01 January 2008

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

There's never been a better way to kill the time during the New Year Holiday than watching a camp gothic film. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? proves to be one of the most entertaining, as well as sickeningly grotesque, films ever made in the entire film history. Hyperbole aside, I think the sibling rivalry of the two women, Jane and Blanche, really funny and at times it does leave me wonder why both of them need to share such a tormenting time together for so long.

Masochism and guilt are probably the reasons. Jane used to be a very famous vaudeville child star, but as she grew up, she was not as famous as her sister. However, it turns out that they need to live together as two aging spinsters when Blanche was mysteriously made a cripple and Jane was becoming more and more neurotic, torturing her sister in all possible ways.

In the fashion of Sunset Boulevard, the film dwells on exaggeration and seems to enjoy its gothic-cum-psychotic representation of Jane with thick make-up and excessive drag-like acting. Her sister, on the other hand, is sombre and portrayed as living in fear. Yet, I know she's equally devilish in her own way. But I still don't understand why she needs to live with her mad sister, when in fact she could've just easily put her in a madhouse. There were moments when I wanted to switch off the DVD player and go doing something else more worthwhile, unable to tolerate this unbelievable plot any longer. Yet ... yet ... the twist at the end is so clever and redeems the whole film, making the whole thing understandable.

One of the best moments in the film is when Jane is portrayed with her life-size doll that best captures her best memory in the time of her childhood when she was most popular. Watching Bette Davis's marvellous performance of this Jane reminds me of how fragile and sad this character is, living with her memory whereas the present only brings sadness and loneliness.

While Jane's character is noteworthy in the camp exaggeration of her deliberate forgetting of the past and guiltiness, Blanche's is equally noted in her fear and need for power in such a powerless state. Joan Crawford's performance is also distinguished in her role as an aging, powerless matriarch. The casting of the two main characters is, I believe, what makes this film really fun to watch.

If you manage to watch it until the end, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is not only about sibling rivalry, about the fear and desire of the two sisters, but also an exaggerated yet pithy representation of our own story-telling, of how we create our past in order to live in the present, of how we intentionally re-write our past to avoid our guilts or responsiblities, of how this past, though re-written, comes back to haunt us nonetheless. You may think I'm talking shit in this paragraph, but watch it yourself and you'll understand what I mean.

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