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 films...it 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.


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