Always and still a star for so many reasons…
From a one time Las Vegas showgirl to a Best Academy Award Nominated Actress, Valerie Perrine’s compelling and honest autobiographical documentary on her life from childhood to now as she battles with Parkinson’s disease.
“Valerie” Documentary Trailer, Stacey Souther, FACEBOOK
Many know Valerie Perrine from her more well-known role as supervillain Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) girlfriend, Eve Teschmacher. Eve is a woman who proves she has a heart of gold, as she falls for and saves that DC superhero, Superman (Christopher Reeve) as she literally gives him the kiss of life in Superman (1978). This character she returned to in Superman II (1980) and her portrayal of Eve Teschmacher, is now fondly remembered as one of those superhero’s villain’s more memorable girlfriends, thanks to Valerie’s natural performance.
Valerie also shone as Michael Caine’s eco-friendly love interest in Water (1985) and was mesmerising in her debut as a Playboy bunny in Slaughterhouse Five (1972). Valerie also made a screen stealing cameo in The Cannonball Run (1981) and starred with many other film and TV favourites as their leading lady. These include Jack Nicholson in The Border (1982), Bill Bixby in Steambath (1973), Steve Guttenberg in Don’t Stop the Music (1980) and much more in her often controversial but always versatile career.
More recently this Cannes Winner and Oscar nominated actress answered more than a few of my tweets with my fangirl questions in relation to her films on social media. Valerie Perrine’s always sweet replies truly touched me and I was sad to learn of her current and ongoing physical difficulties with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. I wanted to thank her for those heartwarming responses and her always engaging film presence and career, so I offered to review a film of hers. As I do, with all those much-loved entertainers of all sorts be it producers, actors or actresses, who I chat with on social media.
To my joy, Valerie replied to this offer, and I was moved and honoured when this much award-nominated actress asked me to review her most personal project. Her request was that I review Valerie, A Portrait of Valerie Perrine (2019) and this short film is a documentary on her life, off-screen, in films and as her life is now.
This 36-minute film is an honest, authentic and candid account of her life so far. It was filmed over a period of her life, by her good friend and filmmaker, Stacey Souther. As Valerie talks to him during the filming, her eyes shine and it is clear they have a close friendship which adds volumes to the intimate ambience felt throughout this film.
Souther talks HERE about how he met Valerie as they were out walking their dogs in 2006. He did not realise who she was and Valerie told him by mentioning a few of her more iconic roles. He speaks with a genuine glowing affection for his friend, saying HERE;
“This film is a love letter and a personal portrait of a woman who impacted so many people. She is adored by millions of fans around the world and changed the way women were forever perceived in the film industry.”
This documentary was made with Valerie’s permission, and Souther tells HERE how she wanted to use the footage of her daily life, showing her life with Parkinson’s Disease as;
She wanted people to know you’re not alone, that this could happen to anybody.
He adds that;
You don’t think anything happens to movie stars. You know, they’re 30 forever and always beautiful and always rich. And that’s not the case, but she wanted to do it. People could look at her and see that they weren’t alone. And if that could help somebody have a better day and just reassess what they were going through. That is one of the reasons she did it. She wanted to be a positive light for people to see.
Valerie’s intimate and raw documentary easily meets her wishes. However, her beauty – both inner and outer – and generous personality as a human being is always seen in this warm, intimate and true autobiography of this actress.
This documentary is more compelling and natural than a true biopic could be. Its content is more candid, respectful and personal and it has raw and sincere contributions from Valerie herself. This is as she reflects on all aspects of her life, both on and off-screen. These scenes are interspersed with frank interviews with her co-stars, celebrity friends and her wee brother along with Valerie’s personal photographs and film stills, and early footage of Valerie in home movies, television interviews and her films throughout her career.
As the documentary begins, we hear Valerie’s brave and heartbreaking honesty about how things are for her now. As we see her as she is now, she tells of how after being in hospital for “something, I can’t remember what”. Since then Valerie adds that she is now unable to do things for herself she could previously including acting, walking and writing. This touching interview is intercut with scenes showing her collection of mementoes and photographs from all periods of her life.
The impact of her illness hits you more profoundly as you accompany her on a visit to see her doctor in a hospital – and in later scenes, as she goes for surgery to stop her then constant tremor – just six years ago in 2015 and watching her in a wheelchair as she travels to this appointment. You feel her pain and anguish when her doctor talks with her and explains her diagnosis. These scenes from her life are heartbreaking to watch, as you hear those scans indicated then a possible diagnosis of essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. I for one wished I was there to hold her hand and support her at this difficult time in her life. Valerie shines in this scene with her dignity, courage and inner strengths.
