27 January 2012

It's Five O'Clock

"When the Five O'Clock Whistle Blows in Hollywood" (1921)

"When the Five O'Clock Whistle Blows in Hollywood" is Ralph Barton's comic vision of movie stars leaving the office (after they've punched out, one assumes). I was able to identify most of the stars—I especially love his Nazimova—but a few had me stumped.

 all of the names, check out the original Vanity Fair piece here.

24 January 2012

Happy Birthday Edith

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of my favourite writers—Edith Wharton. A chronicler of New York’s Gilded Age, Wharton wrote exquisite stories that gave readers a behind the scenes look at how the upper class really lived and created some of the most heartbreaking tales in American literature. Her more than 40 books cover a wide territory from novels set not just in New York but in Venice and working class New England to nonfiction works on travel, interior design, and gardening. And don't forget her ghost stories. This amazing writer's talent was finally awarded in 1921 when she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature for her novel The Age of Innocence (1920).

Edith Wharton with some of her wee dogs.

She was born Edith Newbold Jones in New York on January 24, 1862. Her family were reportedly the Joneses of “keeping up with the Joneses” fame. She was plain looking but bright and loved books and dogs from an early age. At 23 she married Edward “Teddy” Robbins Wharton who shared her love of travel but little else. Theirs was an unhappy marriage. When Teddy began to suffer from manic depression, they settled down at the Mount, the beautiful home she designed in Lenox, Massachusetts. There Wharton wrote some of her finest work including Ethan Frome (1911) and my favourite, The House of Mirth (1905). In the mornings she would write in bed, flinging pages to the floor when done. Later in the afternoon, she would greet guests in the foyer with champagne. The Mount also allowed Wharton the chance to indulge in her love of interior design, which was the topic of her first book—The Decoration of Houses (1897)—co-written with Ogden Codman.

After divorcing Teddy in 1913 she moved to France, a country where she had always felt at home. During World War I, Wharton devoted her time to working with refugees and later received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her efforts. After the war, she returned to America only once, in 1923, to receive an honorary degree from Yale. Dividing her time between homes in Paris and Hyères, Provence, Wharton continued to write up until the end, passing away on August 11, 1937.

To celebrate Wharton’s birthday, a marathon reading of The House of Mirth is being held at the Center for Fiction here in New York on January 26, the proceeds of which will go to support the Mount. I’m looking forward to attending and hearing a variety of women writers read the sad tale of Lily Bart. For more details about the event, visit here.

You can also check out the website for the Mount here to learn about other birthday celebrations and about the great home she loved (I've been there and it's gorgeous). Or pick up one her many books, perhaps the best way to honour this wonderful writer. Happy Birthday Edith.

Photos from the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library.

18 January 2012

Two Paths

Oh the influence of bad literature. I love the implication that ones reading choices when young will determine your future. I found another version of this illustration at the Library of Congress' website with different illustrations and additional text including the information that the bad literature she is reading at 13 is "Sapho,  a vile novel that was suppressed several years ago in New York." I believe the reference is to the 1884 novel by Alphonse Daudet that tells the story of a girl from the slums of Paris who grows up to become a famed courtesan.

The novel was later adapted into a play that holds the distinction of being the first play of the new century (it opened on Broadway on February 5, 1900) to be shut down by the police. Arrests were made including that of the play's leading lady, British actress Olga Nethersole, who was charged with "offending public decency." She and the others were later acquitted, and the play reopened (the next day) to a packed house.

So, bad literature or study and obedience? Which path would you choose?

Sapho poster from the Library of Congress.

16 January 2012


I love Tom Gauld's brilliant depiction of Dorothy Parker as writer. Click on the image to enlarge so you can read the text. It's just one in his series "The Writer at Work." Check out the others here.

15 January 2012

What About Uggie?

For once the Golden Globes got it right. Tonight The Artist, a film that I adore, won best motion picture— musical or comedy, best original score—motion picture, and best actor in a motion picture— musical or comedy for Jean Dujardin (isn’t he lovely?). But what about Uggie? The intrepid Jack Russell and real star of The Artist stole the show once again, interrupting producer Thomas Langmann's acceptance speech with his antics on stage (that dog really is brilliant). But this is just the beginning of the season; there are many more awards to come. So Academy, please take note. This dog deserves an Oscar. 

If you're a fan of Uggie's too (and how could you not be) check out the Facebook campaign "Consider Uggie." 

Photo by Reuters: Mario Anzuoni.

