Friday, July 30, 2010

Posterized Sissies

Let's talk Sissy Spacek. My friend Matt has been highlighting her something fierce over at Pop Matters, but why should he have the Sissy all to himself?

The great actress, everyone's favorite telekinetic murderess, is finally in a buzzy film again (Get Low opens today). And though I don't much care for the new movie, it's always nice when a frequently absent major actress wins Oscar buzz and praise again.

She's a big name but what does that name mean to today's moviegoers? For people born in the late 80s or 1990s, maybe her stint on TV's Big Love comes immediately to mind (Emmy nominated this year). But I'm guessing if it's not the cross-generational popular Carrie, it's mainly In the Bedroom that takes over the imagination: Sissy breaking plates, Sissy slapping Marisa Tomei, Sissy taking weird drags on her cigarette that manage to be both furious and catatonic simultaneously. How can they be both at once? She's a mysterious but vivid actress in her best work.

For those who lived through the 70s or 80s, the name will probably conjure multiple associations. Her filmography has a smattering of daring side dish classics but the main course is an oversize portion of middlebrow Oscar bait. To extend the food metaphor, that stuff can often taste healthy but afterwards... where is the nutritional value? In the long run aren't so many "prestige films" filled with empty calories? Her filmography also has intermittent weird gaps. And, unless I've got my dates wrong those gaps don't really even coincide with the births of her daughters (which is when many actresses take their long breaks). What happens in these gaps? It's almost as if Sissy gets an enigmatic closeup and then bolts from the cinema as enigmatically as teenage "Holly" abandons home in Badlands.

Oscar nominations are in bold.

Prime Cut (72) | Badlands (73) | Ginger in the Morning (74)

Note: Sissy worked with the brilliant art director / production designer Jack Fisk on Badlands and they married the following year when they were both still in their 20s. She's one of those rare actresses, like Meryl Streep, who has been married for almost the entirety of her fame to the same man.
Another association. The two actresses are but six months apart in age and both became essential screen icons in the 1970s and won their first Oscars just one year apart.

Carrie (76) | Welcome to LA (76) | Three Women (77)

The underseen Three Women is one of Robert Altman's very best films. It's completely mandatory viewing for fans of Ingmar Bergman's Persona (an influential before) and Mulholland Dr (an influenced after). It's the middle link in that brilliant women-fused-together dream chain. Sissy disappears for a few years right after. And then...

Coal Miner's Daughter (80) | Heartbeat (80) | Raggedy Man (81)

Missing (82) | The River (84) | Marie (85)

Note: Such a star in the 80s she gets top billing over... Mel Gibson.

Violets Are Blue (86) | 'night Mother (86) | Crimes of the Heart (86)

The pinkish tone of the last two posters. They're screaming "GIRL MOVIES!" Not that we don't love girl movies, mind you.

It's too depressing to continue from there. Sissy's last two characters in 1986 were suicidal. Maybe the actress saw the 90s coming? After Crimes of the Heart, for which she was Oscar nominated, she disappears for four years until a series of movies crop up in the early 90s like The Long Walk Home (1990) that are well intentioned but don't go anywhere or did go places (JFK, '91) but didn't need her to get there. By the late 90s she'd been shoved into the supporting classes, from which she never really returns as headliner, but for her last classic, In the Bedroom. She collected a few trophies that year until the late surging Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) trumped her on Oscar night.

Here's three must-sees from the last twenty years of her filmography (though not always for her presence).

JFK (91) | The Straight Story (99) | In the Bedroom (01)

That's the first 15 films of her career (excluding extra work in a Warhol picture) and 3 more still. How many of those 18 have you seen?

And what would you like to see Sissy do next? Some of you have suggested in comment threads that she'd make a great Violent in August: Osage County whenever that becomes a film. She wouldn't be a bad choice for it at all, though one assumes Hollywood will want Meryl Streep to do it since they want her to do everything. As should be painfully obvious The Film Experience loves Meryl Streep, but some of her contemporaries sure could use her the big break of Streep passing on a choice role.

Exit music: Remember when we mentioned Streep's son being a fine musician? That's another thing the two actresses have in common. Here's Sissy & Jack's singer songwriter daughter Schuyler Fisk doing "From Where I'm Standing". Pretty voice, right? You can totally see Sissy in her. It's that lank sunkissed hair and those awesome cheekbones.


