The Volcanic Gena Rowlands


Tenn on Gena Rowlands


Some talents are simply volcanic; epic. Of course, nothing could possibly be simply volcanic or epic, but I will face the scorn of grammarians and continue to state this about Gena, because she possess a titanic talent, with its attendant extraordinary effects, but she is eminently approachable--she walks right up to you, lets you see, feel, and touch her talent, and then retreats. She is unerringly polite in offering volatility--she's violent yet sweet; manic yet lucid; beautiful yet plain; accessible yet unknowable.

I think she is what we call great, although that word is bandied about much too often. I think she deserves it.

No one accepts a statement quite like she does. Watch her in films when a harsh truth is lobbed at her, or a compliment, or a retort: Her response is so visceral you want to turn away--you have seen a woman in a state of acute vulnerability. Her toughness is majestic because it is applied to this vulnerability, so you are aware of both the bravado and the risk.

I hate that she has never been my Blanche--her degradations at the hands of Stanley would have rendered us all useless. Her Alma would have revealed, at long last, the coruscating effects of unrequited love, of amatory hunger. When she's older she can be Amanda, and we'll finally witness the vaudeville act of stale dreams that the mother and the son have in that dank house with the figurines and the ghost of a man for whom they both pine.

Did you see her in Gloria? That incredible scene with the mob boss, where she asserts that she's leaving and she's protecting the boy? I could watch that over and over. I sat through that film three times, exhausting the patience and the spine of a good friend, who does not understand that Gena--that several actresses--are works of art you place yourself in front of as if they were paintings in a museum, or sunsets, or mountains, or lovers walking slowly away from you.

I never could connect with John [Cassavetes] even as I tried. I think I was simply too enamored of them both. I wanted to talk to him about directing some of my scripts, and I think we were both at a loss for words. I am a man of words, most of the time, but he is a man of action--visual action--so there was no connection, no click. I love his films and so I love the man. I am incapable of separating people from the gifts they share. I am told this is stupid. 

Beauty is not merely a natural gift, an accident of birth: There is beauty that can be imprinted upon a person by virtue of their character and their actions: I believe that Gena has this earned beauty; I believe that she deepens in beauty and talent and spirit with each role and with each assignment. In her best films you can watch both her character and her spirit blossom in front of your eyes. If you can sit through the film several times in a row, you will be amazed. It's a good way to spend a day.

 Do I think we'll meet and have a working relationship? I can dream. I can go to the pale judgment and write a part for her and hope that the fog brings in a complete play and, perhaps, her attention. I think she might be receptive. I love that she lives on Woodrow Wilson, a gloriously loony name for a street in Los Angeles--and only a stone's throw from Passmore. I was driven to see Tony Perkins once--he's a neighbor of Gena's--and the driver kept saying 'Passmore is too far; we're heading for Woodrow Wilson.' There was much frivolity and scented air and heady madness that afternoon, and I kept looking at the green sentry of bushes that hid the Rowlands house and wondered what was being improvised there; I imagined their messy volubility and generous laughter and quick judgments. I wanted to be in that house at that time on Woodrow Wilson.

Well, she's ours, all ours. There will come a time when we will not believe that we had access to what she can do. She arrives with talent, not a message, so she is overlooked in a way that is enraging. There is longevity in her talent and her beauty. There will be surprises. I would like to be the author of at least one. Failing that, I would like, at the very least, a good seat at the unveiling of this surprise--and the patience of one good friend who will sit with me while I watch it, over and over again.


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