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Saturday, 19 January 2008

'Streetcar' and Censorship.

Yesterday, I finally cracked. I was on my way home from work and I passed the DVD rental place, wandered in and, well, somehow A Streetcar Named Desire was just what I felt like seeing. I’d been holding off for a while. I had my reasons.

I saw a stage production of The Glass Menagerie a few months ago. It was incredible. We don’t study Tennessee Williams in high school over here. Shakespeare, sure, every year at least once, and if you don’t hit Steinbeck there’s a good chance someone’ll hand you To Kill A Mockingbird, but Tennessee Williams isn’t on anybody’s radar for exam fodder. So I think it was somewhere around the point in Tom’s opening speech where he refers to the fiddler in the wings that I became aware of -- became awed by -- the autheticity of the voice. It was intimate. It was elegantly constructed. It had a rough edge. It was incontrovertibly American. This was poetry created from the surrounding voice. It couldn’t rely on literary conventions to mark it out as art. It was the real deal.

I was so glad I had never had to write English assignments on it.

Of course I wanted more. Still, I was wary of watching Tennessee Williams on film. Having seen The Glass Menagerie in the theatre, I honestly couldn’t imagine how you could possibly make a film out of it. The way it uses the stage setting is too beautiful, the way it doesn’t entirely pretend to be real. It’s nostalgic -- it’s a stage, an illusion -- it’s intimate, but it doesn’t pretend to be entirely real. How could you possibly capture that on film? Why would you want to?

I didn’t know if his later plays had anything of the same effect. But I couldn’t help worrying that film really couldn’t capture Tennessee Williams, and that I might be spoiling a future opportunity to see the real thing on stage. When it came to Streetcar, there was the plus side that Tennessee Williams had had a hand in the screenplay. If he thought it was okay, maybe it would be! On the other hand, though, there was the censorship issue. Did I really want to see a version that might have had its teeth pulled by prudish fifties industry watchdogs?

(Spoilers follow because I can’t shut up about important plot details.)

Well, I’ve seen it, no going back now, and I think it was probably worth it. The censorship does pose problems, but the actors are brilliant. It’s the film that made Marlon Brando’s name, of course, and Vivien Leigh is as good as you’d expect, but I was actually particularly impressed by Kim Hunter as Stella. She deserved that Oscar. She was a great contrast to Leigh’s pale waif-like Blanche, and I loved the complexity of emotion in her sulky mouth. I was watching the director’s cut, which meant we had the nice close-up in that scene where she goes back down to Stanley after he has hit her -- really, it’s a crying shame the League of Decency forced them to change that scene at the last minute. It was one of the most impressive sequences in the whole film, central to portraying Stella and Stanley’s relationship.

I’m glad I knew already that Blanche’s husband was homosexual. You could see perfectly well how the stuff she said about him applied to that situation (“He came to me for help, but I didn’t know that”). I’d have hated to be confused into thinking he was just oversensitive enough to kill himself over nothing.

It’s the end that I regret. When I saw Stella say to Stanley “Don’t you touch me,” I thought Yeah, right, how long is that going to last? Then she goes to her baby and says “We’re not going back in there, not ever,” and I thought Oh. Really? That’s nice. Gosh. So it’s a proper tragic ending, huh? Everyone loses, but at least that includes the bad guy. Not so terrible, really!

They suckered me. I am ashamed of myself.

Those stuffy, long-dead bastards! See what they’ve done? I’ll never get that moment back. For, of course, in the original play, Stella doesn’t leave Stanley. She never would. She’s dependent on him emotionally and financially. There were no battered women’s shelters in those days, but even if there were, believing Blanche’s story would have required the courage to see her world fall apart. She wasn’t going to do that. And I knew it, I could see it, right up to the point where she did differently, and I was desperately afraid of my own reaction -- afraid that I’d think that Stella and Stanley’s love, such as it was, was the only good thing still standing, despite its rottenness -- afraid that I’d have to see in it a bitter hope that I couldn’t reject because it was the only thing left.

I wasn’t so much glad that Stella had left Stanley as I was glad that I wasn’t sorry for it. And I won’t get that moment back. I won’t know how I would have dealt with it if the stupid Hollywood Production Code hadn’t insisted that rape couldn’t go unpunished. Seriously, what did they think Tennessee Williams was writing? A play about the way we’d like the world to be? Did they think he was endorsing a world where sensitive homosexual boys could be driven to suicide, and where Blanche’s sexual behaviour could deny her the only possibility of happiness she had?

Perhaps they did endorse that. Stupid bastards.


Anonymous said...

Stupid bastards indeed.

L.L. Barkat said...

I remember feeling very sad after reading the Glass Menagerie, and even sadder when I later met Williams' sister in real life (the girl in the play is supposed to be based on her)... by that time she was a tragic old woman, secreted away in a long-term care facility, completely unhitched from any sense of reality.

Lynet said...