Deborah said...

I've seen 8, and I saw 3 Women so long ago I barely remember it. Really, it was a teen movie for me; I have to revisit it.

In the Bedroom -- you're right, it impressed the daylights out of everyone at the time, but who would insist it's a must-see today?

Calum Reed said...

I'd say that, if anything, she deserved that 1986 for 'night Mother. It's a bad film, and Bancroft is so OTT, but Spacek wrings everything out of her character.

Love that Badlands poster, even if the film is Malick's weakest.

cal roth said...


Not that she isn't capable, but i've seen most of these movies and the only performance I can say it's brilliant is the one in Badlands?

She is very solid, of course, but not a legend or something like that.

And let me say it loud: Halle Berry deserved her Oscar (My winner is Kidman, but she was deserving).

SoSueMe said...

Veteran actresses always seem to have an ingenue doppelganger of sorts...wouldn't you say Renee Z. is a modern day Sissy? They might not favor one another looks-wise, but they seem to have the same quirky fragile energy. I can see Renee tackling all of Sissy's classic roles and vice versa.

@ cal roth
So glad you think Halle deserved her three Best Actress wins of the aughties next to Charlize and Marion. The "I want you to make me feel good" monologue and scene was funny, tragic, raw, fearless, buhrilliant!

The Dude said...

She's an astonishing actress, one of my favorites. Incredibly profund and versatile. From those 18 I've seen 12. I would probably say her Oscar winning turn, 'night Mother, and Carrie are her best. Astonishing actress.

mrripley said...

HI,I have seen all but 3 women and welcome to la which i have and will watch as part of my oscar project,sissy is one of my top 10 actresses ever,and u all know i met her in a lift once.

top 5 sissy performances

1 - in the bedroom - she was robbed!!

2 - coal miner's daughter - one of the biopic perfs ever,she ages from 14 - 30 odd so convincingly.

3 - carrie - sissy IS carrie and it is her most famous role!!

4 - raggedy man - she makes this so watchable her screen prescence is so watchable and again was robbed of a nomination.

5 - prime cut - a star is born!!

mrripley said...


cal roth said...

I am not dissing her. I am only saying that she never rocked my world. She's no Julianne Moore, no Isabelle Huppert, not even Meryl Streep or a Holly Hunter.

She is just another Jessica Lange, or a Harrison Ford without the big stardom. Solid, efficient, but not a major player.

And, come on, she won her Oscar over Gena Rowlands in Gloria. Hopw can one forgive that?

cal roth said...

That's what I was saying. Spacek's second best moment is not half as good as Rowlands's 4th or 5th best performance.

Mike M. said...

Love the Spacek. Carrie is one of my favorite performances of all time, and she's fabulous in 3 Women, In The Bedroom, Crimes of the Heart, Coal Miner's Daughter, and Missing, among many others.

Meryl Streep is lovely, but I don't appreciate her monopolizing every good role for older actresses in Hollywood. Anjelica Huston, Sissy, Jessica Lange, and Sigourney Weaver (to name a few) need love too!

adam k. said...

Yeah as much as I love Meryl, I hope she doesn't get every good role in the next few years. Doubt is just one example of when another actress would probably have been better for such and such role that Streep got.

Regarding movie : food analogies, I think middlebrow oscar films are comfort food: your mac n' cheese, grilled cheese sandwich, hamburger helper type stuff. Not bad for what it is, and sometimes quite welcome - it's possible to make GREAT mac n' cheese - but too much of it gets boring, and it's certainly not a healthy diet all on its own.

Oddly enough, I like my foreign films like my foreign food - Mexican, Spanish, Italian and Asian are the favorites. Sometimes French but not always.

What kind of food would a Todd Haynes film be? Or a Woody Allen film? Or a Fosse film? Or a Robert Wise film? Or a Mike Nichols film? This is fun.

Anonymous said...

Spacek, Streep, and Jessica Lange - these three made the 80's a worthwhile decade for me. I wish Spacek and Lange would make more movies.

Hello Toast said...

Makes me chuckle and get mad at the same time that some folks above aren’t completely bowing to the brilliance that is Sissy. And to those saying she isn’t a major star, well perhaps not box office wise in 2010, but in the 80s she was a major star, one of the top 5 actresses, oscar nominated for best actress every 2nd year, 4 times in a row and that was after her iconic oscar nominated role in Carrie. In fact, I think only 8 or 9 actresses have been nominated for more than 5 lead actresses, all legends and Sissy is only one of 3 working actresses (incl Streep & Fonda) in that bunch of 8 or 9… meaning she could still get more.

