Thursday, November 10, 2016

MISERY 1990

In a verbose, exasperated correspondence, a reader once expressed to me his intrigued bewilderment at how my otherwise—to use his words—“perceptive and aware” observations on the toxicity of idol worship and fame culture (per my essays on Maps To The Stars, The Day of The Locust, Come Back To The 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean, The Fan, and For Your Consideration) stood in frustrating contrast to my parallel tendency to lapse into periodic bouts of unapologetic fandom, shameless name-dropping, and displays of philography (autograph collecting). 
Once the feeling of being terribly flattered that my writing could actually exasperate someone passed; I understood his point. I could see how my expressed disdain for the hollow distractions of fame culture and celebrity-worship perhaps suggested to the reader that I place no value on “fandom” at all, in any of its forms. In which case my attendant essays subjectively praising actors whose work I admire, upon whom I harbor crushes, or who I’ve met (cue the autograph scans); must have come across as paradoxical at best, hypocritical at worst. 
But that falls under the heading of reading the content while misunderstanding the context. The truth of the matter is that if I do indeed possess any insight into the phenomenon of fame culture, it’s insight born of firsthand experience, not academic observance. I’ve been a film fan my entire life, even owing my 30-year career as a dancer to film fandom (I fell in love with that irresistible 1980 roller-disco glowstick, Xanadu), so I've come to recognize that not all fandom is created equal.
“Healthy fandom,” as I call it, is when the admiration for and appreciation of the artistic accomplishments of others serves as a kind of balm to uplift the spirits and enhance quality of life. This type of artist-identification has the ability to inspire, broaden horizons, and awaken within individuals an awareness of one's potential and life's possibilities through exposure to the creative arts. Fan worship when channeled into role-modeling can foster self-discovery, self-actualization, and the cultivation of one's own artistic gifts. When it comes to fame culture, I think there's nothing wrong with looking outside of oneself if, by doing so, one becomes motivated to look within. 
Then there’s what I call “toxic fandom.” That’s when one focuses on the life and achievements of others, not as a means of finding oneself, but for the sole purpose of losing oneself. Toxic fandom doesn’t look to the arts for ways to cope and engage with reality, it looks to the arts to escape from it.
Because the toxic fan seizes upon a personality, film, TV series, or Broadway show with a singularity of focus more appropriate to a religious totem or fetish object; the actual talent or merit isn’t a requirement (cue the Kardashians). Fame can be worshipped for fame’s sake alone. With all that is good, happy, and beautiful in the world projected onto a single subject of worship, said “object of affection” doesn’t bring the toxic fan happiness, it represents happiness itself.
Certainly qualifying as the absolute worst-case scenario of toxic fandom gone terrifyingly off the rails is Stephen King's brilliant Misery. Brought to chilling and unforgettable life on the big screen by director Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman (The Stepford Wives, Magic). 
James Caan as Paul Sheldon
Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes
Richard Farnsworth as Buster
Frances Sternhagen as Virginia
Lauren Bacall as Marcia Sindell
Prolific author Stephen King is the master of Le Cauchemar Banal—the banal nightmare: high-concept thrillers in which ordinary characters in workaday settings find themselves thrust into unimaginably horrific circumstances. Whether it be “bullied high school teen kills entire class,” “dysfunctional family driven insane by haunted hotel,” “rabid dog terrorizes toddler” or, in the case of Misery, “deranged fan imprisons favorite author”; King’s particular literary gift is his ability to mine the darkest, most relatable phobias lurking behind ostensibly commonplace conflicts. The best of the films adapted from his novels (Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone) shore up King’s solid storytelling by giving emphasis to his almost Biblical/Freudian take on human nature. I can’t think of a work of Stephen King’s which doesn’t in some way confront matters of sin, redemption, guilt, evil, fate, transformation, loss, and desperation. Sometimes all at once! 
The Wilkes farmhouse
Just the kind of creepy-cozy place you'd imagine a serial killer would live

Adapted from King’s 1987 bestseller, Misery is a two-character, single-location twist on the Scheherazade folk tale (wherein a princess forestalls her execution through the spinning of captivating stories), pitting deranged superfan Annie Wilkes (Bates) against popular romance novelist Paul Sheldon (Caan).
After a Colorado mountain blizzard results in Paul Sheldon crashing his car off of a snowy bluff, he wakes to find himself nursing two broken legs and a dislocated shoulder in farmhouse of “number one fan” Annie Wilkes. How Paul’s status shifts from patient to prisoner is revealed through character (retired nurse Annie Wilkes is batshit crazy) and the development of the story’s central (and might I say, ingenious) conflict:

Annie would like nothing more than for Paul Sheldon to continue churning out Misery books—a series of historical romance novels chronicling the adventures of heroine Misery Chastain—until his dying day (which threatens to be sooner than Paul would like if he doesn’t get with the Wilkes program).
Paul, on the other hand, after writing eight financially successful but spiritually crippling Misery novels (do I foreshadow much?), would like nothing more than to put Misery out of her misery, move on, and, via his just-completed profanity-laced crime novel Fast Cars, pursue a career of literary legitimacy. 
Misery's tense melodrama is an macabre exaggeration of the possessive/regressive side of celebrity-worship. Creative growth may be a fundamental part of being an artist, but an equally dominant characteristic of fandom is the wish for a favorite star to keep repeating past successes.  

