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Alex Carnevale

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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which Here Is A Director We Would Like To Work With


One of Italy's finest directors and an accomplished actor in his own right, Vittorio De Sica did come to America to work in Hollywood in the 1950s, when he took money from Howard Hughes. (He fumed in a hotel while Hughes gave him no work.) De Sica was much happier in his homeland of Italy, where he fiercely prized his independence, making films of classical beauty on infinitesimal budgets. Even his worst projects possess an incontrovertible liveliness that makes them worthwhile. A few years before his death, the American biographer Charles Thomas Samuels completed De Sica's best interview.

CHARLES THOMAS SAMUELS: Signor De Sica, how did you meet Zavattini and what made you decide to collaborate with him?

VITTORIO DE SICA: I met him when I had decided to film a novel by Cesare Giulio Viola, called Prico. A short time before that, I had met Zavattini in Milan and thought, "Here is a writer I would like to work with." I admired his style, which had just then been revealed in his novel They're Talking So Much About Me. The film we made together, The Children Are Watching Us, had a great success because of the poetry and melancholy of a marriage failing before the witness of a child, who learns that adults make mistakes, who is forced to suffer his mother's adultery and his father's suicide. But when it came out, we were in the middle of our Fascist period, that absurd little Italian republic of ours, and I was asked to go to Venice to lead the Fascist film school. I refused, so my unfortunate little film came out without the name of its author.

CTS: Your collaboration with Zavattini seems to me the most fruitful partnership between director and writer in film history. Has it been completely untroubled?

VDS: Sometimes producers, after discussing a project with Zavattini and me, have turned to other writers, thus disturbing our rapport. But in these so-called betrayals, I was never at fault. Unfortunately, our producers often make films with American backing, so sometimes they say they want an Anglo-Saxon flavor and hire an English-speaking writer. But I stoutly maintain that a good film must reflect the country of its origin. A French film must be truly French, a Yugoslav film truly Slavic, etc. When one starts making these Italo-English, Italo-American films, he bound to fail.

CTS: Would you go so far as to disown those films you made outside of Italy, such as A Young World?

VDS: Not A Young World, because that film deals with an international problem which is still being talked about. When we decided to make it, a million women a year were dying in France because of abortions. The film was a defense of the birth control pill, and it argued that abortion should be a recognized fact, dealt with efficiently and not hidden. At this very moment, there is a scandal in France because of all those prominent women who declared they had abortions in order to oppose the law against it. Look at all the trouble their sincerity has brought them!

CTS: Signor De Sica, you are one of the most famous of neorealists. What does neorealism mean to you?

VDS: I recently discussed this question with a British journalist. You know, people think about neorealism means exterior shooting, but they are wrong. Most films today are made in a realistic style, but they are actually opposed to neorealism, to that revolution in cinematic language which we started and which they think to follow. Because neorealism is not about shooting films in authentic locales; it is not reality. It is reality filtered through poetry, reality transfigured. It is not Zola, not naturalism, verism, things which are ugly.

CTS: By poetry, don't you mean scenes like the one in The Bicycle Thief, where the father takes his son to the trattoria in order to cheer the boy up only to be overcome with the weight of his problems?

VDS: Ah, that is one of the few light scenes in the film.

CTS: But sad at the same time.

VDS: Yes, that is what I mean by poetry.

CTS: Was that scene improvised?

VDS: It was written in advance, but of course, during the moment of filming, gestures are produced by the actors that reflect their dreams and taste. I knew there must be some shift in the scene to show the change in the father's heart, and I directed toward that end.

CTS: You say that neorealism is realism filtered through poetry; nonetheless, it is harsh because you forced your compatriots right after the war to confront experiences they had just suffered through. Didn't they resist?

VDS: Neorealism was born after a total loss of liberty, not only personal, but artistic and politics. It was a means of rebelling against the stifling dictatorship that had humiliated Italy. When we lost the war, we discovered our ruined morality. The first film that placed a very tiny stone in the reconstruction of our former dignity was Shoeshine.

