Jessica Lange gives a career performance in a role she was born to play: the talented and troubled Frances Farmer. Farmer's awful trajectory travels from bright Seattle girl to 1930s Hollywood starlet to degraded (eventual... more »ly lobotomized) mental patient. Lange, who has the blond, clean look of Farmer's heyday, goes into these places with the fierce abandon of a true believer. Her performance, the lush John Barry score, and the period re-creation are all worth applauding; almost everything else fails. Everyone except Farmer is grotesquely caricatured to fit the movie's thesis, which is that if you are intelligent and nonconformist, the system will resolutely destroy you. (The medical establishment is evil incarnate.) This simple conclusion seems inadequate and disrespectful of Frances Farmer's tragic problems. For a radiant glimpse of what the real Farmer had to offer, see Howard Hawks's Come and Get It, which bristles with excitement over a new discovery. --Robert Horton« less
"'Frances' is, quite frankly, one of the most powerful films I have ever seen, and definitely one of the most compelling tales I have seen on film. I saw this movie 17 years after it was first released, but a story such as this loses none of its' power with time, and I was moved, touched and amazed at the life of Frances Farmer, upon whose life this film is based.First of all, let me say that I saw this on DVD. The DVD version of the movie is crystal clear, though the sound could have been sharper. Colors are crisp and vibrant, and the director's use of film in certain places to create a '30s effect is well-transferred. The only sore point is that there are no extra features on the DVD other than the scene selection. Perhaps a documentary on the star's life would have complimented the movie, but I'm not really complaining. That such an excellent film is available on DVD is gift enough.The life of Frances Farmer remains one of the most shrouded-in-secrecy tales to come out of Hollywood. Even her autobiography, it is said, was actually written by her 'best friend' Jean Ratcliffe, who doesn't even feature in the movie. I knew none of this when I first stumbled upon this film, which made the horror of the events it contained that much more gruesome and intolerable. For audiences who couldn't stomach 'Hannibal', I have news for you. 'Frances' is a film that deals with true horror, and for that reason this is a film that I will not see again. It affected me too much.The film starts with Frances' Seattle days, when she was a schoolgirl who won the essay contest with her stunning view of religion and life called 'God Dies'. Jessica Lange's spoken version of the poem is gripping and sets the tone for the rest of the film. To be honest, Jessica Lange playing a 16 year old sounds unbelievable, but she pulls it off. Her transformation from schoolgirl to budding actress to tantrum-throwing firebrand is utterly compelling, and confirmed to me that she is indeed one of the best actresses we have in our company today. Frances Farmer, according to the movie, was hopelessly controlled by her mother, and to some extent, her soft-spoken father. The unspeakable horrors in this film include the selling of Frances to the mental institution by her mother, something that I could not quite get over. And yet, through it all, the film suggests that Frances is sane, and it is the rest of the world that views an uneven temperament as something that one should be punished for, or even worse, lobotomized. Much has been written of Farmer's supposed lobotomy, and the film insists that it did indeed happen. Farmer herself, in her later years, was known to have told her friends that it did not. Whatever the true story, it cannot be denied that the inhuman treatment that met this girl was shocking and condemnable.Jessica Lange is perhaps the only actress I have seen on film who has managed to tow the line between restrain and over-the-top so well, as she does here. Her scenes in the mental institution are breathtaking, because it reveals to us what true acting really consists of. Yet, at the same time, it seems as if Lange doesn't really act the part of Farmer. She IS Farmer, for all of the movie. This is at once both curious and remarkable, because no matter how hard I think, I cannot recall a single actress in a true-story adaptation who has managed to convince the audience that they ARE the person they are playing. Alas, Farmer's relationship with her mother, whom she keeps strangely going back to (proving that familial ties can sometimes be the noose around ones' neck) is where Lange hopelessly excels. These scenes are traumatic to sit through, and I must admit I had a tougher time sitting through this than I did during "Dancer in the Dark".The fascinating thing about this movie is that it reminds us that there was nothing really wrong with Frances Farmer, other than her being an opinionated and strong-willed young woman, who wanted to take control of her own life. But in the '30s, this was blasphemy, at least to the circles that Farmer stemmed from. Jessica Lange's masterful potrayal of a woman torn between love for family, and love for ones' own sense of Self is something that I will not easily forget.The scenes in the mental asylum are the ones that are hardest to swallow. And to think that these events actually occured! Frances was repeatedly tortured, raped by orderlies and soldiers who were snuck in, and subject to eight hour stretches of hyrdrotherapy every day (something the film does not show, as it would have been way too graphic to handle). At the end of it, Frances Farmer spent seven years in the mental asylum for no apparent sin. The film does not portray her as a martyr or glorify her, which made me respect it as a body of work even more. It also hints that the lobotomy made Frances 'emotionally calmer', but Lange's subtle performance post-operation hints to us that there was serious emotional and physical damage done. The tilt of her head, the way her face shifts lower toward her neck and thrusts up in spasms every time she tries to talk - these are all signs that Frances Farmer was raped and mutilated and lobotomized from within, and would never again be the same person.Curiously, the movie does not deal with the years after Farmer's release from the hospital. Incredibly, she was supposed to have returned one last time to Hollywood and hosted her own TV show. Even her death was a mystery. Cancer of the oesophagus, it was said. Whatever the truth, we can safely say that Frances Farmer was one of Hollywoods' greatest victims, and a fine example that sometimes family can be the worst thing that happens to us.I strongly recommend this film to all lovers of drama and serious film-making. This deserved more recognition when it came out, and needs to be made more easily available. The DVD edition is in widescreen, with stereo sound. Easy scene access is the only additional feature."