The close-quarters confinement of two people with such fiercely cross-purpose objectives generates considerable dramatic tension, but Goldman’s taut screenplay, which opens up King’s novel to include rescue-effort sequences involving the local sheriff (Fransworth), his deputy/wife (Sternhagen), and Paul’s literary agent (Bacall), nicely replicates the novel’s escalating sense of dread born of having the true nature of Paul’s rescuer and biggest fan revealed to us exclusively from Paul’s limited perspective. 
In both appearance and personality, Annie Wilkes amusingly plays into the suppositions many of us hold regarding the kind of people who read romance novels or give themselves over to obsessive fandom. But as Annie’s fangirl eccentricities reveal themselves to be symptoms of a larger mental instability; Paul’s mounting anxiety becomes our own as Annie’s irrational outbursts and mercurial mood swings hurls Misery into violent chaos.
Scenes played for black comedy invite us to share Paul's incredulous amusement at Annie's parochial prudishness, Midwest drabness, ignorance ("Dome Pear-igg-non"), and fondness for pop-culture kitsch. But the laughs catch in our throat as we come to understand that the earnestness of Annie's beliefs are rooted in rigid dogma

Lacking the novel's built-in identification factor (the story is told from his perspective), the film nevertheless does a great job of having us experience Annie and her rages with the exact same unexpected suddenness and startlingly irrational violence. So much so that, in effect, Rob Reiner becomes our tormentor; the male Annie Wilkes at whose mercy we suddenly find ourselves. In these instances, we (unlike Paul) can escape, but the compelling nature of the story holds us captive in our seats, no more willing to leave before first learning how things turn out than Scheherazade's king.


MISERY AS FAME-CULTURE METAPHOR
I read Misery many years after having seen the film. And while the movie is a very faithful to the book, as with many adaptations, the changes necessary to mold the descriptive liberties of the written word to fit the specific hyper-reality of the screen can shift a story's narrative emphasis in ways interesting and unexpected. Misery the novel, with its stressed emphasis on Paul's point-of-view read very much to me like one man's internal struggle. Paul Sheldon waging a war with the creative process, his life-altering encounter with Annie Wilkes serving as a kind of baptism by fire through which his creative spark is reborn and over which his eventual artistic maturity triumphs. (This fits with Stephen King's Rolling Stone interview in which he states he was Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes was his cocaine addiction.)

The film version, with the necessary excision of Paul's nonstop internal monologues and lengthy passages relating to the content of Misery's Return, subtly shifts the dynamics of the conflict. Since we no longer share the inner workings of his mind and are left to merely observe his behavior, Paul Sheldon may remain the story's central character, but his role in it is has become more reactive. Conversely, Annie, who is depicted in the book in almost one-dimensional terms (a monster comprehensible only in as far as Paul is able to make sense of her erratic behavior), is made the more dynamic character in the film because her actions and desires propel the plot. Deprived of his character-illuminating inner monologues, Paul Sheldon's goals become simplified: survival/escape. Annie, depicted in more complex terms, has fragmented, nonlinear goals that intensify in direct proportion to the deterioration of her mental state.
Kathy Bates' unforgettable, Academy Award-winning performance humanizes the monster that is Annie Wilkes. Playing a frightening character more pathetic than sympathetic, Bates somehow never surrenders Annie's humanity, even when her behavior is at its most indefensibly psychotic.

The depth given to the character of Annie Wilkes in the film (which I credit to Kathy Bates 100%) makes her Misery's "dominant focus": the most dramatically compelling element of a movie. Since interest IN a character can feel distressingly like sympathy FOR a character to our subconscious, in thrillers this contributes to creating an overall sense of unease for the viewer (think Hitchcock tricking us into identifying with Norman Bates in Psycho). We identify with Paul Sheldon's left-at-the-mercy-of-a-madwoman vulnerability; but since more of us know what it's like to be a fan than to be a celebrity, a tiny part of us can also relate to Annie. And we hate ourselves for it.

ANNIE WILKES: THE ULTIMATE THE TOXIC FAN 
If, as someone once said, success is the natural killer of creativity, to that dictum I’d also add: fans are the assassins of artistic exploration.
One of showbiz’s most enduring clichés is the artist who, upon achieving mainstream success, longs for artistic credibility: The Gidget who wants to be a dramatic actress (Sally Field), the stand-up comic who wants to be Ingmar Bergman (Woody Allen); the purveyor of pop-music candy floss who wants to be taken seriously (Madonna).
Some stars have been able to reinvent themselves without alienating fans or losing popularity (Robin Williams, Tom Hanks), but in most instances, attempts to abandon a popular commercial brand are met with resistance, if not outright hostility, by the artist's fanbase.
The terrifying relationship between Paul and Annie depicted in Misery is fascinating when viewed as a meta commentary on the co-depended love/hate relationship celebrities have with their fans.

“I love you Paul. Your mind...your creativity. That’s all I meant.”
Toxic fandom has at its core, a one-sided inequity of intimacy: the fan knows everything about their favorite celebrity, said celebrity doesn't know they exist. Love for an artist's work can be fulfilling, for it at least has the potential to feed the soul. Pent-up, intermingled feelings channeled into an appreciation of an artist's work at least holds the potential for fulfillment of the soul. But when the line gets blurred between love of art and love of artist, you're pretty much staring into the eye of an emotional one-way street.


“You just better start showing me a little more appreciation around here, Mister Man!”
Sooner or later the healthy fan learns that it's not possible to prop someone atop a pedestal without eventually realizing they've left themselves somewhere down on the ground. This realization inevitably leads to resentment. A constant complaint of celebrities today (especially among those who hate being reminded of the very real debt they DO owe to their fans) is what they see as the pushy entitlement of fans. They carry with them an attitude of "You owe your success to me!" or worse, the embittered "You think you're better than me?"—sadly, an epithet usually hurled by a fan moments after treating a celebrity as though they were precisely that. Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust is a work about the deep wellsprings of envy and resentment that can lie beneath fan culture. 

