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Remembering Shelly: An Indie Icon Will Be Sorely Missed

by Anthony Kaufman
November 3, 2006 3:28 AM
21 Comments
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I didn't know indie icon Adrienne Shelly all that well, but my brief brushes with her over the years made the news of her untimely death all the more upsetting. When someone in the independent film community dies suddenly and unexpectedly, when someone who moved us through their art (whether Sarah Jacobson or Katrin Cartlidge or Garrett Scott), I remember how small and close-knit our little film family is. I think about all the people I know who must be devastated by her demise, and how shocking it feels to have someone so talented no longer with us.

I followed Shelly's second directorial effort I'll Take You There on the festival circuit, reporting on its Telluride premiere, then publishing an interview I did with her as the film was playing at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2000; she talked of a new project called "The Other World," "a nifty science fiction genre film," she said -- I wonder what happened to that film. And finally when the movie got picked up for distribution by the Sundance Channel.

I rarely follow a filmmaker's journey so closely. But it probably had to do with the fact that those were different times for all of us, when we could afford to attend to the films that we liked, when Hal Hartley, Shelly's frequent collaborator, was still a filmmaking god in many cineaste's eyes. But also because I was probably smitten by the petite actress. After my last exchange with Shelly, I remember we had a little spat about the Sundance Channel article. I can't remember what exactly it was about, but I remember she showed the angry, powerful side of her personality. Shelly may have been little, but she was a force: a firecracker, a charmer, a comedian, and an articulate intellectual. After the tiff, I developed even more respect for her. And I'm pretty sure, in the end, we resolved whatever issues had irked her.

When we talked extensively in the fall of 1999, she spoke about the way she worked on set. It's an exchange about the nature of indie filmmaking and about Shelly herself that still delights me...

Shelly: People would work very hard for me -- and not complain. I think it's because they knew that I couldn't do it without them. There are some hard things about being a woman director, but there are other ways where it's an advantage. There are things that I get away with that men could never get away with. Like, I would wear these silly animal hats on set. (Laughs.) I have one that's like a big bear head -- it looks like a bear is eating my head -- and I'd go up to someone and say, 'we have to stay a couple extra hours tonight' -- I'm wearing the big bear head, how are they going to say no to me?

iW: I don't know if that's a gender thing, I think maybe a more personality thing.

Shelly: Maybe you're right. But I would kiss everybody 'Hello.' And tell them it's good to see them and here we go. . . . It's the most fun I have in the world. When I'm on set. I feel like, pinch me, I'm dreaming, when is someone going to come around and notice that I've been allowed to do this thing. I have a strange mix of real, viable confidence and utter -- I don't know if the word is insecurity -- certainly there's fear.

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21 Comments

  • ed chatham | February 21, 2007 7:28 AMReply

    I just finished watching Trust again on IFC and was shocked to learn of this terrible thing. I googled her and arrived here, having read the comments made by friends and fans I'm in tears. My sympathy to her family, friends and fans. Truly a great loss to the planet of man.

  • Jay | December 10, 2006 9:05 AMReply

    Adrienne's talent for superb acting will always inspire me.And her directors hat was just as amazing.I feel bad for her family and friends."It's a world of suffering,in a sea of pain".

  • Robert Pincombe | November 8, 2006 8:25 AMReply

    I am shocked and dismayed to hear about the death of Adrian Shelley. Like so many people she leapt off the screen of the Unbelievable Truth and Trust (one of the most romantic films evr made) and stole my heart and admiration along with Martin Donovan. I found uit unfortunate to learn of that ehshe had difficulty finding challenging roles due to her delicate looks. the times when I did see her ina film or television appearance, I instantly knew it was going to be a superior production because of her presence. But my real respect for Shelly came in reading of her efforts as a writer/director on Suddenly Manhatten. Hers answers were so direct, thoughtful, insightful and ballsy, I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. Reading the various tributes to her tell me that was absolutely true. Having seen one friend come tyhrough surgery with flying colours last week and having lost another friend to illness only two days ago, I find myself somewhat overwhelmed by her absence. My sincerest hopes and well-wishes go out to her husband, family and young daughter.

