Sunday, 18 March 2018

Lobotomy Room 23 February 2018 at Fontaine's DJ Set List

Attention late night diversion seekers! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly strange dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the Polynesian-style basement Bamboo Lounge of Dalston’s most unique nite spot Fontaine’s! Friday 23 February 2018!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! Bad Music for Bad People! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and other weird shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell. Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Grainy black-and-white vintage erotica projected on the big screen all night for your adult viewing pleasure!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it!

A tawdry good time guaranteed!

February is a cruel month. It’s when revered and sacred Lobotomy Room religious figures Lux Interior (4 February 2009) and Tura Satana (4 February 2011) both died. It’s still deep, desolate winter with seemingly no end in sight. And blimey, both the Lobotomy Room film club and the dance party tanked in February!

/ Above: Lux Interior of The Cramps. Below: Tura Satana /

On dispiriting occasions like these, I try to remember the credo of hard-bitten, nicotine-stained veteran show business harridan Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls. To paraphrase: I’ve got to have a hard core (unlike that pill head Neely O’Hara) and learn to roll with the punches. ‘Cause as a one-man club promoter, believe me, in this business they come left, right and below the belt.

/ Booze party! Wild! Wild! Wild! /

Who knows why hardly anyone rocked up last month? January was buzzing! It could be peoples’ post-Christmas credit card debts started to bite? The cold weather was off-putting? The film club selection on 21 February was John Waters’ camp classic Hairspray (to commemorate its thirtieth anniversary – it was released in February 1988). In the past Waters’ trash epics have ensured full houses (previously we’ve screened Desperate Living and Female Trouble) and we anticipated Hairspray was a sentimental favourite that people would clamour to see on the big screen. Wrong! I wonder if the dreadful 2007 remake with John Travolta has tarnished the original’s reputation. Anyway, watching Hairspray again for the first time in many years I was struck by how sweet, funny, fresh and lovable it still is after all these years. Even if it proved to be an unpopular choice, I’m still glad we marked the occasion of Hairspray turning thirty!

It was a shame so few people came to the monthly Friday night booze party (I mean, dance party) two nights later, as it was one of those nights where the music flowed as effortlessly as snake venom. As well as February representing the anniversary of Lux Interior’s death, it also marked the birthday of The Cramps's eternally inscrutable co-founder and guitarist Poison Ivy (she turned 65 on 20 February 2018). Needless to say, I went heavy on The Cramps’ gravest hits to mark the occasion.

Caribbean Western - Lydia Lunch
Steel Pier - The Impacts
Surf Rat - The Rumblers
Bombora - The Original Surfaris
I Don't Need You No More - The Rumblers
Road Runner - The Fabulous Wailers
I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song) - The Ikettes
Train to Nowhere - The Champs
That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle
Uptown to Harlem - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia
What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
I Love the Life I Live - Esquerita
Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams
Scorpion - The Carnations
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Taboo - The Shangaans
Adult Books - X
Fever - Edith Massey
I'm a Bad, Bad Girl - Little Esther
Little Miss Understood - Connie Stevens
I Wish I Were a Princess - Little Peggy March
Wipe-Out - The Escorts
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Be Bop A Lula - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Forming - The Germs
Garbage Man - The Cramps
Boss - The Rumblers
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
Your Phone's off the Hook - The Ramonetures
Year 1 - X
Cretin Hop - The Ramones
Strychnine - The Sonics
Deuces Wild - Link Wray
Touch the Leather - The Fat White Family
Yellow Submarine - Mrs Miller
How Does that Grab You, Darlin'? - Nancy Sinatra
Wailin' - The Fabulous Wailers
Woo-Hoo - The 5,6,7,8s
Ultra Twist - The Cramps
Twistin' the Night Away - Divine
My Way - Nina Hagen

Upcoming Lobotomy Room dates! 

Next film club is Wednesday 21 March 2018

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s (third Wednesday of every month) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specialising in the kitsch, the cult and the queer!

This month we’re making it extra filthy and depraved – with a tribute to the fabulous Divine! Wednesday 21 March! Formerly known as Harris Glenn Milstead (19 October 1945 – 7 March 1988), Pope of Trash John Waters’ 300-pound drag queen leading lady of choice, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, disco singer, all-round freak diva extraordinaire and eternal role model for misfits everywhere died thirty years ago this month! And we’re commemorating this historic occasion with a screening of the glorious 2014 documentary I Am Divine

Doors to the Polynesian-style basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt. Seating is limited: we can accommodate 30-35 people maximum. Arrive early to grab a seat and order a cocktail! I’ll be blasting Divine’s hi-NRG disco classicks LOUD before the film starts! Dressing up like Divine is highly encouraged and may win you a free cocktail!

Event page

NOTE! There won't be a Lobotomy Room club night last Friday of March because Fontaine's is being reserved for a private party. Instead, we will return on Friday 27 April 2018 with an exciting new cocktail menu! Details to follow.

Further reading:

Follow me on tumblr for all your kitsch, camp, retro vintage sleaze and fifties homoerotica needs!

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Reflections on ... episode 8 of Feud: Bette and Joan

/ Twilight of a queen: Joan Crawford's last-ever photo session, 1976.  Portrait by John Engstead / 

Episode 8 of Feud: You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?

Just some random thoughts, musings and reflections on re-visiting the insanely enjoyable Feud: Bette and Joan (2017) -  Ryan Murphy’s deluxe eight-part TV mini-series covering the rivalry between veteran screen queens Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) - on BBC2. (I originally watched Feud when it was first broadcast by FX in Spring 2017). You can read my earlier ramblings here and here. 

Feud: Bette and Joan truly reaches its zenith with episode eight. By this finale, even the most churlish contrarian would have to admit both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon are completely inhabiting Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. It’s never been just about the physical resemblance, but at times the similarities (how Crawford’s and Davis’ coiffures and wardrobes are painstakingly simulated) are striking. The conclusion is awash with sadness, depicting Crawford and Davis coping with the travails of old age and exploring themes of abandonment, decline and death. It’s also a supreme weepie on a par with, say, Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life. Both times I’ve watched this episode, it’s been through a veil of tears (embarrassingly, I wasn’t alone either time!).

It begins with Pauline (Robert Aldrich’s personal assistant) reminiscing in 1978 about her unexpected chance reunion with Crawford at LaGuardia airport, the final time she ever saw her. “She was wearing a Pepto pink dress and a mask of chalk-white foundation being wheeled through the airport with broken ankles, drunk …” seems a clear reference to the infamous 1968 clip of a frankly tipsy Joan giving an impromptu interview at an airport in a wheelchair. 

From there we cut to New York, 1969, with a wrenchingly melancholic montage of a lonely, noticeably older and frailer Crawford stoically adjusting to straitened circumstances and moving into a smaller and more modest Manhattan high-rise apartment, sound-tracked to “Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” (One caveat when I say “modest”: it’s a beautiful luxe apartment by any standards – but also an undeniable step down from Crawford’s previous Hollywood movie star dream mansion with the grand staircase and swimming pool. By this point, Pepsi had jettisoned Crawford from her lucrative spokeswoman position and her film career never recovered from the Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte debacle).

