Three years ago at the TriBeCa Film Festival, journalist Jesse Kornbluth moderated a panel on Scarface’s 35th anniversary. There, on stage, sat the world’s most fabulous actress, a true artist who’s crafted an extraordinary career, ostensibly ready to discuss her breakout role as Elvira Hancock in the seminal 1983 film.It was in this venue, in front of the film’s cast and an audience of fans that the man asked Michelle Pfeiffer a stunningly stupid question: he asked how much she weighed during filming.
Christ on a cracker. Michelle’s reaction was priceless. “WTF with this guy?”
Fast forward to this week and I’m rereading a 1994 magazine article on Pfeiffer at the time of Wolf’s release, written by—wait for it—Kornbum himself. In it he confidently asserts that Frankie and Johnny (1991) and The Age of Innocence (1993) were major career “missteps.” Then, after quoting Michelle’s thoughts on how she tackled the role of Ellen Olenska in Age, he dismissed her opinions on it, basically stating it was the wrong way to approach that role. It had been year since I read this piece and felt the same anger all over again. First of all, while opinions are subjective, I’m confident that a jury of our peers would convict this guy of being off his flipping rocker with that opinion. Those are two of Michelle’s best performances, recognized as such today by anyone with eyes and/or ears! Korndog is from the old school of entertainment journalists though, where an annoying condescension for their subjects was common practice. It was gross then and in hindsight today it’s especially gross.
Anywho, enough about Kornholio. My point here is it’s always fascinating/infuriating to recall how little respect some mainstream critics showed towards Pfeiffer (and, of course, so many other actresses) back then. Few critics at the time thought a whole lot about her role in Wolf, but over time the movie and her performance have finally gotten some deserved recognition. I certainly promote its excellence any chance I get, having written about Wolf a few times over the years and also discussing it on a podcast episode dedicated to the movie. Heck, I just wrote about it again last week!
It seems insane to think there were critics who didn’t quite recognize the greatness they were witnessing during those prime years, let’s say from 1988–1994. She gave Oscar-worthy performances so many times during that stretch, was nominated three times, won a bunch of other awards including a Golden Globe (for The Fabulous Baker Boys), and generally dominated onscreen during those years. Today, thankfully, her excellent work in those movies is overwhelmingly praised as such. As they should be, of course. For me, that’s been one of the best offshoots of the democratization of criticism that the internet allows now: more voices, more voices of diversity, and more voices coming from people with open minds. Sure, there’s also more detritus to sift through—please make the hot takes stop!—but it’s worth it to find the good stuff. And a greater appreciation for the artistry and excellence of Michelle Pfeiffer is definitely some of the good stuff.