|by Matthew Bartley
Welcome to the Hollywood Bitchslap Hall of Fame. This is the place where, we, the critics of this site induct a person - be they actor, actress, director or other - into our own Hall of Fame for their outstanding contribution to the cinema that we know and love. The criteria is simple: we are not bound by volume or era, so anyone from the 1920s to the present day, anyone with a career of 80 films or 8 films can be inducted. All we ask is one thing: that they have provided we critics, who are film lovers above all else, another reason to keep going to the cinema week after week.
This months inductee - Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver is an actress who made the smallest start in her career, as Alvin's date outside the cinema in Annie Hall. It was only a six second apperance, but it was one that saw the beginnings of one of the most gifted actresses of her generation, and an actress that still now is massively underappreciated. Perhaps part of the reason why she's underappreciated is because she's so damn intimidating to the mostly male dominated world that is Hollywood. She's not a curvaceous blonde, and she's not a dumpy, frumpy woman that can be dismissed to 'character' roles. She's tall, she's regal, she's imperious. As our own Marc Kandel says, "Weaver's light yet smoky, educated voice, dark curled tresses, those deep set, large eyes that have no tolerance for bullshit, those high cheeks and perpetually pouty mouth with the hint of sardonic glee- none of which are affectations to my eye- its called Bombshell 101- sign up fast you shallow Simpsons and laughable Lohans, unfortunatlely for you there's not much to learn- its effortless, and its her, and its all completely disposable if its not needed in the story.".
There's no ego with a Weaver performance, there's no need to push her admittedly startling features to the forefront, and to the detriment of the rest of the film. Shyamalan's The Village utterly wastes her, but it's still worth noting that it's a Weaver performance where she's stooped and withdrawn to the point where you could initially think it's someone else. Sigourney Weaver frail and vulnerable? Surely not! But she is, and that's indicative of how she naturally fits into whatever mood the film demands of her.
And that explains just why in the 1980s Weaver stood out amongst the other female stars of the time, as someone who could command both box office attention and critical acclaim. Genre is not a probelm, it's merely a series of stepping stones for her to cherry pick the best roles. Comedy, drama, sci-fi, action, period dramas - the 1980s saw Weaver attempt them all, and succeed at them all. Critical acclaim saw three Oscar nominations come her way, including the neat trick of two in the same year. These were for Gorillas in the Mist a typically intense and earthy Weaver performance - no sense of portraying a real person in a desperate attempt to snare an Oscar, just a real and vulnerable portrayal of someone with an incredible gift for interacting with animals. It's a subtle performance and one that contrasts with the second of her Oscar nominated performances that year, for Working Girl.
Here, Weaver displays her gift for taking potentially one-note roles ( a bitchy boss from hell) and invigorating it with something different, something unique - and she does so without the insult laden script that Meryl Streep had for The Devil Wears Prada. It's this gift for sniffing out the potential in unashamedly commercial roles that led her to dominating the 1980s and for displaying a genuine gift for comic timing. It's a comic timing displayed in the behemoth that was Ghostbusters, amongst many others of the time. As David Cornelius points out, "Her comic timing in that film is impeccable, especially when you consider she's playing straight woman to Bill Murray and holding her own with ease. And then she turns into Zuul. Watch her breathing in the scene where Venkman discovers she's been possessed. It's this nonstop frantic panting that must've been physically exhausting, yet she makes it seem effortless.
She was even better in Galaxy Quest. She gets a chuckle in pretty much every single scene, and then she earns the movie's biggest laugh (a laugh that would've even been bigger had the film not been reedited for a PG rating).
And while I'm randomly listing: The scene in Dave when she busts out the chorus of "Tomorrow." The timing, the look, the pitch to her voice, it's all absolutely perfect comedy."
To return to Ghostbusters then, it's wonderful to see an actress displaying such a range in a huge summer blockbuster. There's her light comedy skills displayed in the scene in her flat where she and Venkman are dancing around each other verbally, the horror skills she has when she's possessed - it's a genuinely creepy scene that could have been extremely silly, but Weaver makes it seem like a completely different actress who's taken over the role. Add to that the fact that she lets a barely constrained lust and sexuality simmer beneath the surface (look at the way she opens the door for Bill Murray and the way she embraces Rick Moranis) and it all makes for an extremely uncomfortable character - a complete about face from the Dana we've got to know and like over the previous hour.
