Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Sometime in the past couple of decades, the fact that Mia Farrow is one of our finest actors got lost. It happens to a lot of our greatest actors, what we think we know of their personal lives start to cloud the way we view their performances. It is a shame really because when one steps back and looks at the forty year plus career of Farrow, you see a body of work that is simply astonishing in its range, intelligence and power. This is a tribute to Mia Farrow the actress.
Mia made her acting debut at the age of fourteen in her father's 1959 production JOHN PAUL JONES. It was just a bit part though and few took note of it at the time. That would change five years later when Farrow would appear in the hugely popular television show PEYTON PLACE. While this didn't make Farrow a star, her lovely face and natural style immediately put her in the mind of anyone who saw her on the show.
A handful of roles on television and in film would follow for Mia, but no one could have predicted that a 1968 film by a relatively unknown Polish director would instantaneously catapult her into the spotlight as one of the most talked about and admired actresses of the sixties.
What can you say about Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY? There are very few performances in the horror genre that even come close to the magnificent turn she gives as Rosemary Woodhouse. Polanski found in Farrow the perfect actress for his most popular film even though she wasn't the first choice. Farrow, like Faye Dunaway and a handful of others, owes much of her career to Tuesday Weld as ROSEMARY'S BABY was one of many high profile roles the combative actress turned down in this period. As much as I idolize Weld, Mia Farrow was made for Rosemary Woodhouse and her soft gamine looks, cropped hair and inventive acting style made her an instant icon and a world renowned star seemingly overnight.
The years following ROSEMARY'S BABY were prolific ones for Farrow even though none of her immediate follow up roles matched her work for Polanski. In this period she would manage to give several memorable performances in Joseph Losey's SECRET CEREMONY (1968), stealing the film from Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Yates JOHN AND MARY (1969), opposite Dustin Hoffman, and Richard Fleischer's 1971 thriller SEE NO EVIL.
While none of these films really captured the public attention, Farrow seemed to remain untouchable and her position as one of the country's biggest stars maintained itself. More roles would follow before Farrow would land one of her best parts in Claude Chabrol's memorable DOCTEUR POPAUL (1972). The film, released as HIGH HEELS in the States, is one of Chabrol's most underrated and Farrow is just great in it. The film, outside of giving her a chance to work with one of France's greatest directors, would also allow her to share scenes with both Jean-Paul Belmondo and the exquisite Laura Antonelli (at the height of her beauty and power here).
Mia would score big time next with the much talked about Fitzgerald adaptation THE GREAT GATSBY (1974). While the merits of Jack Clayton's film have been questioned there is no doubt that the coupling of Mia Farrow and Robert Redford wasn't a inspired one. The two are simply astonishing to look at in this film and Farrow brings a real humanity to Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan. The film turned out to be Farrow's biggest hit since the Polanski picture and it re-established her as a major box office draw.
Mia would drop mostly out of view in the couple of years following THE GREAT GATSBY but she would return in 1977 with a performance of unnerving power and intensity, a performance that rivaled her turn in ROSEMARY'S BABY as her finest.
FULL CIRCLE (THE HAUNTING OF JULIA) is unthinkable without Farrow. As the title character, who in the first scene watches her only child choke to death, Mia gives a complicated and fearless performance that is among my all time favorites. Looking just like she did as Rosemary Woodhouse ten years earlier, Farrow's Julia is an ambiguous and haunting creation that even after probably a dozen viewings never fails to move me or make me question what I am seeing. It is one of the great performances of the seventies and, along with ROSEMARY'S BABY and the later HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, is Farrow's finest moment.
FULL CIRCLE seemed to disappear before it even properly arrived and Farrow's moving performance was seen by a very select few. Her follow up films included Robert Altman's interesting THE WEDDING (1979) and the big budget disaster flicks AVALANCHE (1978) and HURRICANE (1979). After these roles Mia dropped out again for a few years and would resurface surprisingly in 1982 as the muse and lead actress to one of America's finest writers and directors.
So much bad blood and gossip has been passed around about Mia Farrow and Woody Allen that it has clouded the fact that for more than a decade these two delivered some of the finest work of either of their careers. Farrow worked almost exclusively for Allen between the years 1982-1992 and in that ten year stretch she delivered quality performance after performance that would cement her status as one of America's most diverse and finest actresses.
With the Woody Allen films, Farrow's icy Julia and Rosemary persona's disappeared and in their place came a warm and funny woman who exuded intelligence and style. The best of her work with Allen, 1985's THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and the monumental features HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) and CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989), are Woody Allen and Mia Farrow at their finest. How the Academy ignored Mia in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS is particularly beyond me, as it is harder to think of a more heartfelt and enduring performance from American cinema in the mid eighties.
The searing HUSBANDS AND WIVES in 1992 would mark the end of Mia Farrow's incredible professional collaboration with Woody Allen and she has only worked sporadically since. While she hasn't done anything in the past decade to equal her finest work, that is more of the fault of the films and not Mia Farrow. She remains one of the most talented and beautiful people on the planet and is still capable of turning in some of the freshest and most inventive work imaginable. Just look at the recent OMEN remake, a film that was notable for two things; its pointlessness and Farrow's scene stealing and powerful turn as Mrs. Baylock.
Mia Farrow is currently working on one of her most exciting projects in years, the upcoming film from ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND director Michel Gondry, BE KIND REWIND. The film is due out this January and one hopes that Gondry has given Farrow a role worthy of her considerable talents.
Two essential stops for Mia Farrow fans are located at: