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12 Angry Men
A Streetcar Named Desire
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A Streetcar Named Desire
Project Submitted By Marijke Blokker
"A Streetcar Named Desire"
Elia Kazan’s 1951 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play, "A Streetcar Named Desire", stars
Blanche DuBois (Leigh) moves in with her sister Stella (Hunter) and Stella’s abusive husband Stanley Kowalski (Brando) in a run down section of New Orleans.
Blanche arrives obviously distraught and explains that her strange behavior and wavering mood is the result of her recent loss of the family’s plantation.
Through a series of altercations with Stanley, a new romance, and the announcement of Stella’s pregnancy, Blanche slowly begins to break down, moving farther away from reality.
Blanche's attempt to forget her troubled past and move on to start anew is quickly stopped when
Stanley discovers the true reason why Blanche left her hometown. Stnaley reveals the truth to Stella and his good friend Mitch, who has been courting Blanche, thus, her already shrinking sanity breaks and Blanche is taken away by the state.
Without having read or seen the play I would describe this film as a phenomenal. The acting by Kim Hunter, Vivien Leigh, and Marlon Brando is exceptional. Particularly Brando's portrayal of the dark, sexual, animalistic Stanley is so well crafted that you are drawn into each scene as Stanley, with his sweat and muscles accentuated by his torn shirt, stomps around grunting and smashing his fists into anything around him. Leigh is just as convincing as the fragile Southern Belle, Blanche on the verge of a complete mental break down. The close ups of Blanche as she begins to go into a fit of insanity helps convey the terror that she feels as she has some realization that she is losing control. Considering the time that the film was made (1951), Kazan does a good job of touching on aspects of humanity (overly sexual heros, madness) that had not yet been explored in American culture.
While the story itself was somewhat confusing at times, especially before we are aware that Blanche is losing her grip on reality, it explored things that perhaps make people too uncomfortable to discuss, much less make a film about. The abusive relationship between Stella and Stanley is twisted, but also a realistic portrayal of what many abusive relationships look like, i.e. the man beats the woman and begs for forgiveness claiming he can't live without her and the woman comes running back. Despite the abuse, it appeared as though Stella and Stanley were truly in love. Blanche's shady past and secret surrounding her husband's death surface just in time for us to understand why she is so close to losing what little sanity she has left. Of course the rape of Blanche by Stanley is disturbing and calls into question just how animalistic Stanley really is, but Stella's refusal to return to Stanley in the end offers some sort of reconciliation for her previous returns to Stanely. Overall this film was well made and acted, while also offering character depth and a unique story line.
The film opens with the fragile Blanche DuBois exiting a train and after being asked if she is lost she responds "They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields." Immediately there is a great deal of symbolism in the first line of dialoge from Blanche. The streetcar named Desire represents what Blanche is searching for as she left her home in Mississippi and moves in with her sister and brother-in-law. The streetcar named Cemeteries is symbolic for the disgraced and lonely Blanche that she presumably left behind in Mississippi. The street Elysian Fields is perhaps what Blanche is searching for, a new beginning, or a new love. From the very beginning we are told that Blanche desires something, wants to forget some part of her past, and has hope for something new. It can be assumed that all of these symbols are referring to Blanche as she is the one who has to journey on these different streetcars to her final destination at Elysian Fields. In essence, Blanche's journey to her sister's place is only the beginning of her much harder and longer journey that awaits her inside the run down violent home of Stella and Stanley.
Desire seems to be one of the main themes in the film, and not just for Blanche but also for Stanley, Stella, and Blanche's soon to be new boyfriend, Mitch (
). For Stanley having money is a strong desire, so much that he goes on about the Napoleonic code when he believes that he's been swindled out of Stella's family inheritance. Blanche attempts to explain that she lost the family plantation, Belle Reve, but Stanley insists that her inability to provide papers proves that they are being cheated out of money. After Blanche and Stanley have been butting heads for weeks, Stanley goes into a rage during a poker game and begins to beat Stella. Stella is rescued by her neighbor who takes her and Blanche in, but after the famous scene where Stanley stands outside in the pouring rain and screams Stella's name repeatedly, Stella folds and goes to him. Stanley asserts his need or perhaps desire for Stella in this scene when he tells her, "Don't ever leave me, baby." Toward the end of the film after another explosive episode by Stanley he tells Stella, "Honey, it's gonna be so sweet when we can get them colored lights going with nobody's sister behind the curtains to hear us." What Stanley really desires is for things to go back to how they were before Blanche came to stay with them. He wants his privacy and his submissive wife back.
