Day 11: A Ship From Your Favourite Show / Book / Movie
Well! That could be anything really, couldn't it? I did have a few options for this one, but unfortunately I had less options for the pairing in question. It would have been ideal for A Ship That Breaks Your Brain, but that isn't one of the options. Seeing as it's also the only pairing from this particular fandom that I'll be talking about, I also thought I would give it a more generic category, so I can ramble at length without having to relate it back to anything specific. :P
Unfortunately the picspam for this is going to be impossible, short of spending another several hours poring over a DVD - and even then TBH there isn't much to go on. I WANT THE ABILITY TO SCREENCAP MY MEMORY NOW. Or I wish there was fanart because that would totally count.
Anyway, without further ado:-
Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard, which is a movie and musical that I love. Obviously.
I doubt that anything I say here will be original or different from anything I've said before. I will probably say it in a slightly different way, and this will probably be the first time I relate to a movie, a soundtrack and two separate stage versions, so in many ways it's perhaps a definitive Norma/Joe post. I like talking about these two.
My history with Norma/Joe is a strange and unusual beast. I have never encountered another pairing, before or since, which took over my brain quite so quickly or quite so vehemently. Here's how it happened.
The UK tour production of Sunset Boulevard was coming to Birmingham in April / May 2002. My mum and I were going to see it because I was in a phase of must-see-every-musical-EVAR and it was just one on a long list (we saw Miss Saigon the same year, I believe). I knew little about it beyond the fact that it was from the mid-1990s and an Andrew Lloyd Webber production. I think I must have seen the 50th birthday celebration by then and thus would have seen Glenn Close's stunning performance of "As If We Never Said Goodbye", but at that point it hadn't really hit my radar. At that point I was also of the mindset where I wanted to know at least some of the songs (if not all) before I saw a show.
I had bought my mum a copy of the video of the film for her previous birthday (I think!), and we had a copy of the soundtrack (the American Premiere Recording, with Glenn Close / Alan Campbell) in readiness for the event. I knew nothing about the film, other than a vague idea of the plot that my mum had told me, and the fact that there were a few notable quotes.
We watched the film over the Easter weekend, as we were seeing the show a few days later. I was on a break from uni because of holidays. That copy of the video, for some reason, had a 'trailer' (for want of a better word) of a few mintues' duration before the actual film started. I have no idea why it's there, because there are no other trailers or anything else on the video.
That trailer contained a line. A line from a scene which would forever destroy my capacity for coherent thought, though I didn't know that at the time. That line was this:
"You don't want me to love you."
I had no idea who the people were. Obviously I'd figured out they were the main characters, but beyond that I knew nothing. Frankly, I didn't care. That line made me take notice. I can't explain why, even several rewatches and an obsession later. It's the most inexplicable pairing trigger ever, but also the most memorable.
Anyway, we watched the film in full and my initial suspicions were confirmed. My 'ship would be Norma and Joe. Even despite all the stuff that got in the way, once that tiny seed was planted in my brain, it grew into a mighty tree which obliterated my view of anything else.
After the movie, we listened to the soundtrack. I think I actually listened to it a couple of times, with the libretto in hand, which describes some of the action. I was initially surprised by how accurate the script / lyrics were to the screenplay of the movie. I think Billy Wilder even said it himself when he first saw the musical, that they didn't change a thing and that's why it worked. By all accounts, it shouldn't work at all. Film noir does not necessarily translate well to all-singing all-dancing musicals... but sometimes Andrew Lloyd Webber's instinct is terrifyingly spot-on. It took so long to get the show off the ground that he'd initially written "Memory" (yes, from Cats) for it - when you listen to the lyrics, you can see why. One of my favourite things about ALW as a composer is his uncanny ability to make each of his shows stand apart musically, even when he repeats certain themes. (There are certain shades of Phantom in Sunset, and now there are shades of Sunset in what I've heard of Love Never Dies - I dunno if that was intentional, but it's certainly interesting...) The total... 50's-ness of the music in SB is what makes it stand out. The themes running through the soundtrack are amazing; the contrast between the two different worlds that Joe inhabits is instantly recognisable.
