Friday, 6 September 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: Julie Christie

It turned out this was the perfect book to read after Michael Feeney Callan's Julie Christie book. Melanie Bell's study takes a more in depth look at Julie's film work, and also her activism. She looks at how these influenced public perception of her life and work and how her film choices changed over time, becoming more feminist and experimental.

Bell divides Julie's film work into three categories, her 1960s work, which established her star persona, her Hollywood phase in the 1970s, and then her art house cinema of the 80s and 90s.
Bell also looks at how Julie's early work was characterised by working with highly rated male directors, who she often developed a father daughter bond with. Her interest in feminism, starting in the 70s, saw her taking on female directed roles, and parts that challenged traditional roles of femininity.

After being exploited for her sexuality in the early 60s, Julie became critical of women's roles in cinema. She chose a variety of roles that explored different sides to female identity. As her career progressed she became more confident to reject roles that she saw as being false to her beliefs.
Bell discusses how Julie's activism influenced her film choices, and also changed her popularity with the press. They criticised her and labelled her 'Battling Julie'. Bell talks about how female actress, such as Jane Fonda, were often criticised for their political statements, the press seemed to have a hard time understanding why a woman, and an actress at that, would concern herself with such problems. Julie largely took this criticism in her stride, she never lost her passion and has continued to campaign for what she believes in.

Julie was unafraid to choose roles that could be perceived as 'unflattering' such as in McCabe and Mrs Miller and Return of the Soldier. As an actress she could be warm, and then aloof, in all her roles she used her eyes to portray emotions and to gain an understanding with the audience.
It was fascinating to read a detailed account of the trajectory of Julie's career, and to see how she matured, and grew more confident. Her ability to keep her public and private lives seperate is admirable, and I feel that she has always conducted herself with great dignity and strength despite the difficulties she has faced.
One of the things I most like about this series of books is how they present acting as an art form, and a difficult one, the skill and dedication it takes to be an actor is fully revealed, and it is quite different from the popular perception that acting is 'easy'. As an aside I do wish Bell had analysed Far From the Madding Crowd! But I suspect that's just because I love it so much!!

"Christie finessed her technique in close-up to a type of performance style that I define as 'poetic' in its ability to condense and communicate an intensity of thought and feeling. The actress used this poetic style to suggest a character's emotional depth and convey feelings such as 'empathy', 'caring' and 'romantic love'." p. 51

"The actress could portray characters as inviting or uninviting, hard to read or open and friendly. She could confound audience expectations of empathy and meet those expectations through poetic playing." p. 53

"She described herself as 'very pernickety, very picky, and happy to be so. I look at a scrip and think this is reinforcing this or that prejudice or attitude, and I turn it down'." p. 95

"My relationship with film directors was paternalistic, completely irresponsible in the way I put myself in their hands. That's changed. I'm no longer the little girl letting Daddy do all the work...After that (Demon Seed), I wasn't relying on father figures anymore, which is great, since I'm less frightened." Julie- p. 100

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