26 June 2013

Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart

I’ve been singing “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” all day. Written by James F. Hanley and long associated with Judy Garland, the song has romantic lyrics and a lovely melody. 

Dear when you smiled at me, I heard a melody
It haunted me from the start
Something inside of me started a symphony
Zing! Went the strings of my heart

’Twas like a breath of spring, I heard a robin sing
About a nest set apart
All nature seemed to be in perfect harmony
Zing! Went the strings of my heart

Your eyes made skies seem blue again
What else could I do again
But keep repeating through and through
"I love you, love you"

I still recall the thrill, guess I always will
I hope 'twill never depart
Dear, with your lips to mine, a rhapsody devine
Zing! Went the strings of my heart

Judy Garland first sang the song on November 16, 1935, when she appeared on the NBC radio program ”The Shell Chateau Hour.” The 13-year-old had made her national radio debut the month before on the same program where she told the host, Wallace Beery, “I wanna be a singer, Mr. Beery; And I wanna act, too!” This time for her second appearance she sang “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” which would become one of her signature songs. Her performance that evening had a special meaning for Judy. Her father, Frank Gumm, was in hospital suffering from spinal meningitis. A radio was placed next to his bed so he could listen to his youngest daughter. He passed away the next morning before Judy could say good-bye.

Judy would go on to sing the song in Listen, Darling (1938) and make a Decca recording in 1939 in addition to performing the song during countless concerts. Yet probably no rendition was as important to her as the one she sang that night.

To hear the original radio performance (listen to Beery mistakenly say Judy is 12), visit here.

25 June 2013

Sherlock Jr.

While I'm a big fan of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, I simply adore Buster Keaton. I think it's that great stone face of his (nothing is sadder than Keaton's eyes after he's been rejected) and those amazing athletic feats of daring that he makes look effortless. And while some will wax on about how The General is his greatest film, I prefer Sherlock Jr. (1924).

In Sherlock Jr. the Boy (Buster Keaton) is a moving picture operator who dreams of becoming a famous detective. He's in love with the Girl (Kathryn McGuire) but has a rival for her affections, the Local Sheik (Ward Crane). The Boy purchases a box of chocolates from a salesgirl (Ruth Holly) at the confectionery shop (who, if we’re being honest, looks like she’s probably a lot more fun than the Girl), which he gives to his love along with a tiny engagement ring (he hands her his detective magnifying glass to see the diamond). The Sheik, wanting to outdo the Boy, steals a watch belonging to the Girl’s father (played by Keaton’s real life father, Joe) and pawns it in order to buy an even bigger box of chocolates. When the father notices that the watch is missing, the Boy consults his detective book, which tells him to search everyone. The plan backfires when the pawn ticket, which the Sheik has slipped into the Boy’s pocket, is discovered. The Girl returns his ring, and the Boy is ejected from the house.

At first the Boy attempts to trail the Sheik but he winds up on top of a moving train and grabs onto a spout from the water tower to escape only to get doused with water. Keaton was famous for doing all of his own stunts and rarely suffered any injuries but in this scene he nearly got himself killed. While hanging from the spout, the pressure from the water knocked him down onto the tracks. Keaton complained of headaches for days. Years later a doctor discovered that he had in fact fractured his neck that day.
The boy returns to work and begins the first reel of Hearts & Pearls, a movie about the theft of a pearl necklace. He soon becomes drowsy and falls asleep. Suddenly a “dream” version of the Boy steps away from the sleeping Boy and takes his “dream” hat off a peg. On the screen, the actors in Hearts & Pearls are replaced by people in the Boy’s life, including the Girl and the Sheik. Walking down the aisle, the Boy stops to sit for a moment and then steps up onto the stage and into the movie itself. Thus begins a movie within a movie, the first time this device was employed.

Keaton accomplished this fantastical scene by first filming the Hearts & Pearls scene with the actors and then replicating the set on a stage. When it came time to film the Boy stepping through the screen, Keaton had the film cut from the movie to the projection booth and then back to the stage where the actors from the movie were now standing on the set. He then simply went up on the stage and walked onto the set.

