11 January 2012

5. ALL ABOUT EVE




This should have been a play.

It is really simple: a movie must be primarily visual. This film relies too much on dialogue to move the story along, together with pervasive voiceover (which, while innovative -- more on that later -- is still a crutch).

A good example is directly after the midpoint, when Margot (played by Bette Davis), a star in the theatre, arrives to the table reading of a new play late. Her assistant, the titular Eve, read in lieu of her and killed. And now the writing is on the wall: her suspicions about Eve trying to replace her are seemingly confirmed, and she continues to feel over-the-hill, old, expendable.

The problem is that we get this information through back and forth dialogue between Margot and DeWitt in the theatre lobby. It is a break of the age-old writer's maxim: Show, Don't Tell.

What if, instead of a scene of dialogue, Bette Davis comes in late and before, she comes through the door, hears the dialogue being read by Eve and stops short. What if she peeks through the door and watches Eve transformed, acting her ass off. She watches the admiring faces of the others at the table as this assistant is revealed to them as a new star. We see Davis watch them explode into applause at the end of Eve's reading, and we see Davis' face as she realizes her time is up. And then we see her wipe her tears away and compose herself, put her public mask back on as she barges through the door with panache to try to take the focus off Eve, trying to regain control of the room and, thereby, her future as a viable actress.

The above would be visual, would rely more on acting with the body than the mouth, and, I believe, would engage the audience better by letting them fill in the blanks.

That said, there's quite a few things to recommend the film:

* For a movie that leans so heavily on dialogue, it provides some great lines:
"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."
"Bill's thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he'll look it twenty years from now. I hate men."
"Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn't worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be."
"Don't cry. Just score it as an incomplete forward pass. "
"When you're a secretary in a brewery, it's pretty hard to make-believe you're anything else. Everything is beer."

* It's an archtypical story, an inside baseball tale about a simultaneous rise and fall, about ambition and fear of failure. It has been copied often because the tale of a young climber and an old timer barely hanging on a nerve in the zeitgeist.

* The innovative use of voiceover. The VO switches between characters throughout the film to various characters as needed. I'm not sure if that had been done before this film, but I don't think it has ever been done as effectively.

So, it isn't that the movie is poorly written. The problem with ALL ABOUT EVE is that it would be far better as a play than as a movie.

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