/ Crawford with Princess Lotus Blossom /

As The New York Times’ Sheila O’Malley notes, “the sequence goes on for some time, one evocative fragment after another, a poignant portrait of a woman slowly turning into a ghost.” We observe Crawford unpacking. Learning to heat quiche in the microwave. Answering fan mail. Eating dinner alone on a tray in front of the TV. (The evening news coverage of the Vietnam war depresses her). Wistfully looking at old photo albums while self-medicating with a tumbler of vodka. Trying and failing to zip herself into a green brocade dress, causing her to cancel lunch plans. Scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees wearing yellow rubber Marigold gloves. Taking possession of a new dog (the female Shiz Tzu Crawford would christen Princess Lotus Blossom – her last pet). Brushing her teeth and spitting vivid red blood into the avocado green sink (Crawford was indeed suffering from periodontal disease at this point). The return of the brusque Mamacita (“I will make myself available to you on a part-time basis”) amidst this relentless solitude comes as a blessed relief. Crawford embraces her tearfully and gratefully.

/ The return of Mamacita /

/ A portrait of Joan: 1959 photo by Eve Arnold /

Lange here has finally adopted the bright auburn hair colour that was mature, late-period Crawford’s trademark. Crawford’s pristine final apartment is also lovingly recreated: the egg yolk yellow, white and green décor (as described in Crawford’s book My Way of Life), with the ultra-kitsch big-eyed and idealized Margaret Keane portrait displayed above the plastic-covered couch.

/ Above: Feud's facsimile of Crawford's living room. Below: the genuine article. I am haunted by the Keane portrait! / 

The blood-spitting leads to a dentist scene. To the young dentist’s horror, Crawford explains that her dental problems are a result of having her six back molars removed years earlier to achieve her signature sunken cheekbones – a supposedly routine Hollywood procedure called “the Buccal”. She refuses his offer of dentures. When he cautions, “At your age you need to worry more about staying healthy than staying photogenic”, Crawford turns steely, snapping, “I’ll stop worrying about how I look when they dip me in formaldehyde.” As Nylon’s Dan Callahan notes, Crawford’s “highfalutin diction is at its frostiest” here.

(I’d long been familiar with the Buccal theory. From Penny Stalling’s gossip-y 1978 book Flesh and Fantasy: “The dramatic transformations that the stars underwent after arriving in Hollywood weren’t always due to lighting or cosmetic tricks. Both Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich had their backmost molars, top and bottom, extracted to create their high-cheekboned beauty.” I remember reading that passage to my mother as a kid and her dismissing it: people routinely get their top and bottom wisdom teeth removed and don’t wind up with killer cheekbones! The painstakingly-researched Concluding Chapter of Crawford blog definitively concludes Crawford never underwent the process)

When Crawford’s agent approaches her with the offer of a low-budget British independent horror film entitled The Missing Link, she jumps at the chance to work again. She’ll be playing a scientist! (“I had dreamed of playing Madame Curie”, Crawford purrs).  Arriving on the set in London for the movie (now re-titled Trog), she’s swiftly disenchanted with how just how threadbare and micro-budgeted this schlocky production is. Her dressing room is a dingy Volkswagen van too low for her stand up in. Her co-star is a wrestler wearing a furry ape mask. Perhaps understandably, we see Crawford washing-down pills with a slug from her vodka flask. It’s a degrading conclusion to Crawford’s distinguished film career. Lange movingly demonstrates Crawford’s valiant attempts to maintain her battered dignity and ladylike deportment.

/ Above: Crawford seeing her leading man in Trog for the first time / 

/ “I love people. I’ve been asked if I ever go around in disguise. Never! I think disguise is corny. If you’ve earned a position, be proud of it. Don’t hide it. I want to be recognized. When I hear people say, “There’s Joan Crawford!” I turn around and say, “Hi! How are you?” From My Way of Life (1972), Crawford’s ultra-kitsch, wildly impractical lifestyle manual on how to be a gracious, serene and enchanting wife, hostess and career bitch / 

I’m not sure about the veracity of the time frame, but Feud conflates the filming of Trog with Crawford dictating My Way of Life (her berserk 1971 volume of lifestyle, hostessing and beauty tips) into a tape recorder. Feud’s musical selections were frequently inspired: here the sense of doom is underlined with Jim Morrison of The Doors crooning the dirge-like “The End” while Crawford intones platitudes like “I mistrust people who don’t like animals” and “All the beauty products in the world can’t disguise a disagreeable expression”, the upbeat message painfully contrasted with her actual circumstances. In one spellbinding sequence, we see Crawford alone on the deserted set of Trog at night, pacing back and forth and seemingly in a trance. When she silently tries on Trog’s gorilla mask, the effect is eerie and sad. This is Joan Crawford unraveling.

/ The loving recreations of scenes from Trog. I've only ever seen Trog once - but that was at a special screening introduced by John Waters himself at The British Film Institute in 2015! And he interviewed the wrestler Joe Cornelius (Trog himself! The man behind the gorilla mask!) onstage. Read about it here /

The mortification continues at a book signing session to promote My Way of Life, when it becomes evident that a bratty and irreverent new generation of younger fans (especially the queer ones) have derisively embraced Crawford as a camp figure of fun. In an earlier episode of Feud, Davis had told Victor Buono that she was flattered when drag queens impersonated her in their nightclub acts. Crawford here sees that for an ageing diva, being a gay icon is a decidedly mixed blessing (just ask Tallulah Bankhead).  Always hyper-alert to any sign of ridicule, Crawford hisses, “These people aren’t buying the book for my advice. They’re buying it to mock me.” She’s haughtily affronted when a kittenish blond twink asks her to autograph a Baby Jane photo. Why did it have to be that film, she demands. He tries to backpedal by saying he loves What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? because Blanche and Jane are “survivors.” Crawford abruptly stands up and storms out, trailed by Mamacita: “What do you know about survival?”

Later, Crawford is crestfallen when she sees an unflattering paparazzi pic of herself with Rosalind Russell in the newspaper: “Is that really how I look? Then they’ve seen the last of me”.  (This incident genuinely happened: Crawford had hosted a party in honour of her friend Russell at New York’s Rainbow Room in 1974. It was indeed her last public appearance). Over the phone she instructs her manager to take her name off the books: no more film appearances. “I’m done.” Crawford would withdraw from public life, remaining a recluse until her 1977 death.

Bette Davis, meanwhile is still acting, but struggling and in inexorable decline. Having lowered her standards to keep employed, Davis’ career is reduced to making mediocre, unsuccessful TV pilots that don’t get picked-up. Sarandon is frankly magnificent as the abrasive, raspy-voiced, chain-smoking and imperious monstre sacree Davis, complete with the 1970s tunics, turtle-neck sweaters and big owlish smoked-brown spectacles. This dragon lady incarnation of Davis is the one I remember from TV interviews growing up.

