Wednesday, November 25

Leading Ladies #2- Cate Blanchett and that voice

Any movie character who gets the kind of introduction 'Galadriel' gets in the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring) will do well to match that expectation. Elves assured of their protection in her power, esconced in a deeply wooded forest, with whispered words of warning to the ragtag army that is the Fellowship, all herald her first appearance in possibly the greatest film franchise ever. For me it wasn't just my first sighting of Cate Blanchett in the series, it was my first sighting of her, period.You could count The Talented Mr Ripley which I once watched while drifting in and out of sleep on an airplane. I'm told that she was in that film and didn't do her reputation any bad either for it. But all I remember about that particular film is my fourteen year- old brain (thirsty for blockbuster action- Vin Diesel) musing on the fact that Matt Damon was acting rather peculiarly for a large portion of the drama.

In that one scene, where Cate Blanchett tries to seduce the all-powerful ring from Frodo the dwarf (Hobbit, as the PC lobby reminds us), she sold me on her prowess the minute she opened her mouth. It is not often that you will give an actor points for their voice, not unless they are faking it like Marlon Brando who made Don Corleone's falsetto the most memorable vocal turn in cinema history. After all, Lonardo DiCaprio is rated one of the most fitting leading men in Hollywood today, despite sounding like a choirgirl. Yet, it goes without saying that Cate Blanchett has one of the most recognisable voices on the silver screen. Her larynx is a professional instrument.

It's not that she rounds off every vowel with a swaggering drawl the way Jack Nicholson does, glory be, and she doesn't have the affected enunciation of Alan Rickman, ladling spoonfuls of ironic emphasis onto affixed syllables just so. But Cate Blanchett can inflect arrogance, mystery, and as in The Lord of the Rings, raw power without the viewer ever noticing that she has flipped the switch. Perhaps this perfect pitch has something to do with her theatre training, and it does, but even in interviews where the need to project is absent, when she is no longer playing a role, Cate Blanchett retains the remarkable ability to sound as if everything she says is poetry, and with no trace of drama.

In that scene, Cate Blanchett gave the star performance of that movie. I know the CGI went a touch loopy with all the gimmicky colours and the facial contortion and all that stuff diector Peter Jackson was throwing at the screen. If you ask me, Galadriel's voice had enough special effects to carry it through. Later, when I got around to watching Elizabeth I, where she gives a masterclass in acting, I caught myself in this imaginary moment where I felt like I was blowing backwards in the force of her sound. The woman is magnificent.

On top of that, she has won countless awards and has a very womanly beauty that goes far beneath the skin. It is a refined pulchritude, as with a thoroughbred horse. Those high cheekbones and intelligent eyes and lips that can intimidate or entrance alternately, merely by the twisting. I personally think this Australian actress has a look that can be worked any which way: the kind of actress who could play the dizzy blonde lead in Legally Blonde or come off equally well as a dark vampire with a primitive streak. But she almost always chooses roles that emphasise strong female characters, however troubled they may be she makes them convincing and makes sure you leave the cinema, or your sofa, transfixed.

This may be my only question about her. How come she never plays enough fun upbeat roles on the screen? Why does she not don a costume and play a superhero, or act in a comedy or something like that? I guess we could look to The Bandits, a comedy crime caper with Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton, in which she plays the meddling accomplice. Sadly, it did not resonate with moviegoers. In the upcoming Robin Hood movie, due out next year, she plays Maid Marian. That might turn out a refreshing change of pace from her modus operandi, but with the reputedly difficult Russell Crowe as the anti-heroic do-gooder I'm not so sure that's what we'll get. It remains to be seen.

Anyway, I have noticed that this has become an extended eulogy but I won't forget to add that Blanchett turned in a superb bit of acting as Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' biopic I'm Not There that was so good I thought it better than her unbelievable Oscar-winning rendition of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, a role which she was warned against taking because of the size of Hepburn's personality. Watch both movies to understand what I am going on about, if you do nothing else this Christmas.

TRIVIA: Cate Blanchett has been married only once, and is still married to Andrew Upton, a writer with whom she currently heads up the Sydney Theatre Company as artistic director. She's a natural redhead (surprise, surprise).

NEXT WEEK: Sanaa Lathan and those handles

1 comment:

a.eye said...

Hate to burst your bubble, but I cannot honestly see her in a comedic role. I'm sure she could act well though considering the other material she has been in that you have named. But her smiling and happy just wouldn't really seem right.