Miriam is back on screen she’s looking around as if searching for something. The tinkling flutters of incorporeal music still tipping back and forth. We are suspended in some kind of time frame ourselves. Captive. Again as in Baby Jane we as spectators are being held within the constructs of the visual narrative as much as the characters themselves. Aldrich uses his shadows to constrict our visual movement. So much of the plot is drenched in the mysterious cloaking of shadow that it obliterates our senses. The shadows formulate the environment to feel obstructive.
Once again the blackest bar of shadow cuts across Miriam’s figure, casting an ominous 2nd Miriam luring behind herself. Throughout Charlotte, the camera/shadows have aggressively dissected the woman’s bodies in various parts. In advertising, there has been criticism aimed at Ads depicting women’s body parts being cut off as if to dehumanize them. I don’t think Aldrich’s intention was to dehumanize these female characters, but rather to show the fracturing of their ambivalent personalities.
The Manifest meaning behind the shadows could be as simple as framing these female characters in mystery, the ultimate question is one of the Latent meanings, in which we might as spectators come to understand the characters’ principal personalities and the underlying motivating forces that drive them.
And I’d like to think that the camera lens didn’t develop a bit of Acrotomophilia, the amputee fetish that sadly some people suffer from. Still, I found that it is something of worthy note to observe how these shadows frame the female body in both films.
Even the plant seems to cut across Miriam’s torso
Miriam knocks on Charlotte’s door. There is a quick jump cut, Charlotte is on the other side of the door. Miriam knocks once more and then walks away. She shuts the lights out and throws us into yet even more darkness than before. She walks over to the silky lace-covered windows. The dog is still barking outside near the graveyard.
A flute flutters the scales in an almost Middle Eastern mixed Phrygian mode, an exotic mysterious motif, as Miriam peers through the curtains yet look back behind her. She turns away and walks back into the room.
We hear a creaking door. It’s the large Armour as the door swings open to show that Miriam’s sequined dress has been slashed. With the use of an inner monologue we hear Miriam say, “My dress, somebody’s slashed my dress.” She stares at it. Again we see her in profile. the little pipe flutterings play again as she walks toward the shredded dress. Slowly ever so slowly build the tension.
The fluttering is now almost childlike. Is this to represent that a regressive childish acting out is responsible for this destructive behavior? Miriam’s head is in complete shadow surrounded by the shiny sequins, dangling like torn fish gills and silk. She begins to handle the ruined fabric, the music still with us. The strings come in strident. Finally, we see Miriam in full face. She looks contained but shocked at the same time.
End of the scene – Crossfade
A newspaper headline GRUESOME MUTILATION MURDER. 4 photographs. Charlotte as a youth, Big Sam, young Miriam, and John Mayhew. Parts of Body Missing. We hear a voice, “They certainly were attractive youngsters.”
Now we see Frank Ferguson as the editor of the Hollisport Newspaper pouring coffee. He was a regular as Mr. Foley on The Andy Griffith Show. “Yes, sir that was just about the biggest story that ever broke in this town.”
He’s reading the headline. Now Harry Wills says, “Yes I can see how you gave it, what you might call the full treatment.”
We see another headline from Hollisport News NEW CLUES IN BRUTAL MURDER The editor laughs, “We couldn’t very well bury it on the society page could we?..anyway help yourself I think you’ll find everything that you’ll need here.” Wills is surrounded by old newspapers stacked on the desk. “And that’s a pretty good picture of Miss Charlotte” Wills smiles and says ” Yes it is” SOCIALITE LOVE TRIANGLE BARED
Wills tells him, “I was working for the press when she arrived in London, and not one of us succeeded in getting an interview with her,” The editor says “It’s said that Big Sam sent her over there preventing her from being charged and tried…but that wasn’t so” he pours himself some coffee. “Sending her out of the country wouldn’t have helped, I reckon it was Sam’s political connections that had more to do with it.” Wills looks oddly at that statement. “As I remember the district attorney tried hard to make a charge stick but the whole thing was transferred over to Baton Rouge I reckon Sam’s friends in the capital got busy cause nothing ever did come of it…lack of evidence was the ah, official explanation” Wills pipes in, “you wouldn’t think so from the headlines.”
Suddenly a cocky reporter named Paul Marchand ( William Campbell –Dementia 13) who works for a tabloid rag called Crimes of Passion, comes in chewing gum and hangs up his jacket.
“Tell me something, are you running anything on the return of Miriam Dearing?”The editor Blake tells him, “Just an insert in the social column.” He blurts out an obnoxious laugh “You gotta be kidding” Then he introduces Marchand, “Excuse me Mr. Wills this is a colleague of yours, Mr. Marchand from NY.” Wills says “How do you do?”Marchand comes back quickly, “And who are you covering that story for?”
Wills politely interjects “Don’t worry about me old chap my status is that of an amateur …by the way what journal do you represent.?”Marchand brags “Crimes of Passion, Century Crime Classics…you know that Hollis story hit the news again over that business with the bridge…here take a look.” He hands him the magazine CRIMES OF PASSION 25c we see the old Hollis mansion sketched and a body with no head and a hacked-off right hand. A photo of young Charlotte at the bottom.
Callously Marchand says, “No head, No hand…just like the way it was.” Wills throws the magazine down, gets up, and says “yes” not impressed with this exploitation monger. Wills seems more saddened by the entire matter, but Marchand is oblivious to this.
“Very Powerful” he adds. He understands the graveness of the incident. Marchand says, “Well we’re really going to town on this one.” As Wills walks away Marchand calls over to him. “heyyy Mr. Blake you never showed me this stuff. Wills and Blake look at each other with disgust at this man.
We hear Marchand going on “Well one thing they didn’t do back then is play up the sex angle like they can today” Wills is looking out the window of the newspaper office.
As a truck passes by, Blake points to Miriam getting out of her car parked across the street. He quietly mouths to Wills, “Miriam Dearing.” Then he points to an old woman dressed in mourner black walking with a cane down the steps, being helped by her black servant.
Miriam is slowly walking up to her. Jewel’s servant says happily “Miss Dearing, my it’s good to see you back” Miriam goes to talk to Jewel.
“Jewel, Jewel Mayhew” But Jewel turns away. Miriam says “Oh here let me help you” But Jewel says “You leave me be, if I ever prayed for anything it was that you never dare show your face to me again.” Miriam says, “After all these years what do you mean?”
“Do you honestly believe that time can excuse all the things that you’ve done to me” Miriam forges a plea,”Jewel please don’t not here on the public steps” but Jewel interrupts.
“Oh, why I see, not in public, we mustn’t speak the truth out in the open you and I now” Miriam continues on with her honeyed disbelief, “it’s not about me that I’m worried”Jewel asserts, “well right here on the public street…in the light of day…Let me tell you Miriam Dearing…that murder starts in the heart…and its first weapon is a vicious tongue.”
Jewel replies, “Go away from me” in a harshly deep-throated voice. Years of hatred and bitterness built up there in that tone. “I’m ill I”m very ill” The servant looks caring at his employer, and with what seems to be the last bit of air she can breathe she tells Miriam.
“I won’t give out one more thing to you..not even one more minute.” We hear him say, “That’s alright Miss Mayhew come along.” Miriam just stands there looking stunned. She continues to walk up the stone steps of the Hollisport General Hospital.
The scene fades to first a quick glimpse of Charlotte on the stairs framed in again, then Miriam walking toward the door of the Hollis Mansion. Charlotte is screaming at Velma. “A world full of monsters!” Velma is carrying a tray down the stairs. Charlotte is screaming, throwing something down the stairs that knocks Velma right over. “Don’t you ever show your white trash faces in this house again!!!!!!” we hear the dishes and glasses breaking from whatever Charlotte flung down the stairs.
Now Miriam walks into the house Velma is on the floor she exclaims, “Damn!” in a southern yawp. “Some damn meanness all day long.” She scrambles to get herself up and gathered again. Miriam stands there watching cool as ever. Velma continues, “One damn filthy mess to clean up after another.” She’s talking to Miriam, but it could be anybody she’d be venting to about Charlotte’s tirade and mood.
Velma speaks the simple truth, “she’s nothin’ but a child.” She’s picking up the broken pieces off the floor, looking as messy as the broken pieces themselves. Half mumbling half pronouncing the words so as to be heard. “She never does anything around here anyway.” Now the words are completely nondistinct. Miriam looked down at the mess and Velma. She is holding the sensationalist magazine Crimes of Passion and then she asks Velma, “Who brought this into the house?”
Velma screeches like a hawk, “I did, I brought it in, it was in the mailbox just like that… I reckon somebody put it there…you know…she broke that dang blarn tea pot up there.” The two women standing at the base of the stairs. Velma looks at Miriam for consensus and Miriam looks upward thinking of Charlotte.
