I find it very difficult to allow my whole life to rest on the existence of another creature. I find it equally difficult, because of my innate arrogance, to believe in the idea of love. There is no such thing, I say to myself. There is lust, of course, and usage, and jealousy, and desire and spent powers, but no such thing as the idiocy of love. Who invented that concept? I have wracked my shabby brains and can find no answer. But when people die … those who are taken away from us can never come back. […] So I have decided that for a second or two, the precious potential of you in the next room is the only thing in the world worth living for.
You must know, of course, how much I love you. You must know, of course, how badly I treat you. But the fundamental and most vicious, swinish, murderous, and unchangeable fact is that we totally misunderstand each other. […] But how-so-be-it nevertheless. (A cliche among Welsh politicians.) I love you and I always will …. Come back to me as soon as you can …
BELOVED IDIOT. I MISS YOU TERRIBLY.
— Richard Burton
I suppose it's apt that I'm writing this post on day two of an epic hangover, given the prodigious amount of alcohol both Richarch Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are reported to have put down throughout their lives. I can't say as I've ever cared too much about Elizabeth Taylor, and Burton died when I was a child, so he was never in my consciousness. However, my favourite gossip columnist (I'm not going to pretend I'm above such things) raved over Furious Love for a month, and I'm always up for a good Hollywood story.
To get access to private documents, many of them not published before, I'm sure the authors of Furious Love had to promise not to do a hatchet job on the love story of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Then again, I never got the feeling that they were pulling back from wanting to be snarky. There's a feeling of real respect and goodwill on the part of Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, for the two actors. While Burton and Taylor created quite the scandal in their day, there's no judgement in the writing, merely a spirited reporting of the facts. This is not to say this biography is simply a dry retelling of events (which for my taste, too many bios happen to be). Furious Love has excellent narrative flow, and moves along quickly, even through the frequent details of film-making logistics. More than anything, I think the best aspect of Furious Love is that it avoids being melodramatic (in opposition to what the title would suggest). It would be so easy to make an overly flowery, purple-prose laden book from the subject matter, but Kashner and Schoenberger manage to strike a great balance of journalistic distance and sympathetic interest that reminds the reader that Burton and Taylor were real -- though extraordinary -- people. There's also an interesting subtextual theory running through Furious Love about how the modern concept of paparazzi perhaps started with Burton and Taylor, as they were arguably the first couple to be hounded by the press to such a degree.
One needs only to look at the recent Eminem video/song "Love the Way You Lie" to see that we still tend to conflate "anger" with "passion." Taylor and Burton did so, perhaps because of their booze intake, perhaps they were just fiery people, but it's often said in Furious Love that it was the fighting that somehow kept their connection strong. I've had a relationship that mostly consisted of fighting (though, let me be very clear, not violence), in its last year especially, and I can't say as that ever made me feel more passionate towards him. Quite the opposite in fact. Make up sex? Forget it. More like not speaking for days, or sniping passive-aggressively. That said, there's still a part of my brain that insists that "real" love is the way it's portrayed in the "real" life of Burton and Taylor, because media have always told me so. Burton and Taylor aren't much different from a romance novel couple, and of course that's what makes them interesting to read about. One wouldn't read 400 pages of "Burton ate some cereal, then washed and dried the bowl, replacing it in the kitchen cupboard where he had found it." The Fiery Couple is what books and movies are made of. Since life is, in general, really about the cereal bowls, and if they're left out dirty, we need stories of people like Burton and Taylor to relieve us of that mundane world. The distraction, I think, is what keeps us able to deal with the cereal bowls.