Woman in Read: Lauren Bacall

The real reason I know Lauren Bacall is because of her pictures. Not films, but stills. The four-odd films I did watch gave a glimpse, but a moving frame. I've been reading about her "call for jungle mating" voice and 'The Look', which she said was perfected due to nervousness that made her choose a stance where she tilted her chin low and gazed upwards.

These have been captured wonderfully in photographs.

“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” (From 'To have and have not')

The small technical detail of lips together being unable to blow is inconsequential.

The pictures I liked the most are not about all the adjectives used for her. There is something about a woman reading that grabs my attention, not because I don't think women read but because it has a special allure. I immediately begin thinking about what is being read, the way the lips might move or the fingers trace the sentences, the manner in which a teardrop might fall on a page or the words reflect in a smile. There is always a something-might-happen sense when I see such pictures, because a woman reading is also about a woman being read.

This is what Bacall wrote when she was asked to maintain a low tone even in emotional scenes for a film:

“Who sat on mountaintops in cars reading books aloud to the canyons? I did.”

In the image above the domesticity, some almost artificial (the dog looks unreal), is sharpened by the newspaper, that link to the outside world. That she is wearing dark lipstick and her jaw is taut captures a certain restlessness.

This is the one I was drawn to right at the beginning. It is obviously not a book. Is it a diary or just a notebook? There is a reason for my interest. I've always had such diaries that I use to make notes — the notes may range from stuff to buy or order to ideas to execute to thoughts regurgitated. One rarely reads them.

I wonder what Bacall is reading. Has she written the notes, and is she reading them to remember or to recount. And where has the pen gone from that pen-hold on the book?

These are film stills, so obviously they have a story. As I am seeing them in isolation, they offer a variety of possibilities.

And possibilities, especially of buttoned-up collars and reined-in feelings, are always tantalising.


Lauren Bacall died at 89