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20 February 2012

A Word About Meryl Streep


A critic for Entertainment Weekly magazine stated in an article that Meryl Streep is obviously the best actress alive today. I beg to differ. Are we really going to pass over Maggie Smith and Judi Dench and all the other great Dames for Meryl Streep? I may be the only self-respecting film critic who is not impressed with Meryl Streep as an actress. Don't get me wrong - I acknowledge her skill as a performer; but I am not bowled over by her measured, calculated acting style. She seldom becomes the character. She is always Meryl Streep acting, even if she is Meryl Streep acting well. If one looks close enough at her performance, one can see her playing the part - her acting shows, just as accidentally a woman's slip might show below the hem of her skirt. We're not surprised it's there. We're impressed that she's so thorough in her attire. But we also know we shouldn't see it.

Meryl Streep has more Oscar nominations than Katharine Hepburn. I'll be damned if she gets more wins. You can't really compare the two performers, but I will anyway. Meryl Streep is probably more skilled at her craft. Miss Hepburn developed her technique (if you can call it that) over time as she experimented with a wider variety of roles. But Miss Hepburn's value always lay in her position as a personality, or persona, if you will. I might criticise Meryl Streep for always being herself on screen, but in Hepburn's case, that was the point. Many of the actresses of classic Hollywood served more as personalities than actresses: Bette Davis, that Crawford woman, Mae West, Lucille Ball, etc. They all of them had talent, to be sure, but as Hepburn herself says, "Show me an actress who isn't a personality, and you'll show me a woman who isn't a star." The problem is, Meryl Streep doesn't have that powerful personal presence. I'm sure she's very nice, but I don't think she's very interesting. Those women from the 1930s might not have been very nice, but my God! they were fascinating!

I don't wish to attack Meryl Streep. I think she is a fine performer, an artist. In this one case, I am criticising the audience for being so impressed by her technical talent. There are many actresses out there who bring so much more to their films - talent, yes, but also soul, spirit, strength, courage, energy, life. I think what gives Meryl Streep the edge is her uncanny ability to pick great scripts. Man, can she pick 'em! In so many of her recent films, the characters have practically written themselves. Meryl Streep, without a doubt, has landed roles with characters who carry their own weight. For example, both Margaret Thatcher and Julia Child are meaty characters who have a lot of unique characteristics that an actress can sink her teeth into, which Streep does very well. She's also backed by writers, directors, make-up people, and costume departments which cultivate each film in order to show her of at her best. She has an acting style that pleases the public and with that she earned a position in the industry that affords her the luxury of decent parts. Good for her. Now let's find scripts, directors, etc. for Viola Davis and see what happens there, why don't we.

33 comments:

  1. I agree a million percent. I don't get the hype of Meryl Streep, I don't want her to win another Oscar, because even though that wouldn't mean beating Kate, everybody would think she did.

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    1. I agree 1000% percent. I can't stand Meryl Streep's so -called acting. She is nothing more than an impressionist-posing as an actress.

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  2. Hello, as a person who study filmography and acting I can tell you you are extremly wrong. I don't mean to offend you, but I'm not a type of acting's student who study acting for becoming famouse. I'm serious. I'm obsessed with everything that is connected to acting.
    But let's talk about important things: It's sound like you hate MS. MS and KH are the best actresses that have ever walked in this Universe. You said that MS is always MS on the screen, but in fact KH is more "always herself" on the screen than MS. I would like to remember you that KH used to portray very strong women (infact she was a very strong woman); MS is more flexible: think about Mrs. Krarmen or her role in Devil...
    It is OK if you prefer Mrs. Hepburn, but you have to be objectiv before talking about acting and movies. Personaly I don't know which one I prefer more: both are amazing. You know we can discuss about a lot of other aspects. But in the end if you talk in a subjective way it's ok: just say "I think KH is better", but in a object way it is hard to say. Sorry for my English, but I'm not from an English Country. Greets Sara

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    1. You're totally right that KH is so much worse than Streep in this respect. I addressed that issue in the second paragraph. I don't value KH for her acting abilities, rather for what she represented as a persona. But I am not clear what I am "wrong" about? I think I'm fairly objective because I'm not talking about which is "better," I am just comparing their styles and stating which I find more valuable. As I say in the last paragraph, this is less of an attack on Streep than it is a critique of the audience.
      Thanks for stopping by and lending your opinion to the post. It's great to have other points of view to enrich the content. Thanks again!

