Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Did Bette Davis Do It the Hard Way? Fifteen Films at TIFF Cinematheque Shed Light.

Bette Davis: the Hard Way
TIFF Cinematheque at TIFF Bell Lightbox until Dec. 8
Bette Davis could be anything onscreen, soft and yielding, hard and bitter, headstrong and upbeat and in the latter years, insane.  Davis finished her impressive leading lady and character career with a string of horror films in the 60’s and 70s.  She should be forgiven those although they stretched the notions of good taste for a Hollywood legend.  Davis needed money and took the roles she could get; she did things the hard way.  That period was mercifully brief following an outstanding and unparalleled Hollywood career that spanned 1931 to 1989, choc-a-block with magnificent performances.
Davis’ striking beauty was unconventional but she had something the Hollywood blondes didn’t have and that was personality.  Major personality, the kind people get or they don’t get, and probably the reason for her bumpy relationship with studio executives and co-stars.  For decades, Davis wrote her own ticket as Queen of Hollywood and then, on a couple of occasions, fell out of favour.  Then there’d be a triumphant return to the top of the heap and inevitably, another fall.  That was the pattern of her career. 

Davis could be her own worst enemy, refusing to take roles while under contract, stripping down execs and top stars, marrying the wrong people. 
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
In the 60’s Davis famously placed a Work Wanted ad in the papers, indicating black humour and grim determination and that’s why she did those grotesque horror parts, two of which are included in the Cinematheque retrospective, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.  Hollywood Grand Guignol a la Davis.
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
Call me a sap but my favourite Bette Davis film is Dark Victory in which she plays a careless, good time party gal who undergoes a transformation when she’s diagnosed with terminal illness. 
Dark Victory
Her final scenes, all New England stiff upper lip fortitude and strength of character, grip the heart.  No one could have done that role and arc so well. 
All About Eve
Another favourite Davis film is the popular All About Eve, in which she is a Broadway stage actress at the top of her game who is manipulated and nearly destroyed by an ambitious young actress.  You can feel the stinging wit.  A bumpy ride indeed.
Davis is the southern belle bitch in Jezebel, a deeply selfish plantation daughter, spoiled beyond sense and ultimately ruined by her own misdeeds.  Julie manages to scare off her lover (Henry Fonda) who eventually returns, married, and is hounded by her.  And there’s a plague.  Dear Bette cutting a swath through period melodrama.
Of Human Bondage
Bette brings her best wicked game to Of Human Bondage, a morality tale about a heartless waitress and the club footed man who loves her.  The worse she treats him, the more he seems to love her or excuse her; she keeps him hanging on and abandons him twice before trying to destroy him.  Egad.

Belt up for Bette in this rare retrospective of her films.  The screenings are as follows:
Nov. 15, 2013 at 6:30pm: Of Human Bondage

Nov. 16, 2013 at 4:30pm: The Letter

Nov. 17, 2013 at 1:00pm: All About Eve

Nov. 19, 2013 at 6:30pm: Now, Voyager

Nov. 21, 2013 at 6:30pm: Dark Victory

Nov. 22, 2013 at 6:30pm: Jezebel

Nov. 23, 2013 at 4:30pm: Marked Woman

Nov. 24, 2013 at 1:00pm: The Little Foxes

Nov. 26, 2013 at 6:30pm: Mr. Skeffington

Nov. 29, 2013 at 6:30pm: Beyond the Forest

Nov. 30, 2013 at 4:15pm: The Great Lie

Dec. 3, 2013 at 6:30pm: Dangerous

Dec. 6, 2013 at 6:30pm: Three on a Match

Dec. 7, 2013 at 4:00pm: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Dec. 8, 2013 at 4:30pm: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte



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