A Brief Note on Elizabeth Taylor
From my point of view with the passing of Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) we are witnessing the passing of the “Last Hollywood Star” in the old fashioned sense of the term. “One whose luminous being lights up the screen with the incandescence of her personality and talent.” To my mind and way of looking at things she was genuine cinema royalty. Perhaps the greatest in cinema history. The Queen. Valentino was big, Monroe is big right to this moment, Dean, Bogart, Hepburn (both Katherine and Audrey) Frank Sinatra and a few others still hold their place in motion pictures Hall of Fame. But Ms. Taylor held it for nearly seven decades in a tumultuous life filled with highs and lows that was recorded and scrutinized in pages of the popular press all over the world. At one point even the Vatican got in on the act by commenting on her relationship/ affair with Richard Burton while they were filming Cleopatra (1963) in Italy.
She had achieved stardom early and held on to it right to the end. And whenever I think about fame and stardom, the kind one achieves through motion pictures I see it as a phenomena that can harm or destroy as well as elevate. Some people can handle it some are perplexed, disarmed and even destroyed by it. But Elizabeth Taylor is the only one I can think of who actually lived with it day in and day out and not only handled it with aplomb but actually ruled it. She was the Queen and the press her unruly subjects. Sometimes they would rebel and even attack her but they always paid homage and in the end always acknowledged that she was the boss.
Now we know of the scandals, the multiple marriages, her incredible generosity, her steadfastness when it came to supporting her friends along with her personal courage in the face of adversity or opposition. So there is no need to reiterate them here. We also know of her award winning performances in the many motion pictures she made going all the way back to 1942. What I want to do now is list my favorite of her screen performances.
A Place in the Sun (1951) – her romantic teaming with Montgomery Clift is possibly the most perfect in all motion pictures.
Giant (1956) – It should’ve been a man’s film but she carries it so well that everyone else even the excellent Rock Hudson and James Dean seem supporting players to her.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) – Putting her together with Paul Newman was another beautiful match made in cinema heaven. And their dramatic clashes made for real screen fireworks.
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) – a curious mixture of melodrama and poetically articulated states of sexual aberrations. She stands out in a difficult and sometimes seemingly contradictory role.
And finally Reflections in a Golden Eyes (1967) – John Huston’s interesting adaptation of Carson McCullers novella. In this one she’s teamed with Marlon Brando and although they both seem to be in different films both are excellent. In fact I think she gives one of the most nuanced performance of her career here.
So as far as I am concerned the Queen may be dead but her performances will live on and on and on.