/ Roger Ebert recalling his interview with Davis just before her death: "In the grand style of a movie queen holding court, Miss Davis delivers pronouncements. She speaks in periods and exclamation points, punching out brief, emphatic statements. When she talks, she is always listening to herself talking, constantly monitoring and editing herself, like an actress directing her own performance." Sarandon absolutely captures this terse, theatrical quality. /

/ Bette Davis' 1973 celebrity roast (above) and Feud's recreation (below) /

Davis furiously rages to Victor Buono (Feud portrays him as Davis’ primary confidant) that Kate Hepburn is scoring all the choice roles for older actresses, while she’s left with the humiliating scraps. She then recounts a painful anecdote: Life magazine had recently invited Hepburn to pose with Davis for a special dual portrait – and Hepburn refused. Davis was stung by the rejection – and the realization that Hepburn felt superior to her (“Am I not every bit her equal?” she rails, blinking back tears). In an ideal world, the experience should have given Davis some insight into how she’d made Crawford feel in the past. There’s nothing to indicate Davis made that connection. (By the way: in real life the proposed Davis-Hepburn Life photo shoot was later than Feud implies. It happened in the eighties, not the seventies).

In a previous blog post, I erroneously claimed that Feud repeatedly shows Crawford visiting elite Hollywood cocktail bar and restaurant Perino’s but not Davis, even though in real life Davis was a regular there. I stand corrected! Episode 8 shows a strained and miserable reunion between Davis and her daughter BD in a booth at Perino’s. In a foreshadowing of BD Hyman’s 1985 tell-all book My Mother's Keeper, the frankly-disapproving BD instructs Davis she can longer see her grandchildren without “supervision” and that she needs to address her “drinking problem.” Davis is aghast: “Since when do you think I'm a drunk?” “You’re sitting right there with a margarita,” BD replies, “At 11 am!”

Further evidence of Davis’ dissipation is provided next with a doctor’s appointment that echoes Crawford’s dentist scene. Sarandon had earlier looked too glamorous as 1960s Davis: here she is properly haggard, unflatteringly bewigged, complete with a hacking cough and wheezing asthmatic laugh. The decades of heavy chain-smoking have caught up with her (Davis famously smoked up to a hundred cigarettes a day).  The sympathetic female doctor implores her to quit, to go into rehab. “I’m off booze. I can’t give up smoking. They’re my only friends.” (If cigarettes are your “only friends”, you urgently need to reassess your life). Davis is smoking openly in her doctor’s office during her check-up in this sequence, which is no exaggeration. Vanity Fair has described how in real life Davis would even light up at the dentist’s – she was far too scary to be stopped. (Thank god she didn’t live to see the smoking ban). Feud seemingly suggests Davis’ brand of choice was Lucky Strikes. In fact, she smoked Vanguards. (Crawford smoked Alpines. I assume both brands are now long-defunct?). 

Davis has an awful experience making a made-for-TV biopic about Depression-era evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson starring the notoriously temperamental Faye Dunaway. (The Disappearance of Aimee, 1976). By all accounts the two women clashed. Davis had long wished to portray “Sister Aimee” herself. By the 1970s, she was reduced to playing McPherson’s mother in a secondary role. By comparison, even Davis has to begrudgingly admit that Dunaway’s chronic lateness and tantrums make Crawford seem like an easy-going paragon of virtue.

When Buono tells Davis that Crawford is dying of cancer, she tries to make light of it with a flippant joke: “Cancer isn’t going to kill Joan. She’s a cockroach just like me.” The perceptive Buono points out, “She may be the only person in the entire world who really knows how you feel right now.” Later, we see Davis phone Crawford, but chicken-out and hang up without speaking when Crawford answers. This incident is probably Feud’s invention, but Sarandon’s darting, expressive eyes are genuinely heartbreaking.

/ "This is Joan Crawford speaking ..." /

One of Crawford’s adopted twin daughters (Cathy) visits with her children. Crawford is relaxed about her grandchildren rough-housing in her immaculate apartment: in this regard at least, the control freak has finally mellowed in old age. Cathy cautiously refers to the rumoured book in the pipeline by Crawford’s estranged older adopted daughter, Christina. It’s fascinating to think Crawford already knew about the existence of Mommie Dearest prior to her death. Crawford acknowledges she already knows the book is “alleging the most vile things” and admits she was hard on Christina growing up: “I only wanted her to appreciate her advantages.” (This is one more thing Crawford and Davis shared: their daughters both wrote explosive “misery memoirs” about their mothers). Then comes one of Jessica Lange’s finest moments: in a hopeful tone, she hesitantly asks Cathy, “Do they think of me as their real grandmother?” When Cathy replies, “Of course”, Lange’s eyes brim with tears of gratitude and relief

For many viewers, the dream-like sequence that follows – the dying Crawford’s hallucinatory “party scene” – represents Feud’s artistic pinnacle. Sound-tracked to the The Flamingos’ doo-wop classic “I Only Have Eyes for You”, Crawford stumbles from her bed late at night into the living room and is suddenly reunited with the specters of her chief tormentors: Hedda Hopper, Jack Warner and Bette Davis, looking exactly as they did in the early 1960s. They are formally dressed and playing cards by candle light, wielding cigarettes and martinis. Walking into the frame, Crawford herself is suddenly transformed from grey-haired ailing crone in a nightie into a glamorous decades-younger manifestation of herself sheathed in a satin gown. Davis – back in Margo Channing mode – is unexpectedly sympathetic towards her. “Tell them what they did to you, Joan.”  Crawford responds with a regretful, heartbreaking soliloquy about the emotional cost of her devotion to movie stardom. “I suppose I felt like I always had to be “on”. If someone caught a glimpse of the girl beneath the movie star – poof! – I’d go back to the sad little wretch I’d been. I spent my whole life being Joan Crawford. A woman I created for others. I don’t know who I am when I’m by myself.”

Warner and Hopper vanish, leaving Davis and Crawford alone. “Why am I so happy to see you?” Crawford marvels. “Nostalgia,” Davis replies. In a bit of wish fulfillment, the duo finally manages to bond and have the conversation they always should have had. They apologize to each other, Davis telling Crawford, “I wish I’d been a friend to you.” Crawford’s face (well, Lange’s face) glows with undisguised pleasure. “It’s not too late!” Crawford exclaims. But it is. She calls for Mamacita to bring a celebratory bottle of champagne for them to share. The arrival of the actual Mamacita snaps Crawford out of her reverie. (“There’s no one else here – it’s just you and I”). It had all been a dream; Crawford is a grey-haired wraith again. Crawford died one week later. Mamacita tells the documentary filmmaker of her sadness that Crawford’s funeral was full and star-studded, but when she’d been alive “when she needed them most, no one was there.”

A journalist phones Davis for her comment on Crawford’s death. Davis famously responds, “My mother always said don’t say anything bad about the dead. Only say good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.” It’s a pithy – if heartless - quote which will look snappy in print, but once Davis hangs up, Sarandon’s eyes are filled with remorse. (Davis herself would die in 1989).

