Stevie

Yesterday at noon, I watched part of a TV program called “Pioneers of Television.”  It showed some old sitcoms like “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy,” “Make Room For Daddy,” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”  It all seemed like an interesting program, but I didn’t want to spend the time watching all of it.

I sent in an order to Amazon for another Beatles T-shirt.  There aren’t too many more out there that I’m dying to get.

After I returned home yesterday, I turned on the TV to the Lakers-Cavaliers game.  Late in the game, it looked as though the Lakers were on their way to a win.  I fell asleep, and when I awoke, the Lakers were behind with about 20 seconds left.  They failed to get off a three-point shot with their last possession and ended up losing.

I sat down to watch “Stevie,” a movie from 1978 starring Glenda Jackson and based on a play by Hugh Whitemore about the poet Stevie Smith.  The focus is on the period of Stevie’s life when she lived with her Auntie Lion in her childhood house in Avondale near the Southgate railway station.  Mona Washbourne was especially memorable as Aunt.

The film has noticeable limitations as photographed play, but I have always liked it since I saw it at the Northside Theatre in the early 80’s.  Stevie has a suitor named Freddie, shown in flashback, but she ultimately rejects the idea of marriage to him.  When he warns her that she’ll face a life of loneliness, she says she’d rather have that lonely life than live in the shackles of suburban marriage.  She does not want to sit around lingering hopefully for love to come her way.  These moments remind me of “My Brilliant Career,” a movie that was made during the same period in the late 1970’s.

I liked the opening of the movie, which shows Stevie commuting home from her job as a secretary for a magazine publishing company.  She takes the train to Southgate Station and walks to the house.  This reminds me of the way I take BART from places like Hayward.  When Stevie arrives at the door, she announces that she’s home to Aunt.

There are only a few characters in the movie.  Besides Stevie, Aunt, and Freddie, there is really only one other, The Man, played by Trevor Howard, a friend of Stevie’s who gives her rides to her poetry readings.  Trevor Howard is an old man who seems very far removed from “Brief Encounter” or “The Great Escape.”  I like his presence.

I am so sick of movies about teenagers and pregnant young women that I welcomed this movie.  What seems missing, though, is Stevie’s sister Molly.  We never meet her.

We get only the briefest of glimpses of Stevie’s drawings, which are included in her collected volumes of poems.

There’s a lot of eating and drinking in between all the memories, sherry and gin and pudding and tea.  Those are many of the pleasures in a life that is isolated.  Stevie seems to get only limited satisfaction from writing, as she comes to the painful realization that she is “an ordinary mortal just like everyone else.”

Glenda Jackson gives a very fine performance, possibly the best of her career.  She looks into the camera to seemingly speak directly to us from time to time, and this breaking down of the wall is mostly engaging, even though it flirts with pretentious quality.  Glenda Jackson was one of my favorite actresses at one time, for this film and for “Women in Love,” I would say.

Stevie’s life becomes quieter and sadder as everyone is affected by age and declining health.  I think perhaps the weakest section of the film comes just before the end, when she leaves Avondale to care for her sick sister Molly.

Stevie Smith would become ill, suffering from a brain tumor, and lose the power of speech before she died at sixty-eight in 1971.  After an extensive search through her house in Palmers Green, it was determined that she did not leave behind any unpublished work except for one last poem, “Come Death.”

Yes, this movie has some flaws and parts that drag on a bit, but I still have the greatest affection for it.  I would love to see its release on DVD, along with “Travels with My Aunt.”

I had The Simpsons on the tube last night as I typed away on my computer, and it seemed as though there was a bit of revision of their history, with Marge’s going off to college.  Amazingly, there were jokes about the 90’s in the episode.  I thought that Homer and Marge went straight from their Goodbye Yellow Brick Road prom to family life in Springfield.

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