Charlotte Rampling: The Look

Woody Allen introduced me to Charlotte Rampling. It was during the early autumn of 1980 or possibly the early winter of 1981. I was a moody adolescent and family friends took me to see STARDUST MEMORIES (1980). At the time I was only remotely familiar with Allen’s work, having seen a few of his “early, funny pictures” but nothing had really prepared for me for the film I was about to see. And the indelible image of a broken, cheerless Charlotte Rampling quietly weeping into the camera while Allen zooms in on her remarkable face was seared into my brain. I sympathized with the hopelessness Rampling seemed to be conveying during those few moments but I’d never seen it illustrated in quite the same way. STARDUST MEMORIES quickly became a sort of touchstone film for me and the beguiling and beautiful Charlotte Rampling instantly became one of my favorite actresses.

Not long afterward I would see Rampling in THE VERDICT (1982), where’s she’s slapped by Paul Newman followed by FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975), where she’s shot by Robert Mitchum as well as ORCA (1977), where she hunts down a killer whale alongside Richard Harris. And by the end of the decade I was introduced to her earlier work in unusual, experimental and thoughtful films such as GEORGY GIRL (1966), THE DAMNED (1969), ASYLUM (1972), ZARDOZ (1974), THE NIGHT PORTER (1974) and ANGEL HEART (1987), which all became important benchmarks in the development of my own personal tastes and film preferences, as well as my appreciation of the seemingly limitless possibilities of cinema. Rampling’s ability to play unlikable, but somehow incredibly endearing characters, intrigued me. She was a bundle of quietly seething opposites. Bone thin, elegantly poised, conveying vulnerability and weakness, while projecting an inner strength as well as a vicious streak. She made me believe that she could easily devour any of her costars. She was both inviting and dangerous but I found the combination of her visceral power, brains and feline beauty absolutely fascinating. I never get tired of watching her.

This is why I was eager to see THE LOOK, a new film by director Angelina Maccarone that focuses on the enigmatic 66-year-old actress. Unlike so many current documentaries that encourage others to ramble on about working, living or admiring the film’s subject, THE LOOK lets the subject speak for themselves. Charlotte Rampling’s is the dominant voice in the film and it’s her words that lend THE LOOK its weight. The film is broken down into various sections that attempt to convey Rampling’s thoughts about timeless subjects such as Age, Beauty, Taboo, Desire, Death and Love. She meets up with various friends, family members and associates who discuss the topics with her, while clips from her films frame the conversation, but it’s Rampling’s voice that dominates the discussions.

“Desire is within you. Desire is not meant to be fulfilled. Desire is there to execute, to operate. It’s a formidable tool. So we fill ourselves with desire. We need to try and find ways – almost alchemic ways – to make it happen within ourselves. Some people seem to keep it alive on and on. I can’t so I’m just talking for myself. You don’t know what it is but it doesn’t have to be sexual. It can be some feeling that this person gives you and you desire. You want to be with them. You like their company. You want to watch them. I think Cinema is really one of the major places that this takes place for people. And that’s what cinema is about. You are the projection of inner things.” – Charlotte Rampling

The actress avoids talking directly about her personal life and focuses on her work and thought process instead, which I deeply appreciated. While some critics have complained about the film’s lack of focus and Rampling’s aloofness, I found THE LOOK to be an insightful examination of her creative abilities, which interests me much more than vague reminiscences about her love life and childhood traumas. And it’s the acting, along with the need to carefully break down and reassemble human emotions, that clearly concerns Rampling the most. She’s a consummate performer and that’s plainly apparent if you’ve seen her work but it becomes crystallized in this absorbing documentary. Rampling spends the entirety of the film discussing the importance of being present in the moment (“Withdrawing won’t protect you.”), being a good listener (“Let them feel that you want to get to know them and want to hear their story, it’s the incredible gift you give them.”) and suggesting that we can find strength in the painful experiences of the past (“The best remedy for any form of pain is to let it happen to you.”) while stressing the need for spontaneity (“You don’t prepare for life. Life happens.”) These are all critically important lessons for any actor and that’s really what THE LOOK conveys. It’s an indirect rumination on the acting process and ambiguously relays how we can all benefit from the skills that great actors have at their disposal.

