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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chloë Redux

In honor of Chloë Sevigny's thirty-sixth birthday, I thought I would dust off this older article I wrote on her, as she remains one of Moon in the Gutter’s most inspiring muses and favorite actors. The original version of this can still be found here for those interested. This is an expanded and updated version I have put together with some different photos…enjoy and Happy Birthday to the remarkable Chloë Sevigny!

Born in Darien, Connecticut in the late fall of 1974 to a strict Catholic family, Chloë Stevens Sevigny probably seemed like an unlikely candidate to blossom into one of the most uncompromising and bravest actors in modern American cinema. Since her searing screen debut in Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) though she has been just that, an intense and potent reminder that the heart of American Independent cinema always has a strong backbone and sincere soul behind it.
Springing from both Polish and French heritage, Sevigny was the youngest of two children in her family’s household. With an interest in the arts and a growing uncompromising streak, Chloë's rather sheltered world began to open up as a teenager when she began to make regular visits to New York City in the late eighties and early nineties. Blossoming into a remarkably striking and beautiful young woman, Sevigny was discovered just past her 18th birthday by a Fashion magazine editor who brought her on as an intern.

After landing her intern position, Sevigny’s world quickly changed and within a year she was modeling on the front of a Gigolo Aunts album, hanging out with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and having odes written to her in the press by Jay Mcinerney. Cinema seemed the natural extension for the exciting young scenester and the moving-art beckoned in 1995 when Sevigny came into the view of controversial photographer and filmmaker Larry Clark, who was planning a new film based on a screenplay by a young writer named Harmony Korine.

It’s a bit hard to describe the impact Kids had on the film world in 1995, but it was a searing one and much of it was due to the devastating performance Chloë Sevigny delivered as Jennie for Clark and Korine. Simultaneously projecting inexperience with world weariness and intensity not possessed by very many actors from her generation, Sevigny’s work in Kids marked her as one of the most important newcomers of the nineties and destroyed doubters who thought Mcinerney’s “It-Girl” would be a quick flash in the pan.

Sevigny followed up Kids with the remarkable Trees Lounge (1996), a knowing and controlled film directed by and starring Steve Buscemi. Again delivering a haunting performance in a smaller role, Sevigny’s work and the film itself continues to be one of the small hidden treasures of American Independent Cinema in the nineties.

Next up for the young actress was the audacious Gummo (1997), the directorial debut film from Korine. Chloë also acted as the costume designer for Gummo, and her place as one of modern fashion’s most discussed figures (she has famously been quoted with the delightful, “Fashion is superficial, but I love it.”) continues to this day. With her new position as the new Indie-Queen solidly in place, Chloë then surprised her fans by accepting a prt in a mainstream studio backed modern noir.
1998’s Palmetto (1998) from director Volker Schlondorff would indeed be Sevigny’s first mainstream work and it would see her working alongside Woody Harrelson and Elisabeth Shue. The cast is particularly good in Palmetto but the modern noir finally suffers from a rather tired script, although Sevigny is unforgettable in the film and easily steals it from both of her more experience co-stars.

After the disappointing Palmetto, Chloë appeared in Whit Stillman’s fascinating The Last Days of Disco(1998) opposite a strong Kate Beckinsale. Despite not finding the success of Stillman’s previous works Metropolitan (1990) and Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco has arguably aged better and is now available as part of The Criterion Collection.

After appearing in Korinne's Julien Donkey Boy, Sevigny would strike gold with her next film, a low budget affair called Boys Don’t Cry (1999) that would become one of the major films of 1999 and would garner her an Academy Award Nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Viewed today, Boys Don’t Cry is quite a haunting work and the pairing of Sevigny and Hilary Swank was an inspired choice by director Kimberly Peirce. It is worth noting that Chloë was originally up for the lead in the film but she opted for the supporting spot, a career line she has bravely followed throughout her career.

After filming Boys Don’t Cry, Sevigny was offered the lead female role in Buffalo 66 (1998), the debut feature film from writer-director-actor Vincent Gallo. Scheduling conflicts didn’t permit it and the plum role went to Christina Ricci, although Gallo and Sevigny’s paths would cross again several years later.

