The first Blind Spot of 2020 is Elia Kazan‘s teen melodrama, Splendor in the Grass (1961). It stars Natalie Wood as Deanie, a “good girl” in love with high school king Bud (played by Warren Beatty in his first film role), and who literally goes insane from repressed sexual desire. Yes, literally.
In fact, repression and double standards for men and women are big themes in Splendor in the Grass – double standards even amongst women: there’s the good girl you marry, and the bad girl you have sex with. While, on the other side, there’s only boys with needs that must be met. So Deanie must save herself for marriage so as to not be spoiled like Ginny (Bud’s sister) who’s had sex and is now too low for the dogs to bite. Or Juanita, who Bud is encouraged to sleep with because, again, his desire is natural.
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Every adult is a bit villainous in Kazan’s teen movie. Bud’s parents, Deanie’s parents, even her teacher. The absence of a good adult, a moral example, someone they can lean on or go for advice is jarring and greatly contributes to how lost these teenagers feel. They run around without any kind of support, and either end up miserable or clinically insane.
Because of that, Splendor in the Grass can often feel over the top – the famous bathtub scene where Deanie loses it, or the one where she’s swimming naked in the river and tries to drown herself come to mind – yet the heavy connotations, all the screaming and crying… are fitting for how intense and uncontrollable our feelings can be at that age. It’s all very in your face and clichéd, but somehow, it works.
William Inge‘s script got an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and though not without fault, it’s 100% entertaining. Warren Beatty suits the part well, and Natalie Wood is absolutely mesmerising, again. And it all comes together nicely under Kazan’s direction.
Lastly, Splendor in the Grass (1961) has one of the most heartbreaking endings I’ve ever seen. Bud and Deanie didn’t stand a chance. In the end, they’re both just fine. Happiness was nothing but a teenage dream.
Though nothing can bring back the hour— WILLIAM WORDSWORTH’S “ODE: INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY FROM RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD.”
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;