44 Films: Film 9 of 44: "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)
Film 9 of 44:
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)
Directed by Elia Kazan.
Original Stage Play and Screenplay written by Tennessee Williams.
There is an interesting tolerance we have developed towards subterfuge. I'm talking about our silent, 21st Century acceptance that the images we present of ourselves are not entirely real. We have the privilege of curate-able profiles, delete buttons, infinite disk space, a worldwide audience, and a media culture that coerces from us nothing short of (the idea of) our best selves. We're all wary and cognisant, but still, we are complicit,
A Streetcar Named Desire takes place in a time when communities were smaller and simpler, and social ties were more tangible. Even though the spaces between people were bigger, there didn't yet exist the pervasive technology or persuasion to present oneself as distinctly different from who one was. This is the chief intrigue of Streetcar. When Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh) arrives in 1940's New Orleans to shack up with her sister Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter) and her husband Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) she has us all believe that it was because her Mississippi family house has been snatched up by creditors, and she needs a temporary place to stay. The New Orleans quarter The Kowalski's live in isn't devoid of its own grunge. We see Blanche's sheer culture shock when her sophisticated suburban tendencies (real or constructed) are confronted by a miry, urbane facade, embodied by her new neighbourhood's battered spaces and people, but most visibly by her brother-in-law Stanley.
A word about Brando. There are reasons why he is described only in superlatives. His method upended the Hollywood order and gave audiences the kind of visceral reality they didn't know they wanted to see. Its visible how his primeval technique differs from Leigh's more classical leanings. The actors' contrast works perfectly for the story. Stanley, not trusting Blanche's motives and stories from the get go, tears into her in ways that change a human for good.
While their rivalry forms much of the drama, there are several complex other things happening. Stanley is abusive to his wife, but he knows how to turn her to putty moments after. Blanche falls for Stanley's friend Mitch, who is a touch more sophisticated but a lot more puerile. Stanley's friends get together for card games that routinely end in the sort of brawny disarray that insecure people create. Bemused neighbours and passersby approach each complication with a wary and seasoned calmness. Every single character is flawed, and everyone's muck is accepted and forgotten by morning. Everyone save for Blanche, who carries with her a more permanent darkness. It shows up, always perfectly timed, to blight her attempts at a new start. As the film takes us through her six month stay, during which stories of her past show up, we swell with a hope for her to escape further into her ruse, and succeed, as we ourselves are learning to do. At the beginning, we watch Blanche board the titular streetcar, and as she interacts with her adoptive world, we realise that everyone desires something, but hardly anyone receives fulfilment.
That said, you will identify with this film. The times have changed. But we haven't.
See you tomorrow.
'A Streetcar Named Desire' is available on Netflix, along with dozens other critically acclaimed films. Check it out sometime in lieu of another series. :-)