She Shoulda Been a Contender!
February 24, 2013
Likely everyone has a film or two, and an actor or two, they think should have won an Oscar. No doubt some of that is cropping up in water cooler and coffee room conversations all over the United States and Canada today, as people talk about last night’s Academy Awards.
I want to take you a little further back than last night’s award ceremony, to a film and a performance that I rate as Oscar worthy. The film was released in 1986. The Oscar ceremony for which it was not even a nominee — nor was its star — was held on March 30, 1987. (And I need to say now — sorry, Erik, but it’s a movie you won’t be able to watch for a few more years. You can keep reading this post, though!)
Who was missing from the nominees that year?
I suspect many of you are not even aware of the film Duet for One, with screenplay by Tom Kempinski (who wrote the original stage play as well), directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy, inspired at least somewhat by the life of cellist Jacqueline Du Pre.
Stephanie Anderson, the main character of the film, is a world-class British violinist who is stricken with Multiple Sclerosis, and deals with the wrenchingly difficult reality of watching her ability to play the violin deteriorate until her fingers can no longer be trusted to obey her brain’s commands.
To get her portrayal of Stephanie Anderson “right,” Julie Andrews spent quite some time with people who deal with MS, talking with them, learning from them, observing them. Her efforts paid off. She puts the viewer through the wringer in her performance, making us feel how the character feels in her anguish at losing the music that was her life. This link, although mainly about her co-star, tells more about her performance and the lengths she went to in order to make it ring true.
A close friend of mine who has MS says (in my interpretation of what she has told me) that the portrayal is wrenchingly real, a performance that goes right to the core of her being, leaving her feeling shaken, and in awe of the talent that took her through those feelings.
There should have been an Oscar for that performance, if not for the film itself. There wasn’t even a nomination. For whatever reason, this film has been largely overlooked, not only by the Academy but by the film-viewing world at large.
I would urge you (if you are over 18) to see this film. One word of caution, there is some nudity (not gratuitous) and some foul language. The movie has never been released on DVD (I own it on VHS tape) but I’m pleased to say it appears to be available on Netflix.
A stunning performance that will not only leave you impressed with the actress’s dramatic talents, but will leave you with a deeper understanding of how radically Multiple Sclerosis changes a person’s life. Duet for One. Put it in your Netflix queue.