CTS: Usually, audiences resist such reconstruction.

VDS: In fact, Shoeshine failed. It is easy to see why. After the war, Italians were hungry for foreign films. They flocked first to American, then Russian movies, but both proved a great disillusionment. Slowly, bit by bit, the public came back to their own. Rossellini, Zavattini, and I came out too early. Many films that were shown then would have had a greater success if they were new today.

CTS: Do you know the films of Olmi?

VDS: Of course.

CTS: What do you think of them?

VDS: I like them very much. He is a very delicate director. He doesn't try to epater le bourgeois, he says what he thinks in his own way: simple, modest, humble.

CTS: I'd like to know what you think of his contemporaries. Bellocchio?

VDS: I don't like him. He is too propagandistic and presumptuous.

CTS: Pasolini?

VDS: He is good, particularly in his Roman films, like Accattone, but I also admire his Oedipus Rex.

CTS: Don't you find his theme banal?

VDS: Perhaps Pasolini is a bit too literary, too educated. It's been said that Shakespeare is better played by ignorant than by overly cultivated actors. Pasolini imposes his immense cultivation on his work, he could probably use more freedom, greater simplicity.

CTS: I find that Godard has badly influence most of these directors.

VDS: Godard is a master, a totally personal artist, but the inventor of the New Wave. He creater followers, imitators, and imitation is always deplorable.

CTS: What about his most important Italian imitator, Bertolucci?

VDS: No. Bertolucci is our best young director. I liked him from the first, when showed La commare secca to me. He is a young man with a new vision of cinema.

CTS: How do you compare his Conformist with your Garden of the Finzi-Continis?

VDS: They are totally different.

CTS: They have similar subjects and the same leading lady.

VDS: Okay, but Sanda is not very good in his film. Still, the picture is very beautiful, except for a certain willful and eccentric aetheticism. For example, when the father's madhouse is made to look like the Roman Senate, I find the effect too recherche, too painterly. Bertolucci admits he followed Magritte. Another young director I like is Carmelo Bene, unlike all the others, he has a sense of humor. And he doesn't make propaganda, which to me isn't art.

CTS: How do you feel the younger critics treat you? For example, the Cahiers du cinema group.

VDS: They have never liked my films, and they are welcome to their opinion. I am never affected by critics I don't esteem. I go my own way, mistaken or not. I trust my conscience and my sensibility. On the other hand, I have listened to those critics who said that De Sica made no important films since Umberto D., and how, fortunately, feel there has been a revival with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. They are right, because I made too many films dependent on the will of American financiers. For example, I made a film with Sophia Loren, which earned her an Oscar. I made films that are too industrial, not as deeply felt as Umberto D. When I offered that film to Rizzoli, he said, "Why do you want to make Umberto D.? Why don't you make Don Camillo? I will give you a hundred million lire, half of the grosses." But I was full of noble intentions then; I didn't make Don Camillo, I made Umberto D, The Bicycle Thief and Shoeshine myself, and I became dependent on producers who wanted me to make films I won't say that I didn't believe in, but that I would rather not have made.

CTS: Are you nostalgic for the earlier days?

VDS: Very. Umberto D. was made absolutely without compromise, without concessions to spectacle, the public, the box office.

CTS: What about Brief Encounter? Your rule doesn't hold up.

VDS: Yes, Brief Encounter is beautiful.

CTS: Even allowing for the ill-suited subject, why did you smother it in such beautiful scenery and chic costuming? It seems to me a film about Faye Dunaway's wardrobe.

VDS: Faye Dunaway brought her personal dressmaker with her. That's the way with all actresses!

CTS: Such a film gives ammunition to those who use your later works to dismiss your entire career.

VDS: It was a mistake. Like all artists I make mistakes.

CTS: How do you direct nonprofessionals?

VDS: I explain and explain, and I am very convincing. I seem to have a special gift for making myself understood by actors. Either I play the part or I explain it, slowly, patiently, with a smile on my face and never any anger.

CTS: Do you have many takes?

VDS: No.