Weaver has played on her sexuality before and to great effect. Such as Tadpole where she plays the object of her stepson's lust, and is reviewed by EricDSnider as such: "Sigourney Weaver, resplendent and graceful as ever, is a sight for sore eyes, particularly when those eyes are sore from watching too many women demean themselves in movies." Damn right. Weaver brings a natural class and grace to anything she's fine, and combined with her striking looks, her powerful but never overplayed sexuality, it's a stunning combination. Galaxy Quest has been mentioned briefley, and needs to be done so again, as it's yet another performance that demonstrates the range that she's capable of and just how scarily smart she is.
As Marc Kandel says, "In fact, the most we see of the expected sexpot Weaver, the sultry seductress, the beautiful damsel is when she's lampooning this very image- witness her turns in Galaxy Quest (a personal favorite where her humor is at its most self-deprecating considering her sci-fi career AND the roles she typically dismisses), Heartbreakers, Ghostbusters, even Working Girl where she turns the charm off and on like a water fountain switching from vicious to delicious at will, yet giving us distinctly different characters each and every time exploring the various spectrums from dumb blonde to devious mistress- always portraying real people underneath the expected tart or grifter rather than aping cliched behaviours to the familiar roles."
Should we just dismiss Weaver then, as someone particularly adept for commercial blockbusters? Of course not, and our critic Rob Gonsalves makes a very valid point, "It's easy to forget that Sigourney Weaver started out as a comic actress in off-Broadway plays (mainly by Christopher Durang). Physically, she's well-designed for comedy, particularly when she towers over her male co-stars. Yet her body has proven itself equally adept at drama. Weaver, of all American actresses, has perhaps the most elastic and expressive physique, whether crouching among the primates (and gradually becoming simian) in Gorillas in the Mist, or tight with anguish and purpose in the Alien series. In Death and the Maiden, the hard-driving and intimate new thriller directed by Roman Polanski, we know Weaver is playing a woman struggling with memories of torture even before she opens her mouth, and maybe even before the camera moves in to consider her haunted features. It's in the way she holds her body, as if to reassure herself that it's now hers again. It's in the panicked way she runs from candle to candle during a power outage, blowing them out when headlights approach. And as the story unfolds and Weaver surrenders herself to ferocious rage and disgust, her body, paradoxically, becomes more fluid, relaxed, as though her wounded flesh were animating itself to seek vengeance, beyond her conscious control."
Let's leave the best to last then: Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley. The interesting thing about her first turn in Alien is how much of a shock it is that Ripley is the last person standing. Of course, this is also down to the fact that she's surrounded by bigger co-stars and clever writing and directing, but if you were to place money on who would be the last survivor upon your first viewing, then Weaver would probably not be your choice. Tom Skerritt? Hmm, maybe too obvious. Yaphet Kotto? Probably, he looks tough enough to hold his own. Veronica Cartwright? Actually, good choice. Which film would be nasty enough to kill the typical damsel in distress after all? But the woman no-one knows with the unfeasibly curly hair? Nah, can't be. Yet by the end, it's clear that Ripley was the obvious choice to survive - Weaver fills her with so much intelligence, so much clarity and so much inner resourcefulness that it really should be no surprise that she does last to the end. Just watch how she fits in smoothly with all the technology, how she gracefully moves around the clunky Nostromo. Crucially however, Weaver never pushes Ripley's intelligence or resourcefulness right into our faces so it becomes obvious that she'll make it to the end. Indeed, the film has her stupidly racing around at the end to save a damn cat, yet Weaver makes this an act of compassion, not stupidity. She has to do something, no matter how foolish, no matter how shit scared she is - and Weaver totally sells how out and out terrifying the situation is. Look at her screaming at Mother to shutdown the self-destruct or the close-up right in her face when she's crawling out of the duct or the tremble in her voice as she's singing "Lucky Star" to herself as she crawls around the lurking xenomorph at the end . That's sheer terror and panic right there - not an easy thing to pull off. Yet Weaver does (far more than any time wasting Gellar, Love Hewitt or Campbell can) and a great deal of Aliens impact is just how much we like Ripley - if she can't survive what chance do we have? And that's down to Weaver.
That's also why Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection are so dispirting to watch. Not because of the respective quality of the films, but because in the third Ripley is grief stricken and despondent of all hope, and in the fourth she's barely there - it's some Xeroxed copy of Ripley instead, and it's utterly heartbreaking. Weaver however, never gets bored of the character, giving us four different spins on the same character no matter how uncomfortableand alien Ripley eventually becomes. It's a brave choice to develop the character as much as Weaver does, but that's typical of the actress.
