Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's one, long, loud l-a-u-g-h!


I Love You Again (1940) is as perfect as it gets. Powell is a god, Loy is a goddess and I chocked on my milkshake several times, it was hilarious. Such great acting coming from the leads, they have amazing chemistry. My favourite on-screen couple for sure! It belongs to the "estranged married couple falling in love all over again" category, to which The Awful Truth (a gem, I talked about it here) belongs as well. The tagline (see title) isn't misleading - this movie is pure fun from beginning to end. I must say Powell (who plays George Carey, an ex-con who suffers from amnesia and discovers he was an ex-con and tries to win back his wife) is an amazing actor and is perfect in comedies - he's lucky to have found Loy (Kay Wilson) who can deliver deadpan jokes like nobody's business. Some dialog to lure you in:

KAY WILSON: Where did you learn to dance like this?

Some more:

GEORGE CAREY: You be careful madam, or you'll turn my pretty head with your flattery.
KAY WILSON: I often wished I could turn your head - on a spit, over a slow fire.

There's even a scene where Kay asks George if he'd like some eggs, and when he says yes, she suggests he wears them, and lets her eggs slide from her plate onto his head before leaving the room. That's Myrna for you!

Double Wedding (1937) may not have been as completely crazy as I Love you Again, but it was an excellent movie nonetheless. I feel the death of Jean Harlow might have had something to do with the tone of the movie - Powell and Loy's hearts just weren't into it. Harlow, who had been Powell's fiancée for 2 years, died at 26 during production and both Loy (who was a good friend of Harlow's) and Powell took it very hard. It has a sinister feel, even though some scenes are particularly excellent - the end is practically perfect in every way and it's hard not to laugh at a William Powell in a lady's fur coat. Some scenes reminded me of the wonderful Libeled Lady (talked about it here).

Love Crazy (I talked about it here), I Love you Again and Double Wedding are available in the Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection, along with Manhattan Melodrama and Evelyn Prentice which I have never seen. Let me put this plainly: I.WANT.THIS.BOXSET. I'll buy it as soon as possible, this is my top priority along with the Forbidden Hollywood boxsets, The Awful Truth and Libeled Lady. By the way, I'm taking donations (I'm joking, of course!).

Don't they look simply divine?

MYRNA LOY: "Some perfect wife I am," she said, referring to her typecasting. "I've been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can't boil an egg."
WILLIAM POWELL: [when asked how he kept so slim] "I highly recommend worrying. It's much more effective than dieting."
MYRNA ABOUT WILLIAM: "I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and above all, a true gentleman."

As far as TV is concerned, I am still in the middle of my West Wing marathon. I'm a bit slow but that's just because I have finally given in to the lure of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had never watched the show when it aired, although all my friends were addicted to it: when the show started to be broadcast here I was 11 and way too frightened of all the paranormal aspects of it to be tempted to watch it. After years of avoiding the show because it was too popular, I recently decided to give it a go. The first season is not the best, I feel: it has its interesting bits (three episodes in particular, Angel, Nightmares and Prophecy Girl which is the season finale) but overall it's very cliché and cheesy. However, I'm glad I've watched it all from the beginning, some characters really evolve, Cordelia for example, for whom I have a fondness because she reminds me of my cousin. At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, characters are the thing that make us want to stick to a show, a book, a movie - characters make a story. The situations are merely here to reveal them. So while I'm still not a fan of all the paranormal stuff, I enjoy the characters' personal development very much. I'm taking it all slowly, I'm trying not to rush and try to appreciate the show without too much pressure. If I ever reach the seventh season, I'll post about it. So far, I can tell you that I love Buffy (she's a great heroine, probably my favourite character), that I can't wait for Willow to have her moment of glory, that we get to see some very interesting things related to Xander, that Buffy/Angel is beautiful, that Angel alone is beautiful, that Spike is insanely cool and that I can't wait for Oz and Willow to finally talk.

Recently, I received my copy of the last part of the second season of Arthur, my very favourite cartoon. I am aware that this is a very didactic cartoon where the idea of tolerance is in every episode. However, I think that ultimately what saves it from being preachy is that it's extremely funny. Besides, it can be enjoyed by adults too as it is one of the few cartoons that keeps referencing itself - long-standing jokes are very common. It parodies a great deal of things as well. I heart this show so very much.

