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Jessica Lange was robbed of an Academy Award for her mesmerizing performance in the 1982 film, FRANCES, a relatively gripping character study/biography of the late 1930's actress Frances Farmer, who, after being ostracized from Hollywood, ended up being declared insane, institutionalized, and lobotomized, according to this screenplay. Not knowing a lot about the actress before the release of this film, I have never been sure of how factual it is (I always got the feeling that the Harry York character, played by Sam Shepherd, was fictional), but how many screen biographies are big on the facts? Sometimes facts are glossed over and/or ignored for the sake of preserving or igniting drama. Whether or not this is true is for those who knew Farmer to say. I did see an interview once with Farmer's nephew (?) who was very pleased with Lange's interpretation of Farmer and that is exactly why this film is worth seeing. Despite a meandering screenplay, turgid direction, and a feeling the movie is about 30 minutes too long, this movie is worth seeing for one reason and one reason only...the riveting performance by Jessica Lange. She is in virtually every frame of this movie and makes every single moment vivid and striking and achingly real. This film should be shown to acting classes on a daily basis...maybe the best performance by an actress in a leading role during the decade of the 1980's. Not a great film, but an amazing performance by a consummate actress that must be seen to be believed.
This is an important film, and I am compelled to write a few lines to attract other viewers to see it. Sensitive music by John Barry to set the mood, yes it is a love story really, I enjoyed seeing Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard, they work well together. What can you say about the talent of Jessica Lange? I could not take my eyes off her. Impeccable acting. She is so stunningly lovely,as was the Frances Farmer of the story, they are much alike both breathtakingly beautiful. No other actress could have played this part in 1982. A non conformist ahead of her time, today Frances would be almost normal, the Frances Farmer story is sad and infuriating,such a waste... the child pressured by her mother to be everything the mother wanted for herself, to be a Hollywood star, the ineffectual father who could have stepped in to determine a less shattering future for their daughter. How often do we see that the wrong kind of parental influence on their children can lead to disastrous results? I found Frances courageous and admirable in the face of evil and adversity. The sadness felt by the wonderfully supportive Harry York (played by Sam Shepard) toward the end of the movie brings tears to the eyes, she has forgotten how to love, but she has survived... only to die alone in 1970. Breaks my heart. True to life, caring and detailed movie. Best actress for Jessica Lange, in my view, I noticed her in King Kong and I knew she was going to make it big. Highest marks and comments from malcotoro, Toronto, Canada
Containing both the greatest score (John Barry) and the greatest
performance (Jessica Lange) in motion picture history, FRANCES is a
film unrivaled for creative talent. Often overlooked, whether because
it is a secret dark enough that some people may like it to be buried or
because it actually frightens us into blocking it out, is the central
theme of the story: the tragedy of lobotomy and the corruption of
mental institutions in American history.
Lobotomy was developed in the 1930s--a procedure that severs a nerve in the brain, making the patient unable to feel intense feelings, including love, and diminishing creativity. Neurosurgery, as it is also known, was given to patients who were too willful or uncooperative, usually in a hospital setting. What history books will probably not tell you, but FRANCES may (by inference) is how liberally administered lobotomies were. Anyone deemed a nonconformist or a radical, who possessed traits then associated with mental illness (one of them, according to science before the 1970s, homosexuality) could receive a lobotomy. An example then, may be a homosexual who was in love. A way to cure his or her homosexual tendencies (by diminishing his or her capacity to love) would have been lobotomy.
It is tragic and heartbreaking to imagine losing that freedom to love, but it undoubtedly happened to many people. One of those people may have been Frances Farmer. It is not known whether Farmer received a lobotomy or not, but the film is of the belief that she was lobotomized--and it presents to us an intelligent film illustrating the tragedy of that event, and time, in history.
