Friday, January 8, 2016
Happy Birthday Sarah Polley!
The've got only one guy who comes back from the dead. We've got millions". On her film “Dawn of the Dead” going up against Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” head-to-head at the box office
2. CN Tower
3. Mother Diane
4. Sarah and Michael
5. My favorite picture of her
6. Harry Gulkin in later years
7. In “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”
8. In “Ramona”
9. In “Road to Avonlea”
10. Another favorite picture
11. With Bilbo...er, Ian Holm in “The Sweet Hereafter”
13. In “No Such Thing”
14. in “My Life Without Me”
15. Carrying home one of those Genie Awards
16. In “Dawn of the Dead”
17. “The Secret Life of Words”
18. In “Beowulf & Grendel”
19. “Mr Nobody”
20. With Delphine Chanéac in “Splice”
21. On the set of “ Stories We Tell”
22. Ms Polley
It is my great pleasure and honor to give a great big Joyce’s Take happy birthday shout out to one of my favorite actresses and film directors, Ms Sarah Polley!
Sarah is a Snowback, being born as a small tiny female infant, at a very early age, in the city of Toronto (43° 42′ 0″ N, 79° 24′ 0″ W 43.7, -79.4), which is the capital of the province of Ontario, which is in the country of Canada, which lies just north of us. Some of you may have heard of it.
Toronto is the most populous city in the entire country of Canada! A lot of people live there as well.
Toronto is well known for its many skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, Wikipedia tells us that one of those structures is the CN Tower, which is now the 3rd tallest tower in the world and remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. Imagine that!
Sarah’s ancestry is rather complicated. Her mom, Diane Elizabeth MacMillan, was an actress (Anne of Green Gables, Street Legal, Anne of Avonlea), and Michael Polley, also an actor and stunt man, who became an insurance agent after he and Diane began a family.
Sarah was the youngest of four children, Mark, Joanna, Susy, and John. These little bra... kids, kept teasing Sarah because she didn’t look like Michael. What their little points and implications were I have no idea.
Unfortunately, Sarah lost her mother to cancer two days after her 11th birthday. She was 55 years old.
"And I had, until I was 11 years old, a mother who made me feel like life was really exciting, that the world was really exciting. That she loved us. That she could find joy even when life had been tragic — and that's so much more than most people get. I feel incredibly grateful for that.”
I lost my own father at about the age of 11. He was 46.
It wasn’t until Sarah was 27 that she discovered her biological father was not the man who had raised her as his own, but actually Harry Gulkin, a film and theater producer (“Lies My Father Told Me") from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, with whom her mother had had an affair
"To be honest, I don't see what the point would have been [of] telling me when I was a child about this," Polley tells NPR’s Terry Gross. "I mean, I was growing up as a member of the Polley family and I was very much a part of that family, and I'm not sure what the point would have been in adding all this confusion."
Knowing her true parentage landed her in bed for two weeks, ill with a long fever. "My body went into shock and sickness, and every time I've gone to Montreal since then, I get really sick," she said. "I think it's a lot to absorb and kinda difficult."
"I was sort of, at that stage, filled with regret that I had ever investigated this at all, and felt enormously guilty in a way that almost sank me. And it took a friend of mine to point out to me that by discovering this information, I hadn't actually created the situation — or, you know, done anything particularly wrong. But it was hard to come to terms with that because I felt that I was in possession of information that would be really traumatic and hurtful for him and would destroy him.
"And so I just told him as honestly and clearly as I could, and then was completely staggered and stunned by his response to it, which was so full of compassion for my mother and gentleness and graciousness. In a way, his response to this information was for me what made it a really interesting story. I didn't think the story itself was particularly original, but I think it's very, very unusual for somebody to respond to something a lot of people would call 'betrayal' with a real, true understanding and empathy, and not place blame.
"His first concern was that we not blame or judge my mother for this — and to candidly look at and communicate issues within the marriage that he was responsible for."
Sarah followed on in the family business, taking to the Canadian stage as a child, and then appearing in Disney’s “ One Magic Christmas” when she was four.
When I was four I probably didn’t know what up and down meant.
She continued on appearing in TV movies or shows, appearing with her dad in Terry Gilliam’s 1988, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” along with John Neville, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, and Uma Thurman. According to some, the film concerned "craziness of our awkwardly ordered society and the desire to escape it through whatever means possible."
I’ll buy that.
That year the eight year old was cast as Ramona Quimby in the television series “Ramona,” based on the American writer Beverly Cleary's books.
