Monday, July 20, 2009

The lingerie shortage in this country...


I am really looking forward to the third season of Mad Men. The first episode will air on August 16 and it seems that this will be the best way to end summer. If you've seen the first two seasons, and only if you've seen them, I strongly recommend watching this video, the 10 most shocking moments of the show so far (and god knows there have been many).It's not just a succession of clips since Matthew Weiner, who created the show, comments on each one of them, along with the actors.

Have you ever heard of Adventureland? It was released this year and it seems only Twilight fangirls have heard of the movie, because it stars Kristen Stewart, of Twilight fame. It's a shame, really, because it's a very sweet, real and smart movie taking place in the 80s. Several teenagers work at an amusement park during the summer and develop relationships in a way that's honest and beautiful. I was really moved by this movie and thought the two leads (Kristen and Jesse Eisenberg) acted really well.

July 2009 for me will be remembered as Potter Madness. The plan was this: read the first six books, then watch the adaptation of Half-Blood Prince, then read Deathly Hallows. That was the challenge and I completed it. Rereading a series that's so close to my heart felt like coming home after a very long day. It felt perfect, right, familiar in the best way. I reminisced on where I was when they were published and the thing is, my reactions are exactly the same as when I read them first. I cried buckets at the end of Half-Blood Prince, laughed at the same jokes, longed to be part of this world, cried in The Forest Again, was anxious for the fate of several characters even though I knew what was going to happen, marvelled at Jo's genius. Being completely immersed in this world for 10 days was just what I needed and this has been the best decision I made all year. The movie adaptation of Half-Blood Prince was beautiful. There's no other word. I finished rereading the book on the 14 and went to see a screening on the 15 at 9:45 and it was the best way to do it. The cinematography is gorgeous, the acting impeccable (the trio has evolved and learnt so much, they're actually good now, so is Tom Felton. The adults are impeccable except for Gambon who's never been my Dumbledore). I missed a few things, no Rufus Scrimgeour meant no "Dumbledore's man through and through" which is, in my opinion, one of the best lines of the entire saga, no "Don't call me coward!" which would have dropped a great hint for the next movie, no battle between Dumbledore's Army, the Order and the Death Eaters,(but they added a scene at the Burrow that was really well acted and chilling), not much explained about where to find the Horcruxes, but the good points were excellent so that's easily forgiven. The score is to die for. You can listen to it for free here. I personally have it on repeat and should buy the CD soon. There is a whole chapter at the end that's not adapted but for me a little gesture said it all and I realised I didn't need this chapter, that was a very smart move. The movie is deeply emotional but also incredibly amusing in the right places and effortlessly so, just like the book. The amount of romance (I for one thought Harry/Ginny in the Room of Requirement was really beautiful and I'm not much of a shipper) and comedy counterbalances nicely with the deeply disturbing plot, this movie's a riot in places. I just couldn't believe how outrageously funny it was, and everything taken directly from the book. The whole thing is so deeply tied up with the fifth and seventh adaptations that I think it would have been smarter to shoot them all after the whole series had been released. The actor who plays Tom Riddle is incredible and has nothing to do with the two-dimensional character we had in Chamber of Secrets. Shame they didn't wait. Bottom line is, this adaptation is beautiful and it's not even just a good adaptation, it's a very, very good movie by itself.