The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst was a fun read. While I wasn't as enthralled by it as I was by The Line of Beauty (which was a crazy, disturbing and wonderful experience), it was hard to put down. It's a book about many things, I'm not sure I could sum it up briefly. We follow Will during his many sexual adventures and as seems to be always the case with Hollinghurst, it allows for the exploration of different things - sex, love, art. In a way, I guess we could also say this book is about erotica and pornography and how close to real life they are - it's both a physical and intellectual experience to read a Hollinghurst novel and this one is no exception.
What I liked most about the novel is its scope. On cover of being an episodic novel where the main character meets as many as two new people per page, it addresses many issues and does so in a very effortless, warm way. It never feels forced. Will isn't completely lovable but he is always so charming you can't help but be under his spell. Betrayal also seems to be a common theme in Hollinghurst's novels - the ultimate one wasn't as devastating as in The Line of Beauty, but it had me question several things nonetheless.
I must say Hollinghurst is becoming one of my favourite authors, I love what he's doing.

Henry James' Washington Square was not at all a novel I thought James could write. It tells the story of Catherine who falls for a man who is rejected by her father, a doctor, because of the man's lack of fortune. What struck me the most was its humour:

In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognised sources of credit.

This book could be entitled Persuasion, really. Not because of any similarity with Austen's own book - although James' writing is often very austenian - but because that's what the book is about: should Catherine listen to her father or follow her heart? The story takes some unexpected turns, and ultimately the best parts are the portrayals of the characters, especially that of the doctor. I enjoyed it because the plot was well-built - ascension, climax and fall - and the character well-drawn. I agree with Mark Le Fanu who, in his introduction to the new Oxford World's Classics edition, talks about just how dramatic this book is. It reads like a play. It's so completely different from what I've heard about him, which is why it probably makes a good introduction to his work - it's a transition of sorts. While it was a good read, I still do not feel it's representative of James' work so I am looking forward to opening my copy of Portrait of a Lady and compare the two. I have also been recommended The Golden Bowl at least twice. A movie adaptation of Washington Square was released in 1997 - I think the plot is a bit too flimsy to allow for a movie, so I'm curious to see how they dealt with it.

In unrelated news, Ronni posted her thoughts about something I said concerning childhood memories. If you remember, I said that I don't think people are critical enough of their childhood loves: I think all loves need to be reevaluated constantly and the best ones are the ones that stand the test of time. I didn't put it like that, but that is what I meant. So much of what I loved as a child I'm ashamed to have even liked today. I didn't read or watch that much when I was a child so it may be easier for me to just forget about those than it is for people who were really shaped by their childhood loves. I was shaped by a few (Arthur, for example, but I still discover new episodes today and I'm not ashamed of liking it today - it's a great show and "tolerance is better than bigotry" is a message I'm willing to stand behind - Little Women on the other hand...). I like Ronni's division a lot, even though it doesn't apply to me - in particular, the Head, Heart and Soul section. What she says is this:

Head, Heart and Soul: These texts are technically proficient. They possess themes which speak to me on a personal level and make me want to write about them and discuss them with other fans. But, most importantly, they make me reexamine who I am, make me want to change, to become better, to think more. These are the texts that I would quite possibly die to save. Thinking about these texts makes my life worth living.

The problem is not that I can't think of such texts, of course I can. If you've been reading this journal for some time I hope you've realised I'm very passionate about my obsessions. Who isn't? However, contrary to Ronni, I can't talk about them, they mean too much to me and apart from saying that, indeed, this changed my life, I don't know what else I can say. I constantly discover Head, Heart and Soul texts: I mean, look at this journal. I am not arguing that the things that affect you when you're a teen and willing to be shaped, longing to be shaped, even, waiting for something worth dying for, so to speak, are strong because they are a part of you. What I mean is that I think it's important to reread them no matter what afterwards - even if it's dangerous, even if it hurts. You may be surprised. In a bad way - I didn't know there was racism/misogyny/homophobia, take your pick, in this text, I'm disgusted, I don't understand, I'm hurt, I'm betrayed - but also in a good way - I am proud to have been shaped by this, I recognize the ideas and they're my own as well, we are one and always will be. I'm also going to make a distinction between childhood and teenagehood: I think you have much more chance of being shocked by a childhood love than by a teenage love. Ultimately, and this is very much my own opinion, I don't know to what extent people can agree with me, childhood loves entertain first, teenage loves shape first. If it shaped you, I think you have a better chance of finding it just as good as you remember it to be. If it entertained you, chances are you're going to reread it differently now and see other stuff, for better or for worse (girls should cook, play the mum and sew, anyone?). Don't be afraid of revisiting your memories, I think some of them really need to be desacralized - others can remain as sacred as you wish, but when I see people are still recommending things they'd be ashamed to read for the first time today, I can't help but wonder.

