Last night, I finally got around to watching All About Eve. I say, “finally got around to,” because the DVD from Netflix had been sitting around for a while like the nougat-filled chocolate in a box of See’s Candy that everyone avoids until all the more appealing alternatives have been taken.
The film came highly recommended by friends of ours with good taste, with the viewing tip that it was really about the role of criticism in art. I haven’t been thinking much about the role of criticism in art this summer, having just finished a year-long exploration of the history of criticism and theory from Schopenhauer to Hickey. Let’s just say that the back issues of October that I greedily scooped up at a thrift store in April are still sitting untouched on my bookshelf. This summer has been filled with travel and the Mountainside project, which hasn’t left much room for other, more recondite endeavors.
The “explores the role of criticism in art” endorsement — which a few months ago would have had me racing to the DVD player when the Netflix hit our mailbox — here, in the dog days of summer, was actually serving as a force field of resistance which only a combination of sheer physical exhaustion and the fact that it was too early to go to bed and there was no way I could handle another Wong Kar Wai film (Murray!), could overcome.
What a delight to find out, from the first frame, how purely enjoyable this film is: Bette Davis’s cutting wit and arch facial expressions; Marilyn Monroe’s pitch-perfect smile and simper; the sparkling dialogue; the subtle creep of a plot that gradually confirms your early, tingly suspicions; the mature, real-to-life (and real-in-life) love story that simmers below the plot surface; the fashion; the one-liners with their hit-it-outta-the-ballpark delivery (“Buckle your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”).
And, Hamiltons, you nailed it: this film is a fascinating, albeit cynical, exploration of the role of criticism in art. The theater critic Addison (“Nobody’s fool”) De Witt is a mastermind with the power to make or break the careers of the artists he writes about in the interest of his own career.
What I like the most about the film, though, is who comes out as the real winners in the end, and why. In a world where the praise that comes from being successful in art is often packaged as the best that life has to offer, it’s nice to see a more sophisticated and urbanely appealing alternative.