Friday, March 06, 2009

Signatures: Gena Rowlands

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

Lush is a perfect word to describe Gena Rowlands. Such is her screen talent, but she also often plays characters who've taken to the bottle. Her glorious drunken musings in Minnie and Moskowitz, her solo night out in A Woman Under the Influence, her bar detour in Gloria; Gena's got a gift for going it soused. She certainly knows well to hide behind a pair of dark sunglasses.

Gena's under the influence of something no doubt. At her peak level of punch-drunk in Opening Night, it's a wonder to drink in Gena's hard-hitting disintegration as stage-legend Myrtle Gordon. It's the way she feels out her environments as she disconnects more and more with each tip of the glass. Those subtle tipsy stumbles as her eyebrows peak and droop with every tug off the bottle.

The magic in this case is that Gena's actually playing an actress with a heavy drinking problem who can still pull out all the stops once she's on stage. Gena's not only acting the part of a drunk, she's acting the part of a drunk who's trying to appear sober. The layers of liquored-up brilliance, and that's just her entrance.

Gena Rowlands is one of the definitive best, and such a travesty she's hardly gotten the parts she deserves since John Cassavetes' devastating death. How I dread the thought that younger audiences are thinking, "Oh, it's that old woman from The Skeleton Key and The Notebook." She could drink you kids under the table!


Luigi De Angelis S. said...

Hi Adam,

I like Gena Rowlands too.

I understand the final lines of your post... I am 24 and most of my friends are young too, so when I say "Gena Rowlands, man... is Gena Rowlands!, great actress!" they (my friends) say to me "Gena who?" and then I have to think in a movie they had seen and I always have to say "Is Gena Rowlands, man... the old lady of "The Notebook" and "The Skeleton Key"" and that's always quite frustrating.

I haven't seen all her movies yet, but I am trying and I think she's GREAT. I enjoyed her nuanced and controlled performance in Woody Allen's "Another Woman" and she has several great scenes in the underrated Mira Nair's "Hysterical Blindness"... don't you think?

My favorite Gena Rowlands' performance is the one she delivered in "Gloria", I can't imagine another actress playing that part, she is the definition of the word actress in that movie.


Cristhian said...

Thank you, thank you!
Nathaniel seems to deliberately ignore Gena Rowlands. I would think that for an actressexual, he should have already mentioned her in most of the multiple lists he's made appreciating the talent of female thesps. More Gena Rowlands!

Luigi De Angelis S. said...

Agree with Christian... Don't you like Gena, Nathaniel?

The Orphan said...

Mrs. Cassavettes has graced the screen with some of the most poignant portrayals anyone will ever experience. She has always had the unique ability to overpower your emotions from the inside out: not relying on over-the-top bravado, but crafting her performance from an amazing display of insightful nuance and a thorough understanding of her character.
Her portrayal of Mable in "A Woman Under the Influence" still overwhelms me to this day as much as it did the first time I saw the film when it first opened.

And the woman has balls. Must have them to have bared her soul the way she has over the course of the years. If there's a reason she has been relegated to adding her grace and elegance to films like "The Skeleton Key" over the past few years, it's largely because there are too few film makers out there brave enough to take her to those heights she reached with her husband leading the way.

Luigi De Angelis S. said...

Agree with The Orphan too.

It's a shame the lack of filmmakes capable tu use the talents of this extremely honest and brave actress.

I think that in part it is due to the attitude of the movie industry (or the movie making) towards mature women. In general the number of well written female characters nowadays is scarce and there is an extra problem in the case of mature women, that's why all the talented mature actresses are doing more TV (series, minis or TV movies) right now... the whole thing really sucks!

Adam said...

I support all efforts to make Nathaniel an obsessive of Gena Rowlands, and welcome all badgering of him through the comments. I too want more posts entirely about her brilliance.

Luigi, "Another Woman" and "Hysterical Blindness" are some stellar works outside of Cassavetes films. The one Cassavetes film I didn't have a reason to mention here is "Love Streams," which I adore and is an absolute must for any Rowlands fan of course.

RobUK said...

I absolutely love Opening Night, and especially Gena Rowlands in it. Great to hear a shout out for an oft-overlooked gem.

Catherine said...

It's true, she isn't getting the plum roles she deserves. I mean, when the most worthwhile recent role you can think of is her five minute vignette in Paris, Je t'aime, you know you've got a problem on your hands [although that one scene, co-starring Ben Gazzara and written by Rowlands herself, is delicious]. But what I admire about her is that she keeps on working, because that's what actors do. Even if it means she keeps showing up in tosh like The Skeleton Key. She has a job and she does it and she delivers a great performance, regardless of whether the supporting film is any good or not. I'd love her to get non-horror roles or roles not created by her kids, but what can I say? I agree with The Orphan, she's been too emotionally devastating and out-there in the past, directors don't know what to do with her.

