Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Ziegfeld Follies And Their Perfection

All through my childhood the musicals my family showed me had included a strange mystical world that I never understood - that of the Ziegfeld Follies. For one thing I never could (and still can't) spell it, and when I was little I didn't even grasp the time period either. They were just a group of girls dancing in feathers on stage.

Or could you call it dancing? They kind of just floated while men in tuxedos lead them around elaborate sets. Then once they were off stage they battled about how high their salaries were. Best job ever? I THINK SO. Florenz Ziegfeld regularly put on shows with extravagant numbers and chorus girls during the early 20th century. They've since been the subject of many films, novels and musicals.

I have so many favourite Ziegfeld scenes; Ann Miller "Shakin' The Blues Away" from Easter Parade, Barbra Striesand "My Man" from Funny Girl, and basically all the numbers in Ziegfeld Girl (1941) starring Judy Garland, Lana Turner and glamour queen starlet Hedy Lamarr (badass scientist and mathematician on the side).

dis here crown what I be talkin' 'bout.

The vintage pictures of follies showgirls are dramatic, flamboyant and all around fabulous. They're either drenched in feathers or draped in barely there chiffon sitting on (quite literally) a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea (if you got that reference why are you not at my house singing close part harmonies with me?).

It's set an unrealistic aesthetic goal for all variety theatre I ever do. I'm pretty sure that if there's a heaven above then it looks like this.

Florenz Ziegfeld was also married to Billie Burke (GLINDA FREAKIN  GOOD WITCH OF THE NORTH) which adds to his general appeal, and he is also amazingly portrayed by Walter Pidgeon which leads me onto my next subject which is the William Wyler/Barbra Streisand masterpiece that is Funny Girl (1968).

It's the incredible story of real life Follies comedienne, Fanny Brice who came from a Jewish family in New York and nagged her way with her unmatchable talent into the Ziegfeld Follies. Who better to play her than Barbra Streisand? I have no words for this film. Flawless. Can't even go there.

Then you have another musical about the Follies that I love, entitled (imaginatively) "Follies". It's a Stephen Sondheim musical and includes some fabulous songs. I watched the filmed concert version starring Lee Remick, Barbara Cook and Mandy Petinkin. Barbara Cook singing "Losing My Mind" is just wow. Watch.

And last but not least is Easter Parade. One of my favourites with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ann Miller. The general backstage kimono wearing is definitely to be applauded.

Also Ann Miller's fantastic "Shakin' The Blues Away" number which she performed in a back brace after her husband threw her down the stairs.

Anyway, I hope I may have inspired you to go watch some Ziegfeld movies or just look at pictures. They're incredible.


Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Birds (1963) Alternatively Titled - I'm Never Feeding The Birds Again

It had been a plan to watch Hitchcock's The Birds with my bestie, Ia, forever and we kept skirting the issue. "Oh, but it's the 64 and three quarter year anniversary of Gregory Peck's death, let's watch Roman Holiday instead..." But yesterday we decided to bite the bullet and watch it. Boy was that an experience. Sorry Mary Poppins, but I'm not gonna be feeding your bloody birds anytime soon. Deranged I tell you. Deranged.

The plot concerns a beautiful but slightly lost and wild society girl, Melanie Daniels. Daughter of a big San Francisco newspaper mogul, she often gets into scrapes. Most recently breaking a woman's window during a practical joke. At a bird shop buying a talking bird as part of another practical joke, lawyer Mitch Brenner goes to play a little joke on her.


When she realises that he is representing the woman whose window she broke in court, she takes him up on his joke request for two lovebirds for his sister and delivers them to his house in Bodego Bay near San Francisco.

