18 February 2015

The Lion Who Roared

Just another day at the office. Jackie the Lion recording his roar.

Throw up some soundproofing around the cage, bring in some technicians, get your star to face the microphone, and presto, you're ready to record your studio's mascot who, by the way, just happens to be a lion.

When it comes to studio logos one of the most iconic belongs to MGM. Featuring a Latin motto, "Ars Gratia Artis" (Art for Art’s Sake), and a lion who roars, it’s a familiar site to moviegoers. The idea for the logo was originally conceived of by studio publicist Howard Dietz for Goldwyn Pictures and then later modified for MGM in 1924; he is said to have chosen a lion in honour of the mascot of his alma mater, Columbia University. 

Although always referred to as Leo, there were actually five different lions over the years including Jackie (pictured above) who has the distinction of being the first MGM mascot to have his voice recorded.

Born around 1915, Jackie was destined to be in show business; both his mother and grandmother had been performers. After acting in a series of jungle films, he was chosen to replace MGM’s first lion, Slats, who was the only MGM lion not to roar (he simply looked around instead).

In 1928, Jackie would enter film history when MGM released White Shadows in the South Seas, their first “sound” film featuring a synchronized music track and sound effects including Jackie’s roar in the opening credits. 

The photo of the recording session implies that Jackie was well trained; it was said that he was very gentle and even once took care of some kittens who had wandered into his cage (true story or studio legend?). After this, Jackie would be used for all MGM black and white films until 1956. The two exceptions were when he appeared in Babes in Toyland (1934) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Jackie was a true cat with nine lives. During his tenure at MGM, he survived a series of incidents including an earthquake, two train wrecks, a sinking boat, an explosion, and a plane crash, the last of which resulted in Jackie being left in the Arizona desert (reportedly with supplies—sandwiches and milk) while the pilot went for help. These near escapes earned him the nickname “Leo the Lucky.”

Jackie retired from filmmaking in 1931, spending his remaining years at the Philadelphia Zoo where he passed away on February 26, 1935 from heart problems. Although he may be gone, his face and voice lives on in numerous MGM classics.

14 February 2015

Happy Valentine's Day

On this day devoted to couples and love, I can't help but think of my favourite screen couple: William Powell and Myrna Loy. They were first paired up in 1934 in Manhattan Melodrama and would go on to make 14 films together. They had an on-screen chemistry that was both electric and believable (off screen they remained good friends for the rest of their lives). This was never more apparent than when they played Nick and Nora Charles in six Thin Man movies. As the famed detective and his wife, Powell and Loy exhibit an ease with one another that is rarely seen on film. Their witty banter and obvious attraction for one another, not to mention the way Nora is supportive of Nick's sleuthing and love of a drink (or five), are why I adore them so much. So Happy Valentine's Day, readers. Here's hoping you find your own Nick or Nora.

09 February 2015

Matisse Cut-Outs

"The Fall of Icarus" Henri Matisse (1943)

Tomorrow is the last day of the “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (M0MA). To say that the show has been popular is an understatement: this past weekend MoMA stayed open round the clock to accommodate visitors even at three in the morning. I saw the show last month and even though there was a wait and huge crowds, it was well worth it.

Roughly 100 pieces filled room after room with the most incredible colours and shapes. More familiar with his paintings, I was unaware that toward the end of his life Matisse worked almost exclusively in cut-outs (a bout with cancer left him weakened and bedridden for much of his later years). In a way, it was like looking at the rebirth of an artist, one who discovered a new way to express how he saw the world.

"The Parakeet and the Mermaid" Henri Matisse (1952)

In Matisse's hands some pieces of coloured paper (his assistants painted sheets of paper with paint chosen by the artist), dress pins, and a pair of scissors could render a dancer, the design for a stain-glassed window for a chapel, or a swimming pool of bodies that wrapped around a room. 

Two of my favourite pieces were a contrast in size. "The Fall of Icarus" with its lovely Mediterranean blue and blaze of fire at its center, was small yet striking. And I simply adored a mural Matisse created when he lived at the Hôtel Régina in Nice. “The Parakeet and the Mermaid,” which covered two walls (ignoring the radiator in the way) of Matisse’s studio, is a glorious collection of leaves and fruit (with a parakeet and mermaid at either end) in a medley of colours including some shocking pink. This work gave an ill man who had once loved to garden a garden that he could maintain and nourish. Like the rest of the exhibit, it was a joy to see.

