Beyond Belief

I spent two hours eulogizing my late friend Victor Argo on Thursday night/Friday morning and woke up six hours later to the news that another friend, actress/writer/director/wife/mother/rara avis Adrienne Shelly, had died alone in her Manhattan office.  I don’t mean to write about death so much, I really don’t.  But what is it they say?  Death is what happens when you’re writing about something else.

Sudden Manhattan

I met Adrienne in 1996, well after her impressive film debut in Hal Hartley’s The Unbelieveable Truth (1989) and its follow-up Trust (1990).  She had just played the lead in the then-unreleased Grind (1997), with Billy Cruddup and had directed her first feature film Sudden Manhattan (1997).  We slided easily into brother-sister mode.  I was five years her senior, a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier, but I walked in her shadow.  Despite her childlike stature, Adrienne had a commanding, forthright delivery and a claxton-like voice that definitely drew focus (“This is Adrienne calling,” she’d announce on the telephone, like a character from a 30s movie barking into one of those two-piece candlestick phones).  Adrienne often played bookish, brainy characters and she was one in real life.  I remember her marching up the five flights of stairs to my old tenement flat in Yorkville with her nose buried in a magazine she’d swiped from her doctor’s office, reading aloud as she pushed into my apartment, fascinated with what she was reading and eager to share it.  If she ever played the movie star, it was never with me.  I happened upon her shooting her second film, I’ll Take You There (1999), one autumn day in Lower Manhattan and stopped to watch her at work.  Singling out my face from a crowd of dozens of gawkers, she bounded out of her canvas chair and ran, not walked, but ran to give me a hug.  I last saw her in 2001, at a screening of Revolution #9 (which she associate produced and in which she played a supporting role) but we fell out of touch when I moved from New York.  This summer, around her 40th birthday, I sent her an e-mail.  I was happy when she replied, and we swapped pictures of our kids.  Life was good, it seemed.

It’s an actor’s craft to develop backstory for a character, to fill in details and history that the audience will never know but which inform the author’s text with a subtext and give the drama wholeness and weight.  Of course, all real people have backstory and subtext… and that we can never know anyone’s full story is what makes life so hard and what drives us to the movies where, even if it all ends tragically, we are left with some small understanding of why it had to be.

22 Responses Beyond Belief
Posted By John Charles : November 4, 2006 7:21 pm

That was a lovely, heartfelt remembrance, Richard. You had spoken to me with great warmth about Adr…

Posted By John Charles : November 4, 2006 7:21 pm

That was a lovely, heartfelt remembrance, Richard. You had spoken to me with great warmth about Adr…

Posted By John Charles : November 4, 2006 8:09 pm

That was a lovely, heartfelt remembrance, Richard. You had spoken to me with great warmth about Adr…

Posted By John Charles : November 4, 2006 8:09 pm

That was a lovely, heartfelt remembrance, Richard. You had spoken to me with great warmth about Adr…

Posted By R Steiner : November 6, 2006 1:00 pm

I was shocked to read this on Saturday – thanks for posting this remembrance.  As someone who grew up falling in love with the mysterious charachters Adrienne Shelly portrayed, learning this was sort of like losing a part of your childhood.  She introduced me and others into the world of thinking about (and falling in love with) complex female characters in low-budget indie films, before low budget indie films and these types of characters became a Hollywood commodity.  How much do the Wes Anderson's and the alt-film indie portrayals of countless actress' owe Ms. Shelly?  When I talked to her at the Telluride film festival many years ago, it was clear what an influence Hartley had on her – she appeared to be on the verge of creating a great work some day as a director.  She will be missed.  

Posted By R Steiner : November 6, 2006 1:00 pm

I was shocked to read this on Saturday – thanks for posting this remembrance.  As someone who grew up falling in love with the mysterious charachters Adrienne Shelly portrayed, learning this was sort of like losing a part of your childhood.  She introduced me and others into the world of thinking about (and falling in love with) complex female characters in low-budget indie films, before low budget indie films and these types of characters became a Hollywood commodity.  How much do the Wes Anderson's and the alt-film indie portrayals of countless actress' owe Ms. Shelly?  When I talked to her at the Telluride film festival many years ago, it was clear what an influence Hartley had on her – she appeared to be on the verge of creating a great work some day as a director.  She will be missed.  

Posted By autoquote insurance : November 23, 2006 8:38 pm
Posted By autoquote insurance : November 23, 2006 8:38 pm
Posted By autoquote insurance : November 25, 2006 1:31 am

Really great site. Thanks a lot! http://debt_consolidation0.ex11.info/bad_credit_rating_loan_uk.html foreclosure loans [url=http://mortgage0.int9.info/interest_only_mortgage_repayment_calculator.html] interest only mortgage repayment calculator [/url]

Posted By autoquote insurance : November 25, 2006 1:31 am

Really great site. Thanks a lot! http://debt_consolidation0.ex11.info/bad_credit_rating_loan_uk.html foreclosure loans [url=http://mortgage0.int9.info/interest_only_mortgage_repayment_calculator.html] interest only mortgage repayment calculator [/url]

Posted By Kevin : December 8, 2006 2:33 pm

Nice site! [url=http://ctoglwcs.com/wyqx/qzgg.html]My homepage[/url] | [url=http://pwomhdgb.com/ywtb/xaah.html]Cool site[/url]

Posted By Kevin : December 8, 2006 2:33 pm

Nice site! [url=http://ctoglwcs.com/wyqx/qzgg.html]My homepage[/url] | [url=http://pwomhdgb.com/ywtb/xaah.html]Cool site[/url]

Posted By Edward : December 8, 2006 2:33 pm

Well done! My homepage | Please visit

Posted By Edward : December 8, 2006 2:33 pm

Well done! My homepage | Please visit

Posted By night vision : January 24, 2007 3:11 pm

good sitehttp://www.nightvision.co.in/ 

Posted By night vision : January 24, 2007 3:11 pm

good sitehttp://www.nightvision.co.in/ 

Posted By B2b : January 24, 2007 3:18 pm

sweet sitehttp://www.b2b-guide.org/ 

Posted By B2b : January 24, 2007 3:18 pm

sweet sitehttp://www.b2b-guide.org/ 

Posted By flights : January 24, 2007 5:45 pm

best sitehttp://www.flights1.net/ 

Posted By flights : January 24, 2007 5:45 pm

best sitehttp://www.flights1.net/ 

Posted By flooring : January 24, 2007 5:48 pm

sweet sitehttp://www.flooring1.org/ 

Posted By flooring : January 24, 2007 5:48 pm

sweet sitehttp://www.flooring1.org/ 

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.