Drama, True Story

Feud (2017, TV Series)

I recently finished binge-watching this miniseries. I loved every minute of it. I think it is one of best series in recent years. It’s one of those series where you can see in each shot exactly where the money has gone (costumes, sets, locations etc).

The series focuses on the legendary feud between classic actresses Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange). We follow them as they make What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? for director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). 

Aldrich is desperate to make this film a big hit and further his career. He is told by the studio head Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci)to play both actresses off against one another. So he begins to fuel their mutual dislike to ensure that their performances convey a real hatred that can be seen on screen. This approach works for the film but it intensifies their hatred off screen. 

Davis and Crawford famously didn’t get along at all and they were very different women. Davis was brutally honest, down to earth, and she would take any role (film, TV, stage) because she wanted to work. I also don’t think Davis cared about her looks all that much, she has always struck me as someone who had a what you see is what you get attitude and persona. 

Crawford was glamourous and always comes across to me as being less down to earth than Bette Davis was. Crawford was more like a queen and acted like a star. She was deeply hurt by how she was treated as she got older.  I get the impression that she found it very difficult to hide her feelings and her desires. She longed for the days when she was praised and desired. I can’t blame her for feeling that, but if she had pushed hard to keep getting more roles (like Bette did)then things may have been a bit different for her.  

Yet for all their differences, they actually had more in common with each other than either woman would have cared to admit (trouble getting the roles they deserved once they got older, difficulty with their children and their marriages, both being strong and determined women.)

This series had me laughing one moment and then tearing up the next. It also shows you that sadly not much has changed for women in the film industry. Women are still judged on their looks. Actresses are still relegated to mum and granny roles once they hit a certain age.

Male actors on the other hand still seem to be getting the same type of roles they got in their heyday. For goodness sake, why can’t the studios look beyond the physical appearance of ALL these performers and just see their acting talent? Give them the roles that their talents deserve. 

The series made me feel so much for these two actresses. Once the biggest stars of their day, they are now forced to work in films and series that are far beneath their level of acting talent. I was also very moved by the realisation that if these two women had been able to be friends they would have made one hell of a formidable team. Think how they could have taken on their bosses together. They were both strong women who wanted things to change and I think that they could have made quite an impact in this regard if they had worked together. 

The series works hard to make you sympathise with Joan more so than with Bette. Joan is portrayed very much as a victim here(I have to say that I consider part of her downfall to be entirely her own fault though, due to her terrible behaviour on Hush… Hush,Sweet Charlotte)and Lange does an incredible job of portraying her as a proud woman falling into despair and distress.

I like how this series tries to look beyond the Joan who has become so well known to us from her daughters book and accusations. Joan comes across as being a very flawed woman, but this series does make her a bit more human than she has been portrayed as before. 

While Lange doesn’t really look much like Crawford. Despite that she certainly brings her to life for us and makes us share her pain, her joy, and also her desperation to be a screen queen once again. This woman demands respect and she feels that it is time she gets what she deserves (the respect and admiration of her colleagues).

Bette is portrayed as feeling the slights just as deeply as Joan does, but she is able to hide how much she is hurt by the industries treatment of her better than Joan is able to. Bette takes it all in her stride and just gets on with it. I think Sarandon acts and looks like Bette quite a bit and manages to capture her toughness and matter of fact attitude very well. 

Alfred Molina is excellent as the weary director trying to handle two difficult women while trying to focus on his own career too. 

Judy Davis steals all the scenes as Hedda Hopper, the terrifying gossip columnist who made and broke careers at the drop of a hat. 

Jackie Hoffman is excellent as Joan’s loyal and long suffering housekeeper, Mamacita. She doesn’t treat Joan as an actress, she treats her as a real person and tries to keep her grounded when she gets full of herself. 

Kiernan Shipka (little Sally Draper from Mad Men)is very good as Bette’s rebellious daughter. 

Stanley Tucci is the main villain of the series. He oozes unpleasantness, control and disdain as Warner. This guy casually destroys the hopes and ambitions of those working for him. 

I also like how the series shows that basically everyone in the film industry will get treated badly at some point (be they male or female). Aldrich is treated pretty badly despite having more power and opportunity than any of the women he works with do! Aldrich is still far from where he wants to be, and he has to put up with unpleasant treatment just like everybody else does. 

The series also shows just how fast status can change in this industry. You could go from being a praised and beloved star one day, to being a forgotten has been the next. This series shows how much that change hurts those affected by it. This industry is very cruel. It does have it’s blessings though because we can continue to see Joan and Bette in their heyday starring in quality films.

Thanks to the magic of film, these two women can remain forever young, remain forever beautiful, and remain forever talented. As fans we can choose to honour them by watching Rain, All About Eve, Grand Hotel, Mr. Skeffington etc, instead of by watching rubbish like Trog. 

If you love classic era cinema then I think you should watch Feud. Sarandon and Lange both deliver powerful and unforgettable performances. They bring these two women to life and give us a glimpse of what Davis and Crawford were like off screen. 

I really want Sarandon and Lange to act together again real soon, they are utterly incredible together in this. I think their respective performances here are amongst their best work. 

Have you seen this series? What did you think?

 

 

 

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Blogathons, Romance, Tributes To Classic Stars

The Bette Davis Blogathon: Mr. Skeffington (1944)

 

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Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this blogathon all about Bette Davis. I’m looking forward to reading all the other posts by those taking part. This is the first time I have ever taken part in a Blogathon, so I’m very excited to be taking part in this.