She's put out by the town's secludedness and goes to extreme lenghts to find out the name of Mitch's little sister so she can write her a card to go with the lovebirds. This takes her to schoolteacher, Annie, a mysterious Bodego Bay resident. Once she delivers the birds, she becomes entwined with the lives of Mitch's family - his sister and his overbearing mother. On her way back to the town after a visit to Mitch's house she is attacked by a seagull. Herein starts a series of serious bird attacks that shake the community causing terror, deaths and general hysteria.

I loved this film. It petrified me, but I loved it. It's beautiful in a morbidly fascinating way. The special effects of layered on birds are great - advanced for the period. This is a bit of a departure for Hitch as usually he's dealing with psychological plot-lines and complex, very emotional murderers. This time it's an uncontrollable force of nature relentlessly wreaking terror on regular people. But he does it with the grace and prowess that only he could.

Tippi Hedren (whose birthday it is today) walks her way into an extraordinary screen presence. She has the same amazing presence in Marnie, but she manages to create it by doing relatively little. She does play a similar part in both, but she does it very well. I'm not fully convinced by her accusations about6 Hitchcock's alleged harassment and stalking. It seems unlikely coming from a man who was so loved by people such as Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Anyway. That just sets me on edge about her in a way.

Rod Taylor is a fabulous actor. I love him in The V.I.P.s as well - he's very brave as an actor. This part could so easily have been played very brashly and aggressively but it wasn't. He holds the film together. Let's hear it for Rod Taylor.

One thing I found very disturbing psychologically was the hand nibbling. When the terrified people of Bodego Bay try to escape from a room the birds go and nibble their hands. OUCH! AHHHHH! I was generally pretty terrified by the whole thing. I can't even explain it. No more trips to the attic for me thank you very much. Also, no more trips to seaside towns or standing near climbing frames that could possibly become a perching spot for multiple homicidal birds.


Monday, 7 January 2013

In short, there's simply not a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot.

When my mum re-watched the last half of Camelot (1967, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe) on TV about a year ago she told me she'd become slightly obsessed with it. It was addictive, she said. I laughed it off. How could a 1960s musical about an imaginary kingdom that never existed starring Richard someone-left-the-cake-out-in-the-rain Harris be anything but camp cheese? IT COULD BE THAT AND SO MUCH MORE OMG I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO WRONG IN MY LIFE. Hands down best new movie of the christmas season. Who doesn't want to see 60s actors pacifistically frolicking in fields picking flowers? (side-note: my sister's vitamin C drink is glowing. The damn thing is purple and it's glowing. I don't even know anymore)

Guinevere is sent as bride to King Arthur of England. "Was there ever a more inconvenient marriage of convenience?", she exclaims. She laments for the "Simple Joys of Maidenhood" she will never experience, and when they get far enough into a forest she flees her entourage and bumps into a handsome rogue who actually turns out to be King Arthur, her betrothed. They fall in love and get married as per the plan and together, they create the Round Table. A new organisation for the nights of England to debate and work out issues with no one night at the head of the table, because a circle has no head!

Everything is going swimmingly until over-confident French Round Table knight wannabe, Lancelot, turns up at Camelot proclaiming his physical strength and spiritual purity. He throws himself at Arthur's feet and offers to be his friend and protector, but Guinevere doesn't like his self-righteous ways. So she provokes several knights to challenge him to joust. After defeating two of the three, the last one is knocked off his horse and badly injured. Everyone thinks he is dead, but a devastated Lancelot goes to him and begs god to let the man live. Astonishingly, the man is brought back to life. He and Guinevere fall in love. A love that threatens the very foundations of Camelot.

I probably didn't describe the plot very well, but it's basically the classic story of Camelot and King Arthur. I really loved this film. I'm a bit obsessed now. It really can't be that healthy. I knew about the original play from reading Julie Andrews' autobiography. She created the role of Guinevere on Broadway. It shocked me that Julie Andrews lost out on not only one but two of her original Lerner and Loewe roles when they were adapted into films. What went wrong there?