CTS: If it isn't right?

VDS: If it isn't right, I sometimes repeat, but usually I keep what I have shot. But I rehearse and rehearse and rehearse.

CTS: Is it difficult for you to act for others, as, for example, in General Della Rovere?

VDS: That was my best role because the film was made by a director I esteem.

CTS: You are also very good acting for yourself, especially in The Gold of Naples.

VDS: That was painful. I couldn't see myself and kept asking the cameramen and mechanics, 'Do you believe me? How am I doing?" A line of dialogue can be said a thousand ways; you need someone behind the camera to tell you which is the right one.

CTS: You have the rushes.

VDS: Yes, but in Italy there is never enough money. Producers always tell you that once a thing is shot it must remain that way.

CTS: You've worked in color and black and white. Which do you prefer?

VDS: Black and white, because reality is black and white.

CTS: That's not true.

VDS: Color is distracting. When you see a beautiful landscape in a color film, you forget the story. Americans use color for musicals. All my best films were made in black and white.

CTS: What do you think of the color experiments of Antonioni?

VDS: He is an aesthete. He takes red apples and paints them white.

CTS: Most critics today maintain that the true film artist writes what he directs.

VDS: That's not true. Directing is completely different from writing; it is the creation of life. If Bicycle Thief had been directed by someone else, it would have been good, but different from the film I made.

CTS: Does this mean that you think dialogue less important than images?

VDS: Images are the only important things. Let me give you another example of what I mean. Five films have been made of The Brothers Karamazov, all bad. Only one came close to Dostoyevsky: the version by Fedor Ozep. That's how the director is an author. In all these films the same story was used, but only one of them was any good.

CTS: You have often said that you greatly value Rene Clar and Charlie Chaplin. How have they influenced you?

VDS: In no way.

CTS: Not even in Miracle in Milan?

VDS: No, that is a wholly personal film. I detest imitations. In fact, I sometimes don't go to see a certain film for fear I'll want to imitate it.

CTS: How does your success affect you?

VDS: Success has never made me drunk. I have never told myself one of my films is wonderful; I have always thought I could have done better. I always want to improve. When I have done something badly, I recognize it. When I do something well, I want to do better.




In Which We Examine The Base From Which He Took Flight

Do They Stare Back?

Shallowness that asks to be taken seriously is an embarrassment.

Reading the reviews of Pauline Kael is rewarding because of her descriptions of actresses and actors. Beyond taking them to task for their mere talent, she was able to describe the effect they had on people through their continuing cinematic presence. Kael properly deduced that a huge part of going to the movies consisted of how the audience responded to the people on the screen, rather than simply basing her critique on the competence of the writing or the technical aspects of the cinematography. Her sentences in her radio and print reviews about the onscreen talent of the twentieth century rise to the level of expert observation of humanity in all its manifold variety.

Ava Gardner

Gardner was one of the last of the women stars to make it on beauty alone. She never looked really happy in her movies; she wasn't quite there, but she never suggested that she was anywhere else, either. She had a dreamy, hurt quality, a generously modeled mouth, and faraway eyes. Maybe what turned people on was that her sensuality was developed but her personality wasn't. She was a rootless, beautiful stray, somehow incomplete but never ordinary, and just about impossible to dislike, since she was utterly without affectation. But to Universal she is just one more old star to beef up a picture's star power, and so she's cast as a tiresome bitch whose husband is fed up with her.

She looks blowzy and beat-out, and that could be fun if she were allowed to be blowzily good-natured, but the script here harks back to those old movies in which a husband was justified in leaving his wife only is she was a jealous schemer who made his life hell. Ava Gardner might make a man's life hell out of indolence and spiritual absenteeism, but out of shrill stupidity?

