I'm not sure what today's teen and 20somethings know of Joan Collins if anything. Her sister Jackie, the romance novelist, seems to have stayed in the spotlight a bit more this past decade. But anyone who lived through the 80s just heard the opening theme of Dynasty trumpeting in their head. Ms. Collins was a 20something starlet of the 50s who migrated to television, peaking as a 50something with a Golden Globe win as bitchtastic icon "Alexis Carrington Colby" and the series becoming the #1 TV show in the land shortly afterwards. Alexis terrorized the feebler entities (i.e. everyone) on that soap for eight years. She was nominated at the Globes six consecutive times. Emmy voters didn't like the powerhouse serial as much, giving Collins and the show only won chance at the Actress and Series statue (needless to say they lost).
Now in 2010, Collins has won her first acting prize in ages. The New York International Film Festival (this city has so many mini festivals I can't keep track) screened a creepy comedic short called Fetish (2010) in which Collins plays a faded star in conflict with a talk show host (played by Charles Casillo who also wrote the screenplay). The audience was apparently wowed by her deglammed nuanced portrait.
Now, you can't win Oscars for performances in short films, but the short itself is playing Oscar qualifying festivals so maybe you'll hear more of it later in the year? I'm reading conflicting reports but it's on the long-short side, if you will, coming in somewhere between 25-30 minutes.
I hadn't thought of Collins in a good while until earlier this year when I began reading Star. She's a major figure in the early parts of that Warren Beatty bio. Yes, she was his lover. "Who wasn't?" you shout snarkily in unison. But listen. There are lovers and then there are LOVERS. And Collins was the latter sort, and a crucial figure in foisting the young and impossibly pretty Warren Beatty upon the world in 1961. So crucial, in fact, that she shows up in the very first paragraph of the first chapter of that book.
But I wander...
I hope to catch up with this Fetish film soon. Congratulates to "The Bitch" herself, who, at 77, could maybe somehow possibly if-she-wants-to drift back into the pop culture atmosphere again. Who knows?
If you'll allow me a train of thought digression, this news reminded me of a passage in Quentin Crisp's amazing book How To Go the Movies (1984) . I'm quoting a big chunk but it's too wonderful not to. Crisp is discussing the fall of the studio system (and the unfortunate rise of television). Joan is name checked.
"..in fact it provided a stable atmosphere in which an actress could perfect her skills with at least some assurance that they would be used. Her studio would carry her through at least one flop, and by the time her contract was well under way, she had usually acquired her own secretary, her own makeup artist --in some cases, her own camera man. In other words, a leading lady became a kind of queen bee attended by five or six drones who had no other function than to enhance her assets and conceal her defects. No wonder so many of them became permanent stars. What keeps a woman young and beautiful is not repeated surgery but perpetual praise. They were eternal mistresses of their public. In deference to the art directors of their films, they changed their costumes occassionally, but only as ballerinas wear tights and tutus to remind us that they are first and foremost classical dancers but, if spoken to nicely, will don a turban to show that for the moment they are the playthings of cruel Turks. A movie star never deprived her public of the thrill of instant recognition at her first appearance on the screen.From what we hear of Fetish, she is less cartoonishly vampy than before, but still not exactly a sweet wallflower. The world will keep spinning... for now.
This happy predictability no longer prevails. Now, every new picture is a desperate gamble, deafeningly publicized, with its mounting costs broadcast like news of a forest fire. If a film fails, even though its star may have been judged by the critics to have been the only good thing in it, when her name is mentioned, some movie mogul will growl, "Isn't that the broad that costs us thirty-four million dollars?" In these circumstances, actresses have decided to be different people in different roles; they have taken to acting -- a desperate measure indeed.
Though television has wrought all this havoc in Hollywood, it is no real substitute for the movies. It has its star; it has Miss Collins, who remains through all vicissitude of plot the last of the "vamps." If she ever appeared on any screen, large or small, as a nice home girl, the world would come to an abrupt and ignominious end."