Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fasten Your Seatbelts, It's Going To Be A Bumpy Review: All About Eve

In my short time writing reviews for this website I have already given 2 films a perfect 10. Seeing as the next film to be reviewed is one of Akira Kurosawa's greatest, it should be little surprise that I will give that one a ten as well. And I am going to give another tonight. That is why I love The Book. It has introduced me to so many films that I would not otherwise have watched that are some of the greatest works of art ever created. I give these films 10s not because I am easy to please, but because they do so much to please me. These films attain such perfection in their direction, stories and acting that they enrich my life in no uncertain terms. This film, All About Eve, is certainly a film which I will remember and return to with great joy all of my days.

This is one of the finest scripts ever written for a film. Dark, satirical and witty, it never makes a false move. Every line of dialog, every movement, every inflection of the voice, zings and pops with energy, intensity, and brilliance. The movie is completely full of itself. Every words spoken from long monologues to passing comments is filled with self importance, is begging us to pay close attention to how important and meaningful it all is. And yet the films works because it lives up to its pretension. We believe in the epicness of what is being said. Lives and souls are being fought for, examined, ridiculed, all through a darkly cynical eye, with moments of truth and humanity. This great film has an awful tagline, "It's all about women... and their men!," how generic. Though the film may be called All About Eve, it is really all about the theater and the world it creates. It is a world where actors and actresses are worshiped as gods and goddesses for bringing their great light and talent to the people. These demigods are propped up or torn down by directors, writers and critics, all of whom have fame, but none of whom are so loved as those on stage. For those in this business it creates a world of backstabbing and witty attacks, where the man your were having lunch with yesterday can be destroying your career the next. To stay alive in this world you must have cunning, you must build up defenses around yourself that eventually shield you from your own humanity and the love of others. Above all, to be loved and accepted, you must have talent and, perhaps, youth. Still, in spite all of this, the world of theater is a world of beauty, if only pretend beauty, where those of unique talent and personality can create things of true beauty and be rewarded, if only for a while, with the love of the people. This causes all those involved to love the theater, as seen in the scene where all the characters of note (except the maid and the fuming Margo) sit on the steps and contemplate why they love this corrupt world so.

Anyone seen and good movies lately?

Though I consider myself a film snob, I admit I have one great flaw as a film viewer: I do not often get excited over actresses in films. Oh, I have many many actors whom I love, and many performances by actresses that I love as well. But there are few actresses who really strike me, who make me think "wow I bet this movie will be great" when I hear that they are in it. Maybe the types of roles actors get appeal to me more, I don't know. What I do know is that there are maybe 3 actresses who really excite me. One is Meryl Streep, the greatest actress still out there working, if not the best of all time. Another is Audrey Hepburn, who is brilliant in everything she is in. Finally, there is Bette Davis, who plays the role of Margo Channing in this film. Her role is nothing short of brilliant. She play the role of an aging actress, filled with insecurities and world weariness, who loves her man deeply but allows her stage persona to take over her true self as a defense mechanism. I believe everything she says in the film. Her incredible strengths and her debilitating weaknesses are fully on display. Aided of course by a fantastic script rewritten specifically to fit Davis' style, her lines are perfect in the way in which they are almost never direct about how she is feeling and why, but how she wittily and acidly gets her point across by snidely venting her hatred through metaphors and veils. And of course, when she does become direct and honest, her words are all the more meaningful for it. Davis never outdid this performance (though she may have equaled it in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) because she never had a character so theatrical and yet so human and real in her frailties and needs. This is one of the finest performances by an actress ever put to film.

 "Listen Honey, don't even think about challenging me for Best Actress. I was making films when you were still a sperm swimming around in your father's scrotum!"

And then there is Anne Baxter in the title role. Can you really call what she does in this film acting? It feels so real. I believe every word she says even when I know it is a lie. When she tells her sob story I nearly sob myself. When she goes starry eyed at the thought of being of stage and applauded I feel her need to be loved. When she tries to seduce Margo's husband I am filled with hate and yet respect for her cunning. And when she is finally brought down after all her clever planning by the even more clever Addison I can feel her world crumbling, hating her and yet somehow pitying her. Of course she is aided by a great script, but the way she is able to do such a complete character change, step by step throughout the film, with each step being believable, is amazing. I have never disagreed with a review in The Book more that when it says of the film, "its only flaw is Baxter, who seems to be nothing bu pure ambition in womanly form." Fuck you, Karen Krizanovich, you know nothing about this role, how complex and changing it was, and how Baxter had the talent to meet the challenge in every step. What a year for the Academy when picking awards for actresses! Not only did this film have 2 nominations for Supporting Actress, it had both Davis and Baxter for Actress, as well as Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, perhaps the greatest performance by an actress ever. And who did they give it to? Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. Idiots.