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood isn't offensive; he isn't an actor, so one could hardly call him a bad actor. He'd have to do something before we could consider him bad at it. Acting might get in the way of what the movie is about what a big man and a big gun can do. Eastwood's wooden impassivity makes it possible for the brutality in his pictures to be ordinary, a matter of routine. he may try to save a buddy from getting killed, but when the buddy gets hit no time is wasted on grief; Eastwood couldn't express grief any more than he could express tenderness. With a Clint Eastwood, the action film can indeed, must drop the pretense that human life has any value. At the same time, Eastwood's lack of reaction makes the whole show of killing seem so unreal that the viewer takes it on a different level from a movie in which the hero responds to suffering.

Woody Allen

Allen appears before us as the battered adolescent, scarred forever, a little too nice and much too threatened to allow himself to be aggressive. He has the city-wise effrontery of a shrimp who began by using language to protect himself and then discovered that language has a life of its own. the running way between the tame and surreal between Woody Allen the frightened nice guy trying to keep the peace and Woody Allen the wiseacre whose subversive fantasies keep jumping out of his mouth has been the source of the comedy in his films. Messy, tasteless, and crazily uneven (as the best talking comedies have often been) the last two pictures he directed Bananas and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex had wild highs that suggested an erratic comic genius. The tension between his insecurity and his wit make us empathize with him; we, too, are scared to show how smart we feel.

And he has found a nonaggressive way of dealing with urban pressures. He stays nice; he's not insulting, like most New York comedians, and he delivers his zingers without turning into a cynic. We enjoy his show of defenselessness, and even the I don't-mean-any-harm ploy, because we see the essential sanity in him. We respect that sanity it's the base from which he takes flight. At his top, in parts of Bananas and Sex, the inexplicably funny took over; it might be grotesque, it almost always had the flippant, corny bawdiness of a frustrated sophomore running amok, but it seemed to burst out as the most inspired comedy does as if we had all been repressing it. We laughed as if he had let out what we couldn't hold in any longer.

Isabelle Adjani

Only nineteen when the film was shot, Isabelle Adjani is much younger than the woman's she's playing. She hardly seems to be doing anything, yet you can't take your eyes off her. You can perceive why Truffaut has said that he wouldn't have amde this "musical composition for one instrument" without Isabelle Adjani. She has a quality similar to Jean-Pierre Leaud's in The 400 Blows not a physical resemblance but a similar psychological quality. The awareness and intelligence are there, but nothing else is definite yet; the inner life has not yet taken outer form, and so in the movie you see the downy opacity of a face in process, a character taking shape. We keep staring at Adele to see what the face means.

Isabelle Adjani has been a professional actress since she was fourteen without tightening; one French directors says that she's James Dean come back as a girl. Considering how young she is, her performance here is scarily smart. She knows how to alert us to what Adele conceals; she's unnaturally quiet and passive, her blue eyes shining too bright in a pale flower face. Truffaut had the instinct not to age her with makeup in the course of the film; we can see that years are passing, but the tokens of time are no more than reddened eyes, a pair of glasses, tangled hair, a torn, bedraggled gown.

Robert De Niro

De Niro amply convinces one that he has it in him to become the old man that Brando was. It's not that he looks exactly like Brando but that he has Brando's wary soul, and so we can easily imagine the body changing with the years. It is much like seeing a photograph of one's own dead father when he was a strapping young man; the burning spirit we see in his face spooks us, because of our knowledge of what he was at the end.

In De Niro's case, the young man's face is fired by a secret pride. His gesture as he refuses the gift of a box of groceries is beautifully expressive and has the added wonder of suggesting Brando, and not from the outside but from the inside. Even the soft, cracked Brando-like voice seems to come from the inside. When De Niro closes his eyes to blot out something insupportable, the reflex is like a presentiment of the old man's reflexes. There is such a continuity of soul between the child on the ship, De Niro's slight, ironic smile as a cowardly landlord tries to appease him, and Brando, the old man who died happy in the sun, that although Vito is a subsidiary character in terms of actual time on the screen, this second film, like the first, is imbued with his presence.

