Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Splendor in the class?

So, having burned out (as it were) on the Yule log after 47 straight hours of viewing pleasure, I scanned the dial early Christmas morning and came upon the classic Elia Kazan film, Splendor in the Grass, which dates to 1961 and which I had never seen in its entirety. (The film is based on the William Inge play of the same name, which took its title from a bittersweet Wordsworth poem.) Splendor casts an almost ludicrously young Warren Beatty opposite an almost impossibly lovely Natalie Wood. The basic theme here is that Beatty is going out of his mind with lust for Wood, a "good girl" who then really, clinically goes out of her mind (to the point of becoming suicidal) after deciding to offer herself to her beloved—and being refused. He doesn't want to "ruin" her, you see.*

The rest of the plot elements—especially Wood's mother's repeated harangues about "those kinds of girls"—are as overwrought as you'd expect. I'd tell you how it all ends, but you can probably guess, and I'm a little bit like Beatty's character in that regard: I wouldn't want to "ruin" it for those who might wish to see it.

All I'll say here is...wow. Anyone who doesn't think society and its mores have changed over the past few generations needs to sit down with this movie for a while. (In fairness to Splendor, there's also a class-warfare angle that has stood the test of time better than the morality-play component.) I'm not passing judgment on whether those changes are good or bad; there are things to be said on both sides of the ledger, I think. I'm just saying that seeing this poor couple agonize and ultimately go insane over the question of whether to have sex—and they're very much in love, mind you.... Yanno, it might be fun to take a class of today's typical college students and have them watch Splendor all the way through. They'd literally be ROFL after the first 15 minutes.

* Evidently in real life the sexual tension proved too strong for the glamorous young costars to resist. It is widely and credibly reported that Beatty and Wood had a torrid affair during and after the filming of Splendor.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Er. Why didn't they just get married? ("It is better to marry than to burn.")

Steve Salerno said...

That's where the class warfare comes in; Daddy didn't want his hifalutin son marryin' no blue-collar good-for-nuthin' type. Plus the Beatty character had his four years of Ivy League ahead of him.

acd said...

First of all, I'm not doubting that society's view of sex has changed. That said, you seem to make a point at the end of your post by stressing that they were allegedly so much in love while they were struggling with the decision to have sex. I am a bit confused by that statement because earlier in your post you described Beatty as going crazy with lust, which is decidedly not synonymous with "love." And I looked up the movie and read a review of it, which described Wood as going insane with "pent-up adolescent lust" [emphasis added]. This debate over whether they should have sex would indeed seem at least somewhat silly if they were in love, but it's another thing entirely if it's just physical attraction. If the latter is the case, then maybe they have good reason to agonize over the decision, because maybe it is in their best interest to exercise a little self-control. I just thought your characterization of their relationship seemed inconsistent. Which is it? The answer changes the message of the movie, I think. But I do agree with you that, today, the whole thing would seem ridiculous, and not just to college students.

Steve Salerno said...

I guess I was careless in my phrasing, acd; yes, the film makes clear that they are very much in love (as well as in lust), in an almost Romeo/Juliet sense. But your point is well taken.

a/good/lysstener said...

I'd never seen the movie but it was on again on my cable service after I read your post, so I took you up on your challenge to watch it. I agree that it's morally and socially anachronistic, which is the point I think you're making in your post. I also think it's sad that it's so morally and socially anachronistic. And I think it's even sadder that we don't even question that anymore, that we just accept today's sexual mores as the way things are and that's that, and even see it as a more enlightened way of living. In fact most of the people I know from college would say it's the way things should be; yes even the girls. Maybe especially the girls. I guess some of this is backlash against the repressive climate of so many years, as in the movie, and also the notion that women are there to "serve" men's sexual needs, which is another theme of the movie that you didn't mention but I found significant; the idea that we're there to provide pleasure and shouldn't expect any ourselves (or that there's almost something wrong with us if we enjoy sex). Even with all that I still think it's unfortunate. THis is one area where I definitely agree with Rev. Ron's calls for more balance in life.

Anonymous said...

The Beatty-Wood romance didn't start until 1 year AFTER the movie was shot, during a promotional tour. During the filming of Splendor, they weren't exactly big friends, let alone lovers. Wood was a big star, with a matching entourage. Beatty was a debutant in motion pictures, who also happened to be of the famed "method" acting style, which got on Wood's (and others) nerves.
After "Splendor" was in the can for post-production, Beatty moved to Europe with fiancee Joan Collins to shoot "Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" with Vivien Leigh. In the meantime, Wood and her then husband Robert Wagner divorced.
After finishing "Roman Spring", Beatty returned, alone (after a break-up with Collins) to the US to join Wood on a promotional tour for the release of "Splendor". That's when they fell in love.