Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Among my favorite moments in any Dario Argento film is the climax of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET where we see the intense Mimsy Farmer blow her top and then literally lose it. It's a moment that could have easily been made ridiculous in the hands of a lesser actor but Farmer handles it beautifully, giving us one of the great freak out moments in all of Italian horror and one of her most iconic moments in a pretty remarkable career.
Farmer was born in Chicago in February of 45 and made her debut as an actress in an episode of THE DONNA REED SHOW. Her first major role came at the age of sixteen Earl Hamner's SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN opposite Henry Fonda among others. The young Farmer already felt unique and delivered a very assured debut feature film performance as Claris.
Several years of tv work followed, as well as a part in the Ann-Margret vehicle BUS RILEY'S BACK IN TOWN, before Farmer appeared in a handful of biker and hot rod films. HOT RODS TO HELL, RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, DEVIL'S ANGELS and THE WILD RACERS are all fun late sixties American exploitation flicks but it was Barbet Schroeder's powerful MORE that would really put Farmer on the map.
MORE is an uncommonly good 'drug' film that still feels unique and fresh today. Backed by an early Pink Floyd soundtrack MORE manages to be to pull off the tricky feat of being honest but not judgemental or condemning of its drug addicted main characters. Farmer's Estelle is a fascinating role and it is with a mixture of revulsion and sympathy as we watch her disintegrate through the film's intense two hour running time. Farmer mentioned in the Palmerini and Mistretta book SPAGHETTI NIGHTMARES that she was so good as the junkie Estelle that many people figured she was one in real life.
Farmer was credited as co-dialogue writer on MORE and the film signaled a new chapter in her career as she stayed on in Europe for much of the Seventies and Eighties. A role in STROGOFF opposite the always great John Phillip Law followed as did a role opposite Rita Hayworth in ROAD TO SALINA.
Dario Argento had remembered Farmer's intense work in MORE and in 1971 cast her as Nina in his final 'Animal trilogy Giallo' FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. This hardest to see of all Argento's films features much of his trademark camera work and an incredible Morricone score but is Farmer who steals it. The aforementioned freak out and her death scene remain incredibly vivid in Argento's canon. Farmer fondly remembers Argento and the film in SPAGHETTI NIGHTMARES and it is a shame that the two didn't work together again, although apparently he did offer her a role in a later film that she turned down.
Farmer would continue working in Italy, often in International co-productions like the Alain Delon crime flick TWO MEN IN TOWN and 1974's THE SUSPECTS.
1974 would give Farmer possibly her greatest role in Francesco Barilli's strange and completely compelling PERFUME OF A LADY IN BLACK. This overwhelming and frankly brilliant Italian thriller is among the best of the seventies with Farmer delivering a vulnerable, moving and finally unhinged performance. It is among the great performances in genre cinema and this still unreleased, in the United States, film deserves a much wider audience. Highly recommended is Raro's imported special edition dvd of the film that can be purchased from the great Xploited cinema site.
After her extraordinary work in PERFUME OF A LADY IN BLACK, Farmer's career should have really taken off which makes it all the more unfortunate that it was her last truly great role. Some would argue that her work in Armando Crispino's AUTOPSY is among her finest, but it seems to me to be a let down after PERFUME.
The rest of Farmer's career is mostly made up of smaller supporting roles in some fine films, Ferreri's BYE BYE MONKEY and Campanile's GIRL FROM TRIESTE, and some poor ones.
She had larger roles in Deodato's CONCORDE AFFAIR 79 and Fulci's BLACK CAT but she didn't seem fully engaged anymore. One has to wonder if she simply recognized that the roles she was being offered didn't measure up to her talent, so she just didn't give as much as she had in the past. She said of her role in THE BLACK CAT that she, "was a little lazy and lacked motivation" but admitted to liking Fulci.
Farmer made her final acting appearance in an Italian tv movie in 1991. She currently resides in France. She would say of her career in SPAGHETTI NIGHTMARES, "I wish I were offered more intelligent and complex parts; on other hand, I don't exactly feel frustrated because, after all, what I have achieved isn't so bad." In a career featuring work as powerful as her performances in MORE, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, and PERFUME OF A LADY IN BLACK, I couldn't agree more. Not bad at all Mimsy.