A Memorable Scene…What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

A desire to be admired…

As part of “Turner Classic Movies: 31 Days of Oscar,” when I sat down to watch What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect. I knew from the comments of family members, who had seen it years ago, that the film was a real acting tour-de-force, with Bette Davis portraying Jane Hudson, an unstable middle-aged woman (who was a mildly famous child performer, and ultimately unsuccessful actor in her later years), and Joan Crawford playing her sister Blanche, a crippled woman who was once a talented, popular actor, but became paralyzed after an ambiguous car accident.

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Well, the film did not disappoint. As it ended, I was overcome by what I had seen. The physical and mental brutality, the entrapment, the murder…within one household shared between two sisters.

There is so much to say about this powerful film, whether it be the seething jealousy of Jane towards her sister Blanche and her fury at Blanche’s attainment of a sustaining fame that lives on in the minds of those old and young; whether it be the frailness of Blanche, her physical inability to escape the clutches of her sister’s inner turmoil; whether it be the captivating dynamic between Davis and Crawford, as actors, overall—a relationship on screen (and supposedly off) that delves into envy and hatred.

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Because there is just so much to explore with this film, I decided to pick one scene that stood out to me in particular…And that is the final moment in the film in which Jane Hudson is dancing on the beach.

Jane, with two strawberry ice creams in hand, walks on the beach to her sister, Blanche, who is lying on the sand, near death (Blanche was trapped in her bed throughout the last moments of the film, arms tied up in rope, mouth taped shut, slowly wasting away, until Edwin Flagg, a piano player in need of some money, (played by the actor Victor Buono) finds her and runs out of the house in an intoxicated, active state of bewilderment). Jane, inebriated and overwhelmed, grabs the semi-unconscious Blanche and puts her in the car, driving them both to the beach—a place where they used to go when they were younger, when Jane was beloved. When Jane is walking to her sister, two policemen approach her, knowing who she is, knowing what she has done, and wanting to know where her sister is. Jane, instead of properly answering their questions, however, dances for the newly formed crowd of beachgoers that surround her.

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This scene, for me, is very saddening and really encompasses some of the overarching ideas evoked in the film—the desire for fame, for recognition, for a semblance of a past that can never be reclaimed. As Jane Hudson innocently twirls round and round, and as those around her snicker and look on confusingly, she performs as if she were the child performer of years ago. With a smile on her painted face, she looks upward with joy and happiness, with an internal glow, as if she were on the stage once again being admired. Different from the mental and physical cruelties of some of the earlier scenes of the film, this moment really stood out to me with its outer image of lightheartedness and deeper image of emotional suffering. In this scene on the beach, within her false daze of renown, Jane Hudson is in another world, another time of years past, a place where she was “Baby Jane Hudson” and was a star. Temporality has vanished in her mind. For her, the past is the present and the future.

I commend Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for their remarkable performances in this film. I recommend those who have not yet seen it to watch the film and enjoy the sheer talent of these actors on the screen.

Find out more about “Turner Classic Movies: 31 Days of Oscar” here.

A Talented, Unparalleled Woman of Courage

A beautiful film begins to play on the screen…

The notes of music start to sing delightful songs, as the black and white hues of coloration mingle together in a lovely, memorable way. A few seconds into the film, a woman magically enters the frame, exiting a door and taking notice of an older man a few steps from her form. She approaches the man with an unmistakable confidence, wearing a fluid dress that awakens the senses in its light, sheer drapery and silk accents. The woman begins to pour a drink for the elder man– a coquettish glint sparkles in her eye, as a mysterious smile charms and intrigues all who see it. Her face glows on the screen. Her glistening image mesmerizes. The woman’s shining raven bob frames her heightened, alluring beauty, as well as her dark, memorable eyes that hold within them this unparalleled seductive energy, this independence, this undeniable awareness of who she is and what she herself desires. As the woman stares at the man, you, as a viewer, cannot stop yourself from staring at her.

This film’s name is Pandora’s Box and the mesmerizing woman is Louise Brooks.

