Friday, October 10, 2014

Twice a Best Actress Bloggers Roundtable: Sally Field


Her acceptance speech went down in history.  "You like me, you really like me!"  Sadly, for Field's second Oscar win, that has become the most memorable aspect.  In fact, it wasn't until doing this project that I even attempted to watch Places in the Heart, and the win (and film) itself is pretty much mostly forgotten.  

Why?

Well, you're about to find out.

Yup, for our third installment in Twice a Best Actress, we're talking about Sally Field!  I don't want to say too much as an intro other than, well, she's Sally and everyone should love her, but you're about to find out if we actually love her Oscar wins.

And here is our panel:

Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Sati from Cinematic Corner


Andrew:
Starting off her career as the bikini-clad Gidget and The Flying Nun, aren't exactly the sort of projects that you would expect from a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner and Sally Field was the first to admit that she didn't always feel like she was taken seriously in Hollywood because of her early work. It wasn't really until 1979's Norma Rae, in which Field took on the titular character, a factory worker in North Carolina that demands the working conditions of her textile mill improve by joining the union, that Field was able to show what she was capable of and gained the respect of the industry. Field, who possess an authentic likability that lends any character she plays an instant appeal, digs deep into the hardscrabble background of Norma Rae (her southern drawl and working class weariness are a long way from surfing the beaches of Pasadena). She's a woman that might not be the most educated, but more than makes up for her lack of formal schooling with a sharp mind and thirst for knowledge. As a crusader for her cause - better pay, more hospitable working conditions - Norma Rae finds her voice and becomes committed in a way that surprises her; she didn't even know she was capable of such power. Watching Field as Norma Rae, we begin to see her come into her own as an actress as if playing the character instilled a confidence previously unseen. And in the famous moment when she stands up with her makeshift sign that says "UNION", you can't help but feel inspired and applaud Field for finding her own voice as a dramatic actress. She's a worthy winner, but I have a soft spot for Bette Midler's electrifying and emotionally raw performance as a Janis Joplin-like singer in The Rose and probably would've voted for her that year.
My Grade:  B

Drew:
Norma Rae was one of my first experiences with Sally.  I watched it years ago because I was expanding my Oscar knowledge and I knew she won and it came on TCM and it just felt like the right time.  The film opened with this ridiculous over the top scene with Sally screaming and I thought to myself…“what have I gotten myself into”…but I stuck with it, and almost immediately it all fell into place.

That solitary scene aside…those two minutes of celluloid aside…this is a perfect performance.

When Norma Rae ended, I knew that I had discovered one of the greats.  I have adored Sally ever since.  Her breed of charisma just gets to me in this way that few other actresses ever could.  What I love about this well-rounded performance is that it never rests on that charisma.  Instead, she utilizes it in a really beautiful way, having it always accessible to win us over but never exploiting it at the risk of losing her fully developed character.  Field is, with every scene (sans that opening), completely natural.  She just melts into this woman, her plight and her intentions.  She doesn’t make excuses or martyr her character, but instead she paints a realistic portrait of a woman on a mission that is bigger than her, bigger than everyone around her, but so vitally important, and you can feel that importance racing through her every line delivery.  Even in the midst of despair, regret and self-doubt, Sally carries this sign of perseverance that catapults her performance to the highest of heights.