And if truth be told, we’re all becoming actors these days. It was Shakespeare who originally said, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts” but the bard couldn’t have known how relevant those lines would become in our modern world. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, where we tend to over-share every aspect of our lives while attempting to micromanage our identities, playing a well-rehearsed part has become a daily activity for many. This is further exemplified by security cameras being placed on every city block and the awareness that any of our public humiliations could end up on Youtube. The director of THE LOOK, as well as Charlotte Rampling herself, seem well aware of this fact. At one point the actress says, “I don’t think there are too many public taboos. I think that now, with the internet, everything is potentially seeable, doable. There are no secrets anymore.” This pointed observation conveys Rampling’s desire to keep some of her personal life private, but it also taps into the film’s underlying message that we’re all actors at heart attempting to navigate this stage called life. In this atypical documentary we look at Rampling, the actress, model, mother, lover, friend, self-proclaimed monster and artist, while she looks right back at us. The oblique nature of THE LOOK will undoubtedly frustrate anyone eager to see a conventional exposé detailing every aspect of the actress’ life but I found it absolutely mesmerizing.

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: THE LOOK is available on DVD from Kino Lorber Films.

Further reading:
- Looking for the Alchemy: An Interview with Charlotte Rampling at Cineaste

0 Response Charlotte Rampling: The Look
Posted By Cool Bev : April 26, 2012 10:20 pm

Glad to hear of another lover of STARDUST MEMORIES. In my opinion, it is his funniest movie, most formally correct (the perfect parallels to 8-1/2), and possibly most beautiful – some might say MANHATTAN.

The close-ups of Rampling doing facial exercises: what could be more startling, beautiful, Felliniesque and funny?

Posted By Cool Bev : April 26, 2012 10:20 pm

Glad to hear of another lover of STARDUST MEMORIES. In my opinion, it is his funniest movie, most formally correct (the perfect parallels to 8-1/2), and possibly most beautiful – some might say MANHATTAN.

The close-ups of Rampling doing facial exercises: what could be more startling, beautiful, Felliniesque and funny?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 27, 2012 2:15 pm

I love Charlotte Rampling so much. She’s just superb in THE VERDICT and STARDUST MEMORIES. I was thrilled to see her in MELANCHOLIA and even in such a small role, she really shined. I’m checking out THE LOOK as soon as I can. Thanks.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 27, 2012 2:15 pm

I love Charlotte Rampling so much. She’s just superb in THE VERDICT and STARDUST MEMORIES. I was thrilled to see her in MELANCHOLIA and even in such a small role, she really shined. I’m checking out THE LOOK as soon as I can. Thanks.

Posted By Fred : April 28, 2012 5:21 pm

Thanks for another excellent review, Kimberly. I’ve always enjoyed Charlotte Rampling’s acting, and she is in some of my favorite films. She’s a fearless actress with an incredible range who has only grown more beautiful and talented as she’s aged. I’ll have to seek this film out.

Posted By Fred : April 28, 2012 5:21 pm

Thanks for another excellent review, Kimberly. I’ve always enjoyed Charlotte Rampling’s acting, and she is in some of my favorite films. She’s a fearless actress with an incredible range who has only grown more beautiful and talented as she’s aged. I’ll have to seek this film out.

Posted By David : April 28, 2012 8:50 pm

Great post on Charlotte Rampling. Rampling is one of those actors whose presence in a film will remain compelling, or at the very least interesting, even if the film is mediocre (Foxtrot) or unconvincing (Max Mon Amour).

Posted By David : April 28, 2012 8:50 pm

Great post on Charlotte Rampling. Rampling is one of those actors whose presence in a film will remain compelling, or at the very least interesting, even if the film is mediocre (Foxtrot) or unconvincing (Max Mon Amour).

Posted By Commander Adams : April 28, 2012 9:07 pm

Although SWIMMING POOL was uneven, Rampling was absolutely superb in it. It’s wonderful to see that this brilliant actress is finally getting the roles and recognition she deserves.

