Saturday, November 22, 2008
The Veronica Lake Effect
What is it about Veronica Lake that makes her so completely unlike all other 1940's blonde femme fatales? Something in her gaze reflects a sweet tender concern; something in her voice casts a gossamer warmth--the cinematic equivalent of a warm shoulder to weep yourself to sleep into-- even as her aura, face and beautiful blonde hair freeze you where you sit like a blast of Arctic air.
So many of her directors seemed determined to hide her beautiful hair in strict buns, or pulled under stupid hats and turbans. Perhaps her hairstyles reflected the tenseness and repression of the times. Veronica Lake's long blonde hair shone like a moon that could turn the tides, and so was kept locked up tight in buns of steel and bizarre hats. Repression hates changing tides. When Lake's hair was free it could wash all the sins of the depression and the war away, as in the amazing bathrobe scene of Sullivan's Travels (which is so aptly captured in Starlet Showcase). But when her hair was hidden, Alan Ladd sulked and Brian Donlevy and Joel MaCrea shot pained glances.
If my text is incoherent, forgive me. I've got a bad cold and am delirious... which I don't mind a bit with the cinematic ghost of Veronica Lake hovering above me on the TV screen. But what is it about her? Her voice always seems distant and far away, as if it was dubbed in later by the ghost of a flower. Rene Clair must have tried to access this supernatural power in I Married a Witch, because the film seems primed to take off into some alternate dimension. It never succeeds totally, but it spawned that TV show, Bewitched. Goddamn Dick York for his part in emasculating the male ego ideal of this great nation! Frederic March is at least a stronger force than Jimmy Stewart in Bell Book and Candle. Kim Novak has some of this weird Veronica Lake magic, but it's not the same brand.
Do you, dear reader, dare assume there are no such things as witches? Veronica Lake was a witch!!!! Maybe that's why she's such perfect company in the fires of a late November fever!
P.S. Here's a true fact about me: Some of my relatives (on my father's side) were tried and hung as witches in Salem, Mass, back in the day (Mary Easty was hung; Mary Edwards escaped). My great grandmother, who recently died at 107, and my grandmother, now 94, both have inherited some of this weird magical daemonic power that Veronica Lake had. Is this why we like some stars over others? Genetics? We feel emotions through cinema's stars as if they were vessels, proxies; stand-ins for our dream selves. Now let's presume that, on an unconscious level, you can connect yourself through the past to these moving images of people long dead... is that not itself a form of black magic? To connect your soul with that of Veronica Lake is to merge with the past, facilitating not just the common shallow depth unconscious drive of returning to the womb, but the deep end unconscious drive of merging with the womb behind your mom's womb, back further still, behind you great grandmother's womb, to all-seeing I am Womb, from which all beings come, and from which comes birth, thought, expression, action, life, death, retention, release, all just facets of the same ever-sparkling tinsel-toed diamond?
Imagine your own ancient ancestors who lived before telephones and electricity -- what would they think if they could see you now? They couldn't see you if they tried, and oh how they tried. They tried with crystal balls but they couldn't look that far ahead. But we can see them, all the way back when they were young and pretty. Just as I can connect to the gossamer image of Veronica Lake through my fevered viewing of This Gun for Hire, so we can see our own ancestors, and marvel at the pre-digital age. And if this is true, it is also and obviously true that future generations of ourselves are right now looking back at us, peering through the silvery veils of screening room time to marvel at the age of tools and celluloid and pixelated flesh; a time before all was pure thought; a time when man and machine were separate entities; a time before the cleansing hand of 2012 came and washed it all away until there was nothing, just the eternal blazing brilliance of her blond and wavy hair, the peaceful calm stillness of a Veronica Lake.