If you didn't manage to see the exhibit, you can view the rest of the works and read more about Matisse here.

08 February 2015

Night at the Museum

One of my favourite books when I was a little girl was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the story of siblings Claudia and Jamie Kincaid who run away to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Monday night I was able to experience my own version of sorts when I attended an after-hours Instameet at the museum sponsored by the Met and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The evening began with cocktails and a chance to meet some fellow instagrammers. After that we were given a tour of the museum by the Met’s Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan. He was a perfect guide, pointing out some of his favourite pieces and relaying amusing anecdotes about various works. Everywhere we went cameras snapped away, capturing the art, selfies, and each other. There was even a group photo taken in the American Wing Courtyard of everyone lying on the ground.

 "Colossal Seated Statue of Amenhotep III, Reinscribed by Merneptah" (ca. 1390–1353 B.C.). Photo by Michele.

"The Temple of Dendur" (completed by 10 B.C.). Photo by Michele.

"The American Wing Courtyard." Photo by Michele
"Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii" Randolph Rogers (carved 1959). Photo by Michele.

"Adam" Tullio Lombardo (ca. 1490-95). Take a good look. Once he's placed 
in his new niche later this year, you'll only get a front view. Photo by Michele.

"Marble portrait bust of the Empress Sabina" Roman (ca. A.D. 122-128).
Being in the museum at night with such a small group of people was exciting. Besides the bonus of not having to deal with crowds and their accompanying noise, there was the opportunity to see the museum literally in a different light. With no natural light and the electric ones dimmed (at least they seemed that way), shadows appeared and pieces took on a different look. During the day the Sackler Wing, home of the Temple of Dendur and the “Nile," is normally flooded with light from a glass wall but at night in the dark the place becomes more mysterious: the temple seems larger than usual, the "Nile" murkier
(next time they should turn the overheads off completely and have lit torches at the temple entrance—just a suggestion). And I couldn't help but think that being in the Roman Sculpture Court, one of my new favourite spots in the museum, might be a bit unnerving if you were there alone at night (too many empty eyes staring at you). 

Going to an instameet and exploring the museum after dark are two things I'd love to do again. Thank you to the Met and Bloomberg Philanthropies for hosting such a wonderful event.

To see the museum at night, try visiting on Friday or Saturday evenings when the Met stays open until 9 pm. You may not get a private tour but the crowds will be thinner. And to find out what’s going on at the Met, download their new app here.

31 January 2015

Life Across America

"Little Leaguers (including their formidable leader, Dick Williams, center), await missing parts of their uniforms, Manchester, New Hampshire" Yale Joel (1954).

This afternoon I caught the last day of the "Life Across America" exhibit at the Leica Gallery. Comprised of iconic images from the pages of Life Magazine, the exhibit served as a reminder of the importance of the publication whose mix of celebrity and everyday people photos made it one of the great chroniclers of the 20th century. With just one image Life's photographers, who ranked among the best in the field, could convey the American experience to readers around the world.

A perfect example is this image by Yale Joel that originally ran in the June 28, 1954 issue. These Little Leaguers, waiting in a classroom for the missing parts of their uniforms, appear to be bored, restless, or just tired (look at the boy yawning in the back). Yet one boy, Dick Williams, clearly fed up with having to wait, stands in defiance, voicing a complaint on behalf of his fellow teammates. We've all known a Dick Williams. He was the kid you could always count on to speak up when everyone else was too shy or indifferent. He didn't care about getting in trouble; he just wanted to right a wrong whether it was complaining about unfair treatment or simply trying to get a pair of pants. What a brilliant photo.

The exhibit is now over but to find out more about the Leica Gallery and upcoming events visit here.

26 January 2015

Snow Supplies

 "Ice bar. Zürs, Austria" Robert Capa (1949-50)

Like many other people on the East Coast, I’m at home waiting out the blizzard. I really don’t mind; I have films to watch, books to read, and lots of writing to do. Yesterday I ran errands and stocked up on supplies. While the norm for a snowstorm is to go for milk and bread, I made sure that I had plenty of whiskey and champagne to see me through the next few days. So let it snow. In the meantime, I'll be in the kitchen whipping up a hot toddy.

20 January 2015

In the Galleries

"Shenzhen 2" Erwin Olaf (2014)

Saturday I visited a bunch of art galleries in my neighbourhood (Chelsea). While some of what I saw wasn't exactly my cup of tea, there were some shows that I liked a lot.

 Selections from Erwin Olaf: Volume I & II” is a collection of striking oversized portraits by the noted Dutch photographer. The lush colours and vintage feel of the images can give the impression that one is looking at recreations of paintings. As for the subjects—a boy scout with an ice cream cone and his dog, an elderly man and woman in a hairdressers, a young blonde girl with her back facing the camera—they are all alone even when sharing the frame with another. My favourite was a group of black and white photos titled "Shenzhen," accompanied by a video installation in which a beautiful bobbed-haired woman sits at a table in a restaurant, waiting for her date. At first she seems to be patiently waiting but soon she begins to fiddle with the glass in front of her and to glance at her watch. Slowly her face shows the realisation that he’s not coming. It's mesmerizing to watch. “Waiting: Selections from Erwin Olaf” is at Hasted Kraeutler Art Gallery through February 28, 2015 (more info here).

“Art is Long, Life is Short: Marsden Hartley and Charles Kuntz in Aix-en-Provence” combines some of my favourite things—the Lost Generation, Provence, and Cezanne. Hartley was already a well-known poet and artist while Kuntz was just starting out as a painter when their paths crossed in 1925. Kuntz convinced Hartley to join him and his wife in Aix-en-Provence, the hometown of Cezanne. There the two painted the same sites and landscapes that Cezanne had including the great man’s studio. It’s interesting to observe the artists’ paintings side-by-side, often of the same subject, and notice the differences in perspective and colour. I especially loved Hartley’s “Landscape #29, Vence” (1925) and Kuntz’s “Mount St. Victoire in Clouds,” their vibrant colours so indicative of the South of France and Cezanne's influence. Sadly, Kuntz was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1928; it’s believed he never exhibited during his lifetime. Now's the chance to see his work. “Art is Long, Life is Short” is at the Driscoll Babcock Galleries through March 7, 2015 (more info here).

"Las Meninas renacen de noche IV: Peering at the secret scene behind the artist" Yasumasa Morimura (2013)

“Yasumasa Morimura: Las Meninas Renacen de Noche (Las Meninas Reborn in the Night)” is Velázquez' famed painting “Las Meninas” re-imagined by the Japanese photographer. Morimura started by photographing the original painting along with the room where it resides at the Prado in Madrid. He then cast himself as each of the figures including the Infanta Margaret Theresa. In his version(s), the characters are allowed to move around within the painting and even to step out of the frame and into the museum. It's a bit disturbing at times (some of the images could be stills from a Tim Burton film) but still intriguing. As a bonus, there's a room in the gallery that includes a collection of black and white portraits of Morimura impersonating various movie stars including Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Liza Minnelli, and Audrey Hepburn in full Holly Golightly gear. “Yasumasa Morimura: Las Meninas” is at Luhring Augustine through January 24, 2015 (more info here).

I’m a John Waters fan so naturally I had to check out “John Waters: Beverly Hills John.” Needless to say, it was exactly what one would expect from Mr. Waters. Hilarious, at times over the top, and highly entertaining. Some of the objects on display include "Fellini's 8 1/2," an oversized wooden rule measuring just that; "Library Science," in which a series of old paperback covers are matched with reworked Adults Only versions; and "Bill's Stroller," a baby stroller complete with a spiked leather belt and cloth decorated with sex club logos. The best though is a video that features a table reading by a group of kids of Kiddie Flamingos, a children's version of Waters’ infamous Pink Flamingos complete with a miniature Divine. Enough said. “John Waters: Beverly Hills John” is at Marianne Boesky Gallery through February 14, 2015 (more info here).


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