What Ever Happened to Reasonably Priced Red Vines?

Madeleine Connors can’t believe her Bette Davis eyes at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s “Baby Jane” screening.

By Madeleine ConnorsJuly 9, 2024

    What Ever Happened to Reasonably Priced Red Vines?

    CINESPIA: WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, June 29, 2024.

    I find Cinespia annoying. Sure, it’s a Los Angeles rite of passage—like eating buffalo cauliflower or suffering through Pilates. And in theory, I should love a screening series hosted in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. After all, it marries two of my favorite things: classic films and dead actresses’ tombstones. The concept is macabre yet silly—descriptors that usually promise the perfect L.A. outing. Still, every time I leave the outdoor theater space (and despite tossing my long since purchased ticket stub in a nearby garbage can), I’m not entirely sold. I’ve yet to get to the bottom of why, though, and so I find myself returning—most recently, to attend a screening of Victor Buono’s 1962 camp-meets-horror masterpiece, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

    Before I head out, I’m texting with a guy friend—one of those so-called “toxic film bros” that people with no taste complain about—whom, above all else, I can trust for pithy takes on film culture. Generally, we agree that Cinespia is an overpriced photo op for hot people looking to get white-wine-drunk at a cemetery; an Instagram page with nearly 20K followers, Cuties at Cinespia


    proves our point. When I attended in the past, the audience talked loudly and got too rowdy. (Sue me: I don’t think every movie needs to be treated like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

    Yet it’s a balmy summer night, and I’m in good spirits when I arrive for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? A friend and I walk through the graveyard at dusk, marveling at ornate Gothic tombstones (I can’t help wondering if for her, too, the sight evokes a tinge of existential melancholy). In the distance, a peacock wails faintly. The whole scene feels imbued with a distinctly Hollywood brand of poetic irony: here, in a town obsessed with ghosts and legacies, we come to watch movies directly atop the bones of the people who made them. Even in the afterlife, the show must go on—we simply refuse to allow our beloved film stars respite from the industry and its eternal drumbeat.

    My friend and I enter Cinespia’s screening spot at Fairbanks Lawn, where a black-and-white photo booth boasts a giant Baby Jane doll head for the Cuties’ posing pleasure. The area is lined with snack and liquor stands, at one of which I buy a single Kit Kat bar and a pack of Red Vines for an outrageous $16. Settled on the grass, I’m surrounded by audience members dressed as Baby Jane, their faces powdered bright white and proudly displaying the character’s signature heart birthmark. My friend tells me she saw one particularly broad-shouldered Baby Jane chain-smoking, and the image amuses us. Campy and non-campy cinemagoers alike chatter, sprawling out across picnic blankets and picking at elaborate spreads of wine and cheese. Lest we forget we’re in a cemetery, red neon beams are angled artfully onto nearby headstones. Somewhere in the distance, a DJ plays ABBA. A woman offers to take my picture.

    Our screening begins with an introduction from the programmer. The coolly dressed guy begins by explaining the famed rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford but assures us that they “hung up their rivalry” to make the notorious film—this film, so brilliantly campy, so excessively dramatic that one could mistake it for the work of John Waters. It’s an incredible piece of art. Watching the large screen—my mind blissfully, momentarily removed from the inanity of my environment—I wonder why we no longer allow older actresses to inhabit roles like Baby Jane. Ugly, psychotic, broken—have these sights become so offensive to us?

    This train of thought doesn’t get far. “YES, BITCH!” yells the woman behind me as Bette Davis appears. Tonight, the dead shall not rest.


    Photo by contributor.

    LARB Short Takes live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

    LARB Contributor

    Madeleine Connors is a stand-up comedian and writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in places like The New York Times, Bookforum, and Vanity Fair.


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