Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Well, it's been awhile. In this while, I've had laryngitis twice, which is absolutely unreasonable, and that really put a damper on me wanting to write and review. Hard to think of anything but loathing for all the people out there who don't have sore throats, really. But I did watch this movie twice while I was sick, and it was a very good film. And that opens up a question: is there an artistic problem with enjoying a work that the original artist repudiated? Tennessee Williams hated this adaptation of his work, both for excising most of the homo-erotic subtext (which is a major plot point of the play and the lack of which does create some confusion), and for adding a tacked-on reconciliation between Brick and Big Daddy. Elizabeth Taylor stars as Maggie the Cat (a joke I didn't get in "The Mighty Ducks" until I saw this movie), with Paul Newman as her bisexual sot of a husband. We get the feeling that something truly awful happened between them, because most men wouldn't reject a 20-something Elizabeth Taylor throwing herself at their heads. The truth is slowly unfolded against the backdrop of a passel of family drama - the impending death of the family patriarch, the scheming of the hateful sister-in-law, and the unwritten laws of the South that prevent anyone from talking about anything openly. You don't wash the dirty laundry in public here. Or in private. The worse things get, the more you're expected to politely ignore it, or dismiss it. It's an odd code of behavior that has relaxed since the 1950's, but still exists.
The truth, such as it is under the Hayes censors, is that Brick has been laboring under the delusion that his adored best friend slept with his wife and then killed himself. Which... does become kind of strange and has the side effect of making Brick seem much more in love with Skipper than the other way around. The plot point in the play is that Skipper confesses his love to Brick over the phone and kills himself when Brick rejects him. I know they had to re-write the play under the restrictions of the Hayes Code, but it makes the whole break and reunion (also tacked on for the movie) seem a lot stranger. Why would a man kill himself after telling his best friend that he was seduced by his friend's wife? Why would the man become convinced in the course of a few hours that the woman he's been blaming for his friend's death is actually not responsible? A Streetcar Named Desire has the excision of the homosexuality plot point as well, which also makes the suicide in that play seem strange and forced. It's still a masterful movie, with amazing performances and excellent cinematography. Plus, Elizabeth Taylor putting on stockings.
My overall answer to enjoying art that the original artist hates is that it depends on what the adapting artist made out of it. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is superior in many ways to Stephen King's The Shining, no matter what King says about it. But I suppose the best reason for this film being considered a masterpiece is the work-arounds and attempts at subverting the strictures of the Hayes Code, which opened up the way for more open and experimental cinema. And that's definitely worth a lot.