I don’t usually binge on TV, eating up about a film a day instead. However I sometimes make the odd exception, such as Westworld that I’m excited to return next year. I’ve made a start on the Star Trek spoof – The Orville, which I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well written it is. Not too heavy on the casual comedy whilst still exploring some heavy ideas, not in great detail.
In the last week I have taken in Feud – Bette and Joan based on the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford over 8 episodes. I’m very familiar with the relationship, having made a work based on Shaun Considine’s now much derided book. However a lot of what was in the book has translated to the screen. Focusing on the period before Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) went into production. There was no build of the two actress’s careers. Instead straight into find both Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Davis (Susan Sarandon) as out of work actors waiting for another film to come along. I was expecting a tongue and cheeky bitchy comedy from the two of them. It was funny in places, however I found a rather modern take on the dynamic. Both women portrayed as mature women just wanting to work in an industry that had thrown them on the scrap heap because they aren’t the next big thing any more. The best days of their career are behind them no longer able to ride the wave of that success. At this point Davis had not been Oscar nominated in nearly a decade, resentful that her co-star Anne Baxter beat her to her last worthy win in All About Eve (1950) a case of life imitating art. Whilst Crawford was waiting for another film like Autumn Leaves (1956) to come her way. Both capable of leading a film, just no offers of work or scripts coming their way. The rivalries built up naturally as we get to know them.
I have noticed and come to accept that films and TV that explore the history of Hollywood can be quite prescriptive, feeding facts that we read about as dialogue which can seem forced, however it’s needed to give the film/TV show a strong foundation, to know what we are exploring. The facts become conversation and the quotes become dialogue once more. by episode four I found a feminist leaning come through in the form of Pauline Jameson (Alison Wright) whose a combination of people combined into one role. Robert Aldrich‘s assistant on both Baby Jane and Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) who wanted to be a director in her own right. Offering Crawford a script she wrote and willing to direct. Only to be turned down by Crawford, not on the basis on gender, but that of gender defined roles and perceived ideas of female ability, a product of the 1920’s talking to a more enlightened 1960’s women. Whilst through the duration of the 8 episodes the two legends are just wanting to work, to feel wanted and be relevant in their careers.
With the first half of the series focusing on Baby Jane before the apparent Oscar rigging by Crawford, which is still very much hearsay and conjecture. Before moving onto the troubled second film they started together, which I was looking forward to as no footage exist of Crawford in the film before she fell sick (of Bette Davis). Then both falling either into low budget films and obscurity. It’s a pattern that has repeated it self for years for actresses’ who we see come and go, based not on their talent but box-office draw. A few make a return but not as successful, you have to seek them out in the smaller films that get less exposure. A lot are now turn to TV, which has now become an acceptable place to work for film stars. Hopefully that will change with the harassment scandal that is shaking the industry. Change is slowly happening, emphasis on the slowly. If Feud does anything to change the depiction and position of women in film it shows that change is long overdue and effected even the most celebrated of Hollywood stars.