Sunday, June 28, 2009

Picnic

Kim Novak and William Holden dance to "Moonglow." He's a nobody passing through town, and she's supposed to marry his old college pal, but you know that ain't gonna happen. 'Cause she knows how to clap...



When I was a little girl, once in a rare while my mother and father would dress up and go out. At my eye level, my mother was all high heels, nylons, and skirt edge; and when she moved, the scent of Joy perfume. My father was polished shoes and the tip of a tie.

I thought such creatures were what children metamorphed into when they grew up, but long before I got there, those creatures had become extinct. Perhaps it's just as well they only exist on film now--Picnic (a film you wish would break out into camp but never stops insisting it's serious) shows the terrible strictures necessary to maintain such life forms.
I'd have been like Little Sister (played by Susan Strasberg, Lee's daughter), desperate to escape to Greenwich Village.
But weren't they beautiful? You can almost catch their scent on the warm night air. Peach, and damp cotton, and musk.

As with cigarettes, we may not miss the strictures, but they sure could look good on film. Maybe my favorite moment: when he puts her hand over his beating heart, toward the end, and she moves her other hand on his shoulder, as if to stroke his ear.

9 comments:

momo said...

Ohhh1 I have never seen this movie. What an amazing scene, with all the other people looking on. This conjures up for me all the memories of dancing with a perfect stranger who happens to be a fabulous dancer--that wordless communication--it can be like falling in love for three minutes, even if it's not sexual or romantic. This captures that perfectly.

momo said...

And my mother's perfume was Arpege. All her clothes had that scent, but when they dressed up for a party, they were so glamorous.

deanna said...

Well said. My mom's mother grew up and lived in the strictest of worlds - there were things you did and things you just didn't. But, yeah, they cleaned up nice.

fresca said...

MOMO: This movie is a must for Cultural Studies!

It's interesting that this scene is, as you point out, entirely wordless.

Deanna: That restriction can really be killing (in fact, WIlliam Inge, the playwright of Picnic killed himself when he was 60). But some of the restraining fashions that went with it (girdles, ties, etc.) do look fab!

Rudyinparis said...

Great clip--but of course, all I could think of was, akin to Chekhov's rule that you never bring a gun on to the stage unless it will be used (do I have that right?)--was--never introduce a tiny dock and people dancing on it if no one falls in. I just kept waiting for them to fall in.

My father always loved--still does, I guess--Kim Novak (mostly because of Vertigo) but I just can't stomach her.

fresca said...

"I kept waiting for them to fall in."
That's it, Rudy--I kept waiting for the film to show it KNEW it was a bit ridiculous, but it never does, and that self-seriousness makes it brittle and more vulnerable to mockery.
The picture is more of a period piece than a living story.
Still I am enthralled by this movie, by these people caught in the world of 1955 Kansas... And while I've never liked Novak and rarely liked Holden (the comic professor in "Born Yesterday" being an exception), I'm totally mesmerized here.
Plus, all social/filmic analysis aside, I find their dancing plain old sexy.

Rudyinparis said...

Yes, well… hmm… I must say I find this sequence to be about the least sexy thing imaginable! There’s Kim Novak, with all the tired sex symbol signifiers-- the yellow, cotton candy hair, the wasp waist dress with the cone shaped breasts… and that wooden, blank stare! How freakish! You mention Judy Holliday and how she was told to wet her lips and open her mouth (ugh! oh, yuck) and how for her this was meaningless… I’ve always found Kim Novak’s sexuality to be equally mysterious. Is this someone’s idea of sexy? This weird blankness? Do men really dig that? How depressing! But then, maybe she was just a bad actor. Or had a bad director.* Also, I felt such pangs for the poor, mousy clumsy dancing girl who gets swept to the sidelines. I really did.

* She certainly would fit in well on a Star Wars set—Sascha and I always joke that it seems like George Lucas’ main directing advice is: “No! More wooden! More WOODEN!”

fresca said...

Hey, Rudy--Interesting!
You make me think about what I find sexy in this scene because I don't find either Holden or Novak sexually attractive myself. What's sexy here, to me, is that I totally buy that their characters are deeply attracted to each other--but can't "have" each other, so there's all that repressed energy building up and it's all very... itchy.

No, no, don't feel sorry for the mousy girl--she's the little sister who has earlier made a speech about how the second she can escape Kansas, she's going to NYC to be a Beat, so, in fact, she's the one with a future.
Poor Blondie and Mr. Hunk are doomed to poverty-stricken marriage that, once the sex dies down, is going to be pretty miserable. That wasp waist won't last past Baby #2, either... and then the poor thing will be on Valium. Yes, as you say, depressing...
That's what I meant about strictures.
But in the moment, they are, to me, beautiful nonetheless.

I always thought if I were to write a dissertation about a movie, this would be the one I'd choose--it's both repellent and attractive, pathetic and luminous--that's hard to pull off! Or, wait, maybe you could say that about the entire era?

fresca said...

P.S. Just watched the movie again (for the first time in years)--the dance scene is especially powerful in the film because everybody is playing their conventional social roles to the hilt, and these two recognize in each other an animal truth that has nothing to do with social codes.... Inge, a closeted gay man, is obviously of the school of thinking honest sexuality is a key to salvation.
It isn't, but repressing it sure doesn't help...

Anyway, I watched it with J. who dances and she just pointed out how the physical communication between good dancers is so intense to watch.

But I totally take your point, R., that Kim Novak is a weird fantasy of woman as blank--I haven't seen it in ages, but isn't that exactly the role she plays in "Vertigo"? I don't find it attractive, but I can imagine why some might.