I managed to squeeze in the reading of a book after my Potter Madness this month, and what a book that was! Flapper: a Madcap Story of Sex, Style and Celebrity and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz is delightful and delicious. I heart the 20s, I want to read more about this decade of absolute freedom and "unaffordable excess" (that's the title of one of the chapters) that came before the Great Depression that ended it all. Zeitz's prose is crystal clear and the book super interesting. It's divided into three parts, and even though it's not explicitly put that way, the first part is about how literature influenced and was influenced by the flapper lifestyle (focusing on the Fitzgeralds, what a life they had, but also Lois Long who wrote articles about her flapper lifestyle), the second about fashion (focusing on Coco Chanel) and the third about cinema (focusing on Clara Bow and Louise Brooks). So now all of Francis Scott Fitzgerald's books are on my list (Zelda was pretty much the quintessential flapper, her yearbook read "Why should all life be work, when we can all borrow. Let's only think of today, and not worry about tomorrow."), along with an impressive number of silent movies. Zeitz made so many good points: how flappers thought only white priviledged women could be like them (when African-Americans invented the dances they all danced and the songs they all sung in the Jazz Age), how it all relates to first-wave feminism (feminists despised this carefree attitude to life because flappers pushed limits but never politically, which would have benefited all women if they did), how the twenties and the flapper lifestyle was an incredibly good era for consumerism. About that, and because I've been obsessing over Mad Men, I found a pretty spot-on description of what advertising was about: "Sell them their dreams. Sell them what they hoped for and longed for and almost despaired of having. Sell them hats by splashing sunlight across them. Sell them dreams - dreams of country clubs and proms and visions of what might happen if only. After all, people don't buy things to have them... They buy hope - hope of what your merchandise might do for them." The San Francisco Chronicle said about the book that it "engagingly blends solid academic research with a pop culture sensibility." Truly excellent book, I learnt so much about a whole era and it has left me hungry for more, which is what the best books do, in my opinion.

What should I leave you with? Ooo, I know! How about The Drifters? I listen to them all year long but they're particularly good during the summer. It's so hard to find a compilation of their songs that's not been remixed but I managed to dig something up.

In the park you hear
The happy sound of the carousel
You can almost taste the hot dogs
French fries they sell
Under the boardwalk
Down by the sea, yeah
On a blanket with my baby
Is where I'll be

Have an extravagant summer!


Friday, July 10, 2009

I mean, I’d like to have a good illness, something different, impressive. Like,"Yeah, I’m not feeling so good, my leg is haunted."

You can always tell when I'm sick because I simply go back to basics: the Potter books, Gilmore Girls and Billie Holiday. I need my blankie. This year, I added Torchwood: Children of Earth to the mix. I thoroughly recommend this new season, it's more of a political thriller than anything else and the quality has been fantastic so far. I'm nursing a really bad cold and the worst part is that I can't touch the ice cream I've just bought. I hope I'll be back very soon! I was planning on trying a whole new marathon this summer: watch lots of films noirs and read books about the 20s. We'll see how this goes. In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying this summer more than I do. I for one can't wait for fall.

Life's short, talk fast!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure


I know I said I'd be posting more but I didn't expect to be called to work quite so often during the summer. I always welcome the money so my life had to take a backseat for a while. I still have things to talk about, though. The first season of Veronica Mars was so good. I can't believe how dreadful the show was afterwards - what happened? I remember thinking Veronica was one of the best characters I had ever met, along with Mac and Wallace they pretty much made the show. It was pure joy in its first season, so witty, smart and compelling. Please check out this picspam, I feel so nostalgic just looking at it. I miss you, Kristen.

I've just finished a really good book called Debs at War written by Anne de Courcy, which focuses on British debutantes's lives during the Second World War. The narrative relies extensively on extracts from diaries and direct quotes from many former debutantes, who explain how their lives was before 1939 and how much it changed during the War. What struck me most was how funny this book could sometimes be, something I absolutely did not expect. They all have a great sense of humour even reminiscing on the worst. It was full of everyday details and I enjoyed following such different and in a way such similar lives, all compelled to have a sense of purpose when war broke out. I knew a lot of what was described mainly through reading fiction books set in this period but it's still really fascinating realising now so many years later how much a country relied on very dedicated yet simple actions dictated by courage. The main change was work: going from being expected to go from your father's care to your husband's care to being expected to participate in the war effort was a serious change for everybody. As we are reminded at the end of the book, many women found the war liberating as they were able to continue working even after the war and when married, something that simply was forbidden in the interwar years (women were actually fired the minute they married, despite having worked during the First World War). As a consequence, most of the book focuses on the many different jobs those debutantes took in 1939, from nursing to teaching to breaking Enigma to flying planes to working in factories. However, something the author doesn't do is put the stories in perspective: one woman says "even in those days, boyfriends were more important", which is of course only true for the upper-classes. I can't imagine people living in poverty having these many options to work or ever having to choose between respecting curfew and run away to dance at a ball. Since it heavily relies on anecdotes, what I found the most exciting was the diversity: all sorts of things are being talked about and very much related to everyday life - it was simply very easy to get lost in this book. I really recommend it as a companion book to any history book about the Second World War as it explains a lot about what it meant to women on a daily basis.