I’ve decided to write about a great favourite of mine, the 1944 romantic drama, Mr. Skeffington.

 

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Fanny. Screenshot by me.

Based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim; Mr. Skeffington focuses on the beautiful, young socialite, Fanny Trellis(Bette Davis). Fanny can twist men around her little finger, they dote on her, are entranced by her, and she both knows and loves it! From her first scene to her last, Bette makes Fanny the centre of attention as she floats around like a brightly coloured butterfly amongst all those love struck men drawn to her like bees to honey, moths to a…well, by now you should be getting the picture.

 

Bette was never better than when she was playing bad girls, and her performance here is another good example of this. What I find fascinating about this particular role though is that although Fanny is a selfish heartbreaker, I do find myself wondering if she is always consciously aware of the effect her actions will have?

Sometimes Fanny seems to be pretty naïve, there is a real girlish quality to her, yet at other times it seems she knows exactly what will happen after she says certain things, or goes out with a certain man and uses her apparent innocence as a cover/excuse for her behaviour.

This is precisely why I love Bette so much though as an actress, she can let you see the inner workings of her characters. Bette makes her characters more complex and more human than they may have appeared on paper, or possibly appeared when played by another actress.

 

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Claude as the long suffering husband. Screenshot by me.

Fanny marries the kindly Job Skeffington(Claude Rains, delivering one of his most heartbreaking performances)after her brother Trippy(Richard Waring)embezzles money from him. Fanny hopes that her new marriage will allow her access to money which he can pass to her brother. When Trippy (who hates Job)learns what she has done, he leaves home in disgust and is killed in the First World War. Grief stricken by his death, Fanny withholds any affection she once had for Job from him.

 

Fanny devotes herself to parties and spending time with a number of other men. Job and their daughter rarely see her anymore. Throughout all of this Job’s love for Fanny has never wavered, and seeing him so hurt by her only makes us hate what she is doing. Fanny will come to learn(at great personal cost)that looks are not everything, it is the person inside who counts most. Love isn’t about the physical, it is really all about two souls connecting.

My favourite scenes are the following:

1- Job and Fanny on their honeymoon boat trip, the pair are on deck and see a passionate young couple get serenaded; Fanny is utterly convinced they too will be serenaded by this band who are rumoured to always be able to pick out newlyweds and play for them onboard. The band approach, Fanny looks expectant, satisfied even and then the band members look at one another, shake their heads and walk past leaving a perplexed Fanny in their wake; she didn’t realise(but Job did)that they are not acting like a couple in love.

2- Job sitting by Fanny’s bed when they learn she is pregnant. He is overjoyed and wants to be with her, she is distressed at the thought pregnancy may affect her appearance and she also doesn’t want to have the baby at home. Job is dismissed and we can see the heartbreak it causes.

3-Fanny visiting Job at his company. When news of The First World War being declared comes through, his office is swamped with employees asking what stocks they should buy up etc. For once Fanny is of interest to no one and it throws her somewhat. Bette is very good in this scene, going from in control and flirting, to being completely overwhelmed by something out of her control. I love how she ends up standing on a chair to get out of the way of people barging in and tries to regain Job’s attention.

 

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Fanny having fun in the roaring twenties. Screenshot by me.

4- Fanny drinking in a club in the 1920’s with a man she is having an affair with. A drunk man keeps telling her that she is gorgeous. He invites more drunks over to gaze at her, who all in turn say she is the most beautiful woman they’ve ever seen. Fanny is utterly delighted at this attention and has a right laugh about it it all.

 

Bette is excellent in this film as the flirtatious, fun loving, seductive and enchanting Fanny. One moment she is all childlike innocence, vulnerability, and excitement and the next, she is despicable, cruel, vain and extremely selfish. Throughout all of this though, Bette keeps you interested in the character and even makes her sympathetic during certain scenes, she is not all bad and is more complicated than she may appear to be at first.

I always get the impression that Fanny needs attention and compliments because it makes her feel special; if she accepts her marriage with Job she will no longer feel as unique, desired as she does when she parades around with all the other men. That I can be so intrigued by Fanny is, I think, a real testament to Bette’s abilities as an actress, it is because of her performance and not the writing that makes me so fascinated. I can’t imagine another actress playing this role quite the way Bette does.

 

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Job delivers Fanny some sad news. Screenshot by me.

Without a doubt this is Bette’s film, but I’d also like to give a shout out to Claude Rains.He is superb here(endless shots of puppy dog eyes), and a sense his character harbours a quiet hope that one day something might change between him and Fanny.

 

This film could so easily have ended up belonging to either of these brilliant actors at the cost of the other, but actually neither of them ends up overshadowing the other. Bette often said that Claude was her favourite co-star and I think they were a perfect screen fit. I really like them together in this, Deception and Now Voyager. I really wish they had made many more films together.

This is a real tearjerker and that ending gets me every time I see it.

Expertly directed by Vincent Sherman. Terrific performances all round, beautiful costumes courtesy of Orry-Kelly and some gorgeous set design courtesy of Fred M. MacLean.  On top of all that, we get Bette at the height of her fame and talent, always a treat to watch. Bette, thank you so much for so many fine performances over the years, you are greatly missed.

I highly recommend this if you haven’t seen it. If you have, please share your thoughts on the film and on Bette’s performance.