“Sometimes fake fights turn out bad,
Sometimes, actresses get slapped.
Some nights, makin’ it look real might end up with someone hurt.
Some nights, it’s just entertainment,
and, some other nights, it’s real.”
These lines from the track “Slapped Actress” from the latest album (“Stay Positive” VAGRANT 2008) by
rawkers The Hold Steady call upon the neo-realism of the films of the independent film innovator John Cassevettes. Written and sung by feisty front-man Craig Finn, who was influenced by watching a friend’s Cassevettes DVD box set, the song shines a theater spot-light on the hazy line between art and real life. New York
For those of you unfamiliar with the song here is a live clip from YouTube (albeit crudely recorded, but you should know how that goes) of The Hold Steady performing it live.
Since the impact of a slap in the face can not be easily faked and such a dramatic device is so effective yet so still such a common place cliché (think soap operas) I thought it would be somewhat insightful to look at the case studies of:
10 Slapped Actresses
1. Gena Rowlands in OPENING NIGHT
(Dir. John Cassavetes, 1977)
The Hold Steady’s “Slapped Actress” directly references all the principles of this film: “We are the actors. The cameras are rollin’. I’ll be Ben Gazzara, you’ll be Gena Rowlands” and “We’re the directors - our hands will hold steady. I’ll be John Cassavettes—let me know when you’re ready.” Finn in an interview with Uncut Magazine elaborated: “I was really taken by the scene where Cassavetes wants to slap Gena Rowlands, and he says, ‘If I don't really slap you, it won't look real for the performance.’
And she says ‘It’s a play, why would you have to actually slap me, that's the whole point.’ That kinda connected with the way I think people are preoccupied with my relationship with the characters I write about. I’ve always said no one really cares whether Quentin Tarantino kills people or does karate but for a songwriter there’s this question of a perceived honesty, that your songs are the story of your life.”
“Performances were scripted, but delivery was not” says Wikipedia on the films of Cassavetes.
A slap is one of the potent forms of delivery, so to speak. Rowlands after protesting is told by Manny (Gazzara): “It’s a tradition. Actresses get slapped. It’s mandatory you get hit.” Rowlands does eventually get hit but as convoluted as it may be it’s on her own weird terms. Rowland’s Myrtle goes through the motions of a dying diva later commnented on by The Hold Steady’s sing-along concluding chorus which says of this brand of “perceived honesty”: “we make our own movies, we make our own movies...”
2. Faye Dunaway in
CHINATOWN (Dir. Roman Polanski, 1971) (Major Spolier!) “She’s my daughter [slap]...my sister [slap]...She’s my daughter [slap]...my sister [slap]...my daughter [slap]. She’s my sister and my daughter!” Dunaway gets multiple slaps from Jack Nicholson as not so hard nosed (he had his nose sliced by the knife of Polanski playing a small time hood) detective Jake Gittes who had no possible patience left.
According to the IMDb: “After several takes that never looked quite right, Dunaway told Nicholson to actually slap her. He did, and the scene made it into the movie.” Dunaway got her slap happy revenge years later in MOMMIE DEAREST playing Joan Crawford - who I’ll get to later.
3. Diane Keaton in THE GODFATHER PART II (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
In arguably one of the most powerful confrontation scenes between a husband and a wife in cinema history, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) reacts violently upon being told Kay (Keaton) not only wants a divorce but that she had an abortion because she feels this “Sicilian thing” must end. This sends him over the line in what looks incredibly like the real thing – his incensed slap sends her reeling back onto a hotel sofa.
No quotes from Keaton on whether it was authentic but this passage from Deborah C. Micthell’s biography “Diane Keaton: Artist And Icon” is pretty noteworthy: “When her parents saw Godfather II in
, the audience applauded when Michael slapped Kay in the confrontation scene. She (Keaton) defensively explained: ‘he was a horrible character…I say to Hell with those people who applaud. My parents were with me.’” Watch the scene on YouTube here and see if you would applaud. Los Angeles
4. Charlize Theron in HANCOCK
(Dir.Peter Berg, 2008)
This is from a mediocre summer superhero-with-a-twist Will Smith vehicle, mind you - but to be fair I liked the first half of said film with the slap appearing to perfectly divide it. Theron went on the record: “He tried to fake slap me one time, but the fake one just didn’t happen. We’re still debating this one. I think he just hit me! But Will claims I leaned into his hand and that’s how it happened. I was so shocked! I was like, ‘He just slapped me!’”