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Louise Brooks was born in Cherryvale Kansas in the year 1906. With exposure to the arts from an early age, Brooks was destined for a career on the stage and on film–dancing and acting for all the world to see. In the year 1922, Brooks joined the Denishawn Dance Company, dancing under the greats of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Brooks took part in performances that encompassed a modernity unseen before, elements that were new and different. Soon after her time with the Denishawn Dance Company, Louise Brooks joined George White’s Scandals as a chorus girl, performing in terrific, sometimes risqué, acts. She further exemplified her wonderfully hedonistic stance on life by traveling to Europe and dancing in nightclubs, being the first person to ‘Charleston’ in London. In the year 1925, Brooks joined the Ziegfeld Follies, becoming one of the top dancers of the production. Through her career in dance, Louise Brooks broke the molds of femininity by doing what she wished to do. She tore away at Victorian constraints and became a true flapper of the 1920s. Due to her successful time as a dancer and her radiating energetic freedom, she was recognized by the film industry, recognized by Paramount, and she began her career as an actress.

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Before creating remarkable works of film in Europe, Louise Brooks acted in the United States, having parts in comedies and dramas such as Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em, It’s the Old Army Game, A Girl in Every Port, and Beggars of Life. In each film, Brooks beauty and talent is exhibited–she easily controls of the viewer’s thoughts and vision on every viewing occasion. Due to a lack of a raise in her payment, however, Brooks left Paramount. She did not care about leaving the Hollywood industry in the United States. She did not care how it would affect her movie career. She realized she wasn’t being treated justly. She wasn’t being treated as she expected. As a result, she traveled to Berlin, a fantastically wild city of the 1920s, where she danced in the clubs till the early morning hours, where she met people of unique backgrounds, and where she worked with the director G.W. Pabst to create two true masterpieces of silent film…Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. Whether it was the mesmerizing Lulu in Pandora’s Box or the tragic Thymian in Diary of a Lost Girl, Brooks played roles that contained much depth, that conveyed much emotion. Not just in dancing, Louise Brooks revealed her true abilities as a strong, opinionated actress in film. Brooks, internally and externally, housed admirable qualities of bravery and independence. She was her own person, a woman of a modern era.

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Louise Brooks epitomized the flapper of the “Jazz Age,” as well as the social innovations of the 1920s– the altered structures of gender and the awesomely defying changes in the fashion industry. Brooks played with masculine, as well as feminine styles. She was unafraid to show her form in what she wore, unafraid to allow her expression and her belief in choice to shine. She made fashion decisions based on her own opinions and ideas–she did not allow the past, constraining beliefs of society influence her magnificent selections. Brooks dazzled in fashion’s novel lack of constraints– in vivacious, sparkling drop waist dresses, luxurious fur coats and boas, beautiful cloche hats, t-straps and mary jane heels of movement, suits and collard shirts of newly defined feminine modernity, daring silky kimonos of a seductive aura, and more. With her hair cut in a perfect, exquisite bob, Louise Brooks was and continues to be a fashion icon in the world.

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Louise Brooks film career ended in the 1930s. It was not until the 1950s when she was discovered once again. After her rediscovery, Brooks became a memorable critic, delving into the films she had made and the people she had encountered in her life. With a wonderful lack of restraint and a lack of fear to speak the truth, Brooks wrote what she truly believed. Rightfully gaining much popularity over these past few years, Louise Brooks remains an icon to this day, both in film and in fashion.

c. 1925: Louise Brooks standing by the stairway.

Louise Brooks was a dancer, an actress, a flapper, a woman who was undaunted by the obstacles thrown in her way. Throughout her life, she lived with this excellent confidence, this opinionated stance that did not care about what others thought about her. She spoke and expressed her ideas as she wished to. She acted in what she wanted to act in. She lived a life that was bold and commendable. Although Louise Brooks birthday was on November 14th, I still want to wish her a happy birthday and I want to thank her for being who she was, a flapper, an individual…someone who I very much look up to.

Androgynous Beauty and Timeless Glamour

A woman who goes against the confining trends of her era, who goes against the commonalities placed on women during her time is a woman to admire.

A woman who ignores the unjust expectations put on female society, who is comfortable with her own self not to care about the judgments that might be placed on her is a woman to praise.

A woman who sees fashion as a swirl of possibilities, as a mixture of opportunities to take chances and to wear liberal fashions that explore all genders, all emotions, and all personalities in existence is a woman to cherish.

There is a woman in history who should be admired, praised, and cherished for all of these reasons…

Her name is Marlene Dietrich.