We next see Davis visiting her disabled daughter Margo in the institution. Combing the silent Margo’s hair, the hard-boiled Davis seems able to let down her defenses and admit to loneliness and hurt. She describes the handsome young artist Don Bachardy drawing her portrait. Davis attempts to flirt with him. Bachardy tells her he’s gay (in real life he was Christopher Isherwood’s long-term boyfriend). She’s further dejected to see how aged she looks in his unsparing drawing. It’s a reminder: that’s not just what she looks like, that’s how he sees her. “Yep. That’s the old bag,” Davis sighs.

/ Above: Don Bachardy's sketch of Davis. Interestingly, he also did Crawford's portrait too /

Even worse, Davis has discovered a cache of her late mother’s old letters to a friend. The contents are deeply wounding, making Davis question her mother’s love. She’d written that “that I was a queen bee – that I was selfish and a pain and a chore. “

Finally, the action catches up to the present day: the Oscars ceremony in 1978, where Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell have been being interviewed by the documentary filmmakers. Backstage, Davis, de Havilland and Blondell silently watch Crawford honoured as one of the Hollywood luminaries who’d died that year. Sarandon’s face is a mask of mixed emotions. When the documentarian asks Davis to speak for his film, she refuses.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the action cuts from 1978 back to 1961 and the first day of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’s production. It feels like an alternate universe where Crawford and Davis are relaxed and at ease together, laughing on the set in their canvas director’s chairs. Picking up her knitting, Crawford tells Davis, “Here’s what I really hope from this picture when all is said and done. I hope I’ve made a new friend.” Smiling, Davis replies, “Me too.” It’s a glimpse of what could have been.

Feud wasn’t perfect: it frequently laid-on its arguments about Davis and Crawford as casualties of Hollywood’s sexism and ageism with a trowel. The unconvincing 1978-set "present day" scenes with Oliva de Havilland and Joan Blondell being interviewed by a documentary crew existed purely to provide exposition. (Just think: if Murphy had skipped those, he wouldn’t now be facing Olivia de Havilland’s lawsuit!). And the central thesis that Crawford and Davis’ enmity was somehow manipulated by outside forces rings false. Both were fiercely competitive, temperamental and prickly and both had lengthy histories of clashing with directors and co-stars long before they worked together in the sixties. Think of Davis' skirmishes with Errol Flynn and especially Miriam Hopkins in the thirties and forties (not to mention Faye Dunaway in the seventies). Or Crawford with Norma Shearer in the thirties or Mercedes McCambridge during the making of Johnny Guitar.  Of course, once they encountered each other, there would be an inevitable struggle for dominance. Feuding was in their DNA!

With all due regards to Bette Davis and Susan Sarandon, perhaps Feud’s greatest legacy is the restoration of Joan Crawford’s image. (Davis never required any rehabilitation in the first place). Without ever sugar-coating her wrath, her neuroses or her messy alcoholism, the collaboration of Ryan Murphy and Jessica Lange humanized Crawford, presenting her as a deeply flawed but compelling anti-heroine, and hopefully banishing the shoulder-padded, wire hanger-wielding Mommie Dearest caricature forever. In Feud, we see a Crawford who lived with an unswerving commitment to glamour, almost militaristic in its discipline. That devotion to artifice and appearance can make someone appear foolish, tragic, make you catnip to gays and ensure you kitsch cult status. But there’s also something noble – even heroic - about it.

At its best, with its powerful and complex female protagonists, conflicts, confrontations, torrents of emotional torment and lush jewel-toned look, Feud invoked the same deeply satisfying, cathartic vein of melodrama as Crawford’s and Davis’ own Golden Age Hollywood “women’s pictures.” As Dan Callahan in Nylon concluded, “surely on that honest tearjerker level, Feud: Bette and Joan is a series that Bette and Joan themselves would have appreciated.”

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Lobotomy Room 26 January 2018 at Fontaine's DJ Set List

From the Facebook event page:

Attention late night diversion seekers! Revel in sleaze, voodoo and rock’n’roll - when incredibly strange dance party Lobotomy Room returns to the Polynesian-style basement Bamboo Lounge of Dalston’s most unique nite spot Fontaine’s! Friday 26 January 2018!

Lobotomy Room! Where sin lives! A punkabilly booze party! Sensual and depraved! A spectacle of decadence! Bad Music for Bad People! A Mondo Trasho evening of Beat, Beat Beatsville Beatnik Rock’n’Roll! Rockabilly Psychosis! Wailing Rhythm and Blues! Twisted Tittyshakers! Punk cretin hops! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! Curiosities and other weird shit! Think John Waters soundtracks, or Songs the Cramps Taught Us, hosted by Graham Russell (of Dr Sketchy and Cockabilly notoriety). Expect desperate stabs from the jukebox jungle! Savage rhythms to make you writhe and rock! Grainy black-and-white vintage erotica projected on the big screen all night for your adult viewing pleasure!

Admission: gratuit - that’s French for FREE!

Lobotomy Room: Faster. Further. Filthier.

It’s sleazy. It’s grubby. It’s trashy - you’ll love it!

A tawdry good time guaranteed! 

Gratifyingly, the first Lobotomy Room of 2018 pulled a decent crowd. This was especially heartening considering the prudes at Facebook completely banned me from advertising the January club. As regular readers may know, I wind up a-fussin’ and a-feudin’ with our corporate social network overlords on regular monthly basis. Unfortunately, in 2018, if you’re a club promoter you can’t not pay Facebook to “boost” your events – it’s how you reach new “cold” people. And unfortunately, they routinely reject my ads on the most spurious basis. This time, the Facebook advertising team claimed they were rejecting my January ad because they’d found nudity on my “landing page.” I challenged them: find me the nudity (which I was 100% confident was non-existent) and I’ll delete it.  Hours later, someone eventually emailed me back with a screen grab of the offending nudity -  and it was something I never could have anticipated. It was the official Fontaine’s logo – an Art Deco-style illustration of two 1920s flappers! Which had been prominently displayed on Fontaine’s Facebook page since at least 2015! And yeah, strictly speaking they are topless (but they are also wearing pasties. And they’re not real!). In his email, the Facebook representative emphasized that all depictions suggesting nudity are forbidden under all circumstances: whether it's medical, historical, artistic or even of an ancient statute! The biggest perverts of all must work for Facebook – they see sexually explicit imagery everywhere they look!  Anyway, it was on Fontaine’s Facebook page so there was nothing I could do about it.  (If it was my own Lobotomy Room page, I could have deleted it). All I could do was shrug, move on and hope for the best. And for whatever reason, we wound up with a relatively full house without any of Facebook’s assistance. Phew!

