Paglia on Elizabeth Taylor

Camille Paglia writes at Salon:

To me, Elizabeth Taylor’s importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality—the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct. Let me give you an example. Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” is a truly wonderful film, but Julianne Moore and Annette Bening—who is fabulous in it and should have won the Oscar for her portrayal of a prototypical contemporary American career woman—were painfully scrawny to look at on the screen. This is the standard starvation look that is now projected by Hollywood women stars—a skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette, which has nothing to do with females as most of the world understands them. There’s something almost android about the depictions of women currently being projected by Hollywood.

If Gwyneth Paltrow were growing up in the 1930s, she would have been treated as a hopelessly gawky wallflower who would be mortified by her lanky figure. But everything about her is being pushed on to American young women as the ultimate ideal. And it’s even more unpalatable to me now because I’ve been spending the last few years speaking in Brazil, and I’m fascinated by Brazilian women—their humor, energy and openness and the way they express their sexuality so naturally and beautifully. I love it because it’s so much like the old Hollywood style. Now Elizabeth Taylor’s persona was at first a continuation of Ava Gardner’s. They had a natural lustiness and spontaneity, an animal magnetism, though both Ava and Elizabeth at the beginning of their careers didn’t have command of basic technical skills, particularly dialogue. That’s what people laud Meryl Streep for—“Oh, her accents are so great; oh, her articulation is so perfect.” But she doesn’t really live in her characters, she merely costumes them. Meryl Streep is always doing drag. But it’s so superficial. It all comes from the brain, not the heart or body.

Paglia’s treatment of Streep is stupid—she would have us believe that the main thing about Streep was some merely technical accomplishment. In order to give Taylor her due, it’s not necessary to put down Streep, a totally different kind of actress, and a far better one.

- end of initial entry -

Jim C. writes:

Poor Camille lost her edge years ago, and she obviously knows next to nothing about contemporary actresses, because voluptuousness is now in vogue: Scarlett Johansson, Anne Hathaway, Salma Hayek, Kate Winslet—the list is endless. I respect Elizabeth Taylor, but her resume is quite thin when you think about it. How many masterpieces was she involved in? None. Her best performance was Martha in “Virginia Woolf,” and she did some stellar work with Paul Newman in Tennessee Williams material. Put bluntly, Taylor is not in Streep’s league.

LA replies:

I’d say her standout performance is as Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Jim C. writes:

I agree with Michael Musto on Taylor’s six best performances.

Richard S. writes:

I have never been movedby a Streep performance. Yes, I have been wowed by her technical competence, or technique; but that’s precisely what great actors hide in order to facilitate those cathartic moments in the theater (or in films) that are only possible when disbelief is suspended. Paglia is right that with Streep it all comes from the head. And therefore can only be registered in the head. Not felt in the bowels. Which finally is the only reason theater exists—to make us quake within.

LA replies:

If all you’ve ever gotten from a Streep performance is abstract admiration for her technique, then sadly her unique talent has been wasted on you. In her better performances, she becomes a character. And that is something that creates a thrill and an aesthetic and spiritual pleasure that is beyond those who think that the only purpose of theater, and of art generally, is to be made to quake in one’s guts.

Jim C. writes:

To Richard S.:

Please read this review and comment. Is it your argument that Streep’s riveting performances in films like “Doubt” and “Madison County” are inauthentic?

My only cavil with Streep is that she didn’t work with some of the best directors, but I’d guess that was not her fault. Needless to say, it’s not surprising that Clint Eastwood and Robert Altman got some of her best work.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 24, 2011 10:32 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):