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  3. I find Meryl Streep wonderfully talented. I feel she is a great actress. Just like people call Meryl and Daniel Day-Lewis dry when they act. I see a magnificent performance not a boring individual just put on screen for our entertainment.

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  4. I find Meryl Streep wonderfully talented. I feel she is a great actress. Just like people call Meryl and Daniel Day-Lewis dry when they act. I see a magnificent performance not a boring individual just put on screen for our entertainment.

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  5. So for you Streep is neither one of the best actresses nor is she an interesting person. Then why do people love her that much? And why does she have the most Oscar and the most Golden Globe nominations EVER?
    Is everyone else wrong (including Oscar and Golden Globe committees) except you and the 10 other people on this planet who might not like Meryl Streep?

    I don’t think so.

    Parts of what you wrote sound like you are a Katharine Hepburn fan who is pissed that Ms Streep got more Oscar nominations than your favorite. You probably wouldn’t even have to say anything negative about Streep if Hepburn hadn’t said that Streep was her „least favorite modern actress on screen“. After I did some research I also noticed that what you criticize about Streep is also exactly what Hepburn had criticized as well. And we tend to agree with people we like and I feel that this is what you are doing. Even if you don’t do it on purpose

    You also said Streep gets supported by writers, directors, make-up people, and the costume department. This kind of makes it seem like this wasn’t the case for Hepburn (I don’t know anything about Hepburn as a person so I am really just interpreting what you wrote here).
    I think getting along with your colleagues is completely normal and you achieve that by being friendly with them and by not looking down on them. So maybe „being nice“ isn’t that bad an idea. Maybe its something that makes your life easier and your success even bigger? It sure seems like that.

    I have talked to people that have met Meryl Streep and they all agreed on those things: when she enters the room she lights it up, she is incredibly funny, open, easy-going and beyond kind. Doesn’t sound boring at all to me.
    But then again: I like Meryl so I might not be any more objective than you are. But you know why this doesn’t matter? Because numbers don’t lie. And the numbers say: 18 Oscar nominations.

    I don't mean to attack anyone with my text and I am also not saying Katharine Hepburn isn't a good actress. Not at all. What I am saying is that Meryl Streep is definitely a very significant and a huge part of the acting créme de la créme, of the "their acting can't get any better" and "the best actors that grace our screen" group.

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    1. Wow! Your comment is longer than my article! I actually had drawn my conclusions about Streep before I knew KH wasn't a fan. I also don't think it's wise to rely on numbers, certainly Oscar numbers, because some of the most talented, most famous, and most popular actors never one an Oscar. I'm also not bothered about Streep being a nice person, I just feel that her popularity is overrated and that there are many other deserving performers whose talents, which are as good or better than Streep's, are overlooked. Thanks for dropping by!

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    2. I completely agree with you anonymous over there, Meryl Streep is the greatest actress. Margaret Perry, no offense but you have terrible taste in acting. Katharine Hepburn plays herself all the time and I know you said that back in the day they were suppose to develop personalities. That is not acting at all, that is playing yourself. If we are going to talk about true actors then Meryl is the best. She never plays herself, I don't know where you get that. Have you seen Sophie's Choice, she is incredible and that is something that Ms. Hepburn or anyone cannot do. I think she felt threatened by Meryl and even Bette Davis wrote Meryl Streep a letter stating that she believes she has what it takes to be a worthy successor of her legacy. And my god is Ms. Davis right, Meryl changed acting period. Before people always played different versions of themselves while Meryl played completely different people amazingly. So I think you are jealous as was Ms. Hepburn of Streep's talent.

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    3. I resent the suggestion that I'd be jealous of Streep's acting, because I'm not an actor, nor do I want to be.

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    4. I find it so ironic that people who begin sentences with the words "no offense", or in this case, "I don't mean to offend you", invariably, and usually intentionally say something offensive...

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  6. As both an actor and student of film, I was forced to challenge my own notion of Streep's greatness when I carefully examined my opinions of her work. Aside from "The Devil Wears Prada," there isn't a single other performance to which I can say I felt a genuine, unmitigated affinity. This is the problem when we as a public are incessantly reminded or informed of anyone or anything's legend. We tend to take it at face value without scrutinizing it for ourselves.

