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. 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Post-Christmas Lobotomy Room at Fontaine's DJ Set List 29 December 2017

From Facebook event page:

Feeling jaded? Didn’t get the cha-cha heels you wanted? Head-bang away your post-Christmas blues – at Lobotomy Room!

Yes! 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 29 December 2017!

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! White Trash Rockers! Kitsch! Exotica! 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!

Downstairs in the basement Bamboo Lounge of Fontaine’s, Lobotomy Room was worried. Worried that people hadn't prepared themselves for the inevitable post-Christmas comedown! This club night was offering a public service!

Scheduling a club on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s – when loads of people would still be out of town and whole swathes of public transport comprehensively immobilised due to engineering work – is always a risk.

/ Jayne Mansfield and Santa Claus /

But happily, this one turned out to be a blast! The crowd was small but enthusiastic and rowdy. I laid-on a putrid soundtrack of ominous surf instrumentals, punk cretin hops, desperate rockabilly and greasy rhythm and blues. Thanks in particular to the gang of bad girls who danced and drank until 1:30 am! The spirit of Female Trouble's Dawn Davenport, Chiclet and Concetta lives! One of them asked me to play “Party Lights” by Claudine Clark – perhaps the single best song request I’ve ever received in all my years of DJ’ing! 

Der Karibische Western - Lydia Lunch
Steel Pier - The Impacts
Surf Rat - The Rumblers
Jane in the Jungle - The 5,6,7,8s
Wailin' - The Fabulous Wailers
Vampira - Bobby Bare
Vampira - The Misfits
Goo Goo Muck - Ronnie and The Gaylads
Bikini with No Top on the Top - Mamie Van Doren and June Wilkinson
Scratching on My Screen - Ric Cartey
Adult Books - X
Monkey Bird - The Revels
Beat Girl - ZZ en de Maskers
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
I Don't Need You No More - The Rumblers
Forming - The Germs
Rock-A-Bop - Sparkle Moore
Don't Be Cruel - Bill Black Combo
Let's Go Baby - Billy Eldrige
Comin' Home, Baby - The Delmonas
Scorpion - The Carnations
Pedro Pistolas Twist - Los Twisters
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
Here Comes the Bug - The Rumblers
Year 1 - X
Rock Around the Clock - The Sex Pistols
Whistle Bait - Larry Collins
Action Packed - Ronnie Dee
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Woo-Hoo - The Rock-A-Teens
Shakin' All Over - Johnny Kidd and The Pirates
Treat Me Right - Mae West
Intoxica - The Centurions
Love Me - The Phantom
Jailhouse Rock - Masaaki Hirao
Heartbreak Hotel - Buddy Love
Sweetie Pie - Eddie Cochran
Wiped-Out - The Escorts
I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield - The 5,6,7,8s
Somethin' Else - Sid Vicious
Wild, Wild Party - Charlie Featherss
Let's Have a Party - Wanda Jackson
Be Bop a Lula - Alan Vega
Batman Theme - Link Wray and His Ray Men
You're Driving Me Crazy - Dorothy Berry
He's the One - Ike and Tina Turner
I'm a Woman - Peggy Lee
These Boots Are Made for Walkin' - Mrs Miller
How Does That Grab You, Darlin'? Nancy Sinatra
Johnny Are You Queer? Josie Cotton
Party Lights - Claudine Clark
Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley
Roll with Me Henry - Etta James
Jim Dandy - Ann-Margret
Crawfish - Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin
Big Girls Don't Cry - Edith Massey
Twistin' the Night Away - Divine

Date for your social diary:

The next Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies film club presentation (the first of the New Year!) is ... Strait-Jacket! 17 January 2018!

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club downstairs at Fontaine’s devoted to Bad Movies We Love (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People), specialising in the kitsch, the cult and the queer! On Wednesday 17 January Lobotomy Room shamelessly jumps on the Feud: Bette and Joan bandwagon (I mean, embraces the spirit!) with a screening of campy horror masterpiece Strait-Jacket (1964) – starring Joan Crawford as a deranged ax murderess!

Call it “hagsploitation” or “psycho-biddy”, Strait-Jacket (directed by low-budget trash maestro William Castle – one of John Waters’ primary influences) is a stark, vicious little b-movie featuring a truly berserk and mesmerizing performance from bitch goddess extraordinaire Crawford! If you liked What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, you’ll LOVE Strait-Jacket!

Doors to the Polynesian-style basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8 pm. Film starts at 8:30 pm prompt. Arrive early to grab a seat and order a drink. (Special offer cocktail on the night to be announced!). I’ll be projecting grainy black-and-white vintage erotica on the big screen for your pre-film “adult” entertainment!