It is key that FRANCES is, at its core, a love story--for it is this love that Frances must tragically lose. As played unforgettably by Jessica Lange, Frances is a freedom fighter who will not conform. Deeply sensitive, she sees things others do not (hospitalized, she reveals to the confused psychiatrist, "Do you really think you know more about what goes on in my mind than I do?"). The only person who loves her is Harry York (mistakenly referred to by some film reviewers as a plot device, he is essential to the story). She tells him, sadly, in one moving scene, "Sometimes I wonder if anyone really loves anybody" (and we wonder along with her).
Also key to FRANCES is the use of emotion over reason, for after all this is a film about losing one's freedom to FEEL--and all that one may feel, including love, through lobotomy. When at every moment we experience Frances's wistful longing, and experience it through her tortured eyes and John Barry's strings, the startling images and music have the power to haunt our dreams. And when Frances loses her ability to feel, at the end of the film, and meets Harry York one last time--we know the tragedy of losing the ability to feel and love another person, for Frances's eyes are then completely, horrifyingly blank and empty, like those of a sleepwalker. And Harry York sees it, too, which is the sad end of the film. We are told that Frances died alone, and we know how many tears Frances had inside that she would never cry again.
One reviewer complained of the film's appeal to emotions over reason--well, just think what would the opposite be? An Orwellian world of people who never loved or felt? Others complain that the film is not true to Frances Farmer's life--but that is little to complain about, considering how true the film is to a time in American history when one could lose their freedom to be who they were, and love who they wanted. That is the big picture, and if you can't see it then you are not intelligent enough for this great, great film that promotes all of the human virtues--and how sometimes, by those who possess no virtues, they can be taken away.
*UPDATE: The character of Harry York is NOT a plot device or a fictional character, as some have alleged. He is based on a real person who knew Frances. I learned this by watching the film with the director's commentary on.
'Frances' is a highly touching reconstruction of the life of fifties
actress Frances Farmer, from Seattle. Jessica Lange did a miraculous job
playing Frances, with paranoia in her rolling eyes, which -I must admit-
makes her look like a madwoman indeed. The movie shows how someone can be
completely destroyed by misunderstandings, enlarged by a ridiculous amount
of media attention. The most beautiful part is that, where Frances returns
to Seattle, now a star. The people who used to scorn her, are now kissing
her butt to gain her sympathy. She stands still in the middle of the
hallway, and with all eyes on her she starts to scream they are
After that, she is of course again considered crazy, like
Even when she only wants to be left alone, she is haunted and harassed by
those who feel called upon 'helping her'. This, combined with a rather
sensitive and unstable character, makes her paranoid and finally leads to
I first heard about Frances Farmer through an interview with Kurt Cobain, who admired her courage and was experiencing the same as she had. Courtney got married in one of her dresses and even though their baby wasn't named after her but after a male Frances, they both thought of her later. Cobain also wrote a song about her, 'Frances Farmer will have her revenge on Seattle', which appeared on the second Nirvana studio album 'In Utero'.
Jessica Lange gives the performance of a lifetime as iconoclastic actress Frances Farmer, whose rejection of the star system led to her mental collapse and ostracism from her fame-hungry mother Lillian (Kim Stanley). Lange's command of the role makes you feel like there's a knife in your stomach. It's that intense. As for the question of what's accurate and what's not, that's not really important. The point is that Lange gets into this role to the max. "Frances" isn't the sort of movie that you can just watch; you have to feel like it's happening to you, or you might not get the full experience. All in all, a great movie. Also starring Sam Shepard and Jeffrey DeMunn.
That's the kind of movie I see over and over and over and it always give me the emotional density I was looking for... One of my favorite scenes is in this drama: Some time after lobotomy, Frances tells Jack that from this moment on the things will be slower... She has no more emotion, is no more that vivid girl she was. No matter if this really happen or not to the actress: the situation is pure emotion. I saw all the movies starred by Frances Farmer that was possible for me to see and it makes me like her very much. Again, the music of John Barry makes me cry. The Hollyood background have never been so perfect. Jessica Lange gives the right density to the drama of the girl... Oh, my God, how she deserved that Oscar she did'n get...
