Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The HUH? Hall of Fame: FAYE DUNAWAY
The fabulous Faye Dunaway is an Academy Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winning actress. She has starred in such contemporary classics as BONNIE AND CLYDE, CHINATOWN and NETWORK. She has an incredible screen presence and is a true class act no matter what she is in. The camera always seems to love her - even if the films she's in are ones that make you say "Huh?".
Even before MOMMIE DEAREST, the notorious "movie that ruined her career" there was THE EYES OF LAURA MARS (1978) in which Faye played a fashion photographer named Laura Mars whose photos depict images of murder and death. Laura also experiences visions of the murders of her friends and coworkers, through the eyes of the killer. Teaming with a cop played by Tommy Lee Jones, she soon she realizes she will be the next victim! This film is stylish and a hoot to watch. Faye's performance stands out despite the cliched script (by John Carpenter!) and the extra cheesy theme song by Barbra Streisand (who the project was originally developed for).
During an interview in the early 1970s, the outspoken Miss Joan Crawford said that of the current crop of young actresses only Faye Dunaway had "what it takes" to be a true star. This was after Joan had just starred in a movie called TROG. Then came MOMMIE DEAREST (1981) - "I was too good at Crawford," Faye has been quoted as saying. I agree and that's what makes the film a absolute pleasure to watch. I feel that Faye's performance is more like she was possessed by Joan. Faye has also said that during the filming, she felt Joan's presence on the set. Too bad Joan's ghost didn't throw her weight around and force the production to be a more accurate portrayal of her life story, rather than, as John Waters has called it "a comedy about child abuse".
In her autobiography, on the topic of MOMMIE DEAREST, Dunaway stated that she wished the director had enough experience to see when actors needed to rein in their performances. Too bad Faye didn't know that Frank Perry had been directing acclaimed films like DAVID AND LISA, THE SWIMMER, LAST SUMMER and DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE since the early 1960s. Nice try, Faye.
More recently, during an interview on Bravo's INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO, Faye revealed that she and the make-up artist labored trying to get the "Crawford look". Faye had to train herself to hold her facial muscles just like Joan did. Faye says "It was chilling." Agreed.
The movie, as we all know, was savaged by film critics. Roger Ebert said "I can't imagine who would want to subject themselves to this movie." The critic for Variety said "Dunaway does not chew scenery. Dunaway starts neatly at each corner of the set in every scene and swallows it whole, costars and all." In an widely-circulated 2006 voice mail message to the producer of a documentary of her life, Dunaway said she wanted to "really trim down everything to do with that MOMMIE DEAREST. I'm not going to talk about it; maybe one thing I'm going to say about it and that's all." And that's where the problem lies, I believe if Faye would only embrace it for what it is, I think people would appreciate her over-the-top performance even more - and they would respect the fact that Faye might even have a sense of humor about herself and the film. But no...not our Ms. Dunaway.
Soon after playing Crawford, Faye turned up on NBC in a four-hour 1981 TV movie called EVITA PERON produced by Gary Coleman's production company! This non-musical biography was made to cash in on the sudden popularity of the late first lady of Argentina. This was all due to the success of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical EVITA– which was eventually filmed starring some non-actress named Madonna in the lead role. Imagine if Faye had nabbed THAT role! The show did pretty well in the ratings and the NY Times had to say this about EVITA PERON: "From an impoverished little girl who was spat upon by an arrogant aristocracy to the international celebrity obsessed with power and personal revenge, Evita was extraordinary in her passion to succeed and to be remembered. If she didn't exist, she would have had to be invented by Joan Crawford." Hmmm...
In 1984, Faye, hoping to overcome the damage that MOMMIE DEAREST wrought upon her, she turned to SUPERGIRL. I can only guess she was banking on that the film would do for her what SUPERMAN did for Gene Hackman. Faye received top billing, playing the newly-created villain, Selena. Selena was no Lex Luthor. Despite her spirited performance, the movie bombed. Realizing that the franchise was now dead and the character outdated, DC Comics killed off Supergirl two years later. A coincidence? Perhaps.
Maybe the ghost of Joan Crawford was still lurking around Faye, because in 1986, Faye returned to TV for a prestigious production called, er... BEVERLY HILLS MADAM. This time, Faye was playing a very Joan-like woman who runs a high-class brothel catering to rich and famous clients in Beverly Hills, with hookers played by TV actresses like Donna Dixon and Robin Givens. Faye's character experiences a series of crises as one her girl ends up pregnant, and another dead. Not exactly CHINATOWN or even TROG for that matter.
In 1994, Faye was determined to comeback and take to the stage in the LA production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit stage musical adaptation of the film noir classic SUNSET BOULEVARD. Faye was all set to replace Glenn Close, but she proved unable to meet the vocal demands of the score and was let go, publicly humiliating the star. In her infamous 2006 voicemail tirade, Faye insisted that references to "the Lloyd Webber stupidity" be taken out of the documentary about her. She apparently wants to accentuate the positive, by eliminating ALL the negative. She has truly become Joan Crawford. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see this documentary about her life!So these are some of the many reasons why Faye is now officially inducted into my "Huh?" Hall of Fame. Though I kinda suspect she would not show up for the induction ceremony, if there was one.