14 January 2012

Miss January

In the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, Olive Thomas appeared in multiple sketches including "A Girl for Each Month in the Year." Performed by Charles Purcell with the Month Girls, Ollie was January. Wasn't she adorable? Ollie was in good company; fellow performers in that year's production at the New Amsterdam Theatre included W.C. Fields, Mae Murray, Ann Pennington, Ina Claire, and Ed Wynn.

11 January 2012

Mr. Beaton Takes New York

"Self Portrait on the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City” Cecil Beaton (ca. 1929)

During my holiday break I ventured up to the Museum of the City of New York to view the exhibit “Cecil Beaton: The New York Years.” Beginning in 1928, the British photographer, designer, and society darling would live on and off in the city for 40 years, taking up residency in the best hotels (whose rooms he would decorate) while working for American Vogue and Vanity Fair.

The exhibit is like Beaton himself—a perfect blend of gossip and art. One is drawn in immediately by the illustrated walls of the hall leading to the exhibit room (the illustrations, of people and places from the 1920s, are copies from Beaton's diaries) and an entrance covered with Beaton-designed black and white rose wallpaper.

Inside is a large assortment of photographs, drawings, letters, diaries, and even some of the costumes Beaton designed for the Metropolitan Opera. Broken up by subject and time period, the collection is a fascinating look at the world in which Beaton moved, flitting between high society women and royalty to authors, actors, and rock stars.

"Princess Natalia Paley" Cecil Beaton (ca. 1935)

Most of the subjects are recognisable: a baby-faced Marlon Brandon, a smiling Greta Garbo (rare indeed), a rigid-looking Wallis Simpson, a glowing Marilyn Monroe, an elfish Cole Porter. One of my favourite photographs was of a woman I wasn’t familiar with and whose image graces the exhibit’s catalogue. The Garbo-like Natalia Paley, a cousin of the Czar Nicholas II, is posed in front of the wiring from a box spring, which just adds to the photo's glamorous deco look.  

The books in the display cases (diaries that Beaton published) made me make a mental note to check out some of Beaton’s writings. The man who said “Perhaps the world's second-worst crime is boredom; the first is being a bore” should definitely make for an interesting read.

“Cecil Beaton: The New York Years” runs through February 20, 2012. You can find out more about the exhibit here

Photos from Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s.

09 January 2012

Scandinavian Modernism

"Girl Under the Apple Tree" Edvard Munch (1904)

A couple of months before the historic Armory Show opened in New York in February 1913 another art show, "Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art," had already shocked the crowds. Included among the artists receiving their first American showing was Edvard Munch. His work alone (take a look at that tree) was probably shocking enough for the viewers.

Now 100 years later, the Scandinavia House in New York has compiled a less radical but still impressive exhibit with many of the same artists in "Luminous Modernism: Scandinavian Art Comes to America 1912." With representation from all of the Scandinavian countries this time, the exhibit throws a light on some artists still little known outside Europe.

“Interior of Woman Placing Branches in Vase on Table” Vihelm Hammershoi (1900)

From the almost Old Masters quality of "Interior of Woman Placing Branches in Vase on Table" by the Danish Vilhelm Hammershøi to the Mattisse-like "Nude Woman" by Norwegian Jean Heiberg to the very Nordic "South Mountain" by the Swedish Karl Nordström, the exhibit illustrates the often conflicting pull these artists felt between their Nordic cultural heritage and the French influence so prevalent at the beginning of the century. 

Included in the exhibit are some very recognizable names—Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson, and of course, Evard Munch. While familiar, their work was not my favourite. I much preferred the Icelanders whose work appeared even vastly different from that of their fellow Scandinavian artists. In particular I adored "Moonlight," a small watercolour of a young woman waiting on the rocks by Ásgrímur Jónsson that was both hauntingly romantic.

At a time when the mention of Scandinavia usually brings up the names Stieg Larsson and Ikea (I'm exaggerating a bit but not really) this exhibit is particularly refreshing. So if you can, check it out and see for yourself
what other New Yorkers did so many years ago. 

"Luminous Modernism" is at the Scandinavia House through February 11, 2012. In addition to exhibits, they host movie screenings, lectures, and have a great restaurant, the Smörgås Chef @ Scandinavia House. For more information, visit their website here.

05 January 2012

The Gold Rush

In recent years, I've found myself spending Christmas afternoon at the movies. This time round, I went to Film Forum to see Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925). Chaplin passed away on Christmas day in 1977 so it only seemed fitting that they chose to show the film for which he wished to be remembered.