Once in the movie, he confronts the Sheik (now portraying the villain) who literally kicks him out of the picture (we see the real Boy asleep in the projection booth twitch). He tries again and succeeds, this time sneaking in from the side of the frame. The Boy walks up the steps of a house and knocks but no one answers. He turns to walk away and suddenly he's falling into a garden from a stonewall. What follows are a series of jumps in which his every action lands him in a different location. At one point he's surrounded by lions and when he turns to walk away he steps out of a pit in the desert.

One can view the scene as the movie literally trying to reject the intruder. The Sheik kicked him out of the movie because the Boy didn’t belong. The entire sequence is also a commentary on film making itself with its quick edits that move from one scene to the next. Yet while the surroundings change, Keaton always appears to be in the same spot. There was no green screen for Keaton. Instead he and his photographer used surveying tools to ensure that Keaton kept the same pose for the following shot. So when Keaton goes to dive into the ocean and winds up in a snowbank, the jump appears flawless.

Meanwhile back in the movie, the theft of the pearl necklace has been noticed and the world’s greatest detective is called in, Sherlock Jr. Enter the Boy as Sherlock Jr, living out the Boy’s fantasy and now with a reason to be in the movie—he has a part to play. Dressed in a nice suit and hat, Sherlock Jr. is everything the real Boy is not—sophisticated, wise, and in charge. 

After an attempt by the Sheik and his hired man to kill Sherlock (a pool ball loaded with explosives is employed among other things), the detective follows the Sheik and discovers the pearls only to be grabbed by a gang of thugs. He escapes but when he learns that the Girl has been kidnapped, Sherlock is off to her rescue. 

The movie within a movie is filled with elements of surrealism, a reminder that it's all a dream. The Boy walks into a movie and seems to jump from one location into another. He opens the large door of a safe only to reveal a busy city street. He opens another door to find a man trapped in a tight cage, practically spinning around the room. Is it any wonder that the surrealists were Keaton fans?

Keaton also includes some Vaudeville stunts. When Sherlock escapes from a house, he jumps through a suitcase of clothes that is propping open a window. When he lands, he's dressed like a woman. Keaton has the side of the house “disappear” so the audience can see that it's a gag and not a camera trick. Later, he appears to jump through the stomach of an old woman but this time the gag is not revealed.

The chase that ends the movie illustrates one of the more daring stunts in the film. Sherlock hitches a ride on the handles of a motorbike driven by his Gillette his valet (Ford West). Gillette soon falls off the bike but the bike keeps going, with Sherlock on it. Only after avoiding multiple disasters (a train, broken bridge) does Sherlock realize the dire situation he's in; seconds later the bike crashes through the cabin where the Girl is being held. Rescuing her, he steals a car and drives them accidentally into a lake where they sail for a while courtesy of the car’s convertible top, before sinking, forcing them to swim for shore.

Back in the projection booth, the Boy wakes up and the movie returns to normal. Disappointed it was all a dream, he turns to find the Girl who apologizes; the truth about the Sheik's deception has been uncovered. The innocent Boy then does what so many people do, he looks to the movies for inspiration. Turning the girl so they mimic the stance of the couple on the screen, the Boy proceeds to copy the male lead’s moves. He kisses her hand, puts the ring back on her finger, and kisses her quickly on the mouth before scratching his head at the last shot—the movie couple bouncing a pair of babies.

I've seen this film multiple times and yet I never fail to be impressed by Keaton's ingenuity or moved by the sweetness of the Boy's courtship of the Girl. Sherlock Jr. is a 
compact 44 minutes of pure comedic genius. Oh, Buster. You're the best.

24 June 2013

The Temperature's Rising

It's that time of the year again, summer in the city. If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you'll know my feelings on the topic. Oppressive humidity and heat and smells that could wake the dead make New York an extremely unpleasant place to be in the summer. I love the season when I can be at the beach. Otherwise, not so much. So with the temperatures starting to rise this week, I know I have some long months ahead of me that will most likely include multiple heatwaves. 

New Yorkers in 1925 dealt with a heatwave the best way they could—they turned on the hoses or, if they were lucky, they went to the beach. I'm particularly moved by the poor polar bears in this footage. The ones at the Central Park Zoo always look so miserable in the summer. I feel your pain guys. I really do.

