Monday, 28 March 2011

"Marie Antoinette" (1938)

"Perhaps the great loves come with great tears."


Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Running Time: 2 hours, 29 minutes
Random Fact: The great novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, helped with part of the script
Based on the biography Marie-Antoinette by Stefan Zweig (1933)

Norma Shearer .... Queen Marie-Antoinette (Oscar nominated)
Robert Morley ..... King Louis the Sixteenth (Oscar nominated)
Tyrone Power ..... Count Axel von Fersen
John Barrymore .... King Louis the Fifteenth
Joseph Schildkraut .... The Duke of Orleans

I thought I'd blog a bit about some of my favourite movies and, still suffering from an OCD about such things thanks to two History degrees, I decided to post them in the order in which the movies were produced, beginning with Marie Antoinette from 1938.

Marie Antoinette covers the life of the Austrian princess who married the future King of France from her arranged marriage at the age of fourteen in 1770 until her execution during the French Revolution, twenty-three years later. One of Hollywood's greatest and highest-paid actresses of the 1930s, Norma Shearer, the so-called "Queen of MGM," signed on to play the title role, in a performance which many (included Norma herself) regarded as the greatest of her career. She narrowly, and controversially, lost out on the Oscar to Bette Davis for her performance in Jezebel.

Despite its age, Marie Antoinette is a beautiful movie to look at and it captures the decadence and glamour of upper class life before the Revolution perfectly. When showing Marie-Antoinette's late teens and early twenties, when she was Europe's ultimate socialite, the movie's costume designer, Adrian, spared no expense and no detail to try and accurately bring to life haute couture from the 1770s.
However, unlike the 2006 version of her life, starring Kirsten Dunst, 1938's Marie Antoinette is not simply a fun and colourful look at the life of the original "girl who has everything." It's also a proper, good old-fashioned historical epic and its final quarter, chronicling Marie-Antoinette's imprisonment during the French Revolution, is tough to watch. The scene in which she and her two children have their last meal with her husband, Louis, before he is taken for his execution on the following morning is incredibly moving, mainly because it is so understated. Norma Shearer's face as she watches her on-screen husband say grace before the meal, knowing that tomorrow he will be dead, is a wonderful example of saying more by doing less in one's acting. A warning though, the following scene, in which the queen's eight year-old son, Louis-Charles, is ripped from her arms to be placed in solitary confinement by their republican jailers is absolutely harrowing to watch. Norma Shearer pulls no punches with her performance and her screams as they try to separate her from her child take a long time to forget. It's made all the worse to watch when you know that it's almost word-for-word historically accurate.

Marie Antoinette is also a great example of how a movie can be historically accurate, without being a documentary. No movie or play or novel based on history will ever be truly accurate; it can't be. Nor should it be. It's supposed to entertain and playwrights and authors are supposed to cut the dull, confusing and messy bits out of life. They have to give life a storyline and so in historical movies, I think it's okay for many details (time line, the number of characters, etc.) to be ditched or fudged (within reason), in order to make the production flow together as a story. However, that doesn't mean you have to change or misrepresent the people you're portraying. I'm of the opinion that they were people, too, and if you're making money out of their life story, the least you can do is to try and get their personalities right. Marie Antoinette certainly does this. Yes, it has been criticised for some for being slightly too harsh on her rival, Madame du Barry, and for portraying her husband, King Louis, as much more simplistic than he actually was. However, in fairness, a lot of that comes from the biography the movie is based on and Louis's dignity and honesty is shown in full detail, particularly in the final half of the movie. And with its leading lady, Marie Antoinette gives by far the most accurate and honest dramatisation of Marie-Antoinette yet seen on screen. As a young woman, she is certainly frivolous, extravagant and "terrified of boredom," but she is also warm-hearted, friendly, honest and kind. Most importantly, Marie Antoinette captures what more modern versions of her life have failed to show - that as she grew up, she possessed a dignity and regal self-assurance that even her enemies commented upon. Given that Norma Shearer manages to convincingly play Marie-Antoinette from a naive but well-intentioned teenager to an heroic but heartbroken widow, it's easy to see why so many people praised the performance.

