Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lady of The Camilias

I got my first job, at age 16, when I walked into a poster store in search of pictures of Louise Brooks. I started talking to the owner for a bit and he asked me if I could identify which movie a particular still had come from for him. I told him it was from the scene in Camille where Robert Taylor is hovering over a prostrate, bed ridden, banana curled Greta Garbo. He asked me if I wanted a part time job there, because he didn't know nearly as much about movies as he did about art and thought I might like to help him with that. Of course I did! Especially if I got a discount! I was very excited and told all my friends that I had been scouted for a very important job, curating movie stills at a poster store due to my vast expertise in cinema! For which I would be paid 6 dollars an hour under the table, which was much more than the minimum wage. Like, 80 cents more.

As it turned out, of course, the owner was just a creepy old dude who hired a succession of 16 year old girls with dark hair and large breasts to work at his store, and no one really cared what I had to say about things after all. Sigh. This would later turn out to be the story of my life. I spent most of the money I earned there in my 3 month stint on cigarettes and coffee, and of course some pizza to share with my friends who would hang out across the street spanging and being all punk rock and stuff in Oxford Square. Those were the days!
But I still really, really love Camille. It's definitely one of my all time favorite movies and I still sob every time I watch it. La Traviata, based on the same source material, also happens to be my favorite opera.

A long, long time ago, Alexandre Dumas, fils, son of Alexandre Dumas, pere (the Three Musketeers/Count of Monte Cristo one) had an affair with a bad ass courtesan named Marie Duplessis. Being a courtesan back in the day was probably the best (and most feminist) gig a woman could have. They weren't just hanging out on corners, or looking for dudes on Craigslist or getting paid crap tons of money to bang a Senator or what have you. They were way more educated than your average lady, they could read, play instruments, they spoke various languages (not just French and Greek), they held salons and wrote books. Marie Duplessis was one such lady. In her short time on earth (she died of consumption at the age of 23) she held many salons and was totally getting it on with not only Dumas, fils, but also Franz Lizst and a bunch of counts. Not so shabby. Better than I've ever done. And Alexandre Dumas, fils wrote a book about her called La Dame aux Camilias, changing her name to Marguerite Gautier. Almost immediately after the book was published, Verdi adapted it into the opera known as La Traviata (which means "The Fallen Woman") and changed her hame to Violetta Valery.

Maria Callas just fucking kills me. Kills me. And is absolutely an inspiration when it comes to nifty eyeliner.

Anyway, this is the storyline! Once again, I'd say "Spoiler Alert!" but it's not like you're actually going to bother watching it, so whatevs. Ok, so there's this chick, Marguerite/ Violetta/ whathaveyou, and she's a courtesan and has a fancy sugar daddy who is a Baron of some kind. Then she meets Armand/Alfredo and they fall madly in love, but she feels really insecure and worries about the whole having been a courtesan thing messing shit up. But they're so in love! Love, love, love, and he doesn't care because he loves her so much. Then they go to his country home and she meets his Dad. Daddy is specifically not cool with the whole her having been a courtesan thing (because he's an uptight old person) and plays on all her insecurities, telling her that if Armand/Alfredo stays with her, it will ruin his life and also the lives of everyone in their family. She feels really, really bad. Wouldn't you? I would feel like shit. So Marguerite tries to do what's best and totally gives Armand the Harry and The Hendersons treatment.
She goes back to the Baron for a while and tries to convince Armand that she really, actually wants nothing to do with him and doesn't love him, even though she loves him so much that she is willing to give him up. And Armand hates her because he doesn't know what his father said to her, and thinks that she went to go back with the Baron because she was a shallow ho who never really loved him anyway. Then Marguerite leaves the Baron and is of course destitute because that was pretty much her sole source of income.

And then she gets consumption. Of course! So she's all alone, dying and poor- and Armand figures out what his dad did and comes to her side just as she's about to die. And it's really fucking sad. Then she dies and Armand and his Dad both feel terrible, and everyone feels terrible because in spite of the fact that she was not perfect, she was a really nice and selfless person who only wanted to do the right thing, and now she's dead.

There have been like 85,000 adaptations of this work, and the lead role was at one point considered to be like, the female equivilent of Hamlet. It's pretty much the original Hooker with a Heart of Gold story. But more than that, I think the reason it resonated so much and for so long and through so many things is that it has like, the worlds most emotionally satisfying ending.

Hear me out- yes, it's really, really fucking sad. A whole box of Kleenex worth of sad. But if one must die, I suppose the best thing you can ask for is that everyone who was ever shitty to you would feel really bad about said shittyness, and for everyone in general to come to the realization that maybe you really were the best, most noble person they'd ever met, and for those you loved to realize they love you. Also, Robert Taylor hanging out wouldn't be so bad either. See?

How You Doin', Robert Taylor?

Maybe it's just me and I'm a way spiteful person, but this is how I'd like to go. I'd also like to look as fabulous as Greta Garbo did on that deathbed. Although not so much with the banana curls.