Sunday, February 6, 2011

Three lovely ladies exit the stage...

So many talented cult-favorite performers are dying these days it’s difficult to keep up. All three of the actresses below are primarily known for one film performance, but all of them kept going in show business and did interesting things above and beyond their one international “hit” picture.

The first to be announced in the news in the last few days was, as she was called in many obits, “Last Tango in Paris star Maria Schneider.” She definitely will forever be linked with that performance, which she gave 39 years ago, when she was 20 years old. I’m going to assume that readers of this blog are already familiar with that modern masterwork, one of Bertolucci’s most focused (and popular) pics and Brando’s last great starring performance, the one into which he put a full range of emotion and acting genius.

Schneider was indeed incredibly sexy in the film and gave a very fine performance, as her character navigates between very verbal males (Brando, Leaud). The film’s incredible success gave her a “name,” but seems to have typecast her in many producers’ eyes and the fame clearly affected her personal life, as she had a succession of very public problems, including breakdowns, drug troubles, and public affairs — the European press had a field day with her moving into an asylum to be near her lover (I remember something being made of her yelling across a gate that she loved the woman; the press loves nothing more than an emotional breakdown in public).

Thankfully Schneider moved on from her problems and continued to work regularly as an actress. Here are a few clips to remember her by (check out Last Tango… on yer own!):

A great scene from Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975), featuring Schneider and Jack Nicholson. A week or two ago New York Times critic A.O. Scott declared the present a “golden age for foreign film.” I’m very glad that he deflects American readers’ attention overseas to where good movies still are being made regularly, but it’s hard not to believe that he declares the present era to be the best-ever because… he’s writing in the present day…. There are indeed miraculous items being made overseas, but when you had Masters like Antonioni on the scene, the term “golden age” was sorta redundant:

She costarred with Joe Dallesandro in Rivette’s uneven but still interesting Merry-Go-Round (1981). Here she plays a game with Joe and speaks in French (no subs) with Daniele Gégauff, a movie producer who was married to screenwriter Paul Gégauff, who I wrote about in my blog entry on Chabrol:

I was trying to remember what “recent” film I’d seen Schneider in. It was a rare Bertrand Blier comedy called Les Acteurs (2000) that I reviewed on the Funhouse TV show in an English-subtitled print. Here is her scene, sans English subs, from the film. The film is an utterly bizarre creation that pays tribute to the acting profession by having a succession of big-named veteran performers appear in episodic scenes concerning the actor’s approach, his madness, his ego, etc. There aren’t as many big-name female stars, but that is explained early on, when one character notes that men’s egos tend to be much, much bigger than women’s. One of the female stars to make an appearance, though, is Ms. Schneider, looking great as a woman “of a certain age”:

Much like Schneider, Lena Nyman was identified by international movie fans with one movie, or in fact two movies, Vilgot Sjöman’s I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) and its sister-movie I Am Curious (Blue) (1968). The films were declared to be “obscene,” but are instead brilliant artifacts of their era, sociological studies that do include sexual interludes between the characters (Nyman plays a slightly fictionalized version of herself), but also interviews with Swedish politicians and Martin Luther King, Jr. The films are brilliant, and the tiny dynamo Nyman is terrific in the lead. Not much can be seen of them online, but here is an outtake from I Am Curious (Blue) in which Lena “abolishes” the state church. I love blasphemy of any kind, and this is a pretty wonderful scene in which Nyman asks a priest how the church became involved with the bourgeoisie, instead of the poor, to whom Christ tended:

Nyman’s only other film seen by American audiences was Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978), in which she played a supporting role. I found a lot of Swedish clips on YT, however, that show she had a rich career and had fans who were touched sufficiently by her death to put up very nice tributes to her. She not only acted but also sang in the movies and on TV, including this scene in a comedy called The Adventures of Picasso (1978), where she plays a nightclub singer who becomes Picasso’s object of affection:

Most of the Lena Nyman clips on YT aren’t subtitled, so I was most “grabbed” by the musical ones and the broadly farcical ones. Here is a clip from a comedy called Dromkaken (1993|), in which Nyman apparently played two characters:

And to repeat the comic device in the last clip, here’s yet another sequence where Nyman’s kooky character again sees the stuffy female lead going to the bathroom (so much for the staid image of the Swedes!):

Nyman may forever be enshrined as a “Lolita” figure because of Sjoman’s films (she was 22 or 23 when I Am Curious (Yellow) was made, btw), but she proved herself to be a broadly versatile performer. One final comedy clip:

I never met Maria Schneider or Lena Nyman in person, but I did meet the third woman whose obit appeared this weekend, the iconic “velvet glove cast in iron,” Ms. Tura Satana. I interviewed Tura Satana back in 1996 at the Chiller Theater convention, and she was a delightful lady who was happy to talk about her past film work, and was pleased that I asked her not only about her three exploitation classics, but also her work in other films, including Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce.

Tura did indeed lead a very colorful life as a model, an exotic dancer, an exploitation movie star, a lover of Elvis (!), a latter-day icon for both women and men who liked dominant women, and one of those few folks who had a band named in her honor. As was the case with Nyman, her fans have posted tribute videos to her:

Her starring role as “Varla” in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) remains her best-remembered contribution to the Western World. She has been copied, imitated, ripped off, and enshrined by various and sundry performers and aspiring exploitation moviemakers, but it’s hard to top the original:

Tura’s other two wonderfully memorable starring roles in exploitation were for Funhouse favorite Ted V. Mikels. She played a “dragon lady” character in the completely deranged and wonderful Astro Zombies:

And is seen briefly doing one of her exotic dance numbers in Ted’s Doll Squad, which supplied the template for Charlie’s Angels, but is a whole lot more, well… Mikels-ian:

I regret that there is only a very small slice of my interview with the great Ms. Santana online. At one time a few years back I had offered the whole thing in the short-lived Funhouse video podcast, and the interview was indeed posted on MySpace by her then-agent/manger. It shows the fervor of the Tura fan-base that my interview with her was so appreciated it got booted (proper attribution was added later, I believe — right before MySpace lost all of its audience in what seemed like one fell swoop. Ah, the fickle social-communitarians on the Web…).

A post-script: I have somewhere the hand-typed thank you note that Ms. Santana wrote after I sent her a VHS of the episode as aired. She was one classy dame, that Tura. And quite the black-clad icon:


Charles Frenkel said...

Apparently Elvis proposed to Tura! But his career was taking off and she didn't see a future for them together. Her life is a bio-pic extraordinaire, but the casting decision would surely be a horror in today's H'wood.


I like Last Tango (and Jack Alley's well-written novelization) but I like it less after the interviews where Schneider and Bertolucci said the anal rape scene was improvised without her being warned. Bertolucci said that although she and Brando were not having sex, in a way it was rape because she was upset and unwilling, and that when she is shouting in the scene it is actually to him and the crew to stop the scene. "Did you stop?" the interviewer asks. Bertolucci gives a little smile, as if to say Of course not, "No."