Friday, July 13, 2007
The title of this particular post is a bit rhetorical because apparently Tisa Farrow is now a nurse in Vermont, at least according to the IMDB (so maybe the question isn't so rhetorical). Either way, I have been re watching some of Tisa's films as of late and felt inspired to write a little bit on her.
I always thought it must have been hard professionally having Mia Farrow as your sister, as it would be extremely hard for anyone to live in the shadow of someone so iconic and talented. While Tisa never came close to reaching the heights of her famous sister, I think her career has been unjustly neglected and is all but forgotten by most film fans.
Tisa was born in 1951 to John Farrow and Maureen O'Sullivan. She made her film debut at the age of 19 in the pretty well received HOMER. This coming of age drama, featuring an early soundtrack appearance by Led Zeppelin, found Tisa as the female lead and she would receive some strong notices as a talent to watch. Like several of Tisa's earliest roles, I have never been able to track down a copy of HOMER. It remains rather elusive and I hope to someday score a copy as the photographs and posters I have seen from it, as well as things I have read, make it extremely enticing.
Tisa's second film was helmed by none other than the great French director, Rene Clement, and it would find her working with some of cinema's top talent like Jean Louis Trintignant and Aldo Ray. While not among the great works by Clement, AND HOPE TO DIE is a solid entry in his filmography and Tisa is memorable in it although the film ultimately belongs to Tringtignant.
Among the films with Tisa that I most want to see is SOME CALL IT LOVING, a 1973 feature by James B. Harris and co-starring Carol White and Richard Pryor. The descriptions I have read over the years of this film make it sound like some sort of wild tripped out near masterpiece. Whether or not it can live up to my expectations remains to be seen but I would certainly love to find out.
After appearing in a film called ONLY GOD KNOWS in 74, Tisa's next film would be hugely important one to her career as it would mark the first Italian thriller she appeared in. Known by many different titles, with STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM being my favorite, Alberto De Martino's 1976 feature is a film that I saw on a poor quality VHS years ago that has really stuck with me. Martino had just directed the very odd and memorable THE ANTICHRIST when he directed Tisa, along with genre favorite John Saxon, in this splendid little film. Tisa is lovely in this film, but like many Italian thrillers from this period it has unfortunately fallen into obscurity. I keep hoping that No Shame or Code Red might pick it up in the future for a dvd release as I would love to revisit it.
The 1978 tv film THE INITIATION OF SARAH was up next for Tisa and it would feature her in a smaller role working with a large ensemble cast including Shelley Winters and Morgan Brittany. This is one of the easier to locate of Tisa's early roles and is worth a look although it isn't that special. 1978 would also provide Tisa with what would prove to be her greatest role in James Toback's astonishing FINGERS.
FINGERS is one of my favorite films from the seventies and I will be covering it in more detail in the future but I will say for now if there is a role that proves Tisa could have developed into a fine actress, then FINGERS is it. Playing opposite acting heavyweight Harvey Keitel and an intense Jim Brown, Tisa more than holds her own in a strangely effective performance. Tisa would be the first of many actresses that Toback would pull something extraordinary out of, and in her own way she is one of the most devastating parts of what is still Toback's greatest film.
The action flick SEARCH AND DESTROY was up next and that was quickly followed by a tv film on Patty Hearst that would find Tisa playing one of the SLA kidnappers. She would make a quick cameo in Woody Allen's masterpiece, MANHATTAN, and had a bit part in WINTER KILLS before landing what has become her most famous role in late 1979.
Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE (ZOMBI 2) is one of the most legendary Italian gore films in history and it cemented a major cult status for Tisa among Italian Horror fans. Fulci's unofficial follow up to Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD in truth isn't one of the maestro's greatest films. It doesn't have the style or emotional pull of his early work and it isn't as good as the astonishing group of films that he would film in 1980 and 1981, but it is still one of the most infectiously fun Italian films of the period. Tisa is again lovely in the role but she doesn't seem totally engaged with the material. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that FINGERS had more than hinted to the fact that Tisa could have become a really great actress that she doesn't seem totally there in ZOMBIE. I'm not trying to be overly critical as ZOMBIE is a film that I love very much but Tisa seems a bit trapped under Fulci's penetrating camera. I was very disappointed when Tisa wasn't among those interviewed for Shriek Show's exhaustive documentary a few years back, I have always wondered what her thoughts were on Fulci and the Italian Horror genre in general.
ZOMBIE was a huge worldwide success but it probably more than just slightly pigeonholed the talented Farrow.
Tisa would appear in just two more films after ZOMBIE before retiring from the screen entirely. THE LAST HUNTER, just released on American DVD, is a solid and entertaining Antonio Margheriti war film starring Tisa and David Warbeck. While not one of Margheriti's best films by a long shot, the bloody THE LAST HUNTER still works reasonable well and Tisa is just fine in it, as is the always reliable Warbeck.
Tisa Farrow's final film is not only one of her most infamous films, but also one of the most notorious films in Italian Horror history. The Joe D'Amato directed ANTHROPOPHAGUS is a cheaply made but, at times, stylish shocker that manages some truly unforgettable and horrifying moments that have kept it among the most famous of D'Amato's prolific career. Tisa is actually quite good in the film and I think this is her most successful Italian genre performance, even though the film isn't as good as the Martino or Fulci ones. Tisa generates a real palatable fear in the role and the film's final act is undeniably exciting and effective and much credit for it should go to Tisa's performance.
I don't know what made Tisa drop out after ANTHROPOPHAGUS. Perhaps she found that acting wasn't satisfying or maybe she just wasn't happy with the types of films she was being offered. Whatever the reason, I hope that life has given her happiness and that she doesn't regret her brief but memorable film career. It is unfortunate that she never got the chance to build on the promise of FINGERS but I'd rather watch her in the few genre films she made much more than most modern bland mainstream Hollywood actress. There was something very memorable about Tisa Farrow, something very real.