The film takes place in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. Chaplin’s Tramp (introduced as the lone prospector) is looking for gold when he runs into Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain), a man who’s just discovered a huge gold deposit at his claim, and Black Larsen (Tom Murray), a man wanted by the authorities. The Tramp and Big Jim end up snowbound in a cabin with no food and a hallucinating Big Jim begins to see the tramp as an enormous chicken. Later, having giving up on prospecting, the Tramp ventures into town where he meets and falls head over heels in love with a dance hall girl, Georgia (Georgia Hale), who he mistakenly believes loves him back. Big Jim, now suffering from amnesia, reappears and demands that the Tramp help him locate his claim. The Tramp ends up finding gold at last.

The film was, as usual with most Chaplin projects, written and directed by the great man. Inspired by actual photos of the Klondike Gold Rush and the story of the doomed Donner Party, Chaplin filmed the opening sequence of a seemingly endless line of prospectors climbing a snow-covered mountain in the Sierra Nevada Mountains while the rest of the film was shot on elaborate sets back in Hollywood.

Two of the most iconic scenes in film history appear in The Gold Rush. The first occurs when in desperation for food, the Tramp boils one of his shoes for dinner. Chaplin makes an elaborate show of carving the shoe (the nails are swiftly gathered up) and includes a nice twirl of the laces as if they were pasta (in reality the shoe was made of black licorice).

The second scene is when the Tramp, who is waiting for Georgia and her friends to arrive for a New Year's Eve party he's prepared, dreams that he is entertaining them with a pair of dancing dinner rolls. Many people have imitated the trick, two rolls stuck on forks, but in Chaplin's hands there is a certain magic to their movement back and forth across the table. Film goers in 1925 were so enchanted with the scene that some cinemas would actually stop the film to replay it. 

Chaplin's films always include a mix of comedy, romance, and sentiment while never forgetting the plight of the common man, and The Gold Rush is no different. With the humorous moments come heartbreaking ones like when the Tramp wakes from the dancing rolls scene to realize that Georgia and her friends have forgotten about the party. Or when the Tramp believes he’s received a note declaring Georgia’s love for him when it's really meant for someone else. All of this elevates The Gold Rush to more than just a comedy.

In 1942, Chaplin released a new version of the film for which he recorded a new score, replaced the intertitles with a narration (done by him of course), trimmed some of the scenes, and changed the ending. At the Film Forum screening a restored version of the original 1925 film that includes the original ending was shown instead. I thought this version was absolutely wonderful (especially the ending) and by the audience's response, so did they. 

If you've never seen The Gold Rush, please try to find a copy of the 1925 version. It will make your day.

03 January 2012

Fifteen Films

Buster Keaton and Ruth Holly in Sherlock Jones (1924)

Last year I was tagged by a friend on facebook to pick 15 movies that either moved me when I first saw them or have continued to stick with me. The rule was to spend no more than 15 minutes picking out the films. Here’s the list I made, in alphabetical order, with the reasons why. There’s obviously tons of other films left out but these were the ones that came to mind that day.

1. 400 Blows (director: François Truffaut, 1959)
Little Antoine Doinel broke my heart. The scenes where he’s taken away in the police car and at the end, when he’s on the beach and looks back at the camera, still move me every time I see them. This is the film that began my love affair with Truffaut.

2.  Amélie (director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
I had had a terrible week, culminating with my flat being broken into, when I received a call from the French Consulate in Boston inviting me to a special preview screening (still don’t know how that happened). The film completely changed my mood and made everything better. When I moved into a nicer flat later that summer, I made a point of going and seeing Amélie at the Somerville Theatre my first night in the new neighbourhood.

3. Blue (director: Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993)
I wandered into the cinema one weekday afternoon to see what was playing. I knew nothing about this film other than it was French. I left in a complete daze. Juliette Binoche’s character and performance moved me deeply and made me think about life in a different way. To this day, it’s one of the most important films I’ve ever seen.

4. Calamity Jane (director: David Butler, 1953)
My favourite musical of all time (and I love musicals). Love Doris Day. Love Howard Keel. Love the songs. Love the buckskin outfits. I first saw this when I was a little girl and I remember wanting so badly to sing and dance like she did. Still do.

5. Casablanca (director: Michael Curtiz, 1942)
Probably my all-time favourite film. I still get chills when they sing "La Marseillaise." All of the characters are perfect: Bogie and Bergman, Greenstreet and Lorre, Dooley Wilson. And Claude Rains steals every scene he’s in (love him).

6. Matewan (director: John Sayles, 1987)
I saw this at the Red Vic in San Francisco and the projector broke half way through the film. Chris Cooper’s portrayal and the whole film affected me greatly, and I cried on the way home. One of John Sayles’ best.