She’s simply remarkable.
My Grade:  A+

Fritz:
In a true ‚A star is born‘-moment, Sally Field left her image of the Flying Nun behind her and swept all the awards from Cannes to Los Angeles for her work as Norma Rae, a young uneducated woman and mother who fights for labor rights in a textile factory. It’s a part that is certainly a dream for an actress since it combines all the ingredients for a tour de force destined to find a large share of admirers – which makes it very surprising that so many other actress like Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason or Jill Clayburgh turned it down until the script finally went to Sally Field and who took the part on the advice of Burt Reynolds who immediately saw the potential of the role (interestingly enough, Jane Fonda, Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh were among the actresses that Sally Field beat for the Oscar that year). In the end, we were all lucky that the team behind Norma Rae had to go to a rather unlikely choice for their leading lady because the casting of Sally Field went down as one of the great combinations of actress and part in movie history. It’s always a treat to be given that feeling that you are not watching an actress but truly a character come to life (when you are over-analyzing movies and performances like I do, this feeling does not come too often) and growing organically by itself and not because the script asks her to. Sally Field perfectly balances a natural charm with an off-putting character, a stubbornness and refusal to behave like others would expect. It’s a captivating portrayal of a woman who had to work since she was a teenager, was a mother since she was a teenager and basically never had an outlet for her energy apart from meeting men at night in the local hotel. When she finally involves herself in the fight for a union in her textile factory, she again refuses to play the game of politics and does it all her way, never turning into a saint and Sally Field also shows how much Norma Rae depends on the support of Reuben to achieve her goals. It’s mostly this honesty that turns Norma Rae into such a great character and performance and Sally Field truly covers all human emotions, from her loud outbursts to quiet moments like telling her children about her different fathers. The movie indeed handed Sally Field a tour de force but it needed the unique personality of this actress to truly come to life.
My Grade:  A+

Josh:
Field won her first Best Actress Oscar for playing Norma Rae Webster, a textile factory worker who tries to unionize her cotton mill. Much of the film, which was also nominated for Best Picture, rests on Field's shoulders, and she gives the performance of her career. It's a flashy role, but Field sells it, Southern accent and all. She manages to create a fully fleshed-out character, sidestepping the temptation to overact. While many similar films to Norma Rae have been made, Field totally owns this role, and makes the movie her own. The film would be dismissed if the right actress wasn't in the lead role. Thankfully, Field was perfect for the part.

Did Field deserve to win?

I'm fine with this win, but there were better options that year. Bette Midler was very deserving for her stunning performance in The Rose, and Jane Fonda was quite effective in The China Syndrome. Still, Field was a worthy winner.
My Grade:  A

Kevin:
Martin Hitt's "Norma Rae" is solid, well-made movie. I've never been a big Sally Field fan having never seen any of her earlier work. I can say now that I see the appeal. She is a very natural actress to me. She never seems to be trying very hard. That works in this one.

Her performance as Norma Rae led me to the following observations:

1. She is extremely sincere, and you can tell she put a great deal of herself into this role. Her ability to do the Southern accent is flawless.

2. She is so cute and fun but always seems a bit strained. Perfect for this character. Norma Rae is a character burdened by life's hardships. Her early scenes with Ron Leibman's Reuben are excellent. You sense a mutual attraction, and it works perfectly.

3. Similarly, she has great chemistry with Beau Bridges' Sonny, the man she hastily marries early in the film. Their scene in the kitchen that one night with the slamming of pots and pans and irons and nighties is brilliantly written, directed, and acted.

It's hard for me to say whether or not she deserved this Oscar having not seen any of the other performances, which I regret. But what I think is most notable about this performance is how well she carries the entire picture. She simply commands the screen the whole time. She is in nearly every single scene and never lets up.

The Scene That Won It: The bulletin board note-taking, firing, sign holding, getting arrested sequence. Fierce acting.
My Grade:  B+

Sati:
The movie took a damn sweet time to start going. I know that this film is a big deal and I love movies like that, female empowerment and all, but - please don't kill me - I really thought that given the subject matter hugely underrated 'North Country' was a far better movie. I just clicked more with these characters and felt their plight for equality and dignity, here it took so much time for the union plot to kick in and other than 2 or 3 scenes you really didn't feel much power of it.

It's only when the union talk finally started that the film became interesting, mainly thanks to great chemistry between Reuben (Rachel's father from Friends, I couldn't believe it was him!) and Field. The scene in which he defends her in spite of the accusations of 'promiscuous' ways was so brilliant and it was actually the best acting moment of the film there, hell, one of the better ones for Field too as her shocked gasp at the insinuation felt so real.

Field was excellent playing loud, simple woman who was tough as nails and didn't let anyone treat her like trash. I loved the scene in which her husband complains about clothes not being washed and dinner not being served and she freaks out on him. That was glorious.

