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Southern Revival: “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond” – Two Shots

Southern Revival: "The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond" - Two Shots

Take One

A pleasurably weird character study lurks somewhere in the otherwise moldy period drama The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Based on a 50-year-old screenplay by Tennessee Williams, the film revolves around Fisher Willow (Bryce Dallas Howard), a strong-willed but cripplingly insecure Twenties-era Southern belle whose coy flirtatiousness and casual disdain for Southern culture can barely hide the desperation that haunts her every hair flip and eyelash flutter. This vision of womanhood—theatrical, flighty, grappling with tragedies past and present—appears regularly throughout Williams’s plays, which contain some of the most singular female characters in 20th-century drama: Blanche DuBois, Amanda Wingfield, Maggie “the Cat.” But while many of these women come most fully alive as characters in their interactions with brutish, withholding men pushing against their dreams and delusions, Fisher seems most vivid when Williams isolates her from others and lets her anxieties bubble to the surface. These moments not only add an intriguing wrinkle to Williams’s oeuvre but also humanize an essentially archetypal character, hinting at the all-too-relatable strains of isolation and fear that undergird her ostentatious displays of sophistication.

Getting to these moments, however, requires slogging through a thick mess of hothouse clichés and warmed-over Williams motifs. Read Matt Connolly’s review of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.

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Take Two

First-time filmmaker Jodie Markell’s The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, is based on a never-produced Tennessee Williams screenplay completed during his late 1950s heyday. Yet, surprisingly, the film’s pedigree and source material isn’t the sole reason to recommend this decades-late cinematic rendering. Far from perfect, Teardrop is at its best when it approximates Terence Davies territory: that is to say in those instances when it abandons the forward march of events in favor of mood and reverie. The film’s wordless prologue, in which a group of men dynamite a levy for mysterious reasons late at night, fades into a lit-from-above introduction of its flapper heroine, Fisher Willow (lamely named, but gamely played by a boozy, barely in control Bryce Dallas Howard), which recalled for me nothing so much as the breathlessly artificial opening of Davies’s The House of Mirth, in which we first meet Gillian Anderson’s Lily Bart. Whether she’s consciously emulating the British master or not (and Markell’s control over her images and montage isn’t on his level), that the comparison can even be made elevates Teardrop above the fray. Like that of Davies, Markell’s film, scored with the crackle and hiss of a gramophone, feels beamed here from another time. Read Jeff Reichert’s review of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.

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