As many readers might recall, this past summer I spent July working in Saratoga Springs at Yaddo, a retreat for artists of all kinds, from painters and filmmakers to poets and composers. A letter arrived recently notifying me that I’d been named the 2015 Patricia Highsmith-Plangman Resident, so I want to share a post about Highsmith, her relationship with Yaddo, and the forthcoming movie Carol, which is based on Highsmith’s 1948 novel The Price of Salt.
According to Yaddo, Highsmith was a guest in 1948, and, generously, she remembered the community in her will:
Highsmith visited in 1948, on the recommendation of her friend Truman Capote, and completed her first book there, Strangers On A Train. She returned almost four decades later for conversations with Michael Sundell, then Yaddo’s President, and Board Chair Don Rice, which culminated in Highsmith’s decision to make Yaddo the sole beneficiary of her estate. Her legacy has made it possible for Yaddo to build an endowment and we welcome this opportunity to recognize her artistry, generosity and vision.
As the box office receipts from Carol begin to accrue, Yaddo’s budget stands to grow substantially. In other words, this could be the jackpot that will enable Yaddo to thrive for years to come.
The story is of two women who meet in a department store over the holidays in 1950s-era New York City. The younger woman (Rooney Mara) is a sales girl in the doll department, and the other (Cate Blanchett), older and more sophisticated, is a wealthy customer who lives on an estate (that looks very much like Yaddo) in New Jersey with her four-year-old daughter. The two women begin an unexpected affair, which leads to a nasty custody dispute; choices must be made. Directed by Todd Haynes and written by Phyllis Nagy, the film is a masterpiece of social dissection, beautifully shot and exquisitely acted. Each actress conveys her own brand of brittle determination to navigate the taboo against lesbianism in 1950s America–Blanchett with her physical elegance and haughty instability, Mara with her waifish forlornness and naive intensity, like a more bohemian Holly Golightly. Haynes does a remarkable job of integrating the visible and the emotional, shooting from oblique angles and into hidden nooks to evoke the unavoidably clandestine nature of the relationship, and then expansively–there’s one especially brilliant diverging tracking shot–to signify their fleeting liberation. Kyle Chandler too is excellent as Carol’s bitterly flummoxed husband, and gets the most out of a thankless role.
Few novelists are blessed with even a single great adaptation of their work. Highsmith, with Carol now joining Hitchcock’s rendition of Strangers on a Train, gets two–and The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Two Faces of January aren’t bad either.
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