Saturday, July 27, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Such Elevation

Camp rests on innocence.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

A little treat today, darlings, to celebrate a fine summer weekend.

Miss Lillian Gish, at 90, assays the role of The Young Girl in a recreation of the great Ballets Russes number "Le Spectre de la Rose."  With the magnificent Patrick Dupond in the Nijinsky role, Gish gives a little masterclass in theatrical minimalism in what must have been a highlight of the starry bill that celebrated a century of performing arts at the Metropolitan Opera in May of 1984 (even though that bill ranged from Makarova to John Denver and included Alicia Alonso, Dame Margot Fonteyn, and Placido Domingo).

With the music of Weber (via a Berlioz arrangement) swirling around her on the vast Met stage, Gish is an island of stillness as the sleeping girl.  But only up to a point.  Note, if you watch carefully, how the old ham is careful to stir just a little in her nap when she knows the cameras will be coming to catch Dupond as he hovers over her armchair to look down at her.  As her co-star Bette Davis snapped at a fraught moment in the filming of The Whales of August, after the director complimented Gish's mastery of the close-up, "She should - she invented them!"

What en-camps this transcendent moment is the sheer frisson of it all - the presence of Gish, the exuberant music, the kitschy-elegant rose costume, the opera-gala extravagance, even the knowledge that John Denver lingers somewhere near, off stage left perhaps (oh, and Lionel Richie, too, just in case you weren't appalled enough).

But watch the moment at the end, as Gish executes the very opposite of a close-up - a theatre-filling, entirely simple moment of pantomime, her tiny figure, upright in the Fortuny gown, alone on the great stage.  Her dream has vanished, but the rose remains.  That's art, kids, neat.


  1. I am forever thankful to you for posting this.

  2. It's funny: nobody's old these days the way a Lillian Gish was old in 1984, do you know what I mean? Can you imagine Cher up there (also a star for nearly half a century) -- OK, she's not 90, but still -- it wouldn't have quite the same impact.

    She wouldn't be in Fortuny of course, but rather vintage Bob Mackie...

    1. Oh, you're quite right, and it makes me very sad - there really are no old ladies anymore, let alone old ladies a la Gish.

      In the same way, there are few people who would dare to be so unashamedly sentimental as she when she recalls her night out with Chaplin (and Dorothy, of course), nor as unabashed by their pure Masillon, Ohio go at speaking French (which I wouldn't be surprised to know she did quite well, with exactly that accent).

  3. M Dupond, Mr Denver, Mr Ritchie, Dame Margot and Miss Gish on the same bill? Camp bedfollows indeed.

    And it doesn't get much camper than Le Spectre de la Rose...


    1. Can you imagine? Must have been a helluva night at the Met. Barbara Walters apparently complained that it was too long. Bitch.

    2. Barbara Walters is an American phenomenon completely unknown outside the US, and I'm never quite sure why her opinion matters. However, she's obviously not someone who Susan Sontag would include in a list. Jx