Saturday, September 13, 2008

You Don't Have To Be Gay To Love Mommie Dearest

You don't have to be gay to love Mommie Dearest, you only need have at least a made the passing acquaintance with childhood traumas like single motherhood, alcoholism, beatings and violence, disappointment, step-parents, obsessive demands, parent-child jealousy...a profoundly sad film with something to unsettle everyone. A quick survey of IMDB user comments shows a empathic outcry that many of their mothers were like Joan to some degree.

Joan the iconic bad Hollywood mother is at least as famous as Joan Crawford or Faye Dunaway ever were, or at least Faye Dunaway. This was the career killer to end them all because it was too intense for most people handle and were approaching it as The Joan Crawford Story or something.

Mommie Dearest is a glossy Hollywood production which inadvertedly does far more than it set out to do; distill the collective unconscious of parent-child trauma into a single unforgettable performance. The visceral gut feelings that result aren't usually found outside trash. Mommie Dearest wasn't even the first time that Hollywood big budget trash about the lifestyle of diva show business and its equally outrageous dark side became canonized into cult status by the gay community. One of them starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis - the unforgettable Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, another landmark in depicting the sadism of abusive has-beens (with familial ties, yet!)

Faye Dunaway and Joan Crawford's careers also share a palpable downfall, although whereas Joan headlined for lovable shlock peddlers like William Castle and Hammer Studios vet Freddie Francis...

Dunaway has been reduced to hideous direct-to-video studio garbage:

Mommie Dearest's other strength is the aforementioned vile vitriol for show business neurosis and insanity amongst its inhabitants, a subject few movies broached with any intent to shock with cynicism and brutality. This is on par with Todd Haynes' mondo Barbie underground biopic, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. Need I say it? Haynes is gay as well.

Extremely deft director Frank Perry juxtaposes two moods: The terror perpetual victim Christina Crawford must endure, Christ-like, after the initial euphoria of adoption and early childhood pass, and "the Hollywood star's life" as Joan Crawford obsessively lives by and shames her daughter with. The time when Hollywood invested in propaganda campaigns protecting the wholesome images of its stars has passed with the era of actual bona fide stars like Crawford, making Mommie Dearest all the more compelling as a period piece.

The period this film was made in was also a strange moment, Star Wars and Steven Spielberg films were ushering the age of the non-Oscar Bait adult dramatic film out the back door. The few remaining ones have a heavy layer of melancholy hanging over them. And the ones that did win Oscars...well, how depressing was Ordinary People?

For those who need one more tie between this film, the gay community and cult film legend, look no further than the facts that Paramount re-released the film within months as a Rocky Horror-esque cult event, and the current special edition DVD contains commentary by John "Pink Flamingos" Waters. Plus, you know, all the drag queens seen in Showgirls, another gay-preserved camp classic.

The condolences of every person at Pepsi-Cola are with you.

No comments: