Susan Sarandon on video
In two decades of movies, Susan Sarandon has built a star persona on a special knack for harmonizing contradictions. She can be out to lunch and down-to-earth, dizzy and hardheaded, a ripe sex bomb and an articulate political spokeswoman. She’s also one of the few movie actresses whose charismatic appeal seems to deepen as she grows older. For fans who want to binge on a home-video Sarandon festival, here are her finest moments.
This ’60’s relic — controversial then, way outdated now — isn’t quite one of Sarandon’s best moments, but it is her first moment, and in spite of the film’s overwrought hippies-versus-hard hats rhetoric, the fledgling actress is unexpectedly touching. The part’s not much (a nympho flower child whose junkie boyfriend is murdered by her father), but Sarandon somehow provides a grace note of vulnerability in an ugly little movie.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
She really entered the pop-culture consciousness playing squeaky-clean Janet (as in ”Dammit/Janet/I love you!”), ravished and finally ravishing as one of Tim Curry’s many, uh, mates. The part’s a snotty Barbie-doll put-down, but Sarandon’s goofy spin on her big number, ”Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch Me,” puts heart into the caricature.
Pretty Baby (1978)
Louis Malle’s tale of the relationship between a child prostitute (Brooke Shields) and a childlike photographer (Keith Carradine) in 1917 New Orleans caught more flak than it deserved: It’s a humane, intelligent fable. And Sarandon, as Shields’ unapologetically carnal hot-mama, supplies the juice the two blank-faced stars lack.
Atlantic City (1980)
Seen through her kitchen window by Burt Lancaster as she rubs lemon juice on her breasts, Sarandon’s a two-bit object of desire: an erotic daydream for a guy who keeps rolling snake eyes. That she and Lancaster find a measure of love, luck, and self-respect in this City of Chance is one of the quiet glories of Malle’s best American movie.
Who Am I This Time? (1982)
This little-known adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, first shown on PBS’ American Playhouse, is a charmer. Christopher Walken is a suburban nerd who only comes to life on the stage of his local theater group; Sarandon’s the new girl in town who brings his onstage persona into the real world. A knowing romance directed by The Silence of the Lambs‘ Jonathan Demme.
The Hunger (1983)
The actress, at her most lubriciously googly-eyed, plays the scientific researcher who becomes vampire Catherine Deneuve’s latest lover/dinner. You were expecting realism from Top Gun director Tony Scott? Sarandon goes through graphic vampire cold turkey and gets a big sex scene with Deneuve. Despite the swanky MTV photography and costar David Bowie, this is a cheap-thrills B flick all the way. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Compromising Positions (1985)
Fifteen years after her debut, Sarandon finally got a bona fide starring role, playing a housewife investigating the murder of an adulterous dentist in Frank Perry’s arch comedy-mystery. As she doggedly weaves through a maze of acidly-drawn suburbanites, her woozy incredulity is so sexy that even the police investigator (Raul Julia) gets the hots for her.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Toting a cello and hidden behind horn-rims, Sarandon’s Jane Spofford is the intellectual among the three New England ladies (Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer are the others) drawn to devilish Jack Nicholson. She and Jack indulge in a kinky musical duet in one scene, and until the icky special effects take over, there’s the rare pleasure of seeing three top women stars working comfortably in tandem.
Bull Durham (1988)
Is this the best baseball movie of all time? Its combination of brawn, brains, and stat-happy sexuality makes it the perfect idealization of a thinking man’s sport, and Sarandon’s baseball groupie Annie Savoy, brilliantly written and played, is a baseball nut’s sex dream come to life. With Bull Durham, Sarandon finally convinced any remaining doubters that she is in fact a movie star of the first magnitude.