WATERVILLE – Karen Black doesn’t have much use for films that rely on loud special effects and computer-generated images to grab a viewer’s attention.

“You have these massive robots fighting each other, buildings falling over and tsunamis,” she said. “There’s a tremendous dependence on this now. I don’t want to see buildings falling over. I don’t want to see tsunamis.”

Instead, the Academy Award-nominated actress and two-time Golden Globe winner said, it’s substance, artistry and the human element that lend value to film.

“There are things that are touching and important,” Black said. “When you see a true human movie and something goes wrong, you want to die. That’s what we need in movies now. We don’t need all the special effects.”

It is perhaps this attitude and affinity for quality filmmaking that has kept Black working consistently in a career spanning more than 50 years. The prolific actor, singer, songwriter, screenwriter and producer has appeared in 180 films and continues to do movies and plays, sing, produce and appear in webisodes, or short episodes on the Internet, that may later appear on television.

Black, who at 73 looks more like 50 with her silky skin, dramatic eyes and thick raven hair, spoke to an opening night audience Friday at the Maine International Film Festival.


A special guest of the festival, Black took part in a question-and-answer session following the world premiere of her film “VacationLand.” Shot in the western Maine woods, the film stars Black as a grandmother who meets up with relatives in what turns out to be an unusual family reunion.

After the Q&A, she took time in an Opera House sitting room to talk about her career, her life and her experiences in Maine.

“VacationLand” director Jamie Hook, she said, was great to work with, has a quick mind and is talented.

“I think he’s just got a terrific future,” she said.

Being in Maine is literally a breath of fresh air for Black, who lives in California but grew up in suburban Illinois and Wisconsin.

“I just think it’s beautiful. I think I belong here much more than California,” she said. “I have lived in the wrong place most of my life.”


The dry California air, she said, does not carry scents like Maine air does. “I love trees and air and rainstorms. I love thunderstorms. I miss them.”

Black, who is here with her husband, filmmaker Stephen Eckelberry, said she finds Maine towns charming.

“I just love these houses,” she said. “I was raised in a clapboard house and it’s just very real to me. I’m an east-of-the-Rockies girl and I just really like it here.”

Black grew up in Park Ridge, Ill., the daughter of Elsie Reif and Norman Ziegler. Her mother was a prize-winning novelist. Her grandfather, Charles Ziegler, played first violin with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Black said she knew from the time she was 6 that she wanted to be an actor. Her mother encouraged her and allowed her to take acting lessons. Her father wanted her to be a teacher.

As a teenager, she apprenticed at summer theaters, working backstage and ultimately getting acting roles.


At 15, she enrolled in Northwestern University to study to become a teacher but after two years, quit to go to New York to pursue an acting career.

“I auditioned at every theater there was,” she said. “Every day I went to 4th and Broadway and auditioned. I was perfectly happy and I got a Broadway show and an off-Broadway show.”

Over her long career, she has worked with directors Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Dennis Hopper, Rob Rafelson, Rob Zombie and John Schlesinger. She has starred in films including “Easy Rider,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” and “Nashville.”

Her film “Five Easy Pieces,” showing tonight at 6:30 at the Opera House, garnered her an Oscar nomination and Best Supporting Actress of the Year Award from the National Society of Film Critics.

Her film “The Day of the Locust” screens at 3:15 p.m. today at Railroad Square Cinema.

She cites her roles in “Nashville” and “Five Easy Pieces” as her favorite acting experiences.


“I was very, very, very, very, very, very happy doing ‘Nashville,’” she crooned. “I was very, very, very, very, very, very happy doing ‘Five Easy Pieces.’“

Is there a role she wants to play but has not yet had the opportunity?

“I’m very good at (portraying) queens and empresses and have the capability to do that,” she said. “No one ever thinks of me for that. I’d like to do some of those queens and empresses.”

Black said central Maine is lucky to have Railroad Square, which brings quality independent films not available elsewhere.

“That has inestimable value,” she said. “It’s a real culture expansion, these films.”

Black is articulate and chooses her words carefully and deliberately. She attributes the quality to three things: her mother’s literary nature and love of language, genetic and the influence of past lives.


“I actually believe in past lives,” she said. “I was in the arts.”

She attributes much of her upbeat and happy nature to being married to Eckelberry, whom she said is loving and supportive.

“He’s the best husband in all the world,” she said. “And I believe in people — I really do. I think people are magnificent.”


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