Sunday, July 13, 2014
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Viggo Mortensen Before He Became Viggo Mortensen

A byproduct of the DVR/DVD/VOD age is the experience of rewatching a film and being startled that a star-to-be twinkled in the background, scarcely recognizable because he hadn't yet evolved his persona. Case in point: Viggo Mortensen as the Amish farmer in the shadow of Harrison Ford's boater in Witness (1987). Frisky as a puppy, Mortensen is conscious of the camera and has not yet developed the self-contained quality so striking in A Walk on the Moon, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Watching him in Witness is like seeing a tadpole before he becomes the Frog Prince.

Viggo Mortensen Before He Became Viggo Mortensen

Harrison Ford (left) and Viggo Mortensen (right) in "Witness."
Harrison Ford (left) and Viggo Mortensen (right) in "Witness."

A byproduct of the DVR/DVD/VOD age is the experience of rewatching a film and being startled that a star-to-be twinkled in the background, scarcely recognizable because he hadn't yet evolved his persona. Case in point: Viggo Mortensen as the Amish farmer in the shadow of Harrison Ford's boater in Witness (1987). Frisky as a puppy, Mortensen is conscious of the camera and has not yet developed the self-contained quality so striking in A Walk on the Moon, A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Watching him in Witness is like seeing a tadpole before he becomes the Frog Prince.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes a performer so powerfully establishes herself in an early outing that she is already fully in possession of her persona. Though I had never seen them before, I remember being struck by the unreadable William Hurt in Altered States (1980), the self-possessed Meg Ryan as Candice Bergen's teenage daughter in Rich and Famous (1981) and the effervescent Drew Barrymore in E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982).

A classic example of the former phenomena is watching Blonde Venus (1932) and suddenly realizing that Marlene Dietrich's rather wooden society swain is a tightly-coiled Cary Grant before he relaxed into his looser-limbed persona. A classic example of the latter is settling into Jane Eyre (1944) before gasping that Jane's tragic, raven-haired friend at the orphanage is Elizabeth Taylor, aged 11, her Elizabethness already fully-formed.

Lately I've been surprised to see Robert Townsend playing basketball in a gym scene of Cooley High (1975) and Richard Dreyfuss as a stage manager in Valley of the Dolls (1967), looking like themselves but not yet themselves if you know what I mean. Can you think of other examples that have startled you?

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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