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda having sex on the wilted feathers and rough, scroungy furs of Barbarella is more charming and fresh and bouncy than ever the American girl triumphing by her innocence over a lewd comic-strip world of the future. She's the only comedienne I can think of who is sexiest when she is funniest. (Shirley MacLaine is a sweet and sexy funny girl, but she has never quite combined her gifts as Jane Fonda does.) Jane Fonda is accomplished at a distinctive kind of double take: she registers comic disbelief that such naughty things can be happening to her, and then her disbelief changes into an even more comic delight.

Dirk Bogarde

As the philosophy-don husband, Dirk Bogarde is just about perfect: he acts like a man who's had a spinal tap. He's a virtuoso at this civilized, stifled anguish racket, better even than Ralph Richardson used to be at suppressed emotion because he's so much more ambiguous that we can't even be sure what he's suppressing. He aches all the time all over, like an all-purpose sufferer for a television commercial locked in, with a claustrophobia of his own body and sensibility.

Bogarde looks rather marvelous going through his middle-aged frustration routines, gripping his jaw to stop a stutter or folding in his arms to keep his hands out of trouble. The Ralph Richardson civilized sufferer was trying to spare others pain, but Bogarde isn't noble: he goes through the decent motions because of training and because of an image of himself, but he's exquisitely guilty in thought a mouse with the soul of a rat. He compulsively tells little half lies that he attempts to make true and hesitates before each bit of truth he calculatingly parts with.

Isabella Rossellini

Rossellini doesn't show anything like the acting technique that her mother, Ingrid Bergman, had, but she's willing to try things, and she doesn't hold back. Dorothy is a dream of a freak. Walking around her depressing apartment in her black bra and panties, with blue eyeshadow and red high heels, she's a woman in distress right out of the pulps; she has plushy, tempestuous look of heroines who are described as "bewitching." (She has the kind of nostrils that cover artists can represent accurately with two dots.)

Rossellini's accent is useful: it's part of Dorothy's strangeness. And Rossellini's echoes of her mother's low voice help to place this kitschy seductress in an unreal world. She has a special physical quality, too. There's nothing of the modern American woman about her. When she's naked, she's not protected, like the stars who are pummelled into shape and lighted to show their muscular perfection. She's defenselessly, tactilely naked, like the nudes the Expressionists painted.

Once, in Berkeley, after a lecture by LeRoi Jones, as the audience got up to leave, I asked an elderly white couple next to me how they could applaud when Jones said that all whites should be killed. And the little gray-haired woman replied, "But that was just a metaphor. He's a wonderful speaker."

Her mixture of wide-eyed wonder and cuddly drugged sexiness seemed to get to just about every male; she turned on even homosexual men. And women couldn't take her seriously enough to be indignant; she was funny and impulsive in a way that made people feel protective. She was a little knocked out; her face looked as if, when nobody was paying attention to her, it would go utterly slack — as if she died between wolf calls.

She seemed to have become a camp siren out of confusion and ineptitude; her comedy was self-satire, and apologetic — conscious parody that had begun unconsciously. She was not the first sex goddess with a trace of somnabulism; Garbo was often a litte out-of-it, Dietrich was numb most of time, and Hedy Lamarr was fairly zonked. But they were exotic and had accents, so maybe audiences didn't wonder why they were in a daze; Monroe's slow reaction time made her seem daffy, and she tricked it up into a comedy style. The mystique of Monroe — which accounts for the book Marilyn — is that she became spiritual as she fell apart. But as an actress she had no way of expressing what was deeper in her except in moodiness and weakness. When she was "sensitive" she was drab.

Paul Newman

Somehow it all reminds one of the old apocryphal story conference — "It's a modern western, see, with this hell-raising, pleasure-loving man who doesn't respect any of the virtues, and, at the end, we'll fool them, he doesn't get the girl and he doesn't change!"

"But who'll want to see that?"

"Oh, that's all fixed — we've got Paul Newman for the part."

They could cast him as a mean man and know that the audience would never believe in his meanness. For there are certain actors who have such extraordinary audience rapport that the audience does not believe in their villainy except to relish in it, as with Brando; and there are others, like Newman, who in addition to this rapport, project such a traditional heroic frankness and sweetness that the audience dotes on them, seeks to protect them from harm or pain. Casting Newman as a mean materialist is like writing a manifesto against the banking system while juggling your investments so you can break the bank.

