In praise of Kate’s … feet?

Posted by · 5:52 am · January 31st, 2009

I’m not sure where I stand on David Thomson these days. He is surely one of the greatest film writers still at work today; few of his rivals manage such a fine balance of personal appreciation and critical insight, particularly in the area of performance. (As a prose stylist, Thomson at his best leaves Ebert for dust, in my opinion.) His “Biographical Dictionary of Film” is as essential as it is idiosyncratic, while last year’s “Have You Seen … ?” is a bedside-book delight, ideal for dipping in and out of at leisure.

But in recent years, his work has grown increasingly sloppy and, in some cases, frankly unhinged. His further “Biographical Dictionary” entries for the Guardian have been spotty and back-handed of late, but the clincher was his factually malnourished and unavoidably creepy 2006 “biography” of his long-time cinematic crush, Nicole Kidman, which paid stomach-churning tribute to the Australian’s “commas of breast” and “gingery pubic hair.” An embarrassment for all concerned, it truly has to be read to be believed.

It’s difficult to say, then, whether it’s good or bad news for Kate Winslet that Thomson appears to have set his sights on her instead, writing an extraordinarily generous tribute to her in today’s Guardian, calling the actress “the finest performer of her generation,” and waxing lyrical about her performance in “The Reader” (“easily the best and most disturbing film of the year”). It is, in fairness, a civil and intelligent appreciation for the most part, after an eccentric opening that focuses on her, er, feet:

Near the end of The Reader there is a large close-up of two bare feet … The feet are less than lovely – mottled, calloused, the toenails out of shape, everything well-worn. My wife opined, “They can’t be Kate Winslet’s feet – must be a stand-in, a foot-in. Perhaps they are Sam Mendes’s feet, and he did the shot so she could have a lie-in.”

Not to disparage the consideration and fondness between Mendes and Winslet, husband and wife, director and actor, I preferred to think that Winslet is too much the perfectionist to let false feet into her picture. “She’d have been up at four in the morning,” I said, “getting the make-up people to give her the opposite of a pedicure” … I assume that Winslet would take any trouble, from the tips of her broken toes to the proper split ends in her elderly German hair. “Would Meryl Streep entertain anyone else’s feet?” I asked my wife. She agreed not. And that is the standard here: Kate Winslet is the heir to Meryl Streep.

He goes on to discuss the more interior aspects of the performance, as well as praising her work in “Revolutionary Road.” On the latter, he delivers another unkind dig at “boy-man” Leonardo DiCaprio, suggesting that Winslet possesses the “life experience” that he lacks, letting the film “mean much more than DiCaprio’s  eyes seem to comprehend.” (As a fan of DiCaprio’s performance, I would venture that he has missed the entire point of DiCaprio’s casting here.)

Further on, treating Winslet’s Oscar as a fait accompli (which it pretty much is, after all), he concludes that she has finally reached the top echelon of Hollywood leading ladies, adding a telling, ungrounded sideswipe at his (formerly?) beloved Kidman:

The Oscar will make Winslet one of those actors likely to see the best scripts early – but she has serious rivals in Cate Blanchett and even Nicole Kidman (who was actually the first casting for The Reader). It’s tough to imagine Kidman blooming in the very harsh air that Winslet breathes as Hanna Schmitz. Kidman likes to be liked and she wants to be pretty. Still, the more clearly Winslet becomes a lead actor in big American pictures, the more likely she is to face the test between being liked and being good and dangerous.

I’m sorry, did he say Kidman prefers to be “liked” and “pretty” on screen? Has he forgotten “Margot at the Wedding” already? “The Hours?” “Fur?” “To Die For?” Hardly lovable roles, any of ’em. I understand she’s not the most popular and/or bankable woman in Hollywood right now, but this relentless pile-on has to stop. I’m interested, however, that he brings up the matter of Kidman’s initial casting in “The Reader,” as I’ve long wondered her tense, discomfiting froideur might have served the role, and the film, more effectively.

In any case, I bring up this article mainly as an example of the wall-to-wall media coverage Winslet has managed to attract this year. Not once in any of her five previous nomination years has the actress’s presence been so ubiquitous, starting with that cleverly targeted Vanity Fair profile (wherein she openly expressed her hunger for awards), moving through the open satire invitation of her Golden Globe meltdown, to the surprise coup of “The Reader” last week.

It’s hardly been calculated, but it’s a brilliant campaign nonetheless. Whether by accident or design, she’s plainly, as Thomson declares, the “new first lady of Hollywood.” Just watch out for the backlash. You only have to ask Nicole Kidman.

→ 14 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

14 responses so far

  • 1 1-31-2009 at 7:55 am

    red_wine said...

    I love Kidman. I had such a boy crush on her when I saw Moulin Rouge for the first time. I believe her time has finally past, with Australia being her last big leading role & what with her reluctance to work anymore and her string of commercial failures, I don’t think we’ll see much of her after Nine. But she’ll remain one of the best actresses of her generation, an actress who defined powerful screen presence better than any other actor working today.

