Saturday Film Score: “Sweet Charlotte” by Jo Gabriel * Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte

“Sweet Charlotte” by Jo Gabriel from my Gothic Neo-Classical album  The Last Drive In

Tribute to the great Bette Davis! and her performance in the Grande Gothic Cinema piece by director  Robert Aldrich

Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part VI conclusion: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “Ruined finery…that’s all I have left”

THE VISUAL NARRATIVE “Ruined Finery”

Continue reading “Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part VI conclusion: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “Ruined finery…that’s all I have left””

Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part V: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “You’re my favorite living mystery” “Have you ever solved me?”

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 spectator 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 varies 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, 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 meaning, in which we might as spectators come to understand the characters’ principal personality 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 as an almost Middle Eastern mixed Phrygian mode, an exotic mysterious motif , as Miriam peers through the curtains yet looks 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 to build the tension.

The fluttering is now almost child like. 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. Continue reading “Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part V: Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “You’re my favorite living mystery” “Have you ever solved me?””

Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part III Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “He’ll Love You Til He Dies”

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)

 

Directed by Robert Aldrich, written by Henry Farrell, who also wrote What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), How Awful About Allan (1970) and the made for tv film The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972) scripted by Lukas Heller and Farrell. Starring, the legendary Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis and Olivia de Havilland as cousin Miriam Dearing, Joseph Cotten as Drew. The inimitable Agnes Moorehead as Velma Cruthers. Cecil Kellaway as Harry Mills and Victor Buono as Big Sam Hollis,  Mary Astor as Jewel Mayhew and a very young Bruce Dern as John Mayhew. George Kennedy as the foreman and extra recasting of Wesley Addy as Sheriff Luke Standish and Dave Willock from Baby Jane.

Aldrich apparently had another hit with his 2nd genre film, which opened to generally positive reviews. With the exception of this scathing review in The New York Times, by Bosley Crowther who couldn’t have been more off the mark, he writes “So calculated and coldly carpentered is the tale of murder, mayhem and deceit that Mr. Aldrich stages in this mansion that it soon appears grossly contrived, purposely sadistic and brutally sickening. So, instead of coming out funny, as did Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it comes out grisly, pretentious, disgusting and profoundly annoying.”

Again, I wholly disagree with Crowther, as this film wasn’t meant to be as campy as Baby Jane, and “funny” is an odd word for the film as well, nor was there an unwritten rule that said Aldrich, had to restrain some of the grisly details from this picture. I don’t believe chaining an invalid to a bed, feeding them road kill and slowly starving them to death, is the less disgusting proposal. And as far as being brutally sickening, I see Charlotte as a hauntingly nightmarish allegory.

Let me say that I loved Peter Shelley’s book. He compiled some great examples of the genre and added a lot of information and insight to the subject matter, I was with him all the way, so the few points of divergence in our opinions of Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte aren’t a slight to the author at all. According to Peter Shelley in his Grande Dame Guignol Cinema: A History of Hag Horror from Baby Jane to Mother , chapter on Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte the film suffered from the absence of Joan Crawford. Shelley considered the follow up film to be a “bloated reprisal of the pivotal components of the earlier film” (pg.57). Actually I think quite the contrary about this suspenseful, understated film. It has less feeling of a”bloated” extension of the first Hag film, as Charlotte appears more distilled, virtually more refined in it’s subtle use of hallucinatory machinations, with a very cogent argument for Charlotte’s sustained ire and melancholy. Shelley considers the location an attempt to surpass the Grande Guignol aspect of it’s predecessor by placing it in a southern Gothic milieu, the Ascension Parish but he thinks it fails with it’s “florid exoticism” again because it lacks the electrifying cast choice by not rejoining Crawford and Davis. Additionally, I say too much of a good thing becomes a device therefor a reuniting of the two would have minimized the impact that the prior collaboration by both film stars made with Baby Jane. I think that Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte is perhaps even an elegant piece and stands well on it’s own, as a taut psychological standpoint of the regressive woman and at it’s very essence is an ideal Grande Dame film.

I think Crawford would have brought a certain purposeful intensity that worked for her in so many films, but would have overshadowed the interplay between Davis’s Charlotte and Olivia de Havilland’s subtle malignant charm of her characterization of cousin Miriam. Supposedly after the great success of Baby Jane, Crawford agreed to do a follow up film. Aldrich encouraged writer Henry Farrell to create a new story called “What Ever Happened To Cousin Charlotte?” Bette Davis asked that the title be changed to fit the line from the song. And so Aldrich agreed and Davis signed on. Crawford however wanted her name to come first on the credits, unlike Baby Jane where Davis’s name appeared left of screen or side by side. Leftward being the more pronounced association as the star. Bette Davis even agreed to this provision. Once shooting began in Baton Rouge on June 4th 1964 Davis only got to film one scene with Crawford, where she watches Crawford enter the mansion. Otherwise they never did another scene together from that point on. The production was put on hold because Davis was called away to finish some re-shoots on Where Love Has Gone in Los Angeles. Continue reading “Grande Dame/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part III Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte “He’ll Love You Til He Dies””