Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Force of Nature

Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana is a heady experience.  Directed by John Huston and filmed (in 1964) in lush black and white, it's one of those movies that teeters toward bad but then somehow snaps back to genius almost in every scene.  But the most beautiful, exotic, startling aspect of Iguana isn't Tennessee's verbiage or Huston's camera angles, or even Richard Burton's deft hamminess as a desperate defrocked minister...  It's Ava Gardner as Maxine Faulk, owner of the last hotel on Earth.  Her performance is not a performance as much as a plea for mercy and a poetic rendering of hurt, desire, and vulnerability.  You want to crawl up next to her like a cat, try to comfort her and also bask in her fire.  No one has ever come across this way on film for me.  Just seeing her on screen, messy and gorgeous and sweet, foul-mouthed, offering anybody within ear's reach a cocktail, talking about how much she needs to be loved, is a revelation somehow.  It makes you understand that movie acting is somehow more about breathing and being than anything else.  Just her presence conjures feelings, the way she opens her mouth, the way she pushes herself into people.  Gardner's Maxine is a force of nature.  In an almost-campy movie filled with over-the-top metaphors, Gardner becomes the movie's soul, haunting every moment she's in.