Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Three Faces of Eve, 1956 (or It’s All About Joanne Woodward)

This movie is really all about Joanne Woodward’s performance, which is good, because she won an Oscar for it. Other than that, though, it’s a very slow trip downhill.

First, we meet Eve White. She’s an unfulfilled 1950’s housewife with low self-esteem, married to Ralph, a dolt, and mother to Bonnie. She starts to have blackouts, headaches, and mysterious shopping trips that she doesn’t remember. She gets sent to psychiatrist Dr. Curtis Luther and then we meet Eve Black, a party girl who likes to wear racy dresses, sing in nightclubs and in general do things that would appall Eve White. Luther diagnoses Eve as having multiple personality disorder. This puts a pretty big strain on Eve’s life and marriage. Ralph isn’t very supportive because he’s unable to comprehend what a mental illness is, because he himself lacks a brain.

Most of the film is actually pretty dull. You just feel sorry for Eve White and, though Eve Black is more entertaining, I tired of her the way people are tired of Lindsay Lohan’s antics. I almost turned it off, but it started getting interesting when Ralph took Eve Black on a getaway to Jacksonville, Florida. Classy old Ralph was cheating on his wife with his wife. And it was creepy. Eventually, Ralph and Eve divorce, and their daughter goes to live with relatives. After treatment, a third personality, Jane, appears. Jane seems fairly well-balanced and well-adjusted. Over time, Jane recounts the childhood trauma that caused her personality to split. The Eves go away. The remaining, whole Jane marries a wonderful man who has a brain, and she regains custody of her daughter.

The film’s portrayal of what is now called dissociative identity disorder is extremely outdated compared to today’s understanding, but it was still surprisingly compassionate in its portrayal. And I don’t believe that the pat happy ending is what really happened to the woman who was the case study for the film, but such are movies from the 50’s.

As I said before, this movie really is all about Joanne Woodward, who was outstanding at playing what was essentially three very different people. Other than that, it’s frustrating, slow and the rest of the cast is unremarkable. Or maybe Joanne Woodward is just so awesome that everything else around her is boring. She was married to Paul Newman, after all.

Georgy Girl, 1966 (or There’s a movie to go with the song!)

You know that song Georgy Girl?

Hey there, Georgy girl. Something, something, something, fancy free? Something something, something, etc.?

Well, there’s a whole movie that goes with it. Yeah, I never did either.

Georgy Girl takes place in 1966 London, which means it’s all mod and swinging and really cool. This is the era that birthed the Beatles. Everyone is gorgeous and wears really cool, stylish clothes. Except for Georgy. Georgy is a music teacher and hopeless old maid, as she is not yet married or in the family way at the age of 24. We’ll just giggle about that for a minute. Georgy, in addition to being a hopeless old maid, is also hopelessly unfashionable. Instead of sleek mini-skirts, she’s all baggy sweaters, make-up free and pony tails. In other words, the way I look most of the time. Georgy lives at the home of the very rich old creeper for whom her father has worked since she was a child.

Georgy’s best friend and main foil is Meredith, who is everything that Georgy is not and everything that Edina Monsoon wishes she’d been in the 60’s. She’s got the look and the hair, and the clothes. Meredith, played by the gorgeous Charlotte Rampling, is a professional cellist and, let me sugarcoat this to soften the blow, she’s an awful, terrible despicable person who treats everyone, especially Georgy like their dog poop stuck to their shoe. Rampling also plays her as having a mean case of Bitchy Resting Face.

For all the Ugly Duckling talk that there is about Georgy, it should still be said that she’s played by a Redgrave. Georgy isn’t ugly; we’re just conditioned to think of her that way because that’s what the filmmakers wanted. Georgy is unfashionable and a little socially awkward, but not unattractive and she is not overweight. In one of the only scenes where she’s wearing a form-fitting dress, you can see that she’s not close to being overweight.

Supposedly, Lynn Redgrave said some fairly nasty things about her body from this stage of her film roles. I’m here to say Lynn, you were not overweight, and even if you were, you did not deserve to feel about yourself the way you did.

Eventually, Meredith becomes pregnant by her boyfriend Jos, for whom Georgy also has feelings. Because Meredith would be a terrible, awful, horrible mother and is mostly upset that her butt is getting bigger, Georgy and Jos make plans to raise the baby in the sort of Hillary Clinton Village thing that would have gone over well in the late 60’s. Meredith has the baby and, because she doesn’t care about anything other than herself, can’t be bothered to care for the child and decides to give her up for adoption, which is actually the kindest thing she’s ever done. Georgy and Jos begin a de facto romance and live together as a family with newborn Sara. Even though Georgy finally has the attention of a man, she only has eyes for the baby girl. Jos is ambivalent.