Although. If Woody Allen really wanted a return to past glories, he could do worse than writing a thorny little character piece for her, in the vein of Another Woman. That'd kill two birds with one stone! Give her at least one more powerhouse performance and give him a chance to write a decent female character again [V or C don't count!].

It's been 3 years since I watched A Woman Under The Influence and I don't know if I can watch it again anytime soon. I watch Gloria a few times every year, though. I mever tire of that film! When the whips out the pistol for the first time and begins shooting through the car window...don't even talk to me. Genius!


confession: there are about three actresses that most people who love actresses are obsessed with that I just was les familiar with and they are


the first I'm now familiar with and love. the third I'm still experimenting with but appear to be infatuated... but i haven't really ventured into Rowlandsland. She's on my list.

We all have our weird pockets of 'i dunno nothing about _________ '

weak spots that always haunt me:
gena rowlands
film noir (well, the 40s in general)
foreign films prior to the 60s (with the exception of Kurosawa & Felinni)

I did see Rowlands in ANOTHER WOMAN but I saw it in the theaters when I was young and a new Allen acolyte but I didn't really get it (i think i was too young for it)

Catherine said...

Nathaniel, have you seen Opening Night? Because its subtitle may as well be "An Actressexual Story". If you're looking to enter Rowlandsland (ha!), that'd be a pretty great first port of call.

John T said...

For me, Nathaniel, my blind spots tend to be:

Woody in the 70's
Jean Harlow
Marlene Dietrich

Luckily, my Netflix is about to rectify these situations.


John t... oh yeah. Marlene is the 4th for me. I have seen a couple of pictures but I don't really GET HER yet.

I used to hate Harlow until I saw RED DUST and then I finally understood all the fuss.

carla said...


at least she's good in The Notebook and The Skeleton Key and more importantly, still working !

She's one of the last living Movie Legends, with Lauren Bacall of course, who's also still working at 85

mrripley said...


88 actress what a juice roster


RobUK said...

I know nothing about Jessica Alba, or the difference between her and Jessica Biel. I couldn't pick one out from the other. Does that count?


robUK... that doesn't count. These are supposed to be things that need correcting. Yours sounds more like things to be proud of ;)

Marshall said...

Curious is anyone here heard the song "Slapped Actress" from The Hold Steady's album last year? Sort of a fantastic tribute to the whole Cassavetes-Rowlands-Gazzara thing.


i haven't even heard of it. Must look up. I love songs that reference movies and movie stars.

RobUK said...

Ha. Kidding.

OK, I know very little (but should) about:
* Fellini
* John Wayne
* Geraldine Page
* Marsha Mason

Benjamin Bixby said...

Gena Rowlands is just exceptional. I remember watching A Woman Under the Influence and thinking "Am I watching a movie about a woman having a nervous breakdown or an actual real-life documentary?" Its so REALISTIC. She was AMAZING in that film. Nathaniel do you know who won an Academy Award the year Rowlands was nominated for that fillm bc she was robbed in the worst way for that film.


benjamin '88 was notoriously competitive in best actress (as far as I recall Gena wasn't honored anywhere)

Oscar nominees were
Close -Dangerous Liaisons
Foster -The Accused (winner)
Griffith -Working Girl
Streep - A Cry in the Dark
Weaver -Gorillas in the Mist

nominated at Globes
Maclaine -Madame Souzatska
Lahti -Running on Empty (LA winner)
Sarandon -Bull Durham (Boston winner)
Curtis -A Fish Called Wanda
Pfeiffer -Married to the Mob
Irving -Crossing Delancey

Cannes Winner
Hershey - A World Apart

Chicago winner
Hershey -Shy People

Bafta nominees
Smith -The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (winner)
Audran -Babette's Feast

indie spirit nominees
Lake -Hairspray
Foster -Five Corners (winner)
Roberts -Mystic Pizza
Ryan -Promised Land
McCarthy -The Wash

NSFC winner
Davis -High Tide

so, yes. REALLY competitive year

RobUK said...

Think Benjamin was talking about 1974, not 1988... the winner that year was Ellen Burstyn. A solid choice, though I believe Rowlands gave the better performance on balance. I just think Burstyn had more goodwill, especially having missed out for The Exocist the previous year.

Roberta Lipp said...

Forgive my sin of bringing a TV movie up, but she was an amazing Betty Ford.

Made me want to go to her rehab.


ooh oops RobUK, you're right. sorry Benjamin. WELL there's some 88 trivia for y'all anyway.

74 was a crazy great Best Actress year. A lot of deserving nominees.

Roberta. LOL.