/ NSFW alert! Shield your eyes! /

While I’m on the subject: Facebook will routinely block your ad if they decide it “Refer(s) to the viewers’ sexual orientation” because in their twisted perspective, that can only be a derogatory thing.  My ultra-kitschy and campy events – the film club and the dance party – both primarily appeal to a queer audience but I’m barred from actively referencing that or targeting them in my Facebook ads. The statistics of my attendees are 70% female and 30% male and within that many of my regulars fall somewhere within the LGBTQ spectrum. Intentionally or not, Facebook’s policy winds up being frankly homophobic and presents a genuine dilemma for anyone trying to promote a queer-centric event! 

I endeavour to make every Lobotomy Room club a shimmering journey through decadence, but this month was particularly hedonistic: we had some genuine swingers in attendance!  It turns out one of the male attendees was celebrating his birthday – and his very accommodating and open-minded girlfriend was fulfilling his birthday wish by assembling (via Craigslist? I may have misheard!)  his own harem of female playmates for an orgy! Their erotic swinger’s party was apparently scheduled for the following night – Friday was their getting-to-know-each-other-first ice breaker.  The ice was certainly broken! Every time I glanced up from the DJ booth, there was girl-on-girl action and uninhibited “dirty dancing” (one of the girls was a young Joey Heatherton-type!).  Sleazy does it – that’s the Lobotomy Room way!

The 60th annual Grammy Awards fell on 28 January 2018 (two nights after Lobotomy Room), and the regal 78-year old Bold Soul Sister Tina Turner received a Lifetime Achievement Award. I revere Turner as the undisputed tigress of rhythm and blues – especially in her early 1960s manifestation as the fierce frontwoman of the Ike and Tina Turner revue. Looking at this photo, you can see why John Waters and Divine embraced Tina as a role model. She clearly knew a thing or two about liquid eyeliner! As ever, I played multiple tunes by Ike and Tina Turner at Lobotomy Room.

Meanwhile, the night before Lobotomy Room (25 January) represented the birthday of another glorious rhythm and blues diva – the irrepressible, blonde and bountiful Etta James (25 January 1938 - 20 January 2012). I played her 1955 classic “Roll with Me, Henry”. I love R&B bad girl James’ outrageous, drag queen-y 1960s look (platinum blonde bouffant wigs, thick black Cleopatra eyeliner). This is a good excuse to post a pin-up of her. 

Steel Pier - The Impacts
Three Cool Chicks - The 5,6,7,8s
I Live the Life I Love - Esquerita
I Don't Need You No More - The Rumblers
Kismiaz - The Cramps
Vesuvius - The Revels
Mau Mau - The Fabulous Wailers
Little Darlin' - Masaaki Hirao
You Sure Know How to Hurt Someone - Ann-Margret
Bang Bang - Betty Chung
Fever - The McCoys
Scorpio - The Carnations
How Much Love Can One Heart Hold - Joe Perkins and The Rookies
I Want Your Love - The Cruisers
The Raging Sea - Gene Maltais
Scratching on My Screen - Ric Cartey
Fever - Edith Massey
It's a Gas - The Rumblers
Adult Books - X
Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
Atomic Bongos - Lydia Lunch
Forming - The Germs
Vampira - The Misfits
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Save It - Mel Robbins
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
Crawfish - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner
Punks Get off the Grass - Edith Massey
Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad - Tammy Wynette
Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson
Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Roll with Me Henry - Etta James
Lucille - Masaaki Hirao
Fever - Nancy Sit
I Would if I Only Kid - Ruth Brown
The Swag - Link Wray
Let's Go Baby - Billy Eldridge
Your Phone's Off the Hook - The Ramonetures
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
Margaya - The Fender Four
Wipe- Out - The Surf-aris
Surf Rat - The Rumblers
Treat Me Right - Mae West
Woo-Hoo - The 5,6,7,8s
These Boots Are Made for Walkin' - Mrs Miller
How Does That Grab You Darlin'? Nancy Sinatra
Harley Davidson - Brigitte Bardot
Gostaria de Saber (River Deep, Mountain High) - Wanderlea
My Baby Does the Hanky Panky - Rita Chao and The Quests
Peter Gunn Twist - The Jesters
Peter Gunn Locomotion - The Delmonas
Gunnin' for Peter - The Fabulous Wailers
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Hallyday
Twistin' the Night Away - Divine
Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey
Under My Thumb - Tina Turner
Johnny Are You Queer? Josie Cotton
What's Wrong with Me? X
Media Blitz - The Germs
Bikini Girls with Machine Guns - The Cramps
Viva Las Vegas - Nina Hagen
Somethin' Else - Sid Vicious
Funnel of Love - Wanda Jackson
Wild, Wild Party - Charlie Feathers
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
That Makes It - Jayne Mansfield
Love Me - The Phantom
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Breathless - X
Be Bop A Lula - Alan Vega
Bop Pills - Macy Skip Skipper
I Wanna Be Sedated - The Ramonetures
Teenage Lobotomy - The Ramones
Heartbreak Hotel - Buddy Love
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Action Packed - Ronnie Dee
Rockin' Bones - Ronnie Dawson
Boss - The Rumblers
Can Your Pussy Do the Dog? The Cramps
Boys Are Boys and Girls Are Choice - The Monks
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
Shortnin' Bread - The Readymen
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Two Headed Sex Change - The Cramps
Cry-Baby - The Honey Sisters
Dames, Booze, Chains and Boots - The Cramps
Esquerita and The Voola - Esquerita
Dragon Walk - The Noblemen
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
He's the One - Ike and Tina Turner
Commanche - The Revels
Shakin' All Over - Johnny Kidd and The Pirates
Beat Girl - Zz en der Maskers
You Turn Me On - Mae West
Let's Spend the Night Together - Tina Turner
My Way - Nina Hagen

Upcoming Lobotomy Room dates for your social calendar!

Calling all hair-hoppers! Grab that can of Aqua Net and get teasing! Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s (third Wednesday of every month) devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specialising in the kitsch, the cult and the queer! Rat-up your hair like a teenage Jezebel and apply a thick layer of frosted white lipstick on Wednesday 21 February 2018 when Lobotomy Room commemorates the 30th anniversary of one of John Water’s best-loved movies – Hairspray! (The film premiered in Baltimore on 16 February 1988 and went into general release on 26 February). Rest assured we’re showing the original definitive camp classic starring Divine, Deborah Harry and Ricki Lake – most definitely NOT the 2007 abomination with John Travolta! So learn how to frug and Watusi and come see Hairspray, described by Rolling Stone as “a family movie both the Bradys and the Mansons could adore!" It promises to be a night of hair-raising fun!

Doors to the Polynesian-style basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt. Seating is limited: we can accommodate 30-35 people maximum. Arrive early to grab a seat and order a cocktail!

Event page

And the next Lobotomy Room dance party is Friday 23 February!

Event page

Further reading:

Follow me on tumblr for all your kitsch, camp, retro vintage sleaze and fifties homoerotica needs!

Follow me on twitter!

"Like" and follow the official Lobotomy Room page on Facebook if you dare! 

