6 Down, 4 to Go: Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

(the 420th of the 424 Best Actress nominees!)

JOANNE WOODWARD IN SUMMER WISHES, WINTER DREAMS (1973)

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The competition (Cliff: 5 for 5!)

Glenda Jackson in A Touch of Class

Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist

Marsha Mason in Cinderella Liberty

Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were

So what is the meaning of the title Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams?  It turns out to allude to the work of Ingmar Bergman (who has used all four seasons in titles of his various movies), in a film that transposes Isak Borg’s magical realist tour of his past in Wild Strawberries onto the life of Joanne’s nightmare-plagued New York housewife who attends a screening of the film with her mother (Sylvia Sidney).  As she lapses into another dream (quite reminiscent of the one at the start of the movie), her reverie and the screening are both interrupted by her mother’s fatal heart attack.  Thereafter, her troubled dreams turn into waking apparitions as she revisits her childhood home and wanders through her semblance of a life, haunted by aching regret and wistful nostalgia.  It’s certainly a derivative concept, but Joanne works wonders with the material in her character’s long thaw.

Joanne begins the film playing her character as a genuinely unpleasant and insular woman (her severe hairstyle and down-turned, thin line of a mouth already form an austere pose), shutting out true emotion and scarcely asking any sympathy from the audience.  Only her anemic gestures toward her harridan of a mother, as well as our literal glimpses into the character’s dream life, betray any glimpses of her buried emotions.  However, her chance to revisit her childhood farm following the mother’s death brings faint, distant feelings rushing forth in seen and spoken recollections of her past.  Although the film tries to put as much on the screen as possible through her character’s hallucinations, this is one film where the monologues are the real deal.  In her effortless reminiscences of her cherished childhood, Joanne lavishes attention on special details and suddenly recalls others to her surprise, providing a rich and satisfying meal of storytelling that lingers through the long stretches of petty family strife in between.  While the film forces her in these scenes into perhaps too much hysterical crying and shouting, I’ll remember the film for those warm and human flights of fancy through her character’s past.  My vote in 1973 goes to the queen of all desperate mothers, Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist.  Joanne, however, in her fearless portrayal of a schizophrenic in The Three Faces of Eve (the Academy’s choice in 1957) and a bemused Midwestern businessman’s wife in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, cements herself as one of the greats among the Best Actresses as I close out this quest.

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