Simply Streep is your premiere source on Meryl Streep's work on film, television and in the theatre - a career that has won her three Academy Awards and the praise to be one of the world's greatest working actresses. Created in 1999, we have built an extensive collection to discover Miss Streep's work through an archive of press articles, photos and video clips. Enjoy your stay.
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Winterset, Iowa, looked more like a theme park for the lovelorn than a languid Mid-western farm town after spring planting. The curious from South Africa to California barreled down its rolling gravel roads two weeks ago for the world premiere of the movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” Three limousines took turns shuttling local politicians and movie extras from the Winterset Fire Station to the Iowa Theatre two blocks away. Some fans wandered into the Northside Cafe, where Clint Eastwood as Robert Kincaid offered a stool to the local adulteress. Others took a detour to gaze at the farm where Meryl Streep as Francesca Johnson lived her humdrum life until Kincaid rolled up in a truck called Harry. Souvenir shoppers padded into the Roseman Bridge, seeking a vial of riverbank sand from the gift shop for $1.95, or just another reason to kiss within its dark and Freudian tunnel. The 1992 novel by Robert James Waller had already turned the loamy farm town into an international lovers’ lane. Now with the 10-hanky movie starring Streep and Eastwood (who also directed) that opened around the country, the pilgrimages may reach orgiastic proportions. Winterset (population: 4,500) is doing its best to cope. The no-nonsense folk of Madison County have bunkered down for another onslaught of hopeless romantics in spite of themselves. “Farmers tell me the story makes them look like a bunch of bumpkins,” says local barber Nolan Collins. “We go to the state fair and our wife has an affair with a National Geographic photographer. They get really bent out of shape by it. I tell ’em it’s just a story somebody made up, like ‘Peter Pan’.” Winterset has become an almost mythical place in the hearts of middle-aged Americans entranced by the story’s roman-tie power. Whether or not they actually visit, the peaceful postcard town seems to hold a sensuous secret. It’s in the soil, the silos, the feed store, the old-timey square. And its allure touches women particularly. Great love was kindled-and sacrificed-here, of all places, by an ordinary farm wife who had buried her yearnings in lists of chores and housekeeping details. In the movie, Meryl Streep transforms the book’s cardboard Francesca into a witty, complex presence that will only enhance the pull of the fantasy on “Bridges” fans. It’s a fantasy that collides with the matter-of-fact lives of the locals. When Steve Niblo was asked by the “Bridges” crew to tone down his tractor during filming, he told Life magazine, “If my beans are ready, they’re coming out.” Believers don’t much care about Mr. Niblo’s beans. They’re trying to recapture their dreams.
The intensity of the vicarious romantic experience can be seen in the nation’s cash registers. Box-office receipts of $10.5 million on opening weekend made “Bridges” the No. 2 movie, after “Casper.” Waldenbooks reports that book sales have been doubling from one week to the next in anticipation of the movie. The novel (on The New York Times best-seller list for 148 weeks) continues to vault over nauseated reviews (“The story is like a Coke that’s been opened a while: sweet but flat”-L.A. Times), selling 9.5 million copies worldwide. The tale that inspires either swooning or lampooning has obviously touched a neglected nerve. It taps into the yearnings of over-40 Americans-a group that now makes up 36 percent of all movie-ticket buyers. Aging boomers are wondering if life could have offered more than the everyday details of kids, a job, iced tea on a hot day. And yet maybe most appealing is the saintlike renunciation of wild passion when it does come along. After four tempestuous days, Francesca decides she cannot leave her family to ride off with Kincaid. It’s great lovemaking without consequences-no double suicide, no jealous husband blasting into the bedroom, no disruptions of the routine. Francesca Johnson, the sum of “the choices she made,” chooses to go on with her conventional life. She experienced the love of her life. Now she has a brown-sugar meat loaf to make. In fact, the message is, it’s OK to make meat loaf-it’s even the noble choice. “That she can feel such passion and then opt for an empty-shell marriage is really reassuring to many people,” says Harriet Lerner, a psychologist at the Menninger Clinic. “She’s a hero for choosing the conventional path.”
The story seems so real to some that many are unwilling to accept it as fiction. Sioux City, Iowa, native Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, says she was inundated with mail after the book was published, asking why Francesca didn’t run away with Robert Kincaid. “I’d say, ‘Look, this is a novel. This isn’t real life’,” says Lauders. National Geographic has turned away at leastt 1,000 callers asking about Robert Kincaid. Winterset’s barber says people always ask him if he knew Francesca. “I always say, ‘Oh sure’,” Collins says. He doesn’t want to ruin their vacation. Others know it’s fiction, but still hope to change the ending. David Ledbetter, 36, from Winston-Salem, N.C. took his girlfriend on a surprise trip that ended in Winterset, in time for the movie opening. He bought her Italian wine. He tacked up a note on the Roseman Bridge inviting her to dinner. As the lovers ate cheeseburgers, Marie Smith, 41, talked about the story’s impact on her life. “It gave me the courage to leave my husband,” she said. “I was in an unhappy marriage and my therapist said the book had that effect on a lot of people.” Long-buried desire: Francesca’s story begins with an unhurried scene from any kitchen, U.S.A. The Johnson family is having lunch, in silence. Streep’s Francesca glides around the linoleum in her bare feet (which, in the experience of this Iowa-born writer, makes her practically naked), serving white bread and boiled peas. She kicks the refrigerator door shut with one foot, wipes a strand of hair from her face. Though transparent to her husband and two kids, the Italian-born wife and mother is an exotic presence in the staid, fly-ridden farmhouse.
