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!