I caught Susan Lacy‘s Jane Fonda in Five Acts (HBO, 9.24) during last January’s Sundance Film Festival, and fell for it big-time. It’s fairly conventional in the vein of any number of comprehensive, smoothly professional feature-doc portraits that we’ve all seen before, and yet unique in that it microscopes Jane Fonda‘s journey, breaking it down into a five-act structure and delivering, in a very intimate and relatable sense, an epic 80-year saga.
Four of the five decades were shaped or strongly influenced by the men in her life, she admits; it’s only the current fifth chapter in which Fonda has totally stood her own ground.
Every now and then you run into people you feel a special current with, and Fonda, for me, is one of them. Largely, I guess, because we were both raised by dismissive, emotionally aloof fathers and have more or less educated ourselves, and I don’t know what else…similar cockatoo attitudes about food, a certain alertness of mind, a fill-the-schedule attitude?
Her aura is steady and…what, steely? Tough, tenacious, non-retiring, pays close attention. You have a feeling she’d be okay in an earthquake.
I could talk about 150 different subjects with Fonda and barely scratch the surface. I could ask her 30 or 40 questions about every movie she’s been in, and plenty about films I’ve heard she considered but never made. I could ask her about those 1965 beach parties at Roddy McDowall‘s home. I could ask her about Warren Beatty. I could ask her about everyone, everything…the Klute shoot with Donald Sutherland, that visit with Harvey Milk, her experiences with Sydney Pollack (whom I knew somewhat), making Barefoot in the Park with Redford, why she decided not to do Cameron Crowe‘s Elizabethtown. (Smart decision as it turned out.)
Posted on 10.4.15: Jane Fonda would probably tell you she had a good time last night in Santa Barbara, or more precisely at the Bacara in Goleta. Dressed in a fetching forest green gown and looking like $75 million bucks, the two-time Oscar winner accepted the 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film award, which was presented by Santa Barbara Film Festival honcho Roger Durling.
The underlying agenda, of course, was to launch her Best Supporting Actress campaign for that fierce seven-minute performance as a fading actress in Paolo Sorrentino‘s Youth, which everyone went apeshit for five months ago in Cannes.
“That’s a burn-through, that scene,” I told her when I was ushered into her realm by a publicist. “You own that film completely or…you know, pretty much. That was definitely the consensus among my know-it-all journalist pals in Cannes.” Yes, a typical kiss-ass thing to say during a ballroom conversation, but it’s true — Fonda blows Michael Caine and everyone else off the screen.
Fonda thanked me for the compliment (“It’s the truth,” I replied) but said right after that even though she and Keitel and Sorrentino shot it over and over, she wishes she could’ve done the scene once more. (She thumped my chest with her fist as she made this point — great sensation!) Her actress character is from Brooklyn, she explained, and as she gets more and more wound up during her frank-talk scene with Harvey Keitel (who plays a 70ish director) she could have slightly regressed into her Brooklyn accent. Which would’ve made it a tiny bit better, she feels.
I love this about her. All artists feel these frustrations. They’re glad that what they’ve done has tuned out reasonably well, but they mostly see the flaws, the shortcomings. Fonda said the same thing at the lecturn when she accepted the honor: “People were asking me about the clip reels…what do you feel when you see them? It’s hard…it’s hard. You just want to do them over again, make ’em better. I’m nearly 78 and I still feel like a student.”
Fonda told me I “look like Benicio.” I told her that I mostly get Christopher Walken. “Him too…a combination” she said. Then I told her we’d spoken during the Savannah Film Festival 14 or 15 years ago. “SCAD?,” she said. (The acronym for Savannah College of Art and Design, she meant.) Yeah, I replied. Then I told her I’d been to Vietnam twice and would be going again in March, and asked if she’d returned herself within the last decade or two. No, she said, but she sensed what I was about to say about the younger people there, which is that for them the past is the past (their grandfathers fought in the American war) and all they want to talk about are jobs, iPhones, families, kids, the future, etc.