Thursday, April 19, 2007

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: CARTOONIST


I don't know if Tennessee Williams ever drew anything but I regard him as a cartoonist. You could say that he's a cartoonist with a typewriter, rather than a pencil. His stories are over-the-top and funny, and his characters are fun to draw. Here's a drawing I did (below) of Anna Magnani from the William's film, "The Rose Tattoo." Magnani was brilliant in this film. What an under-rated actress!
Williams comes from the Ibsen-Chekhov-Strindberg school of writing. These guys liked character conflict, even when it didn't make any sense. It was really drama for the sake of drama with the then-fashionable nihilism added to justify it. Actors liked the plays because they were full of dramatic fireworks but the public was slow to warm to them. I think people were put off by the unrelenting seriousness. These were pretty depressing plays.
The writer who saved the movement from oblivion was Tennessee Williams and he did it by making the new style funny. Oh, his work was still serious on some level but it was serious the way cartoonists like to be serious, which is really a caricature of seriousness. In a Williams play you never knew whether to laugh or cry.

Maybe Williams' best-known play was "A Street Car Named Desire." Brando was great in the film version! Even John K who hates Brando in other films, likes him in this one! I read that Brando had a whole closet of tee-shirts for this film, each one stretched and bunched up to a different side to make it seem tight from a different camera angle. Here's (above) a half-minute clip from the film.










When I was a kid I'd see these Williams movies and wonder what the heck was going on in the adult world. Was I going to have to live in a mansion with a Big Daddy? Was I supposed to hang around with alcoholics and sleazy women in slips? Would I be expected to break mirrors with my whiskey glass? They go through a lot of mirrors in Tennessee Williams films.




28 comments:

Soos said...

The Glass Menagerie is a fine example of humor and seriousness at the same time. The mother is such a ridiculous cartoony character, and she drives everyone nuts!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

I forgot to say that John K used to talk a lot about how kids perceive the adult world as it's portrayed in films. It's a fascinating subject and I hope he does a blog about it sometime.

Benjamin said...

Still need to see Streetcar, darnit! Why don't they ever show the classics on TV anymore?

On a sidenote, I think it's strange, though, that someone who wants to teach people how to act, hates Brando.

Anyhow, can't say I'm very familiar with Williams. Are you saying a film/play like Streetcar can be considered funny? I've never heard anyone refer to it in that way.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I don't think I've seen any of his films.....I got to add it to my list!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Benjamin: Well actually what John said is that Brando was miscast in most of his films but was perfect for Streetcar.

Me, I think Brando is over-rated as an actor. Lawrence Olivier is an actor, Brando is an extremely charismatic "screen personality." I don't mean this as an insult. The man has magic, no doubt about it, and I can't imagine anyone else playing Stanley in Streetcar better.

Is Streetcar funny? Sure, in a lot of parts. Don't you think the YouTube clip is funny?

I.D.R.C. said...

When I was kid, I thought I would grow up to marry a beautiful white lady with magical powers who would say, "oh, master!" While I'm boffing her doggy-style.

Why don't they ever show the classics on TV anymore?

All the classics are on TCM now. you need to pirate some basic cable.

I'm curious what makes Olivier more of an actor than Brando.Is it Shakespearian training? How would you put it specifically? For myself I find such determinations hard to make. each circumstance being unique, if a guy can carry a roll in a big way, it's hard for me to say another guy is a better actor. Even if one guy demonstrates more range, that could be due to circumstance. He might be better a getting good work.

Anonymous said...

Big Daddy? Sleazy women? Alcoholics? Thrown whiskey glasses breaking mirrors? Eddie, you've just described Filmation!

Tom Minton

Jenny said...

..."used to talk a lot about how kids perceive the adult world as it's portrayed in films."

I guess this would be the place to say that when I was forced to sit through "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!" I thought it was a soap opera. Really!
First Jimmy Durante dies in a car accident, then all these unhappy people scream and cry and chase each other in cars peeling out, yelling at each other for what? Money? For 3 hours. By the time the 3 Stooges came on I was so bored I almost fell asleep--except it was so LOUD!

That scarring experience, and "Bewitched" gave me some of my ideas about the Adult World...and "The Honeymooners" and "I Love Lucy" too.

btw FWIW there's lots of (real) humor in "Streetcar", and lots of tragedy too. Williams was nothing if not witty.

Acting styles and actors are very personal to the people who watch them. Olivier could be unreal, incredible, but he really went off many times both early and later in his career(I say that from the POV of someone with a crush on him from age 13).
Brando too had his ups and downs...I'm surprised John dislikes his acting though--it's just as manly and "big" as Kirk's in many roles. Especially Stanley. *shrug*
annnd--now I'll make everyone angry by saying Burt tops them all! The Swimmer! Elmer Gantry! Sweet Smell of Success! TRAPEZE!!! the Train! et cetera.
;D

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny, IDRC: Groan! I'll amswer these tonight when able to get back to the keyboard.

Ryan G. said...

Brando was ripped in Streetcar.. Its amazing to see the weight he aquired over the years.

I.D.R.C. said...

-Um, I meant "carry a big role."

Carrying a big roll is something else. Guess I was still dreaming of Jeannie...

J. J. Hunsecker said...

annnd--now I'll make everyone angry by saying Burt tops them all! The Swimmer! Elmer Gantry! Sweet Smell of Success! TRAPEZE!!! the Train! et cetera.

I love SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS!! Of course I may be biased, because I am J. J. Hunsecker after all.

Jennifer said...

