17 May 2015

Julie Christie

Smart and sexy Julie Christie (1941) is an icon of the new British cinema. During the Swinging Sixties she became a superstar with such roles as Lara in the worldwide smash hit Doctor Zhivago (1965). Since then she has won the Oscar, the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Julie Christie
Small Romanian collectors card.

Geraldine Chaplin, Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago (1965)
American postcard. Photo: MGM. Photo: publicity stills for Dr. Zhivago (David Lean, 1965) with Geraldine Chaplin, Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.

Julie Christie
French postcard by Travelling Editions, Paris, no. CP 52. Caption: Julie Christie in 1967.

The It Girl of the Swinging Sixties

Julie Frances Christie was born in 1941 in Chukua, India, then part of the British Empire. She was the daughter of Frank St. John Christie, a tea planter, and his Welsh wife Rosemary (née Ramsden), who was a painter. Her younger brother, Clive Christie, would become a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Hull University. They grew up on their father's tea plantation in Assam.

At 7, Julie was sent to England for her education. As a teenager at Wycombe Court School, she played the role of the Dauphin in a school production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. A fascination with the artist's lifestyle led to her enrolling in London's Central School of Speech and Drama training.

Christie made her stage debut as a member of the Frinton Repertory of Essex in 1957. One of her first roles was playing Anne Frank in a London theatrical production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Christie was not fond of the stage, even though it allowed her to travel, including a professional gig in the United States. She made her TV debut as an artificially girl created from the DNA of a deceased science lab assistant in the BBC Sci-fi series A for Andromeda (Michael Hayes, 1961).

Her first film appearance was a bit part in the amusing comedy Crooks Anonymous (Ken Annakin, 1962), which was followed up by a larger ingénue role in the romantic comedy The Fast Lady (Ken Annakin, 1963) with Stanley Baker.

Christie first worked with the man who would kick her career into high gear, director John Schlesinger, when he choose her as a replacement for the actress (Topsy Jane) originally cast in Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, 1963). Christie's turn in the film as the free-wheeling Liz, the supremely confident friend and love interest to Tom Courtenay's full-time dreamer Billy, was a stunner, and she had her first taste of becoming an icon of the new British cinema.

Her screen presence was such that the great John Ford cast her as the young prostitute Daisy Battles in Young Cassidy (Jack Cardiff, John Ford, 1965), a biopic about Irish playwright Sean O'Casey.

She made her breakthrough to super-stardom in Schlesinger's seminal Swinging Sixties film Darling (John Schlesinger, 1965). Schlesinger called on Christie to play the role of the manipulative young actress and jet setter Diana Scott when the casting of Shirley MacLaine fell through. As played by Christie, Diana is an amoral social butterfly who undergoes a metamorphosis from immature sex kitten to jaded socialite. For her complex performance, Christie won raves, including the Best Actress Oscar and the Best Actress BAFTA.

Her image as the It Girl of the Swinging Sixties was further cemented by her appearance in the documentary Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967), which covered the hipster scene in England.

Julie Christie
Spanish postcard by Raker, no. 1127. Photo: publicity still for The Fast Lady (1963).

Julie Christie
Italian postcard by Rotalcolor, Milano, no. 273.

Julie Christie
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 484. Photo: Atlantic Press.

One of the All-Time Box-Office Champs

Julie Christie followed up Darling (1965) with the role of the tragic Lara Antipova in the two-time Academy Award-winning Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965). Lean’s epic adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel became one of the all-time box-office champs.

Christie was now a superstar who commanded a price of $400,000 per picture. More interested in film as an art form than in consolidating her movie stardom, Christie followed up Doctor Zhivago (1965) with a dual role in Fahrenheit 451 (1966) for Francois Truffaut, a Nouvelle Vague director she admired. The film was, according to Jon C. Hopwood at IMDb, "hurt by the director's lack of English and by friction between Truffaut and Christie's male co-star Oskar Werner, who had replaced the more-appropriate-for-the-role Terence Stamp".

Stamp and Christie had been lovers before she had become famous, and he was unsure he could act with her, due to his own ego problems. On his part, Werner resented the attention the smitten Truffaut gave Christie. Stamp overcame those ego problems to sign on as her co-star in John Schlesinger's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967), which also starred Peter Finch and Alan Bates.

Jon C. Hopwood at IMDb: “It is a film that is far better remembered now than when it was received in 1967. The film and her performance as the Hardy heroine Bathsheba Everdene was lambasted by film critics, many of whom faulted Christie for being too ‘mod’ and thus untrue to one of Hardy's classic tales of fate.”

She then met the man who transformed her life, undermining her pretensions to a career as a film star in their seven-year-long love affair, the American actor Warren Beatty. Living his life was always far more important than being a star for Beatty, who viewed the movie star profession as a 'treadmill leading to more treadmills' and who was wealthy enough after Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) to not have to ever work again. Christie and Beatty had visited a working farm during the production of Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and had been appalled by the industrial exploitation of the animals. Thereafter, animal rights became a very important subject to Christie. They were kindred souls who remain friends four decades after their affair ended in 1974.

Christie's last box-office hit in which she was the top-liner was Petulia (Richard Lester, 1968), a romantic drama about the romance between a staid doctor (George C. Scott) and a flighty but vulnerable socialite (Christie). According to Jon C. Hopwood it is “a film that featured one of co-star George C. Scott's greatest performances, perfectly counter-balanced by Christie's portrayal of an ‘arch-kook’ who was emblematic of the 1960’s. It is one of the major films of the decade, an underrated masterpiece." Despite the presence of Scott and Shirley Knight, Hopwood claims that the film would not work without Julie Christie. "There is frankly no other actress who could have filled the role, bringing that unique presence and the threat of danger that crackled around Christie's electric aura. At this point of her career, she was poised for greatness as a star, greatness as an actress.”

