Second Sight

I had never seen this film, but was reading Henry Miller story, upon which it is based and then stumbled upon the DVD. A cyclone of gossip erupted around Peter Bogdanovich, the Director and Cybill Shepherd, his lead: Daisy. Yet, she is perfect casting. The picture was snubbed at the time, just like Daisy Miller was snubbed in the film, but I encourage you to see it. Away from the marketing blitzkrieg of rolling out a film and the cold shoulder of those long ago who shunned it, it stands not as a great film, but a worthy film and a rare film. This is a story about a character that is usually ignored or dismissed.

Daisy Miller is an uneducated, rich, spoiled American girl who has come to Europe with her long suffering mother, expertly played by Cloris Leachman, and her obnoxious brother who has the social graces of a flea, in other words an ordinary kid. To some Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, Europe was like a finishing school for the wealthy, the hunting grounds for young women whose only occupation was to snare a husband, if lucky, a well endowed one. This is the sole plot.

However, Daisy and it seems all American woman named Daisy inspire more fantasy than is good for them e.g. (The Great Gadsby), uses her looks, fashion sense and in your face style of flirtation to basically do what ever she wants, thus causing a cascading scandal though out high society. What are her sins? She wants to see a castle and asks a gentleman to take her there without a chaperone. She refuses the help of an older society matron, who basically destroys her options with the elite as punishment. She goes at night to see the Coliseum in the moonlight with the only friend left to her, for which, if you don’t know the story, there are devastating consequences more serious than social shame.

What Bogdanovich caught so well was the blatant, blathering, innocence of youth in the face of the gaping maw which is social law, an unspoken, unwritten hierarchy of influence which Daisy’s mere presence destroys. I suddenly thought of the young women in countries, whose most courageous act might be the scandal of driving a car, going to school, not marrying a man chosen for them, or something truly disreputable, like either to wear or not to wear, a veil over their entire face. All horrifying choices for women TODAY in societies attempting to engage the dreams of young girls though repression, guilt and even murder. Let us place Daisy Miller amongst her sisters. She just wants to do what she wishes and its against all the rules. One way or another there are those who want her removed or destroyed.

The narrator of the story, a man Daisy actually has some real feeling for, is caught in the same snare of social doom she is, but he colludes, to his ultimate regret. For that sin, he suffers a human pain which runs deeper than the poisoned arrows of social scorn. He too could have broken the rules,  for even the most careful obedience carries an inherent punishment.  They who live by the rules of shifting social allegiances and ultimate devaluation of their own individuality, also die by those same rules.

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