Monday, March 06, 2017

TV: FEUD as commentary on and off screen

"There was never a rivalry like theirs," we're told at the beginning of episode one of FX's FEUD.

The rivalry?

The one between Academy Award winners Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.


It was, indeed a long running one.

Not unlike the one between Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, possibly that could be the focus of season three?  (Show runner Ryan Murphy has already announced season two will focus on Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana.)

Marilyn Monroe figures in the series.

We're told it's 1961 and Marilyn has just won the Golden Globe (for SOME LIKE IT HOT, which we're not told).  Joan Crawford is offended.

She leaves.

The next day, Hedda Hopper shows up demanding a quote.

That never happened.

It was The Photoplay Awards, 1952. Marilyn was winning her first Photoplay Award (Fastest Rising Star of 1952 -- in 1953, she'd win Most Popular Female Star and in 1954 she's win Best Actress for GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE).

Joan didn't speak to Hedda.

She spoke to Bob Thomas (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Her quote in the series to Hedda is what Bob Thomas published.

Liberties like this are taken throughout the series -- to grab the best lines each actress is famous for and use them in the mini-series.

This is a dramatic series,not a documentary.

Hedda Hopper is portrayed by Academy Award nominee Judy Davis, Academy Award winner Kathy Bates plays actress Joan Blondell and Academy Award winner Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland.

The stars?

Academy Award winners Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange play Academy Award winners Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

The two stars, in promoting the series, talk about an understanding on Bette and Joan that the mini-series offers.

They're not wrong.

This isn't a simple bitchfest.

Instead, it provides context.

Films are being made.

But there's no real interest in women.  Certainly not women over forty.

They're not making their films anymore, Joan tells Bette who insists it's cyclical.

It's left to Joan to point out that by the time the cycle changes, they'll be forgotten.

This is the environment that finds both eager to do the film WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

What's the cycle that led Susan and Jessica to do this series?

That's not meant as an insult.

This is strong mini-series and Susan and Jessica give great performances.

But where else would they give these?

Seeing LOGAN this weekend, we were assaulted with superhero trailers (POWER RANGERS and DEADPOOL II) and space movies.

The best film, the only real film, covered before LOGAN was THE LAST WORD but, instead of a trailer, we got a brief interview with stars Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried.

It's an independent film.

Remember when Parker Posey was the Queen of the Independents?

Can you go further back and remember when Jennifer Jason Leigh held that title?

If women want to engage in physical battle, they might get the lead in a major motion picture.

Otherwise, not really.

And there are only so many low budget films being made.

Which is how Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon end up on television.

As much as Ryan Murphy's making a statement about the roles established actresses could win in the 1960s, he's also (unintentionally?) making a statement about the roles established actresses can win in the 2010s.

Susan and Jessica are on FX, the network that also heavily promotes its show BASKETS -- you know, the one where Louie Anderson plays a mother.

That's the world we live in.

Few opportunities for actresses and, when there's a role of mother, they have to hope a man doesn't go for the role.

This is supposed to be a new golden age for television.

But for all the new channels and all the new streaming options, very few shows are being created around female leads.

FEUD delivers a series of strong roles for many actresses (and Mark Valley runs with his brief cameo as Gary Merrill) but, most of all, it underscores how much of a struggle it still is to get the stories of women told.

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