Monday, December 31, 2018

Three Beautiful Things 12/30/18: Back in Eugene, *Imitation of Life*, *The Theory of Everything*

1. The Deke and Patrick left in Sube II for Oregon this morning and, late in the afternoon, the Deke texted me that they arrived in Oregon and that travel conditions were splendid the entire way. The Deke is enjoying Eugene. She loves working and her job is going really well -- awesome, in fact. She meets up weekly with her band mate, Laura, and making music, learning more about how to play, and doing some performing is also fulfilling -- in fact, awesome. Having colleagues again, spending time with Eugene friends, both longtime friends and new ones, and having a living situation that is working out comfortably adds to her enjoyment.

2. About a month ago, I watched the movie All About Eve and I received a couple of emails from Dan Armstrong about the movie, one of his very favorites. In the course of writing about the movie, Dan mentioned that, as an instructor, he used to pair All About Eve with Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life. Today I watched Imitation of Life (1959) and found it an arresting movie. I knew from Dan's comments that, like All About Eve, it was a story about an ambitious woman, the widow Lora (played by Lana Turner -- who lived her early years here in the Silver Valley in Wallace), a single mother, seeking and succeeding to make it as an actor on Broadway.

What I didn't know was that the movie also tells the story of a single black woman, Annie (played by Juanita Moore), whose husband (or lover) has left her and who lives alone with her light-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner). Annie and Lora meet by accident on the beach at Coney Island. Annie and Sarah Jane are homeless. Lora takes them in and, before long, Annie becomes Lora's longtime live-in maid.

The movie develops by telling two stories at once. Lora's story is one of glamour, theatrical success, wealth, parties with other glamorous theater people. Annie essentially raises Lora's daughter, Susie (Sandra Dee) as Lora's career skyrockets. At the same time, the movie explores the story of Sarah Jane, again, light-skinned, and her efforts to pass as white. Underneath the glitzy surface of the glamorous theater world, a kind of American Dream world, is the world of racial division, racial suffering, white obliviousness, and, at times, cruelty, both physical and emotional.

Sirk tempts his viewers to be mesmerized by the dazzling accoutrements of Lora's ambition and success: the gorgeous clothes, swanky parties, maids and butlers, candlelight dinners, Susie's horse (a private school graduation gift), and the thrill of Lora's successful performances and the rave reviews. But this world of surfaces and appearances co-exists with a world of suffering, a world of racial animus, a world, in its own way, constructed upon appearances, like skin color, and the false assumptions and lack of interest of the white characters regarding the black ones.
The movie is a romantic comedy juxtaposed with a social problem movie, with the two worlds closely knit together by Annie and Sarah Jane living with Lora and Susie, but alienated from one another by Lora and Susie's superficiality and lack of interest in Annie and Sarah Jane's difficulties.

3. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I finished watching The Theory of Everything, the story of Stephen and Jane Hawkings.  I forgot to write about watching this movie when so much was going on around Christmas and my birthday. I'll get to it now.

When I watch a movie based on the lives of historical people (or "real" people), I don't assume the movie will be historically or biographically accurate. I don't know much about Stephen and Jane Hawking's life, so I don't know if the way the makers of this movie shaped it is accurate. I watched the movie mostly because I had enjoyed Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and I knew he'd won an Oscar for The Theory of Everything. I'd also read snarky comments on Facebook about him winning this award. Primarily, they went something like this: "Of course Eddie Redmayne won the Best Acting award. He only won it because Stephen Hawking had ALS and Redmayne did a good imitation of Stephen Hawking and the Academy felt sorry for Hawking."

These comments were made nearly four years ago. They seemed cynical to me, even mean, but I could never respond to them, not having seen the movie. (If I had seen the movie, I probably wouldn't have responded to these on Facebook. I think Facebook is among the most dismal of all places to discuss anything political, artistic, or socially relevant.)

Now, I don't know anything about the inner life of Stephen Hawking the man who wrote A Brief History of Time and lectured on cosmological matters all over the world.

I do know, however, what I saw in the movie character of Stephen Hawking, as played by Eddie Redmayne. Now, I want to say that I loved watching Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. In that movie, and it happened again in The Theory of Everything, I experienced Redmayne as a soulful actor, an actor who brings the inward life of his characters alive with his eyes and his face -- particularly his smile -- and, by doing so, he draws me into his characters and rouses my sympathy, gives me a sense of connection. Yes, I thought Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Hawking's physical deterioration was astonishing. Even more so, I thought the way Eddie Redmayne created a Stephen Hawking who was, by turns, mischievous, passionate about ideas, arrogant, playful, loving, pained, and devoted to the life of the mind, mostly through his eyes and facial expressions was moving, was extraordinary.

I'm not much interested anymore, like I was when younger, in awards, who wins them, or why.

I don't have an opinion about whether Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawking was better than work done by the other best actor nominees: Michael Keaton, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, or Steve Carell.

In fact, I don't care.

What do I care about? Eddie Redmayne's performance on its own. I thought that in the same way that Eddie Redmayne's Stephen Hawking was intellectually absorbed with the vastness of time and the universe, so was his portrayal of Hawking an exploration of the vastness of his inward life, his intellect, emotions, tenderness, stubbornness, disdain, insights, and joie de vivre. I enjoyed this parallel between the vast outward world Hawking loved as an intellectual and the vast inward world out of which originated his love of ideas, his family, and life itself.

To me, this movie was more than the Stephen Hawking story. It was also the Jane Hawking story. I thought, in a reserved way, Felicity Jones' portrayal of Jane Hawking was firey. Jones' portrayal of Jane Hawking certainly accentuated her devotion to her husband's care, but she was hardly an angelic helpmate. Stephen Hawkin angered Jane Hawkin. She envied parts of his life. She grew jealous of Hawkin's relationship with his care provider. She was attracted to another man, struggled with these feelings, and, in the end, as you probably know, their marriage came to an end, but not their connection to one another, not their continuing devotion to their children.

Twice in about the last three years, I have watched a trilogy of movies featuring a British spy, estranged from the M15, Johnny Worriker (Bill Nighy) . In the third movie, Felicity Jones plays Johnny Worriker's daughter, Julianne, who has a contentious relationship with her father and conceives a child with a man who is working for the M15 to bug Julianne's flat and spy on her. Felicity Jones was firey in this role as well -- not as reserved -- and it was fun to see her play such a different role as Jane Hawking.

Right now, as you might know, Felicity Jones is playing the role of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the movie, On the Basis of Sex. I haven't seen this movie yet.

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