For the NY Times: ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ Episode 6 Recap: Midnight Descending

My re-cap for “Hagsploitation,” episode 6 of Feud: Bette and Joan is up at the New York Times.

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9 Responses to For the NY Times: ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’ Episode 6 Recap: Midnight Descending

  1. mutecypher says:

    This is an odd show. I enjoy many of the scenes and admire the acting, but as you say in your re-caps, there’s always an awfully big hammer for each episode’s theme. Which somehow takes me out of the moment. It’s as if they writers have more respect for the characters than the audience. Or an overwhelming desire to tell Joan’s story without allowing us to have our own thoughts and reactions and feelings. I hate being made to feel like I should react a certain way. Trust my judgement if I’m going to watch your damn show.

    I’m curious for your thoughts. Is just about everyone in this a flat character (in the way we talked about that regarding EM Forster’s Aspects of the Novel)? I’m not seeing any characters developing (rounding) or changing except Robert Aldrich. They just abandoned what they tried two episodes ago with his assistant – maybe they’ll pick that up later with her. Seems doubtful.

    I have mixed feelings about his arc with Harriet. Last week she was encouraging him to grow a pair and make the movies he wanted. This week she decides to leave him. I can understand the conflict – loving someone and wanting what’s best for him – and also not wanting to put up with his infidelities or his work-obsessions. But nothing in the show gave her a motivation to leave at that point. It feels like their relationship is just 3 or 4 scenes from being well-realized. But the establishing scenes just aren’t there. She’s just a woman he climbs into bed with at the end of the day and she says things to him.

    But man, Jessica Lange’s Joan. She’s fucking bigger than Godzilla. Bigger than nature.

    And we should all have a Mamacita in our lives to make us sandwiches when we are lonely and tell us we already had enough to drink on the flight.

    An unsatisfying show.

    • sheila says:

      I don’t find it unsatisfying at all! I find it the opposite. Like, I can’t get enough. I laugh, I cry once almost every episode. I’m glad it exists, for multiple reasons, and I went into it with trepidation because I love Davis and Crawford so much. But Murphy cares about these women, and cares about showing what they were all about. The show hits a lot of sweet spots for me. Most actors I know are eating it UP, which isn’t a surprise.

      It is definitely the Joan Crawford show, by design – her career basically ended by what happened here (coming up in the next 2 episodes) – it was an act of self-destruction. And even just reading about what she did, and her actions, if you love Crawford – as i do – you want to say, “Joan, just GO with it. STOP.”

      Robert Aldrich is a really interesting guy – a Rhode Islander – from one of our most illustrious families – Abby Aldrich married John Rockefeller (Jr.) – and Abby was the one who basically brought modern art to America (she formed MoMA). He was born into enormous wealth. Feud is not really getting him right, to be honest – although Molina is filling in a lot of those blanks. He was much more celebrated by French film critics than he was by his fellow Americans – he was perceived as a bit of a hack, and strictly B-List. Very unfair. Kiss Me Deadly may have been a B movie but it’s a flat-out classic. And don’t get me started on how critics – French, American, whoever – all the BOYS – kind of sniff at Baby Jane and Sweet Charlotte – kind of as lesser films, despite the fact that they were HUGE hits, getting multiple Oscar nominations. But they star GIRLS and the boys don’t take that seriously. Boo. Also, this was the man who then went on to direct The Dirty Dozen – he finally got his war movie! and WHAT a war movie. Hopefully people who are interested in Aldrich – as portrayed by Molina – who don’t know much about him – will do further research and discover the riches of that particular career.

      I think that’s one of the main gifts of the series. It’s so evocative and so interesting that anyone who doesn’t know the background has so much to discover. I cannot tell you how insane I would be going if I were, say, a teenager and watching this series. I would be keeping a running tally of all of the films I needed to see. Ryan Murphy has done MUCH to rehabilitate Crawford – there are some critics who would disagree with me, but fuck them, they’re wrong – and humanize what has been seen as a monstrous narcissist.

      Yeah, I agree they’re hammering home themes too hard. I don’t care about Harriet – and I don’t care at all about Pauline (Aldrich’s assistant). Oh well. It’s not that big a deal to me since so much of it is so rich and so fascinating. One scene showing Harriet being bummed out didn’t “take me out” of the main theme. I actually would have been bummed out if her character WERE more developed, since it would take away from what interests me – which is Davis and Crawford. That was my beef with the Pauline episode. I don’t care about this totally fictionalized woman. Get me back to Joan! But whatever, It’s like any show – some parts’ll work for you, others won’t.

      I think the characters are plenty rounded – at least rounded enough for the purposes of this 8-episode series. And there’s been an attempt to see where everyone is coming from – including people like Jack Warner, who was a tough sonofabitch- a villain to a lot of people – but everyone wants something, needs something, and the 60s were a time of pure PANIC in Hollywood, since the studios collapsed. Nobody knew what the future held. It wasn’t just Crawford who had a hard time. EVERYONE had a hard time. Cleopatra had just sunk an entire studio with its budget. Cleopatra was The End. The old days were gone. People were now going free-lance – which is what we see with Crawford and Davis negotiating their own terms for Baby Jane, something the studios would have handled for them only 5, 6 years before. In 1968/69 came Cassavetes’ Faces, and then Easy Rider – and forget it. No more studio system – the independent film movement in America had arrived.

