she's one person who proves it. But she was a galvanizing and (yes) polarizing actress: she could sometimes come on so strong that she seemed to be grating. But in later years, her acting had become a marvel of simplicity: her performances in movies such as STEVIE, THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER and THE RAINBOW were amazingly direct and unaffected. But she has chosen her own path and it's not like she's disappeared from view, she's just disappeared from the movies.

Brian said...

Jackson's place in history may have suffered from the relative inaccessibility of her films. Until fairly recently, it was near impossible to find A TOUCH OF CLASS, despite her Oscar win. Maybe you can find an out-of-print VHS of HEDDA somewhere. Luckily, SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY and STEVIE are available to stream on Netflix Instant Watch, and some titles are on DVD.

Another factor may be that few of the directors Jackson worked with have become must-see auteurs for younger generations.

Janice said...

If you had told me Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau would make an ideal screen couple, I would have thought you were nuts. Then I saw "House Calls." The movie has some problems, but not the two leads. They're both wonderful, with special props going to Jackson.

joe baltake said...

Brian- Good to hear that "Stevie" is available in some form at least. I love that film. -J

Charlotte said...

Fiona: I'm still processing that "Strange Interlude" performance, too. Don't forget how great she was as a nun in "Nasty Habits," Watergate set in a convent. David Thomson described her as being "militantly intelligent." Thanks, Joe, for celebrating the definitive British actress of the 1970s. This said, I don't want to see her writhe naked again on the train-carriage floor in "The Music Lovers," thank you.