Who knew the Myrna Loy and William Powell boxset contained such jewels? I saw the last movie, Evelyn Prentice, a few days ago. It was released in 1934, that is the same year as The Thin Man and Manhattan Melodrama. The movie does not disappoint - I must say it's pretty rare to find a boxset of 5 different movies which are all excellent but this one is definitely the real thing. Evelyn (played by Myrna) is the wife of a successful attorney (Powell is wonderful in that role, he had the same one in Manhattan Melodrama) and she crosses the path of a scoundrel, which will change her life. I think it's mainly a movie about guilt, but it was also a compelling mystery, the end completely took me by surprise, I thought it was an excellent twist and kuddos to anyone who realises what's happening before its being spelled out! The film also contains some lovely funny scenes: in one of them, the whole family is exercising at home and having a great exchange of lines.
When I say William Powell and Myrna Loy are among my favourite actors and actresses, I am usually asked about The Thin Man series: the problem is that I don't enjoy mysteries at all, so the parts that for me are the best in the Thin Man series are the ones focusing on Nick and Nora's life as a couple, and the detective plot bores me. On the bright side, I've recently seen the second movie in the series, After the Thin Man, which is my favourite of the series: it devotes more screen time to Nick and Nora and has some absolutely classic scenes. The first one is Nick's surprise birthday party and it superb from beginning to end. It also has a wonderful scene with Nick tracking a murderer while taking the stairs, it's all very slow, without music, and I thought the suspense was excellently played.
Talking about Evelyn Prentice, I have to say something about Una Merkel. It bothers me that secondary roles were often relegated to the margins and given such poor credits. Merkel plays Evelyn's best friend and she absolutely shines in that role, being sensible and very down-to-earth, often very amusing, I thought her performance was remarkable.

The very underrated Una Merkel

This last section about music will be a bit different this time, since I want to talk about a series of CDs focusing on a specific genre instead of about an artist. Have you ever heard of the Ultra-Lounge series? It's a series of 25 CDs that were released by Capitol in the 90s. You can find the complete list here. What's this about? If you've seen "The Jet Set", an episode of the second season of Mad Men (if you're not watching Mad Men you don't know what you're missing or you would) this is pretty much it. Lounge is an attitude: enjoying the good life by the swimming-pool with your sunglasses on, sipping a martini and watching girls in bikinis passing by. There are several things wrong with this picture. I'll quote a pretty spot-on reviewer on Amazon: "I suppose if I lived in the "swinging" era of night clubs, pointy bras, martinis, and ashtrays on every table, I would find it all a big drag; I don't smoke, don't drink, and I'm a feminist. But, at this safe distance, the swinging, Rat Pack era is an archaelogical trove of great fun." The keyword here is FUN. If these CDs aren't fun, I don't know what is! Think about it: Christmas music given a mambo twist, it's the lyrics without the spirit or rather Christmas in July, literally, the James Bond theme, Chihuahua, Dean Martin, Louis Prima, Julie London, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, a track called "Music to be murdered by" introduced by Alfred Hitchcock. There's nothing more evocative and perhaps kitsch than these CDs - it's laughter in a slipcase, life with a twist and on the rocks. I'm posting my favourites here, and hope you'll give them a try, it's just different and awfully fun.





Readers, that brings us to the end of another In Training for a Heroine post. I don’t know when it will be possible to post again, but you can be sure I shall be back. Keep twiddling those dials: the next password will be ‘Mad-Eye.’ Keep each other safe. Keep faith. Good night!


Latest purchases

It's this time of month again! I bought more than usual because of the summer holidays. Also, the CDs were on sale and I've just received my free iPod Nano (16gb, it's pink and I named it Tonks! It was free because I bought a MacBook called Hermione, which accounts for my lack of updates recently, getting used to using a Mac after 11 years of using Windows takes a while) so I really feel the need to own as many of my favourite CDs as possible to listen to them everywhere.


