When Blue Jasmine rides A streetcar named Desire!
written by Souranath Banerjee
As I was watching the 1951 classic A Streetcar Named Desire (again), this time I couldn’t help but pause over this particular dialogue.
“Why, I guess he’s just not the type that goes for jasmine perfume”
In 1951 little did Vivien Leigh knew that Miss Blanche du Bois (the name of her character in A Streetcar Named Desire) would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its past Oscar glory (Vivien Leigh won the Oscar in the best actress category that year) and soar high to the same heights (since Cate Blanchett also won the Oscar in the best actress category) – only this time her character’s name will be Jasmine!
Yes, in 2013 Woody Allen directed Blue Jasmine which in many ways is a modern and superficial comic version of the age-old classic A streetcar named desire directed by Elia Kazan. And Cate Blanchett masterfully plays the delusional sister who has lost everything in life and yet awaits to loose a lot more.
Basic story structure. (This fits perfectly for both the films)
It is the story of a middle-aged woman who is robbed from her wealth, relations and social status; she comes to stay with her sister (her only family) in a desperate effort to live a better life.
She is too classy and refined for her new environment and thus has difficulty to cope up with her sister’s middle-class husbands/boyfriends. In her desperate attempt to survive she tries her best to fall in love. But unfortunately her scandalous past creeps up and crushes her sugary dreams of a happy future.
In the end she is more damaged than ever; delusional, helpless and alone in the unsympathetic world. A slow and brutal tale of human degradation, of failure and disappointment marvelously captured by both Elia Kazan and Woody Allen through their individualistic cinematic approach.
Personally I am so disturbed by the tragic ending(s). In a way it’s so real and possible – that’s why all the more scary.
Jasmine Vs Blanche.
The basic contrast between Jasmine (in Blue Jasmine) and Blanche (in A streetcar named desire) lies in the core reason of their complexity.
For instance Jasmine’s primary problem is the forced degradation of her social status/class. She declares herself broke but couldn’t get rid of her past expensive habits of flying first-class, tipping her taxi driver extra-good, carrying expensive fashionable bags; and she seems to have lost touch with the fact that people actually do work for their living.
On the other hand Blanche’s principal complication is related to her own fading looks (the negative effects of aging) which according to her leads to lack of companionship. She needs make-up and hot baths in regular intervals; extremely conscious about her looks, she craves compliments for her face, figure, hair, clothes, jewelries …
They were both happy in their own worlds but alas! – they are bankrupt and they both carry the burden of the tainted hidden secrets from their pasts. Their back-stories are pretty different but equally disturbing and they often intend to survive their past memories by having a drink or two.
“Who do you have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon?” – Jasmine.
At the very beginning Jasmine flies from New York to San Francisco to her sister’s place blabbering all about her broken life story, then she takes the regular taxi to arrive at her destination. Whereas Blanche takes the train from Auriol to New Orleans and then takes the dramatically named streetcar called Desire to reach her destination.
Blanche gets to arrive in a much more dramatic way (even her first appearance is very noticeable as she mysteriously appears from behind the smokes and the crowd).
I feel that the amount of emotional drama is much more heightened as Elia Kazan (very much intentionally) compels us to take a roller-coaster ride through a series of extreme melodramatic highs and lows of emotions in his film A street car named desire. On contrary in Blue Jasmine (I am sure it’s again a deliberate decision) Woody Allen keeps all of it a tad subtle and wickedly comic, but mind you the overall emotional effect the film delivers is not played softly at all.
Though Jasmine doesn’t have to face any physical violence (rape) as compared to unfortunate Blanche, but the rejection from their respective lovers, the dismissal from their sisters as well as the rest of the society is enough for them to loose their mind completely.
In Blue Jasmine the informative flashbacks are cleverly used in regular intervals to break the linear pattern of storytelling. Whereas in A streetcar named desire the vocal echo of certain words and memories (and also the sound of a shot fired) are beautifully layered as a continuous remembrance of the past and a constant proof of Blanche’s unstable mind.
And lastly the brilliant use of music – Blue Moon and the polka tune of Varsouviana.
Blanche (Vivien Leigh) often in a melancholy way felt nostalgic recalling the music to which she danced the Varsouviana; sometimes she would even imagine the same polka-tune playing in her head, the one they were playing in the Moon Lake Casino that tragic night when soon after her young lover Allan committed suicide.
On the other hand a unique way of portraying Jasmine’s blue world, Woody Allen used the song ‘Blue Moon’ not only as a music piece but a simple link to Jasmine’s once happy past; the song which was playing when she first met her husband Hal at a party. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) repeats this romantic ‘Blue Moon’ story five times throughout the film to anyone who would care (or dare) to listen, and each time you cannot help but smile at her – a sad smile perhaps.
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