Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Real Joan Crawford

As we leave Ms. Crawford for awhile, we ended our viewing with Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, a TCM production from 2002. The documentary, narrated by the wonderful Angelica Huston, looks at Crawford's life, through the lens of her films.  It does not shirk the issues that came from Joan's daughter's autobiography, Mommie Dearest. In fact, Christina is interviewed, and at times does shed some insight into her mother. Of course, Christina's bitterness towards the difficult mother-daughter relationship is quite obvious. The documentary also looks at the issues that resulted from Joan's inclusion in the notorious "box office poison" list.  Luckily for us all, Ms. Crawford managed to prove that she was far from being a has-been - some of her greatest roles, of course, came after that horrid incident.

It was a treat to see clips of some of the films we were unable to see, like Crawford's early silents, and films like Mannequin (which I personally have wanted to see for awhile).  The documentary presents, in a 90 minute slot, a real look at the many faces of Crawford - the flapper, the party girl, the romantic lead, the melodrama actress, and the scream queen.  It also demonstrates the breath of her work; she really covered a wide range of film genres.  Taken over several months, one can lose track of how versatile she was.  Seen in such a short time, her talent is even more evident.

We thought that some comment on the whole Mommie Dearest controversy deserved some notice here.  Having read her autobiography, I had no doubt that Christina was abused.  However, I think that, on some levels, she vilified her mother for things that, in another circumstance, would not be looked at twice.  Take Crawford's determination to not overindulge her children with Christmas gifts.  The children publicly opened all the gifts they were sent (by fans, co-stars, fellow film studio workers, family); afterwards, the gifts were taken away. Most were given to charity. Is this cruelty? When one thinks of the number of gifts these kids probably received, probably not? Did Crawford take it to extremes? I think probably she did.  And then, there is the incident of the 60ish Crawford replacing her 30ish daughter on a soap opera, when Christina took ill.  Did Christina never consider that it is possible that her mother saved her job? Crawford stepped out when Christina recovered.  How many other actresses on soaps lost their roles to their successors? Luckily, Christina never found out.

So, for a look at the real woman, keep an eye out for this excellent documentary.  And join us next week as we view another film.