Feud: Bette & Joan.

I love old movies, especially those around the time of what’s known to be the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’. Call me old fashioned, but stories really mattered back then. It may sound strange, but thanks to such films, it was these that made me a writer in the first place. Because of such an upbringing, I recently watched the television show Feud: Bette & Joan.

I was fortunate enough to have seen the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane before the show began. It was one of those films that I had always heard about, but never actually took the time to watch. I was glad I did because not only was it a good movie, but it played an important part in Bette & Joan.

I had known of an existing feud between these two actresses, but never understood the reasoning behind it all. Naturally, this show went into that, as well as the personal lives behind the two of them, and what goes on behind the screens within the movie studios. The show also acted as part documentary, where other actresses were questioned regarding the Bette & Joan relationship. One actress questioned included Olivia de Havilland (played by Catherine Zeta Jones), which also hinted at the feud between her and her sister Joan Fontaine. I became interested in that relationship and began to wonder if a show would be made regarding their own feud.

This is a great production; the sets, the fashion, the makeup. I can’t fault the detail that went into it. And above all, of–course was the acting. Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon were brilliant in their roles as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. It was certainly creepy watching Susan Sarandon play Bette Davis in her role in Baby Jane – between her performance and the talents of the makeup artists it was truly frightening (and I mean that in good way). Despite their tough exteriors, Bette & Joan explored the vulnerabilities of both actresses, thus putting a more human face on both of these icons.

Throughout the show, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Mamacita, Joan Crawford’s housekeeper (played by Jackie Hoffman), who is a great character and very loyal. I was also surprised to see Judy Davis and I had to look twice (sorry, but I still picture her as Sybylla in My Brilliant Career), but it just goes to show how versatile an actress she truly is.

With shows like Feud: Bette & Joan, I’d like to think that we are now facing the ‘Golden Age’ of television.

Did you watch Feud: Bette & Joan? Were you impressed with it as much as I was? Do you think we are currently facing the ‘Golden Age’ of television? What show/s have you watched recently that impressed you? Did you grow up watching old movies?

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8 thoughts on “Feud: Bette & Joan.

  1. I think there’s something to what you’re saying. I may enjoy these modern special effects action films, but I also feel that the focus on special effects and action have become a bit of a crutch that excuses a lack of actual storytelling, (looking at you Michael Bay).
    I think that’s one of the draws of the theater. The physical limitations of a live show put the focus back on characters, rather than the spectacle surrounding them.

    1. Hi Adam. I don’t watch many modern films as I think they rely too much on special effects and the plot lines are rather thin (oh yes, I agree with you about Michael Bay). There are exceptions of-course (Aliens, Gladiator, LOTR, Logan), but these have a good balance between the two. I wonder sometimes if one of the reasons why Hollywood do a lot of remakes now is because the studios are running out of ideas. And they have to compete with the quality of television and an audience that now has a shorter attention span. I agree with what you say about the theatre, where the focus is really on the acting and story. Having said that the last time I went to the theatre was to see Phantom of the Opera and it was brilliant! 🙂

      1. I think a lot of the recent string of remakes is actually part of a bigger agenda to prioritize films that already have a pre-existing audience; whether it’s through an earlier film or another media (comic books, books, video games, shows). The name of the game seems to be “start with an advantage” because so many films are so big budget. I can’t help but think of films like Clue and Rear Window, which, while well made, did not require an insane budget, giving them a much lower minimum. One of the few films in recent years to really impress me is an indie film called Ink. The creators specifically set out to make a film without the involvement of a big production company, and while it took them many years to do it, I really applaud that choice to not allow corporate strings to pull them away from their own ideas.

      2. Hi Adam. What you say is true. There seems to be a lot of movies that come out that already have a pre-existing audience, like the popularity of the superhero genre at the moment. It’s similar with the Alien franchise, for example, to continue on with something that has proven to be a success. Personally, I feel that after Aliens, the writing let it down. When they re-make older movies, just to ‘modernise’ them, I wonder why they bother. Sometimes it works, but I prefer to stick with the originals. I haven’t seen the movie Ink, but I think that’s what so good about independents and why they are proving to be successful amongst audiences.

  2. I agree with you on all you said above, regarding thin plotlines, remakes, attention spans, etc. I’ll add that there’s also less emphasis on the writing of good scripts. I watch few modern films as well, and those that I have watched have disappointed me. Regarding television, the “golden age” has to be the mid-50s to mid-70s. Have there been any iconic characters, since the mid-70s, to match Lucy Ricardo, Ralph Cramden and Ed Norton, Barney Fife, Colonel Klink, Archie Bunker, Ted Baxter, Lieut. Columbo? And variety shows like Carol Burnett and Smothers Brothers are non-existent today. I’m curious about this “Feud” show, since I love both Davis and Crawford, but seems to me that it should be a feature film or documentary. A TV show would have to invent lots of fiction to be sustainable, in my opinion.

    1. Hi greenpete58. I agree with you that there were some good shows and characters that came out during that time period. I grew up watching a lot of British shows, especially comedy. Here in Australia, I think television (along with film) were only starting to really find it’s feet during the 70s. I tend to find the writing for television dramas these days is what really appeals to me (as well as the acting), whether they are an original idea or based on novels (e.g Agatha Christie, Lynda la Plante, Val McDermid). I’ve watched some great shows come out of Sweden and Denmark in recent times, which has given the Scandanavians a good reputation amongst both audiences and critics. It’s true that ‘Feud’ could have been made either as a film or documentary and that the show may well have had a lot of fiction in it. I think the choice of a television drama would be to reach a wider audience and perhaps make the main characters more ‘personal’ and create an emotional response in the viewer. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. 🙂

  3. I didn’t know you lived in Australia… I apologize for my American presumption! I don’t know anything about Australian television, and only a little about Aussie movies (I loved “Breaker Morant,” and my wife and I just saw and enjoyed “Evil Angels,” aka “A Cry in the Dark”). But like you, I enjoyed British TV shows when I was younger (“The Avengers,” “The Prisoner,” “All Creatures Great and Small,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” and lots of “Masterpiece Theatre”).

    Adam made a good comment about pre-existing audiences, and I think it’s true, especially in the U.S. So many movies today seem based on comic strip characters, superheroes, and earlier films. Part of it’s the ease of getting these films to market and the instant audience, but another part is that American filmgoers don’t have the sustained concentration they once did. Movies like “Evil Angels,” that evolve slowly and thoughtfully, are considered “boring” by many, unfortunately. Audiences these days need hit over the head immediately, if for nothing else than to get their attention!

    I enjoyed your article, and cheers to you!

    1. Hi greenpete58. I love Monty Python, I’m a huge fan! I enjoy movies that build slowly and gradually build up suspense, like Hitchcock used to do. I don’t think there’s enough of that now, which is a shame. I think films that have a slow build stay with you a lot longer for that very reason and are far more enjoyable. I hope you get to see some more Aussie movies (as with everything else it’s sorting out the good from the bad) and I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of them. Thanks for stopping by, I’ve enjoyed the conversation. All the best to you too! 🙂

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