“Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside” -Suzanna Kaysen from Girl Interrupted (1993)
*This is featured as part of my Women in Peril series.*
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane (1962) Directed by Robert Aldrich. The film stars Bette Davis, Joan Crawford Victor Buono, Marjorie Bennett, and Maidie Norman as Elvira
“But you “are” Blanche, you “are” in that chair!”~ these are the words I often utter to myself or amongst friends, merely cause it tickles me.
I could question whether or not Aldrich made these films as a vehicle in which to translate the lives of the psychologically intricate, often tragic women which he viewed through a sympathetic lens, or perhaps some of his female-driven films are an exercise in misogyny.
So was he a misogynist? Perhaps some might find the portrayal of his female characters unattractive, or maybe he didn’t differentiate between his male and female roles. He was definitely more focused on both genders’ struggles. These outliers of society couldn’t simply fit in, so if the film’s driving character happened to be a woman then it would stand to reason she would also be an outcast or damaged in some way. If he did make a distinction as to gender, he was mostly preoccupied with the character’s system of dealing with the obstacles they faced in their lives. It does appear that his “women” usually are the solitary focus, while his “men” are framed as groups of men trapped by precarious situations.
Robert Aldrich is still one of my all-time favorite directors.
Aldrich always brings us a story that is cynical and gritty with very flawed characters who are at the core ambiguous as either the protagonist or the antagonist. Aldrich studied economics in college, then dropped out and landed a very low-paying job at first as a clerk with RKO Radio Pictures Studio in 1941.
He studied with such great directors as Jean Renoir and it was his training in the trenches that made him the auteur he is, delving inside the human psyche and questioning what is morality. Aldrich went on to become the assistant director, scriptwriter, and associate producer, to various filmmakers who were later on targeted by the blacklist.
Aldrich has a flare for the dramatic, he likes to break molds and cross over boundaries. He also has a streak of anti-authoritarianism running through the veins of his films. There aren’t just traces of his ambivalence toward the Hollywood machine in his film philosophy, he also conflates the ugly truths beneath the so-called American Dream and the “real” people who inhabit that world.
He died in 1983, And while he remained inside the Hollywood circle, he maintained an outsider persona. He memorialized the misfits and outcasts by making them the anti-heroes in his work, all of which ultimately were destined to fall because they refused to play the conformity game. Continue reading “Grande Dames/Guignol Cinema: Robert Aldrich’s Hag Cinema Part II: Baby Jane: “You mean all this time we could have been friends?””