Oh, and before I start, after a comment from Paul last night and also reading online reviews, it turns out the gigantic portrait at the back was of Gloria Swanson. Which makes an awful lot of sense, though I'm kicking myself for not realising. :)
Girl Meets Boy
Most people know full well that the main focus of all my fandoms is my shipping. It’s what gets me hooked and what keeps me hooked, and I don’t think that is ever going to change. The thing I love best about Sunset Boulevard is that, even though I have my one die-hard ship (Norma/Joe), there are others, and I cannot bring myself to be anti- any of them. The ships feed each other. They probably even eat each other. Whichever it is, you can’t have just one of them. So actually, I guess they’re jelly beans.
"I can't control all the things I'm feeling..." - Betty/Joe
Okay. So. This is obviously not my preferred 'ship of choice, and in the past I've used the Joe/Betty scenes as a moment in which to soothe my utterly frazzled sanity, because that's what Norma/Joe does to me. Despite that, Joe/Betty is a Very Important 'Ship.
When I first began to find my feet in this fandom, I half-compared the triangle to that in POTO of Erik/Christine/Raoul, and hence I was fully expecting to find Joe/Betty was awful as I find Christine/Raoul. Initially that thought rang true, until I put Betty into my fanfic canon. The comparison to POTO meant that I was trying really hard to hate her, just to make things easier; and then she started talking to me, and I couldn't bring myself to do it.
I was involved in a shipper debate some time ago in which I argued my stance, though the debate itself stemmed from the question of whether Joe and Betty would have stayed together, had things ended that way. I can honestly say that I don't think they would. I enjoy the idea of them being friends - I kind of get the feeling that Betty would ground Joe in reality and kick his arse into gear when needed - but as a romantic couple, I'm fairly convinced they would end up hating each other. They really barely know each other, and both are loyal to Artie in their own way, and they end up together out of a series of connected events - Artie is in Clinch and Betty is pining, probably believing that Joe, with his writer-mind, understands her better than her fiancé; Joe is going slightly mad (though he doesn't realise it yet) and feeling increasingly trapped. It's really not a relationship that has any sticking power, which I think Joe realises immediately afterwards. Even if he was thinking straight enough to consider the possibility, he knows it can't continue and sends Betty away, for her own good if not for his own.
Aside from the emotional mess, we don't really know how long Joe and Artie have been friends. It's implied to be a while from the joking "You never call me any more" line near the beginning but that's really all we get. I don't think Joe wants to steal his best friend's girl any more than Betty wants to betray him, and we also have to remember that she was the "studio smart-ass" to his "uppity hack". They were barely even civil to start with. :P
Besides which, Betty is too young to know what she wants. I mean, I remember being 22 and I was bloody stupid. Things were different in 1950, of course, but there's that point I made earlier about how the new show made their age gap suddenly more like a giant abyss. If Joe is as world-weary as he seems, then I think Betty's puppy-dog enthusiasm might just be grating...
As a final point, I always feel like Betty/Joe was put into the story not just as a counterpoint to Norma/Joe, but because it would automatically be seen as more acceptable. Whilst there is absolutely no way either of the 'ships would be the end result (it becomes apparent after the first Act that there isn't likely to be any kind of happy ending to this story), it's almost like Joe and Betty are kind of thrown together out of some desperate attempt at normality. Which makes it all the more ironic that Joe and Norma is the product of a natural progression, given the dangerous (and unhealthy!) nature of their relationship.
"Please understand; she was my wife..." - Norma/Max
I'm fairly sure this bit won't be as long as it would have been had I got this write-up done last night, because some if will have inevitably fallen out of my brain. If I've missed anything, I will happily let Eni correct me or poke me in the right direction.
So, Norma/Max is another part of a different triangle, but more than that it's the undercurrent of the entire plot, burbling along unnoticed for the majority. IIRC, Max doesn't have a single line which is not in direct reference to Norma. It's as if he is literally nothing without her. After however many years, though, it's hardly surprising.
It's never really explored properly how their dynamic works at the point we join the story. Does Norma even associate Max-the-butler to Max-who-she-married, or even Max von Meyerling, the once-famous director? It's clear that he's the only person whom she trusts implicitly, but it's a trust built on decades of sharing a very large, empty house. We can only begin to guess at what they've shared over the years, of what Max knows beyond what he reveals to Joe.
It's obvious that Max's sole purpose in life is to keep Norma happy, even if Norma hasn't realised that. And I shall mention this one little thing here for a lack of anywhere else to mention it, which I also put in a comment to Eni's write-up: during the scene at Paramount, and the part where Sheldrake approaches Max to ask about the car. More specifically, straight afterwards (bow-threatening FTW!), when Max tells Joe the news. Usually I find that Joe's "Oh, my God..." comes off a little clunky and false and generally unconvincing, but when I saw it on Saturday there was something in the delivery, and the way Joe and Max ran offstage to make room for Norma's scene with de Mille (due to the size of the stage), which sparked this little thing in my brain that for that split second, Joe and Max were on the same side, with the same goal of protecting Norma from the truth. Their motives behind the sentiment may well be different, perhaps even opposing (Max blindly protects Norma, Joe is just trying to avoid unnecessary conflict), but it just goes to show that perhaps they're not so different after all.
