27 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney

Judy and Mickey wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! 

I hope you had a relaxing day, wherever you are. I am looking forward to spending the next few days visiting some museums, watching movies, and not working. And while it's very tempting to go shopping, I like the idea a friend of mine had of supporting a Native American cause instead like the American Indian Graduate Center, which gives scholarships to Native American students (more info here). Enjoy the rest of the week, everyone!

26 November 2014

Liz & Jimmy

Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in Giant (1955)

Among the many men in Elizabeth Taylor’s life, some of the ones she was closest to were not husbands but friends—Roddy McDowell, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson. These co-stars found in a Taylor a loyal and trust-worthy confident who stood besides them through thick and thin and, in the case of Clift, even saved their lives.

One of the most memorable of her male friends was James Dean. Their seemingly close bond is all the more striking when you consider the fact that their friendship began only a few months before Dean's death.

James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor on set. Photos: Frank Worth.

They met on the set of Giant in June 1955. Taylor was a big Hollywood star who had been acting since childhood. Dean was the farm boy turned method actor who had only made two films. Some cast and crew members were turned off by Dean's sometimes disruptive behaviour and odd sense of humour but not Taylor; she found him interesting and funny. Dean on the other hand was in awe of Taylor. When it came time to film their first scene together, he found the courage to get through it in a very Dean-like way: he turned his back to Taylor and urinated in front of a large crowd of onlookers. He later told co-star Dennis Hopper that "It was Elizabeth Taylor...I was so nervous I couldn't speak." He thought if he could do that in front of a a group of people then "I would be able to work with her."
 
Photo: API/Gamma-Rapho





Photos: Richard Miller

Nerves gone, the two quickly became friends. When filming wrapped for the day, they would often stay up late and Taylor, ever the good confident, would listen to Dean talk. Later in life, she would write of Dean, “We had an extraordinary friendship. We would sometimes sit up until three in the morning, and he would tell me about his past, his mother, minister, his loves, and the next day he would just look straight through me as if he'd given away or revealed too much of himself. It would take, after one of these sessions, maybe a couple of days before we'd be back on friendship terms. He was very afraid to give of himself."



Toward the end of filming, Taylor gave Dean a Siamese kitten whom he named Marcus after his uncle. Dean adored the kitten. A few days after he had finished shooting his final scenes, he eagerly made plans to head up to Salinas, California in his new Porsche 550 Spyder to compete in a race event. He left Marcus with a friend along with a detailed list of instructions on how to take care of him while he was gone. Dean was killed shortly after in a car crash on September 30, 1955. The story goes that on the day he died, Marcus ran away.
 
Stevens was the one to break the news of Dean's death to Taylor who burst into tears. The next day, it was business as usual. Rock Hudson said, "George forced her to come to work after Dean's death. He hadn't finished the film. And she could not stop crying." Taylor, in a fury, stormed off set. Shortly thereafter, she collapsed and was admitted to the hospital.
 
One can only speculate, of course, but I'd like to think that if Dean had lived, the two would have remained dear friends. Looking at the photos of them, it’s clear that they enjoyed being together; they look so relaxed and at ease with each other. What a beautiful couple and what a beautiful friendship.

18 November 2014

Cabaret


Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome,
Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret


A revival of one of my favourite musicals, Cabaret, returned to Broadway this year with the Kit Kat Klub once again taking over the legendary Studio 54. The production is guided by the team of Rob Marshall and Sam Mendes who co-directed the 1998 production, and Alan Cumming reprises his Tony-winning role as the Emcee who instructs the audience to "leave your troubles outside."

Cabaret, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, is based on the play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, which itself was an adaptation of the novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. The musical first debuted on Broadway in 1966 with Joel Grey as the Emcee and Jill Haworth as Sally Bowles. Directed by Harold Prince, it ran for 1,165 performances and spawned multiple revivals in New York and London as well as an Oscar-winning film in 1972.

