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.


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