“You and I were meant to be together forever.”
From Presley devotees who refuse to acknowledge Fat Elvis, to Liza Minnelli concert goers who boo if she doesn't sing Cabaret; the symbiotic, vaguely contentious relationship between toxic fan and artist is always a struggle against stasis. Being a creative artist means development and growth, but being a fan frequently means latching onto some favored moment, digging in one's heels, and refusing to accept the fact that everything moves on. The toxic fan wants fan and celebrity to remain together forever, frozen in aspic.

There! Look there! See what you made me do?”
Ever notice how many online fan sites, chat rooms, and movie tribute pages are rife with the most vitriolic bullying and harassment imaginable? Intense self-identification with a celebrity, movie, or TV series often makes the toxic fan (usually a person with a vague sense of self from the start) feel so special, they tend to grow protective and proprietary over time. Separating themselves from the herd by the bestowal of meaningless titles and rank upon themselves (number one fan, biggest fan, most devoted fan), fandom becomes less about the personal joy one derives from the appreciation of a particular subject, and more about appointing oneself its combative gatekeeper.
Given that the seeds of fandom so often take root in adolescence—when individuals turn to the arts as a means of coping with the pain of loneliness, bullying, or feeling like an outsider—it's the height of irony that in so many cases the bullied grow to become the biggest bullies.

“You’ll never know the fear of losing someone like you if you’re someone like me.”
With its combined elements of genres ranging from horror to crime drama, Misery is a very effective suspense thriller (so much so that to this day I can’t watch the famous “hobbling” sequence, nor can I watch that final, bloody skirmish). James Caan and Kathy Bates are both super, handling the drama and black comedy with equal skill. (Although it's amusing to think that the athletic Caan, in this and 1979s Chapter Two, is Hollywood's idea of what a writer looks like.)
The first time I saw it in 1990, all I came away with was the feeling of having enjoyed a real thrill-ride of a movie. it has since become a favorite I've re-watched the film several times over the years (and it is indeed a quaint little timepiece, what with its rotary phones, typewriters, phonograph records, and bottles of Liquid Paper) and what stays with me is now are the characters.
Annie Wilkes may represent the crippling dominance of addiction to Stephen King, but to me, Misery is a searing horror fable (cautionary tale?) about how fame culture can promote emotional displacement through toxic fandom. Culturally speaking, what can be scarier than that?

Do any of you know or have had a run-in with a toxic fan? Better still, a toxic celebrity encounter? Would love to hear about it!


BONUS MATERIAL
In 2008 Kathy Bates appeared as Annie Wilkes in a commercial for DirectTV. Watch it HERE.
Copyright © Ken Anderson

35 comments:

  1. Very insightful article Ken. I don't have much to say about this since its not something I've ever numbered among my favorites or really even something I'm fond of.

    I love Kathy Bates and she is a fearsome presence here, even if of the nominees that year my preference was for Anjelica Huston's ice cold mother in The Grifters to take the prize. She definitely drives the film but it's always been a squirm inducing view for me that I never revisit.

    It was nice when I originally saw it to see Betty Bacall pop up in the cast. I think she might have been the Golden Age star who managed to keep the most modern currency in her later career.

    Speaking of fandom she's one star that I was thankful not to have met. I've always found her so coolly elegant and wry but from almost everything I've heard or read she was quite a cantankerous, ungracious and often downright nasty woman when encountered in person. A shame, I'll keep my illusion of her on the screen thank you very much.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Joel
    I was inspired by your comment to insert an addendum soliciting "toxic celebrity" encounters. Like you say, Lauren Bacall is pretty impressive on the screen, always exuding a grace and maturity that appealed to me. But I've never heard anything but horror stories from anyone who's ever had a run in with her. Always puzzling to me since her life never sounded like one that should warrant such a hard shell of defensiveness. Certainly her talent (more like appeal) was never so formidable as to justify such an ego.

    "Misery" is positively mesmerizing for me, but I know that it can be too much on the sadistic side for some. i certainly felt that way about the novel. Wonderfully written, but passage after passage of Annie being a monster began to wear on me (in the film she's practically an angel compared to how she's portrayed in the novel). "The Grifters" by the way contains perhaps my favorite Anjelica Houston performance.
    Thanks for reading, and commenting Joel! And thanks for the inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ken,

      All of my celeb encounters have been positive. Jackie Bisset was a dream, classy and elegant. Ben Bradlee could not have possibly been nicer. Henry Winkler wasn't particularly warm but pleasant enough, I guess you could say professionally nice. Rip Taylor reserved but not unfriendly. I have to say even though I'm not a fan Jay Leno was very polite.

      I have a few others from my years in bookstores but nothing extraordinary. Though I have to say I've found, Miss Bacall withstanding, the bigger the celebrity the more gracious they are. I've dealt with romance novelists whose work was garbage who thought they were the Queen of Sheba!

      But...and I can't really count her as one of mine since I only saw her from a distance but when I was working in DC for Blockbuster Lynda Carter was living there, she was married to some politician or attorney-who was in trouble with the law-and had a reputation as a total bitch on wheels. She went to other stores than mine thank goodness but I know if her name was mentioned it was either "Oh Christ Wonder Woman is here!" or a simple "That f-ing bitch!!" Never heard one single good comment, just that she was a nightmare.

