27 April 2008

"Whoever You Are -- I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers."

Given the 1939 film Gone With The Wind's impact on American culture, it is almost reflexive to assume Scarlett O'Hara was Vivien Leigh's greatest American film role. But not by me, baby. I'll take Ms. Leigh as Blanche Dubois in the film adaptation, by director Elia Kazan, of Tennessee Williams' masterwork A Streetcar Named Desire any day.

A Pulitzer Prize winning play, a landmark film -- and Ms. Leigh, on the verge of cracking from her bipolar disorder, bringing insights from her illness to her performance. She earned an Oscar for this performance, the hard way. Tennessee Williams himself stated that Ms. Leigh brought to the role "everything that I intended, and much that I had never dreamed of". Ms. Leigh would later say that playing this role, both extensively on the London stage and also in the film, "tipped me over into madness." (See Holden, A., Olivier, 1989, pp. 312-313.)

And I haven't even mentioned this is Marlon Brando's breakout film role, co-starring as Stanley Kowalski.

This film has it all: delicacy, fragility, brutality, cruelty -- honor lost and honor never found, love blinded by passion -- smashing early 1950's conventions, all on stage sets of a working class section of New Orleans' French Quarter. It all adds up to more talent successfully converging than the law should allow.

A Streetcar Named Desire is an essential, must-see film.


Ilsa Lund said...

I love your wording to describe the film: it's delicate, fragile, brutal and cruel. How Elia Kazan handled Tennessee Williams' work is brilliant and his deft hand at films is more important than his infamy of being a friendly witness.

Vivien Leigh was also just amazing, and in the three films I've seen from her, she is simply brilliant in three completely different ways: in Gone With the Wind she took an immortal character in literature and made it even more popular by infusing a vibrant charm and a strength that can only be rivaled by Clark Gable. In Waterloo Bridge she took a character and a film that was pretty simplistic but gave it contradictions and complexities that elevated it to greatness. And her final push as a film actress with Streetcar she nailed one of the most complex roles ever created and disappeared so shockingly into her role that there's almost no line between actress and character.

The Silver Queen said...

You have inspired me to want to see the movie again.

pjkondorpoduszlo said...

My vote goes to Waterloo Bridge. It was the role where her character had the most problems, but also her role where her character was strongest, in my opinion.

sexy said...
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