Thursday, December 27, 2012

All About Eve: Sarah Siddons Award

Just to shake things up a little- for my first post-holiday work, I’m going to examine my first sculpture. It’s one that’s undoubtedly a masterful work of art, but one that is quite easily overlooked. It’s the Sarah Siddons Award, introduced in the great Bette Davis drama, All About Eve.
Sarah Siddons Society Eve Harrington

All About Eve was released in 1950 and served as a career saver for the middle-aged Bette Davis, who made a comeback as the character Margo Channing after all her “siren” roles died off. It costars, notably, Anne Baxter as the titular Eve and the wonderful Celeste Holm as the best friend of Margo (during the actual production, though Bette was icy at best). Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote and directed this drama which deals with an aging theater diva’s conflict with a rising wannabe star (Eve). It’s a marvelous story, with killer characters and many masterfully created scenes.

Sarah Siddons Eve Harrington
The movie begins at a New York Theater Society’s awards dinner. The narrator, a character in the plot, introduces the characters at their table at the Sarah Siddons Society. Eventually, the award for “Distinguished Achievement in Theatre” is given to Miss Eve Harrington, during which the camera freeze frames on Eve. Fortunately, it also freeze frames on our little award, which is a lovely little sculpture as well. Obviously, this award is a major part of the plot, so the sculpture deserves a little discussion.

Margo Channing Bette Davis Award
I could not find who created the sculpture; I couldn’t even find any real information about the sculpture itself. From the picture it looks like it could be bronze, but it’s also possible that it was cheaply done in plastic. Personally, I’m not sure. I would lean towards the plastic, but since the award does appear in multiple key scenes, I’d think that they would put some decent money into it-but hey, it’s Hollywood-who knows? The movie itself gives away what the sculpture is based on.

All About Eve AwardThe award is modeled after a well-known painting of Sarah Siddons done by Sir Joshua Reynolds. This painting, I believes, appears in miniature in Margo’s apartment. Titled Mrs. Siddons as the Muse of Tragedy and painted in 1784, it depicts one of the premier tragic actresses of the 18th century as a classical muse. Siddons created one of the most memorable portrayals of Lady Macbeth, which went arguably unrivaled until Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry took the role in the late 19th century.

But I digress…

This classical look was actually a very popular portraiture style of the time in England as many aristocratic figures, fascinated by antiquity, fancied themselves as idealized and graceful as the ancient Greeks and Romans. I’ve seen a few Reynolds portraits in this same style.

The piece itself can, thematically, be approached from several angles, all of which deal with the repressed. The award, on the surface, recalls theatrical brilliance. However, in view of the plot, it means much more. This “greatest honor” means nothing to colleagues of Eve, knowing the underhanded treachery in which she achieved it. To them, the award represents their repressed resentment and dislike of her.
Sarah Siddons Eve Harrington

To Eve, the award serves a climax of her glory. It was the object of her plotting and planning. Her reception is her tour de force performance, the moment of her greatest triumph. It establishes her in the set of great actresses. To the girl that appears at the end, cradling the award in the mirrored panels, it represents her repressed desires to be a star as well.

In fact, the Sarah Siddons Award is largely seen, in the eyes of the plot, as an award for those who do not deserve it. In the beginning of the plot, Margo, self-centered and vain, while seeking the award, certainly, at least personally, does not deserve it. Eve, who does win it, also does not deserve it. And Eve’s own fan, who also desires it, will not deserve after her plotting, which will assuredly occur, happens. In short, it is the object of desire for those who do not deserve it. Not only is it a desire to be recognized as a great actress in the vein of Siddons, it also represents their desire to be recognized, even perhaps, loved by their peers.

Of note, there is an actual Sarah Siddons Society, which was founded after the movie. It honors great performers in the Chicago theater circuit. They also award statuettes of Siddons, but they too have a scarcity of information about the award itself.


2 comments:

  1. This blog not only provides insight into great artwork in film, but also provides a tasteful selection of films to watch!

    -P

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  2. Early on in my career as a film artist (in 1977) I got an assignment to do a portrait of Bette for a mini-series called "Harvest Home" or "The Dark Secret of Harvest Home". I got to meet her and sat in her dressing room, sketching her and conversing with her. She told me about all of the famous artists who had done portraits of her, which made me even more nervous than I was already. She was smoking, which didn't bother me because I was a smoker too. I finally decided to take some photos and return to my hotel art studio.

    The assignment became huge and I did up to 60 drawings and 2 oil portraits, (even did one of Rossana Arquette) and was on location for 9 weeks. Quite an adventure....

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