That lasted two years, and the very next year she gained national prominence in “Road to Avonlea,” a television series first broadcast in Canada January 7th, 1990 lasting until March 31st, 1996, and in the United States beginning on March 5, 1990 through January of 1997, via Walt Disney’s company.
Their were a lot of familiar actors that appeared on the show during it’s run, including, but not limited to Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Reeve, Diana Rigg, Dianne Wiest, Eugene Levy, Faye Dunaway, Maureen Stapleton, Meg Tilly, Michael York, Ned Beatty, Peter Coyote, Ryan Gosling, Treat Williams, Stockard Channing, and Diane Elizabeth MacMillan Polley, Sarah’s mom.
The series made her famous and financially independent, so she never had to go to school, learning of the world at night and on weekends in back alleys, smoke filled pool halls, and barrooms .
She was hailed as "Canada's Sweetheart" by the media, which is always doing stuff like that.
At the tender age of 12 (around 1991), Sarah attended an awards ceremony while wearing a peace sign to protest the first Gulf War, George H.W. Bush’s war about oil. Disney executives saw it and asked her to remove it, and she told them basically to go _ _ _ _ themselves with an extra large and unnaturally wide broomstick. Naturally this soured her relationship with Disney, though she continued on “Road to Avonlea” until 1994, when she had to go back to work.
Disney has blacklisted her ever since making them huge _ _ _ holes.
In 1994 Sarah had surgery to correct scoliosis, a condition that bends the spine in sort of an “S” shape, which really sucks. I’m glad she got that taken care of.
Sarah next appeared as Lilly for 13 episodes of the Canadian television show “Straight Up," the show was critically acclaimed as it tackled the unusual scenario of the gritty problems of teenagers living in an urban environment. She won the Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series for her work.
Sarah was always a precocious child, and in 1996 she gave a nomination speech for Kormos at the Ontario New Democratic Party leadership convention. After his death in 2013, she called that the "proudest moment in my life."
Not being familiar with Canadian politics I looked up Kormos on the Internet machine and discovered that Kormos or Kormoz is the spiritual devil of the Altaic people.
I’m sorry he passed. I didn’t even know he was sick.
I don’t mean to make light of Sarah’s proudest moment. My point here is that she was always politically active, to the point few of us would go.
The year before, she lost two back teeth after being struck by a riot police officer during a protest against the Provincial Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in Queen's Park in Toronto. She must have been really motivated, and that must have really hurt.
It was around this time, 1996, Sarah met the Canadian film editor David Wharnsby, and the two hit it off, and began hanging out together. Sex may have been involved, as seven years later the two married.
She and David both won 2004 Genie Awards, she for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for 2003‘s “My Life Without Me,” and David for Outstanding Achievement in Editing for “The Saddest Music in the World.”
The pair divorced in 2008, and had no children.
Back in 1997 Sarah got a big break professionally when she appeared with Ian Holm in “The Sweet Hereafter,” the story of a tragic accident and a law suit. Sarah played an aspiring songwriter who after a bus mishap became paralyzed from the waist down.
"I was pretty uninterested in acting until I was about seventeen. I wanted to go to university and never think about acting again. I'd been very politically involved for a couple of years and I wanted a break, so I did “The Sweet Hereafter” in 1997. But I ended up completely falling in love with acting".
She finally got a lot of attention here in the U.S. for that role, and was a favorite at Redford’s Sundance Film Festival.
Here's a clip of stills from the film, with Sarah singing the film’s title track.
Her next films were 1998‘s apocalyptic Canadian black comedy, “Last Night,” and “Go,” the next year, the film were Sarah first came to my attention.
A sort of drugged out crime/comedy, the film boasts a cast of Katie Holmes, William Fichtner, Jay Mohr, Taye Diggs, Melissa McCarthy, Marlon Brando, and Timothy Olyphant. Wikipedia whispers to me that the film was well received. Well I don’t know about that, but I do know it made some money grossing $28.4 million worldwide against a $6.5 million budget, which is a very good profit margin for a small film (that’s why they won’t stop making all of those “Paranormal Activity” films no matter how awful they become, because they make literally tons of money considering how much they cost to make).
It also has the songs “Magic Carpet Ride,” and "Steal My Sunshine" in it, which makes my heart sing.
That year she directed her first short film, “The Best Day of my Life,” for the On the Fly 4 Film Festival. She also made a second short film that year, “Don't Think Twice.”
