Tom Joad and Gertie Nevels. Two characters who are facing severe hardships in their lives and who keep on fighting despite the obvious setbacks. They are the people (as Mama Joad would say) and as a European, they represent the true meaning of America in my heart. They were played to perfection by a father and daughter, Henry and Jane Fonda, which only feels right to me. The former received an Oscar nomination for his work The Grapes of Wrath (and was robbed of an Academy Award, in my opinion) and the latter won her only Emmy award to date for her work in The Dollmaker.
I kept wondering why I always feel that Jane is fantastic in everything and I came up with a very obvious answer: her greatness comes from the fact that she believes in all of her characters and that's especially true about Gertie Nevels. In her fantastic autobiography, My Life So Far, Jane describes a wonderful journey with the character of Gertie Nevels. It took her twelve years to get the movie made (the chapter where describes her preparation is one of the most interesting ones in My Life So Far) and yet she was somehow hoping that they day of the filming would never come, because she was afraid of not playing Gertie the way she deserves to be played. In my opinion, it might have felt like expecting a baby: you prepare a lot, you do everything to make sure everything turns out well for the sake of your child and yet you are secretly scared of the day that's gradually approaching. Jane gave birth to the character Gertie after cherising her for twelve years and in my opinion, miracle was born in 1984.
During World War II, Gertie Nevels, a pioneer woman from Kentucky who carves dolls to express herself, experiences severe hardships in her life once she (along with her five children) follows her husband to Detroit where he got a job in a factory. One shattering tragedy follows another and it's up to Gertie to keep her family together.
In my review of Jane in Klute (on the other blog), I admitted that I only wanted to write the sentence: "Best performance ever. Period." Although I'll probably keep that opinon, I have never been so uncertain about it as I was while I was watching The Dollmaker :), which is an excellent movie and Jane's work serves it just as well as it does with Klute. Both Gertie Nevels and Bree Daniels are at the centre of their films and the outcome depended mostly on Jane Fonda. She had the biggest responsibilities in these pieces because it's only her who carries the movie on her shoulders, even though she's getting some great supporting players both times (despite the small screentime, Geraldine Page is just wonderful as Gertie's mother and in my humble opinion, it would have been priceless if Henry Fonda had lived and he had played the father of Gertie). Again, any misstep would have ruined the character and the whole experience of the movie, but Jane succesfully avoided all the traps (once again).
Jane Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Glenn Close and Kate Winslet are actresses that share two common things besides being my favorite actresses: they all won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie and (oh, it's so awesome) Ingrid, Barbara and Jane took it in three consecutive years (in this order). However, the most important thing about them here is that they have a wonderful instinct for playing with the emotions of the character and the audience as well. In their cases, it's always the emotional side of the character that impresses me (though they also excel in the technical part). That's especially true about Jane and her Gertie. Jane's fabulous intuitions guided her so well in playing another intuitive genious, Gertie Nevels. Yes, I would say Gertie is a wonderful artist as well, because (like Jane) she loves her creations. Gertie didn't have the chance of polishing her skills in carving and yet her rough gems are wonderful pieces. Although Gertie is not an educated woman, she has a heavy accent and she may not know what adapting means, she's a very sensible and intelligent person who understands what's going on in her environment (Jane is fabulous in the scene where Gertie confronts her son's teacher). Her life is difficult, she has to work hard to get by. She could have beeen presented as a toughened or complaining woman but instead Jane showed her as someone whose (not only country) values and beliefs help her cope with the many problems and keep her good spirits.
To the people Bree Daniels is nothing but a protstitute and Gertie Nevels is nothing but a hillbilly and yet the audience (thanks to the empathic, loving interpretation of Jane) knows how rich their personalities are. Bree can be herself while she's acting to the old client of hers and Gertie is herself while carving various figures and most importantly, Jesus into a piece of cherry tree. Contrary to her mother's fanatic religiousness, Gertie's faith is something special, which is not about hell and damnation, but about love and creation that she expresses through her art. In my opinion, Jane fabulously showed this very giving and divine side of Gertie. You just have to look at Jane's face in the scene where Gertie's carving Jesus on the cross.
While Gertie's husband quickly adapts to the new circumstances, Gertie's always hoping to return to her home that's given her so much over the years. Jane is so fantastic at showing Gertie's desire to return to her roots. I think she completely nailed Gertie's very strong personality that's so connected to her home and the soil. In many ways, Gertie is an earth mother who's forced to live next to a factory and who feels like a fish out of water as a result. Her big breakdown to her husband is just unforgettable. Jane miraculously balanced the feelings of Gertie and the deliveries of the lines is just perfect. It's so heartbreaking when she says "And they are mine". Gertie only has those dolls from her old life where she found harmony and peace.
A very tragic and horrible thing happens to Gertie and Jane is so heartbreaking in those scenes. She so thrillingly identified with the grief of her character that these scenes become especially hard to watch. There's something deeply haunting about how Gertie copes with the tragedies. However, Jane used Gertie's love for her country so wonderfully (Again, those instincts!) that it left me completely speechless.
Despite all the horrible events in Gertie's life, the ending of The Dollmaker is so uplifting and truly moving. The last thing we see of Gertie is her smile: it's an endlessly cathartic moment for me. There's so much true and deep emotion in that very simple expression. Not only does Jane show Gertie's feelings, but she also communicated the feeling of harmony and love. Gertie goes back to her roots and it feels like an earth-shattering, universal moment: the earth mother is not a fish out of water anymore.
I don't believe in accident. Everything happens for a reason, in my opinion. There was a reason why the divine quality in Jane showed itself the best with a character that often used her own divine quality in her art. In her book, Jane says that each and every actor has different personalities that they have to show in their various performances. The "Gertie-self" of Jane Fonda is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on the screen. Apparently she burst into tears instantly where she finished shooting as she got so attached to the character. She lived with people like Gertie for a while (thanks to Dolly Parton) and I believe she's developed an enormous amount of love for her character and these people and that's what made it so hard to part from her.
It's indeed true that Henry Fonda would have been very proud of her daughter's performance in this movie. I understand that Gertie is also a tribute to him, but it's a fantastic and mindblowing performance apart from that and he would have been extremely proud of his daughter who created such a wonderful, true character who's about everything that he represented in his work.
I think I'll tie the Best Performance title between Jane Fonda in Klute and Jane Fonda in The Dollmaker. :)
Note: I haven't found out a rating system for these tv reviews so I'll think about something and add the rating of a perfect 5 here later. :)