Monday, April 3, 2017

Feud pt. 5

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

It's Oscar time! Bette's performance in Baby Jane is up for Best Actress, but Joan is not nominated, and she's not exactly handling it with grace and humility. She and Hedda Hopper conspire to make sure Bette loses by starting a whispering campaign within the Academy against her. That's nothing, though, compared to their plan designed to ensure Joanie walks off the stage with an Oscar, even if it's someone else's.

In Feud, the story of Bette & Joan is set within the framework of a fictitious documentary set years later. Among those interviewed include two contemporaries of the actresses, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Blondell, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates, respectively. They act as a kind of Greek chorus throughout the series, providing insight on Bette & Joan, actresses, Hollywood, and stardom. As with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, it's a bit jarring at first to see such familiar modern film stars portraying equally familiar classic film stars, but you just have to go with it for the purposes of the story. Then again, modern audiences may not be as familiar with ODH and Blondell as we film fans, so this may not be that big an issue. (Bates as Blondell is inspired casting, especially if you've seen pictures of Blondell later in life. The resemblance is striking.)

To this point, ODH had been outside the narrative. She joins it in this ep, offering moral support to Bette throughout the Oscar campaign. She even discusses her own feud with her sister Joan Fontaine. I thought CZJ as ODH was fine. I can't speak to how accurate her portrayal is or how much she does or doesn't act like her.

I had been fairly sympathetic to Joanie up till now, but last night, she acted despicably. Again, assuming what we see here is accurate (none of this is based on a single source, like a book), she goes before the Academy, demanding to present a major award, on her terms, and she plays on the sympathy of the other Best Actress nominees in a blatant attempt to manipulate them into doing what she wants. There's a great scene that sums it all up, set on Oscar night, between her and George Cukor. He tries to talk her out of making a spectacle of herself. He says, "You're better than this." She says, simply, "No, I'm not."

There are tons of celebrity bit roles in this ep. Some are speaking parts, like Cukor, Geraldine Page, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Others are non-speaking, like Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. One can imagine the casting call for this ep, trying to find extras who resemble or could be made to resemble such big Hollywood stars. Ryan Murphy, who wrote and directed this ep, splurged on the budget: make-up, wardrobe, catering, sets, so many extras - it even looks like he filmed the Oscar scenes in the same place it was held, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. This may be the high point of the entire series so far.

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