Friday, 26 January 2018

Reflections on ... episodes 5 - 7 of Feud: Bette and Joan

Just some random thoughts, musings and reflections on re-visiting episodes 5-7 of the insanely enjoyable Feud: Bette and Joan (2017) -  Ryan Murphy’s deluxe eight-part TV mini-series covering the rivalry between veteran screen queens Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (above) during the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) - on BBC2. (I originally watched Feud when it was first broadcast by FX in Spring 2017). I wrote about episodes 1-4 here.

Stuff I forgot to mention last time:

The clear plastic protective coverings on all the furniture chez Crawford was no exaggeration (see below. Note the portrait by Margaret Keane). 

Speaking of which: the Crawford Hollywood mansion depicted in Feud is based on her actual home in Brentwood (the same one featured in Mommie Dearest), but considerable artistic license has been taken. By the time the action in Feud begins in 1961, Crawford no longer lived there: she had re-located to New York by then. But it’s understandable Murphy scrambled the timeline and wanted to revive the Brentwood residence to starkly contrast Crawford’s ostentatious and opulent movie star lifestyle with Bette’s earthier, more modest and spartan New England-style domesticity.  And the décor is not slavishly faithful: Feud's brilliant art director Judy Becker has said it’s a composite of several different Crawford homes from over the years. That artificial pink cherry tree, for example, was from the luxurious Manhattan apartment Crawford shared with her Pepsi mogul husband Al Steele, not her Hollywood home. Read more here.

/ This is the closest, best view of that portrait I could find /

/ That cherry tree. The plastic on the sofas is visible here, too  /

Ryan Murphy and Susan Sarandon’s conception of Bette Davis is deeply rooted in the character of Margo Channing, the temperamental chain-smoking stage diva Davis played in All About Eve (1950). In a deliberate evocation, we repeatedly see Sarandon chain-smoking while seated in front her dressing room make-up mirror, clad in a wig-cap and dressing gown, either putting on or removing make-up, just like Davis as Margo.

I love it that when Crawford needs to make a phone call, she removes her clip-on earring first.

Episode 5: And The Winner Is … (The Oscars of 1963)

“Mr Cory, Joan Crawford's headed this way and she's not slowing down." /

Episode 4 concluded with a blood-curdling horror movie scream: Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) had just learned that her nemesis, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? co-star Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar - and she wasn’t! Episode 5 covers the 1963 Academy Awards ceremony where the vengeful Crawford – simmering with rage and jealousy – machinated behind the scenes to ensure she still managed to exultantly upstage Davis on the big night anyway.

Quick reminder: the 1963 best actress nominees were Bette Davis for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Geraldine Page for Sweet Bird of Youth, Lee Remick for Days of Wine and Roses, Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker, and Katharine Hepburn for Long Days Journey Into Night.

Part of Crawford’s anti-Bette Davis campaign is to appeal to the other Best Actress nominees like Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft, asking if she can accept the award onstage on their behalf.  (She targets these two in particular because they're currently acting onstage in plays in New York). When the perceptive Bancroft (Serinda Swan) inquires, “Will this make you happy?” Crawford’s tensely-composed demeanor suddenly melts with gratitude.  She’s clearly unused to kindness without an agenda. “Desperately”, Lange exhales, eyes glittering with suppressed tears.

Crawford is encouraged in her scheming by toxic gossip column doyenne Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis). Scenes between Lange and Davis are always deliciously bitchy. Note the frankly homophobic distaste when Hopper dismisses Katherine Hepburn with a shudder (“Her and those slacks”).

A highlight: the segment of Crawford’s beauty preparations for the night, with an entire cadre of hair, wardrobe and make-up people trooping into her mansion and up that sensational staircase. (Her stern German maid Mamacita instructs them not to address Ms Crawford directly unless she speaks to them first). Crawford was a vision in head-to-toe sparkling silver at that Oscar ceremony (the beaded dress was by Edith Head). The last-minute crowning touch was a dusting of glittery silver powder on her hair. For this stage, Lange clamped a protective clear Perspex mask over her face: a wonderfully kitsch, bizarre touch.

/ Buy your own hair spray mask for just $2.98! /

Before she departs, veteran director and long-time confidante George Cukor visits and attempts to discourage Crawford, warning she risks appearing petty and vindictive. “Joanie, you’re better than this.” Crawford ruefully admits, “No - I’m not.” As Feud amply demonstrates, one of Crawford’s great self-defeating weaknesses – perhaps her Shakespearean tragic flaw - is an inability to forgive a slight, whether real or imagined. (That was true of Davis as well).

Other highlights: Crawford to the teenage Patty Duke (miniature chihuahua in her handbag) backstage: “An Oscar winner at 17… the only way to go is down!” The long sequence of Crawford leading David Lean through the entire backstage maze of the auditorium, in a completely uncut fluid shot. A bravura display of dazzling film-making by Ryan Murphy worthy of comparison to the similar scene with Ray Liotta in Martin Scorses’s Goodfellas (1990).

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland is reminded that she had a showdown of her own at The Academy Awards – with her sister Joan Fontaine in 1947. The sisters were famously competitive and prickly with each other. There is an infamous photo of Best Actress winner de Havilland, clutching her statuette, deliberately “blanking” Fontaine when she attempts to congratulate her. “I wasn’t turning my back on my sister in that photo,” de Havilland insists. “I just didn’t see that she was there.”

Weirdly, Davis herself feels sidelined in this episode. Even though she is the Oscar nominee, Crawford’s story-line feels more urgent. Coincidentally, both Davis and Crawford wore gowns by Edith Head to the 1963 Oscar ceremony. Proof of Davis’ total indifference to her appearance – a friend of hers claims Davis accidentally wore her dress backwards that night! Read his account here.

In the end, Bancroft wins the Best Actress Academy Award and as arranged, a regal and serene Crawford stubs out her cigarette in the wings and strides onto the stage to accept in her absence, while an aghast Davis watches open-mouthed in defeat. Radiant and triumphant in the spotlight, Crawford even poses for photos with the night’s Academy Award winners as if she had indeed won an Oscar herself. In her reliably excellent analysis of each episode of Feud, The New York Times’ Sheila O’Malley concludes “Lange sweeping onto that stage, (is) a moment that does what it is supposed to do: remind you of who Crawford was, the scope of her career, her pain, her craziness, her dogged refusal to “go gentle” into any night, good or otherwise. Lange makes us understand why.” The equally shrewd Dan Callahan in Nylon: “Lange is the most Joan-like she has ever been in this episode and really emphasizes Crawford’s physical rigidity, her piss-elegant diction, her frosty warrior surface, and the insecurities and pain roiling away underneath it.”

/  The actual Crawford with Gregory Peck (winner of Best Actor for To Kill a Mockingbird)  /

But the episode ends on a downbeat “Was it worth it?” note: an abject Crawford alone at home in her bedroom, positions Bancroft’s Oscar next to her own (the one she won in 1946 for Mildred Pierce) and contemplates them blankly. As Crawford will soon learn, her “victory” has been Pyrrhic and her life and career are both beginning to circle the drain.