Velma continues, “Tea running all down the wall…” Velma gesticulating all over the place like a rag doll on the warpath. “Shoowee!” Miriam ignores Velma and says, “Incidentally I managed to find some women to do the packing please let me know when they arrive.” She walks passed Velma without any regard for the outburst she just shared. Dismissive and calculating. Miriam is starting to emerge as the antagonist. Velma continues to mumble inaudible asides mimicking Miriam and then makes a half hostile half comical gesture toward Miriam who has already gone upstairs out of sight.
Jump cut to Charlotte throwing a cup and smashing it against the wall in the hallway outside her bedroom door. She screams at Miriam, ” I told you to stay out!” and slams the door shut. Miriam storms into the room.
Charlotte looks a little taken aback, a little recalcitrant. Miriam speaks, “Charlotte you’re behaving like a child, throwing a tantrum over a trivial bit of rubbish like this, “She throws the rag on the bed, and Charlotte looks shocked all over again. Of course, Miriam is a provocateur and does this on purpose. To reopen her wounds. Charlotte picks up the magazine and thrusts it on the floor. “How could you touch that piece of filth” Miriam answers, “It’s only a magazine…cheap and disgusting…and only cheap and disgusting people will read it.” Miriam is smug all too calm and patronizing, not very emotional at all. Charlotte snarls back, “It is Jewel Mayhew deviling me in my own house!”
“You think Jewel Mayhew brought it here…she couldn’t have,” Miriam says. “Why couldn’t she have brought it here!” Charlotte screeches back.” Miriam tells her, “I just saw her, she’s seriously ill, much too ill to be running around playing silly games with magazines.”Like an angry child Charlotte adds, “Well she deserves to be ill…she deserves to die!” Miriam feigns shock, “Charlotte, it’s just possible that Jewel Mayhew hasn’t given you a sustained thought in years. ” Charlotte snarls, “Oh you think so!”
Charlotte is irate in contrast to Miriam’s cool self-possession, Charlotte’s face like a Harpy about to swoop down ” Oh you think so do ya, you think she’s never given me a thought.” She runs to her antique dresser drawer and pulls out piles of letters and papers.
The strings are furious striking quickly, urgently Charlotte lets out an ironic smile at Miriam as she dumps the paper mounds on the bed. “I’ve been getting these in the mail ever since John died…that idiot Luke Standish said they were crank notes, but then some reporter got hold of them and put it in the newspaper, and then they started coming in from all over the world.”
Charlotte has been tortured by the gruesome crime since her youth. “But the first one was mailed right here in Hollisport and that’s where the last one came from and nobody can ever make me believe that Jewel Mayhew didn’t send ’em.”
Charlotte has a right to her paranoia. She’s been suspected of a horrible murder. Haunted by loss, reminded time and time again by the sensationalist papers and taunting letters. Again, there is a level of credibility to Charlotte’s hysteria, and yet the narrative frames her as unstable. It is an uncomfortable friction of realities that rubs against the grain, Perhaps on a more subconscious level the truth is hacking away at her mind, thus Charlotte is given to fits of rage and regression. Yet, She does have cause to feel persecuted. In her most ired stew, Charlotte comes across as more human, than Miriam who is forbidding and inwardly hostile.
Miriam asks her in a monotone voice. “You saved all these?”…. “All of ’em!…to show how mean and unforgiving she can be.” Miriam starts to say “Well” as she straightens out the piles of hate mail.
Velma walks into the room. Miriam continues, “It’s time you got rid of them.” Charlotte asks Velma what’d ya want now?” “I come to tell her”…Charlotte breaks in… “She could use some tellin.” Velma just continues unwavering by Charlotte’s irate mood. “Them packin’ women you been lookin’ for…they’s arrived.”
Miriam walks past Velma, “I’ll take care of it” Now there is a very powerful moment. Velma has picked up one of the pieces of paper off the floor. She hands it to Miriam as she passes by. Miriam looks down at it. It is a single word written MURDERESS. Velma’s profile is left of Miriam as she glares at the word. The word was meant for Charlotte but Velma very purposely hands it to Miriam as a way of letting her know that she knows she is not to be trusted. It is also a way for the narrative to point towards Miriam as possibly John’s killer having had such animosity toward the Hollis family and jealousy of her cousin Charlotte. A plausible theory. Miriam is so staunch and unmoved, it again is almost Sociopathic. It lends credence to Velma’s suspicions. We do know on some level, at this point that Miriam is not what she appears to be.
Again as in Baby Jane. There are two women Charlotte and Miriam, juxtaposed and polar opposites. A counterintuitive impression of one being sophisticated and rational. Mature and worldly. The other is a regressive child who is spoiled and unstable. Possibly even mentally ill. Not fashionable. Not up to date in appearance. A virtual outcast. Yet, what seems to be on the outside, is quite in contrast with the true nature of the pairing of these 2 women.
Miriam gives Velma an icy unmoved glance and just lets the paper fall to the ground like a snowflake. Once Miriam is off screen Velma breaks a little of her facial clenching and starts to look a little vulnerable, perhaps worried for the first time. Her tactic didn’t jostle Miriam at all.
Cecil Kellaway Mr Harry Wills, is on the front of the grand Mayhew mansion’s veranda. Closer in we see Jewel fanning herself at a table. She tells him that this is her favorite place now…” here in the shade.” He answers, “Yes it’s very pleasant here, very pleasant indeed.” He sits down at the table across from Jewel.
“Tell me, Mr Wills, weren’t you just a bit surprised when I agreed to see you?” She takes a sip of her tea.” After all, you must have been told that I don’t normally receive visitors.”Wills politely replies, “Well yes, but then I find the hospitality of this part of the country extraordinary…besides I imagine you had your reasons.” Then a servant comes halfway out the door, “Would you have anything else, ma’am?” We see both Jewel and Mr. Wills framed by the great archway of oak trees exiting into a portal of light. It’s an ethereal scene. This older woman and the older gentleman sitting as if in an otherworldly place.
” Uh, no thank you Lewis”‘ the servant thanks her and goes back inside.
“I did have my reasons Mr Wills” She puts her cup down, “I did.” He tells her, “I hope you won’t regret it, but I did warn you that I’d have to touch on some painful subjects.” She’s fanning herself. Completely composed.”This leads me to confess to my own reasons for this meeting… I have a particular need for a stranger now.” Wills looks like a sweet old man his jowls are like a trustworthy hound, he smiles just a touch, “Yes, they…they do have their uses don’t they.” Jewel enlightens him, “Well in this little town, our interests are all too, too tightly interlocked. If you confide in one person, you confide in the whole community.”
Not unlike The Naked Kiss, we have a town built on a certain Patriarchal foundation. The women who might let’s use the word digress from morality are either caused to be judged quite harshly or are forced to manifest a latent rage, women as represented by darkness. The Hollis House is a dark protraction of the womb at times. The manifestation of the Telluric realm, after Charlotte inhabits it for so long.
Wills continues, “You mean you’d like somebody to talk to?” Jewel answers, “Only in a sense…I’m not a well woman…you can see that much for yourself…who was it said, this long disease my life…well…it’s coming to an end, perhaps a month, a few weeks who knows.”
Wills says, “I’m terribly sorry” Jewel is not weak of spirit, “Oh no no don’t be not for me, I think I’m even glad….but never mind that I take ( a strange little musical riff lets us know that there’s something more to Jewel’s confession) it you’re no stranger to the unhappier aspects of people’s lives…that the only way to trust someone is on instinct alone.”
She is holding a sealed envelope. “I want you to have this…I only ask that you don’t open it until after I’m gone…then I want you to use your own judgment and experience you’ll know what to do when the time comes…or what not to do.” Wills looks down at the little white envelope, pondering the secret of its contents. Perhaps he’s known all along. The odd musical riff plays again he says, “it seems a dreadful responsibility”, his hand resting on the envelope. She says, “it is a terrible one.” He smiles a bit. Jewel adds “my honest advice is to refuse it” she’s fanning herself like a great dame of elegant quality and wisdom.
Wills tells her, “You know I won’t of course” and she says, “I know” As she looks at and plays with the cuff of her lace-trimmed dress she utters, “Ruined finery…that’s all I have left.”
“I’m a stone broke, is that the phrase?….it’s a relief to admit it” Wills seems confused, about her policy, but she says, “You know how long it takes to process a claim like that, by the time I’d be receiving it, I’d be passed needin’ it.” The camera has pulled back again. We see them both framed by the great Oaks, which leads us to a tunnel of light at the end.
Like a metaphor for the ending of Jewel’s journey, and perhaps the mystery. It looks like the entrance to the other side. Wills smiles and says, “Here, now I think you’re ready for another cup of tea”, he pours it and the scene fades into
Miriam lying on her bed, rolling over we hear a woman singing, playing the harpsichord. Miriam starts to stir awake, we hear it’s Charlotte singing. It’s the song John wrote for her. More clearly now we hear, “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Charlotte don’t you cry…Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte”, as Miriam dresses to go downstairs, the camera lets us see the pistol that Drew gave her sitting on the night table next to the bed.
