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ADRIENNE SHELLY REMEMBERED

by
in Filmmaking
on Nov 3, 2006


I posted last night about the news that actress and director Adrienne Shelly died on Wednesday in New York. I didn’t know Shelly, but I certainly knew her work and, as I wrote, thought she was a true original. Below are links to a couple of other writers who remembered her on their blogs today.

From Anthony Kaufman:

…I followed Shelly’s second directorial effort “I’ll Take You There” on the festival circuit, reporting on its Telluride premiere, then publishing an inteview I did with her as the film was playing at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2000; she talked of a new project called “The Other World,” “a nifty science fiction genre film,” she said — I wonder what happened to that film. And finally when the movie got picked up for distribution by the Sundance Channel.

I rarely follow a filmmaker’s journey so closely. But it probably had to do with the fact that those were different times for all of us, when we could afford to attend to the films that we liked, when Hal Hartley, Shelly’s frequent collaborator, was still a filmmaking god in many cineaste’s eyes. But also because I was probably smitten by the petite actress. After my last exchange with Shelly, I remember we had a little spat about the Sundance Channel article. I can’t remember what exactly it was about, but I remember she showed the angry, powerful side of her personality. Shelly may have been little, but she was a force: a firecracker, a charmer, a comedian, and an articulate intellectual. After the tiff, I developed even more respect for her. And I’m pretty sure, in the end, we resolved whatever issues had irked her.

When we talked in the fall of 1999, she spoke about the way she worked on set. It’s an exchange about the nature of indie filmmaking and about Shelly herself that still delights me…

Shelly: People would work very hard for me — and not complain. I think it’s because they knew that I couldn’t do it without them. There are some hard things about being a woman director, but there are other ways where it’s an advantage. There are things that I get away with that men could never get away with. Like, I would wear these silly animal hats on set. (Laughs.) I have one that’s like a big bear head — it looks like a bear is eating my head — and I’d go up to someone and say, ‘we have to stay a couple extra hours tonight’ — I’m wearing the big bear head, how are they going to say no to me?

iW: I don’t know if that’s a gender thing, I think maybe a more personality thing.

Shelly: Maybe you’re right. But I would kiss everybody ‘Hello.’ And tell them it’s good to see them and here we go. . . . It’s the most fun I have in the world. When I’m on set. I feel like, pinch me, I’m dreaming, when is someone going to come around and notice that I’ve been allowed to do this thing. I have a strange mix of real, viable confidence and utter — I don’t know if the word is insecurity — certainly there’s fear.

From Matt Dentler:

When I was a teenager working at a video store in Brownsville, TX, there were three Hal Hartley films that I constantly recommended to customers looking for “indie film.” They were: Surviving Desire, Trust, and The Unbelievable Truth. The last two starred a piercing and charismatic young actress named Adrienne Shelly. In those two films, she was an evocative and yet subdued force of nature, witty and warm. She was the personification of the “indie-film muse” during the beginning of the 1990s. She set the standard that half-a-dozen other actresses (Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, Julie Delpy, Uma Thurman, etc.) would soon follow and bring to Hollywood.

Hollywood never came calling, but before she turned 40 this summer, Shelly portrayed several memorable characters in films such as Chris Kentis’ Grind, Tim McCann’s Revolution #9, Julie Cypher’s Teresa’s Tattoo, Rory Kelly’s Sleep With Me, and most recently, Bent Hamer’s Factotum. But, of course, she made a lot of waves with her debut feature as a writer/director, Sudden Manhattan. When that film screened at SXSW in 1996, Alison Macor had this to write in the Austin Chronicle:

Sudden Manhattan’s finest moments occur during a point of high hilarity — a great, crazy party that culminates in a revelation of sorts for Donna — proving that Shelly’s knack for translating quirkiness to the screen extends well beyond her acting talent.

As many sources indicate, Adrienne Shelly’s latest endeavor in the world of film directing (a feature called Waitress) is in the can, and awaiting festival premiere dates. That will be a very sad and emotional premiere, indeed.

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