"No, its not possible! How could they not give me the award! I'm a star! Nobody leaves a star! I was ready for my close-up! Oh, shit, I'm doing the wrong film..."

Though none of the deserving actresses won an Academy Award for this film (though Davis received an even more impressive acting awards at Cannes) at least the Academy honored the actors who deserved the most praise for the film. George Sanders is perfect as Addison the theater critic. He is smart, confident, in control, looking down on those around him with a cool and cynical eye, looking down upon them from on high, judging them, sometimes controlling them. Yet we can see that he loves this world he judges, he admits he could survive nowhere else, and there is an undercurrent of buried insecurity in his character. He is the first voice we hear in the film, and when he says "I am a critic, I am essential to the theater," he says it with such confidence, and yet there is a hint that, on some level, he is trying to convince himself of this fact as much as assure us. As he helps to guide the young Eve, build her career, hurt his "friends" to raise her higher, and makes sure that Eve stays his property, we see his control. Yet, when he slaps Even in a fantastic scene for laughing at him, we can see that he is as much an actor as those around him, acting cool and smart to convince himself of his own importance. His character is witty, funny, charming, sinister, and all around great.
Looks like Sanders is trying to cop a feel on Marilyn Monroe. Can you blame him?

Of course the other actors in the film are great. All of the roles by speaking characters are close to perfect. Literally, the only flaw I could find with the film is a scene where two characters are "walking down the street" clearly in front of a green screen, and I'm like, why couldn't they just film them walking down a street? Gary Merril as Margo's boyfriend, Hugh Marlowe as Llyod Richards and Gregory Ratoff as Max Fabian all turn in great performances. But at the end of the day, this is a film ruled almost exclusively by the actresses. Celeste Holm as Margo's best friend, who deliberately and yet somehow unwittingly advances the career of the conniving Eve every step of the way, even as Eve tries to steal her beloved husband, is lovely and loveable. Thelma Ritter is fantastic as the maid with attitude, and it is a shame that she does not show up in the film's second half. Hell, though she is only on screen briefly, the great and then unknown Marilyn Monroe gives a mesmerizing performance as the lightheaded but ladder climbing young actress under the wing of Addison. Every performance in this film is near flawless, a delight to watch.

"I may not be as pretty as you youngins, but I got one 'ting the audience loves: sass!"

I have read that many criticize the message of this films as being highly anti-feminist. The strong and independent Eve is seen as pure evil (Hell, she's named after the woman who committed the first sin!) and whenever Margo tries to be independent she is viewed as being hysterical. It is only when she submits to her man, putting aside her career for a marriage, that she becomes truly happy, a "real woman." I understand and see these arguments, yet I do not fully agree. Anyone could agree that Eve goes to far to achieve success, woman or not. Margo is talented and independent, and this is not entirely viewed as wrong. Yes, she is only truly happy when she embraces her relationship as her main goal and not her career. But isn't that the way of all people, man or woman? Can a career really replace the joy of a loving relationship? Lloyd the write is seen as becoming more and more miserable when he devotes himself to the mad passion of making the perfect play at the expense of his relationship to his wife. Bill is equally devoted to Margo as she is to him. And the two characters who devote themselves totally to their craft at the expense of real love, Addison and Eve, are both miserable in reality at the end. To me, the message of the film is that the theater has rewards for those willing to sacrifice, but when the curtain goes down, you are a person and not an actress or writer or what have you, and you have to find lasting happiness in the things that make everyone happy. Bill says to Addison that he doesn't believe those in theater are truly different at their core from other people, and I think we are meant to see him as being right.
I am not one to be swept up in this idea of the "Golden Age of Hollywood," that Hollywood was only truly glamorous, great and at their best in the late 30s, 40s, and early 50s. In fact, I thing the 70s are the best decade in film personally. However, this film makes me feel that grand illusion of glamorous Hollywood every second it is on. The actors and actresses are beautiful, classy, witty, wonderful. The script sings, the actors and actresses shine, the sets dazzle. This is a beloved film for a reason. I give it a perfect 10/10, Essential.

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