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A Golden Year for Meryl Streep
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

This year belongs to Meryl Streep. Not only did she win a Golden Globe award and the Oscar for her role in the Iron Lady but she had been selected to receive the Homage and the Honorary Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale. The Berlinale’s retrospective program showcased a wonderful selection of her films that represented Streep’s life achievements over the last 30 years. Just looking at the list, it is not hard to believe that she has more award nominations than any other actor in history not to mention the number of awards won and she does this every time with such grace. She has so far won 17 Academy Awards, 26 Golden Globes, two Emmys, a Tony award and the list goes on and on…..

After graduating from Yale’s Drama School, she went on to Broadway. It is hard to believe that her debut film Julia put her alongside actresses like Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. The first retrospective film to be shown was her third film Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) directed by Robert Benton where she took home an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a supporting role. This film represents a change in social ideas regarding the family structure.  A couple is getting a divorce and, typically for those times, the mother would be the better choice for custody of the child. But in this scenario the father (Dustin Hoffman) would be the better caregiver since Streep’s character has high ambitions in the workaday world. Her second film is one that I will never forget: Deer Hunter (1978) directed by Michael Cimino, where she receives her first three nominations and wins two awards. This film was challenging to her in two ways: first, she had to create her own lines and second, during the shooting, she needed strength to support her fiancé who was dying of terminal cancer. The director and cast had to fight to keep him on the set. He died before ever seeing the final cut of the film.

The next film shown at the retrospective was Sophie’s Choice (1982) directed by Alan J. Pakula for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role. She mastered a Polish accent which must have been harder than doing a British accent in the Iron Lady. In this film, she had to dive into the feelings of a Holocaust victim who had to make unfathomable choices and then had to live with the results of those choices. She said it was so hard on her she was unable to reshoot the scenes. She won eight various awards and was nominated for one other award.

The following film Silkwood (1983) by Mike Nichols was based on a true story about Karen Silkwood who died in a mysterious car accident. The film covers the time period before the accident. Silkwood had been working at the Kerr-McGee Plutonium Plant which was behind on a major contract and began working the crew overtime and not taking care of safety guards.  Silkwood lobbied against the company but, in the meanwhile, she and her friends are contaminated in an accident. After attempting to investigate and collect info, she tried to meet with a journalist but died before getting to her destination. Here Streep received three various nominations and took home one award.

Two other films in the retrospective were Out of Africa (1985) by Sidney Pollack which is the story of Isak Dinesen alias Karen Blixen and her farm in Africa. Her misadventures with a marriage of convenience to Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) finally leads her to someone she trusts, Deny Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), but even that ends disastrously. A nice quiet film which didn’t win very many awards, but is a sweet film to watch, was The Bridges of Madison County (1995) by Clint Eastwood.  It is about a National Geographic photographer (Clint Eastwood) who falls in love with a married Italian housewife (Meryl Streep).

The first time I ever saw Meryl Streep was when A Prairie Home Companion (2006) by Robert Altman came to the Berlinale and I will never forget when one of the journalists asked why they were doing a country musical. She said that if you know who Garrison Keiller is, then you know how he plays an important role in American culture. I remember growing up with this live radio show and loved the strangely dry sense of humor which integrated fake Midwest commercials like rhubarb hairspray or special buttermilk pancakes mix from Minnesota and I loved this off-beat film. 

This year the golden lady shone as The Iron Lady made its debut. Phyllida Lloyd’s film gave Meryl Streep the chance to explore a personality that we would never equate with her personality. Yet at the press conference she explained that she isn’t so different from Margaret Thatcher but in ways that weren’t obvious. First of all she explained that Thatcher was one of the first feminists in a time period when women didn’t make it to the top. She was impressed that she made it to the top of a very conservative political party as a woman and although she made some very unfavorable decisions, she never really gave up on a socialized health system which is still in place today.