Getting to Know Julie Christie

It's not often that one uses the phrase "reluctant star" with reference to Hollywood, particularly in an age that counts this chick and what's-her-face as perennial headline-grabbers. It's tossed around almost mercilessly, though, when discussion turns to notoriously hard-to-get screen goddess Julie Christie. Even her latest role, a masterfully touching turn as an Alzheimer's patient in Sarah Polley's debut feature Away From Her, was done only as a favor to Polley, a friend. How, then, to get a handle on this blue-eyed conundrum (who, by the way, is no less striking in her late 60s)? Alas, she eluded Warren Beatty; you won't fare better. But here're a few selections to help you get better acquainted.

Shampoo (1975)

dir. Hal Ashby

Christie is perhaps at her teasingly sultriest here, as the regal but sailor-mouthed Jackie Shawn, former(?) flame to bed-hopping hairdresser George Roundy (Beatty) -- not to mention mistress to his benefactor, Lester (Jack Warden), with whose wife and daughter Roundy is also, ehm, "embroiled." Possibly the consummate sexual-politics flick (pun intended) Shampoo is also well-known for one of the most infamous lines in cinema, courtesy Christie. Told she can have anything she wants by "a very important executive" at an election-night dinner party, a grinning Jackie jabs a thumb over her shoulder at George and says, in impeccable Queen's English (fill in the blanks): "Well, what I really want is to ____ his ____."

Hamlet (1996)

dir. Kenneth Branagh

Branagh's absorbing, gorgeously-shot take on the melancholy Dane is positively dripping with stars (seriously, was that really Jack Lemmon?), but Christie manages to stand out; her besieged and magnificently pitiful Gertrude leaves a lasting impression. (Come on, DVD release!)

Don't Look Now (1973)

dir. Nicholas Roeg

This masterfully creepy horror classic, starring Christie and Donald Sutherland as a grief-stricken couple fleeing the memory of their drowned daughter, is rightly noted for its serpentine plot, its virtuoso editing, and, it must be said, for an inventively intercut scene of lovemaking between its principals, which act has long been rumored to be (ahem) unsimulated. Also: features one of the absolutely left-field-freakiest twist endings of all time.

Demon Seed (1977)

dir. Donald Cammel

"Julie Christie carries ... the 'Demon Seed.' Fear for Her." That tagline pretty much sums it right up. 'Member that "Treehouse of Horror" episode where the Simpsons' technologically souped-up, Pierce-Brosnan-voiced house tries to kill Homer in order to maximize alone time with Marge, with whom it's (he's?) hopelessly smitten? Yeah, well, Demon Seed -- itself based upon a Dean Koontz novel -- inspired it. Except, in this version, RoboHouse = Robert Vaughn (Bullitt, one of The Magnificent Seven, the bad-guy rich dude in Baseketball). Oh, and also in this version: The house has sex with Julie Christie. And she births a RoboHouseBaby. So, yeah. Worth mentioning because of its sheer mind-boggling-ness. And (more specifically) because, as previously stated: The house has sex with Julie Christie.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

dir. David Lean

If this one doesn't make you fall for Ms. Christie, nothin' will. Lean's uber-romantic follow-up to Lawrence of Arabia immortalizes her as the seemingly fragile Lara to Omar Sharif's Dr. Yuri. (Don't mess with her, though. She shot Rod Steiger.)

More? See also: Darling (1965), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971).

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Brian Villalobos lives in Austin, Texas (practically), writes on film and TV, and totally cried at Stuart Little.

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