Aliens is the third film that scooped Weaver an Oscar nomination, and that again is testement to her skill - how many actors or actresses get Oscar nominations for summer blockbusters? It's a list of Weaver and Johnny Depp - Harrison Ford didn't do it, Toby Maguire didn't do it and Christian Bale didn't do it. Weaver did, just because she established the action heroine that even Sarah Connor has to bow down to (anyone even thinking of mentioning Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie should leave the room right now). It's no wonder that she got an Oscar nomination, as she covers so many bases in one role. She gets to kick ass, gets to portray a woman haunted and shattered by a past tragedy, and even gets to play a grieving mother - look at her face slowly crumple as she learns the fate of her daughter that she left behind on earth, or listen to her screams of grief and rage as she thinks she loses Newt. The infamous "Get away from her, you bitch!" line is actually pretty damn cheesy, but spat with so much venom and defiance that it can't help but work.
As our own William Goss so brilliantly, yet succintly, puts it: "The very moment she tilts her head at the Queen Alien in Aliens. Man, oh, man... ".
Oooooh yeah. There's going to be trouble...
Marc Kandel expands on just how phenomenal Weaver is in this role, particularly the second part: "You can write whole textbooks on this character, much less essays and columns, and you don't even have to bring up Alien Ressurection, or even AlienZZZZ (the hotly debated Alien 3) for that matter. Granted, we could fill this page with quotes from just this one character alone, and only from Aliens at that: "Did IQ's just drop sharply while I was away?" - note how she flows out of the lazy 'z' sound in Just, placing the contemptuous lilt on the word "drop"- slow poison oozed out of a honey jar- and its a fucking talking head office scene!
"...if one of those things gets down here then that will be all! And all this, this bullshit that you think is so important, you can just kiss all that goodbye!"
Listen to the venom with which she regards those flow charts and expense reports- "Bullshit"- punks like James Lipton focus on the words- I focus on the quality of delivery- this is the penultimate useage of the term "Bullshit"- make no mistake friends and neighbors.
My God, she doesn't even have to say anything does she? Despite the fact that its one of the smartest lines in the film, one of my personal favorite indictments of the corporate system and upper class self absorbtion and aristocratic sense of invincibility, let's put that to the side for a moment. Look at her right there- all the dread, all the knowledge of what has happened and what is to come... Yes, her disgust at the corporate mentality and her seething frustration at these priggish, suited cattle is palpable as she bats their memos and charts away from her like so much piffle, but you can see the fear, the honest to God terror radiating from her at the prospect of alien earthfall, and the horror that its already set in motion- these fools will never listen to this worker bee.
Ripley is immaterial to these people, the damage is already done- its this moment, not the final bad dream, where Ripley knows she must take an active hand in eradicating these creatures. Its her fear, which the radiates from Weaver in waves, that sends her cowering to her apartment. The dream is merely the subconcious pushing her into action- the scene in the office is the actual trigger when she makes the realization that the nightmare reality is approaching, inexorable and inescapable, and my God how beautifully she plays it- how much of a fucking crime is it that this woman doesn't posess an Oscar for this performance? How furious does that make you? Strong women in film. Please. It don't get stronger folks, and there didn't even need to be a "cause of the week" to get it made. A Hall of Fame doesn't even begin to make up for this sickening gaffe.
Check the look she gives Hicks (Michael Biehn) after his word for word reiteration of her plan to drop a nuke from orbit, consoling her fears of allowing even one of the beasts to live. Look at her eyes taking in the Marine who has gone to bat for her and how her mouth pinches ever so much- almost imperceptably- that's the whole sex scene in Aliens. She ravishes him right then and there- its all played out in her face- truly astounding performance."
Really, no more needs to be said as to why Sigourney Weaver is the subject of this months Hall of Fame. But it needs to be said that on our forums, one poster Judy Dean, joined specifically to say this: "As a performer she's usually natural and brings passion to her characters. Of course Ellen Ripley is an icon in cinema, for the good her work in the series marked high standards for any future action heroine; for the bad she's underrated and many people don't see her versatility in other roles.
But not only that, as a star she's the kind of person who really gives to Hollywood a good reputation because of her classy, educated style with a willingness for promotion with intelligent and articulated answers to press. "
So, for displaying class, grace and talent throughout your Hollywood career, for an unstinting commitment to acting rather than being a 'star' and for creating the greatest female character that cinema has ever seen - Sigourney Weaver, we salute you.
Welcome to the Hollywood Bitchslap Hall of Fame
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2061
originally posted: 01/26/07 22:10:13
last updated: 04/17/07 00:09:14