- An Oscar should have gone to 27-year-old Julie Harris for convincing the audience that she was only 12.
Starring – Julie Harris, Ethel Waters, Brandon De Wilde
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
I saw The Member of the Wedding for the first (and until recently the only) time back when I was a teenager in the 1980s. I was reminded of the film again a few weeks ago when a friend sent me a text telling me that it would be a great addition to this website. And so I went in search of the film so I could watch it again because I couldn’t remember much about it and that was odd for me because normally I remember movies pretty damn well even if I haven’t seen them in years and that was also odd, I thought, not having seen this movie for such a long time and only seeing it once and remembering so little about it, but not remembering why this occurred exactly.
Finding The Member of the Wedding to watch again proved to be rather difficult. The film plays regularly on TCM (the Turner Classics Movies channel), but since my lovely cable company has TCM available only within the sports package (because you know, TCM is just all about sports) and this sports package can only be purchased if you purchase another package first and you can only buy this package and the sports package if you first buy yet another package, and so by the time you are done just to get TCM, you have purchased three other channel packages and you have spent several hundred dollars just to do it and this is why cable companies completely suck now and it is obvious to everybody and their brother that they only do this kind of un-logical crap in order to squeeze every dime out of you that they can, because I certainly don’t need all of these cable channel packages because most of the channels within the sports package within the second package needed to buy the sports package and within the first package needed to buy the second package which is then needed to buy the sports package to get a classic movies channel, I wouldn’t watch and I can’t afford them anyway because all of these packages would make my cable bill almost $300, which I know to be true because I once subscribed to all of these useless packages a couple of years back just to get TCM.
Certainly not me.
At least not since 1985 when cable finally came to my neighborhood and I thought cable was the best invention ever in the history of all time. It’s been pretty downhill for me and cable since. 🙁
Anyway back to my point, with TCM out as a resource to watch The Member of the Wedding, I was having a hard time finding it anywhere else. Netflix wasn’t streaming it and they didn’t have the DVD to rent, which was yet another big clue to me that they seem to be trying to crash and burn the DVD part of their company since this is happening more and more lately, at least to me, where I try to find an old or not even old film and the DVD is no longer available on Netflix. So, next I tried Amazon. And finally, there was The Member of the Wedding. I discovered it in a Stanley Kramer DVD package for relatively cheap, but I didn’t need to buy it. Why? I already owned the Stanley Kramer DVD package that had The Member of the Wedding in it, among several of his other films. Kramer was both a director and producer of The Member of the Wedding, and his production company produced the film. And that’s when I began to kind of remember that something about The Member of the Wedding had upset me years ago during that first and only viewing and maybe that was why I wasn’t feeling all gung-ho internally when my friend suggested the film for this website, even though outwardly I was all like, “That’s a great idea! Why hadn’t I thought of that before?!” And so I was completely confused by my conflicting moods because I had no idea why I was dreading watching this film again because why else would I own a DVD for years now and never once have watched it in all of that time? Because I have some issues and it was time for me to deal with them.
The Member of the Wedding is a beautiful film. It is not a film to be dreading at all. It was adapted from the play by Carson McCullers, which had been adapted from her book. It tells the story of 12-year-old Frankie, who is played with absolute amazement and wonderment by then 27-year-old Julie Harris and after the first 5 minutes, and only if you have this knowledge of her real age at the time of the film’s shooting, you completely and utterly forget that this is a full-grown woman playing a 12-year-old girl. Frankie falls in love with the wedding of her brother and almost sister-in-law and wants to go away with them after the ceremony. Frankie tells her longings to her young cousin, John Henry, and the housekeeper, Bernice (played by Ethel Waters, who was a lesbian). But this film about a girl coming-of-age and dealing with the awful and confusing emotional growing pains that come with being 12 was like no other. Because here in this film that was released back in 1952 you have a tomboy (and probably a lesbian) for the heroine, a young boy who likes to wear girls’ clothes (and would have probably figured out he was gay) and an African American woman. And these are the three starring characters of the film. Now look at what I just wrote again. In 1952, a time of fierce segregation in the South and hatred of African Americans basically everywhere else in America, even if the laws didn’t officially express that; and repression and criminality of homosexuality everywhere, yet here we have a lesbian girl, a gay boy and an African American woman as the three stars of a major motion picture. Pretty amazing, right? So, why did I avoid this beautiful film for all of these years?
John Henry, Bernice and Frankie.
An African American woman. A gay boy. A lesbian girl. All minorities.