I met her too, and she’s lovely in person, major charisma, you can see why she became a star. And she seemed very keen to keep working, should decent projects arise, so I’m certain we haven’t seen the last of her. And her husband seems to be working more now that her daughters are moving out of the house and ahead in their careers.

She is a brilliant natural actress. Interesting that she’s paired with Duvall, who has a similar understated style.

Definitely would like to see her snag that role in August Osage County. But basically Sissy can do anything so would love to see have a late career surge like a Judi Dench or Helen Mirren or Streep. Would like to see her avoid a TV series (unless it’s a great acting showcase like Nurse Jackie, where she’s front & center & brilliant) and some of the cheesy comedies that are way beneath her (Hot Rod, Four Christmases) and take care when working with 1st time directors. It can work fabulously (In the Bedroom and Get Low) but sometimes not as well (Lake City). Wonder why some of the big time directors like Scorsese don’t use her.

No Bad Movies said...

@ Cal... have to disagree with you on your Spacek analogy, especially she is no Julianne Moore ( ? ) or Huppert ( ? ) or Holly Hunter ( ? )
Obviously you have your right to your opinion, but in Spacek's heydey, she was one of the most sought after A listers in film.
In her prime ( 76-86 ) her resume read like this...

Carrie ( Oscar nom )
Coal Miner's Daughter ( Oscar win )
Missing ( Oscar nom )
Raggedy Man ( Golden Globe nom )
The River ( Oscar nom )
Crimes Of The Heart ( Oscar nom )
3 Women
'night Mother
Hard Promises

No too shabby of work in the beginning of her career.


The Long Walk Home
The Grass Harp
The Straight Story
In The Bedroom ( Oscar nom )
North Country
Midvives ( SAG nom )
A Place For Annie ( SAG nom )
Fitzgerald ( Emmy nom )
The Good Old Boys ( Emmy nom )
Big Love ( Emmy nom )

Now looking at these accomplishments and an actress that is multi-dimensional and naturally ethereal, I'm going to give her a little more credit than that of she is no Huppert ( ? ) Moore ( ? ) or Hunter ( ? )

Arkaan said...

She's better than Moore and Hunter, easily. Not Huppert, but if I held everyone to that standard, I'd be disappointed more often than not.

Peggy Sue said...

I think she's great. Discovered her in the 80's when she was at her best. I mean, Crimes of the Heart and 'night, Mother both in 1986? Wow! That's power. Not masterpieces but pure heaven for actressexuals. And you all seem to forget Missing with the amazing Jack Lemmon.

I missed her during the 90's so I remember feeling extremely happy with her In the Bedroom comeback and extremely depressed with her career afterwards...

PS I loved so much the dress and the "tonight a door has been opened" line that I must say I'm pretty OK with Halle's win.

Glenn said...

8. Ouch. Badlands, Carrie, Coal Miner's Daughter, JFK, Affliction, The Straight Story, In the Bedroom and The Ring Two (ouch indeed).

Several of her early films aren't even out on DVD here!

cal roth said...

I'm sorry, But I haven't seen a Spacek performance as powerful as Moore's in Boogie Nights and Hunter's in The Piano. just to name the main ones.

It's not easy to accept the fact, but, I'm sorry, I'm not impressed. I don't think she has acreer of great ṕerformances. She has very good performances, but it's nothing legendary, except for Badlands.

Billa said...

Cal, that's clearly one opinion... but were you around in the 70s when she broke on the scene with such edgy subversive performances in Badlands, Carrie & 3 Women in quick succession, was then oscar nominated then rose to greater heights and cross over to main stream in 1980 storming all the key critics awards (one of the 1st to do so) and getting on the top 10 box office list, then reaching undisputed A list status for the next 5 years. Disappeared for awhile, and has since starred in many important films, more often than not with other oscar winners or being in films that get cast members nominated (Affliction, Straight Story, In the Bedroom, North Country). All in all, she's had quite a career, course not everyone is going to love a specific actress.


cal -- i think you need to step back on claiming "not legendary" when what you're really claiming is "i'm not into her." whether or not you like her, CARRIE is a LEGENDARY performance (more legendary than Badlands for sure) as is, more arguably, Coal Miner's Daughter (you never hear people griping about her winning that year you know?)