Boys Don’ Cry proved to be a hard film to follow for the now Oscar nominated Sevigny. She had strong roles in Korine’s Julian Donkey Boy (1999) and Mary Harron’s audacious American Psycho (1999) though but she seemed out of place in A Map of the World (1999). Some TV work followed as well as a spot in the Anthology film Ten Minutes Older (2002) before she would return to form in Olivier Assayas’ flawed but still powerful DemonLover (2002) and the ferocious Party Monster (2002) for directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. It was also in this period that Chloë turned down the lead-role in Legally Blonde, as she was happier at this point working in smaller independent productions that strengthened her already considerable acting chops.

After the flurry of films that filled up her resume in the early part of the last decade, 2003 would prove to be the most controversial year in Chloë Sevigny’s career. It would be a year that would see her work with fiercely uncompromising directors like Lars Von Trier and Vincent Gallo, and ridiculously losing her contract at the William Morris Agency.

Von Trier’s masterful and bruising Dogville (2003) opened the year for Sevigny and she more than held her own against award winning performers ranging from Nicole Kidman to Lauren Bacall to Ben Gazzara…not to mention she survived Von Trier and indeed it is the unforgettable Dogville Confessions where we perhaps see Chloë Sevigny at both her most vulnerable and bravest. Exhausted and emotionally drained from filming Dogville, Chloë stepped into the role that would alter her career and re-establish her as the most unpredictable and uncompromising actress of her generation.

Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny (2003) is one of the most individualistic and moving American films of the past thirty years and time will eventually show this. As the very damaged Daisy that haunts Gallo’s main character, Sevigny delivers her most poetic work and it's unfortunate that such a powerful turn was lost in the media frenzy surrounding the film’s climatic oral sex scene. The Brown Bunny remains one of the most distinct American films of the past decade and Chloë Sevigny’s performance as the ghostly Daisy remains one of the most resonate.

Refusing to apologize for The Brown Bunny (she compared it to a Warhol film) and standing by Gallo, Sevigny’s career was tragically put in jeopardy after William Morris did indeed drop her due to the controversy, and a strong turn in the striking and rather brilliant Shattered Glass (2003) got lost amidst the furious reaction. Without an agency backing her, one might have expected Sevigny to fade from view, a fact that has made her last few years all the more inspiring and remarkable.

Quality roles in the fine Woody Allen film Melinda and Melinda (2004) as well as Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005) followed The Brown Bunny as did her turn in the disappointing Dogville follow-up production Manderlay (2005). Chloë continued on and if her remake of Brian De Palma’s Sisters (2006) was a mistake then the same can’t said for David Fincher’s jaw dropping Zodiac (2007), a brilliant and epic piece of work that finds Chloë again delivering another stirring and solid supporting turn amidst some of the other best actors of her generation.

In the past couple of years Chloë Sevigny has maintained a high profile thanks to many striking print ads, her written work in books and magazines and a continuing role on the acclaimed HBO series Big Love, for which she won a well-deserved Golden Globe Award for.

In between seasons for Big Love, Chloë has stayed busy shooting both features and shorts such as The Killing Room and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, a feature that gave her the opportunity to be directed by the legendary Werner Herzog. 2010 has also seen the release of the comedy Barry Munday and Mr. Nice. Chloë next project is The Wait, co-starring Jena Malone.

Unlike many of her ‘indie’ peers who came out of the nineties, Chloë Sevigny has for the most part shied away from mainstream Hollywood. Even studio made films like Palmetto have at the very least had an independent feel. Chloë Sevigny's unwillingness to buckle to the system is beyond refreshing and at times feels downright heroic.

Chloë Sevigny once said that she didn’t want to be a movie-star and that she, “just wanted to do a few good movies and maybe move some people.” A trendsetter in film, in print and in fashion, Chloë Sevigny is one of modern American cinema’s great icons who has more than achieved her goal…long may she continue to reign on the outskirts and fringes.


MPK said...

She's great. And totally foxy.

maja said...

wonderful article. which, btw, reminded me that it's high time for me to watch julien donkey boy. and oh yes, you've gathered some really lovely pictures.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks so much to you both for reading and commenting. It's always nice to hear from other Chloe fans.

Ryan Clark said...

Chloe is one of the best actors of today.

OD said...

Time has proven it: Chloe's got the goods.

Tom W said...

Great article and so many films referenced that I'm yet to see!

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