I was surprised and saddened to hear that she had passed away. She was an underrated talent, no?
I haven't seen nearly enough Karen Black performances but I'm always struck by the passion and conviction she brings to each part. If you read her interviews, she comes across as a very astute actress, with a razor-sharp sense of what to bring to each character. I remember being particularly charmed by her musings over Day of the Locust, where she comments, "I couldn't be an actress in the '30s. My face moves around too much."
She would have struggled in the 30's I think more because of her onscreen energy than her face being to mobile. Heaven knows Bette Davis' expressiveness didn't hold her back nor Ida Lupino's. Neither would her crossed eyes necessarily have been an impediment, Norma Shearer eyes were famously crossed but care was lavished on her angles to make it all but invisible. Karen Black however didn't ever project anything but a very modern sensibility and seemed completely of her time and no other. It's a quality she shared with Joan Crawford and which made both actresses wrong for period films. Have you ever seen Joan in The Gorgeous Hussy? It's a train wreck and the only time the studios were foolish enough to put her in crinoline. I thought Black's casting was a real weakness when I watched Day of the Locust. Although her acting performance was very good she seemed out of place in a role that would have fit Faye Dunaway like a glove.
I think she would have struggled in the 30's not because of the mobility of her face, that was never a problem for Bette Davis or Ida Lupino nor for the fact that she was cross eyed, Norma Shearer eyes were famously crossed but great care was lavished to make that almost invisible. I think her impediment would have come in her onscreen presence which always came across completely contemporary to her time and place, it's a trait she shared with Joan Crawford and made both actresses wrong for period films. Have you ever seen Joan in The Gorgeous Hussy? It's a train wreck and the only time the studios were foolish enough to put her in crinoline. The same held true of Black's casting in Day of the Locust, while her acting performance was very good she seemed out of place in the setting, one that would have fit Faye Dunaway like a glove.
I think Karen Black would probably agree with you since she commented many times that her acting style and personality was a perfect fit for the 70s. Lucky for us that she came around at the right time. Personally, I can't really see her being happy as a Busby Berkeley bathing beauty or a tender '40s war bride. She was right for the time she was in.
While most obituaries focused on her fine performance in FIVE EASY PIECES, I'll always remember her best from a 1974 made-for-TV movie called TRILOGY OF TERROR. She starred in three creepy tales written by Richard Matheson, with the last one (about a creepy doll) being truly scary.
You know, I started watching Trilogy of Terror right after the report of her passing (I'd never seen it, it aired before my time) and was really impressed. She's unforgettable in the last one but I was also struck by the first one, where she manages to switch back and forth from mousy to terrified to chilling with complete ease.
I remember Karen Black most for "The Great Gatsby" and "Day of the Locust." As for the 1930s, I doubt Hollywood would have known what to do with her. By the way, Ken Anderson at DREAMS ARE WHAT LE CINEMA IS FOR has also written a lovely piece on Karen Black:, "The Face of the '70s: A Tribute to Karen Black."
That could be an interesting post in and of itself. Who are the performers that came around at the wrong time? What would happen if you transplanted certain stars to a different era? How would Ann Dvorak have fared in the 70s or Meryl Streep in the 30s?I will definitely check out Ken's piece, thanks for the tip.
I'm with Lady Eve on remembering Karen for The Great Gatsby but she was also in this horror film that terrified me titled "Trilogy of Terror". My gosh that film was scary with her being chased around by that little demon like doll with the sword. I also really enjoyed her performance in Five Easy Pieces.She had such unconventional, unique good looks which was refreshing as well.RIP, Karen!Page