My 1976 Jodie Fosterthon

Julia Marchese gives the lowdown on diving deep into the all-time great actress' most prolific and remarkable year.

In 1976, when Jodie Foster was 14, five movies starring her were released. In honor of her incredible talent, my movie night pals and I got together to watch and worship her – after all, she had been performing since she was two years old and has never slowed down since.

And so!

Jodie Fosterthon emerged. We decided we would collectively slam down these movies all in one day, with snacks and drinks ahoy. (Spoilers herein!)

The movies Jodie made in 1976 are:
1. Taxi Driver
2. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
3. Freaky Friday
4. Bugsy Malone
5. Echoes of Summer*
*It has to be admitted that we couldn’t bear to watch this one about Jodie dying of a heart condition. Maybe we will have the courage to add it next time!

Can you wrap your mind around the perfection of each of the above performances mentioned? ’Cause we sure couldn’t.

Jodie Foster in Bugsy Malone (left) and Taxi Driver (right).

We wanted to start brutal and get easier throughout the day, so we kick things off with Taxi Driver at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, as it is meant to be watched. Many folks present had never seen the film before, so watching them watch it for the first time was such fun. Jodie Foster’s performance is so raw and honest, it doesn’t seem like she’s acting at all. (And isn’t that the point of acting?) The newbies were absolutely blown away by the film and by Jodie most of all, who brings such heart to the film. There was much discussion afterwards about the “happy ending” and what it all really meant – and several of us agreed to disagree. But it was 100 percent unanimous that she is brilliant beyond comprehension in Taxi Driver. Her portrayal of Iris, a wayward baby prostitute in the grimiest era of New York City, earned her Academy Awards and Golden Globes nominations, and she won many other awards for her performance, including a BAFTA.

Next we cruised into one of her lesser-known but completely genius performances, as the mysterious Rynn Jacobs in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. This one I had only seen recently, but we covered it for my podcast Horror Movie Survival Guide, I programmed it for my Halloween Hullabaloo series at the Somerville Theatre and we watched it at Fosterthon, so that should tell you how much I enjoy the film. Foster goes head to head with some biggies in this one, Martin Sheen at his creepiest and Old Hollywood star Alexis Smith, but she totally stands toe to toe with them in terms of her talent and screen presence. Contained, enigmatic and brutal, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane has one of the best final shots of any film (sure to make your audience go, “Whoa!”) My friends were so skeeved out and delighted by this flick. The movie one gives her the most screen time and really allows her to be the star. She won the Saturn Award for Best Actress for this performance.

Jodie Foster in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.

Next, we took a train to happy happy Disneyland time with her performance as Annabel in Freaky Friday – it was actually the first film I saw her in and I have been a fan ever since!

She excels in this film – in all of these films, actually – because she seems like a fully formed adult at 14.

I really believe Jodie Foster has a grown-up inside of her in Freaky Friday, which is a wacky (fun!) premise to be sure, and without the right actress would absolutely fall flat, but with her and Barbara Harris, there are many hijinks to be had. We all agreed it was good to see her be a little sillier, and a bit more like a kid (in some parts), but mainly just watching her “be” her mom is the selling point of the film, and we bought it. (So did the Golden Globes, nominating her for Best Supporting Actress.)

Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in Freaky Friday.

Lastly, we watched the super-fun, ultra-weird, but thoroughly enjoyable cult classic Bugsy Malone, with Jodie’s performance as the seen-too-much-for-her-age gangster moll Tallulah. This film is big in the U.K., but in the U.S. it isn’t as well known, so several of my friends had never seen it. (One even exclaimed, “Oh! It’s a musical!” at the beginning – she knew nothing about it whatsoever.) Foster’s BAFTA-winning performance as Tallulah – who is bored, yet secretly yearning for excitement now that she has it all – is a joy to watch. And honestly, getting to see her in a gigantic, giggling cream-pie fight at the end is such a delight – we felt like we could actually see her 14-year-old self just having fun for a moment, which we loved. Ending on that up note was definitely the way to go.

We made up our own Foster character timeline – as if all of these filmed linked together (if you took the conflicting time frames out of it). We began with Iris in Taxi Driver – as we learn at the end, she has been sent home and back to school, but what if she actually moved away to live in her tiny cottage in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane? When that goes awry, she is adopted by a family and lives the dream life in Freaky Friday, but she can’t escape her past and goes back to her beginnings, becoming a dance hall girl “belonging” to Fat Sam in Bugsy Malone. It takes a big stretch of the imagination, but hey, it’s fun to make up connections where they don’t belong in film! And she has a pretty good happy ending, either way!

Julia Marchese’s friend and Horror Movie Survival Guide co-host at the 1976 Jodie Fosterthon, as Travis Bickle waits in the wings …

As you can see by the impressive amount of award nominations and wins for these performances, we were not the only ones to be bowled over by Jodie Foster in 1976 – and with good reason!

My friends and I will definitely take on more Years of Jodie – there is so much more of her talent to devour! And honestly, marathoning her is highly recommended. Obviously, we all knew going in that she is a super talented lady, but watching her create these distinct, nuanced performances one right after another was so fulfilling.

She is to be worshipped – all hail!

Julia Marchese is a filmmaker, actor, podcaster, cinephile and film programmer living in Hollywood, California. Her first film was the award-winning documentary Out of Print, about the importance of revival cinema and 35 mm exhibition to culture, and she is currently the co-host of the popular horror podcast Horror Movie Survival Guide. She recently crowdfunded on IndieGoGo for her forthcoming Dollar Baby short film I Know What You Need, based on Stephen King’s story of the same name from Night Shift. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @juliacmarchese.