Saturday, 9 June 2012

AFI Life Achievement Award For Shirley MacLaine

Last night, Shirley MacLaine was the 40th recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award.

In a glamorous gala ceremony at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, Maclaine was seated amidst Julia Roberts and previous Life Achievement Award recipient, Meryl Streep, who later bestowed the award upon MacLaine.

Other presenters included MacLaine's brother, Warren Beatty, her sister-in-law, Annette Bening, and her co-star in the film that won her the Academy Award for Best Actress, Jack Nicholson, who played her love interest in Terms Of Endearment (James Brooks, US 1983).

Looking at MacLaine's recent output it's easy to forget that she participated in a number of milestones in cinema history, for instance Being There, Hal Ashby's much underrated masterpiece from 1980, Sweet Charity, or Vincente Minnelli's best film, Some Came Running, from 1960.

She was fortunate enough to collaborate with Hitchcock, who offered her her first part in movies, in his black comedy, The Trouble with Harry, back in 1955. MacLaine arrived in Hollywood at the cusp when the studio system was about to disintegrate, yet the so-called New Hollywood that would soon emerge, had little to offer her, perhaps because she was still somehow identified with the old system. As a result, directors like Alan J. Pakula, Michael Cimino, Francis Ford Coppola or Sydney Lumet seemed to have little use for her - with the exception of Hal Ashby, who, however, recognised Maclaine outstanding comic talent which substantially contributed to make Being There the hilarious, dark, way-before-its-time, media satire that it actually is.

That MacLaine isn't identified with a specific era in film history may be part of the reason that she's had such a long and successful career, avoiding the fate of so many actresses who, for instance, rose to fame in the 1970s, collaborated on a number of New Hollywood movies - only to subsequently disappear into oblivion. Think of Jane Alexander, Karen Black, Katherine Ross, or Genevieve Bujold, to name but a few.

Other reasons are her staying power and - quite simply - her talent. Difficult to label or classify as she's as convincing in musicals as she is in comedies or dramas, Maclaine, now pushing eighty, is still regularly offered work. One of her upcoming appearances include the part of  Elizabeth McGovern's wealthy  mother in the British television series, Downton Abbey. Rumour has it, that her scenes with Maggie Smith are bringing a new meaning to the word hilarious, something which I can easily believe.

Congratulations, Shirley!