Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

There she goes again

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep

The Oscar nominations were announced on 25 January, and guess who is right up front on the list, again? You guessed it, Meryl Streep, again. Breaking her own record, this was the 20th nomination of the Yale graduate, in a career that has spanned over four decades, and over 50 films.

She has earned the profound respect of tinsel-town because of her divergence in the nature of a variety of genres, her discernible craft and her intellectual technique. With an unerring flair for the truly dramatic, her presence alone does not endow a film with immortality, but without her you wonder who can rise above her renditions.

With all that said, she was dubbed “the finest actress to grace our screen”.

Such a broad statement got our ire up and we got busy in search of the truth; whether or not she was “overrated”, to quote Potus, the president of the US, Donald Trump.

We thought of the great ones, Bette Davis, “that Crawford woman”. Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn and the often overlooked Mae west and Lucille Ball. Such women had personality as well as talent… Streep does not have that powerful presence.

“ Meryl Streep is ‘the best actress alive’, obviously they have not heard of the superb Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren or Judi Dench, those astonishing ‘dames’, perfect examples of startling talents, as well as hearts. They can make Streep look like a mechanical toy.”

All critics are not agreed on the “incomparable” Streep.

A few self-respecting ones, not bowled over by her “measured, calculated acting style”, have had the courage to say so. 

Certainly she does everything to perfection, but she seldom becomes the character. One critic described it as “a perfectly dressed woman with a bit of her under-slip showing”. In other words, she is caught acting. We are all aware she is acting, even if she does it magnificently.

Few of the critics or viewers are able to detect that fine line of being the character and acting the character. Thus one should be critical of her audience, so impressed with her technical skills not of her artistry. Other actors may not possess this highly honed deftness but they have so much soul, spirit, strength, courage, energy and life, which far surpass technique.

Consider Vivien Leigh in her Oscar-winning role as the disturbed Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), as she struggles between reality and her dream world. The ageing Miss Dubois looks longingly at a young soldier, sighing; “Young man! Young, young, young man”… the pain, loneliness and solitude make your heart bleed. Her performance was considered one of the two best of the 20th century. Can you imagine Streep piercing your heart?

She picks great scripts and roles that carry their own weight and show off her talent. Deservedly, she won her first two Oscars for supporting roles Kramer vs Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. Her third Oscar for best actress as The Iron Lady, a one-dimensional portrayal was by all accounts totally undeserved.   

We found enthusiastic support from a true Hollywood royalty, the venerable Miss Katherine Hepburn, who has a hallowed place in Hollywood history. In his biography, Kate Remembered, Pulitzer Prize winner Scott Berg wrote that Streep was Miss Hepburn’s “least favourite movie star” Why? “Too cerebral”, she said, “over-reliant on technique. I’m sure she’s very nice, but she’s not interesting. Her performances are so calculated you can almost hear the “click”, “click”, “click”, as the wheels turn inside her head”.

Technique reaches the brain with imperceptible swiftness, but not the heart.

We go to the movies to be moved. We welcome those tense, tingling, scorching, flames to the heart, not the technical illusion of the supreme moment.

No doubt Streep has an impressive range, but her emotions run the gamut from A to B.

Despite being the most honoured actress in Hollywood, The New York Times critic Manhola Dargis has unsparingly criticised her for her performances in Doubt, as self-righteous nun, Sister Alonysius, turning her portrayal into a Gothic horror thriller, while everyone else looks and sounds close to life. Disappointment in several forgettable films makes you wonder why she does not take it down a notch to make her roles more human.  

Her legacy as most gifted artist is not altogether undeserved, as she well proves in a well-oiled turn in The Devil Wears Prada. Nonetheless there is a sense of “Streep fatigue” or ennui, especially at award time, when her name keeps popping up in whatever film she’s in, no matter how mediocre.

Such is the case with her latest venture that has been nominated for the Golden Globe and the Academy Awards, her portrayal of Florence Foster Jenkins, a lady who cannot sing but sings anyway. If she gets an Oscar for that well… Goodbye Oscar.

If she wins, our faith in Oscar is no more. On receiving one of her awards, she said: “Oh-h-h no, I could hear half of America say come on, not her again.”

She probably heard half the world.

Adulation is a problem that has no name. Is she the best actress alive today? No. But who would dare say so.

Whoever said that life was fair!

“The best actors do not let the wheels show”

Henry Fonda (1905-1982)

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