Friday, February 20, 2009

Signatures: Ellen Burstyn

Adam of Club Silencio here with another look at my favorite actresses and their distinguishing claims to fame.

Ellen Burstyn's career has been dominated by the independent life of mothers. Hers are the most rewarding portraits of mothers, because not only are they driven by what's good for their children -- be that good schools or removing Satan from their body -- they also have secret desires and lofty aspirations of their own.


There's definitely two halves to Ellen's maternal instinct, and she mines so much truth, ache and beauty from women's dual worlds. Challenged by lowlife men, painful memories and the Catholic church, Ellen's roles showcase the rare reality of mothers whose lives extend beyond their children. Being a mother is all about balance.


Hollywood on the other hand is about selling people short and banking on cultural ignorance, so balance there is hard to find. Somehow Ellen's still managed quite masterfully in her career, though it couldn't have been easy. She says women's roles were once sparingly as dense as that of her titular role in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, "(Women) were either victims, dutiful wives or prostitutes, or... well, that was pretty much it. I wanted to make a different kind of film. A film from a woman's point of view, but a woman that I recognised, that I knew."

And just like a mother we all know, Ellen's the absolute best at a guilt trip...


"What have I got, Harry? Why should I even make the bed or wash the dishes? I do them... but why should I? I'm alone. Your father's gone,
you're gone. I've got no one to care for. What have I got, Harry? I'm lonely, I'd old..."

Ellen would want you to call your mother, even if she has a life of her own.

7 comments:

E Dot said...

Any quote from Ellen Burstyn's Sara Goldfarb, I'm sold. SOLD!

"What is this dope fiend? Am I foaming from the mouth?"

JA said...

I've been feeling the lure of Requiem lately and this post maybe just pushed me over the edge. I've probably watched it a dozen times but it destroys me emotionally every single time, so I always need to steel myself up beforehand. That scene alone that you quoted always turns me into a quivering blob. Ugh.

Joel said...

How on earth did Julia Roberts beat her that year!? If it was based purely on the performance, Ellen was hands down the best of the year, let alone the decade. Incredible scene too.

V said...

I feel your pain, Joel! It was clearly not based purely on the performance... I'm still angry about that one!

Catherine said...

Even more so than Requiem, I love Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Her son in the film is probably my favourite character in a film, ever. It's such an anecdotal film - so many little moments I remember out of it. I quote it regularly. Love it!

Anonymous said...

she sure was a pretty girl when she was younger.

jimmy said...

yeah....ever since burstyn lost back in 2000 - she achieved one of the best film performaces ever to a very mediocre / histrionic julia roberts performance.....then brokeback mountain loses best picture.after winning virtually 100% of critics / precursor awards...julie christie loses...jamie foxx wins for a good impersonation of ray charles....it's hard out there for a pimp....ian mcclellum loses to robert begnini.....renee zellweger wins for a horrible performance in cold mountain...it's really hard for me to take oscars that seriously any more. kate will win for her holocaust movie. not much offends me - but that did.