18 June 2013

Tilda en Chanel

Is there anyone cooler than Tilda Swinton? The woman never ceases to amaze (nor does she appear to age). I'm hoping to catch her this fall when she's expected to return to MoMA for "The Maybe," an exhibit in which she sleeps in a glass box for all to see.

In the meantime, there's a new Chanel campaign featuring Tilda to enjoy. The 2012-13 Métiers d'Art Paris-Edinburgh collection embraces the spirit and look of Scotland. Shot by Uncle Karl himself, it's full of rich tartans and tapestries and pearls (of course). Absolutely stunning.

To hear Tilda talk about the collection, visit here.

15 June 2013

Saturday in the Garden

The Jefferson Market Garden in the West Village is a favourite place of mine that I've written about before. Without a plot of my own, I've taken to thinking of it as my garden. Walking by last Saturday I was struck by the sight of dozens and dozens of white roses hanging over the garden wall. 

Inside the other roses were a full riot of colour. Although the stream of white roses were striking, I was partial to these red beauties. It wasn't all roses though. There were foxgloves and alliums and even a voodoo plant (blood red, of course). Here are some other scenes from the garden.

For more info on the garden, visit their site here.

13 June 2013

A Saturday Stroll

After running an errand in the West Village on Saturday, I decided to take my time and walk back home to Chelsea even though the sky was threatening rain. Here are a few of the things I saw along the way.

Heading down Christopher Street I spotted pops of colour—the window of the Greenwich Letterpress (one of my favourite places to buy cards) and a cheery yellow bike parked in front of the old Northern Dispensary. Founded in 1827, the Northern Dispensary treated the poor and infirm for more than a century (Edgar Allan Poe was a one-time patient). Yet since 1998 the building has remained empty, largely due to its restrictive deed that dictates it can only be used to treat the "worthy poor." A bit of irony as it sits in the centre of a neighbourhood that only the rich can afford.

I grabbed an ice coffee from Whynot Coffee and sat outside people watching (more like dog watching) and admiring the greenery on Gay Street (yes, that's its name)—the beautiful wisteria tree that has practically taken over a building and a small collection of plants on a nearby fire escape.

I next wandered over to the Jefferson Market Library to pick up a book. I love this branch of the New York Public Library with its Gothic design and grand size (the building is a former courthouse). I had just stepped outside when I noticed a protest going on across the street about Turkey. I'm not sure about the people in the penguin costumes but the crowd was large enough to warrant an accompanying string of police cars.

I went next door to the Jefferson Market Garden, which I've started to think of as my garden, to literary smell the roses that hung heavily over the garden walls and were in abundance inside (more on the garden in my next post). Suddenly the sun burst forth, turning the sky blue and flooding the garden with light.

After a long time in the garden and the heat, I turned back toward Chelsea, admiring a vintage ad painted on the side of a building along the way (love the old telephone exchange), before turning down West 11th Street. There I was greeted by the sight of some older men hanging out in plastic chairs in front of a barbershop. It reminded me of when I lived in the North End in Boston and the old people would park themselves in lawn chairs in front of the houses and shops once the temperature got above 60 degrees.

Further down the block there were some lovely old townhouses on one side of the street, like this one with its beautiful entrance, while across the way, where St. Vincent Hospital once stood, there was just a shell. The hospital that Edna St. Vincent Millay was named for and which once housed the largest AIDS clinic on the East Coast is gone, having gone bankrupt a few years ago. The plan is to build condos. Welcome to New York.

I had hit Chelsea and was just steps from home when I was greeted by two final sights of the day—a bicycle carrying a bundle of twigs and a sweet bunch of small pink roses. A nice way to end a stroll on a Saturday.

Photos by Michele. 

12 June 2013

Punk: Chaos to Couture

Dress by Karl Lagerfeld for House of Chanel, Vogue, March 2011

"God save the queen. The fascist regime." Sorry, but when I heard that the Met was going to have an exhibit on punk I couldn't help but start singing "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols. I may never have been a punk but I've definitely listened to a lot of the music.