“I’ll love you til I die.”…The red rose tells you of my passion…The white rose my love so true…And every night after I shall die.” Charlotte’s voice trails off, cracking apart after every other line she sings of John’s song.
Miriam is looking downward towards the singing, she starts out for the stairs, while Charlotte continues to sing the sad little song.”The wind will sing to you this lullaby” Charlotte speaks the words as they begin chipping as her tears breaking the melody apart, “Sweet Charlotte” She begins to sob now.
Miriam is now in the room. She calls to Charlotte, who is totally obscured by shadow. In the corner of the room sitting at the harpsichord. Miriam continues to call Charlotte. She goes over to her. “Come to bed Charlotte.” Charlotte is so broken up, holding her hands to her face. Weeping. The shadow is cast on Miriam while Charlotte is lit up to the right of screen. Miriam looks more like a serpent ready to strike although her tone seems solicitous and kind-hearted.
“He really isn’t here is he?” Tears are streaming down her face, still cast in light while Miriam is shaded in darkness. “Just now I thought I heard him…sometimes at night when I wake up it seems as if he really is here.” Miriam goes over to the light switch Charlotte says, “Don’t turn on the light…it’s not real when it’s light…it’s only real when it’s dark…dark and still.” She is such a sad soul. Miriam looks sympathetically at her. “I won’t turn on the light, come along…you must go to bed.” Miriam now has a queer look on her face.
As Charlotte turns around, about to take Miriam’s advice she looks down toward the floor, in a wall of darkness that starts to recede, a door creaks as a hatchet is revealed embedded in the floor. The horns nearly blast our eardrums, as Charlotte is shocked, and traumatized, yet the screen shows a very calm Miriam.
Charlotte runs to the other end of the room, as Miriam looks down at the spot. Now in complete reveal, we see a severed hand next to the meat cleaver, and an old corsage, apparently Charlotte’s the night of the dance. Miriam’s face is in close up, her face horrified. Charlotte is hysterical, screaming, “He’s dead, He’s dead.” Continuing to scream “He’s dead.”, Miriam runs after her. Chasing Charlotte up the staircase. The long staircase. In the canon of film noir, again stairs are very essential tools to the narrative.
Quick cut to the darkness outside Hollis Mansion. Charlotte off-screen is still screaming Miriam goes back down the stairs. The music is a series of broken-up tonal bells to represent madness and distortion. The stairs are completely black, and only the vaguest silhouette of Miriam is seen descending the steps. And now the quiet sound of crickets from outside. Has the moment of obscenity and horror faded? The freshness of the night and the outside are coming back into the realm of our inner environment.
There is a sustained low double bass note held til it vibrates to a profound depth, and then the trebling of the piano. Miriam seems confused by the events.
Miriam puts the light on and walks back into the room. Looking at the spot where the phantom abomination was scene by Charlotte. Did Miriam see what Charlotte saw? or was she horrified by the fact that nothing was there? Miriam now hurries over to the spot but there is nothing there. She looks confused. Worried. Had she seen the same horrific staging? And if so, who was responsible for putting it there?
She checks the handle and lock on the window-paneled door, that leads out to the garden. She looks out the window through the curtains. We hear the dog barking again, from out near the graveyard.
To the packing women, they are wrapping things up in newspaper all the while looking at Charlotte who has now come downstairs holding a bouquet of flowers. She tells them, “Stop staring at me.” They give her a disdainful look and walk out of the room without saying a word.
Charlotte walks into the room staring at the place, it’s dark. Then she walks over to the French doors , where the meat cleaver was dug into the floor. She lets the light into the spot, and there is a splintered groove where the sharp edge had left its mark. She taps it with the point of her white pump.
She takes in a deep breath, holding the flowers to her chest. A poignant melody clarinet or oboe, She thinks to herself. We do not see a hysterical woman now, we see a rational woman in control again, who knows that what she saw was real. The evidence is there as she runs her shoe over the grooved slice on the floor. She walks outside amidst the sound of the birds and the fresh light of day.
One of the packers is watching her, “damn she sure acts like she’s crazy sometimes.” Another one says, “That’s what all the folks in town say”
Charlotte is a marked woman, she has been condemned by gossip, and in an incestuous community where there is no privacy nor boundaries, rumors fester like a disease.
The 3 women staring at her like she’s an object. The one sitting down continues her thought, “But I wouldn’t bet on it…I wouldn’t bet on it at all.”