Barbra Streisand

As Streisand's pictures multiply, it becomes apparent that she is not about to master an actress's craft but, rather, is discovering a craft of her own, out of the timing and emotionality that make her a phenomenon as a singer. You admire her not for her acting — or singing — but for herself, which is what you feel she gives you in both. She has the class to be herself, and the impudent music of her speaking voice is proof that she knows it. The audacity of her self-creation is something we've had time to adjust to; we already knew her mettle, and the dramatic urgency she can bring to roles.

In Up the Sandbox, she shows a much deeper and warmer presence and a freely yielding quality. And a skittering good humor — as if, at last, she had come to accept her triumph, to believe in it. That faint weasellike look of apprehensiveness is gone — and that was what made her seem a little frightening. She is a great undeveloped actress — undeveloped in the sense that you feel the natural richness in her but can see that she's idiocsyncratic and that she hasn't the training to play the classical roles that still define how an actress's greatness is expressed. But in movies new ways may be found.

Warren Beatty

There is a story told against Beatty in a recent Esquire — how during the shooting of Lilith he "delayed a scene for three days demanding the line 'I've read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov' be changed to 'I've read Crime and Punishment and half of The Brothers Karamazov.'" Considerations of professional conduct aside, what is odd is why his adversaries waited three days to give in, because, of course, he was right. That's what the character he played should say; the other way, the line has no point at all. But this kind of intuition isn't enough to make an actor, and in a number of roles Beatty, probably because he doesn't have the technique to make the most of his lines in the least possible time, has depended too much on intuitive non-acting — holding the screen far too long as he acted out self-preoccupied characters in a lifelike, boringly self-conscious way...

The role of Clyde Barrow seems to have released something in him. As Clyde, Beatty is good with his eyes and mouth and his hat, but his body is still inexpressive; he doesn't have a trained actor's use of his body, and, watching him move, one is never for a minute convinced he's impotent.

Cary Grant

Cary Grant is the male love object. Men want to be as lucky and enviable as he is — they want to be like him. And women imagine landing him. Like Robert Redford, he's sexiest in pictures in which the woman is the aggressor and all the film's erotic energy is concentrated on him, a sit was in Notorious: Ingrid Bergman practically ravished him while he was trying to conduct a phone conversation...

Many men must have wanted to be Clark Gable and look straight at a woman with a faint smirk and lifted, questioning eyebrows. What man doesn't — at some level — want to feel supremely confident and earthy and irresistible? But a few steps up the dreamy social ladder there's the more subtle fantasy of worldly grace — of being so gallant and gentlemanly and charming that every woman longs to be your date. And at that deluxe level men want to be Cary Grant. Men as far apart as John F. Kennedy and Lucky Luciano thought that he should star in their life story. Who but Cary Grant could be a fantasy self-image for a president and a gangster chief? Who else could demonstrate that sophistication didn't have to be a sign of weakness — that it could be the polished, fun-loving style of those who were basically tough? Cary Grant has said that even he wanted to be Cary Grant.

Katharine Hepburn

There were occasions in the past when Hepburn had poor roles and was tremulous and affected — almost a caricature of quivering sensitivity. But at her best — in the archetypal Hepburn role as the tomboy Linda in Holiday, in 1938 — her wit and nonconformity made ordinary heroines seem mushy, and her angular beauty made the round-faced ingénues look piggy and stupid. She was hard where they were soft — in both head and body. (As Spencer Tracy said, in the Brooklyn accent he used in Pat and Mike, "There's not much meat on her, but what's there is cherce." Other actresses could be weak and helpless, but Davis and Hepburn had too much vitality.

