Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,
Mechtild
mechtild

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

~*~


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.












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Selected Tables of Links:


~ Frodo Art Travesty entries here.


~ Frodo and Elijah Wood screencaps here.


~ Miscellaneous LJ entries here.

Tags: frodo, frodo screencaps, julie christie, lotr
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