Now I mention, that these 3 women are black for a reason. In a southern community where they are also outsiders in the 60s from High Society, it is their wisdom that sees through the gossip. It takes them being outsiders as well, to understand the truth about Charlotte. Where the others cannot see. These women on the margins of society can see the truths that others will not or cannot see.
Velma is standing outside on the veranda, watching Charlotte go into the family garden grave side plot where she goes to place the fresh flowers on her papa’s grave.
She takes the old dried up bouquet and puts the fresh cut bunch down. Suddenly she is startled as Mr Wills comes up from behind taking his hat off to greet her. “Well upon my word” Charlotte gets up, the camera pulls back we see the two at distant corners of the screen from each other. The central focal point is the stone gazebo erected as a monument to the Hollis plot.
Wills says “Charlotte Hollis”, in a happy lilting tone. He walks over to her. Still, we are far away from them. “Now I’ve frightened you, I’m terribly sorry.”
She starts to walk passed him, picking up her gate she runs toward the house and then stops. Now we are close up again. Charlotte is in the frame but Wills is way back. “Please don’t run away.”
She seems to pause on his very kind tone,”I’m quite harmless I assure you.” She begins to turn around. Close up on Charlotte she begins to fix her hair that is being blown by the breeze. She’s still a southern belle at heart, greeting a gentleman caller.
Quick cut to Velma peering out of the door past one of the immense columns. Poking her head out like a little bird from a cuckoo clock, all pointed and purposeful.
Snap back to Wills getting closer to Charlotte. We hear the birds, it is the brightness of day, and the moss is hanging around them like green silk tendrils.
Wills has a most welcoming demeanor. As he moves closer he asks her if she’d like a cigarette. He’s wearing a camera around his neck. She barely shakes her head no, he says “Well I won’t either.”
She begins to wipe the sweat from her neck with a hanky, “What are you doing on my property?” Wills says “Yes my dear it is your property isn’t it”…well as a matter of fact I’m snooping” The canopy of moss hangs over them like an umbrella now. She is looking up at this curious man.
Wills continues, “There’s no other word for it,” Charlotte asks him, “Are you one of those surveyors?”He answers, “Oh no no, I’m nothing to do with all that sort of thing.” She quickly notices “Then what’s that camera for? ” he says, “This is a sort of conversation piece…I say, may I introduce myself…my name is Harry Wills” Charlotte goes to take his hand and shakes it graciously.
Charlotte seems to liken to this man.”I’ve come all the way from London in the hope of meeting you.” They are now in the center of the screen. Seeming more equal in size and proportion to each other. The purpose of this is to let us know that he will not come to any harm to Charlotte in the end. Still wiping the humid sweat from her neck she asks “Why?” He fumbles a bit before he answers. “Well, we have met before you know.” Now they are walking along together back toward the house. He is holding his hat. He is a gentle sort of man. Very easy and likable.
Wills continues about having met Charlotte earlier.”A long time ago.” Velma is listening in poking out of the door again. Back to the two of them walking, “On the first night you arrived in London when I was a newspaper reporter and sat as close to you as I am now for 2 delightful minutes.” We see them from behind. Charlotte says to him “But I didn’t talk to any reporters.” He answers, ” I know you didn’t and you had every reason not to…the way they behaved toward you.” They face each other. “That’s one of the reasons I always hoped I’d meet you again.” From both profiles, she holds out her hand, as if to ask why. She looks so soft outside. Her hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail. Wisps of curls hanging in her face.
Unlike the film, Baby Jane, Charlotte is a bit more obscure in terms of its cult status. I did hesitate to follow the plot straight through to the end, as I want to encourage people to either revisit Charlotte or feel inclined to see it for the first time. Bette Davis is one of the most compelling actresses of all time, and Aldrich’s portrayal of the tragic Charlotte Hollis as characterized by the genius of Davis, is nothing short of stunning and heart-wrenching. I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone who wants to experience the rest of the film for themselves completely unprepared or reminded of how the spiraling narrative plays out. Therefore I’m going to add some images yet not discuss the dialogue any further than where it is now at the end of the post. Halfway through the film, with characters are a bit more developed, and some questions are added.
I hope you decide to watch the film. It will be a memorable experience for those of you who like to discover old film masterpieces, just adore Bette Davis, the work of Robert Aldrich, or love Grand Gothic Cinema at its finest. I just broke in here to remind you that we’re almost at the end of my full commentary.
This is an interesting short tangent that will bring me to Patriarchy and Hollisport’s systemic problems., then the end of the dialogue with images, and onto Part VI -A visual journal with no telling leads.
