"It was Sebastian's idea. Part of his life-long war against the herbaceous border"


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

Oliver Messel by George Hoyningen-Huene (1929)


Stephen Orr said...

The film's florid score is by Buxton Orr, perhaps a distant Scottish relation?

Barry Parker said...

I noticed in an Oliver Messel bio that in the Caribbean ( where he often lived and worked) there is a paint colour called "Messel Green". This interests me because I'm going to St Lucia this weekend, so must look out for it.

Stephen Orr said...

Yes he sounds like he was a fascinating character!

Barry Parker said...

Another interesting fact is that his family home is Nymans. It's said to be in the top ten most beautiful gardens in the UK.

Penny McCrea said...

Was that Amorphophallus titanum the real deal? It looks a bit puny. Nobody would want to stand that close to it without, at least, wrinkling the nose and at the most, wearing a gas mask.

Jackson Panix said...

No matter how many times I see this film, Liz wrecks me. Especially her beach scene freak-out.

Stephen Orr said...

@Jackson. It's a great monologue isn't it? You can't look away. PS I like this guy's take on the acting style in the movie (http://www.filmwalrus.com/2008/06/review-of-suddenly-last-summer.html)
And nice to see you NY's Eve! Thank you especially for the Cherrelle I similarly freak out when I hear the cascading drum machine in that song. xo