    This is Winslet’s year. She has always been around doing excellent work but she has truly arrived now as the leading actress in Hollywood but her films are not honestly mainstream. I cant really see her do something commercial. Her enormous talents seem suited for serious dramas only. Thus she way not become popular with general public(they prefer Cameron Diaz & Drew Barrymore). Blanchett is more convincing in supporting roles I think (I was sort of disappointed with her in Button).

    Dicaprio’s performance was good, even very good in some scenes but he almost always ended up getting the short end of the stick in scenes with Winslet. “That Winslet possesses the “life experience” that he lacks” actually makes sense to me, he wasn’t quite as insightful as Winslet many times and not as convincing, but still a good performance.

  • 2 1-31-2009 at 7:55 am

    Natalie said...

    Actually, Thomas has it wrong. Winslet was in fact the first choice to play Hannah. Due to schedule comflicts she couldn’t do it. Kidman, who in my mind would have been completely wrong for this role, signed on to it. Of course we all know that she dropped out, but because The Reader was held up anyway due to Australia going well passed scheduled, Kidman becoming pregnant & that they had to wait for the actor playing Michael to turn 18(sex/nudity scenes), Winslet was able to step back in.

    And I’m sorry, but some of Kidman’s backlash is her own doing. Comments like “I’m all natural” and ‘I don’t smoke” are just the tip of the iceberg.

  • 3 1-31-2009 at 8:08 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “I cant really see her do something commercial.”

    Have you forgotten “The Holiday”? Lucky you. Completely the wrong fit for her. (I also thought she was ill at ease in “Titanic,” but she was still finding her craft then, I think.)

    I have to disagree on DiCaprio, though — I think he ultimately owns his scenes with Winslet, though they’re both very good indeed.

  • 4 1-31-2009 at 2:17 pm

    BerkeleyGirl said...

    Amen, Natalie! Kidman, for whatever reasons, seems to have allowed herself to get caught up into her fame. Yes, she’s allowed herself to be “not pretty” in some films but it’s too calculated. When she IS supposed to be the object of desire, the glamorization is over the top – folks, may I submit as evidence “Cold Mountain”?

    It’s sad but, once she became an “important actress,” the freshness and spontaneity disappeared. Her last truly great performance was in “To Die For” – where has that actress gone?

  • 5 1-31-2009 at 2:36 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Her last truly great performance was in “To Die For””

    I disagree with this in so many ways I don’t know where to begin. But hey, each to their own.

  • 6 1-31-2009 at 3:42 pm

    han said...

    Kidman shoulda get her second oscar for Birth.
    That one long take in opera house….omg.

  • 7 1-31-2009 at 3:47 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Exactly, Han. That shot is one of the greatest in modern cinema. Her best performance to date.

  • 8 1-31-2009 at 4:33 pm

    Jules said...

    Thompson’s recent analysis of DiCaprio’s career was not only wrong but it was mean. To say that DiCaprio was overshadowed by the other actors in “The Departed” can only mean Thompson never saw the movie. His outright hatred of DiCaprio makes Thompson seem almost to the point of obsessive, if not, jealous, cranky and cruel.

    The character of Frank in “Revolutionary Road,” is exactly how DiCaprio played him — an immature, boyish “young” man (he’s only 30, for chrissakes) who thinks he’s a “man” but isn’t, particularly when he’s cornered. Obviously Mr. Great Film Critic missed this point (and if he was such a great critic he shouldn’t have). Think of the ending fight, when April tells Frank she hates him. Watch how DiCaprio’s Frank basically crumbles — like a child — he’s so hurt. DiCaprio’s voice breaking in that scene is one of the movies truest moments.

    I think Thompson if a wee bit jealous of DiCaprio, who is young, good looking, talented and a great actor — all things Thompson can never be. I mean, when was the last time Thompson got naked with a supermodel? And Thompson’s love of younger actresses is really creepy.

  • 9 1-31-2009 at 5:34 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Jules: I couldn’t agree more with your take on the character of Frank Wheeler, and on the aptness of casting DiCaprio in the part. The weird thing is that Thomson applies the term “boy-man” as a dismissal of DiCaprio’s performance, apparently not realizing that that’s exactly what Frank is.

    Methinks he was too wrapped up in his Winslet reverie to notice such nuances.

  • 10 1-31-2009 at 6:39 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Thomson is a creep, Ebert kicks his ass all day every day.

  • 11 1-31-2009 at 6:58 pm

    Jules said...

    GuyLodge: I love Winslet too but that doesn’t mean I can’t also appreciate DiCaprio. And as a heterosexual female, I can appreciate actresses in films, at the same time I admire the actors — even though I find the actors far more attractive (if you get my point).

    I thought DiCaprio was perfect in this role — and sadly overlooked (along with the film) but awards groups. Frank is a man-child. In fact, if there was miscasting, I think it may have been Winslet — or at least her interpretation of April –since the character in the book has far less depth than Winslet brought to the role.

  • 12 1-31-2009 at 6:59 pm

    Jules said...

