Welcome back, SissyJohn Patterson is thankful to still get a glimpse of Sissy Spacek - the artist formerly known as Rainbo
Saturday 30 October 2004
he good name of the great state of Texas may currently be mud among 50% of Americans, but in truth, Texas isn't just the home of Halliburton KBR, Enron and a fast-track death-penalty process. Lots of cool things have come out of the Lone Star state: Jewish country singer and comic mystery novelist Kinky Friedman, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, the Dallas Cowboys' Cheerleaders, T-Bone Walker, Patricia Highsmith, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson - and Sissy Spacek.
We should probably count Sissy as an ex-movie star, since she to all intents and purposes retired in 1986 to raise her kids on a farm in Virginia. She makes one of her periodic returns to the screen this week in A Home At The End Of The World, and seeing her again just reminds me how much I miss her. Still, it means we must talk of her largely in the past tense.
She got out of Quitman, Texas, in the late 1960s and fetched up in New York singing at folk clubs (under the very 1969 stage name Rainbo), before her cousin and fellow emblematic Texican Rip Torn pushed her in the direction of drama-teacher-dragon Stella Adler, in whose hands she thrived. She made her movie debut opposite Lee Marvin in thriller Prime Cut, then played a woman out to marry Richard Thomas on The Waltons, a part that offered her the imperishable line, "When you gonna quit bein' John-Boy an' start bein' John-man?"
In Terrence Malick's Badlands she was Prairie Flower poetry, all freckles, snub nose and teenage vacancy ("see these flaaahrs? Liss not pickum - they're so naaaaace!"), caught up in high crimes yet utterly detached from motive or consequence. The creepy innocence she emitted like a pale death-ray made her perfect for Carrie. That role - the pig blood on the prom dress - will haunt her forever, but she fit more snugly in movies like Robert Altman's Three Women and Alan Rudolph's Welcome To LA.
But stardom loomed, and Coal Miner's Daughter, in which she dragged up the spirit of Rainbo and sang her own songs, won her an Oscar and put certain movie-star limits on the parts she would later take. Another six years and she'd started to take it easy. I'm happy she's back. I wish she'd never gone away.
Career high From Badlands to Crimes Of The Heart. Not much filler in those years.
Career low Depressing to see her playing "the little woman" to Kevin Costner in the bloated and idiotic JFK.
Trivia She's married to Jack Fisk, occasional director, Terrence Malick's production designer and David Lynch's best friend. Some of her early pay cheques helped finance Eraserhead.
Quote "When I started out in independent films in the early 1970s, we did everything for the love of art. It wasn't about money and stardom. That was what we were reacting against. You'd die before you'd be bought."