Don’t Turn the Light On!: Jessica Lange in A Streetcar Named Desire (for Parterre Box)

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Alec Baldwin (Stanley) and Jessica Lange (Blanche) in the TV adaptation of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.

David Fox: We’re back with yet another television movie, this one from 1995, directed by Glenn Jordan but based on a 1992 Broadway production that starred the same two leads, Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. To get the ball rolling, I’ll start by posing a question I found myself asking as I watched the first scene: What should A Streetcar Named Desire look like? I realize that’s pretty vague. My thoughts were similarly abstract, but they were decisive: “dark,” “shadowy,” and “harsh” were the first words I came up with—all connected to the metaphoric idea of endings. Streetcar is a play of night-time imagery. Williams tells us that Blanche arrives at “first evening”—and later, Mitch makes the point that she doesn’t go outside in the light. Yet Jordan’s film is steeped in airy pastels; it almost shimmers. To be fair, I’m sure this is exaggerated in the YouTube version I watched, which looks like it was transferred from a faded VHS copy. But the overall impression here is a French impressionist watercolor, which considerably saps its power. There are a number of fine elements, and a couple that are exceptional—but I can’t get over the wrongness of its look.

Cameron Kelsall: It also looks undeniably like a television movie filmed in the 1990s, even as it tries to suggest an earlier era. The Ann-Margret/Treat Williamsversion, though just a decade older, managed to capture the period a little more precisely, even though it has its own issues in terms of anachronism. (Mainly the costumes and the music, in that case.) Really—the original film has an unfair advantage being shot in black-and-white, which suggests the duskiness and obfuscation embedded in Williams’ stage directions, almost inadvertently. The opening scene is lit for high-noon rather than first evening, but that’s only one of the several elements that set this adaptation, successful elsewhere, off on the wrong foot. There’s the heavy foreshadowing of the old Mexican woman, hawking her flores para los muertos, right from the start, signaling Blanche’s demise. There’s Lange stepping into the frame for the first time from a hazy cloud of smoke, as if Blanche were a film-noir femme fatale rather than a tragic figure…

Click here to read the complete post on Parterre Box.

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