Thursday, March 28, 2013

Applause: The Star Review

Dear Muse,

Ever heard of Lauren Bacall? If you saw this video clip, would it ring any bells?

Whether you idolize Bacall or know nothing about her, she's a remarkable person. Besides acting in numerous film noirs, marrying legendary Humphrey Bogart, and originating "The Look" and the famous "whistle scene" from To Have and Have Not (see above), she impacted popular culture by starring in Applause.

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

Applause is the 1970 musical adaptation of 1950's All About Eve (starring Bette Davis, George Sanders and Anne Baxter). The story: an aging actress called Margo Channing (played by Davis) takes a forlorn, stagestruck fan-girl named Eve (played by Baxter) under her wing, but the said fan-girl gradually reveals ulterior motives when she incorporates herself into Margo's life. (More on Eve in the next post. This review will be dedicated to the star of Applause.)

Although Davis does a superb job playing Margo in the film, I find Bacall much more interesting as the musical Margo. This is partly due to the last 50 pages of Bacall's autobiography By Myself, in which Bacall discusses her performance in Applause and her analysis of theatre life.

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

One detail I loved from By Myself was Bacall's identification with Margo. The character of Margo was insecure, passionate and torn between personal relationships and her theatrical life. She was also extremely sensitive to feedback given about her dramatic performances and to any upheavals in her social world. So was Bacall at the time she took this role. Bacall described her role-play in these terms:

With each passing day I became more submerged in the character of Margo Channing. Some of her frailties had always been mine, some became mine. It isn't that you truly turn into the character you're playing, it's that more hours of the day and night are devoted to work than to anything else. (481)

It was funny enough that Bacall should be playing the same character as her childhood heroine, Bette Davis. Even more ironic was when Davis showed up at one of the shows. As Bacall said, "I almost died. God - the creator of Margo Channing in All About Eve, the definitive performance. My childhood idol was in the audience watching me play her part" (495). Can you imagine how shocking that would be? (Unfortunately, their private conversation afterwards wasn't so comfortable...)

Another thing I loved was Bacall's in-depth analysis of theatrical life. This quote really moved me: 

    I still don't think actors, directors - any creative artists - should be pitted against one another. There is the high in winning, the low in losing - and the human frailty of resentment that the loser feels toward the winner. That uses up energy where it should not be used, energy that is needed. For the real stakes in the theatre are high - they are life stakes. That's what I love about it. You gamble with your life, and that's a gamble worth taking. (493)

Finally, I loved Bacall's performance in Applause because, even though she hasn't got the best voice in the world, man she puts heart into it. According to her autobiography, "I'd always been musical - one of my great frustrations had been my inability to sing" (454). Yes, she's no Streisand. But she tries. And from what I've seen in televised clips of Applause, she's obviously having fun. Much more fun than Bette Davis could successfully portray. (Since Davis plays a much moodier Margo in All About Eve, I really doubt that she'd be able to make Applause's Margo as upbeat as Bacall makes her.)

All in all, I greatly respect Lauren Bacall. She has proven that, despite her shortcomings, she can excel on the big screen and on the stage. Her dedication to her art is what makes Applause enjoyable for me. 

Skeptical? Check out this clip of "But Alive" from the televised version and tell me what you think. I apologize for the video quality - this is the best quality clip I could find on Youtube. (Seriously, though, all gay bars should be like this. Viva the groovy '70s!!)

I've also attached a recording of Bacall's best number, "Welcome to the Theatre", below. You won't hear a song this bitter or this expertly performed anywhere else. And once you read my next post, you'll understand what Bacall is bitter about. On to that bitch, Eve...

                                                                                         - Ariel

P.S. The next post will be a bit different in terms of its analysis. While this one focused on the star of Applause, next time I'll focus on the character of Eve (both in the film and in the musical).

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