HOW DO I look?” As you always do … direct and vague, sweet and ironic.” That is an exchange in the film “Away From Her.” It happens between Julie Christie, as a woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s, and Gordon Pinsent as her husband. It is an apt and heartbreaking observation, coming as her character prepares to be committed to a long-term care facility. And though it is a line from Alice Munro’s 1999 short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” upon which this movie is based, it is impossible to believe that description was written with anyone else but Christie in mind. Julie Christie began in a blaze of unconventional blonde beauty, and sex appeal. She was a symbol of the swinging Mod scene in London, a reputation based mostly on her Oscar-winning turn in “Darling.” … Christie seems bemused by notions of her mystery or iconic status. “Well, I became a film actor. And I had this ‘thing’ onscreen, which really had nothing to do with me; it was just something the camera picked up. But most actors are committed to their work, always wanting to improve, always looking for something better, and that’s marvelous. They respect themselves as actors; respect their craft. I didn’t have that, and perhaps that’s why I’ve tended to avoid the attention that success in the cinema brings you. I suppose I’ve never been pinned down.” (Julie looks terrific, by the way, without seeming patched together or artificially maintained.) Sarah Polley, who directed and wrote the screenplay for “Away From Her,” joined us. She said, “I think part of Julie’s integral quality is that she lives a real life, there’s something going on between films.” … Christie has a curious innocence about her own profession. “My god, the access to information now affects everything. When I became an actor I had no idea it involved ‘celebrity’ and advertising, and image and being boxed in and cornered.” She turns to Polley, “What about you, you’re so much younger, I guess you knew?” Polley, who is an actress as well as a director, replied, “Making movies for me was a way of discussing ideas. Then I saw it kind of came down to, in so many ways, selling a dress, or a product. To me, it was like Martians had thought this up.” … Polley is writing two screenplays and will be seen in the eagerly awaited HBO miniseries “John Adams.” Christie asked, “Who plays Abigail Adams?” When Polley said, “Laura Linney” Christie exclaimed “Oh, what a lovely cast.” Then she asked, “And who plays John?” At Paul Giamatti’s name she said, “Oh, really, what a gorgeous cast.” As for Christie, she’s heading back to her farm in Wales.
FRANK LANGELLA stirred our heartstrings at the Literacy Partners readings Monday. He offered a fragment about reading from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and brought the crowd to tears. When I introduced the Broadway star of “Frost/Nixon,” I told the audience that Langella was an actor who researches his roles and thus, when he played William S. Paley in “Good Luck and Good Night,” he asked every woman he met, “Did you ever sleep with Bill Paley?” When Langella came to the podium after my intro, he told us, “Yes, I did ask women that. And, you know, everyone of them said to me ‘No – but I could have.” When I replaced Langella at the podium, I ad-libbed to him as he left the stage: “Frank, no, but I could have.” We got some good laughs. … This fantastic night also featured Vanessa Redgrave reading from the book of her next movie “Evening” by Susan Minot; Lee and Bob Woodruff; and Alexander McCall Smith. … The piece de resistance of the night, which brought in $1.2 million to fight adult illiteracy, was the surprise appearance of Bette Midler. First, Bette got off a gag about how President Bush congratulated Queen Elizabeth II for winning the Oscar for “The Queen.” Then she sang a sentimental favorite –“I Wish You Love” — because Literacy was honoring Arnold Scaasi, Parker Ladd and yours truly for 25 years of fundraising work. Bette sat on our laps, singing to us. What a gift.
SITTING IN Joe Allen’s Orso the other eve, to my table comes my pal, movie producer Lee Daniels, the man who shepherded Halle Berry to an Oscar in “Monster’s Ball.” I asked Lee about his latest film project, “Tennessee,” filmed in that very state and starring Mariah Carey. It seems the divine diva next door, as I call her, had been a doll to direct, even forsook her six-inch heels when the characterization called for flats, and it’s Lee’s belief that she is going to surprise us this time out. Lee talked me into going to his table to meet the star of his next movie, Lenny Kravitz. He has cut his hair and looks adorable. Lenny refused to be formally introduced, saying merely, “Give me some sugar” and kissing me on the lips.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)