Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Summer re-views: Bette's Charlotte Vale

Its on television now, as I write - on the BBC: the 1942 NOW VOYAGER - its so seldom the BBC show a 1940s classic now, that its almost one' duty to watch it, despite having the dvd. Its still a timeless classic and one of Bette's key roles. Here's what I said about it, in a gay context, a mere 6 years ago: 
"I am not one to read gay subtext into movies [well apart from in BEN HUR], but a fascinating piece I read the other day made me stop and think and look at NOW VOYAGER in a new light. Rupert Smith, author of MAN'S WORLD - the best new novel I have read in years [still available at all good bookshops, folks] - writing in ATTITUDE magazine has this to say about it, in a feature on the nature of camp:
"NOW VOYAGER, a 1942 melodrama starring Bette Davis as a downtrodden, mentally unbalanced spinster who has a nervous breakdown, has a dramatic makeover and embarks on an affair with a married man. The movie and the book on which it was based were aimed squarely at women. All the characters and all their relationships are resolutely heterosexual. And yet for all that NOW VOYAGER is textbook camp because it mirrors so precisely - and perhaps so unconsciously - the gay experience.
Ugly, unloved Charlotte with her thick eyebrows and dowdy clothes is like a gay man in his larval stage, stuck in the family, driven crazy by frustration. She then emerges from her chrysalis with fabulous clothes, great hair and plucked eyebrows. She falls in love with an unavailable man and settles, at the end, for whatever scraps of affection she can get, with that famous last line: "Oh Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon; we have the stars". For gay men watching Bette Davis in the '40s - and there were plenty - it was like autobiography, in drag."
Rupert gets it exactly right. Poor frustrated Charlotte is left to look after and put up with her domineering mother, the other family members treat her like a doormat, she is made fun of by visiting relations. Even her mother (Gladys Cooper, excellent as ever) does not love her and bullies her - so of course, after the intervention of psychiatrist Claude Rains, she cannot accept the new svelte, confident Charlotte who returns after being the the most popular woman on the cruise (and what a camp fantasy that is...). What though is the nature of those unsuitable materials which mother found when moving Charlotte's items to a new bedroom she has designated for her? Charlotte however triumphs, with wonderful bon mots along the way: "Dora, I suspect you are a treasure" to the nurse Mary Wilkes; and "let's not linger over it" when breaking off her engagement to the very solid beau that mother approves of, but whom she does not love. She will be happy with those stolen hours with married man Jerry, and looking after his unhappy daughter.
Directed by gay Irving Rapper its certainly a timeless favourite, as good as my other two favourite Bette's: THE GREAT LIE (where we have nice Bette with superbitch Mary Astor) and OLD ACQUAINTANCE with Bette at her most brittle with that fabulous apartment (with devoted housekeeper) in wartime New York, and her on-going rivalry with flouncy Miriam Hopkins. Noble Bette sends away Miriam's husband - the man she loves - and then has a silver streak in her hair for the later third act."

Its another Warner Bros classic of course, with Bette in some marvellous Orry-Kelly creations, Music by Max Steiner, Claude Rains watchable as ever, and directed by gay Irving Rapper. Bliss, utter bliss. 

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