Since the dawn of time feuds have left us endlessly entertained. Who can forget lines from our childhood like “What’s your e-mail, Lizzie? Lizzie@biggiantloser.com?” (Lizzie Mcguire). Iconic. Celebrity feuds have provided us with an endless amount of salacious gossip for decades. Never forget Mariah Carey’s diss track “Obsessed” to Drake’s recent clap back “Back to Back”. Celeb feuds have had us all taking sides and provided us with some classic music. And while they have been taken to new – and greater – heights with the invention of the internet and the growth of Twitter, it’s important to pay tribute to the celebrity feuds that came before us. In FX’s Feud we get to witness one of the greatest and lasting feuds in celebrity history between famed starlets Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Crawford and Davis make the month-long feuds that seem to pop every day look like child’s play
Feud follows the proposed history of the decade’s long feud between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) that culminates while they are both in their 60’s and filming Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The series centers around the struggle of sexism and ageism in Hollywood. Both women have been struggling to find parts of the magnitude that they have become accustomed to. There are parallels between the aging starlets and the characters they play in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? as well as Davis’s most renowned and iconic role in the blockbuster hit All About Eve. While Hollywood seems to think that Crawford and Davis are too old to be the stars they once were, by joining forces they manage to overcome these doubts and create a breakout success with their new film. But all too soon their director, Robert Aldrich, and the studio head Jack Warner, of Warner Brothers, manage to pit the aging starlets against one another to maintain control over the film and generate free press for their movie.
“Friends? You think it’s friendship I want from her? Is that what you think? You’re wrong; it’s respect. It’s the only thing I ever wanted from her or any of them for that matter. It’s the one thing I’ve never got.”
While Davis is considered the more serious actress, taken seriously by her peers, Crawford is the glamourous starlet of classic Hollywood who craves the gravitas and respect that Davis has in the industry. This jealousy is what sparks Crawford’s side of the feud; Davis retaliates as Crawford gets under her skin. Crawford’s need to prove herself equal to Davis reaches its climactic point when Crawford manages to convince the academy to give the Oscar for Best Actress to Anne Bancroft over Davis even though Davis would have won for her role in their joint film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Crawford sabotages Davis’ chance at being the first woman to win three academy awards for Best Actress. Crawford feels that she does not get the same respect that it is awarded to Davis and not being nominated for an Oscar is a manifestation of this grudge. To rectify the perceived slight Crawford sabotages one of her comeback film’s Oscar nominations in order to accept the award on behalf of Anne Bancroft, effectively usurping Davis and establishing herself as superior, in her own mind at least.
The television show represents Crawford as having a tragic backstory, and even hints at the possibility of her having done porn to pay for food and rent as a teenager. Crawford had to claw her way to success as an actress. As she says to her brother Hal when he threatens to leak her ‘stag film’, “I have never in my life been lucky”. The heartbreaking tragedy of Crawford’s life is indicated in the tumultuous relationship with her children. Crawford seems to use her kids to fill the void left by an unfortunate childhood. While her character can be brave and inspirational in the face of adversity she is generally perceived as the twisted and grotesque product of the misogynistic and ageist culture that plagues Hollywood.
“Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.”
Bette Davis’s side of the feud focuses on her dislike Crawford. In Feud, she claims that no one can get under her skin like Crawford. She eventually tells Crawford of her admiration and respect for her as an actress, but it’s clear she doesn’t respect her as a person. In Davis’s view, Crawford is a fame grubbing celebrity too focused on glamour. Davis considers herself a more serious actress to a fault. Davis kicked her husband off of a project because of his poor acting skills and seemed willing to do the same to her daughter in Feud. Her zeal for her art while admirable is also her greatest fault. This personal failing leads to four divorces and the estrangement from her daughter Barbara.
In their personal lives, Crawford and Davis are remarkably similar. Both had four marriages and multiple children. Both of them had daughters, Christina Crawford and Barbara Davis, who wrote books condemning their respective mothers. Crawford’s daughter wrote the book “Mommie Dearest” which would later be adapted to film. Their striking similarities in their personal lives as well as their paralleled struggles to further careers while being classified as “hags”, makes the dichotomy between the two seem trivial. Further parallels between Crawford and Davis, and the characters they play become shockingly evident. Both are aging starlets trapped in a struggle to the death. In Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it’s metaphorical while with Crawford and Davis are in the metaphorical death of their careers. Similarly, Davis references her iconic role as Eve in All About Eve, that she thought she would never become the aging starlet fantasizing about the past.
“No one’s looking to cast women our age. But together, they wouldn’t dare say no. We need each other, Bette.”
Feud is an excellent period drama that accurately depicts how the competitive atmosphere in Hollywood results in a creatively restrictive environment for women. Even though they both have the same goals they’re unable to overcome their differences because of the stifling misogynistic attitude of Hollywood and the further interference of Jack Warner and Robert Aldrich. Feud is a lesson in what we allow our culture turn us into, in an environment as cutthroat and competitive as Hollywood it is more likely that two starlets will strangle each other rather than let the other one thrive.
My Rating: 9/10