Friday, July 24, 2009

Signatures: Uma Thurman

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

[Note: Adam and I arrived at our Uma fixation independently this week so I saved his post a couple of days. That was probably unnecessary because is there such a thing as too much UMA? -Nathaniel]

Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but Uma Thurman manages to give it plenty of warmth -- even as she spends her comas and college years cleverly biding her time. Often she plays women whose traumatic experiences have forced her to inflict some trauma, but there's always a vulnerability to her vigilante justice. Even a Black Mamba can suffer hysterical blindness.

Her dynamite showcase in Kill Bill trails her from badass Bride to Beatrix Kiddo, and none of that hard-fought bloodshed would be worth it without Uma's sentimental side. It both softens and strengthens the blow -- like a kick to the throat while you're choking on emotion. It's no wonder Quentin Tarantino designed this epic specifically for Uma from head to (wiggle your) big toe. Uma's strength isn't just in her physicality but in the aches she exudes elsewhere. It's one thing to cheer on her carnage-laden comeuppance, but Uma's ass kickings pick up where so many exploitation films leave off. Her vengeance is gained by the loss she demonstrates so clearly and feels so believably. An avenging mother, a confidant betrayed; the film compares her fittingly to a lioness and her cub. Tender yet savage. Uma roars and rampages, and we get bloody satisfaction.

Uma's a powerhouse even without a sword and a list of names. Take her turn as Amy in the underseen Tape, in which an alleged rape in her high school past is verified on tape and brings about her powerplay and chance for resolve ten years later. Mind games and verbal manipulation are as potent as poison. It's the perfect means for revenge... and less messy. As Amy states in the film, "...If you're truly repentant, you should be willing to pay the price." It could just as easily be a quote from Kill Bill, and similarly so, Amy reasserts herself as a force to be reckoned with.

Her softer-sided characters are just as well rounded, but they too contain some hard edges. In fact they're just about square...

Mia Wallace (Pulp Fiction) and Debby Miller (Hysterical Blindness) are two of her most charismatic, sultry and endearing performances. Both characters desperately need a shot of adrenaline -- one more literally than the other. Heroin and hairspray are the drugs of choice to stave off the tedium involved in being a rich housewife or single girl in New Jersey. In their own way they are the outlaws of their respective worlds and just as vulnerable. Mia gets to play while the (psychotic) hubby's away, and Debby is used to going it alone in the down and dirty world of dating in the eighties. Even without a vengeance, these characters showcase Uma's ability to pull all the pain from a bad situation with plenty of external strength. Hunting for a dream man or a five dollar milkshake; neither seems worth the effort without Uma on hand to tap into all the misery and eventual sweetness.

Uma's gift is like the "Five Pointed Palm Exploding Heart Technique." Use subtlety, just the right amount of force, and head straight to the heart.


Emma said...

I love Uma's touch with the square. So effortlessly cool.

RtHO said...

Love me some Uma.

Just and Off topic quetion:

Where are the point of the BEST ACTRESS COSTEST?

Ann McD said...

Do justice to the correct term. It's the five-point palm exploding heart technique.

Adam said...

Oh Ann McD, you're right. So very sorry, I deserve the technique on myself. I corrected it though. My Kill Bill 2 DVD skips and I trusted google for that crucial information. Never again!

Anonymous said...


Congratulations again... I love this signatures and - oh my god! - today is Uma (I have been waiting for this since the Laura Dern signature).

This is so cool... I mean, Nathaniel posted about Uma and her new flick "Girl Soldier" a couple of days ago and now you bring us this signature.

I LOVE Uma Thurman, and your post is simply wow! The comparison between Mia from "Pulp Fiction" and Debby from "Hysterical Blindness" is fantastic, as well as the comparison between her character in "Kill Bill" and her character in "Tape"...

Her best performances are generally strong stuff. I think she's so talented and interesting that she actually deserves a more consistent career... anyway she's a terrific actress.

My favorite Uma Thurman performances are:

1. HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS: She delivers a hands down extraordinary performance... edgy, heartbreaking, gena rowlands-esque in some moments. She is moving, painful and funny at the same time (awesome!) and I don't know... I mean... she dances (drunk) a Pat Benatar hit in a Jersey bar, that's something!

2. TAPE: Subtle, fierce, polite, precise and memorable performance... She reminds me Liz Taylor in this movie... I know that maybe the comparison with Liz sounds weird but I don't know... I mean, she plays a flawed woman with ferocity, sexual tension and vulnerability in a claustrophobic film based in a play and this scenario reminds me some of the most interesting Elizabeth Taylor's performances.

3. KILL BILL: She made history and we all know that she was robbed. She really deserved a couple of Oscar nominations for this work.

4. PULP FICTION: I fell in love :)

5. HENRY & JUNE: The most erotic thing I have watched in a movie ever.



And... really, really, really thank you for this post.


Jill said...

Uma is hard for we merely mortal women to like because she's so damn perfect. But my favorite Uma performance has to be in an otherwise awful movie, "The Producers". What I love about her in this movie is that she seems to be genuinely having a good time.

Adam said...

Thanks for the love Luigi. It means a lot!

My top pick would be either "Pulp Fiction" or "Hysterical Blindness." In "Pulp" she's just so completely lovable even when having an overdose ("I said God DAMN!"). As Emma put it, "effortlessly cool."

And she owns the screen in "Hysterical Blindness" opposite that jawdropping, AMAZING cast (Gena Rowlands, Juliette Lewis and Ben Gazzara!!!) but really captures those selfish and awkward moments with every little bit of pathos and perfection.

A random bit part of hers I love is from "Sweet and Lowdown": "I'd love to be a whore for a year. Just a year."

NicksFlickPicks said...

I am keeping a lid on most of my feelings about Uma because this post is so engaging, as these Signatures often are. But effortless is a really, really hard word for me to pair with Uma. For better or worse, I have a hard time thinking of an Uma performance where it wasn't clear how hhhhard she was trying. Help me see the effortless vibe of Uma that I'm missing. (I'll grant that her Pulp Fiction performance is really charming, so I'm not coming from a place of total antipathy. And I've never seen Hysterical Blindness, though I've meant to.)

Adam said...

Are you saying you're hysterically blind to the splendors of Uma?

I absolutely see the "effortless cool" in "Pulp Fiction." She catches the chill and dangerous vibe of the film so well, perhaps better than anyone else in the film. She's sexy, odd and mysterious, and she grounds her darkest moments (the overdose) with bits like that Fox Force Five joke, which she both underplays and sells to perfection.

And do give a chance to "Hysterical Blindness." Even if you dislike Uma you'll have to be drawn in by the rest of that cast. She is a bit more forced in this role than something like "Pulp," but it fits the character's desperation to a tee.

steve said...

she's great

"Kill Bill Vol 1" was her best perf imo - perfection