20.10.17

"Jane Eyre" by Cary Fukunaga (2011)


Far more realistic and powerful depiction of what life for governess must have been than 1940. "All this and Heaven too" is this unexpectedly beautiful interpretation of literary classic and its surprising that it works so well on every level, because adaptations of famous novels are slippery business since most of us are very familiar with them and have our own ideas how they should be approached. One wrong step and everything can slide in overtly simplistic direction, luckily BBC Films are generally always at the top of their game when it comes to costume drama, so this "Jane Eyre" was fairly safe bet, even though advertisements might have harmed it as they promoted it almost as a horror when in fact it is a beautiful period drama with strong Gothic overtones. 



The novel by Charlotte Brontë is a beauty apart in itself and it should be enjoyed as timeless masterpiece it is - modern readers might have problems with understanding what a joyless and uncertain lives one governess was destined to live all her life, floating from employment to employment in constant fear of poverty and scandal, but this 2011. version might be the closest to my idea of 1847. novel with highly atmospheric candle lights, sophisticated but never intrusive background music and of course, beautifully understated acting. Mia Wasikowska is quiet and mousy enough to be absolutely believable as girl whose pureness and innocence soften the heart of tortured Mr. Rochester, with only stoic posture and expressive eyes on her disposal she does admirable job and with time we come to see the beauty in her. Even though this kind of role now appears like cliché in every costume drama, we have to understand that "Jane Eyre" actually started the whole tradition of a brooding hero and Michael Fassbender is magnificent because he takes Mr. Rochester without any sense of campy exaggeration, he is dead serious and genuinely sincere. As a housekeeper, Judi Dench does magic with basically small, supporting role and the way she twists her hands or glances sideways while speaking bring the movie completely different dimension. Casting is absolutely perfect and the smallest details in roles by Sally Hawkins as evil cousin, Imogen Poots (snooty Blanche Ingram) and beautiful Italian actress Valentina Cervi are flawless. Some might complain that certain aspects of the novel were ignored but honestly, the real story starts with heroine's arrival in Thornfield Hall anyway, everything before that was just a prelude. I was sincerely touched with the movie, it really affected me even though I was very familiar with the story.




"All This, and Heaven Too" by Anatole Litvak (1940)


Based on a real-life story where public scandal subsequently paved the way for political turmoil in France, this is highly sanitised account of it as presented trough thick gauze of Hollywood filters and re-packaged as sentimental melodrama. The truth of it all has been obscured with time and even the novel that inspired the script (by Rachel Field) was probably just well intentioned interpretation but one has to admire scriptwriters willingness to deal with potentially sordid subject and serve it as glittering box with a decorative bow on the top. 

Aloof, sophisticated Duke (regal Charles Boyer) and his neurotic wife (Barbara O'Neil, otherwise remembered as mother of Scarlett in "Gone with the Wind") live in a cold, loveless marriage just for the sake of appearances in society, while we are to understand that procession of servants, housekeepers and teachers take care of their offspring (bunch of sugary, well-behaved and totally unreal children who seem to conform to Hollywood standards of how kids should be depicted, with nice turn by little Virginia Weidler from "The Women"). The arrival of a new governess brings instantly some music, joy and happiness in the household and Duchess goes berserk with jealousy, with tragic results. Truth to be told, even though the movie leans over backwards in attempt to suggest otherwise, her husband does appear sadistic in his coldness towards wife and nothing in the world can explain or redeem his behaviour - if she was good enough to bore him all that children, he could show some gentleness and understanding to her. Warner Bros. makes a mind-boggling decision to give he role of a meek, submissive and self-sacrificing governess to world's most famous gargoyle Bette Davis who does her job admirably but we can sense tension in every single scene and occasional flash of anger, quick but noticeable glance in those expressive eyes clearly show this is all just an act, we know this can't be real and even though Mademoiselle is portrayed as utterly angelic, blameless and pure, we hold our breath expecting her to chew everybody out. Movie was a huge success in its time and meticulous care was taken of its cellophane (costumes, lavish production) but what stayed with me was the question what the life of governess must have been, not quite servant but not much better either, depending on whims of employers and living in constant fear of poverty. 