Strange to think of Williams' sister being someone you could actually meet. I imagine it would be tragic indeed. He never could leave her behind, could he?

L.L. Barkat said...

At last, my thoughts on our "morality" conversation. The link is accessible from the top post on Seedlings. The talk is called "A Recorder, A Drawer and Kalashnikovs: Revisiting Grace."

Thanks again for your part in it.

Anonymous said...

hi Ms. Lynet, speaking of censorship, your fellow intellectual ebonmuse banned me because he couldnt debate with me. He also banned my legitimate posts. ask him why! Why are you all afraid of the William Lane Craigs. the Palntingas, the James'? By indirection find direction out.hakespeare.

Lynet said...

You flatter yourself. I note from your own phrasing ("he also banned my legitimate posts") that you are aware that you were contravening the comments policy repeatedly. To go from there to the idea that you must have been banned because Ebonmuse was scared of your arguments strikes me as, well, a little hopeful.

You can find a link to the DA comments policy below the comment box on any post. If you honestly think you could continue on Daylight Atheism without contravening the comments policy, you could always apologise and promise Ebonmuse as much. Whether he accepts that promise is up to him, though.

I can say this. I've seen Daylight Atheism regulars stick up for theists against overly grumpy atheist attacks more than once. I've never seen an atheist banned, but then, I've never seen an atheist on that blog who didn't back down or fall silent after being warned about the comments policy (I have been warned, myself, upon occasion. I respect Ebonmuse far too well not to comply). The most common reason for banning is uninvited, off-topic preaching (see the first bullet point of the comment policy). Banning of someone who makes on-topic arguments is rare; off the top of my head I can't think of another example. Ebonmuse did give reasons for banning you, and whilst I arrived too late to see the deleted posts for which you were banned, I am in general inclined to trust his judgement.

Anonymous said...

and that is why atheism will never be a "movement" but will remain in the province of cyberspace.When you ban the best debaters because you are afraid of what they say and how they say it, you are left to argue with teenagers and bored college students in between exams. The William Lane Craigs will always beat you. I have two earned doctorates AND in December funded and helped build a hospital for children in Cambodia. ebonmuse doesnt waat to hear about it does he? do you lynet?

Alon Levy said...

Let me get it straight... you believe that if atheist bloggers with the readership of Grassy Knoll Society magazines have a more lenient comment policy, new atheism will become a more mainstream movement?

And judging by how you argue here, you're not a good debater at all. Good debaters don't brag about degrees or about their charity work; they let the facts of their case speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

alon, I am the best debater you will likely ever debate, without paying a very large honorarium.and all of it is on the table my friend, including our 'works'.I brag becaue I earned the right TO brag. not to worry, I will debate ebon's friends until they beg him to do somehting, like apologize and debate me.Hell,computers are on sale again at best buy and I will have two new isp's again anyway. Ever wonder why there are so few academic theists on any of the atheist blogs?(hint: they eliminate their competition)

Alon Levy said...

I wouldn't know, I don't read atheist blogs, much less their comment threads. All I'm basing my observation on is your comments here. On Daylight Atheism, you may actually talk substance. Here, you come off as someone who could commit suicide by jumping from his ego level to his intelligence level.

Anonymous said...

alon, you seem like a reasonable person, tell me kind sir, if you were banned because the blogger didnt like your intelligently constructed posts, would it torque you a bit? yes, I'm torqued, of course, I prefer to talk about surgical procedures for children with dihedral cleft palates(my medical specialty) but then again, I have to get through the craven cowards(redundancy intentional)of people like ebon first. which i am doing here/ it will get back to him.

Lynet said...

Well, theistscientist, if you want to talk about surgical procedures for children with dihedral cleft palates, by all means start your own blog and do so. Of course, if what you really want to talk about is how atheists are too uncharitable to care about those poor children with dihedral cleft palates, you are welcome to make those claims on your own blog, too.

Few Daylight Atheism regulars find the contention that atheists lack ethics to be at all creditable. Ebonmuse himself is positively utopian, believing that we should all work towards a world in which suffering is minimised and happiness is promoted. His optimism warms and challenges me, I confess.

So which argument do you want to have? The one about how much better than atheists you are? Or the one about helping other human beings? Do you understand that it is possible to agree on the latter and disagree on the former?

I must warn you that I will not permit you to make a deliberate nuisance of yourself here ("I will debate ebon's friends until they beg him to do somehting, like apologize and debate me"). You sound like you intend to throw temper tantrums in the hope that we will give you what you want in order to make you shut up. Please don't.

Stentor said...

you come off as someone who could commit suicide by jumping from his ego level to his intelligence level.

I like this -- I'll have to remember it next time I need to insult someone.

Anonymous said...

bullshit,ebonmuse is positively craven cowardly and lazy. He hasnt fixed, helped fix, donate to help fix his fat arse off a barstool much less a cleft palate! I know why atheists dont want to talk about cleft palates! The whole world knows! do atheists know?