…and the quest to see everything

HMWYBS: The Woman within “Picnic”

William Inge‘s work like Bus Stop and Splendor in the Grass are heart wrenching narratives about people who may or may not just find each other once in their lives. The depiction of women in his work are also memorable, from Cherie’s sequined exhaustion and Wilma Dean Loomis’ slow burn. These portrayals are my points of comparison with today’s ‘Best Shot‘ selection, PICNIC, and its leading female character Madge (Kim Novak. This won’t be the last time a character she plays will be told how to dress and behave).

Madge is a reluctant ideal, a woefully un-rehearsed queen with a cardboard crown, a deconstructed female character (I use ‘deconstructed’ instead of ‘evolving’ but evolution to me suggests a certain fullness which Madge never really has). She’s a trapped in a fictional world ruled by the female gaze, targeting both her and her male counterpart Hal Carter (William Holden). She’s never fully glamourized because of our raw first impressions of her, which is probably a more honest and refreshing depiction of women during the postwar era. All of this drama is shot by James Wong Howe (occasionally aided by a young Haskell Wexler). Wong Howe’s transforms his use of dazzling light, normally seen in his contrast-heavy noirs, to the kind of nature-philia and human choreography reminiscent of rococo and impressionism seen in this movie. It’s like using the artistic systems of the old world to depict the new, the latter’s white people entitlement marred hierarchy and rebellion.

And that is why this shot is my best. This scene isn’t the climax of the movie, neither is it integral in Madge’s ‘construction’ but it’s a part of the process. A lot is discussed in this room, marriage, a woman’s desirability, intelligence. And a fight is going to break out, as Madge is simultaneously being built up and torn down.

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4 responses

  1. Seeing this widescreen shots makes me realize I missed so much. I totally was thinking Manet when I saw the scene you picked out in the first still. Don’t even remember the second. 😦

    July 6, 2012 at 12:34 am

    • I was pissed when I got my DVD and I thought that it was also a pan and scan. And then I called a video store and they explained that it had the widescreen version on the other side of the disc.

      Anyway, The first shot was either going to be the Manet shot or the Novak acceptance speech shot. But I had to acknowledge the film’s cast as well as the cinematography.

      July 6, 2012 at 1:30 am

  2. I liked Novak in the movie in parts, but not continuously throughout but it’s best SHOT – not best scene – and I do like your best shot even if that scene doesn’t work in the narrative as well for me just because Novak across as more sanguine than I’d think Madge would be.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:18 am

    • I understand what you’re trying to say. I think that scene is like every scene in a way that it’s clunky and the conflicts and hierarchies between characters feel forced. Novak also seems too smart for her own character but at least her maturity, combined with Billy’s childlike nature, makes their pairing less creepy.

      July 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm

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