Tuesday, 27 November 2012

ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN 'ASH WEDNESDAY'





In 1980 I came across ASH WEDNESDAY (1973) while trying to unwind in front of the TV after a hectic week at work. I had gotten myself a job at Canada Post, sorting through letters all day long and I hated it. I was in my mid-teens and all I could think of was that my summer was definitely going to be ruined despite the nice pay check. So I had high hopes that the boob tube would succeed in changing my mind for a few hours at least. And did it ever. Nothing could turn me away from watching Elizabeth Taylor getting a facelift, her character, that is—but based on the star’s rep regarding plastic surgery it was just like watching the real thing. I’ve never been a hardcore Taylor fan. Sure, I’ve seen my share of her films, from CLEOPATRA to WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF? to sleaze factor contendees BUTTERFIELD 8 and THE DRIVER’S SEAT, but for some reason, her star appeal has always escaped me—until the arrival of ASH WESNESDAY.


In it she plays Barbara Sayer, a woman of a certain age who thinks getting her entire body worked on will save her crumbling marriage. So she goes to Switzerland and erases 20 years off her old self. Then the script demands that she beds kept man Helmut Berger just because, befriends bigger narcissistic patient Keith Baxter, endures envious stares from visiting daughter Margaret Blye who just can’t believe her mom is that hot. Taylor acts subdued to it all, almost frozen even, as if any facial movement could be fatal. But we forgive her, for she is Elizabeth Taylor. Fun fact: she supposedly wanted to return to old Hollywood glamour with this film, and she did to a certain degree. But the screenplay—talk about major droop. Penned by ALL NIGHT LONG fame Jean-Claude Tramont (starring Streisand, another diva) and produced by none other than novelist-to-be Dominick Dunne, it totally fails to capture any real excitement other than allowing their star to be all glammed up. In fact, at times, ASH WEDNESDAY almost plays like a bad Ingmar Bergman film with barely nothing to chew on. Thank heavens it still sticks to its melodrama form, for we would have had a bigger turkey in our hands.


When Taylor is not prancing around in Edith Head gowns and Alexandre of Paris hairdos, she’s hollering things like “look at these breasts. Aren’t they beautiful? What more do you need?!” to soon-to-be-ex Henry Fonda who does not give a damn. In fact, nobody gives a hoot in this flick. All they want is some adulation, and that’s fine with us as long as La Liz is around. It takes quite a few moment at the beginning before she appears on-screen, but when she does, all wrinkled up and ready to go, we’re more than willing to follow her journey. And what fun it is catching her turning into a swan—as if she can ever be otherwise. The last sequence (SPOILER ALERT) involving a leaving train and her teary but beautifully made-up face proves—finally—that underneath all that perfectness still exists a good actress. Her emotional range of a lost soul confronted to an uncertain future in that quick bit surpasses every frames she’s been in for the last 99 minutes. Add the Maurice Jarre syrupy score, not to mention the Larry Peerce gauzy soft focus direction used every time our heroine is in need of a close-up shot, and we have one highly camp bonbon at our disposition.


Alas, ASH WEDNESDAY is still nonexistent on DVD. As of this second (unless somebody knows something I don’t), the powers that be at Paramount has yet to show a real interest in this film other than its already available but costly VHS format (cover pic below). Still, I say run, don’t walk, and grab yourself whatever copy you can find of this glossy gem. Sure to enlighten your gloomy day, I promise you.







Until next post—Martin






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