While the film was uneven she really embodied her character very well and I loved the scene in which she stands up on the table with a card saying "union" and all the other workers stop working. Extremely memorable moment, in big part thanks to her dedicated performance and the sheer force with which she embodied that woman.
My Grade:  B


Andrew:
Although Places in the Heart won favor with the Academy with 7 nominations, bringing wins for its screenplay and Sally Field's performance as a Depression Era widow trying to keep her farm, the sentimental 80's Oscar bait is now virtually forgotten today. The most memorable thing about it is probably Field's legendary (and greatly mocked) acceptance speech in which she gushed about being liked. But there's not a lot to like, really like, about the film itself. Muddled by two separate story lines that feel like they're from different movies, the subplot about a philandering Ed Harris cheating on Field's sister takes up far too much screen time (with no payoff) and distracts from the more engaging central story of Field's Edna Spalding trying to keep her home and family together after her husband suddenly dies. Throw in a drifter (Danny Glover) that sticks around to teach Edna how to plant cotton and a blind boarder (an Oscar-nominated John Malkovich) she takes in to earn a little more income, and Field starts fighting for attention even within her own storyline, becoming upstaged by actors given more to do. There's so many missed opportunities for Field as the director cuts away in every scene right before she's about to do something. When her husband's dead body is brought in, Field puts her hand to her mouth - here come the emotions - except, that's it. The scene's already moved on. We never really learn anything about Edna except her kindness and determination, but the work relies too heavily on our established connection to Field as an actress without allowing the character to ever feel more than a generic "good" person. There was definitely a theme for Best Actress 1984, as 3 of the 5 actresses were nominated for performances about trying to save a farm (was that a big issue at the time?) and having not seen (or really heard of) any of the other performances, the theme could also be When Forgettable Performances Happen To Great Actresses.
My Grade:  D   

Drew:
When Places in the Heart ended, I looked at my wife, who was asleep, and thought to myself…why didn’t I think of that?  Oh yeah, I couldn’t, because I needed to stay awake and actually watch the performance for this series.

As I’ve already said, I love Sally Field.  Sincerely.  She’s an incredible actress.  Watching Places in the Heart did two things for me.  It reminded me of all the things I love about her, and then it showed me that even with all of those assets, in the wrong hands they don’t mean a thing.  Yes, Field’s performance in this film is so muted and so lifeless that she comes off as wrong footed in every single scene.

Sally has played this kind of character before.  She’s got everything working against her and yet she has that strong will to survive.  The problem here, besides the fact that the film is awfully constructed and wastes so much time on subplots that mean nothing, advance the film nothing and pretty much derail my attention too often, is that it builds a character who rings false.  There are moments when Sally is in scenery chewing mode, which is where I like her, where her sass is flying and her temper is flaring and her righteous indignation is making a point, but here those moments are played with such muted intonations that it feels like it’s being performed by someone unsure of their talent.  Field wasn’t unsure of her talent, but it felt that way.  When she tells off the skeptical Malkovich and Glover (both putting in far more lived in and worthy performances) she does so in hushed tones and baited breath and it reads false.  I don’t believe her.

I blame the character/director/writer for most of this, since the this is just a terribly written film and character to begin with, and poor Sally really didn’t have much depth inserted into this woman despite her circumstances, but I also blame Sally for not really trying.  She phoned this in so badly, and I take her to task for that since I know that she knew better than this.