The lyrics and the general style of the music is very reminiscent of "My Fair Lady", another Lerner and Loewe collaboration. I love it. You will actually be running around the house singing "IT'S MAY, IT'S MAY, THE LUSTY MONTH OF MAY!!!" Like the flower throwing pacifist medieval hippy that you know you are.

Richard Harris is a really good actor *tone of surprise*! Before this I'd only seen him in a couple of early Harry Potter movies as Dumbledore and listened to him singing about his soggy baking. He really was romantic and sensitive. It would be so easy for Arthur to turn into this weak "why don't you see what's under your nose goddamn it" kind of guy, but he isn't in this film.

Franco Nero has a harder job. He has to make an arrogant, slightly corny french Knight come alive and seem romantically available for Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave and Nero actually got together during production of this movie and she had his baby. Her husband Tony Richardson (with whom she has two daughters, Joley Richardson and Natasha Richardson who tragically was killed in a skiing accident a few years ago) had left her for Jeanne Moreau just before. Nero and Redgrave ended their relationship (Vanessa Redgrave was with Timothy Dalton for a while) and then in 2006 they married! AWWWW!!!

Vanessa Redgrave was utterly fantastic as Guinevere. She did all her own singing as well which is a bonus. My dad said something to the effect of "she shone because she radiated youth," which was so true. She gave Guinevere so much energy. I was just shocked at how raw she got in the film. She also did the end of the "What do the Simple Folk Do" number expertly, she had to go from laughing and dancing with Arthur to the realisation that although they may still be able to laugh together, they're destined not to work out.

She turns from laughter to total sobs. It's heartbreaking. In the final scene I don't think I've ever seen anyone cry that much ever. It was so emotional. An incredible performance. Will definitely be chasing up more Vanessa Redgrave movies, as before this I'd only seen her old in Letters To Juliet (2010, actually with husband Franco Nero) and in her amazing performance in Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus.

I would definitely recommend this film. Don't be put off by the 60s ness of it!


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Movies About Fate Torn Lovers

Does "Fate Torn" even make sense? I don't know and frankly I don't even care anymore so I'm sorry. I've been trying to come up with a title for this post which didn't include the words "Star" and "Cross'd" for the past fifteen minutes and I give up. I'm a bit of a sucker for gothic romance and destructive relationship dramas (as negative as that might sound). One of my friends expressed slight concern and disdain at my affection for angsty romantic dramas calling them "unhealthy relationships." Personally I blame Emily Bronte but y'know.

Romeo: I would I were thy bird.
Juliet: Sweet so would I, yet I would kill thee with much cherishing.
Come on. I couldn't write this post without referencing the one and true pair of "star cross'd lovers". I have seen things floating around saying that Romeo and Juliet isn't even a love story, that it's just a pair of under-stimulated teenagers who brashly fall in love obsessively without even knowing each other. Yeah, they didn't really know each other, but they felt like they'd known each other forever. And as cheesy as that sounds, that's what Shakespeare intended us to feel. And after playing Juliet I can tell you what an emotionally exhausting experience playing that story was. This was love not for the faint hearted. And there's a reason this is the most loved love story of all time.

The Franco Zeffirelli version is the best in my opinion. I'm not mad about the Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Danes/Baz Luhrmann version, despite the fact it is so aesthetically pleasing. Olivia Hussey embodies the energy and youthful optimism Juliet needs. It's just a well crafted film adaptation.

Heathcliff: I killed you. Haunt me then! Haunt your murder! I know that ghosts have wandered on the earth. Be with me always. Take any form. Drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul. 
I find Wuthering Heights a heartbreaking and distressing story, yet so enthralling! The 1939 version starring a young Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff (*__* starry eyed much?) and Merle Oberon as Cathy is one of my all-time favourite films. It's just so full of L-U-S-T from the beginning! And like Romeo and Juliet, it's tragedy deems from stupid mishearings and wrongly interpreted messages. Oberon and Olivier make a fabulous couple. Cathy loves Heathcliff but her desire for social standing and wealth outweigh the burning passion she has for Heathcliff. It's fantastic.

