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Posts Tagged ‘rosalind russell’

Introducing a new series, Anti-Heroines, in which we pay homage to ladies we love, both real and fictional.

If you’ve been reading this site over its month long history, perhaps you’ve wondered whose elegant arm that is in our sort-of-masthead. Okay, you probably haven’t wondered anything of the sort, but I’m going to tell you anyway: that arm belongs to one of my favourite fictional heroines ever, Auntie Mame, the glorious star of the eponymous 1955 novel written by Edward Tanner under the pseudonym Patrick Dennis, beloved by everyone from Camille Paglia (who called the book “an American Alice in Wonderland” and “one of the most important books in my life”) to Dennis’s friend and my fave vintage film star Rosalind Russell (who played Mame in the film adaptation).
Why do I love Mame? Well, for one, she’s the OTT heroine of a camp classic, and as I’ve previously indicated, I do love me some OTT camp classics. But there’s more to Mame than that. As Paul Rudnick says in his introduction, “she’s a classic leftie activist in emeralds and Dior”, who adopts and discards different roles and personae to suit her many moods.

And she is kind. We meet her when her young nephew, Patrick Dennis, arrives to live with her shortly after the death of his widower father (the book is presented as a memoir, and although Dennis, or Tanner, did have an eccentric aunt called Marion, he was brought up by both his parents). Mame’s glamorous apartment is a boho delight, and when Patrick arrives there she’s in the middle of a party. He’s initially terrified, both of the guests (who use incomprehensible-to-him words like “batik” and “Freud” and “Lysistrata”) and of the sophisticated goddess who is their hostess, but then she turns to look at him properly.

“But darling”, she said dramatically, “I’m your Auntie Mame!”She put her arms around me and kissed me, and I knew I was safe.

The bohemian black sheep of an impeccably WASPy family, Mame is funny, fabulous and fiercely protective of her nephew, even though he’s more than a little embarrassed by some of her outrageous antics. Mame takes delight in taunting bigoted conservatives – she wages a perpetual war with Patrick’s trustee Babcock and his family. In one of the book’s most satisfying episodes, she sincerely tries to be a perfect WASP when meeting Patrick’s intended in-laws in their idyllic country retreat, but when they prove themselves to be horrible smug anti-semites who are enraged by the news that a Jewish couple might buy the house next door, she subtly opens Patrick’s eyes to their awfulness and, as she and Patrick escape, we discover that she’s buying the aforementioned house next door and giving it to a home for Jewish refugees.

Mame’s life isn’t perfect – she’s not always lucky in love, and her financial fortunes rise and fall – but she refuses to be beaten, and whenever she makes a fool of herself for love, she always realises the error of her ways and emerges triumphant. In fact, the eternally optimistic Mame is an inspiration to us all, and if you haven’t read Auntie Mame or its equally entertaining sequel Around the World With Auntie Mame, go and get both of these brilliant, funny, subversive books on Amazon immediately. Just don’t blame me if you start using a cigarette holder and calling everyone “darling!” afterwards…

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I was slightly apprehensive when I first heard that the 1939 classic The Women, one of my favourite films of all time, was being remade. My fear increased when I heard that taking the places of Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and the wonderful Rosalind Russell would be Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan and Debra Messing. Yikes.

Look at that awesome hat!

Look at that awesome hat!

Look at that Photoshopping!

Look at that Photoshopping!


It’s not like I’m against remaking on principle – I think there are plenty of films that could be reinvented in interesting ways. Hell, His Girl Friday, another of my all-time faves, was a remake of The Front Page. But most remakes are lazy attempts to make something old “relevent” to a modern audience to whom anything more than five years old is apparently totally incomprehensible. Yes, some films date badly, but most of the ones that get remade (like, The Haunting, to give but one example) are often just as entertaining now (and in that case, just as scary) as they were when they were first made.

Of course, the original black and white version of The Women is a definitely a relic from another world, a place of dressmaker fittings and luxury trains and complicated Reno divorces. But that’s part of its charm. And while, in theory, my feminist heart should be repelled by the all-out bitchery and cat-fighting and men-obsession of the characters, the film is just so funny, and so OTT, and so wonderfully performed by its 100% female cast, that I can’t help it – I love it. It’s got a technicolour fashion show, for god’s sake! In which little monkeys appear dressed in miniature versions of the models’ outfits! (And no, my animal-loving self doesn’t approve of that, but still…) Also, Rosalind Russell, in the fashion show’s audience, knits all the way through it while wearing yet another crazy/fabulous hat. I love her. Russell plays Sylvia, a bitchy, beautiful society queen, but director George Cukor told Russell to “play her as a freak”, and there’s a sort of inner craziness in her performance that makes it blissfully funny; when she finally, inevitably, gets drawn into a full-blown cat fight, the expression on her face just before she bites her opponent’s legs is truly glorious. And then there’s Joan Crawford as the bitchy gold-digger, with her satin bathroom complete with ruched shower curtains. How can I resist?

But of course, the powers that be have decided that this nugget of pure cinematic gold isn’t good enough. Behold the trailer for the new version…
So yeah, if you’ve ever wondered “what would an updated version of a camptastic all-female film from the golden age of Hollywood be like?”, it turns out that the answer is “like a bad, predictable sitcom! Possibly Will and Grace, in fact”. Yeah, the film also features Candice Bergen and, for a millisecond in the trailer, the divine Miss M, and I was pleased to discover that Jada Pinkett Smith’s character is a lesbian (a welcome change from the usual tired chicklit and girlie TV position that gay people are adorable and perfect best friend material if they’re male and sexless, but scary and/or objects of sniggering derision if they’re female), but that’s not enough to make me want to sit through the whole three hours or however long it drags on for (why are even the most inconsequential films longer than the uncut Apocalypse Now these days?). It looks like a bunch of bland chicklit clichés filled with an even blander selection of outfits, without a technicolour monkey fashion show in sight. For shame!

And seriously, Eva Mendes instead of Joan freaking Crawford? Come on! What were they thinking? I think it’s pretty safe to say that La Mendes won’t be able to match Joan’s delivery of her final line – “There’s a word for you ladies, but it’s not used in polite society – outside a kennel.” And I also think that there’s little danger of this new version coming close to overtaking the original – and best.

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