Sunday, January 14, 2007

Faye Dunaway Birthday Bash 12.23.99

Our Birthday Bashes put a nice spin on the whole gift-giving ritual. You walk in empty handed and leave with some of the greatest films on earth because, at our party, it's the honoree who's giving out the presents.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to choices. Faye Dunaway chooses extremely well. She doesn’t choose often, but she makes her choices count. The beautiful and fabulously talented actress has avoided career potholes and, more importantly, empty, meaningless hits by continuing to pick her projects wisely.

Dunaway studied with Elia Kazan and Robert Whitehead at the Lincoln Center Repertory Company where she performed in A Man For All Seasons and After The Fall, earning accolades from the New York theater community and the attention of Otto Preminger, who cast her in Hurry Sundown. With a scary but important decision facing her, she subsequently broke contract with Preminger, resulting in a nasty legal imbroglio that, however, allowed her to co-star in Bonnie and Clyde. Good choice.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Arthur Penn’s ultraviolent bloodbath biopic of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s 1930’s crosscountry crime spree paved the way for the gritty cinema of the 1970’s and directors like Sam Peckinpah, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Dunaway portrayed Bonnie opposite Warren Beatty in an alternately funny, sexy and horrifying performance that earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Chinatown (1974)
So much has been said about director Roman Polanki and writer Robert Towne’s noir thriller, that it seems pointless to rehash a synopsis. It should be noted, however, that as outstanding as Jack Nicholson and John Huston are, Dunaway more than holds her own as the sexy, enigmatic Evelyn Mulwray. Dunaway’s captivating performance earned her a second Best Actress nomination.

Three Days Of The Condor (1975)
Director Sydney Pollack’s spy thriller magnum opus is a tightly-constructed, suspenseful and complex conspiracy film that tapped into the Big Brother fears of post-Watergate America. Robert Redford plays Joe Turner, a mild-manned CIA researcher who, returning from lunch, finds all of his co-workers slain. On the lam from an unseen, unknown web of assassins, Joe squirrels away with Kathy (Faye Dunaway), a beautiful and seemingly innocent New Yorker. Whodathunk that paranoia and sexy could go together, but Redford and Dunaway sizzle.

Network (1976)
Dunaway portrays Diana Christensen, an enterprising network programming executive at United Television Network, who opportunistically capitalizes on the despair of anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) by suggesting to air his suicide when the network fires him because of he is too old for their target demographic. Beale doesn’t off himself, but his insane rants are a ratings boost and Diane convinces him to become “The Mad Prophet of the Airwaves” as she turns the evening news into a tawdry entertainment spectacle. Sidney Lumet’s film from satirist Paddy Chayevsky’s script seems even more startlingly relevant today. Dunaway is hilarious--and sexy--and her role garnered her first Oscar win.

Barfly (1987)
Drunken, misogynistic Beat writer Charles Bukowski wrote the short story upon which this dreary love story is based. Mickey Rourke plays alcoholic scribe Henry Chinaski who beds down with half-crazy lush Wanda Wilcox (Dunaway). Their relationship slowly spirals into a self-destructive abyss until Henry is offered a mainstream gig by publisher Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige), a gig he successfully manages to blow for the sake of Lady Alcohol. Leaving Las Vegas looks cheery compared to this wonderfully bleak little movie.

Faye Dunaway has, of course, appeared in dozens of films, not the least of which is her howlingly campy portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. Although her over-the-top performance has been lambasted by critics, one cannot deny that Dunaway committed to her choice. And, frankly, considering the hideously over-the-top person Crawford was, the right choice. Happy Birthday, Faye Dunaway!

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