If you enjoy period dramas or anything from "the Golden Age of Hollywood," try and find a copy of Marie Antoinette. Just be warned: prepare to weep. I watched it one night in our student house in Oxford, because my housemate Beth loves old movies and I thought it would cheer her up after the bad day she had. Unfortunately, when I turned the lights on I found that Beth's mascara had reached her chin and tears were pouring off her face. Turns out, she had been quietly sobbing for the last forty-five minutes. 

"Didn't cheer you up... did it?" I asked, nervously.

"Those filthy, murdering bastards!" she roared, before shaking her head and blowing her nose. "Look what they did to her! I'm a lot angrier with the world than we started watching this. Why did you think that would cheer me up? WHY!"

Like the movie says, all the great stories come with great tears!

Friday, 25 March 2011

That's how we do it, Elizabeth

The last of the true Hollywood superstars was buried in Los Angeles today, after dying at the age of seventy-nine. Perhaps best known for her lead role in Cleopatra, the most expensive movie ever made, Elizabeth was also made a Dame of the British Empire in recognition for her charity work by Her Majesty the Queen (she helped raise over $200 million for HIV and AIDS causes, worldwide) and she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performances in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She also won four Golden Globes, three BAFTAs, was nominated for another, as well as two more Golden Globes and three Oscars. Along with Cleopatra, her performances in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Ivanhoe, Little Women, Beau Brummel, The Taming of the Shrew, A Place in the Sun, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Raintree County, Giant and Suddenly Last Summer, are all considered some of the finest movie performances given by a Hollywood actress. Her celebrity perfume, White Diamonds, is the only one to still be selling two decades after its release and it continues to out-sell many newcomers to the fragrance industry. Some of the movies she made as a child - Lassie, National Velvet, Jane Eyre and Father of the Bride - are still, rightly, considered classics. 

Today, her funeral was carried out in accordance with her Jewish faith, which she converted to in 1959. Luckily, the vile Westboro Baptist "Church" were planning to picket her funeral to protest against her position as a gay rights activist and campaigner. Or for being Jewish. Or for being divorced. Or for God knows what reason.

Luckily, the funeral passed off without a hitch and my new favourite story of the day is that Elizabeth left a stipulation in her Will that the funeral was to begin fifteen minutes later than scheduled, so that she could exit in the same way she lived - late for everything.


A friend sent me this link to one of the on-line tributes to Dame Elizabeth and I thought it was pretty moving.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

"Popular: A Warning" by Ellen Buddle

 Actress and frenemy Ellen Buddle reflects on why she wishes she'd never read Popular. Or met me.


It’s mid-March, around midday. I sit up groggily in bed, check my phone. One voicemail.

“Hi love, Gareth here. Just on the way to the gym and wanted to run something by you. Don’t know if you’re sleeping...”

He trails off delicately, but the phrase “you lazy little piglet” is implicit in his tone...

Gareth rarely insults me actively via voicemail. I think he sees it as practice for when his star inevitably waxes, knowing perfectly well that the News of the World will have no need to employ any so-called “dark arts” with me. Just wave a new pair of Louboutins under my nose and I’ll be spilling the deepest recesses of Gareth’s mind faster than the reporter can call in the check for dinner. (Yes, for future reference to all tabloid journalists, I will be expecting dinner as well.) And besides, Gareth knows that I’m the only one in this whole wide world that knows what really went down in Namibia. And take it from me, he does not want that getting out. Anyway, the voicemail goes on.

“Don’t know if you’re sleeping or, you know, off working on some project (the doubt in his voice is entirely justified)... but anyway, I’m trying out some new things on the Popular blog and was thinking a few friends might want to write a guest article...”

