“Rome is full of the sound of running water, near or distant, loud or barely distinguishable; running water and stone steps are almost as much the signature of the city as the cream-colored domes against the blue sky: and it was not a thing easy to believe, that the man standing at the other end of the window would be urinating against it.”
~ Tennessee Williams The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.
Within the story is a journey of the feminine. A journey that is not often revealed in our current culture. I have watched this film many times. The characters have depth and are interesting. I purchased a Kindle Book copy to read a year or two back. Today I read it and I am glad that I did. The film is an exceptionally good rendering but lacks the full depth of William‘s novel.
Two characters in this short novel are the opposite from each other. One is a shy beautiful young man who rests on an Egyptian obelisk and the other is an aged woman who has lost her beauty and rests on an experience she calls drifting.
“American tourists who had stopped a little space away from him, under the Egyptian obelisk whose cryptic pagan engravings the man was appearing to study.”
His clothes are worn and there are holes in his shoes while her clothes become more and more of the highest fashion. This beautiful Apollo has no name and the aged woman is a famous actress, and both find they are in Rome. One was born there the other is a rich tourist. The young man is fixed on her,
“for when a man has an appointment with grandeur, he dares not stoop to comfort…”
She is aware of him yet ignores him. He tries to get her attention and she is frightened by his common ways and poverty. His archetype is her Dionysus, that is reaching for that part of herself that is empty. He wants to fill that emptiness with passion and happiness. A stillness that speaks of illumination. He taps, appears in reflections from windows and gestures an ancient salute to try and get her attention.
“His beauty was notable even in a province where the lack of it is more exceptional in a young man. It was the sort of beauty that is celebrated by the heroic male sculptures in the fountains of Rome.
Two things disguised it a little, the dreadful poverty of his clothes and his stealth of manner. The only decent garment he wore was a black overcoat which was too small for his body.
Its collar exposed a triangle of bare ivory flesh, no evidence of a shirt. The trouser-cuffs were coming to pieces. Naked feet showed through enormous gaps in his shoe leather. He seemed to want to escape the attention which his beauty invited, for whenever he caught a glance he turned aside from it. He kept his head lowered and his body hunched slightly forward.
And yet he had an air of alertness. The tension of his figure suggested that he was continually upon the verge of raising his voice or an arm in some kind of urgent call or salutation.”
The film does not touch in on many of the especially important elements that hint upon the magic of female initiation contained in Williams’s novel. The film is much darker than the path of the story.
“…by the balustrade of the terrace. She looked down from it, absently, into the well of the little piazza below. The last remnant of sunlight was touching the pagan inscriptions upon the dull rose granite of the obelisk.”
Film December 28, 1961: Karen Stone (Vivien Leigh)
Karen Stone is waking up to a place within herself. A place that is not moving. She lost her husband to death and has given up her acting career. Karen lost her beauty and the pretense of years of heartless ambition. Her drifting is now partly filled with another young man. He has a name, a position, and has many of the ambitious qualities that she herself once had.
“Paolo is by way of being a little—what was the word she had used? Oh, yes, marcbetta! Something a little superior to a whore but still something on the market superior mostly in being more expensive, an article of greater luxury and refinement, what the French called poule de luxe…”
One difference is he awakens a passion in her she has never experienced before. Even after menopause she is now finding a new place in her life.
“The past was, of course, the time when her body was still a channel for those red tides that bear organic life forward. Those rhythmic tides had now withdrawn from her body, leaving it like a tideless estuary on which desire rested like the moon’s image on a calm sheet of water.”
Maybe only moments open to her where she does not experience that feeling of drifting.
“She feels as if time has stopped. in her heart, what would she find as she moved? Was it simply a void, or did it contain some immaterial force that still might save as well as it might destroy her?”
A shining happiness is approaching Karen Stone that may be something ancient and good.
“Her head was remarkably quiet as if a savage bird had been locked in it which had now flown out through some invisible opening.”
I love the film but it is only a shy companion next to Tennessee William’s novel.
notes All quotes are from the film and or novel by Tennessee Williams The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Trinità dei Monti
41°54′22.1″N 12°28′59.6″E Above the Spanish Steps. An Aurelian copy, although smaller, of the Flaminio obelisk of Ramses II in the Piazza del Popolo, for the Gardens of Sallust. Found by the Ludovisi and moved to the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano in 1734, but kept horizontal. Erected in 1789 by Pope Pius VI.