Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ramblings: Big Daddy

One of my favourite lines ever from a film is uttered by Blanche DuBois as she’s genteelly carted off to the lunatic asylum at the end of “A Streetcar Named Desire”: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” Let’s face it, who hasn’t at some time or other. Depended on strangers being kind, I mean, not been escorted to a sanatorium for the insane.

The reason I mention this is to talk about one of my favourite authors and playwrights, Tennessee Williams. I’d urge anyone who isn’t familiar with his work to look it out. There are so many fantastic film versions of his works as well as volumes of his short stories, his novella “The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone” and various autobiographies about his life. His plays still appear regularly on the stage almost 30 years after his death and his films attracted actors and directors from the highest echelons.

This man was addicted to amphetamine injections and sedatives, had tempestuous homosexual relationships, nervous breakdowns, issues with alcohol, a rampant wit and died not from the pills he took so many of, but from accidentally choking on the top of a bottle of eye drops. What would make you not want to read about a life like that? It’s not hard to see why this writer would understand and be able to reflect the life of the damaged so well.

His female characters have such strength and depth. It’s hard not be charmed by Blanche DuBois and her real and assumed frailties in a world that’s left her behind. She postures and witters but ultimately is sympathetic and real. I’m sure many of us can identify with her fear of ageing and being left to wither away, losing all we once held as so important. We almost all dislike being under a naked light at a certain age. The desperately shy and crippled Laura and her overbearing mother, Amanda, in “The Glass Menagerie” provide high drama in small domesticities. Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” oozes sensuality and speaks of what it is to be a woman willing to use all she’s got to keep her position. Her seductive tangos around her drunken and damaged husband and bombastic father-in-law are a sight to behold (as is the young Paul Newman in the film, but that’s just me being a bit lecherous).

Tennessee Williams wrote about the kind of people that fascinate me: gigolos and drifters, faded Southern Belles, washed up film stars and drunkards. He depicted the shy, the lonely and the damaged and the ruthless and depraved too, with an eye for human frailty and an understanding of their flaws.
I could wax lyrical for hours about what I love about his plays and prose but my suggestion would be to see some of his films. You honestly won’t regret it. They’re pure quality

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