My brain starts whirring immediately. Yes! At last Gareth has duly recognised that I am a natural-born opinion maker. He sees that the world has been so far deprived of my views on cuts to arts funding, women’s body image, the dual role of the actor as artist and employee, the nature of reality and why white people should never, NEVER, wear pink on top and white below (revolutionary, I know, but frankly it’s one of those revelatory facts I don’t know how we’ve so far lived without. Seriously, it makes you look like a seal with vitiligo. No, seriously). This is my chance, my brain’s chance, my very essence’s chance to show the world what I’m really made of...

“...about how much they love Popular. BBM me any thoughts/ideas you have for what you’d like to say. Thanks love, chat later. Bye!”

I should have known.

Look, I’m a gracious woman. Granted, I’m a little disappointed that the world is going to have to wait that little bit longer for me to change its collective life. Clearly this is a fundamental betrayal by Gareth of me and everything I live my life by. But I’m fine with that. At least I will be once I’ve been put instantly on a plane to Copenhagen where I shall dine at Noma (aka best restaurant in the world) for at least a month, during which time I will repeatedly try to seduce the married head chef, resulting in someone having to repeatedly pay bribes in order to allow me to eat there again, before being whisked away to Paris for a non-stop week-long shopping spree to burn off those wonderful, wonderful calories. (Gareth, I hope you’re taking notes) And in the meantime, I will do what any good friend will do, and write a blog post guaranteed to boost book sales at least 300% from the original projections. Because I’m a good person. And here it is:

Parents, don’t let your children anywhere near this book. It is going to rot their brains until it seeps out in the form of grey sludge from their increasingly uncomprehending ears. I mean this literally. I am fairly sure that every page contains a secret code that will cause young people to unwittingly drop several IQ points, with a requisite decline in moral and behavioural standards, every time they turn to the next page. And even if they realise what’s going on, they won’t stop reading. They can’t. It has simply been packed too full of witty rejoinders, chaotic parties and scintillating intrigue for anyone to possibly turn away once they have started. Let your kids anywhere near this book, and they will be doomed. Doomed I say!

You probably think I’m joking. “Oh!” you’ll scoff, “I see what’s going on. This is one of those witty, ironic pieces where you comment on the fact that children instantly scoop up whatever pop culture phenomenon their parents most disapprove of, which is why no one past the age of 12 pays any attention to the Jonas Brothers. Clever, Ellen, bravo. And very amusing, too.”

But stop! True, I can’t help that my writing style is relentlessly entertaining and penetratingly insightful, but to focus on only this is to distract from my central point. And I only speak the truth!

Take me, for example. When I first met Gareth, I was sensible, hardworking, politically minded, selfless, empathetic and principled. I went to demonstrations. I enjoyed studying. If I started feeling drunk at parties, I went home and got a good night’s sleep. Now look at me. I’m the sort of person who writes this article. And just look at this article! I’m ruined. A heartless, narcissistic, self-absorbed, clothing-obsessed, judgemental and demanding little harpy. And yes, this is all because of Gareth and his evil, evil little book.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did, or rather that my parents did by not banning Gareth from my life and taking out several restraining orders both in the UK and internationally, ensuring that wherever I turned I would be permanently spared from his toxic influence. Because really, whatever I have become, everyone is to blame but me. Especially you. Yes. You.

So ban the book. Ban it from the house, ban it from the vicinity of the house. Ban any friends from the house that you suspect of reading it. I mean, it’s not like teenagers have initiative or are secretive in any way shape or form. There’s no way they would just keep it in their locker at school, or hold their noses and go and read it in the library. It’s not like your kids’ friends behave differently when you’re not around and will start spilling all the latest plot twists until your child feels utterly compelled to go and pick it up and see for themselves. Besides, if they don’t read this book that will inevitably become the book to read this summer holiday, it’s not as if they’ll become a social pariah for being so painfully out of the loop. That kind of thing only happens in books. Like Popular. And since no child is going to read it because no parent will let them, you have nothing to worry about. Their innocence is safe. And my job is done. Moral crusade won.

