Metro Retro Movie Love In Conversation

Letter to Jane: Notes for a Hypothetical Piece

May 22 2018

I would begin my movie about Jane this way: by describing and then leaving behind Godard and Gorin’s ultimately male take on Jane.

I would go to Jane’s house. I would bring photographs of Jane with me. I would say: Look at yourself in these photographs—these various Janes. Who do you see? Do you see a paradigm? And who is she?
I would put the photographs on a bed. A museum of Jane.

I would say Jane, colored people like my sisters loved you most when you played the girl in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and when you ran the con on Donald Sutherland in Klute. These were women they could understand—women the world wanted to lose, but women who my sisters wanted to find.

I would put it to her: Jane, when I saw you lick your glasses and then further clean them on your sleeve, Jane, I saw this: a wide streak of performer vivacity.

I would want to say, Jane: Your time in Vietnam was of service, Jane, but perhaps showing us female oppression and confusion and literal prostitution in Klute told us a great deal, too.

I would say: Jane, I don’t do this kind of writing anymore. It’s been the end of this kind of writing for me, Jane, but no one can give up talking to you, Jane, especially if you are an American because it is too much the story of America: your strident off-putting voice, mimicing of various men you’ve adored, not knowing yourself, and saying, in the end, that there may not be such a thing: a self.

For years, I would say to Jane, for years, I thought I was Jane in Julia, until it turned out I was really Vanessa Redgrave, holding that friend’s hand across the table, calling them “My beloved friend.” Beat. “Now go!”

I would say: Jane, I watched you worry for everyone’s comfort backstage, and your need to organize, and your need to connect, and your need to exercise your good manners. I recognized all of those things, Jane.

I would ask Jane about her hands—famously, Henry Fonda’s hands. What was striking when I met your children, Jane: They have your hands, which is to say your father’s.

At the after-party for your play, Jane, you complimented one of the producers by saying he was one reason your father loved the theatre so. But do you love the theatre, Jane? Do you?

Could I say, Jane, the best story I heard about you recently was a road trip you took with Madeleine Sherwood when you were both at the Actor’s Studio. And how, on that road trip, Madeleine Sherwood, who played Mother Superior on The Flying Nun, taught you how to make a woman cum. Or at least one woman. Was Madeleine Sherwood your Wally Cox, Jane?

I would show Jane these photographs of herself backstage. I would say: Jane, I took these photographs of you, but I took them with the eye of someone else. What do you see? Jane, it hurts when you smile. I see you as the twelve-year-old girl you must have been, trying to smile through the news that your mother had slit her throat for want of love from your very cold father. You speak of him still.

Jane, we have too much in common. •

Hilton Als is an American writer and theater critic.