Saturday, July 31, 2010

Furious Love: Chapters 7 and 8

I think that these chapters best describe (so far, anyway) the horrible alcoholism affecting the Burtons--esp. Richard. He admits (in his writings) that he was drinking too much, and friends notice it as well.

Just as in my last post, I wasn't impressed by the first chapter of this post. "Married Love" (chapter 7) had some interesting behind-the-scenes information about the filming of The Taming of the Shrew (sounds like the movie played up to the popular image of the Burtons), but other than that I wasn't into it that much.

Chapter 8, "Seduced by Faust," was much better because it covers (albeit much too briefly) the Burton's time in Oxford (appealing to me because I love the city so much) and Burton's work on Doctor Faustus. I found some intriguing quotes in this section. For example, Burton attended Oxford for a while and he mentions having to be especially tough because he came from such a different background from the other students. I can't imagine having to be a disadvantaged (whatever that is supposed to mean because Burton was brilliant) student at Oxford when he was there. "Town and Gown" society was split deeply at that time. It still is, but it was even more segregated when he was there. He mentions that he had to "bloody a few noses"--and I believe it (186).

More interesting was Burton's reason for wanting to play Faustus. (Elizabeth was in it too, but her role was a silent one as Helen of Troy.) Taking the role, the authors say, "[Allowed him the opportunity] to play the quintessential role of the scholar who sells his soul to the devil--for knowledge, for wealth, and for the world's most beautiful woman." As the authors say: "Burton identified with Faustus on all three counts" (187). This I can believe. I also can believe that his pretending to be a don at Oxford while he was there to play Faustus was a very real desire. What I wasn't expecting was the information that Elizabeth participated in this dream, wanting to move to the English city and to teach a course on Tennessee Williams (187). This is intriguing to me. I wonder how she would have handled such a thing...Oxford still is, but especially was then, a chauvinistic environment. Seeing her handle the privileged students (mostly male and arrogant) would be a book in itself!

Other than that, this chapter mainly goes into the drinking problems (Richard's)and health problems (Elizabeth's). There are a few scandalous moments, but I will leave them out of this post! More later!!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Furious Love: Chapters 5 and 6

From The Sandpiper to The Taming of the Shrew, Chapter 5, "In from the cold," covers some of the Burtons earlier creative collaborations. I didn't feel that a real theme emerged in this chapter, other than one: restlessness. As the scandal dies down and Burton and Taylor settle in to married life, it almost seems as if they don't know how to thrive. The drinking and fighting increase, at first. The Burtons just seem to be trying to figure each other out. The little things bother them, and, though Burton "love[s] Elizabeth to the point of idolatry," he seems to be trying to figure out how to function with a woman who is so completely there and so completely demanding of his time and life (110). When he would want to be serious, Taylor would deliberately taunt him, just to start a fight, and it seems that their fights are turning more physical. It is an odd thing to read on the page, but it really does seem that Taylor thrives off of the drama. One story, told by John Le Carre, tells about the time he visted the Burtons to discuss business. Taylor kept interrupting (via intercom) the meeting. Eventually, Richard goes back to the bedroom to bring her out front to meet with Le Carre, but a fight ensues--all the while, the intercom is still on. There were "[s]ounds of slapping...[but e]ventually she arrived in this sort of fluffy wraparound dressing gown you send away for, barefooted, rather broad-arsed, but extremely cuddly, extraordinarily attractive--those beautiful eyes, far more beautiful off-screen than on. And she gave me one of those little-girl handshakes" 128).

I find this story odd, yet believable. Again, I am not sure of the motivation behind including such a story (not that I care, really, because I am just reading it for the salacious moments like this one). The authors didn't seem to know what to do with it either. The paragraph ends and they launch into this tirade about Burton being tired of the relationship...only to end the chapter with an incredibly interesting statement by Burton about Taylor: "The greatest invention I know is a marvelous collection of superbly confected brilliance called E. T. Burton" (130). Now, on its own, this quote would be cryptic enough to intrigue the reader...yet it is included as part of a larger love letter Burton sent to Elizabeth concerning the wonderful time he had with their daughter (Liza Todd) and Elizabeth. I just don't get it. This chapter didn't really go anywhere and though the tabloid-lover in me enjoyed reading about the fight, I expected a connection somewhere. Oh, well. Maybe it will come.