19.10.17

"His Girl Friday" by Howard Hawks (1940)


All hail Rosalind Russell - she might be a Hollywood legend but I have just discovered her recently in "The Women" and noticed what a attractive woman she was, despite unflattering costumes, hats, glasses and all, in fact everything possible was done in order to make her appear humpty-dumpty for the role, but it didn't fool me and I knew she was great, classic beauty obviously hamming it up in order not to eclipse main actress. Russel and not Cary Grant (for whom I couldn't care less) was the main reason why I decided to check out this movie and it was great fun.

"His Girl Friday" is deservedly a classic and its strange that it took me forever to actually watch it, because its basically right up my alley as I love nothing better than old black & white movies that get me roaring with laughter. Sharp wit, banter and non-stop fast talking is out of this world and occasionally my head was ready to explode from all this overload of punch lines - movie is also unrepentantly subversive, because it pokes fun at everyone from opportunistic journalists to corrupted politicians. Unlike movies today, there is not a single scene with moralistic brainwashing or messages about peace, love & understanding - hard boiled characters here are tough as nails and follow only their own interests, even when they are pretending to be interested in welfare of others. Grant and Russell are divorced journalist couple pulled into madcap crime case that its just too irresistible and during the continuous mayhem they shout themselves hoarse (often yelling at the top of each other) while all sorts of people run in and out of police station. There is a missed opportunity to elaborate little more on a relationship between convicted murderer and his sweetheart but this might be intentionally as it would take focus away from the main stars who are electric, chemistry between them just sizzle. Unfortunate, boring fiancé (Ralph Bellamy) is just perfect for the role and his mother (Alma Kruger) is delightful. Unforgettable comedy that got me spurting my wine all over the place and this is very unusual as generally I rarely find comedies genuinely funny, but this one was a hoot. I was glued to the screen, chuckling and laughing all the way. 

18.10.17

Eurovision hidden gems ... continues!

The very first LP album that I ever bought with some pocket money was double LP titled "Eurovision winners 1956-1981" and it shows what a good little boy I was, when what appealed to me was nothing remotely rebellious or angry but a very tame, old-fashioned compilation that for some reason called my name. No doubt, little kids today would go for some rap or head-splitting rhythms but cute, little goodie two shoes wanted and got himself a compilation of Eurovision winners that got me swooning to radio oldies. Today I find this incredibly cute and surely it defined my later music taste that privately always tended to lean towards easy listening even though from time to time I try to branch elsewhere and in my fact my music collection has everything from Jaco Pastorius to Willie Nelson and Muddy Waters but sooner or later I will eventually go back to Eurovision and its archives. Out from sheer curiosity I did some research who else performed on these stages besides the winners and trough last few years discovered some wonderfully obscure favourites, whom I tried to highlight in previous posts but what really delighted me were earliest decades - the moment when I arrived in 1980s music didn't really excite me anymore and it could be the ubiquitous synthesisers dampened my enthusiasm but now I discovered another twist to my research: cover versions of Eurovision songs as recorded by contemporary international artists in their languages. Not just winners (that would be expected) but all the wonderful, less known material that appealed to various audiences and was translated & repackaged everywhere from Estonia to Hungary. I actually didn't have idea that Eurovision had such strong effect and impact all over the continent.

First surprise was French cover of Swiss 1956. winner "Refrain" that I know all my life as recorded by Lys Assia, who recorded it in both French and German but apparently it was recorded instantly by French artist Cora Vaucaire and she gives it such a beautiful, particularly French tenderness & charm that its absolutely delightful, sounds as completely new song. In her hands its a smoky, old-fashioned French chanson like something Édith Piaf would have done.