But then again, she won an Oscar, so what do I know?
My Grade:  C-

Fritz:
1984 went down in history as the year of the farming woman. Sally Field, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek all played woman who had to fight natural disasters, evil banks and other circumstances to keep their land. The winner was ultimately Sally Field and while it probably seemed impossible that she would ever be a two-time-winner six years ago, her win was rather logical that night since hers was by far the most liked vehicle of those three (the only farm movie that was nominated for Best Picture) and because her character benefitted from a ‘one woman against the world’-aspect that the others lacked. Both Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek had husbands by their sides (but of course these marriages had their own share of suffering during The River and Country) while Sally Field became a widow right at the beginning of Places in the Heart and mostly only had herself to rely on even if she had support from unexpected friends and partners. It’s a pattern that resembles Norma Rae but was executed in a very different manner: while Norma Rae was loud, angry and not afraid to say what was on her mind, Edna Spalding is a quiet, conventional, timid and sometimes helpless woman who finds her strength in a much quieter and subtler way. Maybe the result is not as impressive as it was in Norma Rae, but Places in the Heart showed a different, more mature Sally Field and it’s again thanks to her unique personality that this performance was a success. It’s a lovely piece of work and Sally Field is able to make Edna a maybe conventional but still charming heroine – her lovely reaction to the dancing invitation of her son, the scene when she describes herself to a blind man or seeing the body of her husband all work very well without grand emotions but an honest simplicity. The moment when Edna tells her sister that she doesn’t know what to do because all her life she never did anything else but take care of her house and her children works so well because Sally Field makes this sentence wholly believable without putting any emphasis on it – it’s a fact that stands for itself and that cannot be changed. It’s somehow remarkable that the Oscar went to a performance that so continuously refuses to go beyond the simplicity of the character but Sally Field managed to capture the emotions of Edna Spalding in a beautiful and touching way that leaves a lasting impression.
My Grade:  B

Josh:
Field won her second Best Actress Oscar for playing Edna Spalding, a widow who must save her family's farm during the Depression. This film - another Best Picture nominee - is the kind Oscar voters eat up. It touches on racism, remains mostly likable, and is set in the South. While that shouldn't diminish Field's performance, she doesn't do anything with this character that stands out very much. Again, she plays a Southern character, and handles the accent well. Her character isn't unappealing, though her performance lacks the bite of her previous Oscar-winning turn. She doesn't give a bad performance at all; she merely gives a good one.

Did Field deserve to win?

Of the nominees, I've only seen Field and Judy Davis, who should have won for her strong performance in A Passage to India. It's not surprising that a performance from one of the three similar farm-themed films (Country, The River and Places in the Heart) nominated won, though.
My Grade:  B

Kevin:
I hated this movie. I couldn't even figure out the point. What was at stake?

I've never seen any of director Robert Benton's movies. He seems to have made some pretty good ones with great casts. I can't fathom why there was so much other stuff going on in this flick. The supporting cast of characters is great, but what did they have to do with anything? I would've been satisfied with a story about Danny Glover's Moses and John Malkovich's Mr. Will (both out-acting Field by a long shot) taking over a cotton farm with Field as a minor character, which she is. 

Sally Field as Mrs. Edna Spalding has to be one of the most lame-duck Best Actress wins of all-time. She is such a weak woman played up under the guise of being strong. She has not one scene worth an award of any kind. Field seems to not be trying very hard here again. But this time it doesn't work. I blame Benton and his editor for cutting away to the Ed Harris/Lindsay Crouse/Amy Madigan love triangle every time there was a chance for a good bit of acting from Field. There's a scene in the kitchen after the cotton picking starts where she almost has a show-stealing breakdown, and then it cuts to another storyline. What a waste!

I understand she iconically said that people "liked" her. I tell you what: I didn't like her at all.

The Scene That Won It: Who knows?
My Grade:  F

Sati:
Places of the Heart

Very different performance, very subtle as Field was playing a widow with two children, kind and innocent but also having Nora Rae's worth of determination to keep her head above the water.

I thought Field's thunder here was stolen a little bit by wonderful Malkovich but in most of the scenes their different approaches - her quiet and nuanced work and his tremendous energy - were so different they were only amplified by comparisons. Unfortunately overall the movie was kinda forgettable, especially when these two weren't on the screen. As good as Field was this role just wasn't Oscar worthy. It was a good performance but nothing particularly memorable.
My Grade:  C

FINAL SCORE
There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actress).

Sally Field received a total of 99 points for her performance in Norma Rae.
Jodie Foster received a total of 45 points for her performance in Places in the Heart.

This is a collective total of 144 points.

As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.

Trivia fact, Sally ties Foster's Silence win as the highest collective grade so far (99) BUT, she has the lowest grade ever given to a performance in this AND in Twice a Best Actor!  The lowest grade given before this was to Spencer Tracy's Boys Town win, which was a 59 (14 points higher than Field's Places in the Heart perf).

