Apr. 25th, 2017

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I watched the new Ryan Murphy series, Feud: Bette and Joan, even though I have extremely mixed feelings about his work. I think he's often a capable writer and certainly very creative, but I tend to think he sets things up well and lacks follow-through on the good idea. Also I occasionally find him not to write female characters so much as drag performances, caricatures of women rather than human beings. But Tom and Lorenzo recommended it and they have excellent taste, so I wanted to give it a try.

It's well-made production, focusing on the late-life rivalry between actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, with mostly a solid script and excellent acting performances all around. It's still an odd blend, at TLo pointed out, of camp and pop feminism, as well as kind of padded and stylized to shape the relationship between Bette and Joan in such a way to serve the story. But what I found most fascinating were the ideas behind it. The most interesting foundational notions are two-fold. The first is that it's about the struggles of female aging, how even successful women are in danger of being cast aside when they start to get old. And the second is the framing of the rivalry between the women: that they aggravated each other's insecurities because Joan was cast as a beautiful woman who was never talented enough, and Bette was a talented woman who was never beautiful enough.

If you know even a little bit about me, you can guess that I find that fascinating. Firstly aging is probably my greatest fear for specifically that reason, that the world no longer takes an older woman seriously and views them with varying levels of pity, horror, and contempt. And I also love the examination of the dichotomy of pretty versus talented, particularly how they are constantly pitted against each other for the thing that they each have that the other one lacks. Bette can be the best artist at her craft in the world, but she still has a big gaping lack in the fact that she's not pretty and never has been. And Joan is automatically run down by the stigma that she only got by on her looks, and now that they've faded, she's got nothing. And I really loved the scene where they asked each other what it was like, to be "the [prettiest]/[most talented] girl in the world" and they each said it was the best thing ever, and it was never enough.

That I personally have felt the tension between the two very keenly, that I have to do everything I can to demonstrate the most of both. I often feel plagued that by the notion that even if I do a great job of one, it will get discounted because I haven't done enough to show the other. And then when I split my focus too much, I worry I'm coming off as mediocre in both respects. I know that to a large extent it's just a sick perception, and a target too utterly unrealistic to hit-- I want to be the PRETTIEST, MOST TALENTED GIRL IN THE WORLD apparently! --but that moment where they expressed it was the best thing ever AND STILL you never feel like it's enough was very resonant for me. I don't know if it's a truly accurate representation of Crawford and Davis, but as a conceit for drama, it really impacted me.


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