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.