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Jessica Lange: From archetype to character actress

Antonia Mahler
Antonia Mahler

Guest of honor Jessica Lange will receive the CineMerit Award for outstanding achievement in the art of film

Jessica Lange: From archetype to character actress

PHoto: Frank Ockenfels

A woman who began her acting career in the clutches of a love-struck ape (King Kong) knows what it means to be thought of as an archetypical blonde. Jessica Lange, however, chose not to devote her beauty and personality to playing a variety of damsels in distress. Instead, like no other actress of her generation, she was in a position to reimagine the stereotype of the attractive blonde. Whether as an unfaithful, homicidal wife in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE or as a single mother and starlet in TOOTSIE, Lange was suddenly introducing the world to women whose personal struggles were far more relevant than their idealized appearance: independent, modern, sophisticated women whose beauty might have given them an advantage, but did not solve their problems.

As Frances Farmer, she told the true story of the talented Hollywood actress who was ruined by the studio system. At the age of sixteen, Farmer won an essay competition with an entry that questioned the existence of God — not a very socially acceptable stance for a young woman in Seattle in the 1920s. Though Farmer’s politics were questionable, she was considered beautiful and talented. This led to Paramount Studios offering her a contract, but making unreasonable demands of her and setting vicious gossip columnists on her trail. She ended up in a mental hospital. Jessica Lange worked meticulously with her acting coach to prepare for this, the first major leading role of her career, while she was still breastfeeding her newborn daughter. The mother-daughter constellation with her acting idol Kim Stanley would also bring her good fortune and inspiration. In 1983, the year of the film’s release, Lange was nominated for two Oscars: for best actress in a leading role in FRANCES and for best actress in a supporting role in TOOTSIE. The latter even earned her her first Academy Award and became the most commercially successful film of her career.

Frances Online

Lange earned her second Oscar in 1995 for her leading role in BLUE SKY. In that film, she played Carly Marshall, the bipolar wife of a US Army major, whose rather extroverted behavior causes a stir on the military base. Carly’s volatility, infidelity, and instability are overshadowed only by her exuberant entrances in the style of well-known screen actresses, such as Marilyn Monroe. Jessica Lange embodies this dangerous but winning combination of traits with passion.

Lange’s impressive career, which spans more than four decades, has earned her two Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, three Emmys, and a Tony. The celebrated actress also has a lesser-known side, which the Munich International Film Festival will be presenting as well. For years, she has been an accomplished photographer; four books of her photographs have been published to date. Lange will now be coming to the Deutsches Theatermuseum in Munich’s Hofgarten to present selected black-and-white photographs from her latest photo book, “Dérive”. The exhibition is centered around photographs that Lange took during the pandemic in New York City, when the lockdown stripped the Big Apple and its crowded streets of their character. Lange captured the rawness and emptiness of Manhattan’s iconic side streets in such motifs as a nearly empty sidewalk, an “open” sign raising false hopes, and a merry-go-round brought to a permanent standstill. On July 1, 2024, the exhibition will open with a vernissage at the Deutsches Theatermuseum with the artist attending. It will run until September 8, 2024.

The Munich International Film Festival will be screening three films selected from Lange’s magnificent Hollywood oeuvre by the actress herself. She will also take the stage in person to talk about her career and to receive the CineMerit Award at AN EVENING WITH JESSICA LANGE. We’re looking forward to it!

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