FRANCES FARMER, Betrayed Again
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 07/08/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Ironically, this film is yet another Hollywood slap in the face to stage and screen actress Frances Farmer. Jeers to screenwriters Eric Bergren, Christopher DeVore and Nicholas Kazan for diluting the harrowing tragedy of her story by giving her a fictional long-term support system in the guise of "Harry York". O that the real Frances had such a loving and loyal ally ... but the truth, according to her autobiography and the brilliant biography "Shadowland" by William Arnold, is that Farmer walked through the hell of her life mostly alone and uncomforted.The conceit of the screenplay is especially upsetting because so many other elements of the film are perfect. Jessica Lange gives a devastating, powerhouse performance as the misbegotten star, and she's matched every frame of the way by Kim Stanley (who two decades earlier played a Monroe-type character in "The Goddess") as Farmer's hellion of a mother, Lillian. These two actresses, who strongly resemble their real-life counterparts, were deservedly Oscar-nominated for their brilliant acting in this film. The costumes, make-up, and set decorations are also flawless ... those who have studied photographs of Farmer's career and personal life will recognize that great pains were taken to reproduce her hairstyles, makeup - even the fabrics of her clothing - authentically. All the requisites for a great film are here ... except for the script.The DVD transfer is fine. There aren't any extra bonus features, but the picture and sound are sharp and crisp. Recommended for fans of Lange and Stanley; Farmer devotees would be better served by reading the two aforementioned books."
Engrossing and Discomforting
A Positive Guy | San Antonio, Texas United States | 07/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"all at the same time is the best way to describe this film in my opinion. I have seen it now three times and I notice the small nuances of acting that I overlooked in the first viewing. This movie made me want to know more about Frances Farmer and I bought the now out-of-print book, "Will There Really Be A Morning?" which was Miss Farmer's own autobiographical account of her life. I find that I immediately admire the strength of this woman and yet feel absolutely astonished that the things that happened to her truly did in a "civilized" society. In fact there seems to be some confusion about whether the famous "...lobotomy gets 'em HOME!" scene in which Miss Farmer is lobotomized with what amounts to no more than a fancy ice-pick really happened. I wish for less ambiguity and more clarity at certain times during the film.In any event this movie is fine entertainment and the parts are brilliantly played by Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer and Kim Stanley as her controlling and somewhat sadistic mother. Of particular note is the small but brilliantly played part of Dr. Symington played by Lane Smith. It is too bad he didn't have more than a few minutes in this film; He crammed a tom of talent into ten minutes time.The only reason I don't give this film 5 stars is because not enough of Miss Farmer's life in Indianapolis is covered. It was there that she hosted an afternoon movie and talk show for the years before her death. The mystery that was her life could possibly be further understood if the period from 1958-1970 had been covered. Get this and see for yourself how thought-provoking and haunting it is. This is a very powerful film so be ready to think about it long after you see it."
Jessica Lange's performance as Frances will haunt you
J. Davis | Shelton, WA USA | 09/07/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a welcome re-release of one of the very best movies of the 1980s. The DVD itself is a visual and sonic delight, and it comes with extras that are actually worth watching.
Jessica Lange's Oscar-nominated performance alone makes this an unforgettable film - it is clear that she studied Farmer's personality and mannerisms meticulously. She is totally disarming in this role. Kim Stanley is also deserving of her Oscar nomination, and the chemistry between the two makes for some emotionally exhausting scenes.
