Monday, May 14, 2018

Margot Kidder - My Generation's Lois Lane - Has Merged With The Infinite

Multiple news sources are reporting the passing of actor Margot Kidder.

Kidder was, to my generation, Lois Lane.

Arguably, Kidder's portrayal was the one that reset Lois as the Rosalind Russell-model news woman that she'd been in the Golden Age and that we simply expect in portrayals of Lois today.

The Adventures of Superman brought us Phyllis Coates and  Noel Neill as Lois, and we had a few animated versions in there, and all of that was pre-dated by the radio show.  I'll argue that Coates' Lois is closer to what we expect from a modern interpretation of Lois than Neill.

Sure, that changed a lot in the 1970's Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane comics, but with Kidder's portrayal it felt like we got a pure version of Lois - this was a modern working woman and a hard-nosed journalist who was well aware of her own problems with spelling.  She was tough, competitive and not afraid of some trouble or to throw a punch.

If it's been a while, go back and watch the patio sequence in Superman: The Movie or the helicopter sequence.  She's absolutely spot on amazing.

I *liked* Lois a lot growing up (the crush would develop in college) - and without exactly putting it into so many words understood why Superman would fall for this difficult, strong-headed person.  Courage, a desire for truth and a bit of cynicism she's willing to drop when she gets something real to hang onto - it's all there.  When I was older and watching Superman again from a perspective closer to that of an adult - suddenly that patio sequence went from the thing you sit through to get back to the action and I bought into it lock, stock and barrel.

Lois is our voice telling us it's too incredible to believe, but if we get out of our own way, we can see Superman is everything he says.  If she's marveling at Superman - sure.  But she also gives Superman something to marvel at.  That's no small task for any actor to try to convey, but from her interactions with Clark to her approach to the space-god sitting on her patio set, she's still keeping up with him, and it's a tremendous moment and a humanizing bit for the guy in the red cape with perfect teeth.

There's a lot in that sequence that's in the nuance, the eyes, the double-entrendre.  It's clearly Kidder's sweet spot, not that she doesn't handle the broad madness of the helicopter sequence with perfection, from the scream of horror to the realization she is being held by a man flying in mid-air.  She's the reminder that we haven't seen Superman before - there is no man in a red cape and blue suit up until that moment - and it's perfection.

There's plenty good she did in Superman II, and it's unfortunate that the she got crosswise with the Salkinds for Superman III, because she has a weirdly good scene with Reeve in Superman IV - a bright spot of character in an otherwise terrible movie.

I've not seen much of the rest of Kidder's filmography outside of the Superman films.  She's in Amityville Horror, but I haven't watched that since high school, and she would appear in various TV shows and films, I think suffering from some of what Reeve suffered from - immediate identification with a part rather than a nod as an actor (this was common up until a few years ago, kids).

And, of course, Kidder famously suffered from mental illness with a widely reported breakdown and financial issues.  But the last fifteen years, she'd seemed well and had not hidden what occurred, speaking about it from time to time.  She appeared at Cons on a regular basis - and I will now forever be kicking myself because I had a ticket to meet her in San Antonio a couple of years back but she was arriving late so I was unable to stick around.  But the point is: she was still meeting fans, still signing autographs and one of the prized items hanging on the wall of my office is a pic obtained by JimD, which Ms. Kidder signed. 

Since Kidder we've had all sorts of players trying to match what she brought to the screen, all with varying results.  I can't help that I'm a person born in the 1970's and I imprinted on Kidder, but I do think everyone else has more or less been playing catch-up*.

DC/WB would do well to return to the edgy city-beat reporter that Lois is, that Kidder uncovered beneath decades of brutal sexual politics of the mid-20th Century.  Find the hyper-competitive, scrappy brawler who will strap themselves to an elevator or pick a fight with an armed mugger.  And still be the girl you want to look at from behind your glasses hoping she'll see the real you.

We'll miss you, Margot Kidder.  You were always a vibrant force, and we'll always remember you.

*I feel for Amy Adams playing Lois.  A mostly thankless task, but I am betting the money is sweet.

1 comment:

Stuart said...

You picked stills from two of my favorite shots: just after she reads the note signed "A Friend," and just after he tells her he's single but if he were dating someone she'd "be the first to know about it *coy grin*." A huge part of her role was reacting to him.

But for me as a kid seeing Superman grow up, Clark was my touchstone. So I was right there with him, when he was falling for her. I never found the Can You Read My Mind sequence boring or corny, as many people my age did. That was the heart of the movie for me.

She was great. She made Superman greater. I will miss her.