Friday, June 10, 2011

The Trial of St. Joan

Did you really think I was going to let that slide? Denby and "The Case for Joan Crawford."

Denby seems – rightly – rather scared of Joan Crawford. Not because she is all the intimidating and vaguely unflattering things he says she is, but because she is an amazing artist and he is . . . a man with opinions. I feel a conflict of interest here. He should recuse himself from passing judgment on Crawford.

This turn of phrase occurred to me as I was bitching about the article in the car – the magazine was not at hand. Imagine my surprise, then, when I started this post and read the following, from Denby, “Any call for justice to Joan Crawford, however, runs into a dead end . . .” Oh, we’re at dead end alright. I’m not sure evaluating Crawford as a date “the date who raises your blood pressure, not you’re your libido” is going to work out that well.

But he’s right, Crawford did “place herself at the vanguard of current erotic taste”- this is definitely my take on her adorable boyishness in Our Dancing Daughters “in which [according to Denby] she is pleasure-loving and wild yet candid and friendly, a straight shooter who gets the guy.” Well-put. And she develops and changes this basic persona to suit changing erotic tastes, and maintains it.

Also cute: how he describes her early commitment to her own celebrity as “dress-up-to-go-grocery-shopping.”

And I liked, “If you look at pictures of her at any age, the whites of her eyes show not just above the irises but below them, too. Her eyes are so wide open that she seems to be devouring the future.” The first is objectively true, the second is lovely.

Again with the eyes, on her amazing performance as Daisy Kenyon, “with an open-eyed stare and a hardened voice.” I like this wide-eyed image that isn’t innocence. And his take on the brilliant match between her tough elegance and Warner Brothers is easy to agree with.

I wasn’t that taken with his attitude towards the contrast between Crawford “bittersweet” and “melancholy” as the pushover stenographer in Grand Hotel, and Crawford “determined to show the audience how big a bitch a woman faced with few choices can become” in The Women. He’s right about the contrast between the two performances, but that right there is the brilliance of her artistry. Not all femininity is charming in its desperation. And not all desperation is charming. And that’s the difference between performing femininity for women and performing it for men. Yes indeed, “She was always a bigger hit with women than with men.”

I also dislike the idea that there’s “nothing flexible or playful” in her performances and that just doesn’t make sense to me. Denby seems fully aware that Johnny Guitar exists. And what about when she lifts the lid on that canary in What Every Happened to Baby Jane?
That film is every kind of brilliant.

And finally, do we, does Crawford, does anyone, need to be “rescued from camp?” If he's her self-appointed advocate, that's not working either. Thanks, but no thanks.

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