Angels in America - Tony Kushner
The miniseries is one of my favourites so this was just a matter of time.

Temeraire - Naomi Novik
"A reimagining of the epic events of the Napoleonic Wars with an air force—an air force of dragons, manned by crews of aviators." It sure sounds really cool! It's a series of books, there are 5 books so far (the sixth one is being written as we speak) so if I really like this one, at least there's more to keep me satisfied. Peter Jackson optioned it for a movie. I've decided that one of my goals for this year will be to finish the series I've started, so here's hoping.

Revolutionary Road, The Easter Parade, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness - Richard Yates
I loved Revolutionary Road so obviously I want to read more by Richard Yates. I bought them in this anthology edition published by Everyman Library because it was cheaper but if I ever want more Yates, I'll buy them in the Vintage edition, check out the covers, they're stunning.

The Spell - Alan Hollinghurst
The last book by Hollinghurst I haven't read! I'll miss him so much, he's definitely one of my favourite new authors this year (that is, new to me).

Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War - Virginia Nicholson
I've always been interested in women's history. I find the product description to be delightful: "Tracing their fates, Nicholson shows that these women did indeed harbor secret sadness, and many of them yearned for the comforts forever denied them--physical intimacy, the closeness of a loving relationship, and children. Some just endured, but others challenged the conventions, fought the system, and found fulfillment outside of marriage. From the mill-girl turned activist to the debutante turned archeologist, from the first woman stockbroker to the "business girls" and the Miss Jean Brodies, this book memorializes a generation of young women who were forced, by four of the bloodiest years in human history, to stop depending on men for their income, their identity, and their future happiness. Indeed, Singled Out pays homage to this remarkable generation of women who, changed by war, in turn would change society."

Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity and the Women Who Made America Modern - Joshua Zeitz
The 20's, women, sexuality redefined, jazz music in the background. Enough said!

The Brontës Went to Woolworths - Rachel Ferguson
This book has been out of print for ages, a used copy used to go for hundreds of pounds so saying that I'm happy I won't have to spend that much to read it is an understatement. This is part of a Bloomsbury release (nothing to do with the Bloomsbury group) "a new library of books from the early twentieth-century chosen by readers for readers," according to the website. I also want to buy a copy of Henrietta's War and Miss Hargreaves, which will be published soon. Brontës is "a charming novel from the early 1900s that revels in young innocence prior to the First World War and celebrates the fantasies of childhood". There's a more complete, but spoilery summary here.

Suite Scarlett - Maureen Johnson
I've been trying to read more YA this year, with mixed results. This one's another try: Maureen Johnson is part of this group of New-York-based YA writers (along with John Green whom I must read, Scott Westerfeld who wrote a book I really liked, Peeps, but I have to give his other books a second chance, Justine Larbalestier whom I'd really like to read too, her journal is excellent and some dreadful writers I won't name here). Scarlett lives in a hotel suite in New-York, which has been my secret wish for quite some time. Johnson's blog is really funny, and I hope it's an indication as to the quality of the book.


The Line of Beauty
I've seen it earlier this year and can't wait to see it again now that I've read the book. Beautiful miniseries, different from the book but I like them both equally. Buy them both please.

The Awful Truth/Born Yesterday/His Girl Friday
I've never seen Born Yesterday but the other two pictures are absolute marvels. I don't know if I'll ever understand each line of His Girl Friday completely one day, it's the fastest-talking movie I've ever seen, and one of the best. The Awful Truth is great physical comedy and the actors are impeccable.

Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume 2: The Divorcee/A Free Soul/Three on a Match/Female/Night Nurse
I've only seen two of them so I'm happy I still have 3 to discover. There's also a documentary called Thou Shalt Not: Sex and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood which sounds like the perfect introduction to this very interesting era and the perfect introduction to the series of books I want to read on the topic this year.


The Beach Boys - no introduction needed! It's summer and I need my Boys.

Muse - One of the few contemporary rock bands I like unconditionally.

Elvis Presley - No introduction needed either, I hope. I'll buy the first compilation CD soon (30 #1 Hits)