Event page

Read more about our film club

The next incredibly strange Lobotomy Room dance party is Friday 26 January! Official event page.

Further reading:

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


Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Reflections on ... episodes 1-4 of Feud: Bette and Joan

Just some random thoughts, musings and reflections on re-visiting the first four episodes 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).

/ Above: the real Bette Davis, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford at press conference announcing What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? /

/ Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) in Feud /

First two episodes: Sui Generis and The Other Woman

The costumes and set design (by Judy Becker, who also designed the mid-century look of Todd Haynes’ film Carol) are glorious. Any time one of the characters click-on a pair of severe vintage cat’s eye sunglasses, I involuntarily gasp. Even the food is immaculately retro: when Crawford and Davis dine at gossip columnist Hedda Hopper’s, Davis kvetches, “Fish Jell-o?” (Hopper corrects her: it’s salmon in aspic. Or “en gelée” as I prefer). As you can see from the photo above of Bette Davis, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford at the press conference announcing What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? some of the outfits have been meticulously recreated. I especially love Crawford’s palatial cream-and-turquoise Hollywood mansion with the cherry tree, the Chinese interior motifs and the white grand piano in the living room. Like any self-respecting diva, she has an ultra-flattering glamorous portrait of herself (complete with museum lighting) above the mantelpiece. 

Davis addresses Crawford as “Lucille”. (Crawford’s real name was Lucille Fay LeSueur). Was that true? In the Hollywood film community, did people routinely call Crawford “Lucille” – or was that Davis’ way of undermining her? On film sets, was Cary Grant referred to as "Archie" or Marilyn Monroe as "Norma Jean"?

Exemplary, stylish use of atmospheric period music on the soundtrack: Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Perry Como, Sarah Vaughan, Brenda Lee, Paul Anka, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, “Wives and Lovers” by Jack Jones.

Feud freely takes liberties with (or "streamlines") the facts or at least chronology for maximum dramatic impact and greater psychological truth. For example: in episode one we first encounter a drunken Crawford in 1961 at the Golden Globe awards silently seething with resentment as a gold lamé-clad Marilyn Monroe shimmies past her onto the stage to accept an award. (No one seethes with drunken resentment quite like Jessica Lange). This incident did happen, but much earlier – at the 1953 Photoplay Awards when red-hot newcomer Monroe won the Rising Star award and earned Crawford’s disapproval. But who can blame Ryan Murphy for shuffling the time frame around for his own narrative purposes? In episode one, this scene perfectly establishes how sidelined and embittered Crawford felt at the time. 

/ "Hebrews and Sodomites, greetings!” / 

In episode one we see a fleeting glimpse of director Robert Aldrich working on a tacky “sword-and-sandals” Biblical epic, which is meant to represent the mortifying nadir of his career. (Like Davis and Crawford, he is also desperate for a comeback pre-Baby Jane). This film was in fact 1962’s Sodom and Gomorrah (also known as The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah) – and as far as these things go, it’s not half bad! I enjoyed it when I watched it several years ago. (It used to be available on YouTube). I liked its camp value, but perhaps mainly because of the presence of exquisite, inscrutable French actress Anouk Aimee as the depraved villainess Bera, Queen of Sodom. For a film of its time, it’s surprisingly overt about Bera’s lesbianism (she is always surrounded by an all-female entourage and appreciatively ogles belly-dancers and pretty slave girls). When people write about the history of LGBTQ representation in Golden Age Hollywood films, how come Sodom and Gomorrah never rates a mention? Aimee spoke perfectly fine French-accented English but weirdly, Aldrich opted to have her dialogue dubbed by an American actress. And – as a coincidence – with her dark eyebrows and sculpted cheekbones, doesn’t Aimee slightly resemble a young Joan Crawford?

Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange were justifiably praised for their performances as Davis and Crawford when Feud premiered on FX in March 2017, but watching it again so should be the supporting actresses Judy Davis (malevolent gossip columnist Hedda Hopper) and Jackie Hoffman (Crawford’s ultra-efficient German maid Mamacita). Watch Davis’ perfectly-judged split-second horrified reaction when Lange complains about the pressures of stardom and breezily tells her, “You’re so lucky you weren’t successful as an actress.” And Hoffman’s deadpan Teutonic line delivery: telling the gardeners impatient to get paid, “It’s an honour to trim Miss Crawford’s bush.”