Maxim deWinter: I knew where Rebecca's body was, lying on that cabin floor at the bottom of the sea.
Mrs deWinter: How did you know, Maxim?
Maxim deWinter: Because I... put it there. Can you look into my eyes and tell me that you love me now?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is inspired greatly by Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. In the film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine you get a more happy ending than in the book. Throughout the story, Maxim deWinter's marriage to his new wife (known simply as "Mrs deWinter") is haunted by the legacy left by his former wife, the by-all-accounts ravishing Rebecca. In the film *SPOILER* after crazed housekeeper Mrs Danvers burns down their precious mansion, Manderley, we are to assume that the newlyweds live happily ever after. In the book, we know that the story is being told from a second-rate hotel room, and that their marriage has been exhausted by the scandal and emotional strain that Rebecca but on it. It's a story of two people kept apart by Rebecca, a woman who no-longer even exists. It's spooky and broody and I adore it :D

Ilsa Lund: If you knew how much I loved you... How much I still love you.
When I'm talking about Casablanca in this context, the couple I'm talking about is Ilsa and Rick, played by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. As much as we all appreciate why he's there and purpose he serves, Paul Henried - we're sorry to say that no-one really cares about you. Ilsa and Rick we separated by war after an affair in Paris and then when they meet again, she is married to a war-hero and he's cynical and their romance cannot be rekindled as they wanted it. Of course they are still in love, but due to Ilsa's loyalty to Paul Henried's character Victor Lazlo, she can't leave him for Rick. She finally has to choose between her passionate love affair with Rick and her heroic role as wife to a sensitive and - let's face it - taller political activist. SOPHIE'S CHOICE MUCH? We all know the ultimate scene:
Rick: If you don't get on that plane, Ilsa, you'll regret it (Ilsa tries to interrupt) - maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow but the day after and for the rest of your life.
Ilsa: But what about us?
Rick: We'll always have Paris. We didn't have, we lost it before you came to Casablanca. Now we have it back. Here's looking at you, kid.
Here ensues crazy sobbing and television-screen hitting my end.

King Arthur: I love them and they answer me with pain and torment. Be it sin or not sin, they betray me in their hearts and that's far sin enough. I can feel it in their eyes, I can feel it when they speak, and they must pay for it and be punished. I shall not be wounded and not return it in kind! I'm through with feeble hoping! I demand a man's vengance!
I'm a bit addicted to the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot. Namely the 1967 film starring Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere and Franco Nero as Lancelot. It's terrible because Guinevere loves Arthur loads but then this hot french Knight comes and causes ALL SORTS OF TROUBLE. It's fantastically played by all three actors. Arthur loves Lancelot as a brother and Guinevere is his one true love. What can he do? Eventually, the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere causes the demise of the Knights Of The Round Table, and the near death of Guinevere. I have quite honestly never seen anyone cry as much as Vanessa Redgrave does in the final scene of Camelot. It's an incredible performance.


Stromboli (1950)

After watching one of BBC 4's great new series "Arena: Screen Goddesses"my parents said "Oh, Bette, we should definitely get Stromboli." And after a seconds hesitation startled by the amount of metaphorical glitter that were just thrown at me, I responded "OH MY GOD YES, I WATCHED THE FIRST 15 MINUTES ON YOUTUBE BUT THEY SPOKE ITALIAN AND INRGID SPOKE ENGLISH AND THE SUBTITLES WERE IN FRENCH. SO SERIOUSLY I CAN GET IT?" Obviously this was the response of the cool-as-a-cucumber teen that is me. Freaking out over Italian Neo-Realist Ingrid Bergman films is well sick innit bruv. Finally got around to watching it the other day.

