Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tribute to Miss Davis

Since this is a movie blog (in name only, not so much in practice), I should probably take a moment to introduce my absolute favorite actress, Bette Davis. Especially since a lot of my film viewing is of her films.

Now to say that I have to "introduce" her is probably the wrong phrase to use, since she's pretty much established as one of the greatest actresses ever, something with which I completely agree, but I feel the need to elaborate as to why. Maybe because if I'm going to be bombarding you with Bette Davis movie after Bette Davis movie, I should give you some understanding as to why I find her so interesting.

Part of the reason Bette Davis is so legendary is because she was such an unconventional choice to become a movie star. Now, I know many feel that Bette was beautiful, but at the time you had stars like Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Jean Harlow who had a completely different look from Bette Davis. Another reason was that her method of acting was so much different than what was considered the norm of the time. For her time period, her acting was seen as very raw and explosive. Just take her famous scene in Of Human Bondage where she lets loose on Leslie Howard. It's like dynamite. By today's standards, she possibly comes across as melodramatic and over-the-top, but I would go as far to say that she was Marlon Brando before Marlon Brando in terms of bringing a sort of naturalness to her screen performances (Compare Of Human Bondage to Garbo's Anna Christie and you'll see what I mean). That's not saying that they were all this way, she was rightly criticized for her sometimes mannered and neurotic performances (like the constant hand-wringing in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex), but when she was good, she was very good.

This leads to another reason I love Bette Davis, yes she is good when she's good, but she's just as entertaining when she's bad. If you've seen her 1971 interview on the Dick Cavett show, she expresses that she feels like it should look like actors are putting in a little effort into acting, to make it a little over the top. Now some people disagree with that (My brother, for example), but she always makes you watch her. Even if the film isn't that great, like That Certain Woman, she still forces herself up above the picture and entertains you. In a book I read about Bette Davis (I think it was Dark Victory, the biography not the movie), the author comments that the worse a movie was, the harder Bette Davis worked against it to try and make it watchable to show that she's trying. And that really is the case. I've seen 36 Bette Davis movies as of now, and I would go as far to say that I've liked her in every single one of them. Sometimes the films themselves weren't very good, but she's always the best part about her films, and there are not many people you can say that in regards to.

She was also very versatile. I know that can be seen as an odd thing to say about Bette Davis, since roles in Of Human Bondage, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Jezebel have led to her being viewed as the screen's ultimate bitch, but she could do so much more. Just take a look at Now, Voyager where she played a character that was so insecure, and so wounded and anything but a cold-hearted woman, or in The Corn is Green where she played a controlled and dignified schoolteacher who made sacrifices to help save a young man's brilliant mind from a lifetime of being trapped as a coal miner. While she did play some wonderfully evil women (My all-time favorite Davis performance is The Little Foxes), she had the depth to play so many different characters that I find it sad that she has been pigeon-holed in such as way.

That said, Bette Davis had the kind of life that could make a brilliant movie in of itself. A life-time feud with Joan Crawford (I happen to believe they did hate eachother, contrary to what others may say), a husband where some rumors suggest she had a hand in his death, and a Mommy Dearest-style tell-all book while she was alive. Not to mention breast cancer, a stroke, her Miriam Hopkins feud, and some wonderously mean tricks that she played on people (and one horrible trick played on her). It's just fascinating in of itself.

And that ends my gushing on behalf of Bette Davis (as well as the end of my first real blog entry). Hopefully if you're a fan already you'll agree with me and if you aren't then hopefully I gave to some incentive to give her films a look.

1 comment:

  1. I am a bette davis fan and i'm really glad i stumbled upon your blog. she's just marvelous and you totally took the words out of my mouth dear friend. Isn't she just amazing???? I've seen most of the films you've seen and she really does light up the screen. thank you for this.