29 February 2012

Marilyn at Cannes

The official poster for the 65th Cannes Film Festival has been released, and it features a familiar photo to regular readers of this blog. Yes, this is now the third time that this image of Marilyn Monroe is making an appearance here but I love it, and I love the poster. The organizers who chose Marilyn as the icon for this year's festival said "Fifty years after her death, Marilyn is still a major figure in world cinema, an eternal icon, whose grace, mystery and power of seduction remain resolutely contemporary." Indeed.

The Cannes Film Festival runs May 16-27. Filmmaker Nanni Moretti, the 2001 Palme d'Or winner for La stanza del figlio, will head the jury.

Leap Day

It’s Leap Day, an event that only occurs every four years. Tradition states that on this day a woman can propose to a man and if he refuses, he must pay a fine that ranges from 12 pairs of gloves to a silk gown and kiss (depends on what country you’re in). Regardless of the silliness involved, it made for some great postcards like the one above.

27 February 2012

Bravo Jean

I've written before about how much I enjoyed The Artist and so was pleased to see it win five Oscars at the Academy Awards tonight especially Jean Dujardin's win for Best Actor. In addition to being charming and funny, he took time to thank Douglas Fairbanks, the dashing silent film star who inspired the character of George Valentin. He said, "Thank you to the academy. It's funny because in 1929 it wasn't Billy Crystal, but Douglas Fairbanks who hosted the first Oscar ceremony. Tickets cost five dollars and it lasted 15 minutes. Times have changed. So, thank you Douglas Fairbanks. Yes Melissa, your grandfather's spirit and joie de vivre inspired me for this role." I don't know about you readers, but I think I have a new movie star crush.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America.

22 February 2012

Patchin Place

Patchin Place is a small cul-de-sac in the Village steeped in history. Out on a walk the other day, I decided to open its iron gate and take a peek inside.

Home to ten brick row houses built in the 1840s and the last remaining gas light in the city (now refitted for electricity), which can be seen at the far end of the photo above, Patchin Place is a quaint reminder of old New York. It's also one of the most famous addresses in the Village. Many artists have lived here, including John Cowper Powys, Theodore Dreiser, and even Marlon Brando.

1 Patchin Place

John Reed and Louise Bryant of Reds fame lived at number one during the teens. It was here that Reed began to write Ten Days That Shook the World, his first hand account of the Russian Revolution.

4 Patchin Place

In 1923, poet E.E. Cummings moved into number 4, which he would keep as a residence until he died in 1962. In a letter he once wrote "For a couple of decades the topfloorback room at 4 Patchin Place, which Sibley originally gave me, meant Safety & Peace & the truth of Dreaming & the bliss of Work." Today the house displays a memorial plaque to its former resident, the only Patchin Place address to do so.

5 Patchin Place

Across at number five lived Cummings' friend Djuna Barnes. The author of Nightwood took up residence in the tiny one-room apartment in 1942 after having lived in Europe for years. There she became a recluse, prompting Cummings to yell out "Are you still alive, Djuna?" from time to time. She would remain there until her death in 1982.

Across from Patchin Place can be seen the Jefferson Market tower. Once the Jefferson Market Courthouse, today it's a branch of the New York Public Library, a fitting neighbour for such a literary address.

Photos by Michele.

21 February 2012

Fred and Ginger

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first film 
together Flying Down to Rio (1933).

Katharine Hepburn reportedly once said of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “He gave her class, she gave him sex.” Theirs was a perfect pairing. And through ten films together, they became the most famous dance team to ever grace the silver screen. In The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book, Arlene Croce offers a detailed examination of their work that is both informative and entertaining.

After covering Astaire and Rogers’ prehistory, Croce looks at each of the ten films, beginning with full film credits and a story synopsis before going into a detailed analysis from the creation of the dance numbers and use of music by the most popular composers of the day to the production and supporting players who were an integral part of the films (Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes).

"Pick Yourself Up" from Swing Time (1936)

I have seen and loved all of the Astaire and Rogers films and so was particularly interested to read the behind the scenes moments. During the filming of Swing Time (my favourite of their films) we learn that while repeatedly performing a series of pirouettes for “Never Going to Dance” Roger’s feet began to bleed. Or that the floors on which they danced were overlaid with Bakelite, which scarred easily, requiring that they be covered with cardboard during rehearsals and long breaks had to be called during filming so the floors could be cleaned up. We also learn about Astaire's creative process, including the fact that he rehearsed all of the routines alone save for the company of choreographer Hermes Pan and pianist Hal Borne. Not even Rogers was allowed to join in until Astaire and Pan felt they were ready.

