Mark's Best Actress Challenge

…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!

Jane Fonda in “Julia” (nomination, 1977)

The film Julia (1977) garnered 11 Academy Award nominations – one of them being Jane Fonda’s 3rd nomination for Best Actress.  Fonda plays the acclaimed playwright, Lillian Hellman, who is struggling with writing her first draft of what would eventually become her play, The Children’s Hour. Frustrated with an enduring bout of writer’s block, Hellman decides to take her mind completely off work by getting in contact with her lifelong friend, Julia.  Flashbacks of their friendship reveal that as children, Julia (who, like Lillian, is Jewish) is rather headstrong, impetuous and true to her cause, whereas Lillian sort of follows obligingly in her shadow.  As an adult during the early days of World War II, Julia takes up an anti-Fascist cause and fights/protests the Nazi regime – often to very dangerous extremes.  When Lillian is called to Russia to attend a writer’s conference, Julia enlists her to smuggle money through Berlin and across the border into Russia – a truly dangerous experience for a Jewish woman travelling on her own.  She accepts the challenge and along the way is very briefly reunited with Julia, finding out that Julia has a daughter, Lily, hidden away in Alsace.  Julia is eventually murdered by the Nazis, and Lillian unsuccessfully attempts to find Julia’s daughter and confront Julia’s voluntarily ignorant family of her fate.

Fonda was in somewhat of an “Oscar darling sorority” in the 1970s through early ’80s with the likes of Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunaway, and Marsha Mason.  She would win twice, for 1971’s Klute and 1978’s Coming Home.  While I feel her performance in Julia was adequate, I confess to not being too much of a Jane Fonda fan.  She often comes across as too stiff, staid, and just plain pissed off.  It’s hard to see much variety to her performances, and this one was no exception for me.  Indeed, one of my favorite performances of hers was in one of her first films (for which she was also nominated), They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in 1969.  There was more depth to her in that film, whereas in this one, she seems to merely act as a vehicle for the telling of Julia’s story, and doesn’t do much to push past that.  Perhaps she wasn’t required to by director Fred Zinnemann.

All in all, Fonda fills the shoes of Lillian Hellman adequately for this picture, but it is ultimately Vanessa Redgrave as Julia who steals the film – and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of 1977.  This would be the first (and perhaps only?  I need to research it!) time that a supporting actress was awarded for playing the titular character of a film.  Redgrave caused controversy with her acceptance speech in 1978, in which she was very vocal on supporting the fight against anti-Semitism and critical about a group of (in her words) “Zionist hoodlums” protesting that year’s ceremony.  The group was picketing the awards due to Redgrave’s ongoing support of the Palestinian cause.  (Later in the ceremony, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky came on to present an award and admonished Redgrave for using the Oscars for personal propaganda, stating that  “a simple thank you would have sufficed.”  Heavy stuff.)  Jason Robards, as Lillian Hellman’s companion – the author Dashiell Hammett – also took home the Supporting Actor Oscar that year for his understated performance in Julia.  It was a back-to-back win for Robards, for he had taken home the Supporting trophy the prior year for  All the President’s Men.  1977’s Best Actress winner?  Diane Keaton as the irresistible, trend-setting Annie Hall.

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This entry was posted on May 8, 2010 by .
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