Sunday, November 07, 2010

Take Three: Kim Basinger

Craig here with Take Three. Today: Kim Basinger


I think it’s time again to give Kim Basinger (remember, it's Bay-singer, not Bah-sinjahr, folks) some major credit. The lady's due. She’s gone from supporting eighties female through a love-hate (but Oscar-nabbing) nineties to her current career bloom as a character actress of some depth. Ms Basinger has always quietly impressed me. Here are three reasons why.

Take One: She loooovves purple.

Basinger’s career was birthed alongside the eighties. Feisty ladies in adventurous circumstances were her trade back then. Although through either slip-ups or fate she was often eclipsed by her male co-stars. In Never Say Never Again, The Man Who Loved Women, The Natural, Fool for Love, 9½ Weeks, No Mercy, Blind Date and Nadine she played second-fiddle female to, respectively, Connery, Reynolds, Redford, Shepard, Rourke, Gere, Willis and Bridges. These regulars of male-patterned eighties flicks manned the screen up to prematurely musty proportions, almost disguising Basinger’s versatile verbal retorts, bright mode of re-routing the drama her way and a daffy manner with a throwaway comic moment. She selflessly supported the fellas, but shone when it mattered.

With Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), she was the lone notable lady on set, and her Vicki Vale was more than mere distraction. Having to both glam-up the air around Michael Keaton’s dour-mouthed dark knight and de-glam the air around Nicholson’s garishly impish Joker was task enough. I've not read or heard of much credit being directed Basinger’s way for Batman, but in retrospect she’s to be cheered as a forceful female presence who cajoled Jack the Joker out of his randy advances. Outside of Michelle Pfeiffer’s ace feline-fatale in its first sequel, Basinger is still the only interesting lady in the Bat universe.

"I've just got to know. Are we going to try to love each other?"

Despite the thin characterization -- this comic strip gal is essentially Bruce Wayne’s Lois Lane – it’s a joy to look back at Batman’s first significant onscreen reincarnation and see a lively actress add a sultry playfulness to such a male-centric film.

Take Two: Not very hush-hush about Basinger’s Bracken

If Basinger blended the femme with the fun during the ‘80s, it’s no wonder Curtis Hanson cast her as Veronica Lake-a-like Hollywood hooker Lynn Bracken in 1997’s brooding Hollywood retro-noir L.A. Confidential. (There’s even a photo of Lake on Bracken’s wall and a clip of This Gun for Hire playing on screen.) It was a critical and commercial hit for Basinger after an early ‘90s career dip which saw four more Razzie noms to add to her collection. Her Supporting Actress Oscar win in early 1998, furrowed a few brows and boggled a few minds, as many thought hers was a slight and un-Oscarish role. (In my opinion the line-up that year wasn’t stellar – her only real competition being Julianne Moore for Boogie Nights.)

Basinger’s goods are initially concealed. Her onscreen skill not immediately apparent from the off. When she sways across the screen in a 1950s gown that's both expensive-looking and homely, it's hard to differentiate her from the flowing drapes in her Hollywood home. But it's in her interactions with her co-stars – often lengthy scenes filled with smoothly-delivered dialogue – where she earns every inch of that Oscar. She subtly, but seismically, cuts Pearce, Crowe and co. down to size with little but a withering turn of phrase, topped off with an elegant tilt of her head, before seducing them with implied tension creeping inbetween her spiky lines of dialogue.

She plays Lynn as a soft but sly soul, knowing but as fresh as the day is long. She’s poised and collected in every scene and well-versed in Hollywood style, but it’s all (intentionally) practised. If Basinger studied Lake’s work in preparation, it doesn’t show as onscreen imitation. And, if the research does peek through at times, it doesn’t matter. This actually enhances the performance. That’s who Lynn was – self-styled, only barely visible under the veneer of someone else, someone famous. As she herself said: “I'm really a brunette, but the rest is me.” And, indeed, that’s all the news that’s fit to print.

Take Three: Hot Damn Mama!

In the otherwise lacklustre arthouse awards bait The Burning Plain (2009) Basinger sizzles. She lifts the film out of its self-important stupor, breaking through its prestigiously wrapped exterior whenever she's on screen. As soon as her character Gina enters in her pick-up, the film comes alive. Gina is a New Mexico housewife and mother who secrets herself away to engage in an affair in a trailer with a local family man (Joaquim de Almeida). This mother comes with mastectomy scars and she's finally giving vent to what seems like years of surpressed passion considering her dull, loveless marriage. It's one of the most sorrowful and likeable performances I saw in 2009.

The aching confusion Basinger conveys in one particular scene – where, her secret having been realised by her daughter, she has to be at once the admonishing mother and the shocked, rumbled adulteress, all whilst pinned to her kitchen sink by her child’s accusing gaze – is nothing less than astonishing.