    Ooops. Typo. Meant “by awards groups” not “but awards groups.”

  • 13 1-31-2009 at 9:19 pm

    Grin said...

    Winslet just doesn’t compare to Kidman or Blanchett. When Kidman is inspired there’s no one better, and Blanchett just excels in every role (the true heir to the Streep crown). Winslet is plain annoying. Let’s all hope Meryl can overtake her – at least she did something interesting with her role.

    I also think people should stop giving Kidman crap. She seems to take roles based on directors, and since Moulin Rouge she’s worked with:

    Alejandro Amenabar
    Jez Butterworth
    Stephen Daldry
    Lars Von Trier
    Robert Benton
    Anthony Minghella
    Frank Oz
    Jonathan Glazer
    Sydney Pollack
    Nora Ephron
    Steven Shainberg
    George Miller
    Oliver Hirschbiegel
    Noah Baumbach
    Chris Weitz
    Baz Luhrmann
    Frank Marshall

    I hardly think that’s a bad bunch.

  • 14 4-17-2009 at 7:54 pm

    Dane Youssef said...

    by Dane Youssef

    OK, I think it’s safe to say (and we can all safely agree) that women live to compare, analyze and over-gloss over everything about their bodies. And not just. But their properties. All the stuff they’ve got. Hair, clothes, shoes, makeup, purses, jewelry, etc.

    And as we all know, it can really bring them together…

    People nitpick so god dammed much.

    I think there is such a thing as “too much.” She’s one of the most beautiful women out there and one of the finest and most successful actresses working today.

    Too much has been made about those feet of hers.

    Okay, you’re dead-on, Guy Lodge. You and your old lady are right. They’re hideous.

    But come on. Ease up. Give the poor girl a break. They are feet. Not her face.

    What do you do with your feet? You WALK ON THEM. You jump up and down with them.

    And when you do, they absorb the shock.

    And girls, you give you a little more to gossip about—she’s never had a pedicure. In her whole life. Not one. You wanna see how bad they REALLY ARE? Check this out:

    The poor woman’s stompers look particularly bad because they’re whopping size 11 and so dear Katie Bear only wear combat boots. She’s been nicknamed “Combat Kate.”

    She’s gone on and on about how they’re a size 11, even though she’s a mere 5’6”. When she worked with the former heartbreaker Leo DiCaprio on “Titanic,” he noticed that their feet were exactly the same size. They even played patty-cake with their feet. He’s a man at 6’1” and she’s less than 5’6”.

    She only wears nice dressy shoes with heels when she has to, which is on the red carpet or when she’s on talk shows. And even then they don’t fit, so she’s usually in HORRIBLE PAIN when she’s out there. Shoes are nearly impossible to find in her size. Especially nice ones. She often has to wear men’s shoes.

    She wears boots instead of heels. She uses socks and pantyhose like every other woman.

    You know, you and the missis are right, Lodge–HOW DARE such a beautiful starlet be born with such gargantuan dogs. HOW DARE she not be able to find decent shoes. HOW DARE her feet be able all deformed and damaged looking because of it.

    You know something–let’s not like her anymore!
    Screw her great work and all her Oscar nominations!

    Let’s kick her out of Hollywood. Out of show-business, even! Let’s stop going to her movies. Push her into obscurity.

    Look, let’s be fair and honest here–FEET WERE MADE for walking on. STANDING on. JUMPING on. They don’t just need to look like they solely exist to model an expensive pedicure. She’s not a goddess. She’s not infallible. She’s not immortal.

    She’s just a person.

    She’s not allowed to sweat? Have foot odor after a long, hard day in boots? Being a star means she’s forbidden.

    Like every other human. Would you like to go and tell her that? Tell her she should sweat perfume?

    Maybe her feet would be nicer if she had time to get her feet done professionally, but she DOESN’T.

    She’s busy being a professional movie star, a wife and mother—as well as a model. Check out her shots online. She has the face, cheekbones, eyes and hair that most women would lose a limb for. Many of them are actually spending millions of dollars to get them.

    Look, take it from me—I’ve taken ballet for almost nine years. There are a lot of strikingly lovely ladies in the class. A few of them look like models. I have taken ballet for several years now and many of the women dancers there constantly go on (too much, in my opinion) with their feet.

    The size, the damage that comes from dancing. How hard it is to find Pointe shoes that fit and the damage they cause once you do.

    But their feet look like they either walk on white-hot coals for a living, heavily into Chinese foot-binding or coming down with leprosy. They complain a lot, I’ve even see some of them bleed. But as they say, “It’s all for the ballet! The dance! Sacrifice…”

    And you know something… they move like sprites. Pixies. They almost float. The feet may look mashed and decomposed. Even reek from across the room. But it’s the price one pays for greatness.

    Sacrifice. What would YOU DO for greatness?

    And all these nice ladies still look flawless everywhere else. As does Mrs. Kate. So there you go.

    Look, just keep the camera above here ankles, huh?

    Well, that’s my take. What’s yours?

    ———–Sincerely Yours, Dane Youssef