  • Gary Goldberg | November 7, 2006 3:48 AMReply

    MSNBC just reported in the last hour that a man has been arrested and charged with murder in Ms. Shelly's death. It doesn't change the pain of losing her, but to be proven that she didn't choose this means a lot and will mean a lot to her family, I'm sure.

  • Matthew L. Weiss | November 6, 2006 2:35 AMReply

    Just wanted to add my grief to the rest... She was like one of my first indie-film crushes, and was likely responsible for my initial crush on indie film in general... I was so psyched to come to NY to see Sudden Manhattan from Florida in 97 and as an intern at Good Machine I read her script which eventually became "I'll Take You There" (it was the only good one I got to cover) and was thrilled to meet her even briefly at GenArt soon after... this is quite a reminder of our mortality. Success and everything in the world is fleeting....

  • Ginab | November 5, 2006 4:35 AMReply

    I certainly didn't know Adrienne Shelly personally, but Suddenly Manhattan had me watching in admiration a female writer, director, and actress, in recognition of the hard work it must take (for a woman). I am sad whenever any person is found, young and vibrant and at the top of her game. I'm numb, in staggering silence and prayer for her family.

  • Bob Hawk | November 4, 2006 11:55 AMReply

    I didn't know Adrienne all that well, but we were on a jury together, as well as the GenArt advisory board -- and there were the inevitable chance encounters in the indie circuit over the years. All I know is that every time I saw her it put a smile on my face. She was a joy to be with -- unpretentious, down to earth and passionate about her work, but always with a delicious and infectious sense of humor. What a loss! Deep sympathy to her loved ones.

  • Peter Van Wagner | November 4, 2006 8:40 AMReply

    She was a lovely actress and a wonderful person. We worked opposite each other on "Law & Order" in 2000. I played a man who was in love with her and it was one of the easiest acting assingnments ever. My heartfelt condolences to her husband, Andy, and her entire family. I'm sorry for your terrible loss.

  • john | November 4, 2006 8:15 AMReply

    I'm just a fan. I didn't know Adrienne, I never met her or even saw her in real life, and so of course I don't really know anything about her that I haven't read. But I'm still very sad. I enjoyed her work very much, and yes I was smitten with her too. How could you not be? I first saw her in Trust, so long ago. I have most of her movies, even Opera #1. If these messages do get to her family, I hope it gives them some small comfort to know that she did mean something to others. I can't explain it, but I'm sure I speak for many other fans when I say there was something special, something adorable and funny and smart and beautiful and fascinating about Adrienne and her performances, her writing, her filmmaking. I never met her, but I know I will miss her.

  • Adrienne White | November 4, 2006 6:44 AMReply

    I just heard about Ms. Shelly's death. How terribly sad. I loved her in "Trust" and "The Unbelievable Truth" and always wondered why she wasn't a bigger star. Everytime I saw her on television I would get excited and announce to my husband "That's Adrienne Shelly, this must be good."

  • Lanta | November 4, 2006 6:07 AMReply

    I remember going to see Trust when it was brand new and thinking how refreshing it was to see an actress who didn't seem at all "hollywood", who looked so different from everyone else in film, and who had real spirit. I enjoyed her work a great deal - she always seemed as if she had real attitude, and I mean that in the best way.

  • The Liberal Avenger | November 4, 2006 5:47 AMReply

    Thanks for this lovely post.

    I fell in love with her in Trust.

  • HJA | November 4, 2006 4:32 AMReply

    checking in here, been friend of andy for many years and know how happy adrienne made him. just shocking, terrible,horrible. not sure too much more to say

  • Ethan Straffin | November 4, 2006 2:30 AMReply

    I don't know what to say. I knew her only as a fan, but I had one hell of a crush. From "Trust" to "I'll Take You There" to "Waitress" -- which is going to be hard to watch but, from the sound of it, an amazing way to go out -- she was something. Really something. Godspeed, Adrienne.

