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Thursday night’s SAG/Backstage West screening of Get Low at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater was the ideal setting to watch the Sony Pictures Classics indie starring Robert Duvall as a kooky coot staging his own funeral. Any movie that is all about its acting is best seen with actors, and I sat between two women, probably actresses, audibly weeping at Duvall’s climacticcri de coeur scene, done in one take, like everything in the funeral scene. At the Q&A after, Duvall said, “A lotta actresses like to cry. Meisner [his famous teacher] used to say, “If crying were great acting, my Aunt Tillie would be another Eleanora Duse.”
The screening brought Duvall and Sissy Spacek (who plays the coot’s spurned ex) a step or two closer to possible Oscar noms. And Bill Murray‘s deadpan act as an undertaker killed, too. Actors can love an actor-driven movie that plays slow as tai chi; if the Academy can, don’t count Get Low out. In this week’s new Gurus o’Gold Best Actor Oscar odds chart, Duvall moved up from #5 to #4 , ahead of his Crazy Heart co-star Jeff Bridges, who headlines the Coens’ yet-to-be-released True Grit.
At the screening, Duvall predicted great things for True Grit in a convoluted answer to my question about Stalin, his 1992 HBO biopic shot during Communism’s fall, which Duvall recently watched. Yeltsin screened it on Russian TV to discredit diehard Stalinists, so by playing Stalin, Duvall actually helped Yeltsin defeat remaining Stalinists.
I informed Duvall that Stalin was a movie fan who loved John Wayne movies, but sent an assassin to kill Wayne for anticommunism. The assassin disobeyed and vanished in Hollywood. I asked Duvall, “Is there any order you’re glad you disobeyed?” Duvall replied, elliptically, “When I got mad at John Wayne fictionally. He did get mad at the director, not fictionally. That director [I think Duvall meant Henry Hathaway in the original True Grit] said to one of the actors, ‘When I say action, tense up, goddamn it! Can you imagine saying that to Joe Montana in the Superbowl? I mean, there’s a difference between intensity and tension, you know? I’m looking forward to the new True Grit, ’cause I think it’ll be very good, wonderful actors, and the direction in that vein of tense up.”
My translation of Duvall’s remarks: Directors should quit acting like dictators and let actors act. That’s how Oscar wars are really won. And sometimes real wars, too.
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