The End.

No need to thank me Gareth. That’s just what friends are for. Oh, and I’ll see you in Paris. I need someone to carry my bags.

Fifteen weeks to go

I'm really excited to be able to say that it's only fifteen weeks until Popular is released in the UK and Republic of Ireland. So over the next few weeks, this blog will be getting quite a bit busier and I'll be keeping you informed of any interviews I'll be doing about the books, where you can watch them, read them or find them, all information on where you can buy or pre-order the books, as well as posting some articles about the inspiration behind Popular and a few guest posts about the books, beginning with some by my friends Ellen Buddle and Emerald Fennell.

"You're fat, you're ugly and you'll never find love": Happy Birthday, Ashleigh

Today is the birthday of my youngest sister Ashleigh. The youngest but, unfortunately, also the funniest and the most vicious. Various theories as to how she reached this stage have been put forward, with Jenny's being that I taught her everything I knew and then she surpassed me in the venom stakes. The pupil becomes the master... the circle of life.

Once, when she had apparently insulted our eldest sister, Mum told her to apologise. "Ashleigh, go on. What do you say?" Ashleigh paused, put down her fork and stared across the table, before speaking: "You're fat, you're ugly and you'll never find love."

She is also excellent banter. In fact, Ash is probably one of the most entertaining people I know. Great friend, even better sister. However, I will have all my teeth ripped out of my head and crushed into powder before my eyes before I ever tell her that.
In tribute to the Caliban, here are sixteen of her best quotes. The trouble with writing it was that there are almost too many that are funny and a lot more which I cannot put on the Internet: -

1. Your Onesy. That is all.

2. The time you ran into the kitchen and leapt onto Dad's back, grabbing him round the neck, screaming "Tell me where the Will is!"

3. Mum woke up in a hotel room to find you standing over her, telling her she was breathing too loudly in her sleep.

4. The time you and I went to the cinema to see Fame and you burst into song at the credits, before realising they weren't playing the full song and you were the only person in the cinema waving your hands in the air, shouting "FAME!"

5. Your plan to choreograph your arrival in the Hamptons to Cry me a River.

6. You are bipolar.

7. Pretending to fall asleep anytime anyone in the family speaks for more than 10 seconds at a time

8. You and I were discussing what partying would have been like in Tudor times and you said you'd have been a pro at, shouting such phrases as "Shake it, my goodly wenches!" and "Holla back, I'm representin' fo' my damsels!"

9. You refuse to let anyone lie on your bed, because they'll ruin the pillows - which are decorative and not for use, apparently.

10. "Bleugh, bleugh."

11. Your perfect rendition of "Whip my hair back and forth."

12. When I enrage you, you try to choke me from the back of the car with my seatbelt.

13. You were ten and I shimmied into your room. "Ashleigh, I made you a 45-page booklet on Anne Boleyn. Fun, right?"
"No, Gareth! Not another one. Don't you realise, I don't care about this stuff and I never will."

Five Years Later...

"Hey, G. A girl in school today said Anne Boleyn had six fingers... So I bit her and put a curse on her.... Do we have any chocolate milk?"
14. Jenny says she's going to discipline her children by telling that mean/old/drunk Uncle Gareth and Aunty Ashleigh will come round if they don't behave. (See above.)

15. We can tell if someone on TV is gay because you will have a crush on him.

16. I insulted fictional 16th century hunchback detective Matthew Shardlake, star of the novels Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and Heartstone. It was a mild insult, via text and I was in New York. I received a 15-linked WhatsApp reply telling me why "Master Shardlake" was such a wonderful, kind, loving man and that if I ever insulted him again, you'd break off eight of my fingers. The downside in all this? You fancy a fictional medieval hunchback.

Lots and lots of love on your b'day. But I still hate you, obvi. And if you send me down to the shops to get you "a walnut whip