Life sucks and blows simultaneously, but I got an unexpected spring-bounce from my April Fool’s joke review of Helen Mirren in Caligula getting an unexpected like on Twitter from the great Valerie Perrine. When I was a kid growing up, we had great actresses to look up to; sure, you’re a fan of Selena Gomez and Zendaya, but classic 70’s stars like Jill Clayburgh, Dyan Cannon and Valerie Perrine could knock their socks off when it came to glamour AND acting prowess.
As a general rule, I try and avoid paying for access to films; watching what’s on offer from publicists at least helps maintain a level playing field. But rules are made to be broken, and after reading about this short documentary on this august site, I laid down my hard-earned cash to get a swatch at it on Vimeo on demand. Perrine’s live-story has enough material for a feature, but this fan-funded project has the right clips and guest-stars to make it well worth a look. Perrine has enjoyed an enviable career; starting out as a Las Vegas showgirl, she managed to come out a winner from the charnel house of the Hugh Hefner mansion. Perrine hit it big in the movies in the 70’s, playing Montana Wildhack in George Roy Hill’s brilliant Kurt Vonnegut adaptation Slaughterhouse-Five then winning an Oscar nomination for Bob Fosse’s Lenny. She’s terrific in both films, but her star just kept rising; she had an iconic role as Miss Teschmacher in Richard Donner’s game-changer Superman in 1978, and another unforgettable role in the unstoppable Village People disco musical Can’t Stop The Music.
Perrine feels that the latter cost her dearly in terms of acting credibility, and she’s probably right, but Can’t Stop The Music was and still is a hoot to behold, and her jumping naked into a bath full of equally naked men has a joyful exuberance that can’t be denied. Perrine wasn’t shy about her body, and a healthy sense of confident sexuality imbues all of her best roles. Valerie: A Portrait of Valerie Perrine manages to licence key clips from all of the above films, and also comes with genuine bona fides from friends like Jeff Bridges and David Arquette.
Valerie brings us up to date with the star fighting against Parkinson’s; those who only want to know about her heyday might find this tough viewing, but it’s clear that Perrine’s greatest role has been herself. It takes real courage on the part of any actress to allow yourself to be filmed at anything other than your best, and Perrine has had no shortage of medical woes to lament. Awards can’t be taken, they can only be bestowed, and Perrine’s storied career is surely worthy of a lifetime achievement gong. But as befits someone that played such a key role in classic 70’s cinema, Valerie is a superdoc that tells Perrine’s story admirably, and should inspire today’s young actresses to follow her lead as an indelible name in Hollywood and cinematic culture.