      My favorite celebrity encounter that I've ever heard is from Ava Gardner in her auto-bio. She was in a hotel lobby in Spain and Bette Davis came by. Ava timorously approached Bette, mink clad with sunglasses, and meekly said "Miss Davis, I`m Ava Gardner and I`m a great fan of yours." And do you know, she behaved exactly as I wanted her to behave. "Of course you are, my dear," she said. "Of course you are." And she swept on. So classic and it shows that stars can be fans too.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for sharing all those, Joel
    Like you, most of my celebrity encounters have been through my job, which may help to explain why I have no unpleasant encounters to share either. When I see them, they're usually in a very vulnerable state (wearing workout gear & afraid of humiliating themselves in class) so they tend to be super nice. Also like you, I've found the biggest stars to be the nicest.
    Of the folks you've mentioned, I've always wanted to meet Jackie Bisset, such a favorite of mine. And what a surprising bit about Lynda Carter! She never really registered on my radar, but from what I remember of her in "Wonder Woman" you'd think she'd be kissing the feet of her fans in gratitude.
    Great Ava Gardner/Bette Davis anecdote! Thanks, Joel!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great review, Ken! You really pick such diverse and good films! I haven't seen this one but I know of it. I knew it was a big hit when it was released. I was interested in seeing in because of strange setting. It's rare that a spinster is a main character in a movie. It seemed to be more like a creepy thriller with first rate actors and not a slasher movie for and with teens. Many of my friends liked it but when I realized that there were some truly bloody and cruel scenes in the film, squeamish me kept away from the cinemas showing it. I would like to see it now as I understand that it's become a much loved (horror) classic! I didn't that it was funny too!

    No, I've never met a toxic fan and the very few times I have been near an celebrity I have tried not to be one! I wouldn't want to be percieved as such. I want to be cool and aloof so that they don't think I'm nuts!
    -Wille

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Wille
      Glad you enjoyed the essay! Interesting in your taking note of the "spinster" angle in the character of Annie Wilkes. When I was compiling notes for what to write about this film, one of the considerations was to look at the film from the perspective of a resurrected example of the "psycho biddy" genre of the '60s.
      There's a whole essay worth of observations I could make about Annie Wilkes and our culture's fear of women who don't fit a sexual norm. To some, Annie is already frightening because she is a divorced woman of large build, asexual appearance, and powerful physical strength. Her romantic/childlike nature makes her almost perverse (to me it makes her more human). Still, it's not hard to imagine Annie as a male castration fear figure on so many levels. She dominates the film, controls the fate of the lead character, and the story punishes her for it.
      Have you ever seen the film 1965 William Wyler film "The Collector"? If not, its woman-held-captive plot points to why "Misery" would be unbearable if the gender roles were reversed.
      The gender "power" inequity of a woman holding a man prisoner has dark comedy in it (the threat of castration takes the place of sexual violence); but when a woman is held captive, ALL the subtext is about sexual violence, and it's quite unpleasant.
      I find the performances so good in "Misery" the horror elements kind of fade into the background. I wonder if you would enjoy it?

      You're lucky if you've never met a toxic fan. A guy I used to know in high school was positively humorless when it came to the topic of Diana Ross. If it wasn't for the fact that I was bigger than him, I'm sure he would have tried to punch me out every time I made a disparaging remark.
      As for being cool and aloof around I star, I know what you mean. I've seen that look of terror in a celebrity's eyes when confronted with an over gushing fan (Barbra Streisand had it the first time she was on Rosie O'Donnell's talk show).

      In my own life (as I've often expressed) it was good for business that I remained so aloof around certain stars, but BOY do I sometimes regret not going full-throttle fanboy on some of them. Sometimes you just want to tell them what an impact they made on you.

      Delete
    2. Ooooh, Ken! Fan girl Rosie O'Donnell vs Annie Wilkes in Misery...I'm getting goosebumps!
      Rick

      Delete
    3. Ha! Sounds like a wrestling Battle Royale!

      Delete
    4. Ken, I can say something nice about Faye Dunaway. When I was a teen I went on a trip to London in 1986 with my parents. I made them buy tickets to the play "Circe and Bravo" starring ms. Dunaway . It was a long and heavy play, too adult for a teen really but I got to see my favourite actress FAYE live! We sat way back in the theatre, but still!

      Afterwards I got the idea of going behind the theatre to try to get a picture of her leaving the building. I made my poor parents wait along the other fans by the back door but after a while Faye stepped out! She actually signed autographs for people and let herself get photographed with fans. So I have somewhere an out of focus pic of me and Faye that my father took with my camera!
      -Wille

      Delete
    5. Yay! I wish I could give out a prize! Not only is it the only nice Faye Dunaway story I've heard, but it's such a nice one, too! Congratulations. As one of the very few to have avoided her wrath you are in rarefied company, Wille! Thanks for passing that on!

      Delete
  5. As much as I like Misery I always thought Dolores Claiborne never got its due.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right! I don't enjoy it as much as I do "Misery," but I love the performances and mother/daughter relationship in it. Again, Kathy Bates is terrific.

      Delete
  6. MISERY is one of my favorite movies of the 1990s. It's Reiner's homage to Hitchcock, IMO. So many references in the camera work and editing. What an iconic performance from Kathy Bates. One of the few Oscar winning performances that transformed an actor's career. No one knew who she was. Prior to Misery she had mostly walk-ons and supporting parts. She's only grown in maturity and depth over the years.

    I'm a lifelong movie fan but have never been a toxic fan. While working in a summer stock theater in Corning, NY in 1984 I met loads of idols from my teen years from David McCallum (sort of dull) to Leslie Caron (vain, icy and self-important). My eyes were opened to the fact that what we see on the screen is not always a reflection of the true person. A cruel reminder that came late in my life. You'd think I know better by the age of 23! But of all the stars I met that summer my favorite encounter came when Nanette Fabray was starring in a forgettable comedy the title of which I've forgotten. She did it with panache and wit every night despite how utterly mediocre the play was. One evening we all sat around in the producer's office drinking and listening to Ms. Fabray tell stories about the good ol' days at MGM. Can you imagine what that was like to the avowed musical comedy gay boy I was then? I wish I brought a tape recorder or that someone had video taped the night. Loads of laughs. She was genuine every moment of her one week she was with us, nothing fraudulent about her and thankfully nothing remotely repellent either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi JF
      I think you're onto something in noting the Hitchcockian touches in Reiner's direction. Those scenes depicting Paul's excursions into the forbidden parts of Annie's house (all tense close ups, and POV disclosure of the home's content) is very much like Hitchcock. I think the film has received so much notoriety for the explicit violence that people tend to forget that most of the enjoyable tension and nail biting comes from those well-directed scenes playing on Paul's efforts to escape before Annie returns home.

      And yes, this movie really took Bates from obscurity to stardom. I saw her in the bit she played in Altman's "Come Back to the Five & Dime) but never anything else.

      Because you read so much, you came to mind when I was commenting to an earlier reader about why "Women held Captive" movies are so problematic. Have you ever read the 1974 Irving Wallace novel "The Fan Club"? It was about a group middle aged male fans who kidnap their favorite female movie star.
      Pure trash, but when I was in high school, every issue of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety had an item about how difficult it was to cast the lead for the film version which was ultimately (mercifully) shelved.

      Thanks for the positively fascinating remembrances of your encounters with Caron (!), Fabray,and McCallum. Wonderful descriptions you provide, too.
      Your comment reminded me of perhaps my only contact with a toxic star, one I'd forgotten about because it wasn't contact so much as observing. Back in my performing days I was in the dance chorus of a "Night of 100 Stars" type charity event. Anyway, of all the celebrities gathered, some major some minor, the only one to show any star temperament was (as per the norm) the lowest on the totem pole: Todd Bridges of "Diff'rent Strokes" - he just gave the director and everybody else a headache with his demands and overall lousy disposition.

      Delete
    2. I've never heard of THE FAN CLUB by Wallace. I've read THE PIGEON PROJECT and two others and I've seen THE SEVEN MINUTES (have you written about that movie?) though I never read the original book. I must find a copy of THE FAN CLUB and review it for my blog. Right up my alley and perfect for Pretty Sinister Books. Thanks for mentioning it!

      Delete
    3. Hey...it IS a good book for your site. I'll be keeping an eye out in case you do cover it. I'd be curious to know what you think of it.

      Delete
  7. Hi Ken--
    What an apt title for what many of us are feeling right now!

    Funny, I just watched this movie with my Mom recently and we both agreed that it holds up well as a smart suspense thriller/black comedy.

    Did you know that Stephen King was inspired by "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" when he was writing "Misery?" There's a couple of funny Jane/Misery mashups on YouTube...

    Do you remember Roseanne Barr's very funny takeoff on Misery on SNL? Her humor can be so hit and miss, but it was a hoot!

    What I enjoyed beyond your usual smart look at movies, is your take on fan/fanaticism. You really nailed it. Especially in our electronic/ever-isolated era we live in. There's a lot of potentially fun blogs that I've tried to partake in, but I can't handle the "mean girls" attitude if you don't like the same stars, or drool over EVERY aspect of certain stars, or obsess over who should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1953! Ugh.

    That's why come here, to Le Cinema and Le Ken. Because you write smart, fun stuff, you're open to others' opinions, and there's a wide spectrum of tastes.

    Much appreciated!

    Rick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rick
      As per this film's title and the current political "climate" how right you are. Ugh!
      I hadn't hear about King being influenced by "Baby Jane"...that's very inspired and of course, now I can see how.
      And I don't recall having ever seen that SNL takeoff. But the basic material of "Misery" is so parody-ready, I can well imagine it was very funny.

      The fandom thing...yeah, I'm as a big a movie fan as the next guy, but I don't have a lot of patience with those that take it too seriously. I don't think loving old movies makes me special (So I don't jibe with the crowd that goes to those TCM events. In fact, they kinda scare me). And I'm not one to burst into tears if the print of one of my favorite films has a jump in it (Something I actually witnessed at a screening of "The Birds." A gentleman old enough to know better burst into LOUD tears and had to be consoled by his wife (I assumed) when the film jumped during the "get the kids out of the schoolhouse" scene.
      Even fans of "Xanadu" don't get that I am one of those devotees who thinks it is a lousy movie, but I love it anyway.
      I too tried my hand at joining blogs, FB pages, etc. of favorite film genres or stars for fun, and you are precisely right. No truck is taken with the least bit of levity directed at a obsession object, and critical discussion ALWAYS resorts to most inane bullying and name calling. It wore me out (I understand it in adolescents, it's bewildering when it comes from middle aged folks).
      Everyone commenting here seems to get the subtle differences between "That's a lousy movie" and "I thought it was a lousy movie." You all share your personal opinions and points of view here, hearing everyone out, but mercifully, I don't recall any episodes of anyone telling another commenter that they are "wrong" to feel as they do about a movie.
      And you're right about the broad spectrum of tastes we cover. That's exactly why I chose to write a blog in which one can find an essay on "Hot Rods to Hell" next to "Fanny & Alexander."

