"Sweet Bird of Youth" flying away
deserting our lives ... leaving us with the painful scars of lost memories
vanishing in the air ... erasing our last hopes, and painting our future with a mark that gets more and more indelible ... as time goes by
Richard Brooks' film, adapted from a successful Tennessee Williams' play echoes one of our deepest fears : losing it
losing what? Simply that little something you can't really put your finger on during the biggest part of your life, and can only perceive it while it has definitely deserted it and became a vulgar souvenir, in a word : youth. Youth like an invisible crown on young people's heads and that only older people can see
youth, like a ticket for success
It's ironic that the title resonates as another famous one, "Sweet Smell of Success", both bears the same resonance, the same power in their symbolism, as if one couldn't go without the other
indeed, this bird of youth has a sweet smell, and one thing is certain, we can smell its absence all through the film. The movie is a eulogy to the youth that physically left the glorious and decadent Alexandra Del Lago, Geraldine Page, or that killed the inner idealism of Chance Wayne, Paul Newman
two characters portrayed with such a natural authenticity that I wonder if those parts weren't self-reflexive ... don't get me wrong, they were both great, but we never know when reality outshines the fiction
Geraldine Page had the magnetism of a has-been diva like Norma Desmond with the realistic touch of fragility from Vivien Leigh's Blanche Dubois
or wait a minute, this was from 1962, right? In fact, she had Bette Davis's constantly bitter nostalgic attitude toward the past glory in "Baby Jane Hudson", with the delicateness of Lee Remick from "Days of Wine and Roses"
this was a great year for female alcoholic roles, and I'm still torn about which performance would have deserved the Oscar, but let's not spoil the review by these random cinematic considerations
The film is about the haunting feeling of youth's volatility and therefore its inner preciousness
it's about a time we spend building dreams, told from the view of people aware of that. Indeed, there's a stressing and disturbing feeling of emergency as if all the characters in this film were trying to fulfill their dreams by any means. The worst or let's say, the most tormented of all is of course, Paul Newman, at the pinnacle of his sex-appeal, as a man who tries to take advantage from the fading reputation of her "hostage", Alexandra Del Lago
to blackmail her so she can obtain him a screening with a famous director. Newman as Chance Wayne, if that is his real name, is the wanna-be star, getting off his waiter condition to conquer the governor's daughter, Heavenly, to prove his value, influenced or corrupted by the very ideas of the governor, the Big Finley, played by Ed Begley, believable as the reminiscent of the bigot-minded juror #10, with his sneaky son, a young unrecognizable Rip Torn.
In fact, the whole subplot is quite secondary when you consider the real heart of the film, where it's all about the indecent dichotomy between youth and success. It's in fact highlighting the personal fear of Tennessee Williams himself, who after the successes of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" doubted on his own ability to keep up that level of greatness. A legitimate fear that inspired one thrilling journey into the souls of insecure people, one star who thinks herself as an old relic, and a young gigolo who'd sell his soul just to become someone, forgetting that if you're eager to sell your soul, it still proves that you have one. Chance is a good guy but spoils every of his actions by believing he should be better than what he is, and his self-loathing obsession will be his doom.
But the film is less an invitation to accept our own condition than to contemplate the devastating effect of confidence, whether it's lacking or overworking. And in the case of Chance, the man who carries this name with a particular irony, you realize how unlucky he was, as he wasn't able to domesticate his own fear of the future. This encouraged him to leave his girl, to achieve his dreams, but life gives you one chance, Chance, never more
the second miss was fatal as this lead to a miscarriage for his love, and the cruel reputation of a degenerate undesirable human being in his hometown. The whole dilemma will end up to be whether to follow Alexandra or Heavenly, heart or ambition, both the epitomes of youth that can not be separated, and it's not like he didn't try.
The conclusion would disappoint the purists as they would expect a darker epilogue for a movie that covers so many dark and taboo undertones, especially when they know about the content of the original play, but I agree that it would have been too dark regarding the general mood of the film. The ending didn't need to be that happy but the symbolism is still powerful as it allowed Chance to be redeemed. It's Hollywood ending, but the movie efficiently made the point that success or happiness can also be a matter of good or bad luck, and through Chance Wayne, Tennessee Williams gives us a self-approach of what he could've been if he wasn't successful or as a matter of fact, what Newman could've been
Thanks God, this is only a movie
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