Revisiting A Streetcar Named Desire

What makes a performance so great? Is it the Oscars won/nominated? Is it the tears, the screaming and the dying? Is it the effective and witty line delivery? I think that it’s hard to agree on what is the best set of criteria that can be used to determine what is so great about a performance. You can easily visit any IMDB board and even see how people rip each other apart over whether Kristen Stewart’s acting in Twilight is bad or not. It’s extremely common to see phrases such as “You don’t know anything about acting. As an acting student…” being thrown about. But in my humble and insignificant opinion, it’s kinda hard to really measure the greatness of a performance because it is so darn subjective. Maybe because I’m not someone who’s overly obsessed with the technical aspect of acting (I blame this obsession on Meryl Streep, whom I LOVE btw) but for me, it doesn’t really matter if an actress’ line delivery is not pitch perfect. What matters is how well she inhibited the character and brought out every possible tiny detail that she could in the most honest way. That’s right. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many movies, but I find it REALLY obvious when an actress is just crying/screaming without really understanding what the character is going through. That’s the problem that I had with Anne Hathaway’s Les Miserables. I felt like the whole “I dreamed a dream” segment was a great “GIVE ME AN OSCAR!” campaign by itself that got really annoying. On the technical aspect, there is NOTHING that I can fault with her performance. Tears, singing, crying, dying. All in one package. But…something felt missing for me. It’s like I could almost see the speech bubble popping out of her head, going “See how sad I am! See how well I cry! See how tragic I am making this song! Feel for me! Cry for me! GIVE ME AN OSCAAAR!”. You might argue that the actress has to be feeling what the character is feeling to be able to evoke such emotions but I kinda disagree. I MEAN JUST LOOK AT THE MEDIACORP ACTRESSES. Can they cry? Yes. Are they believable? That’s entirely up to you to decide.

By the way I still like Anne Hathaway. I do think that she’s a talented performer, just a little self-conscious. It wasn’t even that bad in Rachel Getting Married, hell, I even thought she was brilliant there. I think that the obsession with wanting to win an Oscar kinda got in the way of her achieving her full potential though, because it feels like that’s what she’s acting for in her performance nowadays. By the way, all you have to do is to compare Emmanuel Riva’s performance of a dying woman to Anne Hathaway’s performance and you probably get what I mean.

But I got carried away. This entry isn’t about Anne Hathaway. This entry is about…

 

A Streetcar Named Desire is a play by Tennessee Williams. It tells the story of Blanche Dubois, a fading southern belle who’s reality begins to crumble when she moves to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella and her husband Stanley. I won’t talk too much about the story, except that it’s a BRILLIANT PIECE OF WORK that covers themes such as reality vs fantasy, differences in class, the power of desire etc.

Now here’s the shocking part: I hated it when I FIRST watched it. Tennessee Williams’ works were something new to me back then, and can be quite theatrical, which may or may not be a turn off to some. It used to bother me when Elizabeth Taylor said stuff like “I’m like a CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF” and when Anna Magnani went on about how her husband is a “rose”. I was just like “Do people even talk like that in real life? URGH”. So you can imagine my reaction when I first watched Blanche Dubois, a woman in denial of reality.  I am ashamed to admit that I used to laugh at  her “I don’t want realism, I want MAGIC! Yes, yes, magic!” and “Tarantula was the name of it!” Hmmm…

However, upon repeated viewing, I gradually got to realise how wonderful Vivien Leigh was in this role. Yes, she’s very theatrical but I personally find that this is the only way Blanche could be played. Just look at Ann Margaret’s interpretation. Yes, she plays it down but I don’t think that the effect was as haunting. She sounded so bored when she said “Yes, yes , magic”. But that’s my opinion of course, don’t bash me!  By the way, I don’t think Blanche is a character that is that far off from reality, especially because I know of people like that. Also, I don’t think that the whole theatrical nature of the performance is as bad as people make it out to be, especially when compared to some of the performances of that era. There are a lot of very brilliantly played out subtle moments, such as the initial meeting with Stanley. The whole sexual tension was so palpable that it nearly burned through the screen. And the “I said I was sorry THREE TIMES!” was so intense and painful to watch that I could really feel Blanche’s frustrations bursting out of her.

Vivien Leigh…wow. What a great actress. And a beautiful woman. She has been criticised for being overly theatrical, but if you watch her in Waterloo Bridge and That Hamilton Woman, you realise that she’s extremely natural in those roles. Her Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche Dubois are characters that required a more over the top approach and yet she did it in such a believable manner that you simply can’t take her eyes off her.

Anyway, as you can see, I was so enthralled by Leigh’s performance that I kinda neglected the other actors. Marlon Brando is fantastic, and deserves all the praise. I have to admit that I’m not as crazy about his performance like most are, but he’s pretty damn brilliant nonetheless. Karl Malden was great as well.

To me, this movie is all about the actresses, which is why I find Kim Hunter (I typed in Kim Stanley at first omg) a REVELATION. She is the very definition of a “supporting actress”. She is a caring sister, the motherly figure and the conflicted wife. She is not afraid to show the flaws of her character, such as how she easily gives in to the brutish Stanley despite him hitting her at first. Yet, she is easily one of the most likeable characters in this movie, being extremely motherly and caring to Blanche at one moment, and quarrelling with her like all siblings do next. Wonderful. Wonderful.

 

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