      I have my blind spots (I don't know that anyone could ever convince me of the value of an Adam Sandler movie) but I work hard at trying to keep an open mind when people engage me politely.
      Thanks, Rick. I'll think I'll head off to YouTube to check out some of those Baby Jane/Misery mash-ups!

      Delete
    2. Hey Ken,

      I couldn’t agree more about the fandom thing. Through trial and error I’ve found several blogs, this one included, focused on film that are open and friendly places that have enjoyable discourse on movies and where differences of opinion are greeted with interest and acceptance of varying tastes. For instance my love of Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern and your coolness towards them vs. your fondness for Jennifer Jones and my indifference to her. Hey that’s the way it goes and we both share a love of Julie Christie so all is good!

      Though none of those are about a particular star-that seems to be a sort of litmus test. For a brief time I followed a site about Veronica Lake, now I love Veronica but not to the heights this little nest did. Any slight criticism of her work, and let’s face it Flesh Fest is ripe for the pickin’, was met with vicious lashings by both the site host and the other commenters. Same if you dared to go “off topic” and talk as I did with Slattery’s Hurricane about any other aspect of the film but Miss Lake’s contribution when I give my thoughts on the performances of Richard Widmark and Linda Darnell in the same film!

      While we’re on the subject and this I guess is the other end of the spectrum from attack comments is bloggers who don’t respond!! I guess maybe this is my own thing but if you write something and someone else takes both the time to read and comment on what you put out there common courtesy would seem to call for some sort of response even if it was a simple “Thanks” or “I don’t see it that way.” This drives me crazy, nothing drives me from a site faster whether I find the content interesting or not. Why should I bother? You always respond Ken and I want to say a big thank you for that, the interchange of thoughts is one of the big attractions of your site although I love reading you critiques of the various films as well!

      Nothing wrong with loving a lousy movie!! I’ve have many favs that objectively speaking are on the junky side…just a few-A Rage to Live, Susan Slade, Fired Up!, Made in Paris, the Susan Hayward starrer Ada, This Earth is Mine-and I could care less about that. For me they are full of hidden delights every time I watch.

      Oh and that story about the guy breaking out into sobs because of a glitch in The Birds is both funny and sadly disturbing. I’ve never run across anything like that though I do recall telling a woman sitting behind my friend and I to shut the hell up when we went to see the Patsy Cline bio Sweet Dreams. She obviously knew Patsy’s story and how it ended so EVERY single time there was a scene in a plane, and there were several, she would say to the person she was with “This must be it” or “They’re going to crash!” Then when Jessica Lange would finish one of the songs she’s chime in with “Oooo she was good!” Or “She sang that so well!” as if Lange was actually singing them! It was crazy making but at least I suppose I should count myself lucky she didn’t sing along!!

      I’ve always been kind of curious about those TCM affairs but more from the aspect of seeing the interviews with the stars that show up and hearing their reminiscences. For example I’d love to hear what Diane Baker, who seems to attend every year, has to say-her career has been so long, she’s worked with everybody and in so many different areas. Also they usually show something either rare or restored. But with you mentioning them in this context they probably are rife with those didactic fans which would make them a trial.

      Delete
    3. Joel, that "Sweet Dreams" story is hilarious! I honestly think most film fans can relate to what your experience with fan sites can be. It's too bad that humor and being a fan don't go hand in hand more often.
      And those TCM events are informative as all get out and I recommend. I just find the attendees can occasionally be humorless, focused to a unnerving degree, and very smug and self satisfied for merely liking black and white films (like Whole Foods patrons who look so pleased with themselves for buying kale).
      I love talking about film, but I always concede that my emotions play as a big a part as my brain with movies, so don't look for consistency in my tastes.

      Some blogs have thousands of followers and I can understand how a prolific blogger may not have time to respond to every comment. An overabundance of followers is not a problem I have, plus I really do enjoy commenting and I am SO grateful when anyone takes the time. I can't take it for granted because I know how much effort it is when I visit other sites.

      I have a personal no-bullying policy and if someone posts something combative or rude, I don't engage, I just delete. People can disagree with me and think a film I love is a total waste of time, and I'll even post the dissenting opinion, but not if they are impolite. I may love to live in the past with my movie choices, but high school level spats are not my thing.
      Thanks for bringing up our mutual respect for one another despite our not seeing eye to eye on the contributions of certain stars. that's what it's all about. And you never know when you can get someone to discover something in a star or movie they once dismissed. My partner has turned me into a fan of Ida Lupino, Carmen Miranda, Judy Holliday, and Shirley Booth (none of whom were favorites when we met. I've been successful is weakening his resistance to Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep. Julie Christie...he's still is as apathetic about as ever!

      Delete
    4. Apathetic to Julie Christie!! Oh the sharp stabbing pain!!!!! Well I don't understand but it proves the point.

      Yay to your appreciation of those four awesome actresses. Ida Lupino in particular is high on my list of favorites.

      I guess I should rephrase or clarify about the comments. On a huge site like The Film Experience that posts several things a day I understand that Nathaniel will only occasionally respond to something that either surprises him, a comment to correct a misconception, a general response on the other comments or when there seems to be trouble brewing with a conflict between two or more people and that's perfectly fine. But on a smaller space particularly when the very subject is interactive why participate if you aren't really going to join in?

