'There Are No Small Parts': Small roles, big impact
In honor of Sunday’s Academy Awards, here’s a chance to test your movie knowledge. What Oscar-winning performance had the least amount of screen time?
Movie buffs will know that it was Beatrice Straight, who only appeared for five minutes in the 1976 drama “Network.” Coming in second was Dame Judi Dench, who won her supporting actress Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” despite having a mere eight minutes on screen.
Their wins are proof that great actors can make great impressions in a short amount of time. Their work is among those spotlighted in “There Are No Small Parts: 100 Outstanding Film Performances With Screen Time of 10 Minutes or Less” (Glitterati Inc., $35), the seventh book from Nesconset-raised film historian John DiLeo, whose love affair with the movies started when he was still a toddler. He recently chatted via Zoom from his current home in Milford, Pennsylvania, about his latest book and the painstaking process of choosing the highlighted performances.
How did you become so interested in movies?
My earliest memories at home were watching old movies with my mother or my grandfather who was a Sicilian immigrant who loved movies. I think that helped him learn English at the time in the ‘20s and ‘30s. So there was always something on and I would sit down and watch. As far as going to the movie theater, I remember seeing “Mary Poppins” when it came out and I was 3 and then having my parents take me to see it at least two more times in the theater.
Growing up in the New York area, were older movies more accessible to you?
Absolutely. The Smith Haven Mall had opened around the time we moved into the area. Now it’s been split into several theaters, but when it opened, it was one big theater and I saw a lot of things there on a huge screen. … Another thing was that I was in proximity to New York City. In the old days, when a movie opened in New York, you had to wait three months for it to go outside the big cities. If it was something we were all desperate to see, we would take a family trip to Radio City Music Hall. It was such a different culture of how people went to the movies.
To write this book, did you have to time all of the performances to make sure they were less than 10 minutes?
Yes, and it was kind of tricky because I didn’t want to cheat and say this is 12 minutes, no one’s going to know. The point was that it was 10 minutes or sometimes two minutes. … I did do the stopwatch thing to make sure I was being accurate. Laura Dern in “Wild” was tough because she keeps coming back in fragments in Reese Witherspoon’s memory, so that was annoying to try and figure it out, but I did it.
Were you surprised at just how little time some actors had in a movie?
Yes, and a good example of that is Marilyn Monroe in “All About Eve.” Everybody knows it’s a small part and she’s not a star yet, but when you tell people she’s in three minutes of a movie that’s over two hours long, it doesn’t seem right. But she only really has three moments. … Robert Duvall in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is another one. He’s only in that final scene, but the impact is so strong. And Elsa Lanchester in “The Bride of Frankenstein” — she’s only the bride for the final four minutes of the movie.
You did the book chronologically and chose Lanchester as the first entry because it’s such an iconic image of her as the bride. Was it difficult ignoring some of those actors before her from the early ‘30s.
I wanted to go to the present and wanted it to be 100, so I figured I could start anytime I wanted. Yes, I could have started with the beginning of the talkies, but I couldn’t come up with one that was as much of an attention getter as Elsa Lanchester. Everybody knows “The Bride of Frankenstein” and she’s on page one, so they’ll get the idea.