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NF-Lee's Gildor and Frodo

Julie Christie and Film Frodo: strong faces for strong emotions.

Posted on 2008.08.14 at 19:07
Tags: , , ,

Back in April, I wrote an illustrated post about how film Frodo reminded me of young Audrey Hepburn. I didn’t mean that they were identical twins or that Frodo looked like a woman, but I thought they shared an aura, a quality, a “look”. In this post I am drawing comparisons between Elijah Wood's Frodo and another actress.

For a long time, watching the end of the Osgiliath scene in TTT, I’ve been wondering who Frodo reminds me of. Finally it struck me that it was Lara Antipova from "Dr. Zhivago", particularly in her scenes with Rod Steiger's Victor Komarovsky. It's not that they look like each other, though they do have some things in common. They both are short people, petite, but strong like lithe, sturdy little ponies. They have big heads (in relation to their bodies), big blue eyes, and strong, fine-boned features. Yet when I found the Lara screencaps I was looking for, I saw they didn't look much like each other at all. What they share, to me, is an emotionality that exploits their capacity for facial expressiveness that is at once subtle and intense.

Although Frodo is unguardedly emotional in TTT scene, plainly weeping, and Lara is keeping her emotions under control in the scene from Dr. Zhivago, both characters are struggling with the experience of temptation. The interior struggle becomes exterior in their faces, in Frodo's openly and in Lara's in a more concealed way.

In the Dr. Zhivago scene, Lara is being seduced by Victor Komarovsky. He's much older, he isn’t conventionally attractive, plus he's her mother's lover, but she's being seduced. She should be revolted, and part of her is. But he has a power over her; she enjoys the way he is making her feel. At the same time, she is angry at him for making her feel that way and angry at herself for letting him do it. Although the social circumstances (he has taken her to a nice restaurant) prevent her from letting her feelings show fully, fury, pain and shame alternately emerge on her face, sometimes at the same time.

In TTT, Frodo has just been put through an ordeal of temptation by the Ring (by the film-makers who invented the Osgiliath sequence). He has survived – barely – another nearly fatal brush with the power of the Ring, nearly delivering it into the hands of the Nazgûl, and nearly murdering Sam. All of this for an object he hates yet loves, finds repulsive yet utterly desires. Fury, pain and shame wash over him. Then he is "tempted" by Sam, but tempted to take heart, not to abandon it like Lara.

The screencaps I used below for Frodo mostly come from his reaction shots as he listens to Sam give his speech in this scene. Frodo listens despondently at first, then with greater hope as Sam tells him why the Quest is worth the struggle (a discussion of the screenwriters' decision to have Sam deliver this speech to Frodo, again making Sam look heroic, wise and insightful at Frodo’s expense, must wait). Throughout this scene (even back when I was not a film-Frodo fan in particular) it is his side of the scene—the way his face responds to what Sam is saying, gradually letting Sam's words woo him back to hope—that makes this scene worth watching for me. Wrong-headed as I find the screenwriting, Elijah does some of his best work here just listening and letting his character's mood and spirit be transformed by what he hears.

Thus, in both scenes these actors are called upon to play intensely felt emotions that are at war with each other, emotions conveyed almost without dialogue or dramatic action, simply by letting their characters' internal thoughts and feelings emerge on their faces, moving across them like light and shadow over an unsettled landscape.

My pairs of screencaps don’t do either actor justice, I know. The genius of the acting is in the complex, subtle and swiftly-made transitions. I love the way the muscles of the forehead, the small muscles around the nose and mouth, the working of the jaw and throat—and of course the eyes—make these characters speak, rather than actual words. I wish I could have found Lara screencaps that were more openly expressive, to match the emotional levels in Frodo's. There were scenes with Komarovsky when she was beside herself, but she was never facing the right way to provide a matching shot to Frodo. Nevertheless, I hope these give some idea of what I am talking about.


Julie Christie, born in 1941, is still alive and well. She was nominated recently by many award-giving bodies for best actress in “Away From Her” (released in 2007). She won most of them. Critics agreed she did her usual superb job in another difficult role with very few lines.