There’s another subplot here that meets up with the baby plot toward the end of the movie. The rich old creeper, played by James Mason, had offered Georgy a lucrative position as his mistress. Georgy was obviously insulted by the offer. She wants someone to love her, and she wants that person to be Jos, or at least not someone old enough to be her grandfather. But by the end of the movie, Creeper’s wife has died, and Creeper is able to upgrade his offer for Georgy from mistress to wife. Georgy accepts, as this arrangement will allow her to drop the pretense of romance with Jos and keep Sara. Sara gets one stable loving, parent, and one parent with pockets deep enough to fund years of therapy. Jos doesn’t have to give up his freedom in swinging London. Meredith’s butt goes back to its normal size. Creeper gets to get it on with a much younger woman. So everyone wins. There’s a perfunctory wedding and the new family rides away into the sunset while the groovy theme music swells.

Ultimately, Georgy Girl is about self-discovery and the search for fulfillment, which Georgy achieves. It’s actually a fun movie, and was probably very heartwarming for its day, but this is the part that actually made me want to start this blog. This movie made me say out loud  “They wouldn’t end it like this today.” In the end, Georgy arranges to adopt Meredith’s baby girl, and marry the rich creeper. Her dreams of being a mother come true, so we’re supposed to think this is great. I just don’t think that in 2013, we would consider marrying a creepy guy you don’t love to be a triumphant ending. I would see it going one of two ways. If today’s Georgy Girl were an indie film, the title character would probably be played by Ellen Page or Zooey Deschanel, and she would use her spunky attitude to support herself and her daughter. If it had a bigger budget, she’d have a rich, handsome love interest played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt or James Franco who would confess his love, adopt the baby as his own and they wouldn’t have a care in the world. Either way, she wouldn’t marry someone she doesn’t love.

But then that got me wondering if the 1966 ending isn’t the more realistic, even though it’s the less ideal one in modern times. We give a lot of lip service to marrying for love, but there are still many ill-advised unions that people either enter or stay in because the people involved feel it’s best for the children. Is the less than ideal ending the more realistic one?

Jaws (…or Before there was Shark Week)

Imagine being this guy’s dentist.

Editor’s note: I’d planned to focus on some more old timey, golden classic films for now, but…I went on vacation. So here, in honor of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, is Jaws.–Rachel

There’s one film that will always mean summer to me. It will always mean suntan lotion (remember suntan lotion?), cans of Pepsi-Free (remember Pepsi-Free?) and sandwiches embedded with grains of sand.

It’s Jaws. My family’s Northern Michigan lake cottage more closely resembles On Golden Pond than the Atlantic Ocean, but that doesn’t stop a kid with an overactive imagination from making it that way. I make sure that I watch Jaws every year, and I’ve read it about a half-dozen times.

The film opens with a beachfire scene. There’s beer and this being the 70s, I imagine a decent amount of chemical and herbal stimulants might also be present, but I’m really just guessing here. A young couple make their way away from the crowd and down the beach on a skinny-dipping mission. Chrissie, the girl, strips and makes her way into the tranquil, moonlit waters while her partner, Mr. Excitement, passes out on the beach. Chrissie had apparently not received notice that she was a character in a horror movie. If she had, she might have known that the first thing that will get you killed in a horror movie is removing clothing, the second is being intoxicated. Poor Chrissie. Screwed on both counts.

So Poor Chrissie swims out under the gorgeous moon and then. Well. Something starts to nibble on her toes, and it ain’t Mr. Excitement. What follows is a violent and harrowing scene in which something attacks her from below. It’s no less scary with Barbie dolls, or maybe it’s more scary:

She scrambles for a buoy, and we think she’s almost going to make it out. And then. Then, she’s pulled down one final time, her bellowing silenced forever and Mr. Excitement is blissfully unconscious on the shore. The waters are again peaceful and tranquil. This scene in the film and the book are equally affecting. It’ll keep you out of the water forever, or at least a few hours.