A guy named Robert Allen Zimmerman would steal that title and jump back in time to 1962 and write a song using it... the sneaky bastard.
You may not have know this but Sarah was Cameron Crowe’s first choice for the roll of Penny Lane (I know what you’re thinking. That would be a good name for a song as well) in his 2000 “Almost Famous,” a roll that went instead to Kate Hudson (and more than likely launching her career). Yet Cameron was sad, and considered canceling the whole thing because Sarah wanted to make “The Law of Enclosures,” back in Canada instead.
“It is important to me to stay in Canada. I used to think it was because I thought it was important to build up an indigenous film industry - but now I realize I'm incapable of living anywhere else. I'm a real homebody.”
Sarah’s a very smart lady. People tell her that all of the time. She uses words like “indigenous” in casual conversation when many others would use “national,” “home grown,” or “autochthonous.”
She worked with “Zero Dark Thirty,” director Kathryn Bigelow, in 2000‘s “The Weight of Water,” with Elizabeth Hurley, Catherine McCormack, and Jeff Spicoli.
Now for those of you who concern yourselves with technical accuracy, “The Weight of Water,” premiered at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival, but it was not released in the United States until November 1st, 2002.
And the molecular weight of water is 18.01528 g/mol.
If you’re talking about anything else, well, it depends on how much water you have, now doesn’t it?
She made her monster movie in 2001, “No Such Thing,” with two more of my favorite actresses, Helen Mirren and Julie Christie.
I watched “My Life Without Me,” last night, one of the next films she was involved with, and I’m a little sorry I did as it forced me to think, and I hate doing that, especially about mortality, mine or others. It concerns a young wife and mother who learns she is going to die soon. She makes a list, a bucket list as it were, of all the things she must accomplish before the end, and the bulk of the film deals with her achieving that end. It’s beautifully written and directed by Isabel Coixet, and just the words themselves can get one all misty. Sarah’s performance was not less than remarkable, and she certainly deserved the award shes holding onto in the picture above.
Her style in this film, and all the others I’ve seen her in, is natural, and flowing. I often wonder how I would react when or if my doctor ever told me I was going to die in a relatively short time, and I believe Sarah showed me.
“I think it takes a lot of focus and determination to stay in a relationship with film and acting that's productive and stimulating. Acting can be the most shallow, vapid things you can do with your life, but it can also be one of the most profound experiences in the world. Even my experience acting as a child is something I'm very ambiguous about. I'm not sure it was the best way for me to spend my time. But at the same time, I probably wouldn't be where I am now without it. And I'm very happy with where I am now.”
I saw Cate Blanchett’s performance in “Carol,” the night before I saw “My Life Without Me.” I love Cate, and she’s been nominated for many awards for her work in that movie. But I must say her acting, her style, is more calculated, more precise, which certainly works of course. Cate reminds me of my favorite... non-indigenous actor, Laurence Olivier. But Sarah reminds me more of my very favorite home grown actor, who was also very natural, very flowing and effective, Spencer Tracy. And I always likes Spence best.
“My Life Without Me” came out in 2003, and also starred Mark Ruffalo, the young actor who is currently making such a name for himself in films like “Foxcatcher,” and “Spotlight.”
Zombies in 2004. Millions of them.
Sarah likes zombies it seems. She lists her favorite zombie movies as 1932‘s “White Zombie,” and George A. Romero's Living Dead films. All of them.
Do I have a favorite zombie film. No. I have to admit I don’t understand zombies. The reason for the popularity of “The Walking Dead,” is beyond me, although I did like Brad Pitt’s “World War Z.” Now those were some bad ass zombies.
And we’ve discussed zombies before, here, and here, going so far as to credit Monsanto, the multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Greater St. Louis, Missouri, for their creation (well, they have to come from somewhere, right?!).
I also enjoyed 2004‘s “Dawn of the Dead,” a remake of Romero’s 1978 “Dawn of the Dead.” As far as zombie movies go, it was pretty good. I liked that Ving Rhames was in it, because I always feel safer and more secure when he’s around. And I liked that Sarah was in it as well, as it was extremely unusual to see her in an actual zombie movie.
Why did she make it? I can think of several reasons. There’s no reason not to. She likes zombies. Ving Rhames is in it (Ving makes everyone feel safer and more secure). Money, and it was filmed Canada, and thus did not violate her raging agoraphobia. Oh yeah, and they used real zombies (which increased insurance expenditures, but for the sake of authenticity it was certainly worth it. See for your self here).
