Wednesday, 6 November 2013

All About Eve (1950)

Eve-n the greatest fall

As pertinent today as ever, with its formidable and intellectual female characters, prescient engagements with the inevitable demise of an aged actress’ career, and wittily descriptive observations of the creation of a theatrical product, both play and person, All About Eve is a must watch.

The film opens with a shot of the Sarah Siddons award for distinguished achievement. It’s an honour that’s awarded to the best actor/actress of the theatre that year. It’s a prize that’s heaped in prestige, history and theatre. From the off the omniscient voice of the mellifluous narrator is quick to contextualise the real importance of the distinction. To him this is an accolade that has been spared the ‘sensational and commercial publicity” that enshrouds other more recognisable achievements (hint hint the Oscars).  We are then introduced to the main character one by one as the narrator guides us in the all-you-need-to-knows of each one ending with a shot of the instantly recognisable Betty Davis, cigarette in hand, mouth pursed, and with the confident glare that encapsulates her character’s confrontational demeanour. Here sits a woman whose stoutly presence emanates the determined force of a “natural star” which permeates throughout the film.

The story is simple; a stage actress at the top of her game invites the innocent affectations of a charming fan to work and soirée with her and the cultural elite. Said adoring fan, through a process of mimicry and surreptitiousness, eventually usurps Davis leaving Betty all bitter.

Margo Fanning (Davis) is a star at the top of her game, a natural born star, a star that can and never will be anything else. Fanning epitomises the melodramatic temperaments that are inextricable with the theatres’ persona, her brash, abrasive character fills scene after scene with quick witticisms that often cut to the core of theatrical insecurities. Her frequent vicissitudes provide us with a plethora of emotive moments that charge the film with a vibrant distillation of pathos. It is through her character that Joseph L. Mankiewicz postulates as to the love hate relationship that both he and his characters have towards the ‘theatre’.

Mankiewicz, who both wrote and directed All About Eve, clearly knew the inner-workings of a successful Broadway play. Yet his position to it remains ambiguous, though Davis’ acting as primadonna is very much at one with the emotionally susceptible nature that are expected of a top star, the character of Eve provides an interesting counterpart. Eve (Anne Baxter) is young, good-looking, ambitious and obsequious. Her devotion to Fanning is tangible, waiting on her every word and emulating her every move, Eve remains acquiescent to her idol. Yet Eve’s real devotion is to the theatre or more ‘to the rapturous applause’. Her fixation then is predicated on an obsessive endeavour to be loved no matter how fleetingly and in whatever form, the adulation of the audiences audible content is what she desires most of all.

Alongside Eve’s inimical character we have a writer, a director currently involved in both Hollywood and the theatre, Eve’s best friend (coincidently married to the writer) and the infamous critique. In these characters we see the key ingredients involved in the success or failure of theatre. They become the actors on stage and Mankiewicz uses each one to expose their own personal motives. Although it is called All About Eve, it’s really ‘All About Theatre’ and perhaps more generally ‘All About Show Business’.
By guest contributor Josh Pomorski

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