Squaring off in the Sun Room of the Lions View State Asylum are Violet and Catherine (Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor). In Suddenly, Last Summer, camera movement is most often dictated by blocking. Based on the Tennessee Williams play, one can expect (and gets) lots and lots of assertive flourishes of dialogue. Movement is used to steadily bolster the mismatching delusions and truths about the dearly departed Sebastian. This is the second of two back-to-back scenes where Violet and Catherine finally see each other. Violet has been cornered into the sun room which is dressed in ivory patterns and plants as if she can influence her immediate environment by pure presence. As Catherine gets more and more confrontational about the particulars of dearly departed Sebastian’s life, she strides over for some aggressive frame sharing.
This shot is full of opposites and flip-flopping. In her white mourning clothes, Violet blends into her busy side of the frame. Able to keep it together in her sanctuary of elevators and gardens, she’s out of her element here. At the beginning of the scene her hat looks like an eccentric little touch. In this moment, with Hepburn twitching like an over-caffeinated robot, the hat looks like the natural outgrowth of an insane woman. Catherine is finally getting her voice back. Not only does she have access to Violet but she’s allowed to wear her own (black) clothes in this hospital. Her side of the frame has shades of color blocked grays. There’s a clarity to those shades, but also to her gaze and her words. Yet she’s still boxed in, showing that she’s not out quite yet.
Just look at those faces! Suddenly, Last Summer has two powerhouse performances courtesy of Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, and my chosen shot gives you an inkling of the kind of mighty ACTING anyone who watches this is in for.