Why are they so important?
It’s because Liz was all woman. She was dripping with smart, elegant sex. And, since sex is so often not smart, and woefully not elegant – she was a promise (no, not just to men) that a body – a woman’s body – could be one’s own great, personal frontier.
Let’s be brave, come on! They were lush! In fact, if we look at the whole picture, her body and voice oozed through her clothing. And, she used this when she acted and she used it to breathe trouble on screen. It’s simply true: her breasts were these remarkable story tellers: her body was the body men wanted, but for women, her body was a dreamed for (often secret) desire for freedom.
Now, much has been written in the past days of her being the end of a line of Hollywood elegance. The end of compassion as a profession – in that she was the first to make a very public distinction that love is love, therefore being Gay was a part of love – and that AIDS was nothing to be ashamed of: just cured. Yes, all of this is so very true. She was indestructible. She was a powerhouse. She was great.
And, where I come from, she was simply called a diva. Now, that’s not an insult. In the tradition of the theater, a great diva is a dynasty (no, no, I’m not making a campy 1980′s aside) – I mean a real dynasty: a tradition handed down from one generation of women to another. And, to be a great diva you absolutely need a few things:
– You really do have to be able to act.
– You have to make a great entrance.
– You have to have eyes that seem to look way past the audience, through them is preferable, and almost seem to become a part of the theater itself.
Now, since I never saw Liz Taylor on stage, all I can say is that when I watch any movie of her’s (from the repressed bad girl flicks of the 1950′s, and into the 60′s and 70′s where she began to loosen up just like the times) she was inherently dramatic – and you didn’t care. You didn’t care because, ok, the eyes, ok the voice, ok the chutzpah. But, it was her breasts.
Let’s get specific:
Liz’s body never was anyone’s but her own. She broke every rule to keep her body her “property”. After an abusive childhood as a star, one pumped with pills and inappropriate requests (and demands) by producers, once Taylor became a woman she decided to make her body her own. Yes, we hear about her wildness (and narcissism) as it related to marrying her best friends husband (no, not cool) or her producer husband whom she loved (and sadly died in a crash) and later La Liz and Le Richard – the trouble couple of all time. We’ve unfortunately come to link her body with these men. We look at pictures of her kissing them, of her in bikini’s on boats, of massive amounts of jewelry hanging from her neckline. That’s the body, the breasts and the image we’ve been sold.
Yet, for me, it was the softness of her lines. It was how she refused early on to wear no bra under those bathing suits and plunging dresses. Ok, a couple of times when she had to wear a slip … but not in the photos that were snatched by paparazzi … in those pictures she was a women … well, to be specific, a woman in love.
Liz Taylor always seemed to be in love. She was in love with men. She was in love with her roles. She was in love with jewelry and smells and friends and dogs. She was in love with people who were on the sidelines of culture. She was always, madly (and perhaps sometimes driven madly) in love.
This is why I want to remember her breasts (and don’t care if it seems sexist) for me her breasts became her own personal representation of the outbound, lush and glorious comfort she had with love. And, it wrecked her. And, she needed rehab. And, she just kept trying. And, we rooted for her. And, her body was always the thing she was willing to share, over and over again.
Can you imagine saying the same thing about Cate Blanchett? Or, the great Tilda Swinton? Or, even a Jennifer Lopez or even Meryl Steep (oh hell, why not!) No, you can’t image them just in LOVE and in LOVE and in LOVE to such a degree that their bodies literally shape shift, and move like all the fleshiest parts of us that crave to be unabashed: untamed.
She was a woman who had a body who had a life who made us want to love.
And, though we obsess on her eyes, for me, it’s her soft, crease-less affair with feeling deeply that is so moving. She was not tits and ass. She was never a second player. She was a great partner to men larger than life. She was damaged and knew it. She was a diva, and a great one.
And, each night since I heard she died, I’ve laid down to bed and thought of her. She’s always in that slip she wore in “Cat on a hot tin roof” – and she’s lying sideways, and she’s looking at me. The sound of the rain on the tin roof is clanging. The helicopters are flying overhead wanting a view of her. Richard is somewhere getting drunk and delaying a shoot. People are waiting for her next move, out of the shadows and back into the spotlight. But, with me, she’s that best friend, the one who tells you all her shit, and how she has no idea what will happen next, and why she seems to fuck it all up, and how she’s worried she’s not spending time with her kids, and how her back aches from the strain of a life too fast: Liz has been chatting me up with a clever storm about the travails of being a woman on the edge.
And, I hope I’ve listened with compassion. She’s so very charming and sweet. And, as she lays talking, her body has no plastic surgery applied to it – she’s what a woman looks like, well, sideways … not pointing forward, but delving into gravity.
Finally, when her long talk is done, she finds this remarkable repose, and then she’s been staring at me – really intent, and with a smile.
Not just at me, really, but at our generation – all the generations after hers – just looking hard and wondering what we are all about.
In this dream of Liz, I’ve been thinking about how she moved her heart forwards (yes, the thing that makes her breasts truly interesting, and truly sublime, behind them was that ceaseless pump of a heart) … how silly we must look to her all boxed up with fear, and careful about the little tweets we make in 1oo-and-something-characters-or-less, and the appropriateness we’ve all adapted to, and the tending to our social graphs … because in my head, Liz Taylor is always a rebel. In my minds eye, she shows off her cleavage with defiance, knows it’s not worth it just being “on course” – it’s more important being passionate – and protecting it, like mad.
And, then, she turns towards me. She gives that smile with knowing. That look of wisdom cultivated over years of pain. And, she says to me, and to us, all of us, in a quiet lilt, “Oh, come on love. Just. Love.”
Then, she sighs, a relaxed and happy sigh – her breasts heaving as she pulls herself up for the next scene: more love.