Friday, March 25, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: "A lifetime full of days"

Just wanted to pay my respects to one of my favourite classic actresses, Elizabeth Taylor. Out of respect (since she apparently disliked being called Liz) I'm not going to use the nickname I normally do. For most (in my generation anyway), she became an icon later in her life less for her wonderful performances or kind and honest heart, but more via a kitschy image of a kooky-looking old lady who just had a lot of husbands. But there are still those of us who have seen her beauty and grace (which transcended her youth still into her old age, I think) that persisted through the years and always sparkled through those bright violet eyes of hers that were the envy of so many. Including yours truly ;)

She was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood to ever grace the silver screen. With her beautiful face, curvaceous body, and smooth flowing voice it should come as no surprise that she won the love of many audiences around the world. And as if it weren't enough, she was a talented actress from since she was a little girl. OK, I never did get to see her as a child in movies like Jane Eyre or Lassie Come Home, but I do vividly remember watching a young, teenage Elizabeth Taylor prance onscreen as Amy in the WONDERFUL 1949 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" (which is still one of my favourite books ever - I'll have to do a post on it one of these days), shocking viewers like me when abandoning her jet-black hair for a blonde wig and playing the vain, but well-meaning and lovable youngest March sister.

Another favourite movie of hers for me is "Giant", with Rock Hudson and James Dean. It's a long one, but my gosh, it pulls you in and never lets you go. Her performance as Leslie Benedict - the passionate, caring, strong, but feminine female lead was so believable and endearing, her chemistry with Rock Hudson so perfect, it made the 3 and a half hours fly by.

I could go on for hours about the many many MANY wonderful movies she's done that I've enjoyed. I could cover the exoticism of "Elephant Walk", the depth of "The Last Time I Saw Paris", or the sweetness in "Father's Little Dividend" ... or even the raw and un-pretty realism of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

But the most special movie of hers to me should come as no surprise to those who know me ... "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof".

It's a personal favourite I can watch over and over again and for some reason never get tired of. It's not the most gripping of storylines - there's no big thrilling adventure or a gruesome murder or a fantastic love story. It's a simple story of a woman who's found herself lost in her marriage to a man who's become as hard and cold as his namesake, who seems to hate her but whom she genuinely loves very much and tries to draw forgiveness from. The glory of this film isn't really in the writing or the plot or the setting or anything like that (Tennesse Williams apparently LOATHED this adaptation ... undoubtedly because of its key removal of -- well, you'll have to read the play.) ... it's driven by the performances. Paul Newman (my favourite actor ... again, must post) is perfect as the impenetrable Brick Pollitt, who, despite being undisputably tough and jaded, is able to make you still believe he's human, that there are cracks in him from his past that he has taken great care to hide. And then there's Maggie the Cat ... the equally important force who makes you care about the characters in this incredible film. Elizabeth Taylor seems to effortlessly portray the desperation of an almost broken woman who, despite all her charm and beauty, can't get the one man who means the most to her. I have little doubt a large part of her gripping performance is due to her incredible real-life tragedy at the beginning of the production - she lost her husband, Michael Todd, in a plane crash the first day of shooting.

OK, got a little carried away there but ... I think you get the gist. Dame Elizabeth Taylor was a captivating woman, not only in her beauty but in her poise, charisma, elegance, and her giving heart. She was a gift to audiences everywhere and the last of the greats. It figures that just as I was getting over Paul Newman's passing only a few years ago, the other half of the dynamic duo that I had so loved watching would also be gone. At least now they'll be able to meet once again past the pearly gates, where I know all of Old Hollywood was waiting for her just before she left us, streamers hanging and champagne glasses in hands, waiting to welcome her back among friends. Rest in peace, Ms. Taylor, and thank you.

Brick: "What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?"
Maggie: "Just staying on it, I guess. As long as she can."

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