Long Day's Journey into Night: Performances

A couple of nights ago, I watched Long Day's Journey into Night.

I've written about how great art produces in me a sensation of erasure (the mental Etch-a-Sketch). This play/film certainly did. I had shied away from watching it in the past, mostly because I was worried that I'd be sucked into all the emotional labor. I was, but I was able to aestheticize it, I guess, due to the performances.

I was always able to perceive that performance layer of it -- in other words, the actors didn't manage to slip underneath the characters -- especially in the case of Katharine Hepburn. This is due to the fact that she's a star, not anything about her performance, which was stunning. Her face, for example, would instantly go from a placid, faraway look as she remembered the past to a scrunched-up, tortured look as she snapped back into the present. Ralph Richardson's performance was distracting in that he was overacting, but I understand that that's part of the character, a would-have-been Shakespearean actor.

Jason Robards' performance was, apparently, the one that made him famous, and it was definitely great, but I liked Dean Stockwell's performance even more, particularly the scene in which he recites Baudelaire to his father. Also, who knew Stockwell was so hot back then?

Ultimately, I guess it turns out I don't have all that much to say about the film, only some brief observations:

1. The decision to zoom the camera way out, then back in, then way out again was an unusual one, but understandable given the withdrawal of Mary Tyrone during her monologue at the end.

2. I found myself wondering if that play could even be written or imagined now. Do families ever engage that deeply with each other anymore? (Or did they then, for that matter?) I'm thinking particularly of the card game scene between Edmund and James near the end. Wouldn't the 23-year-old son, upon arriving home, just creep upstairs to his room and listen to some music on headphones, or get on the internet, or watch some TV?

3. Mary Tyrone says at least twice during the film that she is "getting fat," has to have the seams of all her dresses let out, and that it's good for her not to eat. Hepburn didn't do a Zellweger and gain any weight for this role; she's as slender as ever. It made me wonder about "beauty standards" back then, which I have heard were different in the 1930s and 1940s, but which I've long suspected weren't really all that different (feminist revisionist history, being nostalgic for a past that never was, etc.). Or, on the other hand, was Mary Tyrone meant to be played by a woman who was actually overweight? (Yes, I understand that her lack of appetite in the dining scenes was likely due to her addiction, but that she was able to cite "getting fat" as a plausible excuse for not eating must be indicative of something.)