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Saturday
May072016

The Mother of all Feuds

a must readAs you've surely heard by now, since it's one of the most striking actressy announcements in some time, Ryan Murphy's next anthology series will be called "Feud" and for its first season the subject is the über showbiz catfight: Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford. Bette & Joan's famous loathing for each other was not confined to just the horror classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) but the series will be confined there since that set is the natural place to dramatize. It was the only film the two combative actresses made together. After the success of Baby JaneHush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) was intended as a reunion but ultimately Olivia de Havilland (who had her own legendary feud with sister Joan Fontaine) took Crawford's place.

Since Ryan Murphy can't live without Jessica Lange he's cast her as Joan Crawford. It's a terrible call because their screen personas are antithetical...

Crawford's stardom sprung from her maniacally disciplined stone-cold artifice; Jessica Lange's power is all in her febrile quivering emotional rawness. In short: Lange may well give a great performance but it won't be of Joan Crawford if you catch the drift. Which is a pity. The second half of the equation is Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis which feels inspired and not just from the bug eyed beauty but also in the self-satisfaction, innate power, and stubborn temperament.

And then of course the Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina), Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess) and Maidie Norman (we don't know who is playing her) parts should offer actors plenty to work with for their Emmy campaign. Both Lange & Sarandon are ten years older than Crawford and Davis were at the time of Baby Jane. If Murphy continues to use his regulars who are about ten years older than their counterparts expect Angela Bassett in the Maidie role. There could be good drama there, too, since she rewrote her lines so the character would be less of a racial stereotype. Also of note for potential drama: Bette's teenage daughter at the time was in the film in a small role.

If we leave the set of Baby Jane this is the time period when Joan Crawford was on the board of directors of Pepsi and Christina, her daughter, was trying to establish her own (short-lived) film career. We will obvious leave the set occassionally as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis), and mogul Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) will both be dramatized.

Should we be excited or scared of this?

I haven't yet watched The People vs OJ but most people seem to think its Murphy's best work. So perhaps true stories are the way for him to go because his work on "original" material (American Horror Story, Glee, Scream Queens) is wildly inconsistent, even within the parameters of single episodes or, hell, single scenes. Feud sounds enticing but here's the problem: If you love a good screen catfight like I do, it's probably because you share my superpower of ignoring how problematic they can be in terms of misogyny. And Murphy is Kryptonite in this regard because he makes the ugliness under the entertainment value of bitchery constantly visible. Sometimes his work is downright misogynist; One of the reasons (aside from general lack of quality) that I quit watching Scream Queens early in its run was the ugly slurs about female genitalia coming from the mouths of actresses. 

a table read for "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" before Crawford quit. Joseph Cotten to the left and Robert Aldritch in the middle. img src

I want to be excited for Feud but Murphy's projects always sound enormously appealing but they come out mangled and leave weird aftertastes. I wish he weren't the only prolific actressexual writer/director working in Hollywood because imagine his general environs (female melodramas within genre hybrids featuring multiple diva parts) being shaped by more than one mind.  It's a bit like having to accept that Hollywood is always going to want Rob Marshall behind the camera every time they're funding a musical. Wouldn't it be sweet to have more than one voice speaking these languages? 

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Reader Comments (26)

I bet that was one hell of catfight. Did it involve tables, ladders, and chairs? Oh my!

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Judy Davis plays Hedda Hopper for the series.

You underestimate Lange because she has none of the precision of Streep.

Ryan Murphy and Lee Daniels are no different two gay men with power and no taste.

How can you cry misogyny for Murphy but defend Lars von Trier?

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Murphy had no had in the writing of The People vs OJ Simpson. The two screenwriters behind Ed Wood wrote it.

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

They supporting cast have been announced. Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner, Alfred Molina as Aldrich, Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper. I can't remember the name of the actor playing Buono.

Very excited!

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersummer

Imagine the cameos in the inevitable Oscars episode! I'm also hoping for a flash forward so we get Amy Sedaris doing Agnes Moorhead's Velma from "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte".

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

But how TREMENDOUS would it have been if Ryan made a deal with Satan and managed to get Faye Dunaway back as Joan? Cause right now, i realllly can't see Jessica in that part.

Faye would NEVER but it would actually be a career boost and help her to get over that oozing sore spot of Mommie Dearest on her ego. Faye could actually get more roles if she embraced that film.

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

Also I don't like encouraging or enabling Ryan Murphy *at all*, but the OJ series was a stellar season of TV which might be because Ryan didn't have that much to do with it. I'll totally tune in for this but I just can't with that man.

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

everyone -- sorry i forgot to check on the supporting cast. post has been updated.

May 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Derreck -- yeah, bringing back Dunaway as Joan would be just ... well, on Earth 2 it's marvelous.