That nervous, twitchy panic that Basinger often falls back on in lesser films – all deflected glances and lips-a-tremble – is skillful here, chimed in pure accordance with Gina’s situation. The hot shame of a mother caught in flagrante delicto has rarely been so maturely rendered on screen; never has Basinger looked so helpless, so in need of sympathetic intervention. Another actress, given to more histrionic outbursts, would've stopped the scene dead and danced over its corpse, but Basinger hits the mark with each awkward gesture. She was excellent elsewhere in the film, but in this one small scene Basinger gave us her character’s entire life. Where was Oscar nom number two?

Three more key films for the taking: My Stepmother Is An Alien (1988), 8 Mile (2002), While She Was Out (2009)


Castor said...

LA Confidential is my favorite movie but I don't know that Bassinger was deserving of an Oscar for that role. It didn't strike me as particularly special or above the rest of the competition.

Daniel said...

I think The Burning Plane, Door in the Floor and While She Was Out is some of her best work. Great example of older actresses getting some interesting roles. It's a shame it's always in the films that very few people buy a ticket to see.

Michael said...

I'm pleased she won the Oscar for that part, even though I would've been equally pleased had Julianne Moore won. I think a lot of grief over her win has to do with people comparing her body of work to Moore's, Naturally she comes up lacking there, but they don't give Oscars based on body of work. It's based on this performance alone and I thought she was stellar in Confidential.

And can we not all agree that it was fine as long as Gloria Stuart didn't win for Titanic?

Cluster Funk said...

Great trio. Basinger also was awesome in 9 1/2 Weeks and Door in the Floor. Personally, I think she deserved Oscar consideration for both. (Sadly, I don't think she was even on their radar.)

/3rtfu11 said...

Unsure if she’s ever been anyone’s favorite. Assuming only her ex-husband at one time could be the most encouraging. It’s blasphemy to agree with her Oscar win but it’s Kim Basinger! For all of her limitations one area where she could actually challenge a pro is her fearless willingness to do anything regardless of how silly she looks doing it – see My Stepmother is an Alien (horrible movie – the ultimate example of 80’s cheese) but she’s brilliant in a misguided Elizabeth Berkley vein – except in Kim’s case we’re suppose to be laughing at her.

Andrew R. said...

She's not a particularly good actress outside of LA Confidential, where she's excellent (a very close 2nd to Julianne Moore).

But 1997 is a terrible year for S. Actress other than those two.

@Michael C-I would've nominated Kathy Bates for S. Actress over Stuart.

/3rtfu11 said...

But 1997 is a terrible year for S. Actress other than those two.

They ignored the Independent supporting actresses of that year, and no, Minnie Driver doesn’t count and neither does Moore, both of their distributors were tied to major studios and did big box office.

Anonymous said...

I think she's a fascinating public figure because of all her phobias and how reclusive she has been these past ten years or so. I saw her at an event not too long ago and it was like she hadn't aged a day, and no noticeable surgery either. She's still drop dead. She needs a good role to ignite her career though, unless she just doesn't care anymore.

chris na Taraja said...

So funny, you didn't include that brilliant flick COOL WORLD. I jest.

Joel Burman said...

Don't forget about her great performance in Blind Date!


cluster funk -- agreed on 9 1/2 weeks. it's not the kind of thing people get honored for but she's terrific in it. at least as i recall.

/3rtfull -- agreed that it's blasphemy to suggest she deserved the oscar. I actually love this performance BUT Julianne Moore is either the best or the second best of the whole entire decade when it comes to this category so i can't stand by the win.

everyone -- P.S. she's great in Nadine, too.


Volvagia said...

As I've said before: Joan Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank is my winner. In & Out is a good movie, but her performance is 80% shouting. Switch to that and that's three worthwhile performances. Minnie Driver was better in Princess Mononoke anyway, so switch to that and that's four. Other than that, I'm not sure what I'd include (Currently have Gloria Stewart if my memory's up to date), but I will say this: Moore was a very close second.

Craig said...

What I love about Basinger as an actress -- and seems to be a thread tying together most of her performances -- is the self- doubt and insecurity just beneath her surface. It gives each performance a powerful humanity you don't necessarily find with more acclaimed actresses.

/3rtfu11 said...

most of her performances -- is the self- doubt and insecurity just beneath her surface. It gives each performance a powerful humanity you don't necessarily find with more acclaimed actresses.

I never felt Basinger was insecure in her performances. Kim’s completely committed to whatever she’s portraying. She knows her limitations but her fearless willingness to try anything within a part is what makes her a unique talent. Now Anjelica Huston lets her insecurities show playing characters outside of her comfort zone. Usually the roles that don’t require eccentricities masked behind elaborate costume and makeup. Her vulnerability seeps through the pores and it wraps itself around her vocal chords allowing the camera to see the truth of her person.