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,  

10 comments:

  1. My goal for my best shot this week was to focus on the Christina/Joan relationship, but if I was picking just a Joan shot, your pick totally would've been mine. Great write-up!

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    1. thanks, ryan! yeah, joan totally overpowers christina for me and that shower scene was genius.

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  2. i'm gonna write about the shower scene for APRIL SHOWERS but now i will be intimidated by this great fan letter. well done.

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    1. thanks, nathaniel! there's so much to explore in this whackadoo moment (the hand pressed against the frosted shower door, the hypnotic way she slowly backs into the water...) that i'm sure you'll have a wonderful/hilarious take!

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  3. Love this letter, love this scene, LOVE this shot. Old Hollywood glamour at its finest.

    And I agree, whatever the film is, Dunaway's performance is incredible, a towering feat of scarily committed acting. Would that all actresses would just let themselves go like this, at least once.

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    1. oh, i know, right?! maybe that's why i loved tilda so much in SNOWPIERCER for a recent example. just a vanity-free, over-the-top performance that jolts the movie with an energy. haha. now i want to see dunaway's joan interacting with tilda's mason. "be the shoe." "as long as it's not a f--king wire hanger, i'll be anything. i'm an actress..."

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  4. ERMAHGERD! You are so good at these...I'm completely intimidated by your posts :-P

    Love the passion...NOW BLOG MORE!!!

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    1. haha. don't be intimidated, for i am just like you, fellow blogger. united in our love of film...

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