Posted By Commander Adams : April 28, 2012 9:07 pm

Although SWIMMING POOL was uneven, Rampling was absolutely superb in it. It’s wonderful to see that this brilliant actress is finally getting the roles and recognition she deserves.

Posted By swac44 : April 29, 2012 10:22 am

I keep waiting for someone to cast Charlotte Rampling and Tilda Swinton as mother and daughter. It’s bound to happen some day.

Posted By swac44 : April 29, 2012 10:22 am

I keep waiting for someone to cast Charlotte Rampling and Tilda Swinton as mother and daughter. It’s bound to happen some day.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 30, 2012 1:57 pm

Rampling was terrific as the modern-day femme fatale in the revival of film noir that occurred in the 1970s-80s. She recalled the smoldering noir women of the 1940s without seeming retro. She had great chemistry with Robert Mitchum in Farewell My Lovely, though her performance is a little awkward here and there. She was better in Angel Heart, and she played the mother of the victim in the remake of DOA.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 30, 2012 1:57 pm

Rampling was terrific as the modern-day femme fatale in the revival of film noir that occurred in the 1970s-80s. She recalled the smoldering noir women of the 1940s without seeming retro. She had great chemistry with Robert Mitchum in Farewell My Lovely, though her performance is a little awkward here and there. She was better in Angel Heart, and she played the mother of the victim in the remake of DOA.

Posted By David : April 30, 2012 9:27 pm

Rampling was stunning to look at in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. It’s a pity that the direction was little more than adequate, and the screenplay was such a mediocre adaptation of Chandler’s novel, with such a good cast available. Rampling’s look even reminded me a little of Lauren Bacall’s from the forties.

Posted By David : April 30, 2012 9:27 pm

Rampling was stunning to look at in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. It’s a pity that the direction was little more than adequate, and the screenplay was such a mediocre adaptation of Chandler’s novel, with such a good cast available. Rampling’s look even reminded me a little of Lauren Bacall’s from the forties.

Posted By Juana Maria : May 1, 2012 4:03 pm

Hey, I was thinking the same thing! That Rampling and Bacall resemble each other. She is hauntingly beautiful, sorta otherwordly-those are words that popped into my mind when I first glanced at this article. I don’t think I’ve seen any of her work but I hope to soon.

Posted By Juana Maria : May 1, 2012 4:03 pm

Hey, I was thinking the same thing! That Rampling and Bacall resemble each other. She is hauntingly beautiful, sorta otherwordly-those are words that popped into my mind when I first glanced at this article. I don’t think I’ve seen any of her work but I hope to soon.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : May 3, 2012 10:11 pm

I’m happy to see so many other Rampling fans sharing their thoughts here. She’s really a fabulous talent and it’s uncommon to see a woman of her age maintaining a successful acting career. I find her very inspiring and I think young aspiring actors would probably find the documentary particularly interesting.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : May 3, 2012 10:11 pm

I’m happy to see so many other Rampling fans sharing their thoughts here. She’s really a fabulous talent and it’s uncommon to see a woman of her age maintaining a successful acting career. I find her very inspiring and I think young aspiring actors would probably find the documentary particularly interesting.

Posted By Jenni : May 17, 2012 2:11 pm

She is an outstanding actress, and did a wonderful job in Georgy Girl, even though her character was not very likable. Now I want to see more of her work! Thanks for the post.

Posted By Jenni : May 17, 2012 2:11 pm

She is an outstanding actress, and did a wonderful job in Georgy Girl, even though her character was not very likable. Now I want to see more of her work! Thanks for the post.

Posted By Jenni : May 17, 2012 2:13 pm

Charlotte Rampling is an outstanding actress, and she did a wonderful job in Georgy Girl, even though her character was not very likable. It’s also nice to see an older actress not afraid to show how she has aged, not always glammed up hoping to look decades younger! Very interesting post.

Posted By Jenni : May 17, 2012 2:13 pm

Charlotte Rampling is an outstanding actress, and she did a wonderful job in Georgy Girl, even though her character was not very likable. It’s also nice to see an older actress not afraid to show how she has aged, not always glammed up hoping to look decades younger! Very interesting post.

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