Then to another source she said: “But he said, ‘I did not slap you. I had my hand there and you turned into it’” Theron, however, insisted that the incident did not sour their relationship. “We’re just like kids, it’s so much fun. He’s not a woman beater!” she said. Whatever the case, the Will Smith bitch slap will no doubt echo through out the ages...
4. Michelle Pfeifer in WOLF (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1994) This was another incident that inspired this post - recently Christopher Plummer revealed in his new memoir (“In Spite Of Myself”) : “I had to lose my temper and slap [Michelle] in the face . . . Gazing into those deep, limpid eyes of hers, I was so hypnotized, my expertise at faking a slap utterly deserted me and I let her have it with full barrels.” He lamented that it was: “one of the worst days of my life.” Again I believe, Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, should just take comfort in the “sometimes actresses get slapped” clause.
5. Brigitte Bardot in CONTEMPT
(Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) I recently saw this again, for the first time on the big screen, and I had forgotten about the slap Michelle Piccoli lays on Brigitte Bardot's face during their lengthy domestic argument. The sequence which takes place at their flat is a painful but compelling series of break-ups and make-ups with the slap coming midway as Phillip Locate in the New York Times noted: “In any film today, a man slapping a woman would end the scene, but in Contempt we keep watching the sequence for 25 more minutes, as the adjustments to that slap are digested.” It is indeed startling how Bardot brushes off the abuse, to her character Camille it seems like just yet another daily indignity.
IN THE BEDROOM (Dir. Todd Field, 2001) File this under “when actresses slap other actresses”. In what Roger Ebert called “the most violent and shocking moment in a violent film” Sissy Spacek slaps a hysterical Marisa Tomei. According to IMDb: “There were 15 takes of Sissy Spacek slapping Marisa Tomei. The final version of the film used the first take.” Looks like Tomei sure was a trooper in the “slapped actress” department there!
7. Anne Baxter in ALL ABOUT EVE (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)
She smiles. Then she chuckles, then laughs. A mistake.
Actually there are many comparable slaps from movies from this era and it’s a quick cold one but it’s a personal favorite because I (and I’m sure many audiences) so wanted to slap Eve throughout the whole movie. Incidentally there was a little known semi-remake called SLAP HER...SHE'S FRENCH (Dir. Melanie Mayron, 2002).
(Dir. Billy Wilder, 1960)
As Dr. Dreyfuss, Jack Kruschen really strikes Maclaine’s face exactly as written in Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay (also an Academy Award winning script):
With his free hand, Dr. Dreyfuss slaps Fran viciously across the face. Bud winces. Dreyfuss, still holding Fran by the hair, takes a box of ammonia ampules out of his bag. He crushes one of the ampules in his hand, passes it under her nose. Fran tries to turn her head away. Dreyfuss slaps her again, hard, crushes another ampule, repeats the process.
So it goes for reviving a heartbroken woman from a Christmas eve suicide attempt, huh?
9. Joan Crawford in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
(Dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford famously did not get along so there is absolutely no doubt this slap is real. Apparently mere slaps were the least of their worries according to Wikipedia: “During a scene after Blanche makes a desperate attempt to call Jane's doctor, Blanche is kicked around by Jane. In reality, Crawford had several broken ribs from the scene, as Davis had really kicked her." Crawford also felt pretty symbolically slapped later when she wasn't nominated for an Oscar for the film while Davis was.
10. Lee Bryant in AIRPLANE! (Dirs. Jim Abrams & Jerry Zucker, 1980) Thought I’d end on a comical note with definitely the fakest slaps not just on this list but possibly in movie history. As frightened passenger Mrs. Hammen (but probably better referred to as “hysterical woman”), Bryant starts freaking out: “I can't stand it anymore...I've got to get out of here!” A stewardress tries to restrain her then another passenger takes over, then Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielson) all repeating “calm down, get a hold of yourself!”
Soon enough just about everybody on board is lining up to slap (or worse) the troubled traveler. Watch the clip here. There are hundreds, if not thousands more slapped actresses out there but that’s my top ten and I’m sticking with it. Of course, there are many slapped actors as well but I was keeping with The Hold Steady song that inspired the post. Still may do a “slapped actors” post someday – so stay tuned.