A to Z of My Lawyer Will Call Your Lawyer: G

An occasional series where Astrid & Nick go through their cinema alphabet

Astrid: Gwyneth Paltrow
G is for Gwyneth. And it's not because I adore her. Gwyneth is exactly ten years older than me, so when I was growing up, she was on the screen playing the young princess roles and the cool new blonde part and whatever else was going on in the late 1990s. She was a movie star and a young woman and therefore everywhere I looked, there she was.

For me Gwyneth was an impossible role model. She was too skinny, tall, too blonde and confident and restrained to the point of no emotion. There was no edge or goof to her (until she appeared in The Royal Tenenbaums). It was all pink dresses and perfect flowing hair. Yet, she appeared to me as a vital part of the engine that was telling me how a woman should be. Then, somewhere in the 2000s, Gwyneth married a rockstar (although he has one of the most polished and guarded public images in rock), had sweet children and stayed home for a while. Gwyneth also became a blogger and an advisor on how to live a clean healthy life. In other words she made good use of her orthorexia and all related obsessions with control over one's mind and body. And because she isn't the only one struggling with issues like to eat pasta or not to eat pasta, she has hit the jackpot once again. Brown rice, quinoa and avocado with black beans. I cannot say I'm not familiar with all those ingredients myself.

While her aim may not be to patronize or to spread impossible standards for women with low self-esteem, Gwyneth manages to do just that. It's not her fault alone. She's as much a victim as she is a success story (but telling women that everyone should detox by not eating for 3 days is simply crazy). There is something incredibly old-fashioned going on with her. I hear echoes of Sylvia Plath's journal passages when I think of G. To internalize the current gendered ideals for women too well is to create your own monster. No doubt her real-life personality is much more interesting and multi-faceted than the projection of her public image. This is not a criticism of Gwyneth Paltrow, the private vulnerable person, it's only how I see and feel about her image.

Elliott Gould

Nick: Elliott Gould
I could have gone for some other Gs: Cary Grant, The Godfather films, Graham Greene or even The Great Gatsby (there have been various big/small screen disasters). But I went for Elliott Gould. I like the name Elliott, so I've always had an interest in movies featuring Gould (that name alone has piqued my interest). Gould is the actor that seemingly had it all for a brief period in the early 1970's: married to Barbara Streisand, he was Roberts Altman's to-go-to-man and the nonchalant cool-as-fuck poster boy for the New Hollywood era. He should have been as big as Jack and Warren. What went wrong?

Sutherland & Gould in  M.A.S.H.(1970)

I've discussed Gould's coolness with a cigarette in The Long Goodbye before. It's his defining role and one of Altman's finest films. You can catch him earliest in that curious mix of UK/USA acting talent The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968). It's the film where Norman Wisdom rubs shoulders with Jason Robards perversely directed by William Friedkin. The frankly embarrassing Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) is where Gould got really noticed by many (and also the Academy). When Gould was cast in Altman's breakthrough picture M.A.S.H. (1970)  things got really interesting with Elliott displaying for the first time his laconic, dry yet very sarcastic screen persona. M.A.S.H. has dated but the best scenes still evolve around Gould and Donald Sutherland's witty, quick fire exchanges. Gould is great in the well meaning Getting Straight and OK in the quite bizarre Alan Arkin directed Little Murders. He also acted for Ingmar Bergman in The Touch (I haven't seen it but would like to) and then came The Long Goodbye, followed by another for Altman, the almost forgotten, yet excellent California Split. After this and a lot of credible (and commercial) success, things go fuzzy. I saw the hard hitting cop movie Busted many years ago and don't remember much about it. S*P*Y*S (1974) looks wretched, Gould and Sutherland (again) trading on their M.A.S.H. popularity.

Gould as Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973)
It could be that by the mid-1970's Gould had lost site of the quality control on his picture choices. Still, although he would never regain his early 1970's leading man popularity, a few gems remain scattered through the rest of his career. You can catch him in a cameo in Altman's masterful Nashville (1975) playing himself (something Gould has done a lot of). He's one of many 'stars' in the ponderous war movie A Bridge Too Far (1977) and he appeared in the rated late 1970's suspense The Silent Partner (anyone know where I can find it?) But the last picture where Gould displays the spark he had in some of his earlier films and is for me one of the great unsung conspiracy movies of the 1970's is Capricorn One (1978). Gould plays a journalist who finds evidence that the Apollo Moon landings were faked and puts his own life at risk to break the story (and save some astronauts). Although English made the cast (as well as Gould you'll find Karen Black, OJ Simpson, Hal Holbrook and Sam Waterston) and atmosphere of Capricorn One recall the heyday of New Hollywood anti-government  conspiracy movies in the vein of Parallax View and All the President's Men. Gould is back to his non-hero like best. After this the 1980/90's were poor for Gould, Muppet Movie hell, Poirot and TV serial guest appearances are the order of the day. He was a bright spot in Bugsy (1991) and had a good role in American History X (1998), but aside from this it wasn't till a regular part on TV sitcom Friends and a regular part in the Steven Soderbergh Oceans movies that Gould came back into focus. I'll remember him as the man who could challenge Belmondo for the best luscious lips wrapped around a cigarette pose. Gould is a smart actor and at times on screen he could be a dangerous man to know. There's no actor quite like him in cinema. 'It's ok with me' if his effortless cool takes up some of your time.


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