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Marlene Dietrich is a source of inspiration, a woman of much importance and worth. Born in Germany in the year 1901, Dietrich lived a life of much boldness and wonderful success throughout her long, dazzling career. She was many things in her life…She was an internationally renowned actress, a woman who did not fear showing her strong personality, her courage, and her mesmerizing sophistication on the screen. She was a compelling singer whose voice, to this day, captures the attention and mind, a memorable voice that draws you in and lifts your spirits. She was an outspoken power who was unafraid to speak her mind during WWII, to make anti-Nazi broadcasts, as well as help the Allied troops in times of need– she was awarded the Medal of Freedom for her actions. She was a cabaret performer of much energetic thrill and beauty, performing with a freedom and a liberal sexuality that is marvelous. And she is a fashion icon, a woman who proved and continues to prove that gender does not matter in fashion–androgyny is beautiful…a woman who proved and continues to prove that glamour is timeless.

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Dietrich was an innovator, someone who made groundbreaking strides in the world of fashion–she was one of the woman to introduce the concept of androgyny to society. Marlene Dietrich helped blur the gender lines of everyday life. As mentioned in my post The Blurring of the Lines last year, androgyny is all about blending together masculinity and femininity, about breaking and redefining the definitions of both sexes. And Marlene Dietrich did just that. She showed that stereotypes of femininity do not need to be recognized and rules of dress do not need to be followed. She gave off this unmistakable confidence, this radiating energy that defied the norms of society and helped make change in the fashion industry. Rather than just dresses or skirts, Dietrich wore pants, collared, button down shirts, blazers, both ties and bow ties, top hats, as well as suits and tuxedos. She wore these menswear pieces with a naturalness that is impossible not to admire. Marlene Dietrich gave women the courage they needed to dress the way they truly wished to dress.

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Not only androgyny, Dietrich was and still is a symbol of sparkling, ageless glamour. Besides menswear pieces, Dietrich wore rich fashions that oozed in glittery allure and unforgettable sophistication. Wearing shimmering jewels of colorful stones and pearls, and tantalizing, glowing fashions of fur coats, luxurious gowns, and other garments of charming qualities, Marlene Dietrich showed the world that she will always be a known star. She will always be fearless…

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She will always be an independent, self-assured woman.

The Power, Beauty, and Luxury of Silence

An old, worn out strip of film rolls across the screen…

The viewer captures a scene of honest emotion, whimsical serenity, and loving delight. A stoic man in a sharp three piece suit walks at a unchanging pace. The suit is elegant; the outfit is classically alluring. As the film continues, a young, carefree flapper runs into the scene. Her drop waist chiffon gown glitters in warmth, delicacy, and thrill. Her t-strap heels tap with a lively energy of delight. The young girl shines in the scene with pure, bewitching qualities. The two accidentally bump into one another, gaze thoughtfully into each others eyes, and smile in joy.

There are no words spoken aloud. There are no tacky, over-edited sound effects. There are no noises.

There is only an old film.

There is only silence.

Silent films are naturally astonishing. They are cinematic delights full of subtly, brilliancy, and radiancy. They contain qualities of marvelous emotion, magical ability, and artistic creativity. The actors come to life on the screen. The screen awakens from its slumber. These films charm the viewer and allow the viewer to witness something that is purely elegant and enchanting– an unforgettable excellency. The black and white aspect only empowers the scenes and actions more. The silence overpowers the spoken word in its majestic grace and enticing pleasure. The words are heard through emotions. The words are understood through a myriad of expressions. Imaginative, harmonious, and picturesque, silent cinema is stunning.

These silent films brought about great talents. Whether it were the directors or the actors/ actresses, new, daring individualities were recognized. What I find most captivating about these silent films are the exceptional flapper actresses that graced the screens. And more specifically, the grand fashions that graced their bodies with an everlasting enamour…

The fashions in a silent film are aesthetically bold, culturally tasteful, and stylistically exceptional. These outfits are ornamented in sequins, chiffon, lace, sparkle, and flare. They sparkle in their dramatic glamour and glitzy personality. They add to the shimmering qualities of the flapper actresses who wore the designs. The advanced fashions are brought to life beneath the black and white screen. They gleam with a vivacity and spirit that is seductive, glorious, and entertaining. The sumptuous fashions of the time were unlimited, no longer constrained by past moral judgements. The pieces blossomed into awe-inspiring creations of design, animation, and worthwhile enthusiasm.

Whether it was a pair of shiny mary janes, or a dark colored cloche hat, or a silk, velvet kimono, or a tailored suit, or a robe de style gown, all of the silent film fashions soared off of the cinematic scene. They sung their own unique song. They danced their own, brave dance. They laughed in their own joy and happiness. They lived in a jazzy, liberating world.

As the black and white film goes on, as the roll of film begins to approach its end, the now blissful man and playful woman grasp one another in their undying passion and adoration. And they continue glistening in the bright, breathtaking light…