/ The long-suffering Mamacita with Miss Joan /

Vanity Fair vividly describes Lange’s tremulous, frequently drunk, almost operatic Joan Crawford as “a booze-saturated, violently wilted flower” and “a volatile hurricane, an addled tragedy in a musty dress.” Someone else (I forget who) described Lange’s representation of Crawford as almost being like a Tennessee Williams character, which raises the intriguing question: imagine if Joan Crawford had ever played a Tennessee Williams role! What would Crawford have been like as Violet Venable in Suddenly Last Summer (1959) instead of Katharine Hepburn? Or as Karen Stone in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) instead of Vivien Leigh? It’s also, of courses, fascinating to compare Lange’s Crawford with Faye Dunaway’s berserk Kabuki representation of her in Mommie Dearest (1981).

Sarandon’s portrayal of Davis is more dialed-down and lower-key. (In interviews Sarandon was insistent she deliberately avoided slipping into a Bette Davis impersonation). I happened to love Sarandon's interpretation of Davis - some found it underwhelming. She nicely captures Davis’ flat-footed waddling walk, low-slung bosom, gimlet-eyed stare, clipped speech patterns and innate blunt, emotionally direct toughness. Within Feud Davis is depicted as relatively sane, level-headed and stable in comparison to Crawford. In real terms, Davis was probably just as much of a frequently hard-drinking and temperamental holy terror as Crawford, just in a different way. For example: we see a glimpse of Davis onstage in 1961 as Maxine in a stage production of Tennessee Williams’ play Night of the Iguana (the role Ava Gardner would later play onscreen). Read any Tennessee Williams biography and it’s well-documented that Davis was an absolute nightmare to deal with, loathed by the cast and crew for her spoiled movie star antics. (This is the single best profile of Davis I've ever read. It gives a real sense of what a difficult, tormented woman she would have been off-screen).

/ Above: Bette Davis onstage in Night of the Iguana /

Davis was 53 during the making of Baby Jane. Sarandon was 71 when she played her. And yet Sarandon throughout looks considerably younger and more glamorous than the defiantly, unapologetically frumpy middle-aged Davis. (Even made up as Baby Jane Hudson with the ringleted little girl wig and chalky white powder, Sarandon never matches Davis’ grotesquery in the role). Who Sarandon really resembles is Tallulah Bankhead. (The makers of Feud seem to have decided that the Davis of 1961 should resemble Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950) – who was overtly based on Bankhead).

/ Above: the dissolute Tallulah Bankhead /

Episode 3: Mommie Dearest

/ Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford holding court at Perino's /

Feud repeatedly shows the luxe Art Deco cocktail lounge and restaurant Perino’s in Los Angeles (now long defunct) as one of Crawford’s frequent haunts. But would Crawford really have gone there accompanied by her housekeeper Mamacita to drink Martinis? (Perino’s also featured in the 1981 film Mommie Dearest. In one scene after Louis B Meyer takes her to dinner there, an enraged Crawford fumes, “Perino’s is my place!”). Interestingly, I don’t think Feud ever depicts Davis there, but in real life she was a habitué of Perino’s and maintained her own permanently-reserved personal booth. Perino’s closed in 1986, was razed in 2005 and is now the location of an apartment complex.

“I’ve always been a strict disciplinarian. Some people perhaps find I’ve been too strict, especially with my first two, Christina and Christopher …” There’s something ballsy about how Feud directly tackles the legacy of Mommie Dearest in this episode. Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina Crawford’s tell-all misery memoir came out in 1978. The notorious film adaptation starring Faye Dunaway followed in 1981. One of the most positive aspects of Feud is how Murphy and Lange rehabilitate and humanize Crawford as a complex, tragic and flawed figure. Mommie Dearest no longer has the last word.

The sequence where Davis and Crawford temporarily bury the hatchet long enough to have drinks alone together after work and really let their hair down is a high point of the entire series. This would never have happened in real life - these highly competitive sworn enemies confiding in each other about their relationships with their mothers and their children, their childhoods and their sex lives over cocktails? (Crawford shocks Davis by admitting she lost her virginity to her stepfather aged 11. Davis waited until she was 27 on her honeymoon). And yet who could quibble when the scene is so beautifully written, acted and directed, effortlessly cramming-in several biographies worth of info about the two women and their lives?

Kiernan Shipka (aka Sally Draper from Mad Men) co-stars as Davis’ teenage daughter BD Hyman. The inexperienced, non-professional Hyman wound up in a supporting role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as the neighbour’s adolescent daughter – and she was a notoriously inept actress. Re-watch Hyman in Baby Jane and Shipka only hints at just how outrageously sub-Edward D Wood Jr-level bad Hyman is in her few brief scenes. The constant eye-rolling! Aldrich actually compensates by cutting away from Hyman while she speaks! I loved Sarandon’s blankly horrified reaction as it dawns on her just how incompetent BD is, and her later motherly attempts to reassure her with tactful faint praise. “You spoke clearly. You hit your marks. You didn’t look into the lens once – not once!”