May 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

My feeling is that it seems trashy. Jessica Lange played different characters on AHS but they all were ... Bitches. This seems like a gay man's fantasy of women: exaggerated, mean, grotesque. I only expect camp but maybe it will surprise. And Faye already played Joan so I am surprised Jessica wants to play Joan. Good luck.

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Boils

In one of her recent talk show appearances it suddenly struck me how much Susan Sarandon resembles Bette Davis as she gets older, so I really like this. Still, my expectations are not very high quality wise, even though I liked The People vs. OJ much better than I thought I would.

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterhcu

Have the feeling that this is simply miscast and ripe for over the top acting especially in Murphy's hands which is sad..... at best both will give an impression of Joan and Bette but won't be the real deal...

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

It's funny because I keep reading these comments online about Sarandon looking exactly like Bette Davis and I'm like "Hello! Haven't you noticed until now?"

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Murphy's projects always look great on paper but the execution is horrific.

Also, I remember seeing a picture of SS made up by Kevyn Aucoin to look like Bette Davis,

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarek

I'd be happy to be wrong, but I just can't imagine a quality show coming from this. Lange and Surandon also feel very miscast. The Ryan Murphy model is never sustainable - sometimes strong starts that fizzle fast.

May 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Chris you can't say the leads are miscast and not offer an alternative.

May 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

The venture may well end up just another name-dropping period costume party. But I can't argue with the casting of Sarandon. I've never forgotten that photograph where Kevyn Aucoin and Susan Sarandon captured Bette' Davis' essence (in "Of Human Bondage") so beautifully. Lange's a marvelous actress and she'll probably be fine in the Crawford part. But I remember a few seasons back, just after Melissa Leo's Oscar win, she was supposedly trying to mount a feature film based on the making of "Baby Jane". I remember hoping at the time that Sarandon would take on the Davis part. As for Leo, I think she could have fully nailed all aspects of Crawford - the steel will, the ladylike veneer and the wrong side of the tracks roots. Still wish that project had happened.

May 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKen

While it will be a challenge, Lange will adapt her already formidable skills to the part. Crawford is definitely a different kind of role for her. But Lange just doesn't give bad performances. She will kill in this.

May 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

3rtful - lol but my alternative is don't do the show at all

May 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Picture this: Anna Paquin as Joan Crawford, Christina Ricci as Bette Davis. No, really, picture this. In two twin movies: a "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" remake directed by Tarantino, and an Ang Lee directed biopic. The two BEST Supporting Actress performances of 1993, facing off.

Yep, I'm a bit iconoclastic.

May 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

This is such MAJOR for all the gay actressexuals!!! I can totally see Sarandon as Crazy Bette! (those huge Davis eyes!!) But Lange as Phony Joan?? hmmm, maybe not so much...Y not cast Meryl as the long suffering Blanche Hudson?? God knows how many times Meryl has been called phony by haters/detracters!!

But it still seems a gay wet dream to see Sarandon v Lange!! Lol

May 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Agree Meryl would be a better Joan, trying to come off as the classier of the two. Crawford came off as a soft-spoken, great lady in public. Jess is a bit more feral and lord knows she spent every gasket she has on AHS.

May 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMay Bell

Sarandon has reminded me of Bette Davis forever, but Lange as Crawford? Love Jessica, but she has none of JC's chiseled features or classic profile.

Now, Sigourney Weaver as Joan, perfect, right down to that low, "cultured" voice!

The project is based on a fluffy, gossipy book so Murphy should have a field day in his over-the-top fashion.

Actually, where Davis and Crawford really came to blows was on "Sweet Charlotte," not "Baby Jane." We'll see how that's handled.

May 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

I will totally watch. But I would be willing to give Jessica and Susan a chance if this weren't a Ryan Murphy project. I haven't liked anything he has done. Slightly Questionable Casting + Production Team with Suspect History = Tina, Bring Me the Axe!

May 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

I agree w/ 3rtful: Ryan Murphy has no taste, and agree w/ Nathaniel: Murphy very rarely executes his projects successfully. For example, while other seasons of AHS exhibited schizoid shifts in tone and logic, I was downright angry at the time I'd wasted on the Freakshow season, even before it wrapped up. It was a true train wreck. But of course I'll at least try Feuds: it's a helplessly delicious concept. I do think Melissa Leo is a far more inspired choice to play Crawford than Jessica Lange, but we shall see what Lange does with the part. Sarandon as Davis is Just Right, at least physically. Anyway, here's hoping Murphy can somehow avoid crashing and burning with this one.

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Lange kind' expectations surprised me in Grey Gardens, but I can't picture her yet as Crawford. Dunaway would be perfect. Just hope that Murphy doesn't steer this into John Waters territory...

May 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

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