So, a few days later, we saw the show itself, at Birmingham Hippodrome. I had a cough, which I was trying to suppress for the duration. We had pretty good seats in the stalls, I remember, probably about row G. I think everyone knows this by now, but Norma was being played by Faith Brown, in a portrayal that will (I hope) go down in history. Her appeal is what made people go in the first place; her portrayal is what made people go back for second and third viewings. The original Joe of the production, Earl Carpenter, had thrown a hissy fit shortly before hitting Birmingham and subsequently quit the show (he was out-famed by Faith Brown and apparently a total diva about the fact that she was on all the posters and he wasn't), to be replaced by the previous Artie, and thus the understudy, one Jeremy Finch.
You all know what happened there, so I shan't reiterate the angstilicious, hormone-eating details of the ensuing emotional and financial mess. (His name is in my LJ tags - click one to find out.) But it was his portrayal, his chemistry with Faith, which made that burgeoning ship develop. There was something about him - about them, as a double-act - that stole what little was left of my remaining sanity and turned me into a fanfiction-writing, celebrity-stalking monster.
I was lost from their first scene together. It's a key scene, that first one at the house. The whole crux of their relationship hangs on it. In the London production it was the moment the dark glasses came off; in the UK tour it was when she appeared, resplendant, at the top of that staircase. In both cases, it proves Norma's vital point: "We didn't need words; we had faces." I will never, ever forget that moment of first eye contact in the UK tour. It was like the world stopped turning. They both see something, neither realising what is to come; whether he likes it or not, Joe is already caught in her trap.
My fondest memories of the UK tour production are the shippy N/J moments, because there were so many. It took me by surprise; obviously the movie is constrained by its own time period, and I don't think I was really expecting the musical to be any different, given how faithful the lyrics and script were to the original. If I hadn't shipped them before then I definitely would have done after the UK tour production.
I fell completely in love with the tango scene. Nothing can compare to it. It's the only thing I've ever seen where I simply stop reacting, moving, breathing almost. I find myself gripping the armrest and trying not to hyperventilate. Even in the London production, which wasn't even half as shippy as the tour production, my reaction was the same. It just... I don't know. I've never had to analyse it before, because I thought my reaction to it was explanation enough that it was in fact inexplicable, but I feel like having a go now. I feel ready to face up to that commitment. :P
It's... it's the hope of it. The tone of the song tells you that much. Norma lets her guard down; Joe finally allows himself to stop fighting, to get caught up in the moment. I know that the tour production forced my perspective on this a lot, because I saw it three times in total and most of my fanfic is from that period, including my tango scene Joe-centric piece... but really, there's a chance. A tiny, miniscule chance. There's the smallest possibility he could let himself fall. That's what kills me. That's what I'm always looking for. Max knows it too. Norma knows it. Joe himself knows it. Everyone in the auditorium knows it, on some level. You're just waiting for that point where it all clicks into place.
And then it all goes wrong. The spells wears off, and it all falls apart. It's heart-breaking. In a way the scene afterwards at Artie's apartment is a breath of fresh air, a relief from the edge-of-your-seat tension, and I've personally always used it as a point at which to regroup my sanity. Because I know what's coming next and I know it's going to destroy me.
The words "Happy New Year" are equivalent to Farscape's "Fly safe". I firmly believe that. Whilst the intention behind Joe's sentiment is nothing more than an acknowledgement of his moment of weakness, in some respects, that doesn't matter. Because he is acknowledging it, and he does return to make amends. Yes, perhaps that was the wrong decision - after this it all starts to collapse - but as an act finale, it's beautifully executed.
Of course, after that is when things take a turn for the worse. In the intervening period of the interval (and whatever timeframe it's supposed to represent) Joe has obviously had more time to think about stuff. The title song is a vital point in the plot; another is yet to come. He has two moments of clarity, the first being the title song, the second being Betty's departure. He has just enough lucidity left to realise that Betty can't get caught up in it, and sends her away for her own good (I like to think that eventually she would come to terms with that and understand it, probably when she was older - remember, she's still quite young) and then basically gives up. He stops fighting - both himself and everything else.
The events of the ending are all about bad timing. Any of the separate incidents, such as Norma ringing Betty or Joe dropping the bombshell of truth, could have happened at any other time and not resulted in such a horrendous course of events. Maybe. Or possibly they were doomed from the start.