She’s actually not done that many films over her long career, eschewing sure-thing "big" movies for riskier projects. But she made a tremendous impact on me when I was an eccentric film-loving teenager. I first saw her in “Darling” and “Dr. Zhivago” (both 1965), then “Far From the Madding Crowd” (1966). I continued to be enthralled by her in films, watching her in “The Go-Between” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (both 1971) and the haunting “Don’t Look Now” (1973). I loved her again in “Shampoo” (1975).

I got out of the habit of going to films when our daughter was born twenty years ago, so I saw very little else that she did. But I still remember the pictures I had of her on my wall cut from magazines (my wall was covered with pictures of the artists I admired: the Beatles, Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave, Rudolf Nureyev and loads more). I loved her combination of strength and vulnerability; emotional honesty without loss of dignity, intelligence without conceit; a sense of something held back, yet passion and warmth. She was just so interesting. And I loved the hint of melancholy—the soulfulness—I felt underlay all her characters. Hmm, is it any wonder I love Frodo?

Reading up on her for this post, I had an “Ah ha” moment reading an assessment of Julie Christie's acting by Stephanie Zacharek in Salon.com. Zacharek wrote of Julie’s work in playing a tragic heroine:
"[T]ragic heroine" isn't quite the right phrase for what Christie does in this picture. The term implies histrionics, or at least some sort of submerged melodrama. Christie carries the core of the movie's sorrow – and that means the sorrow of revolutionary Russia, as well as her own – not just in her hopelessly blue eyes, but in the set of her jaw. She's stalwart, brave, reliable beyond compare, and still, she suffers. What Christie doesn't do is turn the performance into an exercise in masochism. Before she even played one, she proved she had the heart and soul of a Thomas Hardy heroine -- a woman who was made to bear sadness but retain her inner dignity at all costs.

Jan-u-wine, who proofed this entry, sent me feedback and wrote something very insightful about Zacharek’s assessment:

I think it is fascinating what she said about Lara, about how she embodied (through Christie’s playing of her) not just the tragedy that was her own life, but the tragedy that was also Russia at that time. You could easily take out the name “Lara” and put in “Frodo” and you could just as easily take out “Russia” and insert Middle-earth”. The heroes and their attachment *as* heroes to their homes is *that* intimate and immediate, as if the hero herself/himself were tied heart and soul to their homeland, until each soul that thrived became their soul, and each soul that sank down and died became theirs, as well. It’s a rich sort of (mythical) historical tradition, this sort of hero, and the sacrifices they make being tied to the survival and thriving of the land.

If you watched the EE extras for FotR, you would have heard John Rhys Davies praising Julie Christie. He talked about how he used his memory of once meeting her to act Gimli’s awe at meeting Galadriel for the first time. It obviously made a big impact on him, because he mentioned the meeting in an extensive interview from the time of the making of LotR, for Crescent Blues. The interviewer asked JRD if he attributed his ability with accents to his “bipolar” childhood (i.e. raised in Wales and Africa, then going to school in Cornwall). Davies answered,
"Schizophrenic" is probably the word you're looking for there. It's baffling, because children like that never really settle in and are never really comfortable, anymore, in any of those particular niches. You are always slightly an outsider, and that's a wonderful thing, because being an outsider, you can observe.

That is so true of so many actors of my generation, particularly the ones that grew up in the colonies. Mostly majors' daughters, by the way. Actually, that was the case with that glorious actress, Julie Christie. I saw her, once, in the flesh. It was the only time in my life where my throat has gone dry; she was so beautiful.

So many actors and actresses of that generation came from a different background and never really fit into the society that existed in England or, in fact, outside of it. Therefore, they made huge efforts to imitate and work their way into society by being entertainers.