However: Chapter 6, "Who's Afraid of Elizabeth Taylor," is a stronger chapter. This is a chapter that covered the filming of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Let me start off by saying that there are three movies that absolutely freak me out: 1) The Graduate; 2)8MM; and, 3) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. For various reasons, I find these movies torture to watch. Not because they are bad is just that there is some message or element in each that is so disturbing that I literally avoid them because they make me anxious to the point that I feel sick. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? makes me incredibly uncomfortable because it is so intense and so brutal. The authors of Furious Love explain that the film allowed "Elizabeth's need for drama, to challenge and be constantly challenged, [a need that was now being met] by the physically and emotionally wrenching role she was playing. The experience of becoming George and Martha, locked in a destructive and complicated marriage, ironically drew the Burtons even closer together." Taylor called the experience "cathartic" (145). But then this statement is contradicted.

The experience had to be exhausting, emotionally, and apparently the Burtons did get into their roles off screen as well. The couple is referred to as "unleashed tigers" (140) while on the set and as becoming those characters in public, after filming was over. Burton internalized the loneliness of George and Taylor found herself being cruel and brash to Burton in public (a la Martha). I suppose that this is why the movie was so brilliant.

I hate to say it, but I understand it. Maybe it makes me sick and disturbed. I am not an actress and I don't date actors. I find most of them annoying. But, I am a creative person. And, when I am in the process of creating a story or working on a creative project, it consumes me and it does seep into my life. I have collaborated with another person on a project before...someone who shall remain nameless...and the two of us had a very volatile relationship. I think that sometimes people need the drama because it makes us feel alive. It is so easy to become numb to greatness (not speaking of myself here, obviously! But of Taylor and Burton...) and constant praise, that the drama is the only thing that makes you feel like a vital, breathing human rather than a corpse. Even if the drama is violent or unhealthy. I know that people would jump down my throat for such a statement. I am not advocating domestic violence and I will say that this kind of relationship is not sustainable or healthy. However, I will say that I understand it, where it comes from, and why it happens. Taylor and Burton, for all of their flaws and mistakes, were two talented people. Taylor, especially, seems to me the type of person who needs to feel alive. There is a certain amount of stupidity and denial and self-hatred that comes with her style of looking for such a lifestyle, but there is also a bravery and unflinching and unapologetic honesty that accompanies her decisions. So, as with all things, something good comes out of the darkness.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Furious Love: Chapters 3 and 4

Chapters three and four basically follow Elizabeth and Richard as they continue their affair in both Canada (where Richard is in a production of Hamlet) and in Mexico (where Richard films Night of the Iguana). It is within these chapters that the reader begins to hear about the legendary fights, many witnessed by outsiders. The couple was capable of intense cruelty to one another, with Elizabeth goading Richard into drinking and leaving Richard "close to tears" on one occasion. The details of that particular fight are sketchy, but Richard must have said something about Elizabeth's acting background and lack of theatrical education, and words were exchanged, ending with Elizabeth telling Richard: "You should be more careful, love. One day you might harm more than yourself" (78). I can see her saying these words to him, frigidly and in a way to make her even more "unattainable" (a concept Richard used to describe her sometimes). The fight makes sense in light of information regarding Richard's background and his need for admiration.

When Elizabeth's divorce to Eddie Fisher finally came through (he obviously wanted his piece of the pie), I think that Richard finally felt a sense of ownership in the relationship between himself and Elizabeth.

I loved that his only public statement about their secret marriage was: "Elizabeth Burton and I are very happy" (100).

Another interesting issue that develops in these chapters is the "circus" atmosphere that surrounds the two of them. There is a moment in the book when the authors describe this, even referring to a literal circus that the couple attends while in Mexico. At first, the reference seems to be screaming in our faces: "Look, my readers! I need to use a carefully thought out illustration of real life events matching the metaphor that I want to use!" I was completely annoyed with this. But something does happen at the circus that illuminates Elizabeth's and Richard's personalities. While there, both are taken into the ring and a man throws knives at them. Elizabeth seems to revel in the danger and unflinchingly enjoys the moment. However, and I don't know how much of this story is accurate or what is embellished for literary purposes, Richard seems to only go through it reluctantly--only to show Elizabeth that he, too, can be brave. The moment reminds the reader of a story Richard tells about crossing a bridge (I think) as a child. He was terrified to cross the bridge but knew that he had to do it if he was to prove to his brothers that he was a brave man and a valid member of the family.

So, here is my issue with all of this: If the moment really took place as the authors describe it, then it could be a profound moment for Richard--and for the reader. HOWEVER, one of the co-authors of this book is Nancy Schoenberger, a director of the "Creative Writing Program at the College of William and Mary" (back flap). The reason I mention this is that the merging of the bridge incident with the knife-throwing event seems to lean a bit on the "creative non-fiction" side of things. I enjoyed the parallel on a literary level, but the novelistic intent that emerges from the move REALLY bothers me. It makes me lose a bit of confidence in the book--even as much as I enjoy the salacious material. :)

My other issue is one that has to do with editing: A quote was given in chapter three about Elizabeth and Richard being married...but the marriage had not taken place yet. It is a small thing, but I spent five minutes scanning the previous pages to make sure that I hadn't missed something as big as the marriage. I hadn't. But thinking I had and taking the time to go back and look (when a simple parenthetical note that states the quote came later and that the marriage hadn't taken place yet would have satisfied me) really pissed me off.

