…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
To kick things off, today I watched two 1970s Oscar-nominated performances – Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist (1973) and Diahann Carroll in Claudine (1974). Read on for my thoughts!
The Exorcist marked the second nomination for 1970’s Oscar favorite Ellen Burstyn (after a supporting nod for The Last Picture Show, in which she was bested by co-star Chloris Leachman). She was nominated 6 times, winning her one Oscar in 1974 for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I was hesitant to watch The Exorcist principally (and I will admit it) because of its religious theme and the horror and shock it perpetrated in me with my strong faith. I made it through, however (!!!) because I knew I wanted and had to see Burstyn’s performance as a part of this challenge! Strangely enough, while she turns in a strong performance, I felt she was upstaged by the horror of the plot and by Linda Blair, expertly playing her demon-possessed daughter Regan. This is not to say her portrayal was not credible – I was especially moved by her desperation to find answers for what was affecting her daughter halfway through the film – but by the end of the film she almost seemed to have faded away. It’s a strong and thought-provoking film providing good turns by Burstyn, Jason Miller as the young priest who eventually becomes Regan’s savior, and especially Linda Blair. As I went into watching it, my boyfriend Jake humorously told me, “just keep thinking, ‘it’s only pea soup, it’s only pea soup’!” Hahahaha… well, Jake, I did just that and maybe it made it less harsh for me than I expected. Surprisingly, while The Exorcist shocked, repulsed, and horrified me – and I don’t care to watch it again anytime soon – I was not as frightened as I initially thought I would be. I survived the viewing! Burstyn lost to Brit Glenda Jackson in A Touch of Class, but turned in a more richly-nuanced role the following year and snagged her Oscar.
The stunning Diahann Carroll’s one and only Oscar nomination for Best Actress came in 1974 for playing the titular character in Claudine, a film about a single mother raising 6 children in Harlem. While it’s not blatantly stated, it can almost be assumed that the children come from different delinquent fathers – Claudine hasn’t had the best of luck holding on to the men in her life. When she meets garbageman “Roof” Marshall (James Earl Jones) and the two strike up a romance, her children immediately turn suspicious. Adding to the complications, when the couple attempt to get serious and take their relationship to a potential marital level, Claudine risks losing the welfare benefits she and her children desperately need to survive on. The film, with a predominantly African American cast, is a surprising expose of sorts on the convoluted nature of the welfare system. There is one particularly memorable scene in which Claudine and Roof visit the welfare office to see what their options would be as a married couple. When they find out that several options could be interpreted as “fraudulent” if carried out, James Earl Jones – almost hilariously – gets up and, mourning the injustice of it all, walks through the entire office slamming on workers’ desks and yelling “FRAUD!” Carroll, caught up in the moment as she follows him out, offers one last final “Fraud!” as she exits. While we watch this and can understand their frustration, there is a subtle comedy to it as well. It’s a film that balances comedy with dramatic situations, and each of the characters (including each one of Claudine’s children) is delineated well by the script. A pretty jazzy, fun soundtrack by Gladys Knight and the Pips also didn’t hurt the film any. The focal point of it all, however, is Diahann Carroll’s determined Claudine Price – a performance that deservedly earned her a nomination at the ’74 Oscars. She lost to Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.