Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jezebel (1938)

I'm frankly not in the mood to do much else other than to peruse my movie list and pick out the ones that have stood out in my mind. I shall proceed to bombard this blog with as many posts as my poor fingers can handle.

After writing about "The Women" last night, it unleashed a barrage of thoughts about another amazing movie I just saw a few weeks ago. This was "Jezebel" which featured the dazzling oddity that is Bette Davis.

Bette Davis is one of those iconic Hollywood starlets that everyone knows yet most have never seen her onscreen performance. I remember seeing her large eyes looming mysteriously from various artistic outlets including the "Animaniacs" cartoon series. She is not the most beautiful actress of her time but beauty does not carry weight in this at all. She is part of the category of oddballs that win. For that I absolutely I adore her. She is absolutely phenomenal to watch. Plus her eyes are really mesmorizing to look at.

"Jezebel" is what many have said is Warner Brothers answer to "Gone with the Wind". Both of these movies are set in the antebellum south (which is another way of saying a time of southern royalty. Think ridiculously poofy hoop skirts). Both lead actresses played obnoxious southern belles full of themselves. Both characters make a mistake in respect to their love interest and both pay dearly for it. That is where the comparisons basically end.

"Jezebel" seriously whooped "Gone with the Wind"!

The movie is about a southern belle named Julie (played by Bette Davis). She selfishly pits the stiff southern gentlemen against one another for her own enjoyment. She taunts and flaunts the strict rules of society which ultimately causes her downfall. An epidemic of yellow fever turns the movie into a different path that forces Julie to come into terms with herself and those around her.

Bette Davis WAS that southern belle. Her emotions were clear and honest. You seriously hated her and yet sympathized with her. You couldn't help wanting to voice encouragement when she fell and hoped that she would learn her mistakes. Her character knew she had done something gravely wrong and she sought to fix it. How many of us have the courage to even stand up to ourselves when we make a mistake? Imagine making a public mistake? One that cost your reputation, your status, your love? Yeah, cower away.

Bette Davis's acting was just amazing. Simply amazing. I held my breath in awe so many times I had to thump my chest to force one out. The story is just awesome and well written. It's easy to overlook it initially as a story of a dumb girl who makes a stupid mistake. Until you keep watching and notice that it's so much more. It's a reflection of the ripple in the water effect. Your decision may be small but it sure can have horrendous consequences. It's mind boggling to attempt to do the "what if" game after watching the movie. What if she never broker her original engagement? What if she stayed with Buck Cantrell? What if she never wore that red dress? What if she thought of others earlier? What if she never stepped outside to follow Preston?

It's worthy to also mention how the music fits so well. I usually don't pay attention to the background music and frankly that's how it should be. Sometimes a good musical score to me is one that you don't notice the changes in the movies mood. The music should be like an invisible guide. That's why it was it was with shocked delight when I was realized I was manipulated into a change of emotions just by a couple of key chords. Especially at the key turning points of the movie. Masterpiece.Epic Masterpiece.

I admit that I have a strange attraction to the aftermath of destruction and mayhem caused by diseases or natural occurrence. I'm pretty sure that this is merely a clever metaphorical tool used by writers. What better way to force the main character to face their enemies (whether it is themselves or others) by presenting a permanent obstacle that forces them to choose? A way of weeding out the weak from the strong. Separating what is important and what was just nonsense. Realizing who you cannot live without and doing whatever it takes to be with them. No matter how much frills and shine we put upon ourselves, we are still just mammals with a squishy brain. When disasters strike, we will only be armed with our wit and intelligence to survive another day. Our pack instinct is to band with our pack and protect our own no matter the cost. Now throw in love and you just amped up desperation to 11.

I can only hope that if I was stuck in such a situation, I would be able to hide in a secure location with a can of Off! and wait until the masses fought amongst themselves.

Just a bit of movie trivia; yellow fever refers to a hemorrhagic fever spread by a mosquito. Once a person is afflicted with yellow fever, they get to experience:
  • bleeding (may progress to hemorrhage)
  • Coma
  • Decreased urination
  • Delirium
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Jaundice
  • Muscle aches (myalgia)
  • Red eyes, face, tongue
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Vomiting blood

Marvelous, isn't it? One thing that I didn't notice until I watched the commentary was to pick up on when a certain main character receives the yellow fever. It's so subtle, only a few seconds, and only a slight change in music that I caught it the second time around. That was so well planned it's beautiful. You would have to catch it to be as amazed as I was.

She refused to wear the customary white dress of unmarried women and dared to wear the red. BIG mistake.

Julie Marsden: "This is 1852 dumplin', 1852, not the dark ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white because they're not married."

... and that is the beginning of the end of naive innocence.

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