Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Cinema's Great Faces: Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg's Rabid
Some films and performances just stick with you. I can still remember very clearly the first time I saw Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg's Rabid (1976). It was the mid-nineties, and I was in my early-twenties living in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a rainy afternoon and I had stopped off at a video store after some classes to take advantage of the three films for three dollars day. Cronenberg was already one of my favorite directors, but Rabid had alluded me as I had never been able to track down a copy. Luckily this store had one, and I remember it was in one of those big oversized clam-shell cases that were so popular in the early days of home video. For some reason that day has stuck with me. I can still see and hear the rain hitting against my windshield as I took a shortcut back to my apartment, and I remember there was a wonderful crisp chill in the air, even though it was in the late part of the spring.
Rabid really floored me in that first viewing. Something about Cronenberg's images and Chamber's face combined with the steady rain, which had turned into a downpour outside my apartment, went together incredibly well. I recall that I was enjoying the film so much that I was paranoid during the second half that my power would go out, as the rain turned into a thunderstorm outside, but thankfully it didn't and I was able to finish the film. After watching the film and being overcome by that feeling only a great horror film can give you, I stepped outside on my terrace to see the storm had broken and there was a lovely orange glow on the horizon, as the day gave way to night. It was a wonderful afternoon that will remain in my memories as long as I have them.
There will no doubt be a lot of snide remarks written and made about Marilyn Chambers in the upcoming days and weeks. That's to be expected from a culture that loves to judge and tear down its icons, and Marilyn Chambers was indeed for a period in the seventies one of America's great icons. She was a sweet-faced and all knowing personality whose mere presence seemed revolutionary, but America pushed it into glossy boxes in dimly lit back rooms that supposedly no respectable person ever visits but, like a lot in our culture, we know that's a lie.
I've always thought there was something fascinating about Marilyn Chambers. For many she will remain just infamous, but for me she's eternally captivating. Her work in Rabid alone will always remain special to me. It's the kind of wonderfully naive and fresh performances that a more 'accomplished' actor could never even hope to give. The fact that it should have led to more 'legitimate' work for Chambers is unquestionable but honestly, no matter which path she chose to travel in her life, Marilyn Chambers was always legitimate.
I am very saddened to hear of Marilyn Chambers passing, and feel especially bad for her daughter. I regret so much now that I missed an opportunity to meet Marilyn last year at the Cinema Wasteland convention. I would have told her how much I admired her work in Rabid, and how I considered it one of the great silent screen performances in the sound era. I've often wondered if she ever came across the piece I wrote on her in the film, as I know it is one of the more popular I have posted here. I'll never know, but I will continue to wonder.
Here is a tribute in stills to Marilyn's wonderfully expressive work in Rabid. I will also be posting further tributes throughout the week at my seventies blog, Harry Moseby Confidential (where ironically I added a template pic and wallpaper of Marilyn over the weekend), as Marilyn Chambers was the seventies personified.
Some nice tributes to Marilyn have been written by Susie Bright, James Hansen and Glenn Kenny.