Now to music! Blues has always been one of my favourite genres - it touches me like nothing else, in fact. My favourite blues singer might just be Mississippi John Hurt, he's got such a sweet voice and his texts are so playful. So here he is, for your listening pleasure. Have a magical week!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oh, "damned" and "hell" - that's not swearing. They came out of the sinful category an age ago!


Betsy Blair passed away on March 13. I've never seen any of her movies but I've read her autobiography entitled The Memory of All That years ago and it's always been one of my favourites. Betsy married Gene Kelly in 1941 and had a very interesting life of her own. I remember reading her autobiography - it's such an honest, interesting and funny book. I saw a lot of myself in her, she was interested in learning, improving herself and improving the world.

"To be very left-wing in Hollywood was to work for the unions, to work for the blacks, the ordinary things that are social democratic principles."

Classy 'till the end, she once said to an interviewer about Gene:

"I have nothing bad to say about Gene in any way ... We were married 16 years and it just came to an end."

I really like what a friend of hers had to say about her because it's really the impression I had when reading about her life. Betsy, you'll be missed.

"She was a tremendously loving, loyal and ceaselessly supportive friend — and really good, often wicked, fun. You could talk to her about absolutely anything — nothing shocked her."

Staying on topic (cinema), I'd like to say a few words about Night Nurse (1931). This movie is part of the second Forbidden Hollywood boxset released by Warner Bros last year. By the way, the third one will be released in 3 days. As soon as I have some more money, I'm going to purchase them all. Lora (Barbara Stanwyck) applies for a nursing job at the hospital and after having been initially rejected, she is hired even though she doesn't have a degree. She meets Miss Maloney, the woman who will become her best friend (Joan Blondell) and together they will uncover a plot to kill children for their trust funds (plot designed by Nick, played by Clark Gable).
First of all, let me say that Stanwyck and Blondell starring in the same movie is a match made in heaven. I love these two so very much ♥. Night Nurse has some hugely entertaining scenes, especially in the first part of it, but overall the plot was quite sinister and a bit boring. I don't think the detective story part worked well. A very young Clark Gable makes an appearance and I think his acting was even worse than in Gone With the Wind, which is saying something. He'd ruin a movie without even trying. I'd say watch this movie for Stanwyck and Blondell and for a good laugh during certain scenes but don't pay too much attention to the plot.

LORA HART: I'll kill the next one that says "ethics" to me.
MS MALONEY: Says you.
LORA HART: Yeah, says me in a big way, sister.

Barbara Stanwyck, a corpse (placed here by one of the doctors as a joke) and Joan Blondell showing their lingerie.

Frozen River was released last year. It stars Melissa Leo as Ray Eddy and Misty Upham as Lila Littlewolf. Leo was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. The screenplay focuses on two working class women (Ray and Misty) who are forced to smuggle illegal immigrants in the trunk of a car from Canada to the United States in order to make ends meet.
I'd been wanting to watch the movie ever since the day I heard about the Oscar nomination but it actually took this review written by Nan for me to see it. I think the story was well worth telling and important, especially the first half of the movie where Ray struggles to feed and take care of her two sons when she is only hired part-time at the local shop. Ultimately, however, it's a tough call. I kind of agree with Mick LaSalle (terrific and famous cinema lover, wrote many wonderful books). The acting, to me, wasn't noteworthy, just decent, and "under the guise of sincerity, [the film is] fundamentally insincere, and while posing as gritty, it's in fact sentimental." I expected more from it but in the end the plot took all the expected turns. I will remember the attempt, perhaps not so much the final result.


I've also watched Grease (1978) for the upteenth time. It was my favourite movie when I was 13, which means nothing as to its quality. I'm very suspicious of my teenage and childhood loves as I don't think half of them were based on merit. You won't find me writing about how wonderful something is based solely on my childhood memories of it. Anyway, the last time I saw it I was 13 and I've recently felt the urge to watch it again and desacralize the idea I had of it. I'm happy to say it stood the test of time. It's such a good movie with a good storyline, some excellent songs and a terrific feel of the 60s. This movie makes me so happy. It's full of clichés but the director was smart enough to dismiss them as clichés in the credits at the beginning: Sandy, the naïve cheerleader who ends up with the bad boy is seen waking up and being dressed by birds. I think that's a witty move. Sandy's makeover at the end is one of the best parts, so here it is for your viewing pleasure:

DANNY: Sandy?!
SANDY: Tell me about it, stud.

Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters took me a while to finish but I'm so glad I've read it. I'll need some time to emerge from it, it's a 800-page book (only 5% of their whole correspondence, can you believe it?) and I'm so happy I've read it. Some of it was really disturbing (Deborah's and Diana's correspondence in particular - Deborah's not as good a person as I thought she was) and even bizarre. For example, Jessica mentions how wonderful Natasha Richardson is in a letter written in 1986. Felt completely strange reading that yesterday - I mean, what a coincidence. At the end, Deborah gives her opinion to Diana about Diana Spencer's death and it felt so close to today it was disturbing as well, especially since her opinion is quite infuriating. I know that Deborah is still alive but one can't help but picturing the Mitfords as firmly rooted in the craziness of the 30s. Yet the letters begin way before the Second World war and end in 2003. It's a great historical document, funny, shocking and heartbreaking.
However, I would strongly recommend reading Jessica's letters first because Charlotte Mosley, who edited this book, had to leave so many of Decca's letters out to avoid redundance so Jessica appears as fairly distant and cold when she's just the opposite when one reads her letters (Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford).
Now that I've read The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, Hons and Rebels, Decca's letters, the sisters' letters, I want to continue with my Mitford discovery and read more of Nancy's books (The Blessing and Don't Tell Alfred in particular), as well as The American Way of Death written by Jessica. I'm not interested in biographies of them, they're really too complex for biographies and had such different lives - and besides I've heard bad reviews of the biographies published thus far (too biased towards one sister for example).

Now on to music. The Grease soundtrack seems like an obvious choice. But I won't post that. Instead, I want to post a bit of Elvis on this blog because clearly, a world without Elvis is a world without fun. Here's a compilation of 30 of his #1 hits. I think it's a very good CD which shows his versatility.

Elvis, Elvis, let me be!
Keep that pelvis far from me!
Just keep your cool
Now you're starting to drool
Hey Fongool, I'm Sandra Dee!


Have a beautiful and fun week!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Buying

It's that time of the month. It's been 30 days already since my last order, can you believe it? How time flies when you're busy.

1) First of all, three Henry James books for my 2009 reading challenge. I did not choose them at random. I wanted three books and I don't want my collection of books to contain any overlapping (a little OCD of me if you wish). In case Henry James just happens to become one of my favourite authors (you never know) and I decide to collect all of his writings, The Library of America has published some neat volumes of his novels, short stories and travel writings so I followed their classification and instead of buying the books in the Library of America edition (one book for all three novels, which would break my wrist) I bought them in the new and improved Oxford World's Classics edition. This way, if I ever want to discover more of his stuff that isn't published the OWC edition, I can pick any Library of America volume and I won't have any overlapping in my library.

The Bostonians
Satirical novel by Henry James, published serially in Century Illustrated Magazine in 1885-86 and in book form in three volumes in 1886. It was one of the earliest American novels to deal--even obliquely--with lesbianism. Olive Chancellor, a Boston feminist in the 1870s, thinks she has found a kindred spirit in Verena Tarrant, a beautiful young woman who, though passive and indecisive, is a spellbinding orator for women's rights. Olive vies for Verena's attention and affections with Basil Ransom, a gracious but reactionary Confederate army veteran. Verena marries Basil and leaves Boston. The Bostonians is based on Alphonse Daudet's novel L'Evangeliste (1883); James transposed the work to Boston and to the milieu of the rising feminist movement.

The Portrait of a Lady
When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy Aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. She then finds herself irresistibly drawn to Gilbert Osmond, who, beneath his veneer of charm and cultivation, is cruelty itself. A story of intense poignancy, Isabel's tale of love and betrayal still resonates with modern audiences.

Washington Square
James's astute story of a plain heiress and the poor, handsome suitor who may or may not love her only for her wealth ... James credits the young woman from the start with nothing more Oscar-worthy than a certain dull ordinariness. (Pretty dull summary as well but what can you do?)

2) I discovered Alan Hollinghurst through his excellent book The Line of Beauty (I talked about it here) and I've been wanting to read more of his works ever since, so I bought two books:

The Swimming-Pool Library
The Swimming Pool Library weaves a rich and fascinating tapestry of Britain's gay subculture spanning pre-World War I through the sexually abandoned early '80s, stopping short at the doorstep of AIDS. Hollinghurst's prose is fresh, witty and wise, and his ever-surprising, sinuously unfurling story is told with insouciant grace and unabashed sexuality. BOMC and QPBC alternates.

