Tuesday, April 5, 2011



I first heard about THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, from my Aunt Linda who read a lot. She read it by our pool during the summer of 81 and I remember thinking – what a weird title, what’s this about? Is he a philosopher wandering the earth?  So when I saw ads for the film a year later I was intrigued even though my aunt thought the novel was ‘very bizarre’. I was curious to see Robin Williams. I knew it was a serious turn for him but I knew nothing about the story. The movie is one of my brother, mother and my favorites. It was one of those bonding films for us and a point of reference for years and years after - still is. I never thought of it as being unconventional or bizarre. Everything about it was completely real and characters in it felt like people I knew. The loved poured into the characters, from the entire cast, was so filled with passion it left my brother, mother and myself very moved by the end credits. Addition to the absorbing story it was great to see actors we had never heard of - be so incredible. This movie had a few: John Lithgow, Amanda Plummer, Mary Beth Hurt, and of course, the superlative, Glenn Close.
Like the novel, which I read later, the movie is one of those films that  either works or doesn’t. I think the plausibility, extreme characters and situations in one novel – in one lifetime - set people off. I think if I had only read the novel I might have not connected to Jenny Fields. The film character played by, than newcomer to film, Glenn Close is undeniable. It’s one of those knockout new arrival performances' that come once a decade if we are lucky. She performs miracles with the toughest of roles, Garp's mother, largely unbelievable caricature in the novel, becomes a full-blooded woman here without losing one bit of her firm convictions. 

Glenn Close understands Jenny Fields deeply felt positions and embraces her eccentricities rather than plays them.  It's acting from the inside out. She digs into the psychology of her character with a special stamp of simplicity, love and joyous acceptance. This one my favorite examples of playing age and playing eccentricities. She did her Jenny with very little aging make-up and wigs. A 29 / 30 year old actress today would mock - probably walk with a cane and hold her hip and shake violently. She captures Jenny’s strength and her dignity and her grit with fearless acceptance – never playing merely the externalizations. It’s all deep within, thoughtful nuances; a detailed construction. Her physicality comes from within - no tricks. And Glenn Close answers all the previous circumstances to her Jenny Fields, her moments before, at the same time giving all her scenes a feeling of - spontaneous levity. 

Glenn Close has talked about incorporating bits of Katherine Hepburn – Kate's sense of herself for Jenny. I believe it was on the original casting sheet - 'Looking for east-coast Kate Hepburn type'. Her original audition was really overboard but the casting director and director knew from the first moment in BARNUM - that she was their Jenny Fields. Glenn ended up capturing the essence of Katherine Hepburn's pride and her ability to hold strong against a male dominated surrounding. She talked about the way she held her chin and hit her consonants with an extra little kick. Even though it’s externalized technique talk – Glenn connects them with a breath of humanity that would have skipped most. One of my favorite scenes is with the prostitute, another great theatre actress, Swoozie Kurtz, asking her about her work life, personal life, men who pay for her body. The direct ways she asks her questions and stays utterly engaged and focused on them - that one person and takes in everything that they say. As if collecting evidence like an alien cop. As if the person she's talking to is only the person in the universe. It is a great character trait and perfect fit for Jenny Fields.

Glenn Close has always been a serious actress with a specialty with disorders and twisted passions. She’s not one to go searching for the lighter side or humor in her characters. Here, the humor comes from her utter commitment and that makes it funny in the dark places. She knows exactly what she’s doing. Glenn gives Jenny sarcastic, funny and playful edges - always with an inner smile. The looks she gives Garp – “With whom?” “Dadda’s dead” "... "or are you going to stay up and think your weird thoughts for awhile?" and extremely difficult lines later like “I did a good thing having you son”, so good. So moving, inspired, touching, and light. Lovely – simply lovely. Raw. Actors like poets and other artists, if they keep at it, have the possibility of breakthrough moment / role / inspired ‘lighting in a bottle’ moment w/ proper preparation accompanied by opportunity. Usually happens after a few films – after they’ve worked with a camera a few times. Glenn Close nailed it the first time out. A very rare occurrence. She was a skilled actress with ten years behind her of Broadway, Off Broadway and a dedicated student of acting. She makes all the right choices, not a moment doesn’t work. Glenn Close’s Jenny is luminous, tough, sharp yet ethereal. Not a year in her life doesn’t ring true. Her beliefs are grounded in a deep commitment – from her experiences and her own unique perspective. Everything is perfectly logical, rational and real.  Brilliant. It’s rare that a film can capture the absurdity of life and all it’s fullness (both the tragic and the humor)  – this one did and still does. I always love Glenn Close in everything she does – probably cause she got me off to a good start. I always had hunch that THE BIG CHILL and THE NATURAL nominations were fallout (Academy IOU nominations) from this performance being so stellar.

Jenny Fields is one of those characters that feels like family.  

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