Monday, April 10, 2017

Last Night Was "Joan's Turn" On "Feud!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

                                  I had to wonder where this series was going to go, once the 'Baby Jane'  story was wrapped.  Last night's episode, entitled "Hagsploitation," showed there is still plenty of juice left to wring out of this delightful piece of Hollywood camp!

                                   The titled term was one label used to apply to those horror films of the later Sixties and early Seventies, featuring older, faded female stars--Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Shelley Winters, Debbie Reynolds, Olivia De Havilland, among others--in horror films, or at least in films where they are in horrific situations.  And if you want to count TV, how about 1970's "How Awful About Allan?," with Julie Harris--yes, Julie Harris!!!!!--in the only unsympathetic role I have ever seen her play??????????

                                    I always preferred the term "Psychobiddy."  Calling these actresses hags was just not fair; today they would still be considered young and vital!  In the Sixties, being in your Fifties finished you, especially if you were a woman!  Not today, dolls!  Thank you, Helen Reddy!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                      Jessica really shone last night, as Joan!  Now, I understood why she was cast.  While she can play the mannered bitchiness, it just isn't quite as nasty as Faye Dunaway.  Here, a different Joan is explored--the hard scrabbler, who clawed her way to the top from trash; a product of Life's Goat Alley.  How she wants to forget this, but can't, is shown by both her work ethic, and in the scene with her brother, played by that wonderful character actor, Raymond J. Barry.  Did this character really exist?  I would love to know, but, no matter what, it does make for good drama.

                                     I just LOVED Jessica in the replicated scenes from the trash classic "Strait-Jacket," a film now beloved by queens of all types!  Lucy Harbin is one crazy bitch--but is  she?????????  Like Joan herself, she was dumb like the proverbial fox!!!!!!!!!!!! 

                                      How about the scene where she screams in the strait jacket?  Or the Cecil Beaton inspired padded cell?  Every mental institution should have designer cells, darlings!!!!!!!!!!! I wish more had been made of the Diane Baker scenes, or maybe they did not want to tip off the plot, for those who had not yet seen the film, but might be compelled to, by this episode.  And the murder of George Kennedy re-enacted was even cheaper and more slipshod than in the actual film!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                       But then we get to see a sadness about Joan--a  woman who would do anything--wear a flaming red dress, dashing down auditorium, ax in hand, or appear on stage with William Castle (inspired casting of John Waters!!!!!!!!) and tossing out mini axes as gifts for the audience!  Here, the sadness of Joan can be seen.  She agrees to this, yet it saddens her.  Joan apparently had more self-awareness than most realized.  She was either tragically desperate, or a pioneering media whore!  Maybe a bit of both!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                         I can't wait to see how the whole "Charlotte' situation is handled!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                         But the "Strait-Jacket" promotion sequence was key.  Because of that film, one of Dunaway's most classic lines emerged in "Mommie Dearest"--"TINA!  Bring me the ax!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                          As for me, just get me a table at Cipriani!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Videolaman said...

While I've enjoyed Feud so far, my engagement with it has been more muted than I expected. At first, both Sarandon and Lange were at sea: more manque than martyr. By the second episode, Sarandon found her footing as Davis: while eschewing Bette's near-drag-queen mannerisms, she's giving a nuanced, thoughtful portrayal of the neurosis behind Bette's apparent strength and bravado.

Jessica Lange has been much more problematic as Crawford- for me, anyway. Underneath it all, Joan knew what it was to be invisible and unappreciated. She may not have been the most talented or realistic actress, but she intuitively understood her life role as "star" - and whose cooperation she needed to stay one. She knew she was no better than the gaffer who miked her, or the teamster manning the lights: they were all in it together, making Lucille LeSueuer into Joan Crawford.

These are the aspects that Jessica Lange is choking on, because she fancies herself so much smarter and "better" than the constructed Crawford. She can't let go of her own pretentious "I hate stardom so I live in Montana" ego to embrace Crawford's stylized kabuki self-invention, so the "star" notes keep ringing false or hollow or pathetic. Until last night, which focused on Joan's inner conflict over her renewed fame as a gargoyle. This, somehow, Lange finally got right. Her expression, flickering between timid gratitude, confusion, and tendrils of fear as she runs through her new throng of "horror fans" conveyed everything you need to know about Crawford's final humiliating years. Her desolation in realizing she's a fish out of water, never to return to the sea, mirrors our own sense of dislocation in our current soul-less, artless, brutally simplistic culture.

It's too bad Lange will likely revert back to her uncomprehending "meh" interpretation next week, because we're heading into the fascinating last phase of Crawford's career. After the "Sweet Charlotte" debacle, Joan rallied herself with a vengeance, taking any and every offer that came her way from television or movies. She was miserable, hated every minute of it, was drunk out of her mind on set- yet still ferociously dedicated to what she considered her craft.

Crawford's performances became jaw dropping at this point: you didn't quite know how to take her. Pitiable and tragic, yet also inspiring and death-defying. She invested the same effort in junk that she'd put into Mildred Pierce, becoming my lifelong idol after transcending a ridiculous scene in Trog. Anthropologist Joan attempts to cajole a caged half-man half-ape creature to play catch with a softball. She kneels on the ground, in her Vertigo gray skirt suit and pearls, tenderly pleading with a clumsy extra in Woolworth's Halloween costume, and MAKES YOU BELIEVE IT. She's obviously drunk, obviously mourning her own degradation as she performs, yet damn if she doesn't deliver with all eight cylinders firing.

Joan Crawford was the star of stars: she never forgot what that meant or where it came from, and she gave everything she had right to the bitter end. Nobody could have saved Trog, and Joan knew it would end her career, yet she stubbornly pretended it was Grand Hotel and worked her ass off to put it over. All her life, Joan desperately wanted to embody class, but was never quite sure she pulled it off: ironically, in Trog of all things, she's the definition of class.

Jessica Lange needs to get off her high horse, and show us all this. Joan was far from perfect as a human being, but as a star, she was peerless. MGM screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas recalled, "No one decided to make Joan Crawford a star. Joan Crawford became a star because Joan Crawford decided to become a star." I want to see a glimmer of that personality before the curtain comes down on Feud.

(BTW, multiple sources do confirm the "Feud" portrayal of Joan's slimy brother Hal was accurate.)

The Raving Queen said...

It looks like Jessica Lange has forgotten
she started out as an industry joke, when
she appeared in Dino De Laurentis' 1976
"king Kong." She didn't lose the label
until six years later, thanks to "Frances" and
"Tootsie." She needs to tap into what she
was to get more at Joan. But my guess is she
chooses to forget!