      For example every Thursday I visit a group of blogs for a series called Thursday Movie Picks where each pick three films that relate to a selected theme and you kick around your thoughts on them and I offer mine. It's fun and I've discovered a bunch of new movies, some good/some bad. However there are one or two bloggers who post theirs, you respond but they've moved on and don't interact. So I've stopped wasting my time visiting their sites. Those were the type I was referring too.

      Delete
    5. About the Julie Christie thing....I KNOW, Right?

      And I get what you mean. The smaller blogs that invite interaction and then nothing forthcoming from the hosts. It's no fun and I wouldn't continue to comment either. It's a courtesy and sign of mutual respect to just drop a "thanks" now and then.

      Delete
  8. Love this movie and love reading your thoughts on this movie. (And I hope you will you be looking at "A Face in the Crowd." But if it is too painful, I understand.)

    My first unpleasant celebrity encounter was with Miss Bacall. And twenty years later, my last unpleasant celebrity encounter was with Miss Bacall. Any awful thing you've heard about her is probably well grounded in truth. There are undoubtedly a host of other awful things that are absolutely true about Miss Bacall which you just haven't yet heard. When she was appearing in Woman of the Year, Liz Smith printed a blurb asking, "Which great star from the Golden Age of Hollywood and currently headlining a Broadway musical has earned the backstage nickname, 'Bob.' It's short for 'Bitch On Broadway.'" And at the time that ran, guess how many golden age Hollywood star ladies were doing a musical on Broadway. Just guess! So don't listen to me. Just take it from Liz Smith.

    My favorite acting moment ever on stage came from Kathy Bates. She was appearing off-Broadway at the Promenade Theater in Sam Shepherd's "Curse of the Starving Class." She was the wife and mother of a small family living in abject poverty in the hot and dusty Southwest. All the members of this family were tortured by their lots in life and mired in trouble. At one point, the only character on stage was the mother. Kathy Bates carried in a wicker basket filled with the laundry she has just taken off the line. She empties it onto the kitchen table to fold it. The way Bates related to her laundry was unforgettable. She held it, looked at it, and in this very private moment, it became clear to us all that it was the only soft, clean, quiet thing in her life. She talked about loving those qualities and of otherwise missing them from her life. Then she climbed onto the kitchen table and laid down in the laundry, taking it all in, treasuring the sensation.

    That piece of business was almost absurd, but she made it unforgettable, and beautiful, and heartbreakingly sad. She communicated to everyone how much that laundry meant to her as she struggled to keep her family together. When all you have to enjoy in your entire life is your laundry, things are bad. But she found it and she loved it with all her heart. No one is a better actor than Kathy Bates. A few are as good. But no one is better.

    Her work in "'Night, Mother" was equally good. When she compared life to being caught on a crowded crosstown bus on a hot summer day and told her mother, 'all you want more than anything else in the world is just to get off the bus,' she gave us the entire character and her plight and her solution. Her acting talent is a marvel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Boy...sounds like Bacall would give Dunaway a run for her money in the unpleasantness department. Indeed,a s far as this comment section goes, she's the uncontested champ.
      Wonderful reading about Kathy Bates' performance! I would love to see her on stage. A great deal of what is miraculous about her portrayal of Annie Wilkes are the small things she brings to an almost absurd character.
      Everybody loves and remembers her big outburst scene "He didn't get out of the cockadoodie car!!", but what I love almost as much are the flashes of emotions that play across her face after she's done. She looks embarrassed by her own passion, she looks likes she's just been thrust out of actually "being" a little girl again, and she looks almost bewildered by how strongly the reliving of a never-forgotten betrayal still affects her. She is really so good in this.
      Having seen her on stage, I can well understand your respect for her talent. Thanks for sharing such unique, enlightening experiences!

      Delete
    2. Love "George's" comments!
      I had a friend who did film "extra" work in the '90s and appeared in "The Temp," which "starred" Lara Flynn Boyle...and Faye Dunaway! Fascinated that two whack jobs could be contained on one film set, I asked what Faye like? A c*nt, he said. And Lara? A c*nt in training! From there he regaled with tales of Dunaway constantly changing hotels, sending food back, demanding actors not look at her--even during a scene! With Lara soon following suit.

      Love Faye and Lauren...on-screen! And ain't it funny that Elizabeth Taylor had the worst media reputation for decades, yet I defy you to find any fan or "regular person" that she was unkind to. I think the difference was ET was always confident in her stardom...and also had humanity.

      I will also second the person who gave a shout out to Delores Claiborne. Kathy did great work with Stephen King's characters.

      Delete
    3. Hey Rick
      Speaking of George's comments, I forgot to mention that I too am a fan of "A Face in the Crowd" and wish I had written about it long before now, because right now it really would be too painful to write about.

      Faye Dunaway is apparently a gift who keeps on giving. (Lara Flynn Boyle was never much on my radar, so your comments are a revelation! What does she have that warrants a diva attitude?)
      And you're right about Liz Taylor, I don't recall any stories of her being cruel to "civilians."
      I had the nicest contact with Raquel Welch, who has a pretty rough reputation, but she was taking my class, and so i guess just enough tilt in the power dynamic to bring out her good side.

      Delete
    4. By the way, Rick...thanks for turning me on to those "Baby Jane"/ "Misery" mashups. Funny & very clever!

      Delete
    5. Miss Dunaway. Back in 1980, I was living in a 5th floor walk-up in Hell's Kitchen. Back when it was still like 'West Side Story.' I had constant problems with the telephone line. It would stop working altogether. It would become useless with static on the line. And NY Telephone came to my apartment repeatedly before it was correctly diagnosed and repaired.