7. Meet Me in St. Louis (director: Vincent Minnelli, 1944)
The film that never fails to make me feel happy. The picture-perfect family. Lovely sets and costumes. Great songs. And Judy Garland. Who could ask for anything more?

8. The Moderns (director: Alan Rudolph, 1988)
Paris in the 1920s. Keith Carradine as a down and out painter. And Wallace Shawn as Oiseau, a gossip columnist who fakes his own death to get out of his contract. This film perfectly captured the mood and feel of my favourite time period. 

9. Nights of Cabiria (director: Federico Fellini, 1957)
Giulietta Masina. The closing scene of her walking down the road brought tears to my eyes and will break your heart. Fellini’s best.

10. Notorious (director: Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
My favourite Hitchcock film starring my main man Cary Grant. I never tire of watching him in this film. The chemistry between him and Bergman is amazing, and I defy you to find a sexier scene then when they kiss in her apartment.

11. Pandora’s Box (director: GW Pabst, 1929)
I so wanted to be Louise Brooks after seeing this film. I’ve had her haircut ever since. The look she gives the camera when she’s caught with her lover is amazing and so classic Louise. And it's one of the most visually stunning silents you'll ever see.

12. Rebecca (director: Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)
Another Hitchcock film. Oh, Olivier was so dashing and Mrs. Danvers so freaking scary. I always get chills when Manderley comes into view for the first time.

13. The Red Shoes (directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
Completely mesmerising and disturbing. I thought about this film for days after I first saw it. No other ballet film can compare.

14. The Thin Man (director: W.S. Van Dyke, 1934)
Best screwball of them all. After seeing this film, I read the book and then wanted to do nothing else but drink martinis and solve mysteries. Actually, I still want to do those things.

15. The Third Man (director: Carol Reed, 1949)
Perfect film. The music, the setting, and the story line. Joseph Cotton is great and Orson Welles must have one of the best entrances in film history. I can still quote from memory his speech on the Ferris wheel.

So what are your 15 films?

02 January 2012

Italian Afternoon at the Met

"Portrait of a Young Lady" Antonio del Pollaiuolo (ca. 1465)

Every year the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays a huge Christmas tree in its Medieval Sculpture Hall. With Neapolitan Crèche figurines adorning its branches and base, the tree is absolutely stunning. The day before Christmas I decided I would run up to the Met, see the tree, and then come back home and get ready for the holiday. But after viewing the tree, I got sidetracked.

First it was by the nearby period rooms in the French Decorative Arts galleries. They were all lovely but I especially liked the Boiserie from the Palais Paar in Vienna, circa 1765–72. See the small dog kennel under the window on the right? It’s so Marie Antoinette.

And the cosy room from a hotel in the Cours d'Albret in Bordeaux, circa 1785, was just perfect for a cold winter day. Wouldn’t you love to play cards in there? 

"Madonna and Child" Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1470)

But the afternoon was to belong to the Italians. After stopping to view the exhibit "Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400-1515," which included the season appropriate painting "Madonna and Child," I headed upstairs to see the larger exhibit “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini.” Room after room, I gazed upon the myriad faces of politicians, merchants, wives, children, and a Medici or two, all of which left one with a better idea of what people in the 15th century really looked like. Although the Renaissance version of photoshop is no doubt at play in some of the portraits, there were enough noses (cauliflower and large) and double chins on display to make one believe these are, for the most part, fairly truthful depictions.

"Portrait of a Lady ("Simonetta Vespucci") Botticelli (ca. 1475-80)

"Portrait of a Lady ("Simonetta Vespucci") Botticelli (ca. 1475-80)

With that said, I went for the pretty and favoured a bust of Beatrice of Aragon by Francesco Laurana and two Botticelli portraits. Hung side by side, they are supposedly of the most beautiful woman in Florence, Simonetta Vespucci, who Botticelli was reportedly in love with (he requested to be buried at her feet, which he was in the Church of Ognissanti). Besides reminding me of Uma Thurman (don't you see the resemblance?), the two exquisite portraits make one understand why, idealised or not, she was dubbed "la bella Simonetta."

If you can, go see this exhibit. I liked it so much, I'm thinking of spending another afternoon with the Italians at the Met. 

“The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini” runs through March 18, 2012 at the Met.

01 January 2012

Hello 2012

Happy New Year! There's something about even numbered years that I've always liked so with that in mind, I have high hopes for 2012. Along with my usual list of resolutions is the goal to post regularly and to keep you dear readers interested. So please continue to visit and send me your comments so I know what you've enjoyed. Have a wonderful year.

Photo of Helen Barnes in the Midnight Frolic circa 1915 from the New York Public Library.


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