Friday, May 25, 2012

The Ever Unusual Shelley Duvall

I always enjoy watching Shelley Duvall in anything, whether she's playing the leading lady in a Robert Altman film, or performing as a bit player (who steals her scenes) in an Altman film; delivering a raw, genuinely terrified performance as Wendy Torrance, which was the heart and soul of 'The Shining'; or as Olive Oyl, a role she was essentially 'born to play'. I've also enjoyed her work as the producer, creator and host of her Emmy nominated 'Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theater' children's series. 
In no particular order, I love her in '3 Women' for which she won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 1977; I love her in 'Nashville'; I love her in 'Brewster McCloud'; I love her in 'Bernice Bobs Her Hair'; I love her in 'The Shining' of course. Although I haven't seen some of her later films, it's been said she's the scene-stealer in all of them. She didn't study acting, but her natural pace and expressiveness in her very first film role, in 'Brewster McCloud', is impressive. And from there, she never lost her organic approach.
It always strikes me how there's no one quite like Shelley Duvall acting today. If there was someone like her, she wouldn't be playing the lead in any movies. One reason for that is we don't have Robert Altmans anymore. Robert Altman was someone who altered my perspective on films and filmmaking. I cherish Altman's movies, especially those he made in the 70's. Because of that, I became smitten with Shelley Duvall as an actress, who for some time was his muse. Even in the 70's, Shelley Duvall was not cast in many movies because people weren't quite sure what to do with her. But I have the same confidence in her that Robert Altman must have had, choosing her as his lead in so many films. I believe if she'd been given the chance, she could have been great in any role.
And we don't have Stanley Kubricks now, either. We still have Woody Allen, who did cast her in the 70's in 'Annie Hall'. I'm not sure if Woody Allen would even cast someone like her as a lead in one of his movies today, if there was such a person. We have directors like Christopher Nolan -- would he have cast a person like Shelley Duvall in one of his 'Batman' films? He's the sort of director who might want to, but I'm still not sure he would.
1970's era Shelley Duvall was sometimes beautiful, she was odd-looking, and she was pretty. She was languid with an energy that was at once extremely mellow, yet hyperactive. On camera, her southern drawl and demeanor (being a native Texan) would draw you right in. With her enormous eyes and that pout, she was especially great at playing someone both extremely genuine and extremely naive. There was a charming awkwardness to her beauty, something that would have to be classified today as 'quirky' or 'kooky' –– which would take every element of cool out of who she is and was. If there was someone like Shelley Duvall today, I'd want to see her in bigger films, not only in indie or quirky films. She has always been an interesting actress, but by today's standards, where would the young Shelley Duvall fit? And can you think of anyone today who can compare, with a similar uniqueness? 

Here are some interesting quotes from the lady herself:

When I turned 18, I felt I was grown up. Then when I was 21, I reflected, "Boy, I was just a kid then; now I'm grown up." The same thing happened when I was 27. It wasn't until I was in my early 30s that I realized it was a futile goal to have. You're never grown up. We're all still dealing with the same hopes, same fears, same dreams that we had as children.

God, as a child, I was so embarrassed when the kids would call me "Olive Oyl" because it meant you were skinny as a rail, you had sparrow legs, and an Adam's apple. I mean, who wants to admit she was born to play Olive Oyl?
[On working with Woody Allen on Annie Hall] He wanted "Faster! Faster!" That was my main note from him. He likes the dialogue to be fast and for a Texan, especially one who'd only been to New York a couple of times at that point, it was very difficult.
[On director Robert Altman] Nobody else calls him "Pirate" 'cept me. That's 'cuz I think he's the bravest, toughest, most imaginative man I've ever met.
[On working with Stanley Kubrick] Well, of course, Robert Altman was almost the only director I'd ever worked with. It was time for me to test my own legs. There was a kind of possessiveness about Bob. He put me in so many of his films, but apart from him, I wasn't getting offered a lot of roles - hardly any, for that matter. It was like he was the only one with any confidence in me. So here was my chance to work with Kubrick.
There have been many amazing movies in the last decade or so. I always wonder what Stanley Kubrick would have done if he directed Inception (2010) or Donnie Darko (2001). I enjoyed them both.

13 comments:

  1. A big Shelly Duvall fan (and I do mean it in the dictionary-sense fanatic), I'm thrilled to see you devoted a post to her. Indeed, she was a one-of-a-kind leading lady, perfect for the anti-star iconoclasm of the 70's. Although I would like to think one could find a Shelley Duvall type in today's independent films, the truth is, none come to mind. She was an original. (Loved her in 3 Women!)

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    1. Hi Ken, we really do have similar taste! Thanks for your comment! I have also tried and failed to think of any actress who would be her 'type'. She is that special :)

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  2. Shelley Duvall, to me, is the most beautiful and telented actress in the history of cinema.

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  3. She is rather phenomenal @Anonymous :-D

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    1. We should definetely take recognition to her and ease her mind together. To let her know she is not alone.

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  4. Hello, great article! i must say i was amazed the first time i saw the shining by her unique cuteness and her calm, passive, naive character done perfectly, to me "the shining" is Shelley Duvall, she is the most intriguing actress ive ever seen, her acting made me want to see other films of her ^.^ totally ONE of a kind, and we'll hardly see again someone like her on today's movies.

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    1. Sorry for the delayed reply – I definitely agree! Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Hello, I would like to state my experience with Ms. SHELLEY DUVAL. I am new to Blanco, Texas and had heard many stories about her living here.
    The couple of times that she had come in to my job (without me knowing who she was) I was thrown off by how vocal she was. Strange and funny, but I love people like that so I respected her and her awkwardness.
    The last time she came in, still not knowing who she was, I respected her all through. Then, my boss explained to me who she was. I have now become intrigued by her and can not wait to see her again. To talk of old times and hopefully visit her.
    I hope people notice this comment and see it as enlightening and awakening to the reality in my perspective as to what may be happening with this wonderful human. Someone needs to throw her a party, a party of recognition and respect. People around here love to make fun of her but they are all cowards.
    She will alwaysbe amazing.

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    1. Great story, thanks for sharing it -- and you are so right to care. And you're right that they're cowards. How easy it is for them to mock someone without really understanding. Sorry for the delayed reply!

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  6. I've only just read this blog (I stumbled across it by chance actually) and I couldn't agree more! I first saw Shelley Duvall in 'The Shining' and, to be honest, I found her strange and kind of irritating. However, over time, I've warmed to her, it's just that it's hard to adjust to such a unique actress. I now think Shelley Duvall is a naturally brilliant actress, one of my favourites even! I've started to watch other films she's been involved in simply because I love seeing her act. She's so intriguing, talented and beautiful, and I struggle to believe some people don't even like her!

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  7. I always thought Shelley was brilliant in the Shining, and that she was really pretty. It's a real shame she didn't get more big roles; you'd have thought the Shining and Popeye would have set her up for that. But by the mid 80's unconventional looking leads weren't fashionable.

    Still, starring in the Shining, a cinema classic, is one hell of a career high point.

    I am truly saddened to hear that she may be struggling with mental health issues. I really hope they are exaggerated reports, and that someone is watching out for her.

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  8. What happened to her is just so sad. She is a great actress. One of the rare gems you can find in the cinema industry. Maybe she is depressed and there is no one to ease her situation. I read somewhere that she often thinks about her career as an actress and that she looks forward to getting acting roles. I really wish some of the movie producers nowadays would give her a chance to play a role that will further show her prodigious talent and beauty.

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