My point is that that'd be like me claiming that Katharine Hepburn wasn't legendary because i'm not into her. I'm not really (into her that is) but i wouldn't claim that.

just sayin'.

Glendon said...

I can't stand her in JFK. But it's not her fault. Her character is the definitive example of the one-dimensional suffering wife who can't understand her husband's crusade. I love JFK, but every scene involving her or the kids is poorly written.

MRRIPLEY said...

Spacek can't do much with the wife in jfk just like couldn't in cape fear.

anyway mary tyler moore was 2nd best to spacek not rowlands in 1980.

i don't think anyone would call any actress at the moment legendary like a davis or a hepburn maybe streep and julia roberts for her box office and 1 or 2 iconic performasnces.

cal roth said...

Legendary was a bad word, but you got it. I like her, she's fine, but I just can't get all this greatness. She's very very good in Carrie, indeed.

It's not that I'm not into her. I just don't think of her as a goddess of acting. Is she a goddess of acting? Really? OK, I have a different opinion.


cal -- for some reason i thought you'd love THREE WOMEN too. But then. it is hard for me to judge movie taste in frequent commenters. I think i have someone pinned down and then. nope ;)

goatdog said...

Off topic, but my did movie posters suck in the mid-1980s. Violets Are Blue, 'night Mother, and Crimes of the Heart show absolutely no creativity. It's as bad as the currently popular split DVD box with heads (the worst of all being The Messenger).

/3rtfu11 said...

‘night Mother – a role (Spacek’s obviously) originated on the stage by Kathy Bates

Bates’ only Tony Nomination and she lost to your favorite winner of all-time Nathaniel --- Jessica Tandy!

Anonymous said...

The reason I always LOVE Sissy is because unlike Meryl, when you see her in movies, you don't see herself, but the character. For example, when you watch "Night Mother" and "Crimes of the Hearts" in the same year, two distinct performances that you cannot even imagine it's from the same actress. To get singled out and nominated when working with Keaton and Lange in the same film, that should tell you how great she truly is.

I can see Carl is into "big scene" "big emotional outburst" kind of performance. How often you see people do that in real life? The best acting is when it's subtle. The disapproving look she gave to the husband or looking to the space talking to the priest while conveying so much grief, that's acting at its best. How can anyone overlook how she picked up a popcorn just before putting her head into the oven in "crimes of the hearts" just beyond me. This is really a great actress acting without showing off that she's "acting".

By the way, I believe that she and Streep are the only two actresses who got singled out by NYFCC as the best of the year FOUR times!! No other actor or actress has ever been able to achieve that.


jimmy said...

crimes of the heart, violets are blue, carrie coal miner's daugther, missing all very different characters - she's never ever in your face ---just great very solid. i met her one time & was surprised how pretty she is in person very natural / great face.....very sweet and nice.....very chatty. seems like a solid woman. must be those texas roots. i like her very much.


goatdog -- i think movie posters have sucked for a long time.

but at least in today's constant NEW NEW NEW culture we have more varieties of posters for each movie so almost every movie gets one semi-ok to great poster (usually the teaser when they aren't concerned that floating heads)

/3rtfull -- one must NEVER remind me of that year!

Unknown said...

I've seen:

3 Women
Coal Miner's Daughter
Crimes of the Heart
In the Bedroom
The Ring Two
North Country

To me, Coal Miner's Daughter is not only totally deserving as an Oscar win, but it's one of the best Oscar winning performances among the ladies in Oscar history. Something like Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, two performances people don't talk much about. She's FANTASTIC and incredibly believable, absolutely effortless AND SHE SINGS IT ALL HERSELF!!!

The best thing about her is indeed the fact that she's quite subtle.

And about the legendary part? hmm I don't know, we have Julia Roberts who is like a George Clooney who is like 90% of Hollywood = people playing themselves over and over again; and mind you, Spacek is not part of that.

I love Julianne Moore, but to compare her to Spacek? and actress from a totally different generation and say "she's no Julianne Moore" is hilarious, Cal, you need to think about that ;)

6 LEADING ACTRESS NOMINATIONS = not legendary? what is legendary then?

P.S. I love 3 Women