Stella seems to want happiness, but doesn't really know how to get it. She wants to please others so much that she sacrifices her own well being. Stella dotes on Blanche, claiming that she enjoys waiting on her, and is so concerned about her sisters health that she does not want Blanche to know about her pregnancy. It isn't until the end of the film that Stella, standing outside holding her newborn baby, decides to do what she truly desires and leaves Stanley. Perhaps Stella's desire all along was for some independence, a way to establish herself as an individual in the world. Like Stella, Mitch is a somewhat difficult character to figure out. He is obviously struggling with his mother's crumbling health and fears the emptiness that he will feel when she dies. Because he fears loneliness so much he immediately attaches himself to Blanche so that he can fill the void that will appear when his mother dies. Mitch simply wants to be loved, to have some companionship and to feel important.
In 1951 a film like "A Streetcar Named Desire" stands out as it explores contoversial themes in a very realistic way. Sexual desire is a huge part of the film and is evident in all the characters. Even with the issues of censorship Kazan manages to portray these raw, sexual desires that seem to be equated with negativity for all the characters. Stanley and Stella's sexual desire for each other results in the continuance of an abusive relationship, while Blanches sexual desire, which is somewhat displayed as sexual deviance when we learn about the affair she had with her 17 year old student, is equated with the loss of sanity. Kazan's fearless telling of overly sexualized characters, physical and sexual abuse, and the downward spiral toward insanity sets this film apart from others of its' time.
Cahir, Linda C. “The Artful Rerouting of A Streetcar Named Desire”
Literature Film Quarterly
Vol. 22, No. 2, (1994), pp. 72-77
Cahir explains what is lost due to censorship in the film version of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
She details the negative affect that the censored dialogue has on the storyline and emotional connection of the film.
Leff, Leonard J. “And Transfer to Cemetery: The ‘Streetcars Named Desire’”
Vol. 55, No. 3, (Spring, 2002), pp. 29-37
This article discusses the issues of censorship and the restoration of films that were censored in the past.
Particularly this article deals with the problems that occurred when "A Streetcar Named Desire" was adapted from the play to the film, as well as, the restoring that was done in the 1993 version of the film.
Leibman, Nina C. “Sexual Misdemeanor/Psychoanalytic Felony”
, Vol. 26, No.
2, (Winter, 1987), pp. 27-38
This article discusses the emergence of psychoanalysis in film studies, particularly focusing on the influence of Freudian theories.
Leibman breaks down the roles of men and women in their portrayals of madness or insanity, noting that there are specific traits assigned to both.
Men’s madness is usually the result of “guilt complexes,” while women lose sanity as a punishment for being overly sexualized.
The article discusses madness in terms of Blanche’s character in "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Kazan on Directing
, Alfred A. Knopf Random House, New York, 2009
Here we hear from the writer/director himself about the details and thought process that went in to the writing and directing of his many plays and films, including "A Streetcar Named Desire." Kazan analyses each of his works from his perspective, which offers a unique lens from which to view "A Streetcar named Desire."
Kolin, Philip C.
Tennessee Williams: A Guide to Research and Performance,
Greenwood Press, 1998
This book discusses the plays wriiten by Tennessee Williams, including his famous play "A Streetcar Named Desire." The chapter that deals with "A Streetcar Named Desire" explores the psychological and sexual aspects of the play that were new to American culture at the time.
When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous Story of "A Streetcar Named Desire"
St. Martin's Press, 2005
This book explores the behind the scenes view of the actors, director and playwrite. It gives an indepth analysis of the insanity and sexuality depicted in the play and film, along with offering new ways of looking at the story.
Dirks, Tim "The Greatest Films, The "Greatest" and the "Best" in Cineamtic History"
This site gives a nice overview of the film "A Streetcar Named Desire" and offers some insight to the thematic elements of the production. The site also offers an overview of the actors and does a decent character analysis of the main actors in the film.
Movie Reviews, "A Streetcar Named Desire" Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert reviews the film "A Streetcar Named Desire" and offers a look into the lives and background of the actors, director and playwrite.
"The Internet Movie Database: IMDB"
There are quite a few details and images of the actors on this site, but the synopsis and plot summary of the film is definitely helpful if you want to have an overview of the move.
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