Still, I am really enjoying the book, in spite of my criticism. I think that there are positive ideas to be taken away, even this early in the game: live your own life, don't apologize for it, and don't shy from every emotion.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Until I have time to post.... is a great quote from a decent review of Furious Love:

"Today, we have hook-ups. But Liz and Dick had a mash-up of the souls."

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Furious Love" -- My impressions of the first two chapters

I have been allowing myself to wallow in the newly released Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. Now, I have a sick fascination with this couple...not because I think that they had a healthy relationship or anything (which they certainly did not), but because they were so unapologetic, so outrageous...and so amazingly talented both on their own and together. Much of their desire for one another was dangerous...and, by some, could even be viewed as humiliating or demeaning. I am not going to make a judgment on those issues because what attracts two people together is often unconventional or dangerous or demeaning. (Again, I am not endorsing such things...I am merely stating that it is a fact that is much more complex than how Freud or some modern psychologists may wish to classify it.)

My first impressions of this book: Well, I have heard that there are some inexcusable fact-checking errors. I don't know about this, as I am horrible with memorizing facts. However, I will say that on the level of composition, there is some poor editing. I am only through the first two chapters and there are so many instances of repetition.

That being said: the book is important because Taylor cooperated with the writers, and the letters and some of the stories included are from her collection. I remember my mother loving an interview (perhaps with Barbara Walters?) where Taylor, when asked to reveal memories of her relationship with Burton, replied something to the effect of: "They were good memories, but they are MY memories."* The possession of Taylor over Burton (even in death) is obvious in this book as well. They fed off of one another, sometimes unhealthily, sometimes unwillingly. But they did give each other a type of confidence and purpose. (An example of that unflinching confidence that took place: Eddie Fisher called home only to have Richard answer the phone. When Eddie asked Richard what he was doing there, Richard replied: "What do you think I am doing? I am fucking your wife." (27).) The first two chapters of the new book show the beginnings of an intense relationship based on attraction, need, and addiction. Neither was completely stable, both were alcoholics before meeting one another, and they meshed addiction to alcohol with addiction to each other.

Like I said, lots about this relationship is screwed up. However, I do think that it is too simplistic to write off their relationship as completely related to addiction. Anyway, will be updating as I go along.

*Note: The interview is from Larry is actually cited in the book.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Why am I addicted to fan fiction? I love it so much...even though some of it (most of it) is so bad! It is pathetic when a 33- (almost 34) year-old woman checks every day. I mean, seriously. It is sad. Still, life's pleasures are few and far between.

My recent surge of Anti-Twilight postings

Don't get me wrong. I had fun reading the first three books (hated the fourth). I really enjoyed them. But, I also REALLY enjoy the sarcasm and the rants against them! I am all for entertainment--esp. when such great rejection comes out. That is when you know you really produced something that will make you a ton of money! Well done, S. Meyer!

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Normal feeling, I know, after everything that has happened in the last five days. I am relieved that my grandmother isn't suffering anymore, but it has been difficult coming to terms with the fact that she isn't around anymore. We didn't see each other a ton over the school year, but I spent a few hours with her every day over the last month, helping her and talking when she could. So, the hardest part now is readjusting the schedule and the mindset. When you repeat the same pattern for weeks and you care for someone in such intimate ways, it is hard to just snap out of it overnight.

I haven't been doing much over the last several weeks that wasn't related to work or the hospital/grandmother. The funeral preparations and family things took up the last week, of course. I have decided not to work on my dissertation for a couple of weeks. I just need the time off. I know that that puts me behind, but I just am mentally exhausted right now. I plan to return to work at the magazine tomorrow, of course, but I am not doing anything scholastic until August rolls around.

Today, we had my mother's brother, Larry, over for lunch. I grilled hamburgers (they turned out really good) and we just sat around. I was so sleepy this afternoon that I decided to take a short nap after he left. Then, I got mom to go with me to the quad to walk. It did her (and me) a lot of good. Getting out of the house into the fresh air (though with this humidity, it doesn't feel so fresh) is always helpful.

My grandmother loved cooking and food, so I plan to remember her in that way, as most of my best memories of her center around the kitchen. She thought that Jamie Oliver was weird but "a little cute," so I plan to cook one of his recipes soon. :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Frances Emma Mitchell Hinson, August 7, 1933 -- July 13, 2010

Good-bye and much love to my grandmother. I hope she finds peace and comfort now. Thank you for loving me.