Some critics liked it, some not so much, but again, it made a boat load of money in relation to what it cost to make and market. We’re talking $102.4 million against $26 million to produce. And that’s American dollars, none of the Hong Kong stuff. For the pure sweet hell of it let’s add another $26 million to distribute and advertise, making the total production cost almost exactly $52 Million dollars. That means that who ever made this film made a cool $50.4 million to pay taxes on, which is pretty cool.
However the film received no Academy Award nominations. I know what you’re thinking. The Academy should have a zombie category. Perhaps in the future.
Sarah teamed up again with Isabel Coixet, along with Tim Robbins and Julie Christie in 2005‘s “The Secret Life of Words.” I haven’t seen this movie yet, but look forward to soon. She was nominated as Best European Actress by the European Film Academy for her role as Hanna.
2005 saw her as the witch Selma in “Beowulf & Grendel,” which may or may not have something to do with the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Pre “300,” Gerard Butler had the part of Beowulf, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Grendel.
William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes, "The film's near-fatal flaw is its dialogue, which had to be invented wholesale from the Old English text. It alternates between sounding stagy and anachronistically hip – with more overuse of the F-word than any two Samuel L. Jackson movies.”
Wow, I’ve got to see this film!
[on movie critics] "There are a few who are not nice and they say things that are harsh...but they always help me to become a better actor."
The next year Sarah made her feature film directorial debut in “Away from Her,” which starred Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent.
Sarah said she was on the flight back from working on “No Such Thing,” in Iceland when she read the Alice Munro short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" in The New Yorker.
If she said that I certainly have no reason to doubt her.
"I was so unbelievably moved by the story. I had just finished working with Julie Christie, and as I read, I kept seeing Julie's face in the character of Fiona."
"I am certainly not one of those people who reflectively thinks about adapting stories; I just want to leave the things I love alone. But this fascinated me. I read the story and I saw the film and I knew what the film was."
I have to own up to being one of those people who reflectively thinks about adapting stories, but I strive one day to achieve the purity of consciousness and heart that envelopes Sarah so effortlessly, and I”m completely sincere when I say this.
Maybe one day.
The film received universal acclaim from critics, which is never a bad thing. The movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which collects different reviews from many sources and aggregates them, listed “Away from Her,” as the best film of 2007, with 95% of critics giving the movie positive notices, based on 128 reviews. I agree.
For any director, that’s pretty good, but on your first try, that’s simply amazing. And not easy.
“I think that what a lot of first-time filmmakers don't realize is that they are the least experienced person on that set. Everybody else has been doing their job for years, so the whole act of playing the filmmaker, playing the person in command, is a charade.”
The film was nominated for eight Genie Awards, and won seven out of eight categories for which it was nominated, including Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Pinsent), Best Actress (Christie), Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Thomson), Best Adapted Screenplay and the Claude Jutra Award for best feature film by a first-time director.
Sarah certainly has a lot of those Genie’s, doesn’t she.
And here in the States she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
About that she said, “I'm in total disbelief. I'm thrilled but kind of in shock too. It's been such a strange year and I'm bowled over by the life of the film. It's more than I could have ever hoped. This now adds a very surreal element to it.”
On August 23rd, 2011 Sarah married Canadian law clerk David Sandomierski. They have two daughters, which will cause them immense trouble and joy throughout the years.
In 2012 Sarah explored her family’s own secrets, including the situation with her father and herself in the documentary “Stories We Tell.”
“I think that, for me, it was really important to not leave the construction of the film out. Because it's a film about storytelling, and how we tell stories and why we tell stories. I thought it was really important to include the process of making this film itself in the film. And some of that involves some rather unflattering and ruthless moments for me — like directing my dad when he's ... pouring his heart out, basically.
You do get into this mode, I think, when you're telling a story — or certainly when you're making a film — where you can kind of lose your sense, or your barometer, for what's human or humane. And certainly I think there are a few moments in the film where I'm directing my dad, where I don't come off that well. But I certainly come off as somebody who's trying to tell a story above all else."
Come, listen to her talk about this...
Many thanks Ms Polley for letting me spend this little amount of time with you. All of us here at Joyce’s Take wish you and yours continued good health and fortune, and of course, a very Happy Birthday.
"I think you have to keep your distance from mainstream Hollywood in order to be a normal human being. I mean, I work there, and I like being there, but I love having an anonymous life. I think there's definitely such a thing as being too famous.”