Episode 6: Hagsploitation

The episode opens with a loving recreation of the trailer for 1964 el cheapo horror movie Strait-Jacket (“Strait-Jacket! It slices through the limits of suspense!” “Strait-Jacket may go beyond the limits of your ability to endure suspense!”), then cuts to a screening of the film introduced onstage by director William Castle himself to a cinema full of rowdy adolescents. An inter-title alerts us the location is Woodward, Oklahoma. In real life, Castle – the b-movie “King of the Gimmicks” – and leading lady Crawford did indeed tour cinemas nation-wide promoting the film. (In Feud, Crawford describes it as a “goddamned Lizzie Borden routine.” Davis dismissively calls it “her cow town carnie act”).

In a stroke of ingenious hip casting Castle is played by cult filmmaker and peoples’ pervert John Waters.  (Waters has always been voluble about Castle as one of his most beloved original filmmaking influences. The chapter “Whatever Happened to Showmanship?” in his book Crackpot is devoted to Castle). Noting an abandoned strait-jacket on the floor, Castle hammily warns the audience “Don’t panic - but a mad woman is loose in this theatre!” Crawford – resplendent in a blood-red gown and wielding a toy ax – emerges and walks down the aisle as the teenage hooligan audience pelts her with popcorn. Lange nails Crawford’s cocktail of mixed emotions as her face flickers with gracious smiles, irritation and embarrassment, all while striving to maintain her refined hauteur. She’s further enraged when an assortment of pin-up cuties dressed as sexy nurses materialize from the wings with cardboard hatchets. “What the hell is this? You said no more gimmicks!” Castle hisses, “Well do you want a hit, Joan? Or don’t you?” (Feud depicts this Strait-Jacket promotional tour as a source of mortification for Crawford. Others have recalled that Crawford enjoyed the opportunity to revel in attention and meet her public).

/ Like a loving reproduction of an old master: (above) the original Strait-Jacket. Below: Feud's recreation /

/ Above: Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket /

/ Crawford promoting Strait-Jacket /

We next see Crawford returning home, booze-sodden and bickering with the long-suffering Mamacita. (“You’re a servant, don’t ever forget that!”).  In a sudden spasm of alcoholic self-loathing and frustration, Crawford smashes a bowl of chrysanthemums (a gift from George Cukor!) against the wall, narrowly missing Mamacita, who threatens to leave her. (“You’re crazy!”). The scene concludes with a Sirkian shot of Crawford – trembling, distraught and alone - self-medicating with a tumbler of vodka while her serenely beautiful, idealized oil portrait observes from above the mantelpiece.

As this episode reveals, the box-office success of Baby Jane has seemingly changed the fortunes of no one involved. Crawford, Davis, Jack Warner, Robert Aldrich and Hedda Hopper are all reaching the end, unfulfilled and resentful. “I’m in the twilight of my days,” Warner confesses to Aldrich. But it’s worse for Crawford and Davis: “If it’s twilight for us, it’s midnight for them.”

This episode explores the genesis of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1965). Jack Warner has noticed the sudden spate of “hag” films post-Baby Jane. “Degradation! You take some movie queen of yore who was once too be beautiful to screw us and you make her suffer. Tearing down your idols – it’s very satisfying for an audience.” He’s determined to reassemble the key figures again for What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? (the movie’s working title). “Every studio is struggling to find their own hag horror picture. And we’ve got the two original hags!” Warner roars. “Get those two harpies’ signatures on the dotted line!” Aldrich is horrified at the prospect of working with Crawford and Davis again. And they are resistant to the idea too. Aldrich trying to explain to reluctant Crawford why Charlotte will be different from Jane: “This time you will kill the cleaning lady!” After taking endless abuse from Warner, Aldrich gets the last laugh and takes Charlotte to Darryl F Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox instead. 

In a subplot, we learn Crawford is being blackmailed with the threat of a revelation of stag films she made as a struggling young actress in the 1920s. And Hedda Hopper knows about it. Hopper visits to disclose she’s recently suffered a heart attack and that the brush with mortality has made her reflect on her life’s achievements. She muses on the careers she’s destroyed: “the Reds, the queers, the whores, the cheaters and dope-heads …” Just when you expect her to express remorse, Hopper concludes “And I felt … good! That I contributed to our moral economy!” (A great moment for Judy Davis). In fact, Hopper is there because she’s been tipped off about the rumored “blue movies” and wants the exclusive – exposing the self-serving flimsiness of her “friendship” with Crawford. “The perfect final scoop for my readers!” When Crawford refuses, Hopper threatens, “Just remember – it’s always better to cooperate.”

And Crawford’s blackmailer turns out to be – her parasitic older brother Hal. She visits him at the low-rent hotel where he works as a desk clerk, buying his silence with some dirty, dirty bribe money. (He’s been liaising with gossip columnist Louella Parsons – Hopper’s arch rival. Ryan Murphy could do a whole other series on the decades-long feud between Hopper and Parsons). The reptilian Hal calls Crawford “Billie”. (Lucille, Billie, Joanie, Crawfish – she’s a woman of many aliases). “Miss big, fat movie star!” he hisses at her – the same insult Jane Hudson hurls at Blanche in Baby Jane. “I just want you to remember where you came from, Billie – and how lucky you are!” Imperiously clicking on her movie diva sunglasses and striding out, Crawford growls, “I have never been lucky.” Their exchange hints at the impoverished horror of her early life and how it informs Crawford’s present-day behavior.

By the way: the Joan Crawford stag films are almost certainly apocryphal. Certainly, no trace of them has ever surfaced over the decades. In his 1984 book Hollywood Babylon II, the not-exactly-reliable Kenneth Anger includes a few naughty postcard-style shots of a woman who resembles a young flapper-era Crawford in various stages of undress (in one, in a lesbian clinch with another woman). But that’s as close as it gets. During the initial transmission of Feud, Vanity Fair magazine ran a regular online “fact-checking” feature. One article was devoted to the stag film urban myth and it cited as sources biographers Charlotte Chandler and David Bret – two fraudulent hacks not to be trusted! None of the reputable Crawford biographies has ever claimed they existed.

/ From Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon II: Is this a young Joan Crawford? Or is it the power of suggestion? Just like that famous nudie pic of pre-fame James Dean, would you think it was him if someone hadn't suggested it was first? /

Crawford and Davis re-uniting face-to-face for the read-through of the Charlotte script genuinely crackles with tension and excitement. For their parking lot confrontation, Crawford is wildly over-dressed in black cocktail dress and furs (Davis is in her signature cardigan, flats and Capri pants). “Nice dress, Lucille! You can go straight from day to night in that get-up!” Inevitably, both are wearing killer cat’s eye sunglasses. (I love it when Mamacita calls the blunt, domineering Bette “that terrible Miss Davis”).

