Monday, March 28, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: In Memoriam

It's August 1950, a dreary morning at Lake Tahoe, California. It's a cold rainy early morning, and everyone is sleep deprived, stressed, and weary. George Stevens is pacing back and forth and chainsmoking, every few minutes interrupted by a script girl with a huge maniscript in her hands. The beautiful forest view is litered with changing trailers, power trucks, and various crew members. In the middle of all this, the fabulously handsome Montgomery Clift is nervously looking over a few pages, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and his white shirt so perfectly fit on his body it looks at it was painted to him. Slowly he hears footsteps coming towards him, he's too hesitant to look up but the curiousity inside him builds. A set of two small black shoes stand at attention to his side, waiting for him to look up, he finally does, and he realizes he's not the only one. The crowd of gaffers, PA's, and assistants all stop what they're doing to watch a young raven-haired 17 year old make her first appearance on set. She walks directly to Montgomery Clift, dressed in full costume as Angela Vickers wearing a beautifully long and angelic white strapless gown and white gloves. She looks with a childlike innocence at her co-star and softly says. 'Hello, I'm Elizabeth Taylor, it's a pleasure to meet you'. 
While the gaffers struggle to pull their jaws off the floor not realizing that the vision standing in front of them is not the whimsical child actress from National Velvet but a full on woman with breasts, lips and eyes that ignited their dirtiest sexual fantasies. She would go one to be the desire of all men everywhere, and being a living legend notable for not only her career but for her many eccentricities. 
It's been difficult for me to write this, because where does one start with Liz Taylor? I guess start with the eyes and work your way down. She fits into so many boxes that I cover in this blog, it's difficult to decide what to focus on. Aesthetically, she could be the most perfect female incarnation ever. She's perfectly symmetrical in the Da Vinci sense of the word, with a stare that could melt the coldest heart, and a voice that is peaceful and arousing simultaneously. Why was she cast as Cleopatra? Well if we consider this symbolically rather than literally, considering Elizabeth was far from Middle-Eastern looking, the hypothesis was that Cleopatra was the most beautiful woman in the world, thereby whoever was cast had to be the same, and the most beautiful woman in the world at that time was no contest. 
Though genetically blessed from her actress turned senile stage momma Sara Sothern, it takes a lot more to be regarded as the paragon of the 20th cenutry woman. Sexuality as we are well aware, is not exclusive to physical attributes (listen to Sophie B. Hawking's 'Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover) 
Ok back on track. What made Liz so special? 
Liz's baby momma.

Talent of course, for one. And a natural one at that considering she never studied under Strassbergs and the stuffy method actors of the actor's studio, nor had any formal lessons with the best of the studio coaches in LA. 
But if we look at Liz, and her picture came up in a veritable portfolio of women from the 1950's-1960's we could say 'oh she's pretty' and move on. What was it specifically that made us believe that George Eastman would kill his pregnant girlfriend for her, that Eddie Fischer would leave Debbie Reynolds for, and that countless men and women would regard her as the single most important face of American cinema?
Elizabeth had very simply put, a sexual electricity. It was so significant that it transcended time and decay. She didn't seem to have a 'sex-symbol hayday' she seemed to herself transform the norms of that status as she grew older and made people conform to her rather than fade away. 
From a whimsical 17 year old in A Place in the Sun to a sex-starved desperate Maggie the Cat, to soft but strong delictible Cleopatra (as flawed as her performance was), Taylor remained categorically unmatched in her seductive prowess.
Even as the obnoxious and seemingly repulsive Martha opposite her husband at the time Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? where Liz gained 20 pounds, wore padding, and was made down considerably, somehow you are drawn to her. After all, she had 8 marriages. 
Out of all her husbands, I think the only one that was able to keep up was Burton, perhaps that's why they married a second time after divorcing. Liz called him the great love of her life. She also named Mike Todd (who widowed her after a plane crash in 1958), and Montgomery Clift who's life she saved after his near fatal car accident when she crawled into his vehicle and personally pulled his two front teeth out of his throat to keep him from choking. It takes some substantial tenacity and (for lack of a better word) chutzpah to be Elizabeth Taylor, and I think it's a testament to her legacy that she never backed down from her identity and owned every minute of Liz-hood. I'm really going to miss her. It really is the end of an era. She was not only an original but a fascinating anomaly in the rather banal landscape of humanity. If you would like to marathon some of her films, this is what I would recommend: 

1. A Place in the Sun (1951) 
2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) 
3. Suddenly Last Summer (1959) 
4. BUtterfield 8 (1960) 
5. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) 
6. The Taming of the Shrew (1967) 

In that order. And you must have a box of wine. Cheers.

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