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Adrienne Shelly, 1966-2006

Adrienne Shelly, 1966-2006

I was really stunned and saddened to read on the Filmmaker Magazine blog, that actress Adrienne Shelly was found dead of unknown causes on Wednesday, at the age of 40. It’s a really sad story, as she leaves behind a husband and three-year-old daughter.

When I was a teenager working at a video store in Brownsville, TX, there were three Hal Hartley films that I constantly recommended to customers looking for “indie film.” They were: Surviving Desire, Trust, and The Unbelievable Truth. The last two starred a piercing and charismatic young actress named Adrienne Shelly. In those two films, she was an evocative and yet subdued force of nature, witty and warm. She was the personification of the “indie-film muse” during the beginning of the 1990s. She set the standard that half-a-dozen other actresses (Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, Julie Delpy, Uma Thurman, etc.) would soon follow and bring to Hollywood.

Hollywood never came calling, but before she turned 40 this summer, Shelly portrayed several memorable characters in films such as Chris Kentis’ Grind, Tim McCann’s Revolution #9, Julie Cypher’s Teresa’s Tattoo, Rory Kelly’s Sleep With Me, and most recently, Bent Hamer’s Factotum. But, of course, she made a lot of waves with her debut feature as a writer/director, Sudden Manhattan. When that film screened at SXSW in 1996, Alison Macor had this to write in the Austin Chronicle:

Sudden Manhattan’s finest moments occur during a point of high hilarity — a great, crazy party that culminates in a revelation of sorts for Donna — proving that Shelly’s knack for translating quirkiness to the screen extends well beyond her acting talent.

As many sources indicate, Adrienne Shelly’s latest endeavor in the world of film directing (a feature called Waitress) is in the can, and awaiting festival premiere dates. That will be a very sad and emotional premiere, indeed.

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