I’ve really been enjoying the new FX Series Feud: Bette and Joan. It's re-kindled my love of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, or rather the mythology that surrounded these two enigmatic women. I started re-watching old clips of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and Mommie Dearest on YouTube. I’ve also started watching interviews with the two stars and their daughters. I really like both Mommie Dearest and Baby Jane but in two very different ways. I like Mommie Dearest in the same way I like watching videos of 50 year old men on YouTube complain about Justin Bieber. I like Baby Jane in a more classical sense of the word “like”. Even though its still very well regarded by critics and film historians, I don’t think many people think of the film in classical terms. A lot of people think of it as a camp classic or rather an early predecessor to Showgirls (another movie I like un-ironically since, let’s face it, it's just an objectively good movie about the complicated inner lives of women). Baby Jane definitely has some scenes that, when taken out of context, come across as campy but I just find it disturbing in the most sincere way. But beyond the grotesque make up and story, what really freaked me out were the time I really rooted for Jane in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I kind of hoped that Jane would get away with her scheme. This is largely because of Bette Davis’ performance. I should clarify I don’t actually root for murder or child stars (both are always awful) . Anyways, Bette Davis got the Oscar nomination but Joan eventually got something MUCH better. Something far more culturally important than an Academy Award or critical acclaim: she got Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.
On one hand, I understand some of the newer criticism of Mommie Dearest and it's portrayal of women and child abuse; that it made a joke of something as serious as child abuse, that it ruined Faye Dunaway’s career, that it was pure exploitative fiction, etc. These criticisms aren’t without merit but can you imagine a world where that movie had never happened? I’m pretty sure that movie was the #1 source of happiness for gay men in the 80’s. I agree with John Waters, if you like movies about Classic Hollywood you’ll love it, and If you like monster movies, you’ll love it.
When it comes to the book it’s based on, there seems to be conflicting support and condemnation for its accuracy so I haven’t completely made up my mind whether I’m Team Joan or Team Christina. B.D Hyman’s exploitative book about her relationship with Bette Davis, however, seems to be as much bullshit as it is batshit. That is precisely why it needs its own movie. This is especially true considering the stuff B.D says on her YouTube channel today. It mostly involves evangelical preaching but she does accuse her mother of Satanism and casting spells against her own daughter. In interviews, B.D claims her mother hated men, especially any men who were involved with B.D. There doesn’t seem to be a lot evidence to confirm any of these claims. That’s fine as long as we get to eventually see Susan Sarandon wearing a pentagram impersonating Davis screaming “No more men! EVER!”
For those interested in knowing more about any of this craziness, I couldn't recommend the following more:
- FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan (2017) Film
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) Film
- Mommie Dearest (1981) Film
- Showgirls (1995) Film
- My Mothers Keeper by B.D Hyman (1985) Book
- B.D Hyman’s YouTube Channel (The BD Hyman Ministry)