Julie Christie
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 554.

Julie Christie
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 277.

Dazzling Mystery-Horror Film

After meeting Beatty, Julie Christie essentially surrendered any aspirations to screen stardom, or at maintaining herself as a top-drawer working actress. She turned down the lead in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Sydney Pollack, 1969) and Anne of the Thousand Days (Charles Jarrott, 1969), two parts that garnered Oscar nominations for the second choices, Jane Fonda and Geneviève Bujold.

After shooting In Search of Gregory (Peter Wood, 1969), a critical and box office flop, to fulfill her contractual obligations, she spent her time with Beatty in California, renting a beach house at Malibu. She did return to form as the bored upper-class woman who ruins a boy's life by involving him in her sexual duplicities, in The Go-Between (Joseph Losey, 1970), written by playwright Harold Pinter.

She won her second Oscar nomination for her role as a brothel 'madam' in Robert Altman's Western drama McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) that she made with her lover Beatty. Christie also turned down the role of the Russian Empress in Nicholas and Alexandra (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1971), another film that won the second-choice (Janet Suzman) a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Two years later, she appeared in the dazzling mystery-horror film Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973), with its famously erotic love scenes between Christie and Donald Sutherland. Director Nicolas Roeg had been her cinematographer on Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and Petulia (1968).

In the mid-1970s, her affair with Beatty came to an end, but the two remained close friends and worked together in Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975) and the comedy Heaven Can Wait (Buck Henry, Warren Beatty, 1978). Christie turned down the part of Louise Bryant in Reds (Warren Beatty, 1981), a part written by Beatty with her in mind, as Christie felt an American should play the role. Beatty's then lover, Diane Keaton, played the part and won a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Other interesting roles she turned down were parts in Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974), Marathon Man (John Schlesinger, 1976), and American Gigolo (Paul Schrader, 1980).

Julie Christie
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 43 072.

Julie Christie
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 43 072.

The British Answer to Jane Fonda

Julie Christie moved back to the UK and became 'the British answer to Jane Fonda', campaigning for various social and political causes, including animal rights and nuclear disarmament. She was greatly in demand, but became even more choosy about her roles as her own political awareness increased. Her sporadic film commitments reflected her political consciousness such as the animal rights documentary The Animals Film (Victor Schonfeld, 1981), and the feature The Gold Diggers (Sally Potter, 1983), a feminist reinterpretation of film history.

Roles in The Return of the Soldier (Alan Bridges, 1982) with Alan Bates and Glenda Jackson, and Merchant-Ivory's Heat and Dust (James Ivory, 1983) seemed to herald a return to form, but then she essentially retired.

A career renaissance came in the mid-1990s with her turn as Queen Gertrude in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh, 1996). More rave notices brought her turn as the faded movie star married to handyman Nick Nolte and romanced by a younger man (Jonny Lee Miller) in Afterglow (Alan Rudolph, 1997). She received her third Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance, and showed up at the awards as radiant and uniquely beautiful as ever.

Christie lived with left-wing investigative journalist Duncan Campbell (a Manchester Guardian columnist) since 1979, before marrying in 2008. In addition to her film work, she has narrated many books-on-tape. In 1995, she made a triumphant return to the stage in a London revival of Harold Pinter's Old Times, which garnered her superb reviews.

In the decade since Afterglow (1997), she has worked steadily on film in supporting roles. She worked three times with director-screenwriter and actress Sarah Polley: co-starring with Polley in No Such Thing (Hal Hartley, 2001) and the Goya Award-winning La Vida secreta de las palabras/The Secret Life of Words (Isabel Coixet, 2005), and taking the lead in Polley's first feature film as a director, Away from Her (Sarah Polley, 2006).

Christie made a brief appearance in the third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón, 2004), playing Madam Rosmerta, the landlady of the Three Broomsticks pub. That same year, she also appeared in two other high-profile films: Wolfgang Petersen's historical epic Troy (2004) and Marc Forster's Finding Neverland (2004), playing Kate Winslet's mother. The latter performance earned Christie a BAFTA nomination as supporting actress in film.

In 2008, Christie narrated Uncontacted Tribes, a short film for the British-based charity Survival International, featuring previously unseen footage of remote and endangered peoples. She has been a long-standing supporter of the charity, and in February 2008, was named as its first 'Ambassador'. She appeared in a segment of the anthology film New York, I Love You (2008), written by Anthony Minghella, directed by Shekhar Kapur and co-starring Shia LaBeouf. She also played in Glorious 39 (Stephen Poliakoff, 2008), about a British family at the start of World War II.

In 2011, Christie played a 'sexy, bohemian' version of the grandmother role in a gothic retelling of Red Riding Hood (Catherine Hardwicke, 2011) with Amanda Seyfried in the title role. Her most recent role was in the political thriller The Company You Keep (Robert Redford, 2012), where she co-starred with Robert Redford.

And we conclude this bio with an observation of Brian McFarlane in The Encyclopedia of British Cinema: “Arguably the most genuinely glamorous, and one of the most intelligent, of all British stars, Julie Christie brought a gust of new, sensual life into British cinema.”

Trailer for Doctor Zhivago (1965). Source: ccoruja (YouTube).

Trailer of Petulia (1968). Source: the grumpy monk (YouTube).

Trailer Shampoo (1975). Source: Video Detective (YouTube).

Trailer for Away From Her (2006). Source: Lion's Gate (YouTube).

Sources: Jon C. Hopwood (IMDb), Brian McFarlane (Encyclopedia of British Cinema), TCM, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

Great post about a wonderful talent. Thanks Bob