Elizabeth Taylor | Film | Nathaniel Rogers | News

Movies: Elizabeth Taylor, A True "Giant"

Liz holds court, a common occurrence.

...would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

La Liz
By now you've read the obituaries, scoured the career appraisals, maybe you've put in a DVD, donated to her charity in lieu of flowers, wiped away a tear, or done something silly to commemorate her. Maybe you've just marvelled at how difficult it is to wrap one's head around the loss of a true Giant, capital and italics intended, and not just because that's one of the only titles in her filmography that doubles as an apt descriptor of its star. 

A friend of mine told me last month when she was dramatically hospitalized on Oscar weekend, that he'd been commissioned to write an obit (just in case). I actually felt bad for him. "You'll never be paid," I said, buying into her mythos wholeheartedly. "Liz survives everything." So her death on Wednesday morning still came as a shock. How many other 79 year olds seemed like they were going to live forever?

And here is the happy solace for those mourning the loss of true big screen immortals; they do live forever, albeit only in legacy and iconography.

ImnotlikeanyoneimmeLaurence Harvey and Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8 (1960)

"You're just like all the rest, aren't you?"
"I'm not like anyone else. I'm me."

Truer words have rarely been spoken onscreen. More, AFTER THE JUMP...

This farewell is illustrated with pictures from one of her most-derided films BUtterfield 8 (1960), because it all but demands a critical reappraisal. At the very least those of us who weren't alive during its run can only (correctly?) imagine that her work as testy callgirl "Gloria Wandrous" inspired many a drag queen, with its in-your-face vulgarity "Face it Mama, I was the slut of all time!", performative abandon and absurd beauty.

Lizbadreputation In every article you read about the movie queen BUtterfield 8 is called a "stinker" and her first Oscar win is deemed a panicky Academy decision since she was was gravely ill during the voting. Whether or not those now common-wisdom assumptions are true, it just reminds us that a witty one-liner -- and Taylor herself knew from those --  can stick. Did this particular performance's reputation ever recover from Shirley Maclaine's bitchslap when her Oscar bid for The Apartment failed?

"I lost to a tracheotomy."

So give any of her movies a spin this week. Raise a glass to Gloria, Martha, Maggie the Cat, Cleopatra, Velvet Brown, Angela Vickers and all the other characters that Elizabeth Taylor brought to such vivid unruly life.

A few more of her movie titles could describe the star as well as Giant, come to think of it: The VIPS qualifies for obvious reasons; Boom because wherever she went, fireworks; and A Place in the Sun. Who was more obviously lit by the heavens? Her film debut at age ten is erroneously titled, though. It was called There's One Born Every Minute. Oh but there isn't. And there never will be again.

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  1. Watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof again last night. Her death signals the end of an era. I can't imagine anyone alive today that I could watch on screen so mesmerized by her beauty and skill. The fact her compassion outshone even her looks makes her a true legend.

    Rest in peace Elizabeth.

    Posted by: Alisdair | Mar 24, 2011 7:16:15 PM

  2. Elizabeth Taylor was the last of the true Hollywood stars. What they call stars today are a joke by comparison. I was aware of Elizabeth while growing up, but she permanently endeared herself to me when she took on the establishment over HIV/AIDS. We should all strive to be as aware and helpful as Dame Elizabeth Taylor proved to be.

    Posted by: jsb | Mar 24, 2011 9:44:39 PM

  3. Butterfield 8 is a tawdry movie that starts off fairly strong - thanks to Taylor, mostly - then slowly comes unraveled in its melodrama and moralizing. But overall it's enjoyable, and that's mostly due to the actors, who do their best with a silly script. Taylor really does deliver an award-caliber performance.

    Yeah The Apartment is a better film, no question, but I think Taylor deserved an award just for delivering such a mesmerizing performance in such a piece of crap.

    Posted by: Jacknasty | Mar 24, 2011 10:07:51 PM

  4. The day after her death my boyfriend, who is spanish, asked my whether she was british or american. i had to stop and realise that i didn't really know the answer, a bit of both I told him due to her family background, birth, domicle and legal nationality.

    She was one of those wonderful creations of the 19th and 20th centuries that belonged a little on both sides of the atlantic, like Churchill and TS Elliot or Cary Grant.

    Perhaps that was part of her charm, she was a blend of (mostly) the best bits of both cultures, a little bit old school but open and relaxed in the american way. A true star.

    Posted by: arch | Mar 25, 2011 8:39:15 AM

  5. When another one-of-a-kind [and devoted friend to our Community], Eartha Kitt....whom I once knew...died a couple of years ago, I was shocked because, even tho slightly older than Ms. Taylor, I'd just seen her in concert a year before and she was better than ever. And, of course, the two had a special mutual gay friend: James Dean.

    Posted by: Michael@LeonardMatlovich.com | Mar 25, 2011 10:02:18 AM

  6. I recall seeing BUtterfield 8 and Suddenly Last Summer as a kid -- and getting a kind of premonition of S-E-X. Elizabeth OOZED it. Not the sweet soft Marilyn Monroe version, but the REAL HOT NASTY WONDERFUL THING. Know what I mean?

    Posted by: Michael in Toronto | Mar 25, 2011 11:33:34 AM

  7. Oh Elizabeth, she was good.
    She turned most men to standing wood
    And those she didn't charm that way
    Went into orbit anyway.

    Thanks for your life my dear.

    Posted by: Bear | Apr 16, 2011 9:03:27 PM

  8. In a world that often over hypes...she was the real deal...a true super star…an enormously talented actress…a courageous humanitarian…and a great beauty with an inner radiance that made her simply breathtaking…

    Posted by: Robert | Sep 19, 2011 12:01:49 PM

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