Friday, January 23, 2009

Film Persona: Bette Davis Part 1- Disgraced Wreck

Disgraced Wreck
As she was starting out, Bette bulged her eyes out in a number of challenging roles.  She played women who were spiraling out of control and were usually, showed in harsh lightning which brought out Bette Davis’ “Ugly Duckling” quality. These characters had incredibly dense and stubborn personalities, seemingly determined to bring ruin upon themselves. Bette really bit into these roles with fervor and tenacity. I guess this could be the start of how she brands her film persona as the great tragedienne. Ms. Davis made a point of showing truth, no matter how ugly it was.

Of Human Bondage (1934)
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She played a drunken whore with bad mascara.  The most  lasting image for me is when she is passed out in that drape dress. Leslie Howard, forever known as Ashley Wilkes, plays the club footed main character.

Bette Davis screams and shouts and “wipes her mouth!” while her hair is frizzed out everywhere.

Dangerous (1935)
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Playing a recovering alcoholic, Bette won her first Oscar in this movie.  Which reaffirms my theory that sometimes, the academy doesn’t give out Oscars for a performance in a movie, but for an actor’s body of work. Bette should have won for Of Human Bondage.

Interesting tidbits from wiki.

It was for this film Perc Westmore styled her hair in the bob cut she would favor for the rest of her life…

In 2002, Steven Spielberg anonymously bought the Oscar Davis had won at auction at Sotheby's. The statuette had been part of the memorabilia displayed by the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain.

Marked Woman (1937)
In this gangster melodrama co-starring Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis plays a call girl working in an underground casino.  She gets into trouble by going against the city’s most powerful gangsters, hence, she is a “marked woman”.

Surrounding this film’s production was Bette Davis parallel fight with studio head, Jack Warner, for more salary and artistic control.

Of course, this fight pays off.  The fate of Bette’s huge head – huge talent—will no longer be in someone else’s control. This ushers in a new phase in Davis’ persona, the torn down bitch.

Part 2 

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