Which is why I was happy to see the exhibit "Punk: Chaos to Couture" with a dear friend who I've known since middle school who is also a fan of the music. She went with me to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit a few years ago, which was so brilliantly executed that it raised the bar high for future fashion exhibits. 

Unfortunately this one didn't come close. The exhibit starts off well enough with the birth of punk in New York and London represented by recreations of two legendary punk locations—the bathroom at CBGB in New York where Patti Smith said "all the action happened" and Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's Seditionaries shop in London where they sold their infamous t-shirts (some of which are on display) and other bondage-based clothes. There were videos along with music blaring to help set the mood (this was repeated in each gallery; I was happy to hear the Clash in one).

Two Gianni Versace dresses, spring/summer 1994. The one on the left is the safety pin dress made famous by Elizabeth Hurley.

From there the rest of the exhibit is devoted to couture's adoption of punk or punk elements, which after the first round of gowns gets a bit boring. There are plenty of safety pins, studs, plaid, and ripped material to show a connection to punk but how punk can a dress be that costs more than my rent? Some of the more memorable items among the almost 100 on display are Versace's notorious safety pin dress worn by Elizabeth Hurley, a heavily studded black leather jacket by Christopher Bailey for Burberry, a particularly lovely black gown by Moschino decorated with tiny safety pins and rings, Gareth Pugh's black trash bag dresses that look like feathers from afar, Maison Martin Margiela's minimal dresses made out of plastic bags complete with original handles, and McQueen's spray-paint dress. But those items can't quite save the exhibit. Better luck next time, Met.

"Punk: Chaos to Couture" is at the Met through August 14, 2013. For more info visit here. All images from the Met.

11 June 2013

The Fall

Last weekend I stayed up late watching The Fall, a BBC program that I had been dying to see (no pun intended).

The murder of a young woman has the police in Belfast stumped so they call in DSI Stella Gibson from the Met in London who quickly sees connections between this murder and prior one. The police at first are reluctant to agree (this might mean they messed up) yet when a similar murder occurs it becomes apparent that they have a serial killer on their hands, one who stalks and preys on young career women. Gibson takes over the investigation and sets about drawing the murderer out before he can kill again.

The main reason I was excited for The Fall is that Gillian Anderson plays Gibson. Yes, Dana Scully of the X-Files is once again donning a lanyard and carrying a gun. I don’t mean to sound glib. Anderson is a fantastic actress. It’s just hard not to think of Scully when she’s in a police tale, especially when she visits the morgue.

Gibson is a type of character popular in mysteries: the single female detective who is intelligent, attractive, lives alone, and appears to need nothing but her job save for the occasional one night stand. It’s been done many times before (think Cordelia Grey in the PD James novels or DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect as a couple of classic examples), and you can now add Anderson’s Gibson to the list.

A good detective and leader, Gibson manages to run a team smoothly. She gives commands without raising her voice, holds her own with the men, and supports the career advances of younger female officers. She is utterly devoted to a case. She lives the job, drinking too much coffee, changing in the women’s room, and even spending some nights on a cot in her office.

She is also attractive and uses it to her advantage, lowering her voice and speaking softly, flipping her long blonde hair, and wearing shirts that almost reveal too much. In fact, her wardrobe is one of the standouts on the show: silk shirts with black pencil skirts and trousers, heels and tailored coats. She always appears put together, a bit posh. It’s only in the close-ups that she allows the fatigue she’s feeling to show in her eyes.

And Gibson is used to getting what she wants. Spotting a good-looking police officer, she asks to be introduced and almost immediately tells him where she’s staying and her room number. For her it’s sex with no strings attached, something that she refers to as “sweet night,” a term borrowed from an African tribe. Gibson knows this because her first degree was in anthropology, one of the few personal details she reveals about herself.

The other cast members are stellar including Jamie Dornan as Paul Spector, a family man and grief counsellor who happens to be a serial killer, John Lynch as ACC Jim Burns who has a history with Gibson, and Niamh McGready as Danielle Ferrington, the young patrol officer who becomes Gibson’s right hand woman.

All five episodes are streaming now on Netflix and the BBC has commissioned a second season (yay!). Watch them all but a word of advice: start your viewing early in the evening, as you’ll want to blast right through all five.


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