Attentive readers among you already know that StinkyLulu's a little queer for Tennessee Williams. Indeed, few artists in any medium hold more enduring fascination for Lu than Thomas Lanier Williams. A special few among you will understand. (To you others, well...Tennessee geeks are born not made so just suck it up.) Anyway, as tends to happen with obsessions, StinkyLulu has all kinds of theories about Tennessee Williams. Most of which deal with the myriad ways in which civilians misunderstand or underappreciate the Williams ouevre, usually as a result of casual misogyny or crass heterosexism. Theories upon which StinkyLu's capable of holding forth ad nauseum at the slightest provocation (just ask Criticlasm, he's experienced this first hand). But, with this week's (long overdue) profile, Supporting Actress Sundays has now officially inaugrated StinkyLulu's Tennessee Williams Theory #369: "The Girl Ain't No Innocent Bystander." Theory #369 holds that the young/er women of TW's early plays (Laura, Stella, Rosa) are actually the central characters in their respective dramatic worlds -- hermetic family worlds in which the promise of love transformatively disrupts the internecine dynamics of dysfunction. Typically, these "girl" characters are presented as innocent bystanders to this familial pathology, the walking wounded weathering the family firestorm. Theory #369 holds that, in fact, these "girls" actually are perhaps the most instrumental characters in the mix, though their "action" is made to seem negligible because of their age, gender and position in the family. Indeed, the perfect case study of Theory #369 might be seen in the performance of...
approximately 26 minutes and 13 seconds
roughly 22% of film's total running time
roughly 22% of film's total running time
Marisa Pavan plays Rosa, a young woman in full feminine bloom, desperate to escape the shadow her mother, the formidable Serafina (Anna Magnani in an elemental, enthralling performance).
The Rose Tattoo is premised upon the idea that erotic love offers the most potent confirmation that life is worth living. The story begins with Magnani's Serafina, turgid with delight that she's pregnant with the child of her adored husband while Pavan's Rosa -- all gawky adolescence -- is yet a child, naively awestruck by both her parents. When the husband/father is killed, Serafina transforms from a dynamic, proud woman to a shrieking, desperate emotional cripple. Here, the narrative jumps forward a handful of years to depict the squalid wreckage of Serafina's life, in which Rosa's resemblance to her dead father blinds the grief-stunned Serafina to the fact of her daughter's developing personhood. Serafina cannot bear to look at Rosa, for the girl so resembles her father, even as Serafina cannot bear to let Rosa from her sight, for her daughter is the only living reminder of Serafina's beloved.
For her part, Rosa reacts as any teenager might: she can't wait to escape the humiliation of her mother's controlling gaze. And, for Rosa, the occasion of her high school graduation is the opportunity for which she's been waiting. Rosa grasps the first accessory in reach that might aid in her escape: a sweetfaced sailor boy named Jack (the perfectly cute Ben Cooper).
Rosa and Jack embark on a typically insane adolescent whirlwind romance, falling in deepest swoon in the space of an afternoon.
Then, when Serafina -- through a fearsome intuition of which she is almost certainly unaware -- tries to confine her daughter instead of letting her graduate, Rosa realizes -- through an intuition of which she too is likely unaware -- that Jack is her ticket out...out of her mother's control, out of her invisibility imposed by her mother's grief.
But Rosa needs her mother's approval, and so returns with Jack in tow to introduce her new love to her mother.
And Serafina, remarkably, awakens ever so slightly to the reality of her daughter's passionate connection to this boy.
Serafina's acquantance with her daughter's new beau opens the door for what is the central arc of The Rose Tattoo, the story of Serafina's return to womanly life when she meets a man who is not her dead husband but who makes her feel, in some important way, as he did. While all this is happening, Rosa's out playing sailboat with her sailor.
You'll note, lovely reader, that throughout this summary I've assiduously avoided any discussion of Marisa Pavan's performance. And, frankly, I think that's because Pavan's work in the role does little to illuminate either the action or the character. Pavan's performance is, to my mind, a perfect misreading of the role. Pavan's Rosa is the innocent bystander, a sturdy reed withstanding the gale force winds of Magnani's Serafina. Which makes a kind of sense. BUT Rosa's name is Rosa in a play that's all about roses. She should be a prickling beauty, redolent and intimidating, the only creature capable of cowing her mother...
But Pavan's Rosa is tentative where she should burst with youthful confidence, shrill when she should be bold, defensive when she should be strident.
Pavan's Rosa becomes a supplicant, beseeching her mother's blessing. This is not, in and of itself, wrong. But Rosa's love for Jack does not need Serafina's blessing. Rather, Rosa's discovery of love is the blessing, a blessing for Serafina -- a miraculous revelation, really, of the lifeforce veiled by the caul of Serafina's grief.
But Pavan's Rosa provides little in the way of revelation, little light amidst the shrieking shadows. As Rosa, Pavan offers a functional but misguided performance, one that tips the balance of The Rose Tattoo, one of Tennessee's most stubbornly, redemptively hopeful works.