The Frida Cinema's marquee, which has long withstood the pressure of Southern California's idiosyncratic weather patterns since its use in the Fiesta Twin cinema days, is noticeably cracked and frayed. For some, this probably might be charming and add to the allure and mystique of the old art-house archetype, but its shoddy nature betrays the indoor renovations that Frida Cinema director Logan Crow has invested in; new carpeting, art work and a mural adorn the inside walls. Now, the last piece of the puzzle is to embark on renovating that loyal marquee.
Generously, the Gay Neighbors, Families and Friends of Santa Ana have decided to initiate a fundraiser to help pitch in for a new marquee for the Frida, and are doing so by helping present a screening of the 1939 George Cukor classic The Women this Friday, aided by the company of classy martini drinks for 21-plus supporters.
The Women features major box office queens of the era Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Paulette Godard and Rosalind Russell. Shearer plays high society wife and mother Mary Haines, whose husband Stephen is having an affair with Crawford's perfume counter girl Crystal Allen. Mary's friends and family members all aid Mary with their own personal advice and gossip, making for a fun-filled time of quick-witted dialogue, jokes and bitchy exchanges. The Women, famously, has the unique distinction of having an all-female cast; 130 speaking roles, all women of different classes and ages, while the men they refer to throughout the movie are only mentioned and never seen. Its most recent incarnation starring Meg Ryan, Bette Midler and Eva Mendes failed to deliver the polished barbs of its predecessor (as remakes tend to do, sadly).
All this information is well and good, but what makes this movie so damn great? For one, it's the mythos surrounding its lead actresses. Shearer and Crawford were both MGM rivals with their own diva qualities; according to the legendary Kenneth Anger Hollywood gossip bible Hollywood Babylon, Crawford, a post-silent film actress rising out of the ashes of the Great Depression, was at the center of commercial campaigns encouraging people to spend money to aid the American economy along, and flaunted her extravagant lifestyle "Everything I earn, I spend!" Crawford exclaimed in one such press ad. Shearer, who at this time was already married to MGM producer Irving Thalberg, wouldn't share top billing with the other actresses and had many rifts with Crawford and Russell. It's thrilling to see even just a little bit of these spoiled queens' feud manifest in their fictional tête-à-tête for the affections of the same man.
The second reason for this film's appeal has to be the camp aesthetic of the wardrobe and production design of the film. Made during the middle of the Great Depression when the rest of America was struggling out of poverty, The Women's women are living it up in a fantastical wonderland of exuberant gowns in every scene and attending high-profile fashion shows. There's even a 10-minute fashion runway sequence shot in technicolor that interrupts the black and white narrative of the movie to showcase the hot couture designs of noted fashion designer Adrian. Hollywood films at this time didn't stray away from high fashion, but the costume design in The Women is utterly absurd in the chic-est way; long feathers, glittery details, luxurious hats. Who could say that this film hasn't inspired drag ball culture in the decades that followed?
Lastly, The Women, like many films of the era, despite having to adhere to the strict Hayes Code, still retains its juicy scandalous nature, thanks to screenwriter Anita Loo's creative dialogue. When Mary confronts Crystal for the first time, she attempts to throw shade at her by remarking that Stephen doesn't go for trashy clothing on women, to which Crystal replies coolly, "Thanks for the tip. But when anything I wear doesn't please Stephen, I take it off." There's Crystal's famous line at the end of the film, "There's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society… outside a kennel," which is a roundabout way of calling someone a bitch. Below's a video to some of the cattiest, wittiest exchanges from the movie.
For all these reasons and more, I highly salute its turn at the big screen this Friday at the Frida Cinema. If you're a fan of the film or want to see what the fuss is all about, you can attend by donating $25 to support funding for the Frida's new marquee, but if you can't attend at all, consider paying it forward by making even a tiny contribution. For everyone attending, the martini glasses will be clinking and Joan Crawford's pre-Mommy Dearest beauty will be sparkling in the glow of the big screen.
Martinis and schmoozing begins at 7pm, the film screens at 8pm. You can make your donations and buy your tickets at the film's event page here. See you there!