Friday, October 29, 2010

Backwards, Forwards, Now to Then: Happy Birthday, Winona!

A birthday well-wish on this ought-to-be-a-national-holiday, to Ms. Winona Ryder. Her twenty-four years of on-screen work, beginning in 1986, have all been interesting (and yes, a subject of this journal's unbending fascination), and in her thirty-ninth year on Earth, she enters a particularly promising phase in career terms, participating in Black Swan for Darren Aronofsky (ergh/yay) and a Frankenweenie remake (wha?/yay) for Tim Burton. Ryder's natural place in the cinemasphere is in contentious, off-beam projects by filmmakers strong of vision and colorful of personality. Because it is nice for work one enjoys to be seen and discussed, let us hope these films catch on in ways that recent endeavors like A Scanner Darkly, The Ten, Sex and Death 101 and The Informers did not. But if not, no sweat, for Ryder's performances enrich those very entertaining curiosities, and relative stardom is not a measure of artistic success. At any rate, the actress appeared rested, healthy and glowing at recent premieres for Swan, and that is happy news enough.

The image above comes courtesy of 1999's Girl, Interrupted, of course, some three minutes into the picture as Susanna Kaysen (Ryder) undergoes psychiatric interview with Dr. Crumble (an unctuous Kurtwood Smith, doing a caring, patronizing variant on his timeless signature sentiment "Bitches, leave!") following an Incident involving a bottle of asprin and a bottle of vodka. Susanna is decked out in natty nautical stripes, a sort of cartoon convict uniform that echoes her looming imprisonment at Claymoore Hospital. Nerves bundled, she tries to maintain the keel of the conversation, but Ryder shakes her voice on selected notes and makes clear how hard it is to stay above water. She's playing it on Levels, attempting to plainly explain her mental experience while aware of how she's being interpreted and the consequences of each word, and thus takes it slow, pained and honest. She spends most of the scene looking through the doctor, probably appearing spaced out, but really spaced too far in.

Explain what happened? Moving into close up, Ryder doesn't exhale her smoke, but lets it puff out of her mouth and nose as she speaks, an uncontrollable cloud that pops out in embarrassed spurts that she cannot contain: "Explain to a doctor that the laws of physics can be suspended? That what goes up may not come down? Explain that time can move backwards and forwards and now to then and back again and you can't control it?"

And here a dog barks, further distracting Susanna, as the doctor asks "Why can't you control it?" Ryder winces hard trying to make sense of the question, determine if she's reading too much into it, and to be heard over an internal din that is bothering only her, asks a little too loud: "What?"

Dr. C: "Why can't you control time?"

And to that, a patented Winona Ryder look: aghast, disgusted, and terrified at once. How about it, lady, why can't you control time? — not a bad sentiment for birthday times, that. A beat, one blink, and she breaks the brief eye contact.

The scene also has probably the best possible answer to the age-old question "Are you stoned?" (that is: blank stare). As the only sort of birthday present I am qualified to offer, I celebrate this Winona Ryder screen moment, and add it to the collection of randomized masthead images at the top of this page. So to The Exploding Kinetoscope's favorite actress, happy birthday again, and hey, don't worry too much about that controlling time thing.

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