The Folding Star
Edward Manners, a 33-year-old aspiring British writer, arrives in a Flemish town to work as a private tutor in English, only to find himself obsessively smitten with one of his pupils, Luc Altidore, a 17-year-old expelled from school.

3) And two completely unrelated books. If you've followed this journal, there's no need for explanation, if you don't know what I'm talking about, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are two authors I've discovered this year during my fantasy and science fiction challenge and I love them both and want to complete my collection. Reaper Man is the second book if you follow Death's storyline in Discworld.

Neverwhere's protagonist, Richard Mayhew, learns the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. He ceases to exist in the ordinary world of London Above, and joins a quest through the dark and dangerous London Below, a shadow city of lost and forgotten people, places, and times. His companions are Door, who is trying to find out who hired the assassins who murdered her family and why; the Marquis of Carabas, a trickster who trades services for very big favors; and Hunter, a mysterious lady who guards bodies and hunts only the biggest game. London Below is a wonderfully realized shadow world, and the story plunges through it like an express passing local stations, with plenty of action and a satisfying conclusion. The story is reminiscent of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but Neil Gaiman's humor is much darker and his images sometimes truly horrific. Puns and allusions to everything from Paradise Lost to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz abound, but you can enjoy the book without getting all of them. Gaiman is definitely not just for graphic-novel fans anymore.

Reaper Man
They say there are only two things you can count on ... But that was before DEATH started pondering the existential. Of course, the last thing anyone needs is a squeamish Grim Reaper and soon his Discworld bosses have sent him off with best wishes and a well-earned gold watch. Now DEATH is having the time of his life, finding greener pastures where he can put his scythe to a whole new use.

Rattle His Bones


I've just finished The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. He has officially become one of my favourite writers. This book was fantastic - his characters are so genuinely nice. It's a horrible word, it's so common but I can't find any other. I love him, his stories are so warm. I cried at the end: I was sorry to leave Bod, but then I always cry at the end of a Gaiman book.
I'm sure you all know what the plot is: a baby is raised by an entire graveyard of ghosts and different moments of his life are narrated. I thought the episodic form worked quite well in the end even though I was suspicious of it at first. It worked because the stories all came together at the end. The only point I think wasn't so good is the villain of the book about whom we didn't know much, this is the only time I felt it was a children's book. As usual in his books, Gaiman always does amazing portayals of girls and women. In The Graveyard Book, a little girl named Scarlett made a lasting impression on me, similar to that of Coraline or Yvaine. I love how they're not idealized, just genuinely explained for who they are. It's hard to find in literature, when you think about it.
I would absolutely recommend this book. If you've read Gaiman, you'll know why. If you haven't, you're in for a treat - we're so lucky to have him. My only concern is that since it was a postal group book, I now have to pass it on and can't keep this gorgeous hardback copy to myself. I will buy a paperback copy to embellish my shelves and reread the story in October. Best to support the authors you love, especially when they're alive.

Continuing with my pre-code discovery, I watched another movie that is available in the first Forbidden Hollywood boxset: the 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge (the original version). I've always liked the 1940 remake starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor (who are both very easy on the eyes, let's be honest) and I still like it very much but the 1931 version is far superior. First of all, one word: Mae Clarke. This actress deserved an Academy Award and I'm astonished to find she wasn't even nominated. Not only that but she's completely forgotten today. This is wrong, her performance is absolutely stunning. She can play a seductress on the bridge picking up men to survive, she can play a woman losing her mind when she can't tell her secret for fear of losing the respect of the person she cares for the most. I know Mae has a memorable part in The Public Enemy, which I must watch someday.
When the 1940 version has a very romantic end, the 1931 version is much more brutal but I couldn't think of any other way to do it since the subject matter is treated with more realism than in the remake. It's prostitution we're talking about and truth be told I think nobody believed Vivien Leigh as a prostitute at all. I find it surprising that a remake was even considered let alone filmed because of the subject matter that is so quintessentially pre-code. I thought the relationship between Myra (played by Mae Clarke) and Roy (Douglass Montgomery, who is a very average actor if not worse) was very well depicted, I liked it a lot and I never could tell where Myra stood: on the one hand, he's so genuinely nice she doesn't want to hurt his feelings, on the other hand, she needs money to survive.

