A Streetcar Named Desire: First Class Choice

      For a film-literature course, I believe that A Streetcar Named Desire is an appropriate and wonderful selection. Both Tennessee Williams' 1947 play and Elia Kazan's 1951 screen version are extremely well-done. Both are interesting, emotion-packed, powerful, and even chilling. What more could a professor seek or students demand?

      At the center of Williams' play is Blanche, an aging, wounded woman searching for a way to escape her painful, promiscuous past. This woman, I believe, is one of the most complex a moving characters ever created. Her words are beautiful--revealing, and stirring-and from them, readers catch a glimpse of Blanche's inner-reality (which is as disturbing as it is intriguing).

      While Blanche is (for me) the most memorable, Williams' play includes other strong characters as well. Stanley, the hard-working, bad-tempered husband, and Stella, a wife so driven by desire she ignores reality, are also vivid and real. The play presents a plausible reality that readers believe-one in which people are genuinely interested.

      Dr. Samuel Johnson says that literature produces pleasure only when it includes "just representations of nature." By this he means that audiences are pleased by stories, plays, etc. that mirror nature-that irritate life. Certainly, Williams does just that. Even is a reader has not been in a similar situation, he/she is able to appreciate A Streetcar Named Desire for its depiction of real-life issues and emotions.

      In addition to the play's memorable characters and its honest, natural portrayal of life, A Streetcar Named Desire creates vivid images in the readers' minds. Certainly in a play, it is difficult to use imagery because there is little description and mostly action/words. However, I will never forget my image of Blanche, half-drunk, standing in her gaudy dress and jewelry, pretending (well, believing) that she will soon be saved by her ex-boyfriend. Likewise, the scene in which she is haunted by the woman selling flowers for the dead is very vivid-what a talent for playwrights to create such images without pages and pages of description!

      So, I believe without reservation that Williams' play is brilliant and beneficial; and the film is wonderful also. Elia Kazan beautifully captured the essence-the passion-of Williams' play. There are a few differences (for various reasons), but the film version is great, and I think most students eagerly agree.

      Marlon Brandon plays Stanley (which might help gain some attention from the females in the class), and he is amazing! His presence on stage/screen demands attention and respect. In fact, he is so good that I think he takes the focus away from Blanche, played by Viven Leigh. Viven Leigh, a popular and well-respected actress, shined as Blanche-but Brando cast at least a partial shadow on her role. Kim Hunter played Stella quite successfully. Even the more minor characters-down to the flower-woman at the end-were real and vivid. The entire cast sparkled!

      The "costumes" of the actors revealed a lot. Blanche's (Leigh's) clothing seems carefully planned; she wears fashionable clothes and jewelry, and her hair is always neat and lovely. Kim Hunter, on the other hand, has a simpler style. Her clothes are plain, and she does not wear jewelry. Her hair, often messy or out of place, lacks the polished look of her sister's. Stanley dresses as a working man really would-older-looking clothes, often even no shirt (ummm…).

      One problem I had with the film is the parts that were left out, or toned down (though even these changes are understandable and do NOT ruin the overall film). Due to strict censorship laws, the film mutes the fact that Blanche's late husband was gay. This is much clearer in the book, which I think is important. This part of the play was probably very important to Williams since he himself was gay; but, mostly, this discovery altered Blanche as a person. It scarred her, so including it in the film version would have enhanced the emotion and power.

      Also, in the end of the film, Stella refuses to return to her husband. At the time of production, it would have been unheard of for a woman to end up "living happily ever after" with a "bad guy." This change is unfortunate; however, because the Stella depicted in Williams' play would have undoubtedly returned to Stanley.

      Still, these alterations in plot in no way ruin the film version. It is, though, beneficial and interesting to examine the changes-why they were made and what they did for the film.

      Since both the play and the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire are so good, I cannot imagine a film-lit course without this particular combination. If I were to teach a similar course, it would certainly be on my syllabus (okay, maybe I just want an excuse to see Brando's abs one more time). The artistic/literary value is great; and, since Williams is not widely read by students, the play is a nice exposure to a talented (and I think overlooked) playwright. Also, the entertainment value of this combination is high. The play is enjoyable and easy to read; and the film version is entertaining and powerful. The issues addressed in each are still prevalent today, and students are able to relate to and appreciate both the play and the movie. So, for a film-lit class, A Streetcar Named Desire is a great (almost necessary) selection.

Shannon Ursrey

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