Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea – they eat their young.
Attempting to absorb today’s various choices and upgrades and revamps and remakes is only one of many reasons why I retreat into the world of old movies. A few months ago my office decided to go the way of Bay Area coffee shops and add, oh I don’t know, six or seven different versions of what we used to know as “trash cans” and “recycling bins.” Above each slot is mile-long list of items that should only be placed lovingly and earth-huggingly into its designated bin. Somehow the item in my hand fails to appear on any list, and I am convinced my environment unfriendly action will destroy the universe forever . . . I’m going to the greenest circle of Hell. Options, options everywhere, but not a slot for my Styrofoam cup.
Now the label from my lunch must be peeled off the take-away food box (a box made of old newspapers, I imagine) and put into the special bin reserved for sticky labels, coffee stirrers, brown (never white) napkins, and about a million other items that stare at me accusingly as I run back to the boring desk job for which, in this recovering economy, I am allegedly grateful. Too many distractions; too many alternatives; too many mistakes; too many ways to ruin the ruined world . . . feh, it’s all going in the trash. Being a good person makes me too angry, and I soothe that frustration by disappearing again into my world of black-and-white films. And yet, I hear the footsteps of HBO creeping up behind me, carrying a bucket of paint . . .
HBO’s miniseries of Mildred Piece was all over the place. Their advertising team seemed to have Mildred everywhere, and those wonderful people out there who know me very well (I’m a lucky kid) were sure I had heard nothing about the project. A few messages started trickling in . . . did you hear they’re remaking Mildred Pierce? I had hoped to enjoy life without ever hearing such a stomach-churning question, and inevitably I had a few of my own. Who were “they” and precisely how was this to be a remake? Was it a full-length feature that would remain true to the original script or novel? Had there been a séance to contact Joan Crawford and solicit her approval for such an undertaking? And how on God’s green-if-we-keep-recycling earth is an actress going to fill the saucy supporting shoes of one Miss Eve Arden? Yes, I had heard the news.
It’s not that I want “now” to be “then.” I just want “now” to be better.
The story of a woman whose husband leaves her with two daughters to raise during the Depression brought Joan Crawford her first and only Oscar win in 1946, and it remains one of my favorite films. To support her family and please her repulsively spoiled daughter Veda, Mildred works as a waitress and later opens up her own chain of restaurants. The more Mildred provides for Veda, the less satisfied the young lady becomes, and some wickedly entertaining fights result between mother and daughter.
The name “Kate Winslet” put me in a mental state not unlike the times I approach the Whac-A-Mole display of waste bins at work. I feel slightly overwhelmed, unsure if I wanted to put in the time to understand what was behind it, worried about taking a chance on disliking something (or someone) of quality and good intentions, and a nagging, ever-present fear of change. On top of that add, of course, the fact every day we men must face the impossible task of trying to forget about Joan Crawford for a few hours. Is it this difficult for everyone out there, and if yes, why aren’t the rest of you speaking out?
Easily persuaded by shiny objects (eventually an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Winslet), sometimes audience members feel pressured into loving a film. Heck, the Oscar icon can be just as influential on how I go into a first viewing. Gold is pretty – along with a fancy new dress and a red carpet, it sets a status for a couple of news cycles, and certainly Veda Pierce would be impressed with an Emmy statuette. But in this case, I had to judge . . . um, I mean, go in with an open mind and see for myself what HBO and Miss Winslet had done with Mildred Dearest. A pack of people with whom I tend to agree when it comes to such important matters cautioned me against watching the miniseries. The headcount in the group that warned me was fairly equal to the number of those who recommended it (provided I accept it for what it is and make an effort not to compare it to the good old days, like the cranky old man I am). A third group advised watching just the first three episodes, while group number four insisted I watch only episodes four and five.
Clearly I was forced to run the entire Pierce marathon, start to finish. I have always liked Kate Winslet, and while she is enjoyable as Mildred, I expect this one was doomed for me. As I did with a recent revisit to Oz, I went into HBO’s Mildred Pierce with an open-minded, “c’mon now, this may surprise you” attitude; I have come to believe that judging a movie before seeing it is the only sin greater than that of poorly remaking a classic. Ultimately, there is one woman who is impossible to throw away, recycle, compost, reuse, reduce, conserve . . . director Michael Curtiz may as well have been standing in my living room with a bullhorn: “Don’t think about Crawford; don’t think about Crawford; for the love of wire hangers, DON’T think about Crawford!”