Thursday, May 25, 2006

Musings on some Leading Ladies in rather dissimilar films.

I'm sorry, but I simply cannot write enough about All That Heaven Allows. Just look at that picture for God's sake! This is what inspired everything from Polyester to 8 Femmes. Remember that deer that bookends the latter. Straight outta this! But there's also some wonderful bits of (almost) rebellious values here. This time around, the most harrowing moment of the film is when the "considerate" children purchase their mother a television, which in the main trajectory of the film, represents a self-resignation of the widowed woman and her dismissal of all of the dreams nurtured in youth. To look at this film after recently viewing Stella Dallas you experience a complete reversal of socio-economic values. In this world, the heart wins out over the pocketbook and those social codes which seemingly rule everyone else in this world, those which were the ruling moral purpose in Stella Dallas, are those codes which Wyman and Hudson are impervious to.

Next on my weekend trek, was Josef Von Sternberg's first Dietrich-free film, The Shanghai Gesture. Confused as the viewer is to whom will replace her, so too is the director. For the first 30 minutes, no one knows just who the "lead actress" is, especially Von Sternberg. We have three to choose from. Least interesting is Gene Tierney, who plays a rich woman with questionable morals (talk about a stretch). There's some trashy American girl who proves completely superfluous to the plot. The most interesting is Mother Gin Sling, who runs the illicit casino in which the entire film transpires. As you can see from above, perhaps the most sensational aspect of the film is her hair. It perpetually changing and only becomes more glorious, scene by scene, until the end, where she resembles an Asian Medusa. Resembles, but not is. The actress is SO British, her face tugged on just enough to create the "Asian eyes." You can imagine, solely from this example, how racist the film is, but then, Von Sternberg has never been known for his ethnic sensitivity. After Dietrich played a Spaniard, I think anything's possible (aside from racial realism). Gin Sling certainly becomes the Dietrich of the film; her past life proclivities prove to rule plot development and it is she who demands the vast majority of screen time, once the film decides that she is the lead lady. Sadly, the new DVD of the film is contemptibly awful.

Arabian Nights: More Montez, por favor.

Actually, it took me this long to realize the context in which these "Exotic" Montez/John Hall/Sabu vehicles make sense. WWII escapism, pure and simple. Exotic, yet so far removed from Germany that you may revel in the lush dress and foliage of more "Savage" lands. This one is quite forgettable, however. Try Cobra Woman instead (if you can find it).

I rented Sunday, Bloody Sunday just to watch Glenda Jackson, whom I think of as one of the few truly Great film actresses. I could watch her do anything. Her majesty just radiates from her otherwise humble countenance. The film concerns a bisexual (before the term existed) boy who flits from a relationship with Jackson's Alex and Peter Finch's Daniel. Whenever the dreaded thing known as responsibility enters his life, he exits. It is a film of its very particular time and place. Oozing all of the thematic and stylistic tropes fundamental to British cinema of the early Seventies, the film is a good one, but does not stand out like Women in Love, say. Of course, the representation of a homosexual love affair was bold and startling for its time, though now it seems sadly censored and pales in the complexity of the heterosexual relationship. Though celebrated for Finch's "audacity," Jackson is the real reason to watch the film. Her intellectual (and tortured poor little rich girl) performance is really a treat. Look out for the irredeemably sexy Jon Finch as one of Daniel's tricks. Mmmmmmm... A very interesting bit of trivia that alter the entire film's reception: Alan Bates was initially slated to play Daniel, but was to busy filming The Go-Between. In the original screenplay, Daniel was written far younger. And I must admit, this would have made a far more dynamic film.


Post a Comment

<< Home