Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Moment

There was an intensity to him that made it hard to look away. But not that. Not just that. A sadness. A loneliness. I saw it within him because I recognized it within myself.

I think I'm more alone when I'm with another person in that room for 15 minutes than any other time of the day. Watching as the candles melt down. Wishing I was anywhere but here.

But within that moment when he almost hit me with his taxi, we were looking into each other's souls. The rest of the world drifted away. The sticky summer air clinging to my skin. The awful scent of garbage that penetrated my nostrils after weeks of rotting on the streets. None of it mattered as I lived in that moment. Maybe it's a drippy thing to think. But you ever have an instant connection with someone?

That's what it was.

He followed me with his taxi down the road and I could feel his eyes on me. Did he see what I saw? He must've felt it. Everyday tens upon hundreds upon millions of encounters. People's faces become a blur seeing so many as you walk the overcrowded streets. Until they all melt together into one faceless blob. But his stood out from the crowd. It was that intense look he had. It left me naked. I mean, exposed. It was a strange feeling. Sure, I've been with plenty of guys without my clothes on. I'm not as innocent as I may look. But this was different. It wasn't about sex. Not about that. It just was. And it made me uneasy yet comforted. Is that strange to say? I was comforted by it.  

When I saw him again, I knew it was not an accident. The universe does what it does for a reason.

In the room I played my part like he was one of the others. Their clammy hands pawing at me. That's not what he wanted. He asked if I remembered. Remember when I had gotten into his taxi. Of course. It was universe playing her part again. That was him? Of course it was. It had to have been. I played it cool. How do you tell someone that of course you remember. You remember everything. Everything in your being was telling you to scram from Sport. From the city. From what it was you had become. To never look back.

He could've saved me then.

Why didn't he? It wasn't time then. We needed that moment. The moment on the street. He must've felt it it too. Had he come to save me now? Was it crazy to think so? But it had to be. It had to. He was my avenging angel in a checkered taxi cab. (Geez, don't be such a weirdo.) But he was there to rescue me. Save me. Maybe that's what he saw within that moment. He saw. It was more than just a moment. Perhaps it was my salvation.

This post is part of Nathaniel's weekly series Hit Me With Your Best Shot over at The Film Experience. We live within Travis Bickle's thoughts in the film "Taxi Driver", I used my Best Shot as inspiration to see the film from within another perspective...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Crawford vs. McCambridge: A Scorching Showdown

Why is it that whenever a film stars more than one woman in it the media always tries to turn the actresses into rivals? It seems almost impossible from them to believe that women would want to support each other, standing in solidarity of their fellow female. Instead they always imagine them having hair-pulling, drink-throwing, eye-scratching cat fights like the only thing to base actual female relationships on is the interactions of The Real Housewives of <insert a place name> (I'm still not convinced all those ladies weren't manufactured in a Dynasty-style warehouse). But juicy stories of on-set rivalries are often greatly exaggerated and actresses usually reiterate their adoration of their cast mates.

And then there's Joan Crawford.

Crawford is perhaps the early model for why this stereotype actually exists in the first place. Her decades-long feud with Bette Davis has become the stuff of legends and fueled further fascination when the two actresses co-starred with each other (and tormented each other) in 1962's  What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (By the way, we need a Mommie Dearest-style film about all that, like, yesterday.) And after we witnessed last week's unhinged interpretation of the actress played to the hilt by Faye Dunaway (making rivalries not just an on-set activity, while vying for attention with her own daughter), this week Nathaniel at The Film Experience had us look at the real thing in the subversive western Johnny Guitar. Despite being named for the bland Benedict Cumberbatch-looking Sterling Hayden's titular character, the manly genre is given a much-needed feminine make-over. The showdown typically engaged in by two macho men in cowboy hats, is instead played out between Crawford and Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge. And to the surprise of no one, the two just didn't get along on set.

Apparently the dispute began because Joan had once dated McCambridge's husband at the time. Crawford also didn't like how director Nicholas Ray seemed to give praise to McCambridge. And one night, Joan took her co-star's costumes (and her actual clothing) and scattered them along the highway. Both women were very much under the influence of alcohol at the time (although you can't really tell in their performances). McCambridge later described Crawford as "a mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady". (Which I have now made my life's goal to use this description regarding someone.) But Crawford took the high road in regards to McCambridge saying "I have four children - I do not need a fifth." (Huh, maybe old Joan liked her after all. Considering she wouldn't treat McCambridge the same way she did little Christina...)

Before we get to my choice for Best Shot and since these ladies were at odds both onscreen and off, let's just break down what each of them has in their favor and see who will come out victorious in a little friendly battle.

In this corner, we have our first contender.:

Joan Crawford as saloon owner Vienna

  • Named after a European capital
  • A business owner
  • played by a Best Actress Oscar winner
  • In favor of change. That railroad is coming whether they like it or not - get on board!
  • Skilled piano player
  • Unsullied - Spends a good deal of time in the red dirt while wearing an all white dress (complete with white stockings and shoes) and miraculously somehow avoids any stains or spots at all. 
  • Knows the power of an effective soft focus no matter how distracting it is that no one else is allowed one in their own shot within the same scene
  • Good lighting is key. Had all of her "outdoor" close-up shots redone in a studio so that the light could be controlled. 
  • When in doubt - change your costume. (Has at least three costume changes in the last half hour alone.) 
  • Lucky enough to make any outfit work. Although it's a little suspicious that the clothes of a teenage boy named Turkey included a bright yellow blouse with shoulder pads and high-waisted mom jeans
  • She's a straight shooter
And taking her on:

Mercedes McCambridge as Emma Small, local shit-stirrer 

  • Loving sister. (Sorry about your brother...)
  • Is possibly a repressed lesbian. Sorry, Small, no one is buying that crush you supposedly have on the Dancin' Kid
  • Played by a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner
  • Take charge kinda gal. Pretty much bullies an entire group of men to do what she says
  • Can really hold a grudge (I'm still not entirely sure why she dislikes Vienna so much)
  • Does her own stunts. Well, willing to fall off buildings and be filmed in the actual outdoors
  • Is possibly a pyromaniac...which, speaking of, it looks like this battle just got a little heated as McCambridge literally sets the competition on fire and blazes in with my Best Shot:

Imagining herself to be the Phantom of the Opera, Emma destroy's Vienna chandelier by shooting it down and setting fire to Vienna's business. It's such an over the top gesture that really rubs her victory in Vienna's face. As if having her rival be dragged out and hanged wasn't enough, Emma's gotta be all small about it and make sure that everything is destroyed. And she is really feeling herself. She slowly backs up and raises her arms as if she's conjuring evil spirits to come and unsex her there. As she rushes out of the burning building she becomes almost orgasmic in her delight. I kept waiting for a witch's cackling to come out. But her power is in this element of fire, feeding the flames of hate. How fitting for an actress that would later go on to provide the voice of the Prince of Darkness in The Exorcist, Beelzebub himself.

Sorry, Joan. McCambridge brought out the big guns. You're gonna have to do a lot better than that tiny flame.

Come on, now don't make that face! To be fair, we'll let everyone else decide:

Who Would Win in a Battle?

Joan Crawford0%
Mercedes McCambridge0%

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I've Written a Letter to Mommie

April 1, 2015

Dearest Miss Crawford Ms. Dunaway,

I've never really sent one of these before and although I do follow you on twitter  (by the way, no tweets since August? Come back to us, Faye...) I felt that an old-fashioned fan letter (I've also enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope so you can send an autographed headshot) is just the sort of gesture reminiscence of Classic Hollywood that you would appreciate. Or maybe I'm just equating you too much with another star that you have become almost synonymous with ever since you sunk your deliciously sharpened talons into her. I'm of course referring to your infamous role as Oscar winner Joan Crawford in 1981's Mommie Dearest. You disappear so completely into the role, that it is hard to remember where she ends and you as an actress begin. And although I feel that you're more inclined to believe your work in such films as Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, and Network are more deserving of accolades (and you're amazing in those as well), there's just something about your performance as Miss Crawford that is truly something to behold.

To say that it was not appreciated for what it was at the time it was released is an understatement. Winning the Razzie for Worst Actress of the year and receiving reviews like this one in Variety, "Dunaway does not chew scenery. Dunaway starts neatly at each corner of the set in every scene and swallows it whole, costars and all." couldn't have helped your ego. And I've heard that you were crushed after the film's reception turned you into an instant camp classic, honestly believing that you would receive your 4th Oscar nomination for your performance. I bring all this up not to make you feel bad, but to assure that they were all fools! You were right - you should've been nominated for an Oscar for this. (Easily over Katharine Hepburn's much more embarrassing performance in On Golden Pond.) And I've heard that you've said that you wish director Frank Perry had had the foresight to reign you in more. I think I speak for all of us when I thank him for not interfering and allowing you to go as crazy-committed as you did. Cinema needs more of what you were doing as Crawford. Would you deny us this face:

I think the two scenes that immediately come to mind when people think of your work in the film are two of the most quoted and imitated (certainly by decades of drag queens), but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say - and for good reason. The first, after being dropped from Warner Bros for being box office poison and taking it out on the defenseless rose bushes, all while decked out in sequins and chiffon ("Tiiiiinnnnaaaa!!! Bring. Me. The. AXE!!!"). It's the first time that we actually become afraid of what Joan is capable of. When she bellows for that weapon, there's real fear that she's not gonna stop using it once the branches have been taken down. There's an electricity in the unknown, just where you'll go with Joan's meltdown. But it's all just a warm-up for the mother of all breakdowns. I dare anyone that sees a wire hanger not to shout that line that you made infamous. The ferocity and stamina you have in sustaining that scene - from the first glimpse at the hanger in question to the physically violent wrestling match on the bathroom floor covered in Ajax - is epic. It's exhausted just watching you throw yourself so fully into it. It's particularly awe-inspiring to see an actress relinquish all thoughts of vanity and care to create such a monstrous, monumental creation. It is truly the stuff of legends.

But if I'm picking a single best shot from the film - which, incidentally, I actually am. Since my friend Nathaniel from the blog The Film Experience (Faye, as a celebrated actress you owe it to yourself to read the site) has tasked us with that very assignment. In other words, Hit Me With Your Best Shot. (And I don't mean what you throw across Christina's petulant face...) It happens far earlier than either of those previously mentioned scenes, before Joan even becomes a mother. (Which I think we all can agree was one of her worst ideas.) It touches on what makes a legend and shows that stars, like the kind Joan Crawford was and you still are, Miss Dunaway, are most decidedly not like us. And that's why we love them.

After we begin the film with Joan's extensive and masochistic beauty regimen and then see her obsession with making her home spotless (move the damn plant when you mop!), naturally the best place for her to seduce a man is in a three-headed, pristine, pink shower while still fully made up in complete hair and make-up. This is how a star showers. It just makes total sense that this is what Joan would find sexy because it's a perfect marriage of all that she lives for and aspires to: Glamour and cleanliness. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness. And Miss Dunaway as Joan Crawford, you are certainly a goddess. 

Joan Crawford was quoted as saying you were the only actress at the time that had what it took to be a real star. And it's been said that you felt that the spirit of Joan Crawford possessed you while filming. It seems that both of you had a mutual admiration and understanding of the other.  Which is apparent in this performance. So I just want to thank you for your work in Mommie Dearest because I am one of your fans. 

                                                                                All my very best,