Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Jill Clayburgh and moments in the sun

We forgot to mention that Jill Clayburgh died last week. Who? Well, exactly. Clayburgh’s career arc demonstrates how insecure movie fame can be. For a very brief period — 1978 to 1980 or so — the New Yorker was one …

Mon, Nov 15, 2010, 21:05

   

We forgot to mention that Jill Clayburgh died last week. Who? Well, exactly. Clayburgh’s career arc demonstrates how insecure movie fame can be. For a very brief period — 1978 to 1980 or so — the New Yorker was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood. Deservedly so. She was a fine actor with an earthy class of charisma. In that period, she received two Oscar nominations and was written about enthusiastically in all the best places.

So what happened? Though she stayed in work, Jill is rarely mentioned as one of the great actors of the 1970s. She does not appear in David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film. No awards are given in her name.

Well, looking back, you’d have to say that she was hit by (horrid phrase) a double whammy: the films that came after her golden era were flops; the movies that made her name did not hold their reputation. Clayburgh, a characterful presence in the mould of Gena Rowlands, drew attention for three projects in particular: Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978), Bernardo Bertolucci’s La Luna (1979) and Alan J Pakula’s Starting Over (1979). The Bertolucci is unbelievably squalid and Starting Over is fitful at best. However, An Unmarried Woman, though dated in its surprise that women can survive alone, is worthy of modestly enthusiastic rediscovery. She can, of course, also be seen in the durably hilarious Silver Streak.

So the films are still there. It is, however, poignant to note how easily today’s hot tamale can turn into tomorrow’s refried beans. Come to think of it, what did happen to Elisabeth Shue?

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