Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Baby Jane Quiz (for pretentious film students only)

You might not think so, boys and girls, but you are, you ARE in film school, or you wouldn't be reading this, and you will be taking this quiz or I won't bring you your din-din.

Everyone has seen the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford classic, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? And if you haven’t, how can you call yourself a film student? This is the movie in which Bette Davis proves, once and for all, that she can mop the floor with Joan Crawford and act rings around her, rings that are every bit as dizzying as the donuts Blanche turns in her wheelchair when she discovers Jane has served her a large rodent for dinner.

(From the production notes: the rat is actually a capybara imported from Argentina.They'll work for scale, whereas rats charge an exorbitant amount to lie still for that many takes). 

This will by no means be a comprehensive exam, because that would mean too much work for me, I saw this film for probably the twelfth time last night and was struck once again by how it’s Jane who gets our sympathy. As in Gone With the Wind, in which we're supposed to love and admire Melanie for being so selfless and sweet, we just keep rooting for Scarlett. Want to know why? There are reasons, brutal ones, but true nonetheless - which you will discover as you wrap your enfeebled brain around this quiz.

1. Why do we feel so much sympathy for Baby Jane the screaming banshee/harridan/flaming bitch on wheels, who tears up the scenery, kills the maid with a hammer, and kicks her sister in the head, and so little for Blanche, the sweet, helpless paralyzed sister who sits upstairs in her room incessantly pressing a buzzer?

(a) Bette Davis gives a layered, nuanced performance incorporating vulnerability and heartbreak into even her most drunken, violent, abrasive behaviour.

(b) Joan Crawford is mainly good at bulging her eyes out.

(c) We’ll never forgive or forget TROG.

d) Crawford's reaction to the dead capybara is seriously "off", failing to touch a chord of sympathy. Nobody notices her reaction anyway because they're too busy groaning with delight as Baby Jane cackles her brains out.

e) With true generosity of spirit,  Jane wistfully states at the film's conclusion that the two sisters "could have been friends", if only Blanche had kept her foot off the accelerator. 

2. If the Baby Jane doll could talk, what would it say?

(a) "Really? Did she like it?"

(b) "I was cleaning the cage and it flew out the window."

(c) "Isn't that how I was conceived?"

(d) "Just a few questions, ma'am."

3. Describe Edwin's role as a gay icon, taking into account the socio-psycho-sexual mores of 1962 and the damaging effects of the illegality of certain sexual acts. Speculate on Jane Hudson's true feelings for Edwin as a potential partner: is he merely a boy-toy/"walker" who could escort her to premieres and other social events as she makes her second debut? Elaborate on the socio-psycho-whatever significance of the fact he still lives with his Mommy. Essay answers to be graded on word count only.

3. Why is it our business whether Edwin is gay or not? What possible bearing could it have on the movie’s plot? Why do you think it matters, given the fact that the REAL issue is his inability to tear himself away from his niggling, naggling, annoying, utterly irritating mother? Discuss in three words or less.

4. What are the chances of Baby Jane making a real comeback?

(a) Very low (her act is so completely out-of date);

(b) Very high          "            "            "                   ;

(d) Middling, if she aims for a middle-aged/middle-brow crowd;

(e) Dead-certain! Have you no knowledge of film history at all? She has already MADE an unforgettable comeback which will live in cinematic history forever!

5. Of the two sisters, who has the really rotten deal? 

(a) Blanche, who  gets to watch herself on TV and get flowers from the neighbors and all sorts of fan mail, get her meals brought to her on a tray, etc. etc., or

(b) Jane, who gets doodlysquat from anybody, has to forge signatures just to get her liquor, hauls her sister around to the bathroom, the bathtub and the bed, trundles her meals upstairs (though granted, those meals may be a little unusual), and receives no glory at all for her forgotten career, with which she supported the whole family for years and years and kept them all in ice cream.

"All this time, we could have been friends."