Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Anne Bancroft: An Appreciation

I read the ugliest thread today on this theater related website I visit from time to time called TalkinBroadway; maybe it was yesterday. I can’t really remember. I have nobody to blame but myself because I keep going to that website and reading it; and a major portion of the people who post on that chatboard are the nastiest, most negative and judgemental people. I know they are because of the malice with which they post their thoughts and opinions. There was a time when I was the subject of their judgements, so I discontinued my membership to the site; yet I still visit it to read the board so I can get information on what’s happening, who’s on vacation, who’s been cast… I just can’t participate. Usually I simply choose not to read the ugly comments.

This latest posting though was so ugly, though. It made me kind of wish I had a membership to the site so I could comment on their judgements about Anne Bancroft.

Can you believe that? A negative chatboard thread about Anne Bancroft. I know, right? She’s been dead a few years, so why now? Well; the movie ‘NIGHT MOTHER has just been released on dvd. Earlier this year the movie GARBO TALKS was released on dvd. This has been a happy, happy year for me and Pat. These two movies have been two of our favourites since they were released in the 80s. The 80s was a good year for us and Anne Bancroft. This wonderful actress who had a great career that started in the 50s found herself an aging actress in the 80s, capturing the film versions of some of Broadway’s biggest successes. The Elephant Man, Agnes of God, 84 Charing Cross Road, Torch Song Trilogy and ‘Night Mother… not a bad batch of movies for one decade, eh? It’s only five films but when an actress gets to do THOSE five films – well, that’s not just enough for one decade, it’s enough for one career. Her contribution to the film industry is enough to applaud for these films, yet there were all those amazing films that came before and after, including her most famous roles in The Miracle Worker and The Graduate.. and my favourite, Garbo Talks.

So here was this thread on this Broadway website about Anne Bancroft because of the release of ‘Night Mother and most of the content was all about how bad Anne Bancroft was in the film. I read the comments and thought “am I an idiot?” “did I miss something?” “do I have bad taste?”. I always loved that film. Then, some people touched on how bad she was in Torch Song Trilogy. I loved that movie, too. It was one of those movies that Pat and I got on vhs when it came out and we watched it every couple of weeks or so. We still get it out now and then and watch it. Then someone in the chatboard thread touched on how bad she was in Agnes of God. Ech. That’s when I wished I had a membership to the site so I could post this comment:

“I was just wondering what room you keep your Oscar in?”

I realized, though, it didn’t matter; and it needn’t bother me. People just want to criticize. They just want to be mean and talk about things like they are experts when, what they really are, are armchair judgementalists, passing the time by making ugly comments about artists who had the careers and talents they don’t have. I like to think I am the antithesis of this archetype. I look for the good. I want to praise. So, Anne Bancroft being unable to defend herself, here I am, to praise…

Each of the movie versions of these great Broadway plays is a lovely film. It is rare that a play is as good on film as it is onstage and when it happens it is a beautiful thing. I don’t know if there could have been better or worse film versions of these transferals from stage to screen but I do know that when each of these movies came out, people went, people watched, people liked. And I am people. Anne Bancroft was special and her career spanned four decades, almost five, and she brought a lot of people happiness with her work. I find her performances in The Elephant Man and 84 Charing Cross Road to be beautiful, subtle and believable. The film version of Agnes of God is a bit of a dichotomy for me because I love it, I truly do, but I have seen Agnes of God onstage and it was horrifying and compelling. The film lost some of that, opting for a romantic and poetic view of the events, rather than chilling and scary. Nevertheless, that does not detract from the powerful performances of the actors inhabiting the roles for the movie. Torch Song Trilogy is just a treat, from beginning to end (except for the Alan death scene, which I have only ever seen once, on the big screen, choosing to fast forward every time). And, as I said before, ‘Night Mother is simply one of my favourite movies, the quietness of it, then the drama of it, the personal moments between the women, the isolation each of them feels. It compels me. Though I will say, watching her put out all that candy works my nerves. I loved candy in my earlier life and now I am not allowed to have it… Boo Hoo. The Southern feel of the film and of the characters is authentic to me, though for a mother and daughter the accent work is inconsistent (but if we were to get into a serious talk about the inconsistencies of Southern accents, I would have more to say about the film Steel Magnolias, in which the accents range from Georgia to Texas to Louisiana). I can usually forgive people for a little accent discrepancy. I can also forgive people for a little overacting; mostly because I have known people in my real life who overact every day.. and I have known those people for years.

I think we have to allow actors a little more latitude in their work. Every artist has their own way of interpreting a role; why not let them? I am sure that Anne Pitoniak and Kathy Bates were breathtaking in the original ‘Night Mother, that Carole Shelley (my friend and Tony recipient for the role) was earth shattering as Mrs Kendal in The Elephant Man on Broadway, that Estelle Getty was unique and inimitable as Mrs Bekoff in Torch Song Trilogy. It would be unfair to compare these actresses to Anne Bancroft; they did the roles onstage and she did them on film. They all had different directors with different visions. They all had their own visions of what the characters should be. Can’t we all just let the artists create? Can’t we respect their journeys, their efforts, the blood and sweat that goes into their portrayals? Apparently not. People just want to criticize.

I am so happy that these films are all being released on dvd, on by one. I have an Anne Bancroft section of my dvd collection. It is alphabetized and set aside so that whenever we want to treat ourselves to this great American actress’s work, it’s easily accessible. Whether it is something old and contained, like The Miracle Worker, or later in her career and over the top, like Bert Rigby You’re a Fool, we watch and we remember how much a part of our lives this artist has always been.

I remember when Anne Bancroft died. I was on the treadmill at the gym, running. The bank of televisions was showing a variety of things, from VH1 to the news; and her face flashed on the news. I knew what they were saying, the way I knew when it happened with Lee Remick, Audrey Hepburn and Alexis Smith. I was stunned. I was so stunned that I stopped running, immediately. And fell off the treadmill, still speeding along.

I bet Anne Bancroft would have liked that.
I hope so.


Blogger Deep Dish said...

Another reason why I think you're a fabulous guy, Mr. Mosher - you adore Ms. Bancroft as much as I do. I love her in "Home for the Holidays", "Torch Song Trilogy", "To Be or Not to Be", "The Graduate", etc. She was such a wonderful actress, and I miss her.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I agree with you about TalkinBroadway. When it first started it was all about the love of theatre now it is one big bitchfest.

I enjoy your site and the appreciation you show.

10:46 AM  

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