Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Tale of Two Lizzies

Right now, I should be on my way to bed, as a part of my "didn't do work today, so need to do double work tomorrow" plan. And despite the fact that I don't feel particularly tired, I've noticed that I can't help but wake up at 8 at the latest (damn summer sunrise!), and so if I go to sleep at 1, I'm getting just enough REM to make me grumpy and unfocused in the morn.

Instead of heading up to bed, however, I thought I'd write a short post about my evening viewings. First, TCM is having "Elizabeth Taylor" month. I think anyone who grew up in the 80's has a hard time understanding what the big deal is with her. To us (and sure, I'll speak for a generation!), she's just the sickly, odd-like-a-female-Howard-Hughes, diamond-obsessed "special friend" of Michael Jackson. You know, like the chimp. If you tune into TCM anytime soon, however, you might be able to catch her in Butterfield 8, which I saw most of this evening. You really get a sense of the "Liz" worship from this film. The opening, which runs at least ten minutes with no dialogue, tracks her progress around a rather luxe apartment. She gets up from the bed, apparently driven by her need for a cigarette. Finding only cigars, she lights one up, coughs, and then soothes the pain with an early morning scotch. Throughout, she's wearing the bedsheet, which she then switches for her slip at some point (hence the iconic B8 image):

Pure 60's chic, all of it. At the end of the scene, she finds a note from her lover asking if $250 is enough. She's having none of it: she uses her lipstick to write "no sale" on the mirror, leaves the money below it, and promptly marches into what we now must assume is the lover's wife's closet and picks out a fur. She then proceeds to waltz out of the building in it.

There's a kind of louche fabulosity to Taylor's character, Gloria, in the beginning of this film. Truly--how many people could pull off ten minutes without speaking? Later, explaining to a friend why she took the fur, she says: "I wanted to take something spiteful...and elegant." That's Gloria in all her glory, all right. It will suprise none of you, I'm sure, that it all ends badly for Gloria. If it weren't bad enough that the writers resort to the "she's only a slut because she was abused as a child" routine, they also pull off a French Connection-style car chase to off Gloria in the end. (Sorry about the spoiler there. Really, turn it off about half way through. You'll like it better.)

After B8, I watched a much different Liz--This one Elizabeth Wurtzel, played by Christina Ricci, in the biopic Prozac Nation. This Liz is also truly screwed up, due in large measure to insane parents and an unhappy childhood, but she has a few diva moments in the beginning (for example, she and her roommate throw a party to celebrate Lizzie losing her virginity. The invite reads something like this: "Come celebrate a truly seminal and ground-breaking moment." Given that the film is set in the 80's, the hostesses greet their guests in an almost perfect rendition of Madonna's Like a Virgin outfit, circa iconic MTV Music Awards performance. *Tried to look up that image on Google for you, and struck out. I'm surprised--but also pleased to inform you that many of the pics from Madonna's Sex book are now available online. Run, don't walk.). Given the title of the film, you can pretty much figure out where it's going--she descends deeper and deeper into depression, only to be saved by Prozac in the end. Her life evens out, no more peaks and valleys, she's welcomed back into the bosom of the family...roll credits.

Separated by a quarter of a century, both of these Lizzies tell what appears to be the same story, in different keys. The truly fabulous chicks, well, first off, there's something seriously wrong with them that accounts for their anti-social behavior. And second, one way or another, they get brought back into the fold. Death or medication, take your pick. All psychological health aside (just for a moment--not forever), there's an aesthetic of the transgressive female that simply can't be beat. Watching Elizabeth Taylor makes me want to drink scotch at 8 a.m. and buy a satin slip. And why didn't I celebrate losing my virginity, dammit? Someone should have!

For all of the threatening ideology of these films, I wonder if a case can't be made for the transcendence of the images of transgression. Because ten years from now, I'll only have a vague idea of what happened to Wurtzel after she goes on the meds, but that image of Ricci as Madonna-wannabe is burned in there. And Taylor? Well, I think she may single-handedly bring back the full slip as loungewear (so useless under clothes--but as clothes? now you're talking!). Can particularly powerful images beat out the morality tales that seek to discourage viewers from imitative behaviors? And if so, how do they do it?

I'm not sure, but it's scotch for breakfast for me tomorrow, dollfaces.


Blogger Beth said...

I'm with you! And I'm off to dig up my great-aunt's satin slip (I'm bequeathed the cool stuff in our family).

I love Elizabeth Taylor. She embodies the lusty, take-no-prisoners kind of woman I strive to be. She makes no excuses. She is who she is. Who'll take her place?

Sunday, July 16, 2006 6:58:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Sing it, sister! I sadly have no nominees for La Liz's replacement. I can think of lots of cool chicks (Lili Taylor, Lucy Lawless, Margaret Cho) but no one that hits it right on the head. For sadness.

Sunday, July 16, 2006 7:24:00 PM  

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