Friday, February 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Elizabeth!

For those of you who worried that I would end up gaunt from my calorie restriction, never fear. Fat Tuesday to the rescue! I ate bowls (plural) of fabulous vegetarian gumbo, as well as cinnamon rolls slathered with sugar. At this rate, I won't be a fashionably-thin ascetic saint any time soon.

And you all know what day it is!!! YES, it is the birthday of Dead Air's official Goddess, Elizabeth, as we all turn towards Hollywood and bow. (((bows, blows copious kisses))) My gallery of photos from last year is still regularly Googled! I am so proud to add to the pantheon of stunning Liz images! At left, Elizabeth in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). She looks too beautiful for mere words. I have always loved that dress. Most mental patients, as you know, have to wear ugly white hospital gowns, but not our Elizabeth! Montgomery Clift himself brings her pretty dresses while she argues her way out of a lobotomy.

For those unaware, the sister of the play's author, Tennessee Williams, was actually lobotomized in 1943. Her name was Rose, and there is a "rose" reference in virtually every one of his plays (even a play with "rose" in the title, The Rose Tattoo).

Wikipedia notes:

The "mad heroine" theme that appeared in many of his plays seemed clearly influenced by the life of Williams' sister Rose.

Characters in his plays are often seen as representations of his family members. Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was understood to be modeled on Rose. Some biographers believed that the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is also based on her, as well as Williams himself [...] Characters such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer were understood to represent Williams himself. In addition, he used a lobotomy operation as a motif in Suddenly, Last Summer.
Sebastian, in addition, is known unofficially as the "gay saint"--later joked about in the gay-themed play, The Boys in the Band.

From St Sebastian as a gay icon:

Saint Sebastian's appeal to gay men seems obvious. He was young, unmarried, and martyred by the establishment. Many gay writers and artists have taken Saint Sebastian's life and suggested that he may have been gay himself.

Sebastian is portrayed as a patriotic and loyal roman despite his subversive faith. While serving as a Roman soldier he became one of the Emperors favorites. Some stories say that the Emperor Diocletian made romantic advanced upon Sebastian and was enraged when Sebastian rejected him on Christian grounds. Other stories suggest that Sebastian and Diocletian may have had a homosexual relationship.

Imagery of Saint Sebastian has pictured him young, with a strong shirtless physique. He is beautifully receptive to the arrows penetrating his body but he has a look on his face of exquisite pain. Sebastian has become a homoerotically charged image of desire symbolizing isolationism, and persecution of the establishment.

Embracing a subversive faith, he is both strong and brave. Those who have wrestled with psychological demons, issues of sexuality, or have suffered publically can identify with Saint Sebastian. As a healer and patron of plagues, he has been linked with the devastation of AIDS. Catholics derive comfort from his possible representation of their sexuality before God.
I first saw Suddenly, Last Summer as a child, and didn't understand any of it. However, I was utterly terrified by the graphic finale, which I think is still pretty hair-raising, even after all these years. The story appears to mirror Tennessee Williams' own guilt (and possibly Gore Vidal's, author of the screenplay and the one who inserted the freaky images of the boys chasing Sebastian through the unnamed Third-Worldish streets) about paying impoverished young men and boys for sexual favors.

The play is about Sebastian's mother, Violet (Katharine Hepburn), who is attempting to have her niece (Elizabeth) lobotomized by handsome (and also gay) Dr Montgomery Clift. Elizabeth traveled abroad with Sebastian and witnessed his death. Hepburn instructs Clift to "cut this hideous story out of her brain"--one of those lines Williams was famous for... I have thought of it ever since, whenever hearing of lobotomies. (What did they "cut out of their brain"?--I have always wondered.)

At left: Sebastian has purchased a stunning white bathing suit for Elizabeth to wear. In the water it becomes virtually translucent, and she therefore doesn't want to go in. As the boys watch from a fenced-area (to keep the poor locals divided from the rich tourists), Sebastian forces her to go in the water. As always, his face is never shown.

As a kid, I didn't get the sexual references, about how Elizabeth was used as bait to draw the poor local boys to Sebastian (as Violet had been used previously, before growing too old). In the movie flashbacks, Sebastian always wears a white suit, symbolizing his whiteness. And his face is never shown; he stands in for all white men.

In the final harrowing flashback sequence, as Elizabeth narrates, the poor, ragged boys of all ages gather with clanging pots and pans as primitive instruments, making a clattering, scary racket... finally surrounding Sebastian. As a child, I was mesmerized: Why were they so angry with him? What do they want?

He throws money at them.

The boys just stare, unmoved. It is horrifying.

Sebastian runs.

He careens through twisting and turning narrow roads in his immaculate white suit, up, up, up, until he is at the top of a hill and there is nowhere to go. The boys surround Sebastian, and you only see his hand--stretching upward, as if to heaven--as they are on him.

And from Elizabeth's hysterical account, the secret emerges: the boys ate Sebastian alive.

As a 10-year-old, I knew not to ask any older people what any of this weird stuff meant, or why the boys were so pissed off. I knew the adults wouldn't let me watch it again, which I did every time it was on TV, trying to figure out the mystery. And at the age of 15, I finally did. (It wasn't until I was a bit older that I understood the cannibalistic reference.)

But even as a 10-year-old, I knew one thing for sure: I loved Elizabeth!!!!!


And I wish her a Happy Birthday!

Ending with Paul Newman's tribute to Elizabeth at Turner Classic Movies. Features the famous slip from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but unfortunately, not the amazing party dress she wears in A Place in the Sun. (I also loved the sexy-pants outfit in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, one of her Oscar-winning performances... but I can't find any photos of her dancing with George Segal anywhere. Go to approx 2:21 here to watch the scene.) (NOTE: may trigger, etc.)

Feminists will enjoy the verbal bitch-slap of snotty sexist Laurence Harvey at 3:12. (From Butterfield 8, her first Oscar!)

Behold your QUEEN!


Doc Anchovy said...

Sebastian runs? Not far enough.

Bryce said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bryce said...

love clothes in butter field 8-that whole period lookz super hot, but i know u hate mink coats, d.

& thnx 4 editing that out-keep forgetting this isnt facebook

sheila said...

I never saw that movie but it sounds a bit creepy and maybe ahead of it's time alittle? huh. I love watching all those older actresses. It's incredible to see them so young and beautiful and how much acting today and scripts today differ from long ago.

yellowdog granny said...

I saw the movie when I was in my early 20's I think..didn't get it the second time when I was almost 30...I was a tad slow..sheltered gi brat and all..
but i agree...she was the most beautiful woman in the world one can hold a candle to her..I've seen ever movie she was ever in..and wow..cleopatra..her and richard were so hot..hope she's doing some where she was in failing health..but she's such a tough ole broad, expect her to out live us all..