WOMAN IN FILM NOIR NEW EDITION EDITED BY E. ANN KAPLAN Chapter 4 Duplicity in Mildred Pierce Pam Cook page 72
The question of the retreat from Patriarchy brings me to Bachofen’s theory of the relationship between mother -right and father -right.
From his study of myth (Bachofen) he establishes two basic cultural levels. A primitive level of swamp generation where the union of water and land brings about birth which swiftly becomes death and returns to the land. This level is Telluric. Associated with sexual promiscuity and characterized as female.
Note: Charlotte is considered a promiscuous whore for the affair with John Mayhew. The primitive swamp land is very close to the milieu of the southern bayou. Death and returning to the land, are associated with the murder and the missing male body parts. Women’s sexuality leads to destruction.
The 2nd level is luminous and transcendent and associated with men. The 2nd patriarchal level is the one to which all human life aspires and therefore the more primitive level called hetaerism by Bachofen must constantly be overcome. The schema is more complex than this. taking in various stages between the 2 levels. Demetrian matriarchy, for instance, occupies a position midway between hetaerism and patriarchy and is therefore an area of struggle since it stands in opposition both to the excesses of hetaerism and to the institution of patriarchy, which signals the loss of matriarchal rights and privileges.
The reference to Demetrian relates to the mythic character of Demeter.
Note: Consider the opposition of excesses in Charlotte losing her land now that Big Sam is no longer the Father figure in charge, and Jewel Mayhew losing her husband John, having been left with nothing but a tattered refinery. No children, she is ill and dying, and she is too of questionable integrity. Miriam herself is almost sexless, showing no romantic interest in Drew. She may exude power in her air of learned sophistication out of necessity yet was stripped of her dignity early on by having come from a poor eastern family, an orphan left to beg from the dregs of the few offerings Big Sam would throw at her.
The aspects of the male characters are such that they are always speaking from a place of mental acuity, even the most incidental male figures are lensed as keenly rational, they are practical in their approach to problems and situations that arise in the narrative, as they the male energy force is connected to the sun which is emblematic to the intellectual. Whereas the women seem to possess a very visceral reactionary temperament as the female energy in myth, relates to water and thus feminine irrationality, which is also rooted in the idea of depth (water) or subterfuge and darkness, unlike men who seek reason in the light of day, as again they are represented by the sun.
Although Miriam comes across as a rational being, she is covertly mimicking the part of a rational human being, but ulterior drives are quite tapped into the feminine rage. She is however a male figure. Her gaze is that of a masculine entity.
Women = depth and deception and emotional turmoil and death or destruction, the darkness of the womb, and by death, they are responsible for birth or change, yet it is the male power that is seen as the harvester, the one who grows, ideas, great thoughts, with the illumination from the father figure Sun. Women are Moon related are thus are veiled in mystery and deceit or illusion.
I relate these themes as I see them in context to the story of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and felt that it had a place here in this post, as I am discussing the obliteration of power by a Patriarchal environment.
Women can be referred to as devouring presences. I just watched Suddenly Last Summer and will be covering this incredible film with Liz Taylor. Tennessee William’s story is rampant with the devouring mother theme. Natural predators as well as the mother figure herself. Even the Venus Fly trap was given a name, I don’t recall off hand, but I will be blogging about the film soon.
In the transition from mother-right to father-right there is a further stage, The Dionysian which heralds the founding of Patriarchy undermining the Demetrian principle (Demeter in Greek myth) by an alliance with hetaerism and a return to the sensual frenzy of a more primitive era, characterized by an era of sexual freedom in which women are held in common by men. Against the abuse of women’s bodies which hetaerism implies the man-killing Amazon arises.
I can’t give away the ending but it applies to the death of John Mayhew symbolically. Yet another stage in the transition to patriarchy explains why John was not the subject of scandal whereas the women involved were. Bachofen isolates a symbolic grid that supports the basic division between female Matriarchal and Male Patriarchal, here is the shortened version.
Material/Corporeal Spiritual/ Intellectual
Mass Solidarity Individuality
Binaries: Women fearing and hating the penis are ambivalent for not having a phallus of their own and men hate and fear women for giving birth and for their not being able to give birth themselves.
