10 December 2004 | dglink
A Baffling Oscar Oversight
Over the years, the Oscars have often gone to performers and films that seemed to make little sense at the time and subsequently failed to stand the test of time. While Julie Andrews was certainly marked for stardom, her singing nanny did not hold a candle to Kim Stanley's tour-de-force as Myra in "Seance on a Wet Afternoon," either in 1964 or in 2004. One wonders in retrospect if any of the voters actually saw this brilliant, minor masterwork. If they had, how did Richard Attenborough's performance get overlooked? His subtle underplaying as the passive husband is in perfect sync to Stanley's showy turn as the medium and deserved Academy recognition as much as and perhaps more than his direction of "Gandhi." The taut screenplay and direction by Bryan Forbes, the fine black and white cinematography by Gerry Turpin, and John Barry's music also deserved recognition. Unfortunately, Hollywood was into big musicals in 1964, and the Academy's nominations were showered on "My Fair Lady" and "Mary Poppins," while more serious fare such as this film was overlooked. While "Lady" clunks along today as a leaden stage-bound adaptation and "Poppins" does not seem quite as charming as it did, "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" and the two brilliant performances at its center remain as riveting as they were 40 years ago. Fortunately, the Academy has shown some maturity in recent years, and films such as this are more often recognized, which raises their profiles and brings them to the attention of viewers who might otherwise miss them. Without any recognition other than recommendations from those few who have seen this character-driven suspense gem, "Seance" has been little seen and remains a cinematic jewel that awaits discovery and its deserved place among British film classics.