Monday, January 1, 2007

The Great Ones Vol.1 (Side A Track 6)

Glancing at the roles Tuesday Weld turned down throughout her career reads like a list of someone hell bent on not succeeding. She was quoted as saying that she turned down Bonnie and Clyde because, "I don't ever want to be a huge star, do you think I want to be a success?", other roles she turned down included Lolita, Rosemary's Baby, True Grit, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bob Carole Ted and Alice, Cactus Flower, Performance, The Stepford Wives, The Great Gatsby, Chinatown and Frances. Rumor has it that one of the reasons that Truffaut didn't direct Bonnie and Clyde was because she wouldn't play Bonnie, Beatty would continue to pursue her finally settling on Faye Dunaway who built her entire career from that role.
I found out about Tuesday Weld fairly young after seeing her with Elvis in 1961's Wild In The Country. Even in that early performance at just 18 she had a electrically charged weariness that most actors even after years of performing couldn't equal. The late 50's and early 60's would see her working a lot in TV and films of varying quality. Her role as Thalia Menninger on Dobie Gillis made her a major teen idol and this would be exploited in many of her earlier youth oriented films.
Things started to turn for her in 1963's Soldier In The Rain where she more than held her own with Steve Mcqueen and Jackie Gleason. It would be another Steve Mcqueen film two years later that would see her first really great performance, this as Christian in 65's The Cincinnati Kid. Her bad girl persona had been stripped away with this role, Ann-Margret handled that for the film, and she brings an uncommon sweetness to Christian. Mcqueen turns in some of his finest work feeding off Weld which makes it all the more regrettable that she didn't appear in Thomas Crown with him a few years later.
1966 was her major breakthrough with George Axelrod's jaw dropping satire, Lord Love A Duck. One of the major American films of the 1960's and a major disaster upon release although even its critics hailed Tuesday's work as the destined to be lost college student Barbara Ann Greene. Her favorite of all her roles would grow as the film would in stature each year. It's one of the few American films of the period that is the equal to the European cinema that would dominate the decade.
Ongoing personal problems began to dismantle Weld after this and she only worked in TV for the next two years losing much of the momentum that Lord Love A Duck created but by the time she made 68's Pretty Poison many critics were aware that they were dealing with one of the best actresses in the country. Although she has always despised the film her intense work as the monstrous SueAnn in Pretty Poison might be her greatest performance. Rarely has a sociopath been portrayed with so many dimensions. This would also mark her first appearance with another famously self destructive talent, Anthony Perkins.
She would take another two years off but would return in 1970 giving a trio of performances that rank alongside any great actors work in any period. Starting with 1970's I Walk The Line through to 71's A Safe Place and concluding with 72's Play It As It Lays we find Weld going for broke in a trilogy of films that all failed upon initial release and are all ripe for rediscovery.
Shortly before it's release I Walk The Line was taken away from great director John Frankenheimer and recut, shortened and re scored. I believe if his original cut ever surfaces it will play as one of the great films of the early 70s, as it stands even in it's tampered form it is still an uncommonly powerful film. Shot on location in Gainsboro Tennessee and telling the tale of a small town sheriff, wonderfully played by Gregory Peck, falling for and ultimately being destroyed by the daughter of a family of bootleggers. Weld's Alma is one of her most complex characterizations, even in the film's haunting last scenes we still aren't totally sure of her motivations. It's a bravura performance that feels totally authentic, something that is usually missing from interpretations of the South. Watching Weld's work in this and the two films following I am struck by the line in Johnny Cash's theme song, "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine". These performances, even at their most almost embarrassingly open moments, are ultimately very mysterious, hidden and guarded much like the woman portraying them.
Henry Jaglom was an actor in the 1960s who had befriended Weld as well as Orson Welles and Jack Nicholson, when he somehow got a major studio to back his first film A Safe Place all three would appear in it. Attempting to recount the plot of A Safe Place would be about the most foolish thing one could attempt to do, it's a film to be experienced and not talked about. It is also the hardest to find major film that Tuesday Weld ever made, grey market copies are all that are in circulation of this film that was a critical and commercial disaster upon release. In my eyes it's one of the great films of the seventies, a truly uncompromising personal vision made by a group of artists who knew ultimately that time would have to catch up with their film, it still hasn't.
Weld's final great starring role would come in Frank Perry's Joan Didion adaption Play It As It Lays, a film that would divide critics but a role that finally granted Weld universal acclaim. She would receive a Golden Globe nomination but was controversially ignored come Oscar time. It's a difficult film to watch and it's probably the best portrayal of someone having a complete mental breakdown ever filmed. Weld seems to bring all of her personal demons out for this role, her costar was once again Anthony Perkins and he also seems to bring more than just his acting tools to the part. This is cinema as deep therapy with the audience ultimately being as exhausted as the cast by the end of it.
Play It As It Lays would act as Tuesday Weld's Raging Bull. Like De Niro she would never again be as beautiful or as transcendent in a role. There would be great work after, her oscar nominated turn in Looking For Mr Goodbar, Michael Mann's Thief opposite James Caan and especially Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America with De Niro himself but she would never again open that window she had early in her career. Much like her character Noah at the end of A Safe Place, she would seemingly just disappear.
The mere mention of her name for some evokes wonderful long thought lost dreams of adolescence, for others it recalls the greatest fuck up of the 1960's. A woman who could have controlled the most legendary of all decades but ultimately couldn't be bothered. Either way her films continue to become more and more available and more and more people see them. Who knows in 20 years perhaps the list of roles she turned down will seem less and less important and maybe films like Lord Love A Duck and A Safe Place will be required watching for young film students. I almost hope not, I'd hate to lose her to the thing she hated so much in the first place. She remains like Axelrod's, punk before punk, description of Lord Love A Duck:
"This motion picture
is against
their parents...
beach movies....
and several hundred
other things.
An Act of Pure Aggression."
to paraphrase a song in another film of hers, she remains a rose grown wild.


Anonymous said...

She was one of the brightest, most beautiful and best actresses of the late 1950's thru the mid 1970's.

I agree that she has been largely ignored by modern day critics, but just look how she held her own with the likes of Steve McQueen, Anthony Perkins, Elvis and Gregory Peck. I miss her modern day cinematic contributions!

Although she is no longer young and luminous, she is no doubt just as, if not more, talented. Come on Hollywood, put Tuesday to work again! She still has legions of fans that would love to see her again on the big screen.

Ryan X said...

one of the greatest talents of the 20th century. what a great woman. thanks for this piece.