/ The real BD Hyman and Davis /

Davis and Crawford clash when Davis complains that she was “robbed” for not winning Best Actress in 1950 for All About Eve.  “It was Gloria Swanson who was robbed in 1950, not you, bitch!” Lange shrieks, her voice dramatically swooping on you. Sheila O’Malley in The New York Times: “Lange catapults her voice up into the stratosphere, with the final words elongated into a near-operatic screech. It’s such a bizarre and brilliant choice, the hugeness of expression matching the hugeness of the emotion.”

“That face right into camera. This really is a horror picture!” Crawford watching Davis film that famous Baby Jane shot of her applying lipstick straight into the the camera is if facing a mirror. Below: the genuine article. 

Davis showing maternal concern for gay Baby Jane co-star Victor Buono. “All the queens love me!” she proudly declares, acknowledging, “I only really knew I’d made it when the female impersonators started doing me in their acts.” It’s probably true that Davis was already a cult figure amongst queers by the early sixties alongside Judy Garland and Tallulah Bankhead. Buono asks her to do the “What a dump!” line from Beyond the Forest and she obliges. Buono to Davis: “I think it’s so admirable the way you’ve embraced my tribe.”

Insight beyond Davis’ hard-boiled veneer:  we witness her private guilt and anguish over her disabled daughter Margo, who lives in an institution. One of Davis’ pressures to keep working – even when the good roles have dried-up – is to continue paying the bills for Margo’s special school.

Crawford also has some wrenchingly sad moments. “The mad rush that was once my life … all you’re left with is yourself” she laments to Mamacita as she mourns her twin daughters leaving home for boarding school, the death of her husband (Pepsi magnate Alfred Steele) and the decline of her acting career. Later, we see Crawford attempting to adopt another baby. When the she is refused (“You’re simply too old”), Crawford responds like the words are a slap across the face. (Lange excels at wordless moments like these).

/ Below: might the design of Crawford's ultra-glamorous boudoir in Feud have been influenced by ...

... Joan Crawford in Queen Bee? (1955) /

“All those years of alcohol abuse have exacted a terrible price …” Crawford unkindly says to Hedda Hopper about her ravaged co-star Davis.

Funniest moment: Crawford and Mamacita are on location at the beach for Baby Jane’s climactic finale. “It’s warm, Mamacita. I’m going to need my water standing by.” By this point the alcoholic Crawford has been seen repeatedly availing herself of her secret flask of vodka. Mamacita warily asks, “Which water?”

Episode 4: More or Less

/ Lange recreating an iconic moment as Crawford in Baby Jane /

The episode mainly explores the indignities and vagaries of fame when stardom is on the wane. (Baby Jane was yet to be released; advance word anticipated it would flop). Feud is at its least engaging when it imposes its present-day feminist theme too heavy-handedly, overly eager to cast Davis and Crawford as casualties of Hollywood misogyny and ageism. (The other weakest aspect: the sequences with Joan Blondell and Olivia de Havilland reminiscing). In this episode, we see the fictional character of Aldrich’s assistant Pauline – an aspiring director – stymied by industry sexism.

Aldrich’s next film after Baby Jane was the 1963 rat-pack Western 4 for Texas. Feud captures what an arrogant prick that movie's prima donna leading man Frank Sinatra was. It gradually dawns on Aldrich that sure, Davis and Crawford were difficult, demanding and needy, but paragons of professionalism compared to Sinatra’s bullying man-child tantrums.

My personal highlights:  Crawford’s angry meeting with her agents at the William Morris agency deliberately echoes the scene in Mommie Dearest where Faye Dunaway rages at the Pepsi executives (“Don’t fuck with me, fellas!”). A nice touch.

Mamacita vacuuming the spectacular grand staircase to the strains of Gene Pitney’s “Town without Pity.”

When a distraught Crawford wails, “It’s just like 1937 all over again.” Mamacita replies, “When Hitler took Austria?” Crawford (ever the self-absorbed film diva): “No, when they labelled me box office poison.”

Davis on The Andy Williams show warbling her outrageously campy Chubby Checker-inspired novelty twist song in powder-blue pleated chiffon. What a bonanza of camp! No wonder the queers of 1962 had already embraced Davis as their queen! Watch how Sarandon lovingly recreates every swirling arm gesture and grimace.

/ Update! Read my analysis of episodes 5-7 of Feud here /