I also went to the cinema to see Watchmen. I didn't know much about the movie except that it was a comic book first so I had no particular expectations. It's a movie about history and myths, not about superheros who save the world (well, okay, they do that, but it serves a purpose). It's a very complex movie and I think I need to watch it again to understand it better, there are so many things going on at once. To put it simply (and perhaps it's too simple), there are two plots in this movie: one to do with a murder investigation and another to do with the Cold War, the end of the world and the Vietnam War. I was interested in both and as you may imagine they are closely related. It certainly was food for thought as it questions the very myths that make the United States, even if the acting was a bit off-putting at times (Malin Akerman's performance in particular). Overall, I think that if you manage to understand it all, the movie makes some valid and interesting points but perhaps it could have been a bit more explained for the audience who hadn't read the comic (I belong to that category). On the other hand, far be it from me to call for simplification of complex and multi-layered works so I'm in the middle here. The first thing I wanted to do when walking out of the cinema was 1) read the comic 2) see the movie again 3) talk about it with other people. So I'd say my first Watchmen experience was very positive.

In other news, I'm completely obsessed with Lily Allen's new album called It's not Me It's You. Her lyrics and songs are once again very refreshing (witty and sexy) and I think this one's as good as the first. But I'm perhaps even more obsessed (if that's possible) with Pete Doherty. I can now totally separate his private life from his work. He's a really good songwriter and singer, and I think deep down a good soul. It just shows. I wish I could save him from drugs because his songs are some of the best I've heard recently and it's not fair that he should be an addict. Anyway, as you probably know, he's released two CDs with his rock band The Libertines, both are excellent, two CDs with his second band Babyshambles and one solo album called Grace/Wastelands will be released on Monday. The first single from the album is called The Last of the English Roses and it's a gem. So here are two things: The Last of the English Roses and the song that started it all for me, The Lost Art of Murder (live) from his days with Babyshambles.

I've had an Ella Fitzgerald week and it was heaven. I've listened to the Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks on Deezer and it was one of the best musical experiences of my life. Up till now, I had always said to anyone who asked that Billie Holiday was my favourite singer. I don't think there needs to be competition but in my mind Billie was way more playful and genuine and heartbreaking than Ella whom I frankly found stuck too much to the original songs and felt a bit robotic. To me, Billie gave emotion, Ella gave technical achievement at best. Boy was I wrong. Ella Fitzgerald is amazing and that needs to be said. I was in awe listening to this 16-cd boxset. My favourite songbook was the Rodgers and Hart one when most people feel the Cole Porter one is the best. I think that for her rendition of The Lady is a Tramp alone the Rodgers and Hart one deserves the first spot. She has fun with a whole band and you have fun with her -I was smiling all the way through. The whole boxset was spectacular and the only downside is that now I'm obsessed with the idea of owning it forever. Of course it's way too expensive although when you divide by the number of CDs and consider the quality, it's a true bargain. Perhaps one day!

And of course, here is the best of the songbooks for your listening pleasure. Just hit play, sit back, close your eyes and when The Lady is a Tramp plays, grab the other person in the room and dance.

Kiss a lover,
Dance a Measure,
Find your name and buried treasure...
Face your life,
It's pain it's pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.
~~The Graveyard Book~~

I like the green grass under my shoes
What can I lose, I'm flat, that's that
I'm alone when I lower my lamp
That's why the lady is a tramp
~~Ella, Always Ella~~

Have a glorious day!


Monday, March 9, 2009

She climbed the ladder of success - wrong by wrong!


I adore Barbara Stanwyck. She may just be one of my favourite actresses. She's got a husky voice that's to die for and excells in every genre. Baby Face is no exception to the rule. While the cast of supporting characters is decent at best, Stanwyck's Lily has one fascinating personality. Baby Face was released for the first time in April 1933, before the Production Code, and a censored version (due to complaints from the New York State Censorship Board) was released in June 1933. I saw the uncensored version.
The plot is quite simple: Lily makes a living by being a waitress in a small town. She is aware of her charms and wants more but doesn't know how to find it. One day, she realises (with some great help from one of her friends who coaches her) she can have anything she wants from men provided she uses her beauty to get it. Lily goes to New York with her friend and maid Chico and climbs the social ladder by having relationships with important men. However, in the second part of the movie she realises there may be more to life than that. She doesn't repent nor is she punished but can't deny she has feelings anymore and ultimately saves the man she betrayed the most. I'm not fond of the ending. You can tell it was done in the 30s whereas the rest of the movie seems very contemporary. On the other end, Hollywood hasn't changed, apparently the producers still think people need a romantic ending to everything.
It's a compelling and very funny movie. Funny because so daring. Stanwyck plays sexy Lily with a naughtiness that only she could have brought to the part. A few scenes are very memorable.

