Monday, January 08, 2007

For Your Consideration: Grace Zabriskie


I'm unforgivably late for this — stinkylulu's web-wide celebration of actressing at the edges, circa 2006. But I still want to chip in, if that's OK, by mentioning the brief but unforgettable work of Grace Zabriskie — yes, Laura Palmer's mother from Twin Peaks — in my film of the year, Inland Empire. Though the lead performance of Laura Dern has been raved about in many quarters, I've seen hardly any attention paid to the smaller contributions, and the truth is: Zabriskie is structurally crucial to the picture, bookending it with her appearances, and representing our sinister oracle as we plunge into the dank and twisty rabbithole of Lynch's imagination. Her character has no name — she's listed as Visitor #1 in the credits. She has the first major dialogue scene, when this total stranger invites herself in, unannounced, to Dern's LA mansion, takes a pew on the sofa, and proceeds to forewarn Dern about what's going to happen some two and a half hours later in film-time. In a movie full of self-conscious cross-referencing, to Mulholland Drive in particular, the performance Zabriskie's most resembles is a tiny but terrifying one: Lee Grant as the insane Louise Bonner, turning up at the door of the apartment Diane and Betty are sharing in that film. ("I'm Betty". "No, you're not. Something's wrong...") Lynch loves casting older actresses and having them lose their marbles — remember Diane Ladd going lipstick-crazy in Wild at Heart? But what's chilling about Zabriskie's character is her utter, alien composure, and the way her neighbourly interest in Dern is pitched so unnervingly between knowing solicitousness and something like malice. It's the comic trope of the busybody across the street turning up uninvited and outstaying her welcome, given the creepy Lynchian twist that she knows far more about what's going on than anyone else. (Certainly us, in this early stage of a voluptuously baffling movie.) Zabriskie's face, a basilisk mask with wide-apart eyes, inspires Lynch's camera to lock onto it, fascinated and almost trembling, as she cryptically divulges several of the film's key secrets, takes her leave, and has us wondering if we'll be ready for her next visit. It may well be in our nightmares.

6 comments:

Nick Davis said...

Welcome back! I still can't wait for this movie (even though I have to, for three more weeks), but having your blog back is strong consolation.

Any word on Lazarescu yet?

Ali said...

Have not seen this yet either, but am a big fan of Zabriskie from HBO's "Big Love" mini-series. She plays Bill Paxton's mother, and even though the part is not flattering in the least, she manages to avoid making the character too cartoony or loopy. As you write here, her "alien composure" and the hint of something being slightly off makes her a thrill to watch.

Anyways, glad to see you back and am looking forward to Inland Empire if it ever opens here.

tim r said...

Watching Lazarescu tonight! More soon...

J.J. said...

How grand. Yes, she has a giant field of gravity in Inland Empire. I especially love how she approaches the mansion -- tiptoe, tiptoe. The dainty entrance definitely does not prepare us for what's to come.

I would love to read your review of the film, though, because it perplexed the hell out of me, and not in a logical way.

P.S. I'd like to flag Zabriskie's work in Seinfeld. She played Susan's chardonnay-swilling mother. Just delicious.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I just hope this movie gets a release in Australia before the end of 2007.

Nick Davis said...

An A for Lazarescu! The heart leaps -