Anne Bancroft received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Emma Jackson, an ageing ballerina in The Turning Point (1977).
I am trying not to launch into a lengthy post about how Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn and Geraldine Page are 3 of my top inspirations. Maybe not my most favourite actresses (although they no doubt are among my favourites), but definitely the few that I admire the most. Which is strange, considering that I actually haven’t seen a lot of Bancroft and Page’s movies (I have only seen 3 of Geraldine Page’s movies). When I was doing theatre in school, I remember repeatedly watching youtube clips featuring the greatest moments from these 3 actresses (like the table fight scene in The Miracle Worker, the seduction scene in The Graduate, the church scene in Interiors and the red dress monologue in Requiem for a Dream). Of course, it sounds as though I was treating a uni play way too seriously (there was an actual acting coach present though, so it was pretty intense), but watching these clips really motivated me and inspired me. I felt as if I learned so much about acting from these 3 actresses. Of course, I’m not saying my actual performance ever hit that level (I wish), but it was a really wonderful feeling to draw inspiration from them for my own craft.
Anne Bancroft was a really fascinating actress. She was incredibly versatile, natural, and she had this power in her work that will really hit you in the guts. It’s amazing, considering that she actually rarely goes over the top or chew scenery in her performances. I know we often describe how certain aspects of a performer are their “assets”, such their eyes or their voice, but in Bancroft’s case, I feel as though she radiates acting strength. Of course, her voice is fantastic, but you can really sense how she is always in total control of her body and emotions when she acts, which is just incredible to watch.
The role of Emma, for me, is the highlight of The Turning Point. People often point out how limited Bancroft’s screentime is and how she should be more of a supporting character. I will be perfectly honest here and tell you that I actually didn’t even notice how limited her screentime was because I was so captivated by her performance. I found her presence so strong that she turns her story into the main one of the film, and I frankly cannot classify her as a supporting role. It’s a very similar situation to Patricia Neal’s best actress win in Hud.
What I loved the most about Bancroft’s performance is the numerous layers she adds to Emma, and how naturally she does it. Emma is actually a pretty kind and nice person by nature, and it is sort of easy to see why she is so respected by her peers. Bancroft uses her unique presence to her advantage – even though she doesn’t really dance in the film, there’s this aura she emits that suggests she is (or was once) a pro.
The bitterness and fears are all brilliantly handled by Bancroft. I really felt her desperation when she is starting to lose the roles to the younger dancers, but there is this pride and dignity about her that is really respectable. She doesn’t even really cry or anything; there was one fantastic scene where she started having hiccups after being turned down for a role. It seemed like such an odd reaction and yet to me it spoke volumes about the character.
We also got to see the manipulative side of Emma, where she started treating Emilia (Leslie Browne) as her own daughter. What works for this part is how naturally it came to the character, so much so that I wouldn’t even exactly say that the character is manipulative per se. To me, it is just something that happened, because Emma has always longed for a family and I felt that the motherly way she treated Emilia was a subconscious thing. I love her reaction when she was asked to mentor Emilia; the way her eyes lit up really made me feel for her.
People often say that the weaker aspect of this performance would be the catfight scene. To me, Bancroft pulls it off even though I agree that it seemed incongruent with the rest of her performance. Frankly, I blame this on the writing more than anything. There is way too much class in Emma to engage in this kind of ridiculous hair pulling and spanking, and it probably shouldn’t have turned out this way. Both actresses managed to save it with the laughter, but I always felt that this part was a weak link for the entire film.
To conclude, I will say that I really loved Anne Bancroft’s performance in The Turning Point. I can understand the major issues people have with it, such as the limited screentime and its non-flashiness, but I really took away a lot from her work here. In fact, while I definitely don’t think she should win over Keaton, I feel like performance would have been the kind of Oscar win that people don’t mind too much, even if they don’t agree with it. A great performance by a gifted performer that gets 4.5/5. I’m not over-enthusiastic.
Shirley MacLaine also received her fourth best actress nomination for playing Deedee in The Turning Point. I disagree when some people say that MacLaine had a high chance of winning because of the “overdue” factor. The Oscar was the only award she was nominated for, which just seemed unlikely. And frankly, while I think she is a movie star in her own right, I don’t think there was enough hype for the voters to suddenly swing in her direction. Of course, I am purely speculating here and I am not familiar at all with the situation back then, so feel free to correct me
Unlike Anne Bancroft, I don’t really want to talk that much about Shirley MacLaine. Do I think she’s a damn good actress? Yes. But there is something about her personality that I dislike, and unfortunately, her arrogance does show in her lesser roles. I still enjoy her performances in general though, and I do respect her a lot as a performer.
Although MacLaine has a lot more screentime than Bancroft, I frankly find her the less interesting character. There are some who prefer her over Bancroft, and there are some who do not (including me), but I will say that she does have quite a lot of great acting moments scattered throughout the film. What bugs me is that even though she is more lead than Bancroft (by virtue of screentime), you realise that her character is not as layered and she actually doesn’t really do much in the screentime she has. She has conversations with the other characters, she looks after her children, but it doesn’t really reveal anything about the character or introduce some sort of inner conflict. It’s just a portrait of a woman who has given up her career and decided to be a mother instead.
Of course, the main thing that plays out extremely well is Deedee’s regret over giving up her career for her family. MacLaine succeeds in portraying Deedee’s insecurities, and you can tell that the decision has bugged her for a very long time. Unfortunately, the performance starts to run thin and for me, it makes the character less interesting. I wouldn’t say she’s boring like some do, because I do feel for Deedee and her regrets, but compared to the complexities of Bancroft’s Emma, it’s just not that interesting. There are also a lot of great brief moments here and there, such as her happiness and pride when she sees her daughter dancing, or the jealousy in her eyes when she sees Emma’s relationship with Emilia. A lot of it has got to do with the way the character is written, but I do wish MacLaine would have went all out in bringing out the character’s flaws instead of showing flashes of it here and there. I just think that unlike the graceful Emma, Deedee’s personality requires more force and less class.
The highlight of the performance is probably the catfight scene, but to be honest, I felt that MacLaine was outacted by Bancroft in the confrontation scene. Even though Deedee is the one throwing out the accusations and “attacking” Emma, Bancroft just calmly shoots her down in this “bitch, please” way that makes her pale in comparison. The line “I’m too good” that was delivered by Bancroft pretty much sums up the whole scene. That may also have been the intention behind the scene, but I felt like MacLaine didn’t really match the level of intensity that Bancroft was giving.
The catfight scene, however, is probably more of MacLaine’s moment than Bancroft. It’s horrible writing but the “NOT MY DAUGHTER” scream really worked. I know this is going to sound weird, but I actually think that MacLaine is at her best when she gets to ham it up a little. There’s so much force and anger here that was lacking in the early scene with Emilia (cause Browne was so underwhelming too), and it made me realise what was needed for this performance. It was like a largely absent but necessary contrast to Bancroft’s quieter role.
Then again, although I might have sounded too critical, I actually have no problems with MacLaine’s performance here. I had no problems with her deliveries or her acting choices, and if you would have noticed that a lot of what I said was about what “it could have been” rather than what “she should not have done”. It’s really not a bad performance (it’s pretty good actually), and it fits the movie well, I just don’t think it is the highlight. I can live with the nomination and give it a strong 3.5/5.