Bette Davis died in Paris on 6th October 1989. To mark the 30th anniversary of this sad event, Martin Shingler commissioned ten of America and Britain’s leading film scholars to write a short statement about what they consider to be her greatest achievement and legacy.
Richard Dyer, one of the world’s most admired and influential film scholars, offered his words:
Bette Davis, unlike Crawford or Stanwyck, is eminently imitable. She has been a gift to centuries of drag queens, Greta Scacchi and Susan Sarandon have brilliantly captured her fascination, Davis herself was not above self-caricature. She is imitable because she is mannered: those gestures, that walk, the crack in the voice, the unexpected pauses. Manneredness is often considered a vice; Davis gives the lie to this shibboleth. She shows us, supremely in Marked Woman, The Letter, The Old Maid, Now, Voyager and All About Eve, that there are always everywhere manners, that is, codes of behaviour – Davis was doing performativity before Judith Butler was born.
What makes Davis truly great, however, is the sense that someone has to be doing the performance and that there is a cost attendant on this, of getting the performance right or failing to do so. Davis conveys this in those hand movements and wonderful eyes, not quite doing what the voice and posture propose. We can only ever have before us performance, but we can sense what is moving it and moving about it: this is Davis’ legacy. In short, the last thing she truly is is imitable: she is profoundly inimitable.
You can read all of the statements here.