So this closes our discussion of Sally Field.  Next week we're talking about Luise Rainer, and this has me really excited because she was our very first double Actress Oscar winner, and both of her performances are new to me!  I hope you tune in next week for that.

Again, a big round of applause for the awesome bloggers sharing this series with me! You guys did some awesome work, as to be expected.

30 comments:

  1. Poor Sally, looks like not everyone likes her in Places in the Heart...

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    1. I do honestly think that the film itself does her an awful disservice, since the film creates such a blandly realized character. Granted, her performance is flawed too, but a large chunk of those flaws rest in the filmmaking itself.

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  2. Yes, the film has many problems but somehow the sweet nature she brings to the role rouches me. I admit I like my actresses loud and showy but sometimes this kind of quiet acting is enough for me...but I can certainly see that this performance can easily feel very unsatisfying :)

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    1. My biggest issue with the performance itself was that it felt underdeveloped despite the overdeveloped circumstances. There were many moments that felt unfulfilled, mostly because the film was so busy filling us in on things that didn't matter (like, why was Ed Harris even in this movie?). When Sally had that moment to shine, she undersold, in my opinion.

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    2. Yes, the Ed Harris subplot was so awful and really should have been cut, totally agree! I somehow liked her underselling here :) Well, it's not an out-of-this-world performance but in a weak line-up like 1984, her win makes sense to me

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    3. UGH, 1984 is one of those major blind spots for me, and yet one of those years I'm least excited about because everything looks so dull.

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    4. What's funny about 1984 is how there are so many good, iconic movies. None of them really nominated for the big awards, or any awards, which is understandable. I would take Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, even Sixteen Candles as Best Picture nominees in '84 before this one. I mean, nobody was beating Amadeus, my second favorite movie of all time, but, geez, Places in the Heart is the dullest, stiffest movie to be nominated I think I've ever seen.

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    5. Oh yeah, when I said dull, I totally meant by Oscar's noms. I mean, Amadeus is tremendous, and some of the films I've seen (Paris Texas, Blood Simple, Broadway Danny Rose, Under the Volcano, Once Upon a Time in America) are fantastic movies, truly FANTASTIC...but Oscar's nominees all look so...lifeless.

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    6. Paris, Texas is so good, dude. Where are Harry Dean Stanton and Natassja Kinski's Oscars? Blood Simple and Broadway Danny Rose, both perfect movies as well. How about This is Spinal Tap? The Terminator? The Karate Kid? The Natural? Body Double? I mean, I'm a lover of the Academy Awards. Have been since I was 10 years old. But Oscar fell asleep in '84.

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    7. I'm with you on all fronts!

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  3. I think her work in Sybil was stronger than any of her Academy wins.

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  4. I love Sally! She's one of my favorite actresses. I wouldn't say she can play anything but she is adept at both comedy and drama and is able to blend both easily within her characters, something that not all performers can do. I'm glad she a double winner though I don't know that I would have awarded her the second prize for the picture for which she received it. My take on her wins:

    Norma Rae-A great, lived in performance full of careworn but resilient grit. Sally fully committed to the role showing a Norma Rae whose still got hopes no matter how many times life has let her down. It's the spark that Reuben sees in her and recruits her to push for unionization. She doesn't suffer fools easily, her scene when her boorish husband, the approriately named Sonny, whines that she isn't taking proper care of them is brilliantly played as is the one where she explains her past and what might be coming to her children. A masterful piece of work and deserving of the win although Bette Midler among her competitors gave an award worthy performance.

    Places in the Heart-I don't understand why her win has gotten such a bad rap. Her work is customarily heartfelt and expressive within the confines of the character. She has the common touch, an advantage here as is her being attractive instead of beautiful, it's believable that she would be a farm woman in Depression Texas. She also has a quality that she has considered a deficit for most of her career but is vital to Edna, spunk. Even if she plays her at a quiet level, Edna has enough inner resources that keep her going, as when she tells Danny Glover she doesn't care if the work kills her...or him! She won't be beaten by anything but death. I agree it's the vehicle the work is in that works against her, it's too busy by half. The whole Ed Harris/Amy Madigan plot, and I like both actors, is out of place and should have been excised. Also Benton's blocking of scenes leaves much to be desired, as noted it undercuts her performance. Curiously her win, or her jubiliant but instantly iconicly mocked acceptance speech, seemed to damage her in the academy's eyes and she was bypassed for nominations for worthy work for almost another thirty years. So I guess if she was going to win a second it was here that it had to happen but I would have rather seen her awarded for Steel Magnolias or her brilliantly comic creation Celeste Talbert in Soapdish.

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    1. I'm with you 100% on Rae, and really on Sally as a whole. I love her. I personally give her the win solely for her Rae performance, but I absolutely love her in Steel Magnolias and Soapdish as well. She has impeccable comedic timing, and I know this may sound weird, but she's one of the greatest on-screen criers, period.

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    2. I agree she cries beautifully, she fully gives herself over to it so it involves her voice and body language as well as her eyes. That's what pulls you in.

      I saw that you haven't seen Sybil. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's an extremely dark and disturbing tale but she is utterly amazing in it. It, more than Norma Rae, is what really moved her forward away from her early persona, which I have to admit to loving too although I can see how it could be a prison to be trapped in. When Sybil was filming it was jokingly referred to as Gidget Goes Nuts and not in a complimentary way. The accolades she received from it actually more than anything are what made her a viable candidate for Norma Rae.

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    3. I'll bump it to the top of my Netflix queue ASAP!

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    4. Good call on Steel Magnolias. Much better performance, and much better movie.

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    5. That breakdown scene at the gravesite is one of the best moments of acting by anyone in any film ever.

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  5. I'm glad there seems to be such consensus here! I'm gonna see the next two ones over the weekend - I make a big point in my GG review how Fincher respects his audience not doing flashbacks as if we had ADD but goddamn one of those old flicks is 3h long...let's hope it's better than cotton picking drama :)

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    1. It is. I saw it last week.

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    2. Good read. I feel ashamed having never seen Norma Rae. Gotta fix that. Haven't seen Places in the Heart, either, but it doesn't bother me, especially after reading this, lol. Great work, guys!

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    3. Yeah, I'd see Norma for sure. Bridges is also really, really good in that one.

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  6. I saw Norma Rae and she gives a raw powerful performance which surprised many people (they forgot about Sybil) and I didn't mind that she won for this performance even though I loved Bette Midler's better. Here is a strong female lead without romantic blah blah thrown in. Now the 2nd one I have to admit I never saw. Why? I remember when this film plus the other Walton movies, I mean, country style donought, I mean country films came out and it just looked boring. I dislike it when a film is trying to ram something down my throat and make me feel evil if I don't want to see a suffering gal try to hold it together. They took Norma Rae and made it look like a spunky gal who suffers through a lot and still remains strong. I thought all they had to do was for her to break out into song, put on a show in the barn and you have the next Mickey Rooney film. I am harsh for a film I have not seen. Your description reminds me of another film "In the Bedroom". 5 of us went out in a snowstorm to see this film. At one point my friend was counting the ceiling tiles. Others were slumped in their seats. Whenever there seemed to be a real scene in the film that would let loose, it would disappear-I hate that! I would have voted for Judy Davis because, even after all these years, I still recall her performance. I would have also gone for Lily Tomlin in All of Me or Anne Bancroft and Garbo Talks.

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    1. Oh no! You hated In the Bedroom?!?!?! I'll be honest with you, that film rests in my Top Ten...of all time!

      But if you thought that was dull, avoid Places in the Heart at all costs.

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    2. Oh boy-I call that flick In Boredom

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  7. I haven't seen Norma Rae yet but I have seen Places in the Heart and don't remember being blown away by Sally's performance. I'd probably give her a B. Haven't seen any of the other nominees though, so I don't know how she compares.

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    1. I haven't seen any of the others either, but I gather that it wasn't a very impressive lineup overall.

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  8. YAY! You liked her (in Norma Rae, at least)! :) I kind of love that we were all over the place on her performance in Places in the Heart. She's currently in my '84 lineup, but I still have a lot to watch from that year.

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    1. I love it most when we're all over the place!

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