The recent well-reviewed production of A Streetcar Named Desire at BAM (I didn't make it, sigh) reminded me of another Tennessee William's play, Suddenly Last Summer. This is perhaps his most garden-y work, though it's not really about gardening at all. In its movie form, with a screenplay by Gore Vidal and starring Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, it is indeed gay, gay, gay. In fact, even in the watered down 1958 screen version, the film is a big, sloppy, overbaked slice of mid-20th century closeted gay life when everything was done with a nudge and a wink. Not like today where the gay folk are so boring, dutifully getting married, raising children and becoming mayors of major American cities (in Texas no less!)
But the film is well worth watching, during these quiet days at the end of the year, despite the heavy subject matter. Its historic camp value and the vivid performances alone recommend it—minus Clift who seems drugged. I include it here primarily for the flamboyantly primordial sets by Oliver Messel (nudge and wink) depicting Mrs. Venable's New Orleans garden. They are "like the dawn of creation," as Hepburn announces. (More shots below)
Batten down the hatches, and if you are sensitive to heavy-handed symbolism and stagey poetic pronouncements then you might want to sit back from the screen since things might get a bit sloshy. I'll just curl up right here next to my Night-Blooming Dementia Praecox and watch it with you.
You can start viewing it from the beginning here. Or rent it from Netflix here or buy it from Amazon here.
Oliver Messel's set design for Suddenly Last Summer