I wonder how much EW’s being a transplant—being born and raised in Cedar Rapids, moving to LA, then growing up on shoots all over the place—had a similar effect on him? Did living in all these milieus, and having to get along with all these new sets of people and working situations, make him work harder to adapt and fit? He certainly has made it his business to be “part of the team” in every project he's in. Perhaps, like the actors JRD was talking about (JRD included), the experience helped him learn to act, too, watching people in each new set of surroundings and seeing how he might better find a place among them, "fit in".


The shots of Frodo below come mostly from TTT, but three are from RotK. I’m sorry I could not find any good images of Christie to go with Frodo's scene in the Sammath Naur. What a set of images they'd make.

Also, please note the first image is from the 1968 film, “Petulia”, which I have never seen. I thought her expression was so right in terms of a match to Frodo's, I used it here.





Photobucket ~*m~Photobucket




Selected Tables of Links:

~ Frodo Art Travesty entries here.

~ Frodo and Elijah Wood screencaps here.

~ Miscellaneous LJ entries here.


shirebound at 2008-08-15 00:50 (UTC) (Link)
That's amazing! I love these comparisons.

(And I was just thinking about her the other day, when I was reminded of a scary movie called "Demon Seed" I saw her in years and years ago.)
mechtild at 2008-08-15 04:05 (UTC) (Link)
Oooh, you saw "Demon Seed"? Was it very good? I've never seen it, only heard of it.

Thanks for stopping in, Shirebound. :)
lijahlover at 2008-08-15 06:24 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for these how lovely.
mechtild at 2008-08-15 12:55 (UTC) (Link)
You are welcome!
pearlette at 2008-08-15 09:05 (UTC) (Link)
That's quite amazing, seeing how similar Film Frodo is to Lara! LOL.

Goodness me, Christie is utterly gorgeous in that film, isn't she? Such a memorable tragic heroine. Great film anyway: I love it.

(ITV did a 'why on earth did they bother' dramatisation of Zhivago a few years ago, which was generally -- and deservedly - panned, with Keira Knightley as Lara. I found her intensely annoying in the part. Nobody can ever compete with Julie! Poor Keira. She can never find favour with me. :p )

I'd forgotten about JRD imagining that Galadriel was Christie, so he could replicate Gimli's emotions in that scene. Cool. :)

Lara's strong jaw reminds me a bit of Blanchett's Galadriel, although her lips are not so full.

Cate really is my definitive Galadriel. Perfect casting!

mechtild at 2008-08-15 13:02 (UTC) (Link)
I thought Cate was *fantastic* as Galadriel, and totally right, I agree. Too bad about her "nuclear" scene, but that was not her choice, I am betting. She did what she had to do well, though. I think she's a fantastic actress and screen presence anyway. I went to see the newer Elizabeth movie when I was visiting Jan in LA last fall and I just ate her up in it. The rest of the cast could sit down and polish their nails and wait.

Christie was always fascinating to me. Maybe I had a little crush on her, like JRD. Or Frodo towards Goldberry. It's not erotic, quite, but I find myself, like Gimli and Mr. Baggins, sort of enchanted.

I think Keira Knightley is awfully good, but somehow I just can't like her enough; she isn't that sympathetic on screen, even when she's playing the heroine. Maybe it's her pugnacious jaw working against her. She just always looked ... opposed ... to everything, even if only underneath. In some ways she reminds me of young Winona Ryder in terms of her "look" and what she plays, but Ryder comes across much more sympathetically.
rakshi at 2008-08-15 09:50 (UTC) (Link)
As always, your post is a delight. I love this comparison. And I think your philosophy about how Elijah learned to adapt and fit in to every team he's been part of is fascinating.

Thank you.

mechtild at 2008-08-15 13:03 (UTC) (Link)
Hi, Rakshi, thanks for stopping by!

I think your philosophy about how Elijah learned to adapt and fit in to every team he's been part of is fascinating.