This short film adds recent footage from a number of stars from on-screen and behind the scenes – such as Angie Dickinson, Jeff Bridges, George Hamilton, Loni Anderson, Sarah Douglas and the late Richard Donner – who give affectionate and honest thoughts of Valerie as a friend and also as a co-star in their joint movies. It is clear and warms your heart, how much loved Valerie is – and always has been – hearing those warm anecdotes about her which show her as a wonderful, giving human being who has brought happiness to many on and off set.
George Hamilton describes her as having “eyes you could drown in”, David Arquette calls her his “dream girl” and Angie Dickinson talks of Valerie’s “infectious spirit”. There are also remembrances of working with her on the Superman set, from her co-star Sarah Douglas and from the director Richard Donner. Richard Donner tells how she made the Superman set “more fun” and tells how she and Reeve were “so cute together” in their joint scenes.
Just hearing Valerie, about her as a person and an actress and then seeing her full life throughout her career and beyond, this documentary shows Valerie always a natural, unpretentious, charismatic and strong and sassy lady. The actress tells how as a child she was an “army brat” and also an acclaimed dancer as a wee child. This is seen in some delightful footage of her home movies, where she is dressed convincingly as a Japanese child as she talks about how she danced with Japanese children for an Emperor. These are also accompanied by her childhood photographs and she tells of her then hopes to be a film star.
This actress – and her brother and those who know her well – also talks about her first experiences after she ran away from home and at 18 or 19 she became a showgirl in Las Vegas. This time she says was one of her happiest. Valerie tells how she thinks of herself first as a showgirl, and then as an actress and talks of her debut audition for Slaughterhouse Five and she tells how she then felt she “belonged”.
There is heartwarming footage of her behind the scenes in her early films and interviews with this then fledging but bubbly and vivacious young actress excited about her new career turn. These happier scenes felt are in sharp contrast to learning of her tragic tales which tell of her reasons for being in Hollywood, which are touched on. This actress also tells of her modelling experiences for Playboy at this time with a vibrant refreshing slant.
These early times were followed by film successes such as Lenny (1974). For this film her realistic and heartwrenching performance as Honey Bruce, the leading lady character in this film. Her performance was much acclaimed. Valerie’s naturalness combined with true genuine happiness is felt. This is as she shares how she is more proud of her telegram from director Bob Fosse than the prestigious award from Cannes and her Academy Award nomination for this film.
Having just seen a clip of this film from this film she starred with Dustin Hoffman, Valerie gives a compelling and stirring performance and it is clear to see why Fosse called her the best actress he worked with, and he tells her this in a telegram she received from him on Oscar night.
After these memories from Valerie and others, there are heartrending scenes from the last six years, these show Valerie undergoing surgery, and after a small stroke following this treatment, after which she needs carers to carry out her daily routine with her. These true scenes from her life bring her now reality into a sharp focus. She adds “whatever life gives, you’ve got to fight” and this is seen in Valerie’s never-ending persistence and courage. She is truly inspiring.
This phrase echoes throughout her life, in those adverse times and in this documentary. It is heartening and of comfort to know she has ongoing support from her friends – both famous and not famous – and her family. And she has my support from me and for many as a fan, and for me, she has now even more so, as our lives collided on social media.
This documentary is more powerful and from the heart than any of those autobiographies or biographies I’ve read or listened to. All the contributors talk about Valerie as such a wonderful, genuine actress who they enjoyed working alongside or love as a friend. This constant praise is apparent in all her scenes throughout her life. I have noticed these attributes in her tweets as she always wishes her co-stars and Hollywood friends birthday wishes and she answers tweets to everyone she can in a friendly and genial way.
“Valerie” is a human story,” said Souther. “It’s a touching picture of a woman unlike any other of her time. Her legacy will live on long after her on-screen personas fade.”
My exclusive interview with Stacey Souther about this film and Valerie can be found here, Stacey Souther, Valerie Perrine and a Documentary called Valerie.
In the final clip – filmed in the present day – an interviewer asks Valerie what she would like to achieve but hasn’t yet. Valerie’s eyes sparkle with an unbridled warmth and she smiles as says “I think I’ve done it all…” and you see that in spite of this cruel illness, Valerie still has that sparky, joyful presence and is still the same girl in interviews we used to see.