Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: A Streetcar Named Desire

The fact that I’ve never contributed to Nathaniel’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series is not indicative of my lack of interest in the films he’s covered thus far, but evidence of my natural indecisiveness. The idea of choosing a single shot to represent my love for a film is so difficult – and even A Streetcar Named Desire which I love for the writing and acting (at least, ostensibly) ends up confusing me. One of the great things about actually having Tennessee adapt his own play was that A Streetcar Named Desire didn’t undergo superfluous “opening up”. It’s a play about trapped people, so it makes sense that even in its cinematic version the action occurs mostly in that apartment at Elysian Fields. But, I do love that the film opens not with Blanche on the sidewalk approaching Stella’s home (like in the play) but now preparing to board that fateful Streetcar named Desire. Maybe it’s because I’m reading Great Expectations which is all about secrets shrouded by mist, but I love that the very first image of Blanche occurs through mist. For, Blanche is like the mist, no? Beautiful, mysterious – and most importantly so fragile and easily dissipated.
But, you see, I’m already in a quandary of sorts because as much as I love Blanche’s entrance it would hardly suffice as my favourite shot. The film, like all works emanating from Tennessee, is so rich that I’m always undecided as to which theme to hang my hat upon. Case in point: Stella Kowalski/Kim Hunter. I’m inclined, too often, to think of A Streetcar Named Desire in accordance with another foursome (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Right now, I’d give more credit to the latter and whereas as with Nichols’ piece I’m indecisive about who’s best in show Hunter is easily my least favourite of the foursome in Streetcar. I like her more this time around, though…
One of the enduring themes of the play/film is Blanche’s more overt disillusionment against the practicality of Stella (who it turns out, isn’t all that practical). I have a soft spot for cinematic sisters, even if they’re as odd as this pair. It’s not a superfluous shot, there’s something important to be gleaned just from their expressions. Doesn’t Stanley’s Stella seem almost overexcited with desirous pride watching her man there? And poor Blanche is looking at her wondering, “Can this be Stella DuBois?” Well, she better believe it. One thing you have to appreciate about the narrative is its fluidity, and that first look that we Stella giving him there is leading up that moment when they have their tussle on Poker Night. Blanche, Stella and Eunice are all upstairs; naturally, though, Stella can't stand to me apart from her man and she comes down the stairs with that look on her face to the right.
Blanche is the Dubois sister credited with denying reality, but in the same way that Blanche is disillusioned Stella, too, ignores the danger that comes with Stanley deciding instead to grasp at his visceral sexuality. Like the next morning when Blanche comes in, she's not the image of an abused woman - this is how the Kowalskis get off - disillusionment, indeed. Stella talks about how he went about “smashing” things on their wedding night., and you only have to imagine. Smashing things? Yeah, sure he did…

It’s why the subsequent conversation with the two sisters is so important.
Blanche: “What you are talking about is desire – just brutal Desire. The name of that rattle-trap streetcar that bangs through the Quarter, up one narrow street and down another”
Stella: “Haven’t you ever ridden on that streetcar?”
That’s about all you need to glean the most important bits of A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s such a precise moment, without being a bit on the nose. Blanche and Stella both have that innate thirst for desire, the only difference is that Stella’s lucky enough (well, depending on how you look at it) to have found it with one man.  Leigh gets blamed for theatrical, but she's much more organic an actor than people give her credit for. This makes her such a perfect figure to encapsulate the subtlety that becomes Blanche,  pitting her against the literal nature of Hunter's performance. It's moments like these that make it possible for us to peruse the sisters (and the actors) opposite each other. Blanche may be the one hopping on and off board onto that brutal streetcar, but they're all riding it…
            
(I'm proud of myself, an entire post on A Streetcar Named Desire and I don't bring up Marlon Brando.)
             
What do you think about the juxtaposition of the two sisters in A Streetcar Named Desire? Which is more disillusioned?

6 comments:

Jose said...

I love the opening too! The shot pretty much sums up the movie, Blanche is coming from fantasy and she'll be overtaken by the harsh reality of desire. after watching the film a few times, you sorta wish she would never come out of that fog...

Kudos on leaving Marlon behind, that's what I call self control.

okinawaassault said...

I never noticed how European that opening sequence was until this post.

Also, that solo shot of Stella is when Stanley's trying to get her back for the first time, right? So animalistic. You're right, they're an odd pair. Hunter seems more a Northerner than Leigh was.

Brandon said...

On the disillusioned bit, I would say Stella. Stella in a sense has (obviously) much more clarity in the way she thinks and behaves even when it isn't always her brain motivating her, if you know what I mean, and she gets it. She understands that she isn't being practical, but lustful and giving into desire. With Blanche her mind and "spirit" begins and ends foggy (note the fog she first appears), and though she does have moments of clarity, with every attempt to find some intergral truth she becomes more and more lost. It's a very complex issue, in a very complex film, but can you explain more on the lightbulb meaning?

NATHANIEL R said...

Lovely! And i see we both really got hooked on the tale of the two sisters.

I'm so surprised that so few participants are focusing on Brando. but that's one of the reasons I love doing this series. It's so interesting to see what people respond to.

it really is a dizzyingly rich work thematically .

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jose self control yeah, but then vivien does sort of demand EVERYONE'S undivided attention.

paolo i still say, the relationship with stella and stanely is THE most disturbing aspect of the story.

brandon on the lightbulb, blanche seems freakishly afraid of the light...and she's so neurotic about her age the glare of the bulb is sort of a symbol for the disclosing of her secrets (of which she has many).

nathaniel i'm sort of surprised we both looked at stella/blanche because people do seem to forget hunter.

Jose said...

Leave Vivien alone!

Hunter rocks my world! Best Oscar winner to have donned a monkey suit later on right?