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A delightfully droll tale starring the incomparable Shelley Duvall
This is a wonderfully droll tale based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, of the same title. Subsequently, it was filmed again twice. This version runs 45 minutes according to IMDb, though 49 minutes as issued on the DVD (a 'director's cut'?). The story was filmed in Polish as BERENIKA in 1995, which ran 37 minutes. And in 2014, it was filmed again in a 9 minute version. (The latter two have not been reviewed on IMDb. Fitzgerald's works came out of copyright in 2010, which may be a factor in someone making a 9 minute film based on one of his stories.) It seems that as the years go by, Fitzgerald's short story has been getting shorter and shorter. Perhaps that is something to do with the diminishing attention spans of people now addicted to text massaging and 'sound bites'. I wonder if the next filming of this short story can possibly run for more than 2 minutes. Perhaps by 2050, it will be down to twenty seconds, just about time enough to ruffle, though not to bob, one's hair. This film succeeds because of the superb Shelley Duvall, who plays Bernice. The story is set in the year 1919 amongst the privileged young people of 'good families' in some unnamed Southern town in America. Fitzgerald doubtless drew on his familiarity with the milieu from which his wife Zelda came in Montgomery, Alabama. The film however makes no effort to have the characters speak with Southern accents, which does certainly diminish the authenticity of the piece. Duvall herself comes from Texas, so she speaks with a soft accent which might just about be 'almost Southern', but not really. In any case, one can forgive Duvall almost any deficiency, even that of not having an Alabama accent, because she is unique amongst American actresses, rivalled only slightly by Sissy Spacek, in being at the very pinnacle of subtle gnomic humour. There is simply no one like her, not even, as far as I know, in real life (if Life is truly real, that is). Humour is in diminishing supply these days in America, and as the years go by, the American public probably appreciates Shelley Duvall less and less. Nowadays when I make my usual sardonic jokes to American friends they never realize I am joking anymore. Humour has simply evaporated, washed away by a tide of hate, as the 'culture wars' of the USA worsen and sink in a sea of swirling corrosive vitriol. Nobody seems to laugh anymore. Oh well, call me old-fashioned, but I like a good laugh, and I rarely have as many as I do when I watch Shelley Duvall in any film whatever. She is so beautifully odd, 'unlike others', verging on being an extraterrestrial from a truly fun planet, that she is frankly one of the American film industry's most precious assets. But she has not appeared in anything since 2002, and what does that tell us about how things are going in Tinseltown? The story of Bernice is of an odd shy girl who is visiting her first cousin, who is a fun-loving flapper (probably based directly upon Fitzgerald's wife Zelda, who was a notorious 'raver', as we would say in today's lingo). The story may even be derived from a real character and a real incident. Bernice is no good at conversation, is a wallflower by nature, sitting topped by masses of luxuriant hair in the corner watching the other young ones have fun at dances. (Those dances are of course demure by our modern standards.) Her cousin gets fed up with her and suggests she go home because she is a party-pooper. But Bernice decides to ask her cousin for lessons in how to be popular and get the boys interested in her. The vain cousin is delighted to be asked to fulfill this role of social superiority, and in a wicked moment of inspiration even suggests that Bernice bob her hair. One needs here to have it explained to one that in 1919 girls who bobbed their hair were considered to be not only racy but immoral. No, I am not joking, that is what 'proper society' really thought then. I was fortunate to know Anita Loos fairly well when I was young, and she was one of the first people to bob her hair in America. She still kept her hair like that, with her trademark fringe as well, for the remainder of her life. Later, Louise Brooks in her silent films of the late 1920s, would, with her bobbed hair and added fringe (adopted from Anita Loos, who originated the fringe), etch the wickedness of such a hair style with the acid of her sexuality into the world's psyche. By that time, bobbed hair had truly become 'wicked', and it represented the threat of women's sexual and social emancipation which scared all the matrons of America to death, titillated all the men, and elicited frowns from all 'decent' girls who feared the vamps who might steal their husbands and fiancees. So in this film, throwing down the challenge to the shy and awkward Bernice of bobbing her hair becomes an issue of overwhelming social importance. Will she or won't she rise to that impossible challenge, and exceed the wildest feats of her flapper rivals? It is one of those funny/sad stories and it certainly has a twist in the tail, or should I say in the braid? I dare not reveal how it really ends, for one ending unexpectedly leads to another. What wicked satire, how naughty Scott was! And what did Zelda think of his making fun of her like that? This film is a beautiful addition to the canon of filmed classic American short stories for television, supported by the National Endowment of the Arts back in the days when it still recognised art and, apparently, jokes as well.
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