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The Endlessly Discovered "Archeology" of Sally Kirkland

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"MY ATTITUDE is always one of sensuality and, aggressive enthusiasm and a kind of outrageousness of expression. I suppose if I'd wanted to be the girl next door, I could have been. I think America is confused by someone who appears sensual and spiritual at the same time."

So said actress Sally Kirkland, about 14 years ago. She might have said the same thing fourteen years previously. She might say it today.

•KIRKLAND is a remarkable character on the American film landscape. She has made over a hundred films. She was Oscar-nominated for Anna (famously losing to Cher in Moonstruck and not bothering to hide her displeasure.) Her penchant for flamboyance, an almost childish glee in going over-the-top and a total lack of inhibition has, perhaps, inhibited her career. She's often "too much" and the art gets lost under the defiantly blonde hair and her enjoyment of dressing up and undressing.

She has appeared, successfully in every medium. She teaches, lectures, is deeply spiritual but full of rowdy fun, still.

And so it was with a great deal of interest I approached her coming film Archeology of a Woman, which will debut at the Village East Cinema next month in New York. Sally's people sent me a DVD, and the actress herself, who knows I admire her, wrote me, hoping I'd take a look. And so I did.

ARCHAEOLOGY of a Woman, directed and written by Sharon Greytak, tells of an aging lady, rapidly descending into dementia. Alzheimer's, possibly acerbated by a terrible, lifelong secret she has maintained. Her pressured daughter (an excellent Victoria Clark) does her best -- while losing lovers and jobs. But she is fought at every turn by Kirkland, who can be deceptively pulled together one minute, and terrifyingly out of control the next.

Kirland's role is a performer's dream. Every emotion is on display -- rage, helplessness, violence, aching, aging sexual fire, and fear -- of her future and her past. This is scenery chewing material at its finest and I thought of several actresses in whose hands the role would be unbearable. But not Kirkland. She seems to stand slightly away from the tempting over-dramatics, therefore giving far more realism to her character's agony than a lot of shrieking or twitching or turning on the tear ducts endlessly. (Her discretion reminded me of Julie Christie's Oscar nominated turn in a similar tale of a woman afflicted with Alzheimers, Away From Her.) Believe me, it is a role in which she eschews all vanity.

The "thriller" aspect of the film -- Kirkland's secret -- seems somewhat at odds with the main tale, but it holds interest. Now, let me warn you, before you write in complaining. There is no real "resolution" to Kirkland's secret. We have to be grown up people and use our imaginations. I know -- hard for us to recall how we ever did that!

Kirkland will never be the average lady down the block. Or even the average sometimes off-putting movie actress. So what? She is a great actress, and I hope when Archaeology of a Woman begins its run, she receives her proper due. (I mean, awards!)

•USUALLY, we print positive mail. But somebody wrote in saying though they enjoy my column, they did not believe my personal recollections of Lauren Bacall were written by me! Wow. Sorry to disappoint, but those encounters with Bacall were all mine.

Now, the dissertation on how Bacall stole How To Marry a Millionaire from Marilyn M. and Betty Grable was informed and expanded on by my associate Denis Ferrara, who knows movies, books, what's happening now and what happened then.

•AND HERE we have a lady named Penelope, who spent some quality time with Bette Davis. Davis apparently adored Bacall, and paid her great compliments, via Penelope. Several years later, Penelope runs into Bacall at Morton's, and innocently approached the star -- "I was on my way back from the ladies room, thought she'd be flattered to know what Davis said." Uh-Uh. "She looked at me like I was a murderer and starts to scream bloody murder. I am not exaggerating. Oh, dear God, You would have thought I was stabbing her with a butcher knife!...the entire restaurant was standing and staring. Actually, I was hoping the police would come."

Ah, dear Betty. She was probably just thinking about her salad.

•ENDSHOT: Our friend Jimmy Mitchell sent us the above previously unpublished shot of Marilyn Monroe and her soon-to-be- business partner, photographer Milton Greene in El Morocco, in 1954. MM was in town to promote her upcoming smash, The Seven Year Itch. But unbeknownst to Darryl Zanuck and the rest of 20th Century Fox Monroe was planning one of the most sensational and daring flights from Hollywood, ever.

She would remain off screen for a daunting, dangerous 18 months before she got what she wanted. Milton was her sole support. Their partnership ended -- prompted by the interference of Arthur Miller -- after two marvelous films -- Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl. Milton never spoke negatively about MM, and indeed she regretted their split deeply. (She phoned him the week of her death, hoping to reconnect and revive their company.)

Here they are in the first flush of hope.