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Tuesday, July 27, 2010


orson welles and joanne woodward (hairdo alert)

joanne woodward and paul newman

Summer heat brought the movie title to mind. I'd always associated it with Tennessee Williams. Looked it up at netflix and it's made from Faulkner stories. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, I'd been thinking Elizabeth Taylor, in the time when they were discovering each other, late 50s. I was a little apprehensive to see a 50s Hollywood movie. But I remembered Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll made on film around the same time with Carol Baker, and it was an excellent film like Streetcar Named Desire made an excellent American film in that time. Thought I'd take a look and see what this is I've missed all these years. It came out when I was in the 10th grade, not yet aware of film beyond US Army and Indians, early Elvis movies, The Girl Can't Help It, Jane Mansfield and Little Richard.

Long Hot Summer I'd always heard of, but evidently nothing about it except it had a Tennessee Williams kind of title. In a preview I saw after the movie, somebody said it was the sexiest movie-drama of 1958. That gave me a good laugh. It was the first suggestion to me there was anything sexy about the movie. At the moment, I thought, how sexy did it get in 1958 for this to be called sexiest? I remember Tobacco Road was from that time. 50 years into the future, looking back, I can see late 50s was a time for pushing the envelope where censorship was concerned. A couple fully clothed, even shoes, fell laughing on a bed. That's about as close to sexy as I can see in it, sexy only by suggestion.

That part is neither here nor there. It was just shocking to me hearing it called a sexy movie. I thought it a brilliant film all the way around. What was taken for sexy was just telling a story closer to the way we live the story. They were adults talking the way grownups talk. It was so Southern, it was Suthun. Rural Mississippi where the town and county are ruled by the man who owns all the businesses in town. Orson Welles was a Faulkner Big Daddy. I was anticipating something about like Splendor In The Grass or A Summer Place. It was closer to Cat On A Hot Tin Roof than any of the others, except Baby Doll, banned for a very long time. Long Hot Summer was William Faulkner's story telling, so there was no way it could be a simple-minded movie I can leave to go to the kitchen without putting on pause.

Going by publicity, it is a romance between Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. It is indeed that, and a a good one too. It's also the story of Orson Welles' story as much as it is theirs. It's a love story between his woman, Angela Lansbury, and him. It's a love story between him and his 2 daughters and his one son. The long hot summer is a difficult time for all of them in the energy that runs between them. In a way, the entire story was everybody's redemption. This particular cast was able to work with each other like musicians in a band. Lee Remick when she was young. The Fifties. Big skirts. As a result of the ill ease of the summer heat, everybody gets to rubbing around on metaphorical cushions like cats.

These were all actors and actresses, that's what they were called in the 50s, able to become the character they're portraying. I felt like I was watching a tour de force of great acting, great directing, great script writing, great story telling.
The interiors of a south Mississippi rich man's home. The interior photography was as beautiful as Woody Allen's. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the movie was the very human dimension of the story, the characterizations by actors of people with complex relationships and issues that were never resolved until the long hot summer when it was all brought to the surface for everybody at the same time. The Welles character is the most complex, as he is the hub and the other actors are the spokes of the wheel that is their story. It's everybody's story, and everybody's story is in relation to Will Varner (Orson Welles). I loved that his name was Will as his will was the dominant characteristic everyone knew in him, and Welles could work his eyes talking to somebody in ways that amplify his meaning. He knows how to make the character come from inside himself. His character carried several levels of understanding.

Makes me want to examine my head for not reading any Faulkner in an obscene number of years to say such a thing. He tells a fully satisfying story. You get real people doing what real people do. Often I had to remind myself this film is half a century old. The story itself kept reminding me it was Faulkner. Faulkner is the American Shakespeare. Will Varner was a certain kind of Southern man that everybody in the South knows about. Dennis Hopper played this kind of man in the Southern movie, Parris Trout. I felt like Faulkner enjoyed writing the Welles character most of all for his full, rich life, rich in a lot of ways besides money that no one much had ever seen in him since his wife died some years before. He was the Old South whose importance faded, but he was intelligent enough to place his legacy in the right hands. A character of many facets that were largely unnoticed until that summer when he showed up in the sexiest movie of 1958.

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