Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Katharine Hepburn, Stage III: Long Day's Journey Into Night

And so we come to the end of ArtsEmerson's Katharine Hepburn series (see previous entries here, here, and here). It's been a fun ride, seeing these movies in 35mm with pretty deent crowds, and I kind of wish I'd had time to see The African Queen, but December can be madness, and I do have Blu-ray on my shelf...

Anyway, I half-jokingly referred to the December leg of this program as "the spinster years" (it also included David Lean's Summertime), though the only one I made it to has Hepburn's character married. In a lot of ways, these are the movies that let Hepburn be interesting again; she's never being restrained by playing opposite Spencer Tracy or pressured into being less than she is. She's able to age remarkably gracefully; even the naive missionary's sister in The African Queen, intelligence and steel comes through; the same with the midwestern librarian of Summertime. In a way, those performances make her turn in Long Day's Journey Into Night even more devastating; we know what Katharine Hepburn is supposed to be and it is definitely not this.

One final aside which has little to do with Kate - seeing young Dean Stockwell and Jason Robards in this movie is weird. Robards less so, because he seams like a completely different person from the aged elder statesman he tended to play in the movies I've seen. But Dean Stockwell freaks me out because he seemed old in Quantum Leap and other late-1980s work, and didn't really change straight through Battlestar Galactica. In this movie, he's pretty much got the same voice, and looks like an airbrushed version of the actor I know. That he actually started out as a child actor makes me a little terrified to finally watch Song of the Thin Man sometime.

Long Day's Journey Into Night

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 December 2011 in the Paramount Theater Bright Screening Room (Kate the Icon, Katharine the Iconoclast)

There's no screenplay credit on Long Day's Journey Into Night, not out of shame, but because director Sidney Lumet and his small cast basically shot Eugene O'Neill's play in its entirety, and apparently nobody felt that the details of staging it and adding what movements couldn't be done on stage merited being labeled a co-writer. Despite that, it doesn't feel like an early precursor to the stage productions digitally broadcast to theaters today. It's a genuine movie; just one that doesn't hide its origins.

It chronicles a day in the life of the Tyrone family, their first together at the beach house one summer, which is fraught with more danger than such things typically are. Mother Mary (Katharine Hepburn), you see, is just back from another stay at the clinic to try and kick her morphine addiction, which has her husband James (Ralph Richardson) keeping watch to make sure she doesn't backslide. Their older son Jamie (Jason Robards) is a layabout, occasionally making half-hearted attempts to follow his father onto the stage, while younger son Edmund (Dean Stockwell) has health problems of his own. News on those will come from a doctor's appointment scheduled for later in the afternoon, but nobody wants to talk about it, keeping the whole family on edge.

Film and theater are quite different things, even if they are often made by the same people from the same material. The scale of theater is fixed and the boundaries on its reality are clearly visible enough that other forms of artifice are not just forgiven but natural. Cameras and cuts, with their ability to instantly change locations and perspectives, mean that film directors don't have to compensate the way stage directors and actors do. For most plays, the filmmaker faces either the prospect of losing someone's favorite part or building something that just doesn't work as a movie.

Full review at EFC.

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