Friday, July 08, 2011

Bette Davis, resmitten with

What a gal! I'd not seen any of Davis's TV interviews from the '70s and early '80s until recently. Before that I knew her just from her ding-dong classics (esp. All about Eve, Now Voyager, Dark Victory, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and The Letter), and from her later near-disastrous, post-stroke, Oscar shows appearances (as presenter but also as Testimonial awardee IIRC). Youtube, however, enables me and others to fill in that sort of gap: it's a treasure-trove of interviews that awesomely display Davis's smarts and 'stand and deliver' personal style. Having spent a few hours clicking around through these items, I'm blown away again, resmitten. Over the next month I'll try to rewatch some of my existing Davis faves and check out at least the obvious biggies that I've missed before (esp. Jezebel, Of Human Bondage, and her Elizabeth I movie, if I can get hold of them). Go here for Meryl Streep's lovely tribute to Davis if you need further inspiration to do the same. Streep describes herself and her high school girlfriends regularly watching Davis's classics on after-school tv in the 1960s, and as taking lessons from Davis on 'how to scare the hell out of men'. Haw haw!

Update July 13, 2011: Just saw The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. Pretty good w/ a powerhouse lead performance from Davis (who's unafraid to play ugly and unappealing and super-high-maintenance - Davis's frantically fidgeting Elizabeth I feels like a prototype for Olivier's later Richard III). Unfortunately, despite some interesting, almost 3-D effect focal length tricks from director Curtiz, the script and production is very stagey and somewhat hard to believe. E.g., the few outdoor scenes are filled with incredibly bright, steady CA sunshine that's ridiculous for England - the soundstage, interior light is much better although it's still unrealistically bright for the renaissance/medieval world; and Flynn's Essex is given some absurd lines that make him a proto-Locke or Thomas Jefferson. Moreover, the casting of Errol Flynn (w/ a Korngold score) and Olivia de Havilland as an insolent lady-in-waiting (who should surely have lost her head!) invites comparison with Robin Hood and GWTW, respectively, but PLEE isn't nearly as much fun or as spectacular as those. At any rate, next up: Jezebel.
Update August 1, 2011: After some delays, Jezebel! More excellent work from Davis in a well-made film with an unfortunately too predictable script. The 'noble'/self-sacrificing ending is an odd beast because it's evidently also a deeply self-interested ending on Davis's Julee's part. At any rate, it's impossible to be moved by what happens because of the conflicted stances the action embodies. The ending then comes to symbolize the complexity of our feelings about all of the main characters. Nobody comes out especially well, so I guess that makes J a rather good drama, but it's no Dark Victory or Now Voyager. J's setting and content invites comparison with GWTW - but, alas, that just makes me appreciate GWTW's scale, spectacle, casting, and score even more. Fonda's a bit of wet-blanket compared to Gable, as is the good-girl foil to Davis (Margaret Lindsay's Amy) compared to De Havilland's Melanie. Deep down too, I wonder whether Julee's character even quite makes sense. She's supposed to be a free spirit/spitfire. But she's also supposed to mope around the house, to receive no callers etc. for a year after things blow up with Press. That doesn't seem like a plausible combination to me. Also, we're supposed to believe that Julee's red dress scandalizes society, and that that then has consequences with Press. But the movie focuses completely on the fallout with Press, so that it's as if it forgets that Julee is now regarded as a scarlet/wild/trollop-y woman and should be paying social prices independently of Press for her non-conformism. Maybe my two complaints are connected and may be jointly answers as follows: maybe we're supposed to infer that Julee holes up for a year after Press leaves in part because New Orleans society now largely shuns her. But if that's so then I think it needed to be clarified, e.g., there's a scene missing, perhaps of people crossing the street to avoid Julee that we need.

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