Set in 1930s Weimar Berlin, Cabaret opens at the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy nightclub where second-rate performers, including an English good-time girl named Sally Bowles, and their audience are overseen by an androgynous Emcee. Cliff Bradshaw, a bright-eyed American, arrives in the city with plans to write a novel. He rents a room from Fräulein Schneider, a spinster being wooed by one of her boarders, Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. That night Cliff winds up at the Kit Kat Klub where he meets Sally who is immediately drawn to him. In a blink, she finagles her way into sharing Cliff's room and bed. At first life is beautiful and the actions of the rising Nazi party are ridiculed at the club (the Emcee “cheekily” displays a swastika on his behind) but soon reality creeps in. Herr Schultz’ shop is vandalized and Fräulein Schneider, afraid of losing the little she has, breaks off their engagement. Cliff, sickened by the realization that the errands he's been running for his friend, Ernst Ludwig, have been on behalf of the Nazi Party, is beaten up when he refuses to continue. He decides to return to America and begs Sally, who is now pregnant, to come away with him but Sally, unable to see beyond tomorrow, gets an abortion and returns to the club where she declares that “life is a cabaret, old chum" as Cliff departs and begins writing his book: "There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies ... and there was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany ... and it was the end of the world." The plays closes as it opened on the Emcee, only this time instead of suspenders and a bow tie, he’s dressed in a striped concentration camp uniform adorned with both a yellow star and a pink triangle.

One of the reasons why I love Cabaret is its wonderful score filled with a bevy of memorable songs from the opening "Willkommen," in which the Emcee introduces the audience to the Kit Kat Klub boys and girls to the humorous "Don’t Tell Mama" to the naughty "Two Ladies," to the chilling "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" (first heard as a recording played on a turntable). And, of course, there's Sally’s swan song, "Cabaret," in which she promises that “when I go, I’m going like Elsie” (her roommate who died from excess). While most people remember the songs sung by the Emcee and Sally, there are also the songs by the older lovers, Herr Schultz and Fräulein Schneider, which shouldn't be overlooked: the sweet "It Couldn’t Please Me More" and the poignant 'Married."



And then there is the set. For this production, the orchestra and mezzanine of Studio 54 have been transformed into the Kit Kat Klub with cocktail tables and chairs replacing traditional theatre seats. The blurring of the line between stage and seating allows the audience to become part of the show as when the Emcee walks out and chooses people to dance with him. Another ingenious decision is placing the orchestra above the stage inside a large, lit-up picture frame. This use of space gives the actors an opportunity to make an entrance or observe the going-ons down below.

Much of the attention given to Cabaret has been about the performance of Michelle Williams as Sally. I was interested in seeing her but the night we went she was absent (she’s since left the production and Emma Stone is now donning the green nail polish) so her understudy, Andrea Goss, went on in her place. To be honest, I ended up not minding because Goss was a very good Sally. From her black-bobbed hair to her crisp English accent, she looked and sounded the part while her singing and dancing were great if sometimes almost too good (Sally, after all, isn’t suppose to be all that talented). Goss normally plays one of the Kit Kat girls, all of who showed off their various talents from doing slow cartwheels to baring their assets as did the Kit Kat boys.

There were also strong performances by Bill Heck as Cliff and Danny Burstein as Herr Schultz as well as Linda Emond who gave an especially moving performance as Fräulein Schneider. Yet the star was Alan Cumming as the Emcee—the man who guides you through the play and acts as witness to the disintegration of the world. To call Cumming fabulous sounds almost flippant; no one (apologies to Joel Grey) owns this role like Cumming. He is immensely talented and a pure delight to watch as he sings, dances (sometimes in drag), flirts with the audience, makes faces when he doesn’t get the laughs he wants, and finally stands as a symbol of what horrors the Nazis wrought.

Cabaret is at Studio 54 through March 29, 2015. For more information, visit here. Photos by Joan Marcus.

14 November 2014

Happy Birthday, Lulu!


Happy Birthday to the one and only Louise Brooks. Born on November 14, 1906 in Cherryvale, Kansas, she was a dancer, screen star, and writer whose iconic bobbed hair led Kenneth Tynan to dub her "the girl in the black helmet." She lived life according to her terms no matter the cost, even when it meant the loss of her film career. Yet she always remained true to herself and her beliefs. She is and forever will be one of my role models (read more here). So today, let's all raise our glasses and make a toast to Lulu.

12 November 2014

Couple at the Opera


"Metropolitan Opera, New York" Garry Winogrand (circa 1951) 

At first glance this couple at the Metropolitan Opera (circa 1951) appear to be just another well-to-do couple enjoying some champagne between acts. Yet on closer inspection, one notices a few things. There is the tight cropping of the image that pushes them to the side, making the woman the center of attention. There is the woman's heavy make-up, her face a white mask compared to the muted shades around her. And then there are the raised glasses. Did they strike a pose, aware of the photographer, or did they just happen to be raising their glasses in a toast? And if so, what were they toasting? 

The photo is the work of Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), one of the great street photographers who documented life in New York and the rest of the country from the 1950s to the 1980s. He was a relentless chronicler of post-war America, shooting 26,000 rolls of everyone—the rich and poor, the famous and the unknown, animals at zoos and people at airports. Winogrand, who called himself a “student of America,” famously showed no interest in editing his work, preferring instead to be out shooting, forever on the hunt for his next subject. When he died, he left behind thousands of undeveloped images and contact sheets of work that were never exhibited, including this photograph.

Earlier this fall, I saw this in the Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Met. Of the 175 images on display, 65 were never seen during Winogrand’s lifetime. It was a fabulous exhibit that was also very inspirational. And it introduced me to this photograph that I find so intriguing.

The Met show has closed but if you’re in Paris, you can see this photo along with the rest of the retrospective at the Jeu de Paume through February 8, 2015. Or check out the catalogue here.

10 November 2014

A Visit to the Mount


On my recent trip to the Berkshires, I was able to spend a day at the Mount, Edith Wharton’s former home in Lenox, Massachusetts. I had been once before, years ago when the Mount was still being worked on, and was eager to see the home and gardens fully restored.

Author of more than 40 books and the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature (1921), Edith Wharton was also a keen interior designer and gardener. Her first book was actually about design, The Decoration of Houses, which she co-wrote with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. in 1897.

When she and her husband, Teddy, purchased 113 acres of land in Lenox for $40,600 in 1901, she decided to design and build a house based on the principals of her book. Recruiting Codman and Francis L.V. Hoppin as architects and R.W. Curry as builder, Wharton conceived of a home with classical Italian and French influences and none of the heavy, Victorian excesses popular at the time. Finished in the fall of 1902, the Mount would be Wharton’s home for the next ten years and her last address before leaving Teddy and America to live in France.

The walk up to the entrance of the Mount. Photos by Michele.

Turning down the unfortunately named Plunkett Street, we parked near the front of the estate where the gatehouse and stables are located. A quarter-mile walk down a maple-lined drive brings you to the entrance of The Mount, which actually appears to be at the side of the house. You can go inside for a tour but we chose to explore the grounds first before the rain became too heavy.

Continuing past the house, you come to an Italian walled garden with its arched walls and rock-pile fountain. Wharton called this her giardino segreto or secret garden. Steps lead up to a lime walk that runs behind the house, which makes you feel as if you've stepped into the past and are on the grounds of a French castle. Looking up, you find the back of the Mount with its wide terrace and distinct green and white striped awnings.




At the end of the Lime Walk is the French flower garden with its dolphin fountain. Wharton originally planted the garden with hollyhocks, phlox, snapdragons, and stocks, among others. Many of these same flowers are planted today, and we were fortunate to still find some blooms even late in the season. 

Looking out beyond the gardens the lawn slopes down to the trees and a small body of water courtesy of the some busy local beavers. To step out onto the terrace and look down onto the gardens and the trees beyond would never get old.

Leaving the flower garden and walking down a path in the woods we came around to the other side of the house and a small rise on which one finds a small cemetery where Wharton's dogs are buried. Wharton loved her dogs and was often photographed with them. Here lies Modele, Mimi, Miza, Jules, and Toto too. We discovered afterwards that Wharton had a view of the cemetery from her bedroom window.


The Gallery. Photo by Michele.

Looking down the long Drawing Room. Photo by Michele.

Back at the house, we decided to take the guided tour, which begins in the entrance hall created to resemble a grotto. Here visitors would wait to see if Mrs. Wharton was entertaining people (she famously disliked large parties; no surprise then that the Mount only has two guest rooms). If she was, the visitors were often greeted by their hostess bearing champagne. 

Side note, I was told when entering the house that I could take photos with my camera but no flash. No problem. I was shooting with my camera when I decided to take a quick shot with my phone so I could post an image on Instagram. My phone was dead. The guide noticed and said that it happens all the time, and they think it's the ghosts acting up. Later, when we stopped somewhere in town, I plugged my phone in to find it charged at 50%. Ghosts? 

Anyways, the tour continued through the rooms on the main floor, which include the Gallery where the Whartons displayed treasures from their travels; Teddy's Den; the Drawing Room, which reminded me of sitting rooms at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh; and the Dining Room where a jar with dog treats sits on the table, ready for one of Wharton's little friends.The library is also on this floor with oak panelling and shelves filled with books from Wharton's personal collection. It was a room where Wharton liked to engage in conversation with close friends like Henry James not, contrary to her publicity photos, where she wrote (she did that in her bedroom). 


A distinctly modern touch to the staircase. Photo by Michele.

The bathroom has its original tub and wallpaper. Photo by Michele.


It should be noted that when Wharton moved to France, she emptied the house of its belongings. When the Mount was restored, a select group of interior designers were invited to reinterpret a room, keeping Wharton's ideas in mind. This accounts for why the furniture is not original to the house and why there are some decidedly modern elements to be found like the leopard print carpeting on the staircases. 

Upstairs on the bedroom level is the West Guest Suite, the Henry James Suite (the room with the best view), Teddy's Suite, and Wharton's Suite, which is comprised of her bathroom,  bedroom, and boudoir (or sitting room). It was here in her bed that Wharton would write every morning, flinging each page to the floor for her secretary to collect and type up. Her boudoir next door, the most elaborate of all the rooms on this floor, acted as her office and the current furniture in the room mimics what was originally in the room including a table and chair, and chaise lounge by the window. 

It was at the Mount that the Whartons' marriage finally disintegrated. Although it was long and unpleasant, Wharton managed to write some of her best material during this time including Ethan Frome and my personal favourite, The House of Mirth. I like to think that that the house helped, giving her the space and quiet that she needed to work. 

Back down two flights to the ground floor is where you find the Kitchen, Scullery, and Laundry Room. The Whartons were good employees and made sure that their longtime cook, Mary Bagley, and staff were equipped with the latest gadgets. And speaking of staff, there were other small rooms in the house, including on the bedroom floor, where servants either did work (like sewing) or had their own bedrooms.

After finishing the tour we got a cup of much needed hot tea and sat outside on the terrace admiring the view. Such a lovely home and gardens. I can't wait to visit again, perhaps in the spring to see all the flowers in bloom. Until then, I'll just have to read some Edith Wharton.

For more information about the Mount, visit their website here.

05 November 2014

Berkshires Getaway






The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). Photo by Michele.

Last month, I escaped New York for a few days to meet up with some friends in the Berkshires. Having lived in New England for many years, going back to Massachusetts always feels like going home. And what better time to visit than the fall?

In addition to hanging out and catching up, we wanted to see some art. Which is why we chose to stay in North Adams. It may be the smallest city in Massachusetts (population 13,708) but it has one huge collection of art. This former mill town, once known as a producer of textiles in the 19th century and electrical components in the 20th, is now a destination for contemporary art fans thanks to the opening of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in the old Arnold Print Works complex.



The Porches Inn, its view obscured by the seemingly endless amount of overhead wires in North Adams.
A partial view of our suite and Sabine, the Porches cat. Photos by Michele.

We stayed at The Porches Inn, located directly across the street from the MASS MoCA campus. A series of row houses originally used to house factory workers, they’ve been converted into a lovely hotel; each building features a porch with rocking chairs (hence the name) and charming rooms. To be honest, I could have just stayed at the hotel all day and been happy. Breakfast every morning consisted of local treats including Berkshire blend coffee and delicious sourdough bread, and in the evenings guests were welcome to enjoy a drink by the fire, which was much appreciated after being out in the cold. And if you were lucky, the Porches’ resident cat, Sabine, would make an appearance.


The Jewett House (i.e. perfect haunted house) built in 1872. Photo by Michele.

The North Adams Public Library. Photo by Michele.

 A ghost sign on a building in downtown North Adams for Enna Jettick shoes for women. Sizes 1-12, $5-$6. Photo by Michele.

"Bus Stand" by Victoria Palermo (2012). Photo by Michele



Even the signage on the local buildings has a certain artistic flair. Photos by Michele.

North Adams has a small downtown area with some lovely Victorian buildings like the Jewett House built in 1872 (wouldn’t it make the best ghost house?) and the Blackinton Mansion built in 1867 and now home to the North Adams Public Library. These 19th-century designs are juxtaposed with modern art installations, some of which serve a practical purpose. For example, “Bus Stand” by Victoria Palermo is both a piece of public art and an actual bus stand. I would also argue that some of the signage found around town constitutes an art form all its own.




The Mohawk Theatre, which first opened in 1938. Photos by Michele.

One of the most striking buildings in downtown North Adams is the old Mohawk Theater, which first opened its doors on November 5, 1938 (the feature film that day was That Certain Age with Deanna Durbin). A 1,200-seat movie theatre,it was an art deco jewel of its time. After it closed in 1991, the theatre fell into disrepair but locals fought plans to tear the Mohawk down and money was raised to restore the theater’s marquee. There is a campaign currently underway for restoration of the rest of the theatre.

Some of the different sites on the MASS MoCA campus. Photos by Michele.

Yet without a doubt the biggest draw in North Adams is Mass MoCA. With 110,000 square feet of exhibition space and 13-acres of property, it’s one of the largest contemporary art museums in the country with a campus as interesting as the art itself. The old brick factory buildings, bridges, and the Hoosic River cutting through the campus serve as a reminder that this was once a place of industry, starting before the Revolutionary War. What's so striking is how the surrounding modern art installations manage to blend right in with its 19th-century industrial setting.

 Examples from the Sol Le Witt "A Wall Drawing Retrospective" including signs telling visitors not to touch the walls. Photos by Michele.


 A detail from "Dance Dance Dance" by Dike Blair (2011). Photo by Michele.

 "Filthy Lucre" by Darren Waterston (2013-14). Photos by Michele.

We spent a whole day at MASS MoCA, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t see everything. What we did manage to catch was Sol LeWitt’s "A Wall Drawing Retrospective," 105 of LeWitt’s large-scale wall drawings, which will be on display at MASS MoCA for 25 years; "The Dying of the Light: Film as Medium and Metaphor," which showcases the work of six artists who create art with analog film; Mark Dion’s "The Octagon Room," an actual room filled with his personal belongings; “In Transit: Between Image and Object,” shipping crates that are turned into works of art by three artists; and “Filthy Lucre,” Darren Waterston’s stunning and somewhat unsettling re-imagination of James McNeill Whistler’s famed “Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room.” 

Clockwise from left, "Lunar (Theatre)" (2014); "Black Sun" (2014); and "Scroll 1" from the "Golden series" (2013-14), which measures 108 inches wide and only 12 inches high. All by Teresita Fernández. Photos by Michele.

One of my favourite exhibits was “As Above So Below,” a wonderful collection of works by Teresita Fernández who turns common materials into something beautiful like the “Black Sun” (2014), which utilizes a collection of polycarbonate tubes to create a cloud of colour. And then there was “Lunar” (2014). For this piece, Fernandez covered a platform with 1,500 pounds of small glass beads that gave the appearance of snow.


 Scenes from Lee Boroson's "Moisture Content" (2014). Photos by Michele.

And my vote for most fun exhibit was Lee Boroson’s “Moisture Content” (2014). Don’t be discouraged by the title. Row upon row of hanging plastic orbs lead to a large round curtain that upon entering reveals to have more layers of material and flowers; it reminded me of a wedding dress. And judging by the antics of my fellow visitors, it has to be one of the museum’s top spots for taking selfies. 

MASS MoCA is a wonderful museum that one could probably spend a couple days at to see everything. It’s also hard on the feet, which is why it was nice to enjoy a great meal at the Gramercy Bistro on the campus that evening (and speaking of restaurants, need to mention another North Adams spot, PUBLIC eat+drink, who had amazing bourbon bramble cocktails).

The Williams College campus. Photo by Michele.

Our Berkshires trip wasn't confined to just North Adams. One afternoon we drove over to Williamstown to walk around the picture perfect Williams College campus and grab some coffee. And our last day was my favourite, a trip to Lenox to visit The Mount, Edith Wharton's home. More about that in my next post.

To find out more about MASS MoCA, visit their site here.

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