    I remember being thoroughly turned off by "The Iron Lady" because it played more like a PSA for the prodigious acting talents of "the greatest living actress" and less like a movie -- as if we needed yet another reminder. Her presence in a film almost ensures its mediocrity, for the bigger the legend becomes, the worse her movies are made to accommodate it.

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    1. I could not have said it better myself! So true!

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  7. OH please Pia Zadora was a far better actress than the head shaking KH.

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    1. I'm sorry, I honestly don't know who that person is. But I'm also sorry to hear Hepburn's tremors bothered you. "Head shaking" should be hyphenated.

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  8. Among the people who think Streep is overrated this is the most common criticism I see that she doesn't become the character there's no depth it's just mimicry.

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  10. This is an interesting reflection! I am also a student of acting.
    I have to agree. Meryl is more celebrated for her mimicry and range rather than presence. I like her precisely for the reason that you don’t.
    Actors are taught that acting is being. The paradoxical argument is that acting is exactly the opposite of performing while it is a performing art. It’s about being truthful. When I watch Katharine Hepburn, I’m intrigued by her personality, but when I’m watching Meryl, I’m watching someone else. When I watch Katharine, I’m watching her put a piece of herself into her character. Meryl is very good at being someone else while Katharine is very good at being a star.
    Meryl is more of an artist than an entertainer. She approaches a character by painting her onto a blank canvas. Katharine’s approach is costuming: she’s still herself underneath someone else’s clothes.
    I’d say that you can’t really compare Meryl to Katharine because they are like oil and water. On a personal note, however, I prefer the artist to the personality.

    ** One more note though: Oscars are for acting. The Academy awards the actor rather than the personality.

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  11. Meryl Streep is absurdly venerated for her range and her "transformations," because people forget that "range" and "versatility" are not the only qualities that make up a performance. Streep may be more "versatile," in a superficial sense, than most actresses, but her versatility often (though not always) comes at the expense of freshness, spontaneity, and vitality. Yes, she may be able to successfully mimic Margaret Thatcher's speech patterns and peculiar intonations and verbal idiosyncrasies, but you can always tell that she planned to do what she does at any given moment, you can always sense the controlling, calculating intelligence of the actress at work behind the mask.

    For instance, in the scene that was used as Streep's Oscar clip, she has this line, "I have done battle every day of my life, and many men have underestimated me before," she leans forward and places exceptional emphasis on the words "and MANY MEN...." she sort of thrusts her head and really makes sure you observe the smooth, breathy, velvety, "Thatcher-esque" sound of her voice at that particular instant.

    Which would be impressive - she does SOUND very much like Thatcher - except that you can tell she always planned to do that, that she had her line reading precisely timed, every beat, every cadence of the speech, every tick of the metronome calculated and rehearsed. In other words, you can always detect the actress behind the character, the puppeteer pulling the puppet's strings. Not for one moment does it feel like you're watching Margaret Thatcher. Rather, it feels like you're watching an exceptionally gifted mimic or vocal impressionist "doing" their admittedly clever version of Margaret Thatcher.

    More soulful actresses are more like professional athletes than they are like mimics. This is what's really meant by the phrase, "Acting is reacting." It means they can spontaneously respond and recalibrate their performances to reflect what their acting partner is doing. Like a tennis player whose reflexes are so sharp she can return a ball that flies across the net from an unexpected angle.

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    1. I 100% DISAGREE with you! I think you're absolutely WRONG. But that's just me.

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    2. I 100% agree with you.

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  12. Beg to differ all you like. Great acting is a matter of opinion and personal preference. However, the correct spelling of a person's name is not. If you wish to promote Dame Judi Dench over Meryl Streep, at least learn how to spell her name first. And yes...I disagree that Meryl Streep is not the best actress alive today. In order for you to have said what you did about her seldom becoming her character, I'm forced to assume that you've never seen "Sophie's Choice," "Silkwood," "Ironweed"...just to name a few.

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  13. I didn't see this in the comments, but just wanted to mention one of my favorite Hepburn moments: she's watching an early Streep film, one of her breakouts, possibly Deer Hunter or Kramer...and she's asked her opinion on the actress. "click click click" she replied. She could see Meryl thinking her moves.

    Bette Davis, on the other hand, wrote Meryl a lovely letter essentially calling her the next Bette Davis. Certainly, while the personality is far different, the acting triumphs serve as a worthy successor, in my opinion.