In fact, my first exposure to it was finding a mildewed paperback version of the story that someone had left at the cottage. One night, I happened to read the opening passages. Then my mother called me for my bath. So Poor Chrissie and her terror were fresh on my mind as I approached the bathroom. Mom left to go do something else, trusting that I could wash myself, but there was no way I was getting into that tub. NO FREAKIN WAY. Sure, a shark probably wouldn’t get me, but with all those fluffy bubbles, I couldn’t see the bottom. Leaving the safety of the plush orange bathmat could result in the yellow fiberglass slipping away beneath me and falling into a shark-infested saltwater abyss. Instead, I did the sensible thing. I swished an arm into the warm water, wrapped myself in a towel and walked into the hall. My mother stopped me, seeking an explanation for my bone-dry skin. I replied that I’d bathed and dried off already. Unsurprisingly, mom smelled a rat. Somehow, she got me into that tub. I swam constantly, but in the deep recesses of my mind, I never took for granted that any body of water was shark-free. I even remember swimming alone in my high school pool after the team I coached had finished practicing. There were times when I imagined I’d seen a suspicious fin trailing me in the water, and made a hasty grab for my towel. Of course, as a teenage girl swimming alone at night, I was more likely to be killed by an ax murderer. But I digress…and that’s what makes this such an affecting story. It defies reason, and yet it is totally reasonable. No one’s been killed by Freddie Kruger, but people HAVE been killed by sharks. It’s just that the odds aren’t that high. Also, for some reason, watching it makes me crave fish and chips.

But back to our movie. The next morning, Poor Chrissie’s body is found by Amity’s finest, which includes the waterphobic Chief “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat” Brody, played by Roy Scheider. Amity is the kind of quaint New England town that depends on tourist dollars for survival and that really comes alive on Fourth of July. People like to go there, probably eat some lobster and go swimming. But people won’t want to go some place just to eat lobster if they can’t swim without being eaten by a shark. The town PTB keep the shark attack quiet over the protests of wealthy fish scientist Matt “This Was No Boat Accident” Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and more attacks continue, most notably against a young boy and what I’ve read was Steven Spielberg’s black lab. That’s when the town decides to get serious about its shark infestation.

Panic ensues the way panic usually does. People do stupid things to try to catch the shark, like dangling a roast off their dock. More people get eaten and the all important summer season becomes less and less successful. So they eventually hire a guy named Quint, who’s sort of a drunken shark-hunting badass. So Bigger Boat, Boating Accident and Quint form an unlikely and uneasy team of shark-hunters to get this sucker who is eating their tourists and their director’s dog. In the end, our hunting party assembles on Quint’s boat (the one that’s not big enough) to try to lure the shark to them and kill it in some way. Because that’s the most logical way to deal with the situation.

You can talk a lot about Jaws without really even talking about the main characters. There’s not a ton of character development. We’re given snippets of the background of everyone and then we fill in the rest. The most telling exposition comes in the form of Robert Shaw’s famous monologue as Quint. The tale of the USS Indianapolis is bone-chilling and probably should have been made into a movie itself.  Here you go. The day after Quint’s famous speech is when the final battle goes down. Some people get eaten and the boat gets destroyed, and eventually the shark gets taken out by the clever use of an oxygen canister.

Jaws is a horror story, but you forget it’s a horror story. The culprit is not a genetic experiment gone wrong, not an escaped creature from a lab, not a vengeful supernatural creature. Part of the power of Jaws is that it won’t happen, but you’re not sure it couldn’t. There are some plot holes, but it’s worth it to set them aside. The science of Jaws is all wrong, and even the author Peter Benchley said he regretted painting the creatures in the extremely negative light that he did. It couldn’t happen, any rational person knows. But…yet people can and do get attacked by sharks, I’ve even written about it. You know it’s not going to happen…and yet…and that’s scary. I mean, Michigan’s freshwater lakes don’t have killer sharks (or do they?), although bull sharks can survive in freshwater. But what if a baby shark somehow got caught in say, the bilge tank of a ship and made its way up the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes and then it got into the water supply and then it got into our little inland lake and then it ate me. It happened with zebra mussels…

The other most powerful aspect of Jaws as a film is in what you don’t see. We don’t actually glimpse the shark until more than halfway into the film. The original audiences knew they were going to see a shark movie, but really didn’t get a sense of the scale of the thing, as evidenced by the original trailer. This is what makes it so affecting. We don’t get all the goods, unlike horror movies today. We don’t KNOW how big this fish is. We don’t know how evil it is. For most of the movie, we can only guess. This aspect of the movie was an accident. The robotic shark that had been developed for the film didn’t work very well, so Spielberg had to find out how to make a shark movie mostly without a shark. If the shark had been visible, I don’t’ think Jaws would have become a thing. I think it would just be the kind of bland seventies movie that they show on Saturday afternoons on obscure cable channels with shoddy special effects. If we had to see a movie with a 1970s mechanical shark, it would look pretty silly in 2013 . But because there are so few special effects in Jaws, it holds up much better than it otherwise would. The best effects are the story, the music and the unknown.

So, Jaws. See it, but take your bath first.