Celebrating the Late Karen Black

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In Nashville, Black plays a megastar country singer with shellacked hair and an equally lacquered demeanor. (Black also wrote and performed her own numbers for the movie.) Black's features could look hard or soft depending on the role or the moment. In Nashville, as Connie White, she tilts heavily toward an angular, almost masculine determination, despite her sultry, country-sexy gowns. Connie doesn't seduce her audience; she takes charge of them. When she performs at the Grand Ole Opry, she beams down at some eager little boys who have gathered at the front of the stage, bathing them in her klieg-light sex appeal. "What's your name, honey?" she asks one of them with sugary faux benevolence. It's as if she's about to change them into gingerbread boys.

With those off-kilter features and that bold, confident carriage, she might have stepped out of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon: Karen Black was one of the most striking and strange character actresses of the 1970s, though she became relegated to lesser roles—and, sometimes, uncharitable jokes about her failed career—in the years after. But Black at her best was really too idiosyncratic to be a huge star. Instead, the actress, who died in August after a battle with cancer, came to represent the kind of oddball beauty and cubist grace that could find a home in American movies of the '70s. No one else looked or acted like Karen Black; no one could if they tried.

It's time to reconsider Black, and BAMcinématek's eight-film retrospective, which runs October 18 to 24, is a good place to start.
--Stephanie Zacharek

Read the full story: "Celebrating the Late Karen Black at BAM"

Published on October 15, 2013

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