Well, I've got to thank John Rhys Davies for that. Without having read his remarks on the topic, I would never have thought to apply them to EW. :)
not_alone at 2008-08-15 11:23 (UTC) (Link)

What a fascinating post, Mechtild. How observant of you to see the similarities in Elijah's and Julie Christie's acting and, having it pointed out to me, I can certainly see what you mean. Incidentally, 'Dr Zhivago' is one of my favourite films - I thought JC was wonderful in it:) The two quotes from your post below express perfectly, and beautifully, what I love most about Elijah's acting - it's a pity more film critics don't seem to appreciate this:)

"What they share, to me, is an emotionality that exploits their capacity for facial expressiveness that is at once subtle and intense."

"these actors are called upon to play intensely felt emotions that are at war with each other, emotions conveyed almost without dialogue or dramatic action, simply by letting their characters' internal thoughts and feelings emerge on their faces, moving across them like light and shadow over an unsettled landscape."

And I'm sure your observations about Elijah's life as a 'transplant' are spot-on too:)
mechtild at 2008-08-15 13:09 (UTC) (Link)
Hi, Not Alone. I take your words as a true compliment. Your own series shows how much you are invested in--and knowledgable in--the matter of Frodo's portrayal!

I loved "Dr. Zhivago", too. I saw it when it came out, back when such films had actual intermissions and souvenir programs were sold, as if one were seeing a Broadway musical. It played at the premiere theatre in Washington D. C., a huge theatre, a "movie palace", built in the 30's, probably--very grand. I'll bet it's been made into a hotel if not a multi-multi-mulitplex by now. I even bought the soundtrack album to extend the pleasure, since one couldn't see films over and over like we could later on, first on tapes and then DVD's. It was epic and gorgeous and involving, and I loved all the characters. When I wasn't crushing on Julie's acting, I was crushing on Tom Courtenay's Pavlo Antipova (Strelnikov). I thought he was super and continued to follow his career after that.

Edited at 2008-08-15 01:10 pm (UTC)
wendylady1 at 2008-08-15 18:31 (UTC) (Link)
This is a very astute observation, and a brilliant comparison exercise !! They both appear to have that wonderful ability to show their inner thoughts and emotions, and more than that, to make you feel them too - an important distiction, I feel...

I met Julie Christie recently, when we went to the book launch of the new novel by her husband Duncan Campbell, who is really lovely !! Julie was there, being the perfect hostess and working the room, saying hello to everyone, seperately from Duncan, so that every person was covered...
My first impression of her is the fact that she is so tiny !! She is probably a good three or four inches shorter than me, and I am only 5' 3" - the top of her head was level with my eyeline !! She is exquisitely pretty, even though she is older now - you can see that she was a true beauty in her youth...she wore the most fabulous Indian silver filigree earrings with a dark red gypsy skirt, and her hair was long and curly...we had some inane chatter about nothing and then she moved on, laughing and joking with total strangers, and making them all feel welcome !!

Very hard to believe that she is now 67 - she only looked about early fifties at the most, at that party...
mechtild at 2008-08-15 20:22 (UTC) (Link)
Your important distinction: that they not only show emotions so well, but make you feel them too: was an excellent one.

In the bios I read she was listed as 5'2". One had the temerity to say 5'4", which is like a bio of EW saying he's 5'8". But I could believe she's shorter. She looked very tiny next to tall actors like Donald Sutherland and Warren Beatty. Maybe she's shorter now that she's older? I'm more than an inch shorter than I was thirty years ago.

And, yes, she does look amazing for 67. When I was researching her, a few cosmetic surgery sites popped up. They were using her, Helen Mirren and Judy Dench as examples of older actresses who have had very tastefully chosen cosmetic surgery. She is supposed to have admitted to having her jawline done. A good choice, since it's such a notable one.
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2008-08-15 20:24 (UTC) (Link)
The power they have to interpret the inner struggles of the characters and convey them without a word is phenomenal.

That is so true, Mews.
earths_daughter at 2008-08-16 14:17 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for another wonderful and thoughtful post, not to mention the time it must have taken to match those expressions, astonishingly similar. Jan-u-wine is so right in what she wrote.
Incidentally I was surprised to learn that Julie Christie is only about my height. I had gained the impression from "Dr Zhivago" and "Darling" that she was quite tall.
mechtild at 2008-08-16 14:58 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for stopping by, Earth's Daughter. And I'll mention your comment to jan-u-wine so she can look at it.

