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My cultural highlight of the summer? An old movie where I got lost in the eyes of Bette Davis | Rachel cooke


OBut in the world again, I have seen a lot of new exhibitions and a little bit of new theater, the hearts go out to these actors who, despite good reviews, still make callbacks to the sound of too little clapping. But in the end, the cultural highlight of my summer had nothing to do with novelty. In a BFI cinema on the South Bank of London, I saw Old acquaintance, a 1943 melodrama starring Bette Davis, and thought, not for the first time, of a line from film critic E Arnot Robertson, who wrote in Photo message: “I think Bette Davis would have been burned alive as a witch if she had lived three or four hundred years ago. It gives the curious impression of being in charge of a power which does not find an ordinary outlet.

BFI’s Bette Davis season, now sadly over, was bliss: an embarrassment of riches to be enjoyed in the velvety darkness, preferably with a surreptitious flask of something strong (bars are still closed). But what to choose? Old acquaintance, which is about the love-hate relationship between two women who have been friends since childhood (co-stars of Miriam Hopkins) is a pretty gruesome film, the mark of the high tide of the ’40s’ photo of a woman. But I love him for two reasons. The first is that in the character of Davis, a writer called Kit Marlowe, we have one of the nicest portraits Hollywood has ever drawn of the single woman. The second is for Davis herself, who puts on such an extravagant performance that she could be in a completely different movie. The patrician voice. Oyster eyes. The absolute mastery of every emotion, from desire to ambition. On the way back, my jaw hurt: the effect of having spent nearly two hours with her wide open in amazement.

Taste of yesterday

Retro chic: Janet & Lucy for Janet Kennedy, print designer at Clothkits. Photograph: FAMILY PHOTO

I felt homesick reading an obituary for Janet Kennedy, the designer of the Clothkits sewing patterns, who passed away last month at the age of 87. As clear as day, they appeared before me: an eggplant chasuble from my sister, which somehow brought both William Morris to attention. and Felicity Kendal as Barbara Good, and a satchel that I loved so much for its strap that looked like a tape measure. But doesn’t life go round in circles? The same article revealed that Kennedy was taught by artist Peggy Angus, whose Sussex home, Furlongs, is celebrated in a famous photo by Eric Ravilious and whose work I grew to love while writing. a book about the 1950s. Taste is formed in a roundabout as well as obvious way and with that in mind I’m about to order several retro birthday gifts from Clothkits – they still exist! – for nieces and nephews. Instagram isn’t the only way to be an influencer.

University comedy

The chair
The Chairman: “ageist”. Photograph: Eliza Morse / AP

I appreciate The chair on Netflix, a satire on American campus politics that feels mightily welcome, even though I find it a bit sweet (raised on David Lodge and some in-depth knowledge through my lineage, I have high standards of evil donation wise). But it seems incredibly ageist to me. It is the older professors who are the butt of his most dismal jokes, which have to do not only with their inability to understand critical race theory, but with colonoscopies, incontinence, and a complete inability to use the language. photocopier of the English department. In liberal circles, age is now the last acceptable prejudice. Gently prick the woken up if you have to, but keep your real disdain for anyone over 50.

Rachel Cooke is a columnist for The Observer

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