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.