Remembering Bette Davis on centennial of her birth
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Bette Davis, born 100 years ago this week, made her first appearance on film in 1931 and her last in 1989, and like every star of her generation she was always ready for her close-up.
The difference with
But Julie wants to make an impression, and she does; and as she takes a turn on the dance floor with her stiff-backed escort, you can see, although most of the sequence is long shots, her growing awareness that she has made a terrible mistake, that she has gone, for once, too far.
Her dancing is limp, reluctant; her shoulders sag; and her head is bowed a little, as if she is trying to hide from the disapproving gaze of the assembled revelers: a shocking sensation for Julie, who, like most every character
There are close-ups in the scene, but it's in the long shots that you sense most powerfully the burden of that unfortunate dress on this suddenly humiliated woman, feel the depth of her regret and the strength of her desire to be wearing something, anything, else.
Moviegoers familiar with her only from late horror films like "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962) and "Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964) - the most substantial hits of the last four decades of her career - may think of her as a campy grotesque, a cartoon diva. That's perhaps partly her own fault, for attacking those ludicrous roles with such unseemly comic gusto. And her performer's soul must have been gratified by the attention they brought: better to be noticed, for whatever reason, than ignored. ("Baby Jane" even earned her an Oscar nomination, her last of 10.)
But on the occasion of her centennial, it's worth remembering
Usually they kept looking, even when she was putting on display, as she frequently did, the unlovelier aspects of human nature. Her breakthrough role, after three years of more or less routine assignments, came in John Cromwell's 1934 adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel "Of Human Bondage," in which she plays the coldhearted Cockney temptress Mildred Rogers, a vile specimen who cruelly - and protractedly - abuses the affections of a sensitive, artistic, clubfooted young medical student.
It was a part
In her bad movies, and there are many, you can always sense her impatience with the material she's been given. She'll start working her huge eyes a little more, bulging them out for emphasis or hooding them like a snake about to strike. Or she'll pace restlessly, her clicking heels punctuating every clipped, spit-out line. Or she'll do something tricky with her (ever-present) cigarette, holding it in an unusual way or stubbing it out abruptly or amusing herself by varying the rhythm of her exhalations. She's like a kid with too much energy; when she's bored, she fidgets and colors outside the lines.
As a moviegoer you can't help being grateful for that nervous ingenuity. Her endless bits of business may not always be, strictly speaking, necessary for her characters, but the truth is that most of the dozens of movies she appeared in her long career -
And when she got a part worthy of her gifts, she had the wit to put the lab work done in her lesser pictures to good use. In Lloyd Bacon's terrific "Marked Woman" (1937), for instance, in which she plays a nightclub hostess (read prostitute), you see a kind of distillation of all the tramps, gun molls and shady dames she'd played as an eager young nonstar under contract to studios that didn't know what to do with her. Her character in "Marked Woman," is a wonderfully complex creation, a wary survivor who's both proud of her sex appeal and slightly uncomfortable with it: not a hooker with a heart of gold, exactly, but a hooker who prefers to keep her heart as much to herself as possible.
And in one of her most celebrated roles, as the panicky aging actress Margo Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "All About Eve" (1950), Davis trots out every bad habit she'd developed over the years, every "Bette Davis" mannerism, and makes them all seem, strictly speaking, necessary: real aspects of an unmistakably real woman. It helps, obviously, that Margo happens to be an actress. (This was a specialty of
But - and this is the beauty of the performance - it isn't all she is. It would have been easy for
So was Davis, who never retired from acting and lasted, improbably, to 81, after a lifetime of abusing alcohol, nicotine and, often, her directors. Her best director was Wyler, who abused her back, productively. The three movies they made together represent one of the great collaborations of a filmmaker and an actor in the history of movies, because Wyler's theatrical intelligence was a match for hers.
(She once referred to him, admiringly, as "the male Bette Davis.")
Спасибо за статью! У меня их три, три любимых актрисы - Бетт Девис, Кетрин Хепберн, Ингрид Бергман. Не могу выделить одну, чтобы сказать "вот это самая любимая". Но Бетт... Люблю ее во всех фильмах и образах, но, пожалуй, больше всего, в Now, Voyager и All About Eve. В обоих фильмах образ "истинной женщины" сыгран так правдиво и так по-разному.