When I was still in school, my literature class studied Tennessee Williams. I got to see the film (Streetcar Named Desire) in school.

Rose Tattoo was an excellent play. You're right about Anna Magnani - she was very underrated.

Jenny said...

Anna Magnani underrated? All my life I've gotten the impression that she's considered of the greatest actresses of film!
If she gets less mass media attention nowadays(IOW, is less merchandised) than Monroe or Audrey Hepburn, etc, it's sadly no doubt due to her unconventional looks, but she was hugely respected-and won an academy award to boot. : )

Kali Fontecchio said...

Sweet Smell of Success- I have that on vhs...somewhere in my room.....

I.D.R.C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
I.D.R.C. said...

Anna Magnani had a 40-year career, won a best actress Oscar and about 15 other awards. I'd love to be so underrated.

Jenny said...

....Rubio's?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny, IDRC: Burt is good, no doubt about it, but I prefer Douglas. I refer you to John's favorites, "Detective Story" and "Young Man With a Horn." Young man is one of the all-time best films on the subjet of creativity.

I saw the swimming film a long time ago and swore off Cheever (the writer) as a result. Burt was good in it, though.

What about the middle of Olivier's career!?

Mad World was a flawed film but I still like it. Jonathen Winters and Phil silvers were good in it and what about Terry Thomas and Ethel Merman?

Hunsecker: Burt was indeed good in that. Nice photography too!

Jenny said...

Eddie what about my last comment...? Have any idea what that's about? just asking. : )

J. J. Hunsecker said...

"Hunsecker: Burt was indeed good in that. Nice photography too!"

And some mighty fine writin', too. The dialog works like jazz. The story structure is unique, too. The filmmakers refer to but never show one of the main characters (J. J. Hunsecker) in the story until the first act is almost over. When J. J. is finally revealed, the audience only first gets a glimpse of the back of his head. They build up a mystery around the character by doing it this way.

"Sweet Smell of Success- I have that on vhs...somewhere in my room....."

Kali, it is now available on DVD.

If you like "Sweet Smell..." I recommend another great Alexander MacKendrick film -- The Ladykillers (the original, that is).

Joel Bryan said...

I'm a big Burt Lancaster fan. I'm trying to think of a Burt Lancaster movie I HATE. Maybe "Twilight's Last Gleaming," but it has Burt Lancaster in it. If I could master his way of delivering lines, I'd talk that way forever. "Seven Days in May" has a great Lancaster performance and the ending is brilliant, with his character completely deflated.

If they remade it now, they'd have Will Smith in the Kirk Douglas role and whoever they put in the Burt Lancaster role would have to fall off a massive office building, possibly in a helicopter that would mysteriously explode halfway down, or else angrily firing his guns upward in some CGI shot.

Speaking of Lancaster's "May" costar, Kirk Douglas is awesome, too. "Lust for Life." I can watch that endlessly. A manically sensitive portrayal. That's a man giving it his all.

I even like Brando. I've seen "On the Waterfront" a few times here in Japan recently. Lee J. Cobb, too.

A great Tennessee Williams play/movie that fulfills all of the criteria for being serious art and a hilarious cartoon simultaneously?

"Suddenly Last Summer." Holy crap, is that a funny cartoon. That's the most overheated souffle I've ever tasted, too. All the hinting about "that which cannot be mentioned" and then the oddball cannibalism stuff and the lobotomization threat and the house of crazy women... Glorious.

I had to read a lot of Williams' plays for various lit classes. I prefer to watch the movies. I want to see Burl Ives acting like a jerk in Technicolor, with glycerine sweat (or maybe in his case, REAL sweat) pouring off him.

JohnK said...

Hey, I don't hate Brando in other films! I just think he's miscast all the time, but I think it's funny.

Jenny said...

I've seen a lot of Douglas movies- both of the ones you cite are classics, no doubt about that.

They make an even better impact on the big screen, which is a must for all these movies(people: if you live in L.A. you should definitely check up on the UCLA/Academy/New Beverly schedules for the times when the great films of the 30s-60s are shown on a proper movie screen. Even if you've seen them before you won't be sorry).

And what about "Out of the Past"? I love that as well. "Bad and the Beautiful"? "Ace In The Hole"??! etc etc.etc; there's so many.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: Your last comment about Magnani? As you said, she was rocognized in her time but is nearly forgotten now. For this generation she is under-rated.

A Williams film I'd love to see again is "Man in the Snakeskin Boots" (if I have the title right). I saw it a million years ago in a revival theatre. It contains one of Brandos very best performances and Magnani was great but the writing struck me as seriously flawed. Even Williams didn't hit a home run every time.

I'm not exactly a Williams fan even though I have a lot of good things to say about him. There's a cynical undercurrent in his work that doesn't fit my philosophy. Whether he really was cynical or just came off that way to make the drama work better I don't know.

Hammerson said...

Uncle Eddie, have you seen "Baby Doll"? That's another great Tennessee Williams film that nobody mentioned yet. It has awesome performances by Karl Malden, Caroll Baker and Eli Wallach. Also, it's a very funny movie, in a dark and perverted way.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Hammerson! Wow! I forgot "Baby Doll!" That was a funny film alright, and Wallach and Malden were (as you said) great in it!

Anonymous said...

The 1955 musical "Guys and Dolls" contains one of Brando's wackiest singing and dancing performances as Sky Masterson. Sinatra thought he'd been miscast as Nathan Detroit. He wanted the Masterson role but maybe was too skinny at that point to be considered a believable heavy. Time would change that.