Saturday, 19 December 2009

All About Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, USA 1950

As far as films are concerned, the year 1950 may well go down in history as the birth of Camp. The same year Bette Davis graced the silver screen in her unforgettable portrayal of Margo Channing, Gloria Swanson made her comeback in the equally memorable role of the deranged silent movie siren Norma Desmond. Both actresses deservedly received Oscar nods, but while neither Davis nor Swanson probably wouldn’t have minded losing out to the other, they, as much as everybody else, were dumbstruck when Judy Holliday of all people walked away with the coveted statuette!

"I may have seen better times, but I'm not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut ...!"

All About Eve, like all other films that made it in the AFI’s top 100 list, has been discussed and written about to death, and one begins to wonder indeed if there’s anything left that hasn’t been said yet. There even is a whole book about the film, called All About All About Eve, written by Sam Staggs, who also wrote a similar one on Sunset Boulevard. As it stands, I won’t even attempt to say anything new, but simply try to explain why this film in particular strikes such a chord with me.

This takes us way back to the time when I saw the film for the very first time in 1984, which, luckily, was when it was on its re-release, enabling me to see it on the big screen. I recall having been absolutely mesmerized and spellbound by Bette Davis performance. Not only could I totally relate to her character in every possible way – but I also identified with her. Let’s face it, which gay man doesn’t share her feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, yet wishes to have that very same wit, that ability to be dramatic without being pathetic? I firmly believe that many a gay man has an unvoiced - or in some cases perhaps voiced - desire to be a little bit like Margo, and most definitely craves to have a mother like her – or if not a mother, at least a best friend. Which, really, is the next best thing.

"Fasten your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy night!"

I think, I became Margo Channing – at least for a while. I tried, anyway. I didn’t get very far, though. But still, every now and then traits, one-liners of Margo would make it into a conversation, giving me the chance to turn into my idol for a minute or two, feeling sorry for myself without feeling guilty: Margo made it alright! She was the big sister, the ally, watching me from her corner, invisibly, understandingly, as I stole one of her lines and made it my own in a puny, doleful moment when I felt “unwanted or insecure – or unloved.”

Now, remember, that was long before I even knew that Bette Davis, let alone All About Eve had a gay following. I hadn’t even heard of the word camp yet. I was just a greenhorn from small-town Germany who was in the middle of his coming-out. Therefore, rest assured, my infatuation with Margo, my desire to be like her, can be written off as a rite of passage … … or can it? Well, I still secretly wish I had a portion of her nonchalance, her wit, her bitchiness, not to mention her talent, in me to keep up my defences – it certainly wouldn’t hurt! Other than that, what remains is a deep affinity for strong, quick-witted, fast-talking dames, which evidently was awakened by watching Margo flitting across the screen on her imaginary broom stick on her way to the snake pit.

"Miss Casswell, a graduate from the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts"

I’m feeling slightly guilty, reducing All About Eve to the character of Margo – which, of course, you can’t. Nevertheless, she dominates the screen. Eve without Margo is unthinkable just as it is entirely unthinkable to imagine her part played by somebody other than Bette Davis. Bette Davis always claimed that she was not Margo, and that the reason why her marriage to Gary Merrill fell apart was because he married Margo and woke up with Bette Davis. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that there was certainly more of Margo in Bette than she cared to admit. Or perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part, my wanting her to have been like Margo, for Margo is too fascinating a character not to exist in reality.

"Stop treating me like I'm the Queen Mother!"