  • Tommy | November 4, 2006 2:17 AMReply

    I had the distinct pleasure of working with Adrienne on Waitress. She was always a pleasure to be around on set, and she'll be sorely missed.

    I'll have her family in my prayers.

  • Larry Holden | November 4, 2006 12:00 AMReply

    I stumbled upon your blog this morning as I was searching for more information on Adrienne's death, which has me... Well, I really don't know to say, which is why I haven't put a statement out at my site yet... I'm just heartbroken. I met her about ten years ago, through some mutual friends while she was in Los Angeles promoting her directorial debut, "Sudden Manhattan." They fixed us up because they thought we were perfect for each other, and we had some "perfect" yet completely innocent dates - both there, and in NYC. And then, by pure chance, we both worked on a TV pilot in Atlanta. But I guess it just wasn't meant to be. I'm not sure why I'm sharing any of this... I mean, I've never even posted on somebody's blog before... Well, maybe a friend's once. But I felt compelled to honor her with some others who knew her, until I can somehow manage to write and then release some sort of statement myself. She's been in my life a long time; starting back when I developed a rather huge crush on her after seeing "The Unbelievable Truth" in an arthouse in Baltimore. She was really something. I'm just heartbroken. Thanks for your blog. Best to you all. Larry Holden, writing from the island of Gozo.

  • Monet | November 3, 2006 10:44 AMReply

    She was beautiful.And i dont understand why people have to kill,She was taken from this earth way before her time.There should be no reason 4 this un-cotrolable CRAP.R.I.P Shelly...You will be missed.
    ~Mysteri~

  • Katie Lanegran | November 3, 2006 8:47 AMReply

    I traveled with Adrienne to a couple of film festivals when we were promoting "I'll Take You There". Not only was the film great and well received by the audiences, but Adrienne was also a delight to spend time with. She introduced me to the importance of hitting the Good Will store in every city we went to and I introduced her to the joys of Target. But my favorite memory involved arriving at an airport to find that her luggage had opened while in flight. We had to run around the carousel gathering her belongings piece by piece. Because of Adrienne's spirit and sense of humor, what could have been an embarrassing situation ended up being a hilarious memory. I will miss her and her work.

  • Gary Goldberg | November 3, 2006 7:48 AMReply

    I just read of Ms. Shelly's death and there really is no apparent website dedicated to her where her many fans (defintely including myself) can go to to mourn her death. I appreciate your posting and I'm a little jealous that you had the chance to interact with her when it was possible to do so. She's led a quiet but serious life and it's been hard to hear of news about her. That she (apparently) chose to end her life so suddenly and without crying out for help is all the more devastating. Perhaps this and other messages like it will find their way to her husband and daughter, so they know they are not alone in their grief and confusion.

  • Michael Rodrick | November 3, 2006 7:01 AMReply

    Adrienne Shelly was a firecracker. We shot Tim McCann's Revolution #9 together. I remember riding the tram with her at the Telluride film festival. She was sweet, empathetic, humble, ephermeral,generous, Telluride fans loved her. She will be missed.

  • Richard Harland Smith | November 3, 2006 6:31 AMReply

    I did know Adrienne and much of what you say is true about her. She was tiny and looked like a little kid but she had a kind of foghorn voice that she put to good effect when she'd announce herself on the phone "Adrienne Shelly here." One particularly fond memory is of Adrienne stomping up the five flights of stairs to my then-NYC apartment with her nose buried in a magazine she'd picked up from her doctor's office, walking into my place reading aloud about some fascinating thing in science or economics, I don't even remember now, more charmed as I was by the manner of her delivery of the message than the message itself. A few weeks ago we traded e-mails and pictures of my kids and she wrote that she was happy. I'm stunned and heartsick.

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