Tuesday, January 28, 2014

American Horror Story: Coven

Is it All About Eve taken by the wind?

The Coven Mansion in New Orleans
     Glee hit a groove that turned into a rut that has become a ditch whereas Ryan Murphy’s other current major creation keeps being reinvented annually as a half season.  After the charnel house set of last year’s Asylum – so grim that I gave
up on it – Coven is as sharp and as gleaming as a stiletto, one that a supermodel might carry.  This season has been primarily set in a Garden District mansion that Neil shot years ago for a catalogue (it’s a small world when time is unaccounted for) and that white-on-white background has witnessed the most diverse cast on TV battling for Supreme power.

     The primary conflict has been about a group of witches (a coven plus others) in New Orleans trying to survive, while figuring out which one will be the next leader (Supreme). Talented women balancing careers and romantic relationships, fearful about their mortality (or lack thereof), and mentoring/competing with a younger generation sure sounds like All About Eve.  

Angela Bassett, Jessica Lange, and Kathy Bates
     Brilliant, mercurial Margo (Bette Davis) shows up as both Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) and Marie Leveau (Angela Bassett), while kind, supportive Karen (Celeste Holm) finds representation in Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) and Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy).  Wisecracking Birdie (Thelma Ritter) ends up as all head in Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates).  Eve (Anne Baxter) turns into a bevy of characters:  Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), and Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts).  The wild card Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe) turns into Misty Day (Lily Rabe), worshipper of Stevie Nicks, who turns up as herself.

A Scene from All About Eve
     A number of critics have argued that All About Eve is homophobic in that Eve and Addison DeWitt are the villains respectively trying to break up Margo & Bill and Karen & Lloyd and cynically control Margo.  I think that’s pushing the story a bit.  There are hints that Eve might be a little too willing to serve Margo and be served by Phoebe, but she spends most of the movie trying to get it on with Bill and then Lloyd.  Addison is played by George Sanders, who always seemed like a queen on screen, though he was quite straight off.  However, it’s implied that his squiring of Miss Casswell and, to a lesser extent, Eve will be reciprocated with sexual favors.  Neither sexual orientation nor male/female relationships is the point of Eve; it’s about the complexity of female relationships.  The men are merely love interests, which turns the traditional Hollywood gender roles 180 degrees.  

     The men in Coven are also love interests for the most part, though they are homicidal.  The Addison exception is Harrison Renard (Michael Cristofer), who wants to control the women by destroying them, has an effete manner, and only hangs with younger men, but not his son from whom he’s emotionally distant.  Yeah, I know, he’s probably only a Zeus type looking to train an Apollo type to take over.

     Wednesday is the finale where the various Eves, Karens, and Miss Casswell perform the seven tasks, which include surviving self-immolation, to take over as Margo.  

Maybe Bette Davis will show up.  That would be the ultimate surprise.

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