09 August 2013

Voluptuous Horror: RIP Karen Black

The world lost one of its shining stars yesterday, as legendary actress Karen Black died following a long battle with cancer. An actress with a look that was just as striking as her presence, Black saw her career take off at the very beginning of the 1970s after co-starring in Dennis Hopper's iconic Easy Rider and Bob Rafelson's stunning Five Easy Pieces, which garnered the actress an Academy Award nomination as well as the first of her two Golden Globes wins. Her other Golden Globe win came four years later for Jack Clayton's adaptation of The Great Gatsby, in which she played Myrtle Wilson. The '70s were a particularly lucrative decade for Black, who also appeared in Jack Nicholson's directorial debut Drive, He Said, John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust, Robert Altman's Nashville, Dan Curtis' Burnt Offerings (as well as Curtis' cult TV movie, Trilogy of Terror), Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot (his final film), Jack Smight's Airport 1975, and Peter Hyams' Capricorn One.

Black brought her talents as a stage actress to the screen as well, reprising her role in Altman's film adaptation of Ed Graczyk's play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, alongside her Broadway co-stars Cher and Sandy Dennis. From the 1980s on, Black's film career comprised of a number of cultish oddities, of the horror ilk (Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars, David Winters' The Last Horror Film–playing herself, Alex Cox's Repo Chick, and Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses) and the arthouse variety, starring in a pair of films from directors Lynn Hershman-Leeson (Conceiving Ada, Teknolust) and Henry Jaglom (Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?, Irene in Time). She also had cameos, playing herself, in Altman's The Player and in the TV mini-series version of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. Black's presence as something of a gay icon for queer movie lovers lead to a number of supporting roles in low-budget, American LBGT films, like Todd Stephens' Gypsy 83, Tag Purvis' Red Dirt, Steve Balderson's Stuck!, and a few others not worth mentioning.

In addition to acting, Black was also a gifted singer and songwriter, which carried over into a number of her film roles (Nashville, Gypsy 83, Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?). In the music world, performance artist Kembra Pfahler named her band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black after the actress. Pfahler herself posted a few photos to her Instagram page yesterday regarding Black's passing. Musician Cass McCombs featured Black on vocals on the song "Dreams Come True Girl," off his 2009 album Catacombs; she also appeared in the music video for the song. The two are pictured above. Karen Black, you will be forever missed.

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