No, no. She's quite short. I don't know if she could be as short as Wendy says, above, but she's listed as 5'2" in online sites. (Wendy thinks she must be lots shorter, having met her in person.) In Dr. Zhivago, standing next to them, she has to look up into the faces of Tom Courtenay and Omar Shariff, and they are listed online as 5'8" and 5'9". I've seen Tom Courtenay on stage, and he looked like a little guy. Terence Stamp and Alan Bates looked like big men next to her as Bathsheba in Far From the Madding Crowd. I looked them up and they're listed as 6 feet and 5'11". In standing and walking scenes with Warren Beatty in McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Shampoo, or with Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now, they positively tower over her. These actors are listed as being 6'2" and 6'4" respectively, in their prime.

I think she seemed taller because she has such a big screen presence, but also because her face and head, and her features in that face, were all big for her size. If she is filmed face to face, even with much taller actors, she looks their size. Or that's my theory, anyway! :)
frodosweetstuff at 2008-08-16 20:42 (UTC) (Link)
Oooh, this was interesting! I don't know that film but from the screencaps I can see why you were reminded of Frodo.

Very much loved the bit about JRD btw!

Thank you! :)
mechtild at 2008-08-17 01:50 (UTC) (Link)
Hi, Frodosweetstuff. I hope you are feeling a bit better. :)

Actually, that JRD interview (and the related, linked ones) was extremely good, although it wasn't about EW or Frodo, really. He's a very interesting person, JRD, far more so than I'd imagined from the LotR EE extras and public promo appearances. On those he can be eloquent, but mostly he's being amusing. This was more in depth.
(Anonymous) at 2008-08-17 18:40 (UTC) (Link)
What a terrific set of comparison pics, Mechtild! I cannot imagine how long it must have taken you to match those stills together. I'm not familiar with much of Julie Christie's work ~ though I love 'Far From the Madding Crowd.' For me, 'Don't Look Now,' was scarily weird ~ I remember the elusive dwarf in the red cloak!

Hope you are well. I'm off to take a look at your garden post.

~ Blossom.

mechtild at 2008-08-17 18:46 (UTC) (Link)
I agree: "Don't Look Now" was a scary film, a weird sort of scary, almost "creepy". But I thought it was awfully good. It's a film that has stayed with me because of the evocative power of its scenes and images (and fine acting). The dwarf was absolutely *horrible*. Far worse than any Shelob.

Thanks so much for commenting, Blossom. :)
whiteling at 2008-08-18 21:31 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I loved the stunning screencap comparisions, Mechtild!
I have to admit though that I never have seen "Dr. Zhivago"... this film escaped me completely until now, somehow. I do remember Julie Christie very vividly from "Don't Look Now" which I watched when I was maybe 12 or 13. The moment when the figure in the red cloak turns round and we see the horrid dwarf instead of the lost daughter gave me nightmares for months and I am not *that* sensitive, usually! Of course, I liked her also in "Finding Neverland" as the austere mother of Kate Winslet's character Sylvia.

Those internal actors, aren't they just a boon, especially compared to the many bloating "SEE ME ACT" actors? They trust us beholders so much more...
mechtild at 2008-08-18 21:43 (UTC) (Link)
Ah, when the dwarf turns around; absolutely horrifying and revolting. And the noise his knife made when he struck Donald Sutherland made me shudder for ever. But the movie overall was just fascinatingly atmospheric, I thought. The only tough part to watch was the extremely erotic love scene--because I had gone to see it with my father, lol! It was so uncomfortable watching such a racy scene sitting next to a parent. Had either of us known what was in the film, I don't think we would have chosen to go to see it together!

You are right about the "internal actors", I think. Lucky us that one of them was chosen to play Frodo.
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