Monday, May 03, 2010

Monologue: Diane Keaton is Looking For Mr. Goodbar

Monday Monologue

When people think about Diane Keaton in the 70s, there are probably a couple of stray thoughts for The Godfather but 8 times out of 10 they're thinking of Annie Hall (1977). The same year that she entered the cinematic pantheon as that neurotic androgynous fashion plate, she nailed another role: the grade school teacher with a dirty mind in Looking For Mr. Goodbar.

When we first meet Theresa, a professor (Alan Feinstein) is reading her personal paper about "confession" aloud while she fantasizes about having sex with him. Later that evening she's at his apartment grading his papers and he praises her for her understanding of syntax and grammar. Not exactly what she had in mind when she took the T.A. job. Theresa was thinking of something along the lines of T & A.

He asks if she's in pain (she has a bad back), and she responds, "Isn't it obvious?"

"Nothing about you is obvious..." he answers in what might qualify as the most perceptive thing anyone will ever say to Diane Keaton in a movie not directed by Woody Allen.

But what is wrong with Theresa's back? The question annoys her since the professor is holding her when he asks it, but his embrace isn't the carnal one she'd prefer. She backs away from him, and begins to walk around the room.
Polio. When I was six. Left me with a limp til I was eleven. That's when they operated to straighten my spine. Scoliosis they said.

Her monologue is interrupted here with the jarring sound cue of an x-ray flapped on to a light box.

At this point the director Richard Brooks flashes to a younger version of Theresa who interjects in tearful fear, "Papa. Papa." The interruptions continue, though they're visual rather than verbal now. "After that..." Theresa begins, but rather than hearing her explanation (at first) we're seeing a montage of soundless still images of Theresa's childhood: a nightmare of casts, x-rays, shame and misery. Seventies movies were so blissfully experimental with their film grammar, even when they had actresses as riveting as Keaton and could have coasted with unimaginative close-ups.
I came home wearing a plaster cast. They put me on a bed downstairs in the living room where everyone could watch, day and night. For one whole year and two days. They prayed a lot. It was God's will they said.

I never did understand what terrible thing I did, you know, to make God so angry?
What's fascinating about Keaton's performance throughout the scene is the way she's conveying, rather unexpectedly, both the distant physical memory that defined her and a calculated manipulation of her physical present. The memory is emotional but the reciting is equally physical as she paces and pivots. She's constantly recalibrating the space between herself and her potential lover and maybe even bridging the distance between her immobile young self and the sensual adult woman she wants to be. Is she using this story and moment for sympathy (she claims she doesn't want it) or merely buying time to work up her sexual confidence? Possibly both.

The professor tries to interrupt her, but she doesn't let him.
No. No. I hate people feeling sorry.

I'd rather be seduced than comforted.
And with that, purpose vocalized, she's snapped back to the movie's opening scene; Theresa is totally focused on the man before her as an object of carnal pleasure. He chuckles, moving away from her advance and a flicker of self-doubt and confusion crosses her face. But Theresa is not moving through the room anymore. She's planted her feet. She unzips her blouse. Soon enough, mere moments after he zips her back up in half-hearted protest, he's unzipping her again. Keaton punctuates this expertly played scene by placing her hands expectantly on her hips, with some impossible combination of bitchy vixenish triumph and arguably virginal thrill.

He's hers. For the night. Many lovers to follow.

Even if Annie Hall had not existed (god forbid!), you could still make a case for Keaton as 1977's Best Actress. In truth, since we're on the subject, I prefer Diane Keaton's dramatic characters to her comedic ones, Ms. Hall excepted of course. It's that 'la-di-da' persona that stuck, but Keaton is underappreciated as a dramatic force. There's an inimitable erotic fire in her best work, despite a screen persona and physicality that more readily draw attention to neurotic fussiness.

Nothing about her is obvious.


Wild Celtic said...

Great post. Diane Keaton is an amazingly stunning woman and a dynamic actress. You can't seem to take your eyes off of her when she's on screen.

cesar c said...

as horrible as it might sound but have not seen annie hall yet. so overdue. but have seen this film, and absolutely loved it. she is so mesmerising.

MRRIPLEY said...

Agreed apart from annie hall and parts of something's gotta give she is best with drama - reds,mrs soffell,the good mother,marvin's room & especially shoot the moon.

cal roth said...

I agree that she is great dramatic actress but, iMO, her two best performances are in comedies: Annie Hall and, the best of all, Manhattan Murder Mystery.

James T said...

off-topic: Nathaniel, Kathleen Turner will be in a movie playing a conservative catholic mum.

Looks interesting.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Loved this write-up!

jimmy said...

great write up. she's my favorite actress.....has had nominations in the 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's....can't wait to see what she comes up with in the 10's. marvin's room - when she pulls the wig off....then when she spills the pills - just heartbreaking. then she's beautiful / sexy in baby boom & something's gotta give. got the best set of legs in the movies! looks great in a great dress & heels. she's got some schlock - but then who doesn't.

Unknown said...

my favorite Diane Keaton performance is this one and it's a shame it was in the same year as Annie :-) btw, not a fan of Annie Hall.

badmotherfucker said...

*Gasp* Yavor! I just died inside a little...

Laika said...

I love this - I've always loved Keaton's dramatic work, but people tend to treat it as a kind of curious adjunct to her comedic work. For such an iconic actress, her career is bizarrely undervalued. Most of her best performances are in completely underseen films like this one.

(possible vague spoilers)

'Looking for Mr. Goodbar' is such a distressing experience for me, and I think that it's less down to the horror-movie stylings and more down to Keaton's psychological acuity in constructing a very particular woman who you don't want to see anything bad happen to. She also
works to make the movie more palatable and less reactionary about women's sexual adventurousness - Teresa doesn't come across as some kind of Black Dahlia/Laura Palmer style troubled, sexually available girl who essentially invites her own destruction, but a woman who really seems relaxed and elated in her sexual escapades and whose fate is just plain bad luck.

Like her Louise Bryant in 'Reds', Teresa seems real to me in a way that even characters played by Streep, Lange, Fonda etc. don't. From '77 to '84, she's the actress to beat.

brandz said...

loved this film and particularly this performance by Diane Keaton. i was speechless when i left the movie theater.

Craig said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig said...

What, for me, sets Keaton apart from most other cinema actresses is the depth of an internal life and characterization she develops, and Looking for Mr. Goodbar is the perfect example. Because of Keation's ability as an actress to do this, it gives more insight and a poignancy to her performances. Btw, kudos to a great and thoughtful post.


Craig, thank you. and I agree about Keaton's inner life. I'm really hoping she gets another dramatic role in the next few years.

TPC said...

Great post! I came across your blog through Goodbar's IMDB page. I love this film, but because it is not on DVD, it seems to have become almost forgotten. So your post is much appreciated by Goodbar ans.

When something is written about Goodbar, it's usually about the shocking ending, so it's refreshing to read about one of the less heralded scenes in the film.

It's a very intimate film, thanks to Keaton's fantastic performance. This is one of the more emotional scenes in the film where you get real insight into Theresa, her pain and he current emotional and mental states.

Rick said...

I am in total agreement with Yavor,,, Goodbar is a superior acting job compared with Hall.