April 20, 2015

Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette

as BERNADETTE SOUBIROUS
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Won: Academy Award - Best Actress | Golden Globe Award - Best Actress



The Role: as a sweet and sickly girl who has visions of the Virgin Mary, this was undoubtedly a "star is born" type of role that shot Jennifer Jones into Hollywood stardom for the duration of the 1940s. I'll say now that my discontent towards religious fare really didn't play into how I feel about The Song of Bernadette and Jones' performance all all (though it does get exhausting after awhile), and in fact, I did like the film/was quite engaged at times. But the role of Bernadette and this over-stressed archetype of saintly womandom is what I found most unsavory here, and while that's no fault of Jones', I think that she's at a crossroads of not being able to do much via the material as well as not possessing the skills to do much with the material either.

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The Performance: My primary issue with this performance is that I've grown quite tired of overwhelmingly saintly female characters. Where are the flaws? Where are the humanistic qualities that make these women real people as opposed to these robotic Stepfordwife-esque portraits of what a proper woman is and should be? Bernadette Soubirous--bless her really--epitomizes this archetype. I'm aware that my bitching of Bernadette being too saintly is rather stupid, as that's exactly what Bernadette is supposed to be. But I found myself continuously watching Jones and just being utterly bored with what she was doing. What is she doing, really truly? She speaks to all these people in the same soft, sickeningly fragile voice, in the same tone, throughout all the issues and drama that she faces over the course of two and a half hours. It was all a bit one-note for my tastes. When she's not being a softspoken saint to everyone around her, Jones spends what has to be 50%+ of her performance looking up at things. What fun is there in watching someone point her head up and stare off at stuff? Even still, while watching her, I wrote down in my notes that I had a feeling Jones wasn't much of an actress. We're served with shot after shot after shot of her gazing at stuff, and with these frequent opportunities I never got a sense that there was much happening behind her eyes. I would look into those big eyes of hers and I wouldn't be able to read or feel anything. I just saw blank glances in the face of what are supposed to be extraordinary visions. That led me to believe that Jones is more of an amateur and/or David O. Selznick-hyped commodity as opposed to a legitimate thespian, and it's all just kind of disappointing. For what it's worth, I do believe that her embodiment of a saint is committed and well done. And I do think that the last two or so scenes near the film's conclusion are actually nuanced and expertly acted. Definitely a mark of an up-and-coming ingenue for sure, but was it really worth a win? When you've got much more expertly crafted performances by Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca and Ida Lupino in The Hard Way? It's bizarre to me, but I can't hide behind the facts: The Song of Bernadette was a massive hit and the moral values for which Bernadette stood for definitely pandered to the interests of Oscar in the 1940s as a whole. I know that there's a decent sized fanbase for this performance, and while it's good enough for me...I just don't get it.


11 comments:

  1. I really dislike her in general, but I think she's fantastic as Bernadette. Yet it's a performance that I can see someone hating or being indifferent.

    I also loved Gladys Cooper in it.

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    1. I LOVED Gladys Cooper. She is fantastic! Anne Revere is pretty great as well, though with Paulette Goddard sight unseen, I think I can safely assume that Gladys is my supporting actress win of '43.

      definitely was hoping I'd like Jones more than I did, but unfortunately that was not the case. now i'm slightly skeptical about how i will receive her in her next three noms.

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  2. I've had the official VHS release of it nearly 20 years, and I know I haven't watched it twice, maybe not even once all the way through. I first saw it on TV when I was a grade-schooler and a lot easier to impress with its earnestness.

    Now it sits with other blockbuster-length, near-mint VHS sets that go just as neglected: Schindler's List, Titanic, Judgment At Nuremberg, Gone With The Wind and My Fair Lady. I can't really harsh on any of them, even Bernadette, but one really has to talk oneself into a substantial investment of the posterior to give any of them a genuine start-to-finish investment, and it's easier to talk your way out of it. Especially if you've 'paid your dues' and done it once.

    The call to this one is Cooper, Revere, young Price, and how Charles Bickford, no spring rooster and even in a priest outfit, manages such sexual charisma.

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    1. It's definitely a commitment to watch this one. I think that while the duration isn't necessarily excessive, there are parts that could have been streamlined.

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  3. I I have to say that Jennifer Jones is not a good actress and she can be really bad sometimes but I think that everything about her is perfect for Bernadette (but to be honest, it has been a while since I saw her so maybe once I start to re-evalute her, my opinion could change...)

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    1. Interesting. Perhaps my perspective on this one may change once I sit through her other nominations?

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  4. I demand a recount. :P

    But really, I kinda get the rating. It is slightly one-note, and there's nothing too risky about it.
    Anyway, I've already explained my soft-spot for the story, since I was "on location" :)

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    1. I wanted to like it Alex, really I did!!

      Yeah I really wanted to see something more than what she was giving. Like Gladys Cooper is a great example--she kind of plays the bitter nun thing a little hard for a while and then BAM, such a profound and moving a ha moment with her. Unfortunately didn't feel the same way with Jones.

      I guess I wouldn't mind going to Lourdes either if I lived within commuting distance :)

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    2. Actually, I'm quite sure Lourdes is not the place for YOU. :P

      Not that close from me either. Had to fly to London, then to Lourdes, a tiny airport in the mountains, outside of the city. :)
      But I was lucky back then, the city was flooded 2 days after I left and they had to close the sanctuary and everything. The sanctuary, the small cave (with the statue) and the spring are just a couple of feet away from this very big river coming down from the mountains.

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  5. It's taking a while to figure out the ranking, huh?

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    1. I've actually had the rankings done since earlier this week! Have been too lazy to post :P

      Will be coming shortly!

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