I already mentioned in my characters write-up how Dave Willets' Max finally made me comprehend the Norma/Max relationship properly - or at least Max's side of it. The aggression made sense in so many ways, not just towards Joe (yowch) but anyone else who happens to interfere in the happy little bubble he'd finally managed to build. Who knows how many years its been since Husband No.3? I imagine Joe was the very last thing he was expecting...
"If she can't have him living, she'll take him dead." - Norma/Joe
(That was all I could think of to sum them up; I have a perfect quote somewhere, but it’s not from Sunset so would be cheating…)
I'm saving the best until last, obviously. :) I won't promise to try and keep it brief because that would be a lie, but I will try not to ramble on excessively and pointlessly. It's just that this 'ship literally takes over my brain sometimes when I try to figure it out, and I'm attempting to make some sense of the mess.
I suppose the best way to go about it would be to go in something resembling plot order, so here goes nothing...
Okay. So. We start with that first moment when she mistakes him for the undertaker. The UK tour still beats all other contenders for that initial contact - I would liken it to seven years' worth of the Mulder/Scully dynamic crammed into a split second, because the tension was literally THAT amazing. I imagine the fact that we saw the understudy says a lot for the character dynamic, which is one of the reasons I desperately want to see it again (RIGHT NOW OMG!!!!111one) with the usual Joe. Nevertheless, it's still a very strange, charged moment when Norma emerges from the top of the staircase, and everything starts from there.
I said before about how Joe is literally caught from the moment those dark glasses come off. The timing is perfect and whilst recognition may not be instant, Norma uses silent communication as naturally as talking. And, as sheltered and delusional as she may be, she is definitely not stupid; she sees immediately the potential of Joe being a writer, just as he's figured out by this point that it might be a nice little earner. They are equally flawed in their judgement of the other, and it doesn't take very much to get that ball rolling...
I mentioned trust in the section about Norma and Max above. There's that line when they're discussing the script: "I like Sagittarians, you can trust them." It's such a wildly grasping overstatement, and in fact it turns out she can't trust him at all.
The "Salome" section is also frighteningly pre-emptive (see title quote), as is a later section where Joe and Betty are discussing their script ideas and Joe comes out with "fabulous heiress meets handsome Hollywood heel". He's almost telling the alternative story. I've found that there are lots of these moments which pre-empt the skeleton of Joe and Norma, but barely any towards the other character dynamics. It seems that despite everything, it's just a story about two people thrown together by accident, and it’s being told in a million different ways. (Although Norma would probably argue that it's about her. :P)
"The Lady's Paying" is probably the next bit. In conversation on YIM with Eni last night, it came to my attention how conveniently-timed Norma's entrance is, whilst Joe is still half-dressed. Absolutely nothing she does is accidental - at this juncture, anyway - and of course by this point it's only a week before New Year's Eve (Joe's birthday is 21st December, as he tells us) and she's had this all planned, probably for weeks. I like that scene especially because it's probably the only time we see them acting even remotely natural, as it's undoubtedly a few months after he accidentally turns into her garage and they’ve had chance to get to know each other.
It's a shame we don't get to find out about Christmas. Would she release him to his family for the day, or not? It seems to get brushed over deliberately to make room for the New Year's Eve scene, though to be honest, I'm not really complaining. ;)
The Tango Scene. Oh, dear lord. This is my absolute favourite scene from any musical ever (the Laendler scene from Sound of Music comes a close second). For a long while recently, I'd actually, somehow, forgotten why. And then I saw it again, and remembered with blinding clarity. The simple reason? Because it's frelling awesome. :D
Seriously, though. By this point in the show I was wringing my hands and trying not to hyperventilate, with that familiar feeling of my heart climbing up into my throat. Not dissimilar to when we saw the final night of the tour in Manchester and sweeterthing thought I'd turned catatonic, because I'd started breathing funny and went all quiet. Which, actually, is because squealing like a lunatic and bouncing up and down is not generally accepted in the theatre, but also because I'm so intently focussed on the scene that I can't do anything else but become dead silent and stop moving. That, in turn, is purely because it's the only truly shippy scene we get and I'm going to enjoy every single damn second of it.
I was quite surprised that Kathryn Evans's Norma did not teach Tomm Coles's Joe to dance, because that was one of my favourite moments from the UK tour. Not only because Joe falling over his own feet as well as Norma's is just too freakin' adorable, but because it shows how much she's changing him. Still, though, the actual tango was as intense as expected. I shouldn't have laughed at Joe's comedic facial expressions, but I couldn't really help myself (bad shipper, no cookie) because they were so perfectly-timed. I think I actually lost count of the near-kisses. Two? Maybe three? The height difference was just about perfect. It makes so much sense for Norma to be a tiny little person because it makes her star status that much more impressive. ("I AM big...") Of course, I am a sucker for a slightly shorter Joe, but it's another item on a long list of things you can blame on Jeremy Finch.