      An incredible era.

    • sheila says:

      And I didn’t remember that Forster conversation. Just re-read it.

      I think for the purposes of this series, the characters are as rounded as they need to be. At least the ones that matter – which are Davis/Crawford/Aldrich/Mamacita. Those are the characters that really matter. Everyone else is just a bit player, peripheral to that main melodrama.

      And because this is a Hollywood story: for me, as I keep saying, the show is really about power dynamics and business negotiations. On that level, the show is aces. How does power manifest? How do you get what you want? How do you sweeten the pot for someone else? More bees with honey? When do you take the gloves off?

      In that environment – people ARE their wants/desires. There is nothing else. Being “rounded” is not really the point. It’s the OBJECTIVE that matters, which is why the series is such a pressure-cooker. These people are show-biz people who have NO lives outside of their work. Or at least no life that satisfies them.

      You seem disturbed by the Harriet thing in particular. To me, that was just an attempt to show a bit of Aldrich’s home life, what was going on with him as he prepared for “Charlotte,” and so I was fine with it. I wasn’t overwhelmingly interested in it, but I understood why it was there. In fact, any MORE of it – any attempt to flesh her out, or flesh out that relationship – and I would have been irritated.

      We’ve only got 8 episodes. Let’s get back to Davis and Crawford, please!

      But these are minor flaws, making the thing slightly uneven – but when everything else is so strong and compelling, I don’t care.

      • mutecypher says:

        I understand that you are getting different things from this than I am – and I easily see the appeal. The Harriet thing, the bum-bum-bum “here it is” of the themes, and my own greater interest in Bette (or unsatisfied-by-the-show interest) are making me feel like this show is so close to great, but not there. Sometimes “near great” is thrilling. Sometimes it’s aggravating. You can see where Feud hits for me. I will certainly keep watching. Nearly every scene is great – but… I feel disrespected by the obviousness.

        As I write this I’m uncovering my feelings, so bear with me. Or is it “bare with me” if I’m uncovering? Nah. I think you know your feelings here exactly.

        : -)

        I think the themes are very interesting. Maybe they were dealt with in real life in such obvious ways and I just need to suck it up and recognize that subtlety wasn’t going on amongst the players. “Hagsploitation” is pretty nasty.

        • sheila says:

          Very nasty! and it gets worse! Joan flames out. Even now, I want to intervene. I want to tell her to stop, to let it go. But of course she couldn’t.

          These people were all fighting to survive. And nobody knew how it would play out. They were pioneers. It’s like Tina Turner. Or Mick Jagger. There had never been an elderly rock star before these people. Because rock ‘n roll is a new medium. As film is a new medium. There were no examples to follow, no precedent. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were in the first wave of major motion picture stars. They CREATED movie stardom. So now they were old. They didn’t have THEM as models – as people like Meryl Streep now have Davis as a model (Streep’s TCM tribute to Bette Davis is so great!) They were CREATING their own mold. And they were expected to just vanish because no one wanted to see them anymore. Thank God both of them were like, “Fuck THAT.”

          Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were not normal human beings. Nobody who is famous at that level is. Motherhood, love relationships, hell even taking a vacation – did not satisfy these women. Without acting, they were nothing. Both of them of course had dreams of other things – they both were mothers, lovers, wives (multiple times) … but without a career, their lives had no meaning.

          I am frustrated with those (not you) who describe this as a battle between two egomaniacs – as though “egomaniac” is not a job requirement of a star. Of COURSE they were egomaniacs. You don’t become Bette Davis or Joan Crawford (or anyone famous) without a giGANTIC ego. I don’t care how humble anyone sounds in an interview. You don’t become famous by accident. At least not THAT famous.

          So I like the fact that the show accepts that as a given and does not judge either of them for it. Men aren’t judged for going what they want and being ruthless in getting their demands met. It’s a show that acknowledges their greatness as personae, as actresses, as businesswomen. It’s about time. It also humanizes both of them, for sure – and that’s long LONG overdue.

          • sheila says:

            Here’s Streep’s beautiful TCM tribute to Davis:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCmGmVkY06Q

          • sheila says:

            and speaking of Aldrich, just yesterday I read this great in-depth piece on him in Senses of Cinema:

            http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/aldrich/

          • mutecypher says:

            Thanks for the pioneer hook. I hadn’t really taken in how they were inventing a career arc for the aging greats in their biz. You’d mentioned it, I know, but it’s sinking in.

            In terms of inventing, there’s the notion among engineers that one should prototype often and get to”fail” quickly to learn what does or doesn’t work. Joan is definitely on the prototype-quickly-to-learn-what-doesn’t-work path.

          • mutecypher says:

            In terms of the flat versus rounded character discussion from a few years back… You had commented that someone like Stalin would have made use of a zealot like Madame Defarge, and then burned her once she stopped being useful. I don’t know enough to compare any studio heads to dictators, but as Joan gets burned …

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