"Net als toen" was covered (amongst others) in Germany by Margot Eskens who sounds so much like Vera Lynn to me that I actually had to check out who is singing. Melody is still close enough to original, but its just exciting to hear it now upside down in another language.

Nora Brockstedt from Norway had her go at French 1958. winner "Dors mon amour" and its still same song but sounds very pretty in this unusual language + she had truly beautiful voice that is joy to hear. She actually had her own Eurovision moment just a few years later, although another singer from Norway (Inger Jacbsen) might be my favourite from what I heard so far.

In Finland, Seija Karpiomaa had covered contagious 1959. Dutch swinging winner and she is lovely although the original was far more coquettish and kittenish - Karpiomaa had different, more womanly and sonorous voice that might strange at first, but she swings admirably and its just great fun to hear the song in another language.

1960. winner "Tom Pillibi" always sounded too much like some children cartoon theme to my ears to take it seriously and no wonder Julie Andrews recorded it herself, because it could have been Disney music but Spanish artist José Guardiola did admirable job singing in Catalan and I genuinely love it for the sheer novelty of it. There is equally cute version as recorded by Dutch artist, than very young Willeke Alberti who sounds just like original.

A song that didn't win and even failed to get my interest initially from 1961. was covered by Dutch duo Die Blue Diamonds as "Ahoi Ohe" and I find it so infectious that now I wonder what was I thinking when I didn't notice it before. Its a beautiful, sunny little joy of a song, very uplifting and shoe tapping. 

Another song that I didn't notice before was this one from 1962. recorded as "Ring-Dingeding" by Dutch guy called Hans Boskamp and it sounds so sweetly innocent & featherlight in the best sense of the word, that I find it irresistible. The biggest Eurovision loser that year was German "Zwei kleine Italiener" that sounded as a surefire winner but that one was covered so many times that I eventually found it annoying, even though there is a nice Spanish version by Gelu.

Danish 1963. winner "Dansevise" is deservedly a classic and personally I think its one of the prettiest songs ever performed on Eurovision, here covered by duo from Estonia and they are fine, although slightly less seductive - note by note it follows the original, but the fact that its a different voice makes it shade less brilliant. That was one of the strongest years in history of Eurovision and I particularly love Spanish José Guardiola with "Es maravilloso" which was cover of UK entry. 

... to be continued!

17.10.17

"The Pit and the Pendulum" by Roger Corman (1961)


Sometimes old movies are just old and there is nothing redeeming about them.
Its really interesting why today we can watch 1922. "Nosferatu" with fascination, but the moment we arrive in bright-coloured 1960s, something is off and paradoxically, latest movies are much more dated than their distant ancestors. The whole era of German expressionism is still perfectly capable to give me nightmares, while what is now accepted as golden and classic horrors of 1960s just don't do it for me, no matter how influential and celebrated they might be. Its not just the bright colours, sets or overacting, everything appears artificial and even this is something often done intentionally, I start to feel fidgety and wonder how much longer do I have to suffer trough this.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" has been praised to the skies as one of the most influential horror movies of the early 1960s - be it as it may, it creaks and squeaks all over the place, showing its age and how much we progressed since than. I could imagine that it might perhaps be very effective if watched on a stormy night somewhere, but I gave it proper chance - tried initially, just to continue next evening with resignation - with results that were only mildly interesting. With exception of scene or two, it was all terribly dated, including unconvincing script, wooden acting and overload of thick cobwebs covering what it appears as labyrinth of leftover scenery from other movies. John Kerr is a young aristocrat who arrives in a gloomy castle to find out about the mysterious death of his sister, whose grieving husband (over the top Vincent Price) roams around, supported by his sister (unconvincing Luana Anders) and a doctor (Antony Carbone) - there is a lot of dialogue, screams in the night and stairways that go to the bottomless abyss but the final results were just too silly to analyse in depth. It reminds me on so many movies from my childhood that once used to scare me to death, but now just appear silly.