This film parallels the Biography Channel's version of Frances Farmer's
life and career. Neither gave a definitive answer as to the cause of
this actress' problems.
Was it inability to cope with society due to her own high standards of artistic integrity? Or was it a mental flaw that grew more intense as she got older? It was James Jones (in "From Here to Eternity") that wrote: "Maybe in the days of the pioneer, you could go your own way. Pvt. Pruitt, but today you gotta play ball." That obviously implied demonstrating things like compromise, humility, condescension, flexibility, and sundry social graces.
It also implied that one can "be right" and still be very lonely.
Frances apparently chose the wrong profession, if she expected to "be right" so often. She'd have been better off on a farm or ranch, engaged in solo activities rather than the group endeavor of acting.
As it was, she seemed never to have learned to work professionally with colleagues. From her standpoint, she was indeed "right." She constantly exposed the hypocrisy, insincerity and frailty in people and "the system." Yet the price she paid was a loss of what mattered to her: a career that was nourishing and satisfying.
In '82 Jessica Lange followed up her fine Oscar-winning performance as Julie Nichols in "Tootsie" with this incredible portrayal of Farmer in "Frances." The legendary Kim Stanley was her mother and Sam Shepard rendered a perceptive performance as Farmer's close friend.
Not an easy film to sit through, the quality of acting by this trio is exemplary. As much up to date today as when first filmed. Riveting performances by all. --harry-76
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although I really wished I had not read the spoilers about what is fiction and what isn't after I saw the movie, and before writing this review, I will say that 'Frances' offers a story of stardom and it's price in a most excellent way. Jessica Lange just is a house on fire playing Frances Farmer, a 1930's actress probably more known for the fact that she was institutionalized than any movie parts she played. Lange plays all aspects of her life beautifully here, from a smart-tongued 16 year old youth, to one of Hollywood's brightest young stars. And man, what a part Kim Stanley has as Frances's mother, whose motherhood may be eclipsed by the stars in her eyes. Now, despite from what is in fact true or not, this is really an amazing movie.
When you see a glamorous movie star on the silver screen, you immediately
picture them having a glamorous life with no flaws or problems whatsoever.
The film "Frances" proves that that is definitely not true.
Jessica Lange is excellent as Frances Farmer, the movie star from the 1930s who constantly wants to live life her own way. She becomes a big star until all the weight of being a star (publicity, bossy agents, the media) falls down hard on her, causing her to have a nervous breakdown. Eventually, she is wrongfully declared criminally insane and thrown into a mental institution.
The movie is glitzy and glamourous at one point, and turns disturbing and realistically gritty at the next. Lange gives her best performance here, which was nominated for an Oscar. In the end we realize that she wasn't crazy, she was just trying to be herself. It makes the viewer sympathize with movie stars, for the stuff they have to be put through. A fascinating movie.
Jessica Lange and Kim Stanley give remarkable performances in
"Frances," but if you are looking for anything resembling the truth
about this gifted actress, this is *not* the film to see--in fact,
unfortunately, no factual account of Frances' life has yet been
presented on either the movie or TV screen, with the possible exception
of A&E's excellent Biography episode about her.
The film completely fictionalizes and sensationalizes several aspects of Frances' life, inventing characters out of whole-cloth and completely misrepresenting her institutionalization, including spuriously alleging she was lobotomized. There is ample documentary evidence proving Frances never underwent this horrible procedure; you can read the facts in my web article "Shedding Light on Shadowland," which is linked under the miscellaneous sites section on IMDb's Frances Farmer page (or do a Google for "Shedding Light on Shadowland").
In the recent DVD release, director Graeme Clifford can be heard commenting, in what is surely the understatement of the decade, "We didn't want to be nickel and diming the audience to death with facts." The *real* story of Frances Farmer is far more fascinating than this sad exercise in Hollywood "fictionalizing."
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