She hums and simmers with a long-buried desire that’s foreign to her efficient farm wife role. Her teenage daughter casually switches the radio station from Francesca’s mu-sic-opera-to bubble-gum “Leader of the Pack.” Streep cocks her head in muted protest. No one notices. When her family leaves for the state fair, a weathered traveler named Robert Kincaid chugs down Francesca’s farm lane asking for directions, and all that changeS. He seduces her simply by noticing her, reading her moods, sensing a girlhood spark. Kincaid tunes in to growly jazz ballads on the radio (box). (Her husband would he searching for hog prices.) Kincaid notices a subtle mood switch as she rinses the dishes. Who could resist? She’s so flustered by Kincaid’s effect on her she’s even willing to ignore his”I slept in my truck” looks. Streep’s most masterly accomplishment is her transformation of Francesca from weary wife to young lover and back to farmwife in four graceful days. Many women find something they recognize in Streep’s always-busy Francesca and are surprised to see it on the screen. Middle-aged mores are not the normal sex fantasies for men of any age. When that mother wears beige shirtwaist dresses and drives a tractor, let’s be serious. And yet, it happens. If there are those who “fail to see the magic in this,” says Annie Markert, 50, of Washington, D.C., “then I feel a little hit sorry for them.”
But one woman’s magic is another man’s confusion. Male fantasies are rarely, if ever, about the women around them, worn down by chores. Cindy Crawford is more like it. Certainly no man will openly admit to having much in common with Francesca’s husband (played by Jim Haynie), in his baggy bib overalls. Francesca describes him as “clean.” He “never hurt anybody,” she says. He sounds like a dog. Diehard fans may have a problem with Eastwood’s character. His Robert Kincaid is Dirty Harry with a silver bracelet. Instead of .357 magnums, he has cameras. Instead of “Make my day,” he says, “Good stuff, Yeats.” He’s a stiff romantic who grins and cries. Still, there’s something dignified and spare about Eastwood as Kincaid – except when he has to utter some cloying Wallerisms (“I embrace the mystery”). “I still like Glint Eastwood in his Westerns,” grumbled W. P. Keenan, 61, of Atlanta, who was coaxed into going by his wife. As the director, Eastwood transformed the Iowa landscape into an erotic presence. The lush, rolling hills, lonely silos and beckoning horizons are shot with affection. But if Eastwood shows a rare respect for the land, he is at a loss when it comes to its people. The film’s biggest misfire is the scene in the diner when Winterset extras are made to look like inbred rednecks. Their hitter stares force the town’s adulteress to abandon her cup of coffee at the counter. Iowans would just not face adultery. Not only is it rude, it means talking about sex in public. Still, the blips are few. The movie is a vast improvement Over the book. The now familiar story goes that author Waller, a business professor from Cedar Falls, wrote his romance in two weeks. Word-of-mouth made the book a hit; Waller reportedly has made about $26 million from his 171-page trophy.
Not every member of the cultural elite dismissed the story as drivel. Steven Spiel-berg’s former producer Kathleen Kennedy read “Bridges” long before it became a phenomenon. “I said, ‘Oooo . . . interesting,’ it was very real,” remembers Kennedy. Spielberg told her, “If you love it, buy it.” She optioned it for $25,000 eight months before the book was published, and later paid 10 times that amount for the film rights. “This was like catching a tidal wave that nobody saw coming,” says Lucy Fisher, Warner Bros. executive vice president. Wit and anger: The first director, Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”), didn’t like the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese. Eastwood (cast as KinGaid) preferred it because it gutted most of the dross and enhanced Francesca’s character, giving her wit and anger. Beresford, Eastwood and the studio also disagreed over the leading lady. Beresford wanted a foreigner, Isabella Rossellini. The studio wanted a younger American. Beresford quit, and Eastwood took over. He returned to LaGravenese’s script and set out to seduce his Francesca. Clint’s choice was Meryl Streep, so he called her at home. Her sitter answered. “‘This is Clint Eastwood’,” Meryl recalls him saying, mimicking the actor’s raspy drawl. Her sitter, assuming the caller was Meryl’s jokester dad, Harry, said, “Harry! I know who this is!” “So it’s a miracle I got this party says Streep, laughing. She “was not carried away by the book as a literary experience,” but the screenplay by LaGravenese (also no fan of the book) made her weep. The final result is a merciful twist on the typical scenario: a good movie from a bad book. Even hard-bitten New York critics sobbed at screenings.
In a perfect world – or maybe an oddly literate one – it would not be “Bridges” but Jane Smiley’s “A Thousand Acres” that would capture the national imagination. The novel about an Iowa farm and the family it entangles sold 845,000 copies, won a Pulitzer Prize and is being made into a film starring Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer. The main character is a lonely farmwife who confesses to “secret, passionate wishes.” But this is a story about dark revelations straight from Shakespeare. America’s appetite tilts more toward neatly packaged passion straight from “All My Children.” At least in “Bridges” the movie, the package is moving to watch.