/ The cast of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte assemble for the script read-through: Joseph Cotton, Bette Davis and (dressed for the cocktail lounge) Joan Crawford. Note that each of them has a pair of killer cat's eye sunglasses on the table in front of them  /

/ “Does the syntax here concern anyone else at the table?" / 

Crawford and Hal have one last ugly confrontation at the hospital just before his death. “Underneath you’re rotten trash, like me!” he spits – exactly the kind of thing the dysfunctional Hadley sibling insulted each other with in Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956). The spite in their exchanges is almost violent, like a slap across the face. Sure, this is soap opera, but deluxe, incredibly satisfying soap opera. Once again, Lange nails Crawford’s fascinating mix of conflicted emotions when she hears of Hal’s death. First priority: cancelling the payment of his last blackmail cheque!

Charlotte is being filmed on location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. No one is there to greet Crawford and Mamacita when they arrive at the airport. An unforgivable transgression! Deliberate? Davis is a producer on the film – is she out to humiliate and punish her rival? At the hotel, the desk clerk says their room won’t be ready for an hour. The indignity!  Crawford and Mamacita are staying in a sensational atomic-era bungalow painted in shades of pink and seafoam green. (Connie Francis’ lush heartbreak ballad “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” soars on the soundtrack in this scene). There’s not even an awaiting complimentary gift basket! “It stinks! They have put us next to the garbage!” Mamacia kvetches. “It’s Louisiana. Everything has the sweet smell of rot,” Crawford replies, a line worthy of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. When Crawford phones Aldrich and hears Davis’ laughter in the background, complaining the champagne is getting warm, her humiliation is complete.

Episode 7: Abandoned

This episode covers the fraught making of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. Crawford is wracked with paranoia, certain that co-star Davis and director Aldrich are in cahoots behind her back and “engaging in some tawdry bacchanal.” Is this Davis’ revenge for Crawford campaigning against her during the 1963 Oscars? With her producer credit, Davis has license to throw her weight around, issuing orders to Crawford with an abrupt tone (“why don’t you find a dark air-conditioned spot and lie down?”) and interfering with Aldrich’s direction of Crawford’s performance (“You’re not going to let her do it this way, are you?”). Perhaps understandably, Crawford confronts Davis with the accusation, “This entire production is an elaborate opportunity for you to humiliate me, isn’t it?”

Lange depicts a Crawford that is fragile but prepared for battle. “I am not drinking on this project. I need a clear head.” She seizes control where she can – with her appearance. There’s a nice scene of Crawford regally seated at her dressing room mirror while frustrated make-up man Monte Westmore stands by idly.  “The brows are mine – and the lips,” she cautions. Westmore can only proffer a series of false eye-lashes for her approval. Eventually an increasingly distraught Crawford - antagonized by Davis - snaps, falls off the wagon and starts drinking slugs from her flask of vodka in her trailer.

/ Crawford's hair and make-up tests for Hush, Hush ... so many wiglets! /

“Abandoned” zeroes-in on the anguish and insecurities that bedeviled both Crawford and Davis. Crawford is convinced she will always be regarded as trash, unlike the “real” actress Davis: “I broke (into show business) shaking my fringe in nightclubs! I’d come home after a gig with scotch on my dress. And I’ll always have that stain on me!” Davis is haunted by her supposed physical unattractiveness. “You should have seen how the most beautiful woman who ever lived (meaning Crawford) treated me back in the day!” she fumes to Aldrich, revealing her long-term animosity towards Crawford. “And I remember thinking then, beauty fades – just wait. And it did.” She recalls her first Hollywood screen test with Jack Warner at Warner Brothers when she was 22-years old (and still a virgin). “Who would want to fuck that?” she overheard Warner say. Decades later, his words are still a raw wound. Later, in an angry show-down, Crawford screams at Davis, “The answer to feeling unattractive isn’t to make yourself even uglier!” Her acting is exemplary, but this is when Sarandon’s physical appearance presents a major dilemma. She is gorgeous throughout Feud (that jawline! Those cheekbones!), and simply too beautiful to deliver these lines convincingly. Why didn’t the makers of Feud make Sarandon frowsier, more ravaged like the actual Davis was at this point? Davis herself reveled in looking like a total gorgon onscreen!

/ Above: Davis as Charlotte Hollis. Below: Sarandon /

Behind the scenes, we also witness Davis’ heartbreak over her daughter BD’s impending marriage. BD is appalled when Davis tactlessly tells her, “Your first wedding is the one you remember the most.” This leads to a mother-daughter argument and – in another glorious Sirkian moment – the camera pulls out to isolate a tormented and solitary Davis framed in the living room doorway.

In an ultimately self-defeating act, Crawford checks herself into Cedars Sinai hospital with a mystery respiratory ailment to hold-up Charlotte’s production and try to wrest back some control. Crawford is, of course, an exquisitely glamorous patient, impeccably coiffed and wearing a series of caftans and bed jackets, surrounded by sprays of get-well bouquets. This ends in defeat when the studio doctor finds Crawford perfectly healthy (and the hunky young doctor rebuffs her seduction attempt).  If she opts not to return to work, Crawford will be sued for breaching her contract.

Unbeknownst to Crawford, the role of Miriam is being re-cast. Among the contenders: Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck and Vivien Leigh. (When asked why she rejected the part, Leigh famously replied, "No, thank you. I can just about stand looking at Joan Crawford's face at six o'clock in the morning, but not Bette Davis’”). Katherine Hepburn was also reportedly considered, but Feud doesn’t mention her. Finally, the part goes to Davis’ friend Olivia de Havilland. (We see a hilarious glimpse of Catherine Zeta Jones recreating de Havilland in the 1964 exploitation shocker Lady in a Cage). I happen to think Olivia de Havilland is excellent as Miriam: she masters a note of subtle, purring, honey-toned villainy with a light touch. But obviously Crawford in the role is one of cinema’s great “What Ifs”. And more to the point: what ever happened to the Charlotte footage shot with Crawford? Was it destroyed? How come none of it has ever surfaced? It would be fascinating to see.

/ Above: Joan Crawford as Miriam in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. Below: Olivia de Havilland as Miriam in the completed film /

/ Once Crawford was banished, the key players of Charlotte assembled for this “screw you” photo opportunity. Crawford was, of course, a Pepsi spokeswoman so the Coca Cola cooler is a deliberate direct insult /

When Crawford hears the news on her bedside radio, she responds by hurling a vase of flowers at the wall, narrowly missing Mamacita. (Not again!). This is the last straw for Mamacita, who promptly quits. “You can’t leave me now, not when they’ve done this to me!” Crawford wails. “You have done this to yourself,” Mamacita huffs, utterly deadpan, as she departs.  An agonized Crawford thrashes and flails on the hospital corridor floor to the strains of Patti Page singing the theme to Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte on the soundtrack.

Two other things I loved about this episode: the glimpse of Mamacita meticulously removing and re-rolling the clear plastic covering from the hotel room beds so she and Crawford can go to sleep. When Davis throws a raucous cocktail party in her hotel room, the song playing is “Dottie Ann” by The Royal Teens. Absolutely killer tune!

Right - there is so much to unpack with Feud's finale (episode 8 entitled "You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?") it will get its own separate blog post.