      In the course of all this, I got to know the repairman. I apologized for this on-going head ache. He replied, "Oh, this ain't nuthin'. You got one line. You know that actress... Faye Dunaway? I've been to her apartment many times. Boy, is she a fuckin' pain the ass. She's got about five lines in her big apartment on Central Park West. You know... so she can call the Coast, and yell at her agent, and talk to her boyfriend all at the same time. Then somebody pisses her off and she pulls the whole goddamned thing outta the wall. Rips the wires right out. What a fuckin' mess to try to rewire that set up and put all those lines back in working order every time she gets drunk and throws a fit. And all the time, she's flying around the apartment tellin' me to hurry up."

      Mommie Dearest opened the next year and I reeeeeeeeeally wanted to cuss and discuss it with my great repairman, but never got the chance. Still it's fun to think of Mara Hobel with a little tool belt and a NY Tel uniform.




      Delete
    6. Fantastic Dunaway story! If nothing else, the woman is consistent. Somebody's GOT to have one, but I've yet to hear nice Dunaway story, about how she was kind to someone. The closest thing to a "nice" story I've heard is being in her vicinity and simply not being the chosen target of her wrath.

      Delete
    7. Maybe there's a dog out there somewhere that she hasn't kicked. A friend was the press agent on Faye's West Coast Tour of MASTER CLASS. He wouldn't talk of it. 'I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it.' He would just shudder and mutter something about 'Done Fadeaway.'

      Delete
  9. I haven't seen Misery myself, but knowing its place in pop culture comes easy enough ;P Have you seen the "Misery II" parody from In Living Color? Nowadays I feel bad for laughing at it due to its subject matter, but its constant mentions of "doodledirty" words would probably send anyone into hysterics. Of course, I had no idea those words were in the movie itself, which makes it even funnier.

    P.S. Carol Burnett was and is a absolute sweetheart ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi
      I haven't seen the "In Living Color" skit, but your referencing it reminds me how, during MISERY's theatrical run, its popularity was such that parodies and spoofs were everywhere.
      And as I know you're a fan of Carol Burnett, I am heartened to know she is a sweetheart. There's an axiom "Never meet your idols" but I love it that there are always exceptions. Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
    2. The "Misery II" sketch for anyone else interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_BzOkDJhPk

      Delete
  10. Argyle, here. I saw “Misery” in the theater when it was released and enjoyed it. I’m not a big Stephen King fan, but I totally respect him and marvel at his productivity. And I’m sure that his work has a certain profundity, it’s just not my kind of profundity. I’ve never read much horror or fantasy. In terms of reading material, I guess I tend to favor realism to the point of banality. I like my horrors under the surface. I think I was vaguely aware of Kathy Bates as a well-regarded theater actor. I usually always like James Caan; there’s always that simmering irritability. I don’t think I knew the story at all which was a plus. I remember responding positively to the drab, peach-y look of the film which seemed appropriate and had its own kind of sly menace. I usually want a film to at least be “beautiful” but really I just want the look of the film to be deliberate and to reinforce (or contrast with) the idea of the film. (Sidebar - I can’t stand when a film is beautiful for no good reason, my go-to example: “Days of Heaven.”) Much respect to Rob Reiner for all his accomplishments, but similarly to SK above, not someone whose work I anticipate. As always, I enjoyed your essay and I’m sure the next time I run across this I’ll sit and watch and mull your analysis and everyone’s comments.

    There was nothing toxic about it, on the contrary, it was sort of quiet and wistful, but I have one celebrity encounter that floats up occasionally. To avoid creating suspense where there is none called for, it was with Carrie Fisher in 1980 in New York City. It was at a showing of “After the Thin Man” at a revival house up near Lincoln Center or maybe the Thalia where Alvy and Annie see “The Sorrow and the Pity” in “Annie Hall.” Encounter is even a strong word for what happened. We were sitting on the same row of the theater and I would say it was during the credits. Jimmy Stewart is in that “Thin Man” film and I feel like she had some small reaction when his name came up on the screen. The theater was full, I think her companion was to my left, and then her. For whatever reason, we both leaned forward at the same moment and, as you sometimes do in a theater, we both turned our heads and looked down the row. In this case we turned toward each other and, just with the simultaneity of it, I wouldn’t say our eyes locked but it was something close. We definitely looked at each other. It took me a second to register: this is Carrie Fisher. No idea what she was registering, but it did seem like it was a small moment of connection. Something like: people in New York, young, at a beautiful little movie theater, about to watch (appreciation assumed) a beautiful little film. It’s cold outside (December) but we’re all in here, in the silvery dark, sitting on our winter coats. It’s cozy in here and for about 80 minutes we are at peace.

    Hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving. as always, Ken, thanks for this blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Argyle
      That's a lovely kind of celebrity encounter you described. no collateral damage, no rear-view recriminations, just a wistful kind of mutual awareness. I like it!
      I know what you mean about Stephen King. He's an undeniably talented writer, but as prolific as he is, I can't say he's a favorite. Carrie, The Shining, and Misery stand out for me (because of their film adaptations)- much of his other work is just not my thing.
      And I wonder if I too don't harbor the same under-appreciation of Rob Reiner. Like Ron Howard, I never actually go to see one of his film because he's directing them.; I go because the story interests me and..,lo and behold! It turns out to be directed by either Howard or Reiner. I'm sure they too are excellent, but their names on the posters never put my ass in the seat.
      Also, I liked your comment about movies that are beautiful for no reason. As much as I love beautiful images, "Days of heaven" wore me out. I never have made it all the way through that film.
      Great to hear from you, Argyle, hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving!

      Delete