Small town Lily dreams of New York.

Chico and Lily gossip about a politician who's just entered the café. Their relationship is frankly surprising for 1933: everywhere she goes, Lily hears racist and disrespectful remarks about Chico, yet she says one thing and sticks to it: "If she goes, I go", "If I stay she stays". I was very pleasantly surprised, it's not often you get to see such a relationship on screen in the 30s. Chico is played by Theresa Harris, she's a terrific actress. Yet Chico becomes Lily's maid later in the movie, even though she's clearly the only one who understands her. That was disturbing.

Lily pours hot coffee on the important politician's hand - he was touching her thigh without asking. She is to set the rules.

Turning point in the movie - Lily is coached by an old friend:
A woman, young, beautiful like you, can get anything she wants in the world. Because you have power over men. But you must use men, not let them use you. You must be a master, not a slave. Look here – Nietzsche says, “All life, no matter how we idealize it, is nothing more nor less than exploitation”. That's what I'm telling you. Exploit yourself. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities. Use men! Be strong! Defiant! Use men to get the things you want!

Lily and Chico go to New York by way of train and have to hide in one of the carriages because they aren't paying. A man finds them and Lily decides to use her mentor's advice for the first time - she seduces the railway agent (it's fairly explicit) while Chico hums a song, leaves them together and smile.

Lily enjoys her success. She's managed to reach the highest floor of the building - that of the director.

I thoroughly enjoyed Vita Sackville-West's The Edwardians. It's a good, very honest book about aristocracy, I thought. I was very much a commentary on aristocratic life and I didn't expect it to be so blunt (Sackville-West writes characters who comment on their own life, it's very original). In 1930, it is astounding indeed, considering that we can say a real system of class existed until at least World War I, or even II. The trouble-maker of the book, the one character who reveals the vacuity of his friends' lives to them is Anquetil, a self-made man. One of his contributions in particular I think summarizes the whole book. It's terrifying.

My dear boy, your life was mapped out for you from the moment you were born. You went to a preparatory school; you went to Eton; you are now at Oxford; you will go into the Guards; you will have various love-affairs, mostly with fashionable married women; you will frequent wealthy and fashionable houses; you will attend Court functions; you will wear a scarlet uniform -- and look very handsome in it too -- you will be flattered and persecuted by every mother in London; you will eventually become engaged to a suitable young lady; you will marry her [...] you will then acquire the habit of being unfaithful to your wife and she to you [...], on the first of October you will shoot pheasants, you will begin to wonder if your son wants you to die[...]

I leave you with Louis Armstrong playing St Louis Blues, with Velma Middelton singing, which is the trademark of the movie Baby Face. It can actually be a pretty saucy song when you think about it in this context. I added a fairly good selection of his songs after St Louis Blues. I honestly don't know if there's anything better in life than listening to Louis Armstrong. Perhaps seeing him perform live. So enjoy one of the greatest pleasures you can ever have!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Is that a Pistol in your Pocket or are you Just Glad to See Me?


I can't seem to find anything interesting to watch or read these days so instead I'm going to talk a little about pre-code movies, and why they've got a cult following among cinema lovers.
If you ask me what my favourite decade is for movies, I'd probably say the 30s. I still think that although some excellent movies were released later, the 30s were the best, and more specifically the era known as pre-code, which went from 1929 to the beginning of 1934. There are some truly excellent websites on which you can find plenty of information about pre-code movies but I just want to explain in a few words why I find them so valuable.

Mae West asked that (see title) to a Los Angeles police officer in 1936.

These movies are called pre-code because they were talkies released before the Production Code (also known as Hays Code). The Production Code did some serious damage: prior to it, directors could film anything they wanted provided they thought it would sell. The Hays Code was introduced in 1934 and we can say it changed cinema for decades. Couples (even married) couldn't be shown sleeping in the same bed (Nick and Nora in The Thin Man and its sequels are shown sleeping on separate beds, how realistic is that, especially knowing their relationship). No sex before marriage could be shown. No nakedness, no hints at homosexuality, no graphic death, no prostitutes, no swear words, no suicide, no adultery, no drugs, no extensive use of alcohol. What is fun today is to watch the movies that were made before the Code and compare and contrast. I think they're more true to life and certainly some of them are a lot more fun that their "proper" remakes or counterparts. Of course, some directors were clever enough to include double entendres and sexual innuendo in their movies even when the Production Code was enforced: in The Awful Truth (1937), the end is fairly explicit - an estranged couple who was sleeping in separate rooms is reunited in the same room at the end. Irene Dunne delivers her most suggestive smile and the movie stops there. There's no arguing what they're going to do when the credits are rolling. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando frankly pushed limits. Even censored, the relationship between Blanche and Stanley is very ambiguous.

