Saturday, September 24, 2011

Splendor in the Grass

Splendor in the Grass; drama, USA, 1961; D: Elia Kazan, S: Natalie Wood, Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle, Audrey Christie

Kansas, '28. Bud Stamper and Deanie Loomis are a teenage high school couple. They kiss a lot and are passionate but still did not have intercourse because Deanie wants to stay a virgin until marriage since her conservative mother taught her that "good women" do not have erotic fantasies. Bud is annoyed by this status quo, especially since his sister is no virgin anymore while his father Ace is inciting him to leave Deanie. After catching pneumonia, Bud breaks up with her. Deanie thus rebels against her parents and tries to commit suicide. Bud goes to Yale but changes his plan to become a farmer, while his sister and father die. Deanie lands in psychiatric treatment. When she visits Bud, it turns out he already married and started a family with someone else.

One of the last, if not the last great film by Elia Kazan, undated classic "Splendor in the Grass" offers a different, contemplative view on the life in a conservative province, a one that is incredibly direct, honest and daring even today, which makes it modern-actual: sexual repression. Kazan used the theme for a deep emotional portrait of his two teenage protagonists, Bud and Deanie, who feel bound by the norms imposed on them through their parents, but he did not criticize the society in areas that were not subject of the story, thus achieving a measured and even mood, even though some of his scenes do tend to be rather heavy handed. Warren Beatty is surprisingly good in his first feature length role, but Natalie Wood as the sexually frustrated Deanie is truly the main star of the film: from her daring dialogues ("My pride? My Pride? I don't want my pride!") through her reaction when her mother tells her how she felt about her husband when they became intimate ("Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married. Then I... I just gave in because a wife has to.") up to her final rebellion against her mother who asked her if her boyfriend "spoiled her", symbolically shown when Deanie cuts her hair, as a reaction to being constantly denied her sexual rights, Wood simply steals the show and delivers a phenomenal performance, one of the best ones in her career, which may blush even conservative viewers from today. The screenplay won an Oscar while Wood was nominated in the best actress category for that award, while she was even nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.


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