Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, RIP

She has died of congestive heart failure at the age of 79.

To me her most interesting performance was in the "National Velvet", which made this description of her role in it sound pretty weird:
Her teenage performance in 1944's "National Velvet" created a template for the obligatory infatuation with the majesty of horses by young girls that has been mined for comedic gold by everything from the spoof movie "Hot Shots!" to the "Carol Burnett Show" and dozens of online memes.
I would have thought that the themes of "National Velvet" were much more complicated than mere girls' infatuation with the majesty of horses! One of those themes had to do with what was allowed for women and girls in 1944 and to what extent they were allowed to excel in their lives.

This short plot summary omits a few of the twists in that sub-theme:
National Velvet is the story of a twelve-year girl, Velvet Brown, living in Sewels, in Sussex, England, who saves a horse from the knacker's yard and trains it for the Grand National steeplechase, aided by her father's hired hand, a young drifter, Mi Taylor. The fictional horse which Velvet Brown trained and rode in the National is called "Pie." When she discovers that the Latvian jockey hired to ride Pie doesn't believe he can win, she disguises herself as a male jockey and rides the horse to victory.
Velvet collapses after her victory, is examined by a doctor, and her achievement is disqualified because of her sex. Note how all this, both positive and negative, is about the limits of gender?

Earlier in the movie Mrs. Brown, Velvet's mother, talks with Velvet about her own background. She swam the English Channel as a young woman, but tells Velvet that such feats as hers, or the one Velvet contemplates, can be attempted only once in a lifetime. Thus, the overall message of the movie is an ambiguous one when it comes to female achievement. Velvet is determined in the face of opposition and she succeeds. But ultimately her victory is nullified and she is shown as not really minding. Or perhaps she sees her victory in a different light.