I have this perfect quote which I keep lying around on my hard-drive for the days when words with which to describe this pairing utterly escape me. It’s from The Summer Before the Dark by Doris Lessing, a book which was part of my final year English degree and which I didn’t manage to finish or even start properly. But this quote literally jumped off the page.
”…but there are conventions in love, and one is that this particular subclassification, older-woman-younger-man, should be desperate and romantic. Or, at least, tenderly painful.”
YES. THIS. A MILLION TRILLION TIMES: THIS. This is what I mean, what I’m trying to say. This is how it should have been. This is how I’ve always seen it and always imagined it to be. Eventually I will actually read the book properly to read that quote in context, but for now it remains my ultimate perfect summing-up quote for Norma/Joe.
I think my involvement in the ship was why I could never accept the ending and immediately sought to fix it with my first story. The tour brochure was in part to blame for this, as they didn't re-print it after Earl Carpenter left (more's the pity). Jeremy was playing Artie at the point of it being printed, so there are some photos of him. I didn't know any of the Earl Carpenter diva stuff at the time I saw it (I learned that much later through an acquaintance) so was understandably confused by things, though obviously I knew that occasional cast changes did happen. Anyway, there's a photoshopped image on the back page of the brochure which was directly responsible for my first SB fanfic, "Tango Up On Sunset", and thus responsible for all the stuff that came aftewards. The shot is meant to represent Norma's "close-up" moment at the end; she is shot from the back and there is a crowd of reporters and police in front of her. At the very back of that crowd stands Jeremy Finch - I think as well as playing Artie originally he must have been part of the general cast. That photograph became TUOS, honestly and truly. Even though logically I knew it wasn't Joe in the photo, the split-second of confusion when I saw it lingered long enough to become a scene in the fic.
I couldn't let it end like that. I simply couldn't. I had to give them another chance. So I resurrected Joe, and then spent many months writing endless reams of fanfic. I remember fondly the sleepless summer nights, the way the pairing literally took over my brain and would not leave me alone. I am literally obsessed by the concept of them staying together, reaching a point where that's plausible.
I am too scared to try and find proper picspam for this. DVD-trawling takes ages (and is difficult, because scenes which work on film are very hard to capture in stills) and I’m not taking any changes on Google. So instead here is a smaller, chopped version of the brochure shot mentioned above (Faith's Norma is depicted in my icon, which is from the same source):-
Picture source: 2002 UK tour brochure, back page, scanned by me
Even now, seeing that again, I remember. I remember how perfect he was. He had such leading man potential anyway and I’m forever hunting for him in the West End stuff I see, to no avail, which is a shame. But he was, is, and always will be my perfect Joe Gillis. My Norma is an amalgamation of different actresses; Jeremy Finch is Joe Gillis. No matter how many more there will be. I was young, naïve and stupid over him for about a year, and perhaps that clouds my judgment more than it should… but given what came out of this fandom, most of which thanks to that tour production, I should give credit where it’s due and acknowledge that most of it, if not all, was Jeremy’s fault.
I’m pretty sure if he remembers me at all it’s as that insane fangirl who sent him two epic fanfics, cornered him in a theatre bar in Leeds and spouted absolute gibberish for 15 minutes, then promptly swooned like a Victorian gentlewoman. But honestly? That’s okay. That’s really okay. I got over it, eventually.
I think I got a bit distracted there. “You have no power over me!” *shakes fuzz out of head*
As to Norma/Joe, some parting words. It is literally the most terrifying and heart-rending pairing in the world. Terrifying because whenever I rediscover it, my brain melts all over again; heart-rending because it always ends the same, no matter how much I create my own canon. I've seen it portrayed three different ways (four if you include the APR) and each has been different and exciting.
Over 2000 words (I checked) later, in this post as well as so many others, and I'm still no closer to explaining it. The majority of ships are chosen; occasionally, the ship chooses you. I really do think that's true of Norma/Joe, that they saw potential in my relentless quest for happy endings and my obsession with angsty doomedness, and pounced. Are pairings sentient? I think this one might be.
TL;DR: BECAUSE GUH.
Thankfully it's been quiet today so I could actually work on this. Otherwise I would probably have been up all night trying to get it done.