by Nathaniel R
The title sequence for Feud, really couldn't be better. The Saul Bass inspired graphics cut-outs act out both the iconic beats in hagsploitation classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and Joan Crawford and Bette Davis's own rivalry as stars while alluding to their embattled natures (the hearts as tears is a particular fine move) within Hollywood where both had been wildly successful but not without their backs up and claws out, as it were.
When the action kicks off in Feud though we're in 1961 and both were now "has been" at least in terms of A list leading lady roles at 55 (Crawford) and 53 (Davis). Feud: Bette and Joan casts much older actresses to play them with Jessica Lange (67) and Susan Sarandon (70) which is maybe the most unintentionally positive takeaway of the show; it takes much longer to be considered "old" in Hollywood now!
I didn't want to be one of those people who picks a show about Old Hollywood apart based on inaccuracies -- I'm not actually an expert on the studio system or either of these stars as some cinephiles and these actresses devout fan bases are not to be bested in trivia in this regard, but the opening error did throw me...
The show opened at what it claims are the 1961 Golden Globes... and whether you view that as the 1960 awards (held in '61) or the actual 1961 awards, given the erratic nature of how people label awards shows these days -- curse you internet and IMDb!, both are inaccurate. Marilyn Monroe won the Globe for Some Like It Hot in 1960 for the '59 Golden Globes. So this show is already off by one or even two years in its facts! Later Bette and Joan have a conversation that suggests Joan hasn't been in front of the cameras for many years (referencing her hit Autumn Leaves in 1956) but she'd made two movies between that film and Baby Jane and one of them is at least still marginally famous The The Best of Everything (1959). We see Bette Davis on stage but both actresses were doing regular TV gigs at this point.
But let's not get too hung on minutae as emotional truth is more important than trivia truth in these equations, and it's true that Joan didn't approve of Marilyn or Hollywood's reaction to her. And some of the emotional truth, Feud probably gets right. Consider that when Joan is searching for her own projects she complains that everything written for women is either "ingenues," "mothers," and "gorgons" and... you know, that's about right, isn't it?
I'm eager to see where Feud takes these discussions of the limited roles for women and women chipping away at each other but the first episode felt hesitant. Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta Jones doing something... but I couldn't follow what... with that imitation) describes Bette Davis acting as having "ballsy intensity." I wouldn't describe Feud that way. Like most of Ryan Murphy's work the ballsy intensity is all in the concept... the execution is rather more hit and miss.
But I'm hopeful for now. You? A few favorite things...
Judy Davis 100%. In fact I think she would have probably been a better choice for either of the lead roles than Sarandon (who looks the part, though strangely isn't trying hard to capture for Bette's iconic voice) or Crawford. As already discussed before we'd seen a frame, Lange, while enormously talented, is almost the compete opposite of Crawford in terms of star persona. It's fairly clear that Murphy, as Lange super fan, doesn't understand that. Perhaps his idea of Crawford's star persona is entirely 'Dunaway as Crawford in the second half of Mommie Dearest' based? Lange's appeal has always been in her vulnerability and that febrile raggedy big emotion whereas Crawford's undeniable charisma and electricity usually sprang from her confident precision and ultimate rigidity.
Favorite Joan Scene
'This is my Oscar and I'd like another one.' Yaaaas. (But can we talk about how weird it is that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford only having as many Oscars between them as Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon do?)
Favorite Bette Scene
Hmmm. This was a Joan episode, really. Though I like Sarandon's pomp and circumstance stroll on to the set in full Baby Jane Hudson costume but that's more of a director's moment.
The Books! Feud is a little more serious than we'd anticipated but it does make good use of the haha if not lol funny punchlines on occasion. Joan glances at the cover for Chocolate for Breakfast:
No, mamacita. Nothing sapphic."
Hee. That was an infamous lesbian novel of the love that dared not speak its name in the 1950s but it never became a movie like other gay stories before Stonewall (like Tea for Sympathy or The Children's Hour or some such). (That "find your own project" sequence had me wondering if the prop department didn't have way too much fun finding 1950s books to toss on that table. Pity we don't see more of them up close!)
Because Feud: Bette and Joan likes to credit Crawford and Davis with literally everything that happened -- was there really no makeup department involved in Baby Jane Hudson's iconic look? Did Bette and Joan really choose their own costumes and if so why was Norma Koch nominated for the great costume design at the Oscars? -- I was happy to see Robert Aldritch's assistant get a moment pushing the strength of the concept from a budget and story and industry trend moment.
This one has potential. Horror thriller. Two broads, former movie stars a cripple and her crazy sister battling it out in their Hollywood home.
This one (Feud: Bette and Joan) also has potential but at least from this Baby Jane fan's perspective it's way too soon to know if Feud lives up to it.