07 December 2009

Ellen Burstyn

While dawdling over an Umberto Lenzi war flick at IMDB last night I noticed in their Born Today section that Pearl Harbor Day is also the birthday of actress Ellen Burstyn, not only a talented but also beautiful actress who's been in a number of great genre films. She strikes me as one of those actresses/actors who you never realize how good they are until you take the time to do a little research and find out that they were crucial to some of your favorite films.

I'm not a particularly big fan of occult or religious horror, but I do like The Exorcist (1973). You'd have to try pretty damn hard not to. Ellen plays Regan's mother Chris with an alarmingly natural mix of hysteria and calm, some of which came from a spinal injury she received on set and which remained in the film. Along with star Linda Blair, Ellen very nearly wasn't in this film at all. The Exorcist may be her best known genre film, but she has another 119 titles to her credit at IMDB.
Also check out the Exorcist Soundtrack at Illogical Contraption.

Just a couple of years earlier Ellen had a supporting role (one of her first outside TV) in the low budget car crashing exploitation flick Pit Stop (1969). This is one of the only racing movies I like, but that's not surprising, it's old and it was directed by Jack Hill, a protege of Roger Corman who basically wrote and/or directed an unending string of classic exploitation films like Spider Baby, Switchblade Sisters and Coffy to name just a few. It also stars exploitation powerhouse Sid Haig who some may know better or more recently as Captain Spaulding.

And finally, this is the movie that put the name to the face of Ellen Burstyn for me, Darren Aronofsky's 2000 masterpiece of drug horror Requiem For A Dream. I think it's safe to say that it changed everyone's perception of just about every actor who was in it, Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans (especially), Jennifer Connely, Keith David etc.... I know I feel more than a little bit soiled after every time I watch it. Ellen Burstyn plays Leto's lonely older mother, a woman hounded by memories of a sad and unfulfilling life. Her portrayal of a diet-pill addict earned her an Oscar nomination (her 6th), but she also won numerous awards for her awesome portrayal of Sarah Goldfarb.
I shudder just thinking about it as I write this, and agree with my own mother's assessment of this film; "They should get rid of the DARE Program and just show this movie to schoolkids."

There ya go, if ya haven't seen 'em do it if for no other reason than to see Ellen at work or to get your gross on. Since I've only seen a couple of her other roles I'll get to work seeing some of those.

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