Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Today would have been Dame Elizabeth Taylor‘s 80th birthday. Hollywood is still feeling the loss of the iconic actress, whose violet eyes and dramatic finesse made an unforgettable impression on movie audiences the world over. Though the tabloid terror of Liz’s colorful personal life sometimes overshadowed her later career, she was a dazzling screen legend who graced us with her charm, beauty, and undeniable talent. We’ve taken a look back at the starlet’s film history, ranking her roles from best to worst. It’s not an easy job, given her prolific filmography. Lists like these are always subjective, but we’ve spotlighted some of the good, the bad (or the so bad it’s good), and the ugly. Thanks to Liz’s cinematic accomplishments, there’s lots to choose from. Share your picks below, and tell us what movies we may have missed.

It’s too easy to call a beautiful actress brave for undergoing a dramatic physical transformation. While anything that brings us closer to a character and makes a performance more believable is commendable, Mike Nichols’ study of one toxic couple’s marital decline doesn’t win a top spot for Taylor simply due to her downgraded looks. Her alcohol-soaked metamorphosis into the frumpy and foul-mouthed Martha is amazing to behold. It’s the shifting psychological and emotional hurricane that convincingly swings from sadistic to pitiable, however, that truly won Taylor her Oscar. Her braying manner and crass sex appeal doesn’t overpower the nuanced shades that Taylor expertly imbued her complex character with.

Taylor’s emotional range was equally riveting in the 1958 adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The family drama finds Taylor as a frustrated and desperate wife coping with her alcoholic husband’s (Paul Newman) struggling identity and sexual repression. Taylor is smoldering as “Maggie the Cat,” and her undeniable chemistry with Newman draws us in, but it’s the star’s impassioned honesty that helps keep us shrouded in southern gothic deliciousness. (Or maybe it’s just the hypnotizing power of the lead stars’ stunning peepers … )

Based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel, An American Tragedy, Taylor’s appearance in A Place in the Sun proved the young actress really was more than just a pretty face. Still a teenager, but showing an incredible depth for a complex, “adult” role, her part as the glamorous socialite Montgomery Clift falls for showed a complex vulnerability, passion, and dramatic prowess that matched her more experienced co-stars.

Ranking high because of Taylor’s radiant display of early promise, National Velvet tops all the best-of Liz — and with good reason. Her performance at only twelve years old belies her age, exhibiting a charm and talent beyond her years in the family classic. It’s incredible to see how far Taylor came from playing the farm girl riding her horse in the Grand National race, but her performance still holds its own after so many great roles that would eventually transpire.

We can think of a few films to fill this mid-level spot, but Liz’s convincing psychodrama in yet another Tennessee Williams adaptation — co-starring Katharine Hepburn, who won the Academy Award that Taylor was also nominated for — is too strong to resist. The actress stars as a young girl traumatized by tragic family events. Her aunt (Hepburn) wants to have her lobotomized to cover up the truth behind the harrowing occurrence. We have to wonder how difficult the equally dark strife on set weighed on the screen star. Taylor’s scandalous affair with Eddie Fisher the year before sullied her public reputation, and arguments with cast and crew on set — particularly surrounding the delays that co-star/friend Montgomery Cliff’s dwindling health and addiction to booze and pills caused — made things difficult. Despite it all, Liz delivered another stellar, memorable performance.

With taglines like “The glamour girl who wakes up ashamed!” it’s easy to imagine why Taylor despised the 1960 melodrama BUtterfield 8 — especially post Eddie Fisher relationship mudslinging. She was contractually obligated to make the movie, but resented her portrayal as a Manhattan model-turned-call girl — and winning the Oscar for her part didn’t put a Band-Aid on things, either. Cinema-savvy audiences and Taylor herself agreed that she won the sympathy vote that Awards season since she nearly died from pneumonia and had to have an emergency tracheotomy. Still, the film could have been an bland affair, but Liz’s overwrought performance is clearly inspired by real-life disgust — and for that, it works.

The success of Butterfield 8 prepped Liz for stardom in the uber expensive Cleopatra. The 1963 film marks Taylor’s most iconic look as the Egyptian queen. (The actress had a whopping 65 costume changes, too.) Director Joseph Mankiewicz was clearly not worried about historical accuracy here — which was probably not an option anyway considering the lavish production cost $44 million to make. Taylor’s public affair with co-star Richard Burton started during filming and caused tabloid scandal part deux for the actress. You wouldn’t know the couple was having a torrid romance, however, as the scenery chewing hid most of the real-life passion. Even if it isn’t as convincing as it could have been, Liz’s eyeliner was a force to be reckoned with.

Definitely one of the strangest and most unexpected roles Taylor ever took on, The Driver’s Seat(AKA Identikit) found Liz as a mentally deranged spinster. Surreal, psychedelic, experimental, and haunting, the Italian production has since become a bit of a cult classic, but the adaptation of the Muriel Spark novella confused, and in some cases frightened, audiences during its release. (The cameo appearance of people like Andy Warhol didn’t help matters.) Liz’s bizarre trip usually falls into the camp genius or the gutsy, daring performance category. We hope you’ll watch it and decide for yourself.

Holding a paltry 8% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Taylor’s 1968 British drama — adapted from yet another Tennessee Williams’ play, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore — she created with then-hubby Richard Burton is one of John Waters’ favorite films. We love the cult filmmaker, so we find it hard to give Boom! an absolute worst rating — which is why we want you to fill in the number ten spot for us. Liz’s overdrawn diva-lish misfire is indeed filled with moments of camp hilarity — aided by Burton’s portrayal meant for a much younger actor. Still, it was a strange detour for the actress, particularly given the genius of some of the other Tennessee Williams works she mastered in her earlier career.

No comments:

Post a Comment




As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


Digital art selected for the Daily Inspiration #528


About Me

My photo