And then when he comes back after Artie’s NYE party, that’s pretty much the moment my brain explodes, so it’s just as well it comes at the end of Act One. Dude, I need that interval. :P
Of course, immediately after Act One, I already wanted to see it again. Something about that scene gets me every single time and it’s entirely too addictive for its own good. I’m hoping and praying for another UK tour (if the audience figures in London are good enough) and failing that I’m hoping they don’t ruin the movie version, if it ever gets made. It has the potential to go horribly wrong, but if they get that Tango Scene right, it’ll probably never leave my DVD player. I’ll probably end up living in the cinema. :P
Anyway. Off topic again. Back to Norma and Joe.
Act Two is when it starts to fall apart, really, though the Inner Shipper is treated to a couple of moments. The above-mentioned moment between Joe and Max outside Paramount made up for the lack of Joe/Norma before she goes into the soundstage, which has always been one of my favourite little moments. It’s pretty much the last hint we get before the melodrama sets in. In the film, I should add, it’s Joe who takes Norma’s hand before she leaves the car, not the other way around. Just to prove I’m not completely making it up. ;)
Joe’s meltdown is amazing. You see it coming, but at the same time… that scene with Betty at the house is just… ouch. I see it more as a direct interpretation of his anger at Norma for interfering, perhaps regret that things got so far, and I do always find it interesting that, whilst he cannot reassure Norma that he doesn’t hate her, he can’t bring himself to say he does, either. I honestly don’t think he hates her; it’s just that the situation has gotten out of hand. They are both inherently flawed characters, and it seems those flaws just get in the way.
Remember that line from Moulin Rouge - “Without trust, there is no love”? It rings so true. Norma desperately wants to be able to trust Joe, but her inherent paranoia simply will not let her. She convinces herself that she needs Joe to function but has forgotten that before he turned up she was doing fine. In terms of what I said before about how Betty would ground Joe in reality, I do believe he could have been that for Norma, but goes about it the wrong way. At any other moment he could have broken the news about Max writing the fanmail, Paramount only wanting her car, any of it, and it might not have resulted in the same catastrophic ending.
Also, I don’t believe she meant to kill him, just stop him from leaving. Mind you, Eni had a bloody brilliant theory / idea behind where the gun came from, and she totally needs to turn it into a fanfiction right now. *pointed stare*
The ending is tragic, yet also not. Norma is quite happy now within her own head, but it doesn’t bear thinking about what might happen next. I think that’s why my original, first fanfic came about. I wanted to give them a second chance, because I cared about both of the characters too much to let it end that way. They sucked me in right from the start and didn’t let go.
I’ve had about a thousand ships in my life, some fleeting, and some permanent. Norma/Joe is the one ship which I can never tire of. As long as there are new productions to gawp at, new interpretations of the characters, I will continue to find new levels of wonderfulness to the relationship. It’s Mulder and Scully, it’s Erik and Christine, it’s as though all of my ships were practice runs for this great monster of Norma and Joe, and they are my final reward.
I think that’s the only way I can describe it.
”T-H-E E-N-D!” – Final Thoughts
So, that was Sunset Boulevard in London on 28th February 2009, and this was my incoherent ramblings.
After the show, we did a bit of a stage-door lurk and got some autographs, though alas Mr Willets ran away before anyone could talk to him. Everyone was very friendly, and, true to tradition, Kathryn Evans emerged last of all. There were two mad Scottish blokes there who wouldn’t let her go home because they kept singing her praises, but she was quite patient about it.
We had some drinks in some horribly expensive pubs (two drinks came to £9.20!), where we dissected and squeed and discussed the show at length (great fun), and then asked a bouncer to direct us to the nearest Central line tube station, so we could deposit Eni on a train homewards.
I should mention, incidentally, that by the end of it all, my knees were shaking. Whether that was from the energy expenditure or the fact that I tend to hold myself as tense as possible during the performance (it’s a white-knuckle musical), I don’t know, but I thought it cogent to mention it.
The post-show squee was frelling amazing. For the first time in a very long time, I felt human again. I was actually enjoying something on a level I never thought I’d see again, and it’s all down to the genius of Sunset Boulevard. I have NO IDEA why, but it’s certainly very much appreciated, and probably goes a long way to explaining the uncontrollable, desperate need to see it again. And again. Over and over again. Whilst it wasn’t quite the same level of squee as at Manchester, it was nonetheless very close – and anyway, there were issues besides the fandom back then. ;)
Right, I think that’s MORE than enough. I didn’t mean for it to be this long, honest.
I’ll get the photographs up some point this week on Facebook and Flickr respectively, and spend Saturday indulging in scanning the UK tour brochure to make Faith/Jeremy manips and icons, because my journal needs more SB, dammit. Perhaps a layout? We shall see.
Normal service – by which I mean moaning, whinging and rambling about X-Files – shall be resumed some point next week. I hope. ;)