Saturday, October 31, 2009

Splendor in the Grass

It's great to have a venue like the Cinematheque in town. This fall it's featuring the retrospective 'American Outsider: The Films of Elia Kazan.'

Splendor in the Grass is part of the series, and one of those classics you hope is never 'remade' - the original is so pitch-perfect.

It must have caused quite a stir in 1961 as the young Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty depicted the sexual confusion and repression of the times in their roles as Bud and Deanie.

Although set between the years 1928 -1932, the issues were still particularly relevant, more than a generation later. That's what makes the film brilliantly subversive; it provokes an entire generation to judge the previous generation of an hypocrisy it owns itself.

The desire Deanie and Bud have for one another overwhelms them, but nice girls simply don't do things like "that." Which leads Bud to experiment with someone else, which leads to Deanie's identity crisis, sexual rejection, suicide attempt and institutionalization. Pretty heavy stuff. This was before the Pill and the 'sexual revolution,' and it was groundbreaking to question the sexual mores of the time.

I found the movie particularly insightful about the penalties woman paid for this sexual double standard. Bud's sister Ginny is the embodiment of a female delighting in carnal pleasures but she pays a price none of the men would suffer at the time. The actress playing the role, Barbara Loden, played it brilliantly (she ended up marrying Kazan shortly after the film was made).

These lines from Wordsworth are recited three times in the course of the film, most poignantly at the end:

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind...

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