An image that was never seen in a film of this time and still not really seen today.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I have found every way possible to avoid what I really need to talk about here, from cable companies sucking to Netflix being unreliable with their DVD selection to how amazing this film is with having all three starring characters being minorities. And now I can find no other distractions, so here is the real reason why this film is here – I didn’t see this film for decades because it scared me. I only saw it that one time when I was a teenager and never again until just recently because it scared me. And I didn’t even finish watching the film when I did see it as a teenager because it scared me. A film has to be completely and totally unwatchable for me not to finish it and this film is so watchable and wonderful in so many ways. And so all of this fear and avoidance is because of Frankie. Frankie was in many ways me and me wasn’t a good or safe thing to be when I was a teenager. I was a tomboy in a small Southern town during a time when people would only accept a girl being a tomboy if (and that is a big IF) that girl would turn into a Cinderella-type beauty by the time she was 12 and would discard those tomboy clothes and short hair for dresses and long tresses and high-heeled shoes and crushes on boys. Well, when I saw The Member of the Wedding for the first time, I was 15 and I was still a tomboy for the most part. By 15, I was trying to wear kind of girlish clothes because I wanted to fit in, as in I wanted to NOT be singled-out and certainly not for being different as in BAD different. But I still had the short haircut. I still had no crushes on boys, unless you count George Michael and by the time I was15, I was over him because I had discovered he had hair on his chest and that grossed me out, but I still pretended to crush on him to the world and to myself because I was too scared to be anything else, as in a lesbian.
Welcome to the world of internalized homophobia and self-hatred because here was Frankie, throwing all of my fears into my face with looking like me and hurting like me and just wanting to be loved like me. I hated girls and women like Frankie. I hated seeing them on the TV, reminding me of who I really was because who I really was could not be without being abused (in my case verbally and mentally and emotionally) and hated and, I thought, spending a life unloved. Women like Frankie did not come on the TV much when I was growing up. We got a fair number of tomboys on the TV during my growing up years, but 99.999999% would eventually turn into the Cinderella queen and so I loved these tomboys. I could watch these tomboys and not fear them or me because maybe I could turn into the Cinderella queen too, trying to fool myself into thinking that maybe I was just a late bloomer. But if these other tomboys came on the TV, ones more like Frankie, it was very, very, very rare, but these were the women I never wanted to be. They were the tomboys who never turned into Cinderella. They kept their tomboy clothes and short hair and never crushed on boys. They obsessed over women instead and almost always it was a bad obsession that always had them as sociopaths and murderers because of their crushes rejecting them. Or they were just plain ole mean and grumpy and awful human beings. Was this going to be me too? Was I going to be like Luz from Giant instead of like Jo from Facts of Life? Jo eventually turned straight and girly, and Luz, well, she just died alone and grumpy.
But Frankie was still a bit different from all of the rest of the Luzes and the sociopaths and even the Jos. Frankie was real. She was happy and sad. She was funny and mean. She was a human being and not a Cinderella or a sociopath turned murderer or a grumpy old woman who was crushing on Elizabeth Taylor, but would never have her because she was no Rock Hudson or James Dean. When I watched The Member of the Wedding when I was 15, I realized that I was Frankie and that was the scariest, most awful thing I thought I could ever be and so I didn’t finish watching the movie that day long ago and never did watch it again for a long time after. And so when I finally did put The Member of the Wedding into my DVD player all of these years later, it took me three weeks to watch it this second time after my friend suggested it and I discovered that I owned it for years, but had forgotten, but I think on purpose because it’s not like me to forget that I own a movie. My friend asked me a few days ago, “Have you watched The Member of the Wedding yet?” And I replied that I had gotten half-way through it, but then had gotten distracted by other films, but I would finish it soon. Which was true, but not the whole truth. Because watching Frankie now, even though I now know that even though I am Frankie, it is fine and normal and nothing at all to be scared of, I was brought back to that time in my life when Frankie represented all of those things that scared me because I was told it was bad and wrong by society, by my family, by my TV to be me. And so it took me three weeks to deal with that. To deal with me and who I am and who I was. But I finished the film today and now, thanks to my friend and Frankie, I no longer fear her. I embrace Frankie and love her and am proud that I am her.
So for all of those Frankies out there that were once like me and scared of being her too, don’t because being Frankie is pretty God damned awesome. And so are we. 🙂
P.S.: Thanks to Linda, my friend, who suggested I watch The Member of the Wedding, and so saved me from poor, repressed, long ago teenage lesbian me in present day. Because just because I’m in my 40’s now, doesn’t mean that most days, I’m still not feeling like I did when I was 14, which was no picnic or roses and sunshine, let me tell you. Oh wait, I did, in that review above. 🙂
Fun Fact: Carson McCullars also wrote Reflections in a Golden Eye, which also had gay-themes and was also turned into a film, but this time it starred the always lovely (even when she’s screaming her head off in a movie), Elizabeth Taylor.