Just to ground you all in the setting and atmosphere under which this film was made. After watching "Rome, Open City" starring Anna Magnani, the then mistress of the film's director, Roberto Rossellini. Ingrid was so blown away by the whole style and rawness of Rossellini's direction that she impulsively sent a letter to Italy saying,
Dear Mr. Rossellini,
I saw your films, Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian only knows "ti amo," I am ready to come and make a film with you.
Ingrid Bergman
Rossellini took her up on her offer, and came to meet her and her family in Hollywood to discuss plans for Stromboli. There were no signs of a love affair, Roberto got on well with Ingrid's then husband Petter Lindstrom and her daughter Pia and vice versa. Little did they know that their relationship would escalate into a scandal that shocked the world.

Ingrid Bergman was married to Petter Lindstrom in name only. Their marriage had ended years before Rossellini had entered the scene. This is often a fact that people forget. It was mainly Petter's fault that Ingrid betrayed him, he didn't grant her the divorce she begged for in the previous years before Rossellini. This made the entire situation look a lot more dire than it was. The gossip started when Rossellini and Ingrid were photographed holding hands in Italy when she went to film Stromboli. As they travelled to the remote island of Stromboli to film, the rumours grew and grew, yet they were in such a remote place, they heard all the news stories and malicious gossip too late to respond to it effectively. It was a nightmare for Ingrid who was also enduring a tempestuous filming regime, climbing the volcano which was a physical and mental challenge, and working with amateur actors in a language she didn't understand. Hell on earth.

The film Stromboli centres on the story of Karin (Ingrid Bergman), a Lithuanian refugee in a camp in Italy. The refugee women's main chance at escaping the camp is enticing a soldier from the neighbouring camp to marry them. Through the barbed wire that separates the camps, the women form relationships with the soldiers. After Karin's appeal to emigrate to Argentina is denied, she marries Antonio (Mario Vitale) and he whisks her away to his home island. Little did she expect this island to be a primitive and exclusive community living in a few crumbling houses around a very active volcano.

The isolation drives her mad. She acts petulantly to her husband at first but tries to make the best of it by cleaning her house. But she is still not satisfied with either married life or life on this desolate island. She manages to get herself into a number of compromising positions, including flirting openly with the lighthouse guard and trying to seduce the priest. She doesn't understand the way of life there. When Karin asks a member of Antonio's family why everyone dislikes her, she replies, "Because you are a brazen woman!" Karin finds out she is pregnant and (stupidly, after a volcanic eruption) she tries to flee to a neighbouring town over the active volcano but the arduous journey is too much...

This is a very interesting film. Roberto Rossellini's film style is so raw and real that you often forget that it's a drama you're watching and not a documentary. The scene of the tuna catching is incredible and awe-inspiring. The shots going up the volcano are amazing too (even if it did kill a couple of camera men to get them).

The amateur actors do especially well, but some of them are actually playing themselves. Mario Vitale does a spectacular job considering he was chosen out of two fishermen to be Ingrid Bergman's leading man. Roberto hired the two fishermen to carry heavy loads telling them that they would have parts in his film. He later picked one of them for leading man. When Ingrid Bergman asked Rossellini why he hired fishermen instead of real actors he replied "Because if I hired actors they wouldn't carry all those heavy things for me!" Great.

Ingrid Bergman's performance is believable and so utterly natural. She thrives in the atmosphere of the neo-realism, despite screaming at Rossellini in exasperation at one point during filming, "IF THIS IS REALISM YOU CAN HAVE IT." Or something to that effect. I have the all Italian archive version, but I'm almost certain that it was Ingrid's voice dubbing over in Italian. I really can't say anything I haven't already about Ingrid. I don't think anyone will ever top her in terms of acting, beauty or sweetness. I'm all superlatives. Ingrid your legend lives on through a group of teenage girls who spam the internet with your face :D

I would thoroughly recommend this film to anyone, especially if you're into foreign film (I'm a bit of a french new wave addict). Will most certainly be watching Rome Open City soon, so will post about that hopefully.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013


Happy New Year readers! I hope you are having (I refuse to acknowledge the fact that it will soon be over) a beautiful holiday. I certainly am :D I can't believe it's 2013! It seems like 2012 went by in a whirl. So many wonderful things happened for me in 2012, I just hope this year can live up to my high expectations. I decided to celebrate the new year by giving the blog it's well deserved finishing touches design wise, and I have to say it's my favourite yet. It looks like a flower fairy came and scattered rose petals and glitter on my computer. Anyway, here's a little compilation of my favourite posts this year.

January: The Lion In Winter (1968)

I wrote about the Lion In Winter, which is one of my favourite Katharine Hepburn movies. As I wrote to my best friend Ia when I gave her this movie as a present, "If this movie doesn't make you want to be a badass medieval queen I don't know what will."

February: Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman: The Ship That Never Left The Dock

Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. One of the most famous screen couples with the most chemistry yet they only made two films together (Notorious, 1946 and Indiscreet, 1958). Why? No one knows. They remained best friends their whole lives. I'm devastated they never got married and had babies.

March: Box Set Mondays: Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy is one of the most underrated actresses of her generation, remembered almost solely for her performance as Nora Charles in the Thin Man Series with William Powell. She had the potential to be a Bette Davis style powerhouse of a dramatic actress but was sadly never given that chance by her studio. This was a post to appreciate her versatility and also to remind Turner Classic Movies to get on with their Myrna Loy boxed set!

April: Sometimes I Cry Because Audrey Hepburn

I sometimes forget just how much I love Audrey Hepburn. I think she gets lost in this void of "style icon" and was never recognised for her acting talent as much as she should have been.

May: Mata Hari (1931)

This movie came from my Greta Garbo boxed set and it was one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. It just had to be posted about.

June: Private Lives (1931)

I love this film adaptation of Noel Coward's fabulous Private Lives almost as much as the real thing. Robert Montgomery is hilarious. I watched this film repeatedly for about two weeks...

July: Notorious (1946)

I guess this is a sort of continuation of the "Cary and Ingrid" theme, but Notorious is my favourite Alfred Hitchcock movie so any excuse to blog about it! They are the most romantic pair. In my opinion, this really is one of Hitch's best.

August: A Woman's Face (1938) Starring Ingrid Bergman

I was truly blown away by A Woman's Face, a Swedish 1938 film starring my favourite, Ingrid Bergman. It's an extraordinarily well crafted film and needless to say that Ingrid Bergman's acting is second to none. This was made before she made her move to Hollywood.

September: "You've such a way of looking at people." Happy Birthday, Greer Garson!

Greer Garson's birthday was on the 29th of October so I made a big post about how much I love her and why. It turned into a kind of "GREER GARSON IS THE REDHEADED QUEEN OF ALL THINGS LOVELY." Sorry.

October: Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, 1940 - The Oliviers

My Laurence Olivier obsession was growing... Also, I played Juliet twice this year (both productions were successes I'm pleased to say!) and both the play and the process of the show were HUGE parts of 2012 for me. Aside from any deep philosophical meaning in this post, Viv and Larry are pretty.

*I didn't post all November...*

December: This Was Love, This Was The Read Thing: My Laurence Olivier Obsession

You guys were warned... Kind of.... I have a huge crush on Laurence Olivier which started in about July. Various forms of self expression have been experimented with to get this out of my system, collages, tribal dances and wolf calls... Not really, but the collage was a very real thing that is currently residing on my cupboard door. LARRY I LOVE YOU.

So there you go! Hopefully I'll have more time to post on this blog this year, I've quit Tumblr so there should be more time to blog, though with schoolwork and shows I'm afraid I can't promise anything!!! I'm just about to go and watch Stromboli (the first film directed by Roberto Rossellini that starred Ingrid Bergman, and we all know the story there!).