It is the founding of the Hollisport Patriarchy that engenders its protagonist’s transgressions and regressions of the female “Tellurian” figures ( Charlotte and Jewel) and not unlikely Velma and the women packers, which then become subsumed by the mostly male power structure set forth. Miriam represents an almost systematic virile dominance over Charlotte. Replacing Big Sam who has died, Miriam’s primacy leads her to rule over Charlotte as an ‘object’ just as Charlotte was for Big Sam. The men in the town are taking away her home. Miriam enters the once-quiet garden of Charlotte’s desecrated Eden and subtly manipulates Charlotte like the serpent. It’s Harry Wills who might be her only savior.
Velma although Charlotte’s strongest advocate who champions her relentlessly, is lensed as a weak character because she is of a lower class and not considered relevant, as she is continually marginalized in the story. Sadly during one of Charlotte’s many outbursts, she, unfortunately, refers to Velma as ” White Trash.” Perpetuating the fact that Charlotte herself has not shaken off her classism altogether.
The black women in the southern community realize that Charlotte is not crazy yet they are not considered legitimate, so they hold their private views of the truth amongst themselves. Again here we have other characters in the film that have been marginalized although they bare the most veracity when seeing Charlotte for who she truly is. While Wills seems innocuous, he is tentative in his encouragements until possibly the end.
Is Charlotte set up to fall because of the paradigm of patriarchal rule? Is Charlotte doomed not to prevail or strive but to be perpetually victimized on several different levels? At first, Charlotte was infantilized by her overbearing father, who held sway over every action as a child.
As a woman who digressed, was a transgressor, by losing her virtue to a married man. As a woman who might be in fact a murderess. A woman who is a recluse and pariah in the town, partly because she is a regressive character and partially because she has been shunned by the community.
As a woman in this particular community she has no claim to ownership without her father’s presence., so she has no security. As she is already perceived as insane, her land is easily taken away from her. In the burning times, the church was able to seize widows’ land from them by claiming they were witches in order to confiscate their claim to the inherited land by their deceased husbands. The church is an established Patriarchal institution at its most virulent.
The marginalized view or someone standing on the margins is considered one of the oppressed, and will easily see another being oppressed. The narrative shows this with the black women able to see Charlotte’s sanity clearly, and especially with Velma who has no pretenses about life and has been handed the rules of honesty through privation and hardship.
As in Charlotte like Mildred Pierce, its inevitable resolution is multiply coded in the film and narrative organizations and the symbolic use of film lighting and camera framing of characters and the environment. As I stated at the beginning of this post, the extensive use of shadows cutting through the women’s bodies is adding a contextual piece to the fractured puzzle.
DeVol’s music continues its poignancy here:
Wills recalls the time he met Charlotte for those 2 delightful minutes. Charlotte seems so flattered that he remembered her clothes “It was grey… no green with a sort of Tam o Shanter to match.”
Charlotte shakes her head sweetly yes. “I am right?… hahaha” he laughs with pleasure at remembering and getting it right. Then he exclaims!
“You see I was there…you know ever since that night I’ve read almost everything they’ve ever printed about you…In fact, I’m quite an authority on you.”
“You are.” “Yes, indeed I am.” They walk alongside each other as if on a courtship. He turns to her, “YOU’RE MY FAVORITE LIVING MYSTERY” Charlotte asks sweetly “HAVE YOU EVER SOLVED ME?” Wills answers, “No….but then you wouldn’t be a mystery anymore would you?”
This line “you’re my favorite living mystery” with Charlotte asking “Have you ever solved me?” is one of the best lines in the film, and breaks my heart to pieces.
She shakes her head excitedly as if a child is being told that she’s special. Then her adult self comes back to the moment, in a quick change of expression as reality infiltrates again, she turns serious. “No, I wouldn’t”
She gets flattered again. “And I’m your favorite cause when you got so many cases to choose from?”Wills says “That’s only natural…you have everything, you’re unsolved, perhaps even insoluble and you have passion and glamor in your past.”
She swiftly turns to him. This is the first person to honor that she was once a great lady. Not a whore or a crazy axe murderess and recluse. She seems shocked that someone really remembered her that way. He suddenly stops and says in earnest, “I say I hope I’m not offending you?” She shakes her head simultaneously as if the gratitude for this man’s kindness has lifted years of the burden off her shoulders.
HAVE YOU SOLVED ME YET?
Quite frankly and directly she answers his query, “It’s the oddest thing you’re not…I don’t usually talk to people…not about that.” He answers genuinely, “That’s why I’m so flattered that you’re talking to me now.”
THEN YOU WOULDN’T BE A MYSTERY ANYMORE, WOULD YOU?
NO, I WOULDN’T.
Conclusion of Aldrich’s Hag Cinema: Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte to follow in Part VI