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Back in my college days I remember buying musician Matthew Sweet's classic rock album, "Girlfriend". Who graces this rock testament of unrequited love and heartbreak? Actress Tuesday Weld, wrapped in a fur jacket, beautifully shot at a California canyon location. I had never heard of her, although i was quite enamored of her beauty. Then, a month later I saw Weld in action in the film, "Looking for Mr.Goodbar". She played Diane Keaton's train wreck sister. She was incredible. A month ago, I saw Tuesday Weld in another incredible performance. The movie is called, "Play it as it Lays".
The opening sequence is stunning. Weld circles the outside garden of a mental institution, thinking of how she got there in the first place. No music, no histrionics, no special effects. Just the image of this beautiful, surprisingly small woman contemplating her life. Images of Maria, Weld's character, driving down a California freeway, shooting a gun at various street signs in an act of defiance. It is clear that Maria is no ordinary Beach Boy image of the Califronia Girl. Maria is very much her own person. A rebel. An angry young woman. It is not only an image of a woman losing her grip but one of a woman claiming her right for independence and for some kind of freedom. Clearly, this part was made for Tuesday Weld. The actress that playwright/actor Sam Sheperd called, "The Female Brando".
Weld is not the only great talent in this film. Director Frank Perry challenges the viewer with a film that provides no easy answers. Perry shows Los Angeles for what it can really be at times. Dense, loud, claustriphobic. Showing the smog and cloudiness that sometimes covers the sunny atmosphere and that often overcomes the land itself. Many critics panned the film for its quick cutting and fast paced direction, but this is important theme to the movie itself. It clearly shows what Maria is seeing of LA and how her life jumps from one incident to another. It shows Maria on her journey, even though it has no clear beginning or end. It is one drama quickly jumping to the other. Perry does this beautifully and with a clear intention for the story.
Maria is a person who is trying to question why things are so wrong with her life and the way she lives it. The other characters, during the film, at times mock Maria's quest for self investigation, for even thinking that she will find and understand her journey for truth. Perry is trying to show the importance of a person going on a journey for self discovery. He tries to show how the people surrounding us sometimes judge in order to justify their own empty lives. Maria may survive this journey, but there may be a price to pay.
Weld gives a performance of such depth, subtlety and nuance it is impossible to stop watching. I keep remembering Weld lying in bed as she discusses her pregnancy with her husband,and the possibility of an abortion. Weld doesn't cry, yell, she doesn't move at all, as she lies there almost perfectly still. But i remember the sadness on her face as she desperately tries to find reason, some kind of solution to the problem. As her husband beats her down emotionally, threatening her almost that he will take her daughter from her, we see how she is left heartbroken at her failed attempt at a resoulution. The vision of Weld, lying in bed, being so helpless but TRYING to resolve the situation is beautiful but ultimately very sad.
Simply put, Tuesday Weld's performance is a stunner. It never stops from film's beginning to end. Perry films her as a modern day female James Dean. Her blonde hair whipping in the air, as she speeds through LA on her defiant journey. Once again, comparisons of Dean and Brando abound. One scene has her pulling out a loaded gun, shooting at empty cans on her husband's film set. It is an image of freedom and of rage that is exciting to watch.
I know that the Sundance Channel has showed the movie a few times. This is no excuse that the movie is not on DVD yet. Well, after all, the movie was never released on VHS. It is definitely worthy of a Criterion Collection edition. It would be wonderful to get a behind the scenes look at the film, which is wishful thinking. And i think it would be incredible to get an interview with Tuesday Weld, although she doesn't strike me as someone to talk about her past on film. There are countless websites about the film, all over the internet. Most of these posing the same question as to why the movie is not available on DVD. These people are quite frustrated, as am i, that such an important film is not given its due. Perhaps after, what, thirty years, it is still hard to take for some viewers.
So, this leads me back to where i began, i suppose. Maybe seeing her on album covers, right? I don't want anyone to underestimate this incredible actress. It is clear that she has been an influence on many actresses, from Jessica Lange to Winona Ryder. Her acting brings a uniqueness to the craft, much in the way Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway did in the early 70s. It is clear that Tuesday Weld rightfully deserves the same recognition as these actresses did in their day. We need the DVD release of Play it as it Lays and other Tuesday Weld films, so that she does receive this recognition. Others may not remember, but i for one, will never forget her.
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