Unlike Davis, Hepburn was limited to mandarin roles, although some of her finest performances were as poor girls who were mandarins by nature, as in Little Women and Alice Adams, rather than by birth or wealth, as in Bringing Up Baby and in the movie that the public liked her best in, The Philadelphia Story (even if her dedicated admirers, including me, tended to be less wild about it). Hepburn has always been inconceivable as a coarse-minded character; her bones are too fine, her diction is too crisp, she wears clothes too elegantly. And she has always been too individualistic, too singular, for common emotions. Other actresses who played career girls, like Crawford, could cop out in their roles by getting pregnant, or just by turning emotional — all womanly and ghastly. Hepburn was too hard for that, and so one could go to see her knowing that she wouldn't deteriorate into a conventional heroine that didn't suit her style...

When an actress has been a star for a long time, we know too much about her; for years we have been hearing about her romances or heartbreaks, or whatever the case may be, and all this carries over into her presence on the screen. And if she uses this in a role, she's sunk. When actresses begin to use our knowledge about them and of how young and beautiful they used to be — when they offer themselves up as ruins of their former selves — they may get praise and awards (and they generally do), but it's not really for their acting, it's for capitulating and giving the public what it really wants: a chance to see how the mighty have fallen.

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep just about always seems miscast. (She makes a career out of seeming to overcome being miscast.) In Postcards from the Edge, she's witty and resourceful, yet every expression is eerily off, not quite human. When she sings in a country-and-Western style, she's note-perfect, but it's like a diva singing jazz — you don't believe it. Streep has a genius for mimicry: she's imitating a country-and-Western singer singing. These were my musings to a friend, who put it more simply: "She's an android." Yes, and it's Streep's android quality that gives Postcards whatever interest it has.

This tale of sorrowful, wisecracking starlet whose brassy, boozing former-star mother (Shirley MacLaine) started her on sleeping pills when she was nine is without the zest of camp. It's camp played borderline straight — a druggy-Cinderella movie about an unformed girl who has to go past despair to find herself. The director, Mike Nichols, is a parodist who feigns sincerity, and his tone keeps slipping around. What's clear is that we're meant to adore the daughter, who is wounded by her mother's cheap competitiveness. Nichols wants us to be enthralled by the daughter's radiant face, her refinement, her honesty. He keeps the camera on Streep as if to prove that he can make her a popular big star — a new Crawford or Bette Davis. (She remains distant, emotionally atonal.)


In Which We Refuse To Ask For Any More From You

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.


I have a friend, who I will call Nina, who is intensely jealous of the time I spend with others. Usually I do invite her along if it makes sense, but you can't always invite someone along every time, especially if it's just you and another person and they may not know or like Nina. Nina will make comments like, why didn't I invite her, she always invites me. This is not even true!

I have confronted Nina about this before, but I guess it is an element of her personality I can't change but addressing it directly. I do value Nina for other reasons, and I would like to continue having her as a friend - let's just say there are advantageous reasons to do so and she does have some positive qualities. How can I get her to change her behavior?

Jenette N.

Dear Jenette,

My first suggestion would be to fake cry, but the more that I think about it, the more I think Nina is not the type of person who is affected by vulnerability. If she cared for the feelings of others you both would not be in the position that you are in.

Instead, consider criticizing someone else for the exact behavior that you want Nina to change. If possible, have one of your friends act like Nina so she can see how ridiculous she is being from a third-party perspective.

If this doesn't work, more extreme measures will have to be taken. Consider fulfilling Nina's request, and inviting her to absolutely everything. Soon she will be overwhelmed and no longer need whatever approval she requires from you that you are currently not providing. If possible, get her to pay for things as well.


I have been dating a wonderful woman for six months. I know in my heart that I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I realize that it is probably a bit soon to drop this on her, and I do want to take things slow. On the other hand, I really don't want to anything to get in the way of my goal. How should I approach this?

Brent R. 

Dear Brent,

It seems you are putting a lot of pressure on you and your girlfriend. There are an incredibly large number of clichés that address this issue better than I probably ever could, but suffice it say it would be best if you put this emotion deep inside you, waited for her to express something similar, and reciprocated the feeling. In the meantime, do everything you can to make the relationship good for both of you, and don't lie or mislead her for any reason, even if the reason is small.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording's mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.