Tuesday, February 08, 2011

façade: Susan Sarandon

The 13-film Susan Sarandon retrospective that kicks off Thursday (10 February) at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has made me wildly nostalgic.

Suddenly, I experienced a rush of - for lack of a better expression - "Susan Sarandon moments."

Specifically, my mind wandered to those films from her past that have been forgotten and to those more recent titles that have been seen by only a limited audience.

Sarandon made an auspicious debut as Dennis Patrick's out-of-control daughter in John G. Avildsen's "Joe" in 1970, but her film career didn't take flight until trhe mid-'70s, starting with good roles in two 1974 TV films - George Schaefer's 1974 TV film, "F. Scott Fitzgerald and 'The Last of the Belles,'" opposite Richard Chamberlain and Blythe Danner, and Glenn Jordan's "Benjamin Franklin" miniseries, playing the wife of the young Ben Franklin, essayed by Beau Bridges. (Lloyd Bridges took over the Franklin role in his later years, and Sheree North, a great match-up for Sarandon, played his wife in middle age.)

Before long, she was back on the big screen, seguing into such titles as Sidney Lumet's bucolic "Lovin' Molly," also starring Danner and Bridges (plus Anthony Perkins); Billy Wilder's "The Front Page," playing Peggy Grant, Jack Lemmon's fiancée; George Roy Hill's criminally underseen "The Great Waldo Pepper," in which she and Margot Kidder vyed for daredevil Robert Redford; Gilbert Cates' "Dragonfly" (aka "One Summer Love"), an N. Richard Nash script starring (again) Beau Bridges, and John Leone's "The Last of the Cowboys" (aka, "The Great Smokey Roadblock"), with Henry Fonda and Eileen Brennan.

These promising titles went nowhere. Only Jim Sharman's 1975 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which must have seemed like a throwaway project at the time, is the one Sarandon film that managed to stick.

It was followed by two high-profile titles (Charles Jarrott's hugely commercial "The Other Side of Midnight" and Louis Malle's arty "Pretty Baby") and one in which she arguably gave her best performance of that period (Frank Pierson's "King of the Gypsies").

Sarandon entered the 1980s with Jack Smight's "Loving Couples," with Shirley MacLaine, James Coburn and Stephen Collins; Malle's superb film of a John Guare story, "Atlantic City," opposite Burt Lancaster, and Joanthan Demme's TV film "Who Am I This Time?," based on a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. story and co-starring Christopher Walken. Her most disarming performance at this time came in Frank Perry's "Compromising Positions" (1985), a nimble comedy-mystery based on the Susan Isaacs novel.

Prior to her belated breakthrough in Ridley Scott's "Thelma and Louis" in 1991, Sarandon bided her time in such variable films as Paul Mazurksy'a "Tempest," opposite John Cassavetes; George Miller's "The Witches of Eastwick"; Tony Scott's "The Hunger" (in which she famously got naked with and kissed Catherine Deneuve); Ron Shelton's "Bull Durham"; Robert Greenwald's "Sweet Hearts Dance," a pleasing relationship film about two intersecting couples, co-starring Don Johnson, Elizabeth Perkins and Jeff Daniels - definitely worth checking out - and, with less success, Pat O'Connor's "The January Man," Glenn Jordan's "The Buddy System," Luis Mandoki's"White Palace" and Euzhan Palcy's "A Dry White Season," each of which had a Sarandon moment.

Lately, Sarandon's career is best described as adventurous, as she's jumped from Paul Haggis' politically charged "In the Land of Elah" to Craig Gillespie's low-down "Mr. Woodcock" to John Turturro's experimental musical, "Romance & Cigarettes" (pictured above) to Kevin Lima's fanciful "Enchanted" to Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" to Barry Levinson's HBO biopic on Jack Kevorkian, "You Don't Know Jack."

She found time in 2010 to make two titles with Michael Douglas - Oliver Stone's "Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps" and Brian Koppelman and David Levien's "Solitary Man."

Two of Sarandon's most recent films which remain nearly unseen are Paolo Barzman's "Emotional Arithmatic," co-starring Max Von Sydown, Gabriel Byrne and Christopher Plummer, and Ann Turner's Australian-made "Irresistible," in which Sarandon and Emily Blunt knock heads over Sam Neill, their shared romantic pursuit.

Hard to believe that this 2006 film has yet to see the light of day in an American movie house.

The titles included in BAM's much-deserved Sarandon celebration are Paul Schrader's "Light Sleeper," Robert Benton's "Twilight," Stanley Tucci's "Joe Gould's Secret" and her Oscar-winner, Tim Robbins' "Dead Man Walking," plus the aforementioned "The Front Page," "Thelma and Louise," "Romance and Cigarettes," "Pretty Baby," "Atlantic City," "The Witches of Eastwick," "The Hunger" and "Bull Durham"; the location of the retrospect is the BAM Rose Cinemas, located in the Peter Jay Sharp Building at 30 Lafayette Avenue.


Roman said...

I loved "Compromising Positions". Sarandon and Raul Julia were great together in that one.

joe baltake said...

They also appeared together in Paul Mazursky's "Tempest."

alex said...

When they're on screen together, that's a whole lotta eyeball! :)

John Kaiser said...

"Compromising Positions" is a highly neglected movie. But I was sad to see no mention of "A Safe Passage" which I really liked.

Laurie Mann said...

I think Bull Durham was more of a breatkthrough film for her (it was also a few years before Thelma and Louise).

Tom said...

Sarandon was 45 when "Thelma and Louise" made her a star. (Even if we date that achievement to 1988's "Bull Durham, she was 42.) Has any other American actress ever become a star for the first time after reaching the age of 40? That shouldn't be an unusual occurrence, but sadly it is. Among the films discussed, I think "Twilight" is very overlooked. I'd add her one-episode appearance as a soap opera queen on "Friends" in 2001 to her definitive performances. I'm pretty sure she's been my favorite actress of the past 20 years, when I think about all the enjoyable movies and exceptional performances she's racked up over that time.

Sheila said...

Has there ever been another American actress who's hit her commercial prime after age 40? I don't think so.

joe baltake said...

Sheila- I have a hunch that there might be another but none comes immediately to mind. I do know one thing, however: I can't think of another actress who has had so many periodic peaks as Sarandon or who has such a fascinating biography. -J

wwolfe said...

"Tom" is actually me. Not sure what gremlin caused that name-change, but the ways of technology are mysterious to we mortals.

joe baltake said...

Tom! Bill! I try to avoid any "anonymous" posts here, so I tend to create a nom de plume whenever one comes in. I just don't see the point of an unsigned comment. Hope this doesn't offend you. I kinda like the name Tom. -Joe (or Pete, if you prefer).

wwolfe said...

No offense taken. That's actually the name of a close and much-loved relative, so it's all in the family.