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    1. Bette Davis did not choose Streep as her successor. She was a big fan of a lot of younger actresses and Streep was one of many she singled out for praise. Bu she seems to have loved Sissy Spacek and Glenda Jackson more than she loved Streep, and if she saw anyone as her successors, it was likely those two.

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  14. I 100% DISAGREE with you. They're are both great actresses, but MS wins hands down. Did KH ever portray different characters with difficult accents? No. And if you think MS doesn't deserve the renown she gets, why don't YOU become an actor and outshine MS. Oh, I forgot, you probably can't act. Have a nice day! : )

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  15. Bette Davis was a fan of many younger actresses, including Streep, but also including Sissy Spacek, Glenda Jackson, and others. She certainly did not single out Streep as her successor the way Hepburn singled her out as her least favorite star. Davis publicly praised Spacek to the high heavens, so if any star from Streep's generation was Davis ' favorite, it was probably Spacek.

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    1. It was actually Debra winger

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  16. Bette Davis also had high praise for Debra Winger. And didn't Katharine Hepburn state once that Bette Davis was her favorite actress? Anyhow, I rarely appreciate the acting of either Katharine Hepburn or Meryl Streep: the first because she is too much the same in most of her films, and the second because she leaves me cold most of the time: perhaps too calculating and measured, as others have noted. For me, Bette Davis is the ideal, combining wonderful persona and the ability to vary her performances enough to create real characters. I am also fond of Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren. British actors and actresses are, in general, better anyway.

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  17. Keep it simple people, Streep is a wonderful actress, not the best but very good. It starts getting way too deep when you try to compare her to the Likes of Hepburn. Realism is important to bring to your character, but that won't sell tickets and it won't make anyone remember the performance. There was a certain unexplainable Magic that the queens of the cinema infused into their characters, making each one memorable. Streep has only achieved this one time with Sophie's Choice. She's not quite ready to sit on the front porch with the big dogs like Hepburn & Davis.

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  18. Late to the game but wanted to remind people that being great at accents and taking on other people's personas like, say, a Jimmy Fallon, does not make you a great actor.

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  19. I respect the old Hollywood actresses a great deal but let's be honest, other than Bette Davis, they were basically cardboard cutouts. The majority of performances in old hollywood films are wooden and hammy at best but that was the style at the time. We know value a different type of acting, one that centres around realism. In that respect you aren't going to get better than Meryl Streep.

    You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about her but that's your prerogative. I'm sure the rest of the world is wrong and you're right.

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  20. hello I was reading all the comments here and i would like to express my opinion although it's kinda late ..i read your opinions and I truly respect them although I might as me disagree on a couple things but it doesn't matter ..well I see that you all talking about Meryl Streep and Katharine Hepburn and telling some of you that Hepburn is better of Streep and the opposite also I read not quite sure that Meryl Streep in her films does her character and nothing different and something about mimicry..well in my opinion both Streep and hupburn are my favorite actresses and unique and talented also I think that the job of the actor is to bring in life a story whether is true or not and try to get closer to the character the person portrays ..and you talking about two ladies that they are in different eras I mean hupburn was at the golden age of Hollywood and films back then in a way we're different and hupburn is a great actress I mean although she started with the characterization poison in her early films were unsuccessful while she was continue she had amazing career the lion in winter ,moring glory on the golden pond we can see how talented she was and what legacy she left and also in her films yea she might have a bit of her character that's not bad I mean she gives to the character she portrays a piece from her soul ..and Meryl Streep if you have read started in Julia then at the deer hunter and then she received her first academy nomination and then came Kramer vs Kramer which won her first academy award and as some critics back then said that well she will stay for a 1-2 years and then people will forget her ..well not cuz Sophie's choice came and the scene when she does the choice u can see her have this instinct when she turns and instead say something she screams and there you can see that she would continue for years..but today is there any actress who wants to perform ?i think that maybe actresses today wants the fame and not to make films but being celebrities and today there are few good great actresses including Meryl Streep ..also I don't find it bad a person being nice the opposite I think is good and shows a kind of respect..to conclude I think that both are the greatest and incredible also u know movies pass messages even when a film is bad ..and I don't think she overrated there are other actors who are ..
    I hope you respect the fact that's my opinion like I respected yours opinions also If you have and disagreement just leave your comment ..and sorry for the long comment ....!

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