Frances Farmer was not mentally ill, not by any definition. Yes, she drank excessively at times, and used over-the-counter amphetamines, which contributed to key incidents of "erratic behavior." More than that, though, her brutally honest opinions, sarcastic wit, abrasive language, and her strong sense of self-determination aggravated those who wanted to use and control her.
She inspired vengeance in the hearts of studio moguls at Paramount, right-wing vigilantes in Seattle, and even in her own mother, who still felt a need to control her as an adult, and to enjoy success vicariously through Frances. All of this converged to create her tragedy.
Several reviewers here have disputed details of this film. Names have been changed for some characters. Farmer's first husband, pretty boy Dick/Duane Steele, represents character actor Leif Erickson, who was still living when this film was made. The doctors and judges in Farmer's story likewise have false names, presumably due to legal caution.
Harry York, as an ongoing romantic interest, is indeed fictional, but thanks to the DVD featurette, we learn from the filmmakers that he is based on Stuart Jacobsen, a biographical resource who first met Frances while working for leftist Seattle congressman Marion Zioncheck - the Kaminski character. (Incidentally, the real-life Zioncheck also became a victim of mental health treatment. Not long after making a speech denouncing J. Edgar Hoover, he was briefly admitted to an institution in the Washington DC area for insulin shock treatments. A few weeks later, Zioncheck jumped to his death from a building in downtown Seattle.)
Some recent reviewers have disputed whether Farmer had a lobotomy. Near the end of this film we see a recreation of her appearance on This Is Your Life, where Farmer tolerates some extremely condescending comments from host Ralph Edwards. As Jessica Lange observes in the DVD extra, Frances would have cut him with her wit had she still possessed her entire mind. Instead, she rather sheepishly denies that anything was ever "wrong" with her.
One fact is certain - Dr Walter Freeman, the prime advocate of the procedure, performed lobotomies at Western State Hospital while Frances was there. There is no official record of Farmer receiving a lobotomy, but she was their most notorious inmate, not just for her acting fame, but for her incorrigible defiance in the face of every weapon in the mental health arsenal. In the 1940s, elements of the psychiatric profession were eager to prove that their expertise had value as a technocratic tool. The results of this were felt not only by dissidents in the Soviet Union, but in the US as well, for example, in the CIA's notorious MK-ULTRA mind control projects. No doubt, behavior modification specialists saw Frances as a special challenge.
The story of Frances Farmer is the tale of an unusually bright, creative individual seeking to explore life on her own terms, and the brutality of the response from those who wished to deny her that right. Jessica Lange put her heart into this role, portraying Frances as a deep, caring, complex and unique human being.
Her performance will haunt you. "
Disturbing, in every sense
A Hermit | Southwestern Pa. | 04/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the most horrifying, heartbreaking stories I have ever seen. There are a lot of reviewers here who contest the authenticity of the storyline, but even if what is depicted is even remotely true, here is a life that no-one deserves.
I don't agree with a lot of what Jessica Lange has to say, current issues, political views and such, but I have tremendous respect for her acting ability. Her portrayal of an unbalanced, threatened, hounded woman, is without peer. In this film, she portrays the film star Frances Farmer, showing a very controversial, headstrong woman, a no-no in the day of Farmer's rise and fall. Attacking a hairdresser, being pulled over by the police, then attacking a police officer, and being convicted of Contempt of Court, yes, she needed to learn a lesson. But people in authority don't like people who make waves.
The story follows her life, so to speak, through some rough times, some happier times, and, what I would call one of the saddest, most frustrating, completely horrifying things to happen to somebody. She's happy, she knows what she wants, and is ready to begin anew, without Hollyweird. The typical stage-mother sees this as a bad idea, and a fight ensues. Since she was stripped of her legal rights as an adult, her mother's decisions count, not hers, and in one of the most vicious things one could do to another person, commits Frances to a mental intstitution a second time. Seeing her sitting there, remembering her life when it was better, in a crowded mental infirmary, surrounded with the dregs of society, drugged, hair chopped off, restrained, tied down and raped, this is an excruciating scene to watch. As with the Ice-Pick Lobotomy. Detractors of this film say this didn't happen to her, but it DOES happen. Or, at the very least, it did happen to people. Like an earlier scene, where the doctors strapped her to a bed, and injected her full of Insulin, telling her it was a tranquilizer. Watching convulsions isn't a pleasant experience, and having one, I can't imagine.
The written narration at the end of the film says, "She died as she lived: Alone."
Yes, this is one brutal film, one that can leave a viewer exhausted, physically, as well as emotionally, and will stay with you for a very long time, knowing how people tend to treat someone who is a little "different.""