Nakedness and graphic death in Baby Face (1933)

Back then, to borrow the title of a book by Mick LaSalle, women were "complicated", there were neither angels nor demons. They simply could be themselves. It seems to me that it somewhat changed afterwards. It certainly became more black and white (indeed), it became easier perhaps to know who the good people were and who the baddies were. We all know life's not like that. Pre-code movies are simply freer and more realistic. It seems to me that this is the most interesting era in film history. So many actresses (Barbara Stanwyck, Norma Shearer) were never better than in pre-code movies. It bothers me when I read that people watch "classic" movies because "life was simpler back then". It wasn't simpler, most of it was sanitized.
I'm so happy the studios are starting to see the potential in releasing pre-code movies that are surely closer to today's life than almost any 50's movie. Warner has released three box sets and Universal is going to release one. Let's hope they don't stop here, there are tons of movies I've heard of that I hope will be released on DVD someday (Safe in Hell is one of them, Hold Your Man is another).
I want 2009 to be a pre-code year for me, I'm going to buy all four box sets and some books on the topic. This is not the last you've seen of pre-code on this journal, it has become an obsession of mine.

The divine Myrna Loy

I leave you with the recording of the revival of Anything Goes with Patti Lupone. I thought it was appropriate enough, and honestly a bit tongue-in-cheek since it really illustrates the way people see the 30s, as some kind of prudish decade when it was just the opposite:

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter

There seems to be some confusion about the picspams: I do not make them, I merely link to fantastic ones. Picspams take ages to make. Luckily for me, some talented, dedicated fans make some breathtaking ones. This one, for example, is superb, although it's not my top 20 (my order would be different, my favourite thing in the show is Lorelai/Rory after all), it's got some of my favourite moments.

Let's get this out of the way right now : Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty is one of the best books I have ever read. It's brilliant. The writing style is really gorgeous but not contrived at all. I read that some readers found it too difficult to read, I can't understand that - Hollinghurst's writing is so fluid, he sometimes even uses slang, there are simple words but grand ideas, it's such truth about inner and outer world. The worst thing that happens is that we do get slapped in the face when we realise just how right the author is. I'm ashamed to say I understood Nick, the main character, a little too well for my taste, he is not meant to be likeable, merely understood, but it struck home in a way I'm really not ready to admit. I think this book has helped me making sense of a lot of things - culture, beauty, sex. I can't even talk about this book, it was such a personal read. The miniseries got it just right, but you do comprehend a lot more when you read the book - the explosive end in particular. I absolutely want to read Hollinghurst's other books, he disturbs me in a good way, he makes me look at myself differently, he challenges me and lures me in in a way I've never been challenged before. The Line of Beauty won the Man Booker Prize in 2004, and it has become very clear to me why.

On January 7, I started a Gilmore Girls marathon. This marathon ended two days ago - I have watched, for the third time, the entire series (7 seasons). I feel orphaned. I cried my heart out during the last episode, I thought I'd never be able to recover. This is my very very favourite show. It's the person I want to be, and I think we are all somewhat defined by what we aspire to. So this is my dream, and at the same time it's already such a huge part of me. I have found a very expensive book called Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity: Essays on Family and Feminism in the Television Series. It looks fabulous, I want it now, I need it. This show has made me a better, stronger girl. Gilmore Girls, you've given me everything I need and I love you, I love you, I love you.

They may have been fictional people, but they were the kind of people who made their world a better place.
~Sacramento Bee~

It sounds ludicrous to say that a TV show of all things changed my life but Gilmore Girls has changed and shaped mine so much. I am now starting a West Wing marathon. Gilmore Girls is my favourite show ever, and The West Wing is the best show ever. Subtle distinction.

I leave you with Loreena McKennitt, who is truly gifted. Here's one of my favourite songs of hers performed live, The Mummer's Dance, the studio version is from the album The Book of Secrets.