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Katharine Hepburn

November 2, 2007

In a blog entry a week or so ago, The Guardian's Lyn Gardner wrote about acting, saying "Like beauty and good writing, it often seems to me that good acting is often very much in the eye of the beholder."

Gardner admits to not liking Maggie Smith, which might be considered heresy in some circles: "Personally, I've just never got Maggie Smith, who always seems to me to be mannered in whatever she does, but I know plenty of people who rate her right there at the top," Gardner says.

These words came rushing back to me last night as I waded through yet another disappointing Katharine Hepburn movie. Saying you don't like Hepburn is the same as admitting you have syphilis: People will say you've only yourself to blame. In Philadelphia Story as in The African Queen as in Adam's Rib, Hepburn comes across as hopelessly contrived and stagey. In The Rainmaker, which I watched yesterday evening, Hepburn appears to be acting in a completely different movie to everyone else in the cast. All the actors do hillbilly really well. They're touching and funny and don't overact. Hepburn, on the other hand, goes at the role of old maid farmer's daughter Lizzie Curry like she's channeling Sarah Bernhardt's Prince Hamlet. She's a tragic hero. Or a tragic heroine in pants.

While we're on the subject, I have similar feelings about Vanessa Redgrave. She's my Maggie Smith. There's something about that understated pain the actress puts on in every role she plays and her nasal, sing-songy voice with all the pauses and emphases in the wrong places that sets my teeth on edge. I came very close to walking out of The Year of Magical Thinking on Broadway back in May. She ruined Joan Didion's book for me, turning it from a lovely, flowing thing into an essay in pedantry and static. And every film I've seen her in has made me feel the same way. I would, however, like to see her in As You Like It. She essayed the main role for the Royal Shakespeare Company many years ago. I hear she made a leggy, winsome Rosalind and she certainly looks great in the production stills I've seen.

I wonder if it's possible to categorize good or bad acting at the end of the day? Is it really that subjective? Or is it inevitable, as Gardner puts it, that "One person's tour de force is another's histrionics" ??


  • I know Diane Keaton is a great actor. She is in at least two of my top five favorite films. But I do not like her acting. I mean I don't find her beautiful to watch but I appreciate her brilliance. You know?

    I feel the same way about Angelica Houston. Now, her brother, Danny Houston, is a terrible actor and just about ruins everything he is in. Just about.

    Many reviews of the new 3:10 To Yuma refer to the original black and white as a great film. I found the original excrutiatingly hammy. I was embarrassed for the actors in that. There dead now but just the same. It's just silly.

    The epitome of Vanessa Redgrave's neurosis can be seen in Blow-Up. She's hard to watch but you can't take your eyes off of her. That might be a-stage-actor-in-a-straight-jacket-because-she-is-doing-a-film thing. That was early her. Sorry about the Magical Thinking thing. Maybe someone told her the the play she was in was a film?

    Yes, Hepburn is stagey, a true drama queen. That's what she put out there and that's what the people bought. It is a very New England thing she was riffing on.

    No one acts better than Daniel Day Lewis or Kate Winslet. And that is because they are so fucking brave. They choose great projects and know what they are doing. What Ms. Hepburn did may seem trite and a bit silly now, but for the time it was very brave.

    But, but, but:

    "There is nothing
    either good or bad
    but thinking makes it so."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 6, 2007 at 6:39 PM  

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