"Cheek to Cheek" from Top Hat (1935) with that dress.

The book is brimming with film and production stills. It even includes a wonderful analysis of Follow the Fleet by director Mark Sandrich that looks like a blueprint of the film.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the book is that it also serves as not one but two flip books (I collect flip books, which may make me a bit biased). Flip the pages one way and you can watch “The Waltz in Swing Time” from Swing Time in the top corner; flip them the other way and you get “Let Yourself Go” from Follow the Fleet. Who could ask for anything more?

"The Yam" from Carefree (1938)

The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book is available from various sellers here.

20 February 2012

Presidents Day

Happy Presidents Day or Happy Birthday George Washington if you want to go old school. Unfortunately, I have to work this year but for those who don't, enjoy the day off and the sales.

Image from the New York Public Library.

17 February 2012

Downton Dolls

As we all seem to have Downton Abbey on the brain (this will be my second Downton-related post of the day), I thought my dear readers might enjoy some Downton Abbey paper dolls created by Kyle Hilton for Vulture. Included among the choices are Matthew and Mary, Thomas and O'Brien, Sybil, and, of course, the Dowager Countess. The assortment of emotions offered for her are brilliant (check out eye rolling).

Even if the show keeps threatening to go off the rails this season with some of its story lines (please, no more amnesia victims, give Bates a break finally, and leave Lord Grantham alone) it's hard not to watch, especially when Maggie Smith is in a scene. So print out your paper dolls, which can be downloaded here and amuse yourselves until the next episode airs.

Ralph Goes Downton

Ralph Lauren's Fall 2012 Ready to Wear Collection was an ode to Downton Abbey including the use of the show's theme song to introduce the models. After all, if anyone was going to evoke the mega British hit it had to be Lauren. No one does the fantasy version of British country living quite like he does. As usual the clothes were classy and lovely, blending Edwardian and flapper styles into a modern look.

And what's not to love? Pinstripes and plaids, cloches and bowlers, tweed jackets with wool vests and ties, and even top hats! I want it all. I was especially taken with the trousers and jackets but the gold gown was absolutely stunning. Well done Mr. Lauren.

To see more images from the collection, visit here.

Photos by Marcio Madeira/firstVIEW.

15 February 2012

The Orphan

Every now and then you come across a photo that stops you in your tracks. This is one of those. It's 1945. The little boy in the photo has just survived a German aerial bombing of his home in London. Not only has he lost his home but his parents and brother as well. He's holding a stuffed animal. Did he have it during the raid or did someone hand it to him afterwards? Does he realize what has happened?

The photo was taken by Toni Frissell, the official photographer of the Women's Army Corps during World War II. Among the thousands of images she took were those of orphaned children. Which makes me wonder, what happened to this orphan? I like to think that there were some kind relatives who took him in and that he grew up to have a good life. But I don't really know what happened to him; I don't know if anyone does. And so he remains frozen in time, a small frightened boy among the ruins of war, who continues to break our hearts.

Image from the Toni Frissell Collection at the Library of Congress.

14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Today many of you will think about love, roses, and chocolates and whether or not you booked dinner reservations at a suitably romantic restaurant. While others will remember that today in 1929 seven members and associates of the North Side Gang were gunned down in a Chicago garage on orders from Al Capone, which will prompt you to look up the event and spend hours reading about bootlegging.

But the day shouldn't be about choosing one or the other. Why not combine the best of both—remember the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre while enjoying some lovely chocolates (just finish the chocolates before looking at the crime scene photographs). Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Image from the New York Public Library.

13 February 2012

Youth and Beauty

“Self-Portrait with Rita” Thomas Hart Benton (1922)

When one thinks of art in the 1920s, European artists usually spring to mind. Yet American artists, here and abroad, were just as productive, creating works that reflected the changes in American society, from the impact of industrialization (machines, urban expansion) to the sexual freedom that replaced Victorian mores. This art helped to define the look of the Jazz Age and was the recent subject of an exhibit, “Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties,” at the Brooklyn Museum.

The first two paintings on view when you walked into the gallery set the tone for the entire exhibit. “Self-Portrait with Rita” by Thomas Hart Benton shows a bare-chested Benton and his wife clad in a bathing suit on the Vineyard looking like the model American couple—young and good looking— while the nearby “Aeroplane” by Elsie Driggs (1928) symbolizes modernity and one of America’s great obsessions during the decade—flight.  

Another room contained a series of photographs by some of the greats—Imogene Cunningham, Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, and Man Ray. Cunningham's ethereal prints of flowers are exquisite and prove once again that nothing beats a beautiful gelatin print.

 “Razor”Gerald Murphy (1924)

Also included in the exhibit were works by Americans with strong ties to France. Two paintings by Gerald Murphy who along with his wife, Sarah, played host to many a member of the Lost Generation in the South of France, remind us of Murphy’s talent as a painter. “Cocktail” (1927) represents an important aspect of Jazz Age culture while “Razor” shows just how keenly aware Murphy was of the impact of consumerism on society. 

“Una, Lady Troubridge” Romaine Brooks (1924)

The portrait of Una, Lady Troubridge by Romaine Brooks recalls the Paris salon of Brooks’ lover Natalie Barney. Whip thin and bobbed, wearing a monocle and men’s tailored clothing, Troubridge is commanding in the portrait even though it's perhaps an extreme example of feminist liberation in the 1920s.

"Screenwriter Anita Loos" Edward Steichen (1928)

"Gloria Swanson" Nickolas Muray (ca. 1925)

And speaking of portraits, no exhibit on America in the 1920s would be complete without the inclusion of Hollywood. A fine portrait by Edward Steichen of the always-entertaining Anita Loos was included as was sleepy eyed Gloria Swanson in a print by Nickolas Muray. And my favourite, Olive Thomas, was also to be found; a small screen near the end played a clip of Ollie riding on top of a bus down Fifth Avenue in a scene from The Flapper (1920).

"Djuna Barnes" Bernice Abbott (1926)

“Youth and Beauty” was probably one of the best exhibits I’ve seen in a while. I just wish I had gone earlier so I could have made a second trip. Although it's too late to catch that exhibit, there is another, much smaller one on Lost Generation member Djuna Barnes at the museum through August 19. “Newspaper Fiction: The New York Journalism of Djuna Barnes, 1913-1919” explores the Nellie Bly-like exploits of Barnes for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and other publications before she moved to Paris. Find out more here.

09 February 2012


Victoria Hamilton and Nigel Kennedy in the kitchen in ToastPhoto: BBC/Ruby Films.

I recently watched the British film Toast (2010). Based on the memoir by food writer and critic Nigel Slater, Toast is the story of a young boy growing up in 1960s England who’s obsessed with food. He has a father who is distant and a mother whom he adores save for one unfortunate thing—she can’t cook. After she passes away, his father begins to spend time with a cleaning woman whom he later marries. Nigel may not like his new stepmother but she knows how to cook. They soon become rivals in the kitchen as they try and compete for his father’s affection.

Helena Bonham Carter is great (as always) as Mrs. Potter, the stepmother, but I have to say I thought the best part of the film was the beginning when Nigel is little and his mother is still alive.

Buying food at the local grocers, he pleads with his mother to buy a meat pie or some cheese but she refuses (she prefers meals that come in cans). Another time he attempts to help her make a cake from scratch with disastrous results. The mother is so awkward and Nigel so eager that the scene is almost too painful to watch.

Yet as much as Nigel yearns for real food (in one scene, his father catches him oohing and awing over photos in a cookbook), he doesn’t hold it against his mother. After one particular off meal, she announces that she'll make toast instead. Nigel says, “No matter how hard things get, it’s impossible not to love someone who made you toast.” No words were ever more true.

08 February 2012

Jimmy Dean

James Dean was born on this date in 1931 in Marion, Indiana. Before he became the face of teenage rebellion and one of film’s greatest legends, he was a struggling actor living in New York. When not studying at the Actors Studio or getting parts in plays, he spent his time on a variety of interests—books, drawing, sculpting, photography, playing his bongo drums while listening to jazz, and roaming the streets of the city. He was always exploring, always learning.

I love all three of the films he made—East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant (I remember first seeing him in East of Eden when I was a kid and being completely mesmerized)—but when it comes to photos, I’ve always been fond of those of him in New York. On the street or with camera in hand, looking just so damn cool. So Happy Birthday Jimmy Dean. We hardly knew you.

Photos by Roy Schatt.

06 February 2012

Give Us Your Poor

There are certain places in New York that are suppose to only interest tourists (the Empire State Building, Times Square, Rockefeller Center). But I love history so I tend to ignore the tourist label if a place is historically significant. Which is why I found myself on a ferry last month, headed out to Ellis Island. 

Ellis Island. The name conjures up old black and white images of women with scarves on their heads and little children clinging to their skirts while men wearing suits and handlebar moustaches stand nearby. In other words, something right up my alley.

The only way to get to Ellis Island is to take a ferry, which makes two stops: the first at Liberty Island where most people disembark to see the Statue of Liberty and the second at Ellis Island. I didn’t get off at Liberty Island, happy to see Lady Liberty from the top deck of the ferry (she’s actually much smaller in person save for her feet, which are huge). My destination was the second island, the place nicknamed the Island of Tears.

Between 1892 and 1954 more than 12 million immigrants passed through the doors of the immigration station on Ellis Island; at its peak in 1907, more than 11,000 people were processed there daily. Today, 40 percent of Americans have an ancestor who came through Ellis Island, making it perhaps one of the most important places in America.

During this time, ships would arrive at Hudson or East River Pier where first and second-class passengers were allowed to disembark after passing through customs (the general consensus was if you could afford the fare, you probably wouldn't ask for charity from the state). Third class or steerage passengers were sent via ferry to Ellis Island to be processed, which included undergoing a physical and intelligence exam. The majority of people were allowed through within a day; those who were held on the island were usually kept behind for medical reasons, political affiliations, or lack of funds to get to their destination.

One of the many details on the main building.

Today the main building on Ellis Island is a museum. Its imposing red brick and white limestone Beaux Arts style is both stern and lovely at the same time. Inside, visitors can stand in the Great Hall and imagine its vast space packed with people waiting to pass through registration or wander around the three floors and see the rooms where the recently arrived ate, slept, were examined, tested, and in some cases, detained.

The Great Hall today.

Throughout the museum are numerous displays that highlight the history of immigration in America from the various ethnic groups that poured into New York to the prejudice and other challenges they encountered once here to their great impact on American society and culture. Along with countless photographs, maps, objects, and personal belongings (so interesting to see what people felt compelled to bring with them) are audio recordings, many of which are oral histories from people who were processed at Ellis Island. On the walls are printed numerous stories, including my favourite from an Italian immigrant who said "I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: First, the streets were not paved with gold. Second, they weren't paved at all. Third, I was expected to pave them."

I started my visit with a talk by a park ranger and a viewing of a film Island of Hope, Island of Tears, which gives a good introduction to the place. There was so much to see that I found myself having to hustle to catch the last ferry, the hours having flown by while I immersed myself in history.

Back outside, I turned to look at the red bricks rising against the blue sky with the grand streets and buildings of New York waiting across the water and felt the power of the place—a great symbol of hope.

If you’d like to visit Ellis Island, I highly recommend buying tickets in advance. There are different options to purchase, all of which can be found here.

Photos by Michele.

02 February 2012

Jazz Baby

Louise Brooks, the ultimate Jazz Baby.

Jazz Baby
My daddy was a rag-time trombone player. 
My mammy was a rag-time cabaret-er. 
They met one day at a tango tea. 
There was a syncopated wedding 
And then came me. 
Folks think the way I walk is a fad, 
But it's just a birthday present from my mammy and dad. 
‘Cause I'm a Jazz Baby. 
I wanna be jazzin’ all the time. 
There's something in the tone of a saxophone 
That makes me do a little wiggle all my own. 
'Cause I'm a Jazz Baby, 
Full of jazzbo harmony. 
Ya’ know, that Walk the Dog and Ball the Jack 
That cause all the talk, 
Well, that’s just a copy of the way I nat’chally walk. 
'Cause I'm a Jazz Baby 
Little jazz baby that's me. 

Rocked to sleep while the cradle went to and fro 
To and fro to the tune of the Tickle-toe. 
Ever since I started in to growing 
I loved to hear the music playin’ 
See my dear old mammy swayin' 
Jazz, jazz, that's all I ever knew 
All day long; I never would get through 
Jazz, jazz, That's all I want to do. 
Play me a little jazz. 
‘Cause I’m a Jazz Baby! 
Little Jazz Baby that’s all.

Written in 1919 by Blanche Merrill and M.K. Jerome, "Jazz Baby" was a song that captured the spirit of a new era and gave a nickname to the young women of the 1920s. To hear a recording of the song, listen here.

01 February 2012

February Forward

The month of January has flown by and stories and photos that I meant to get posted, well, didn't. But a new month is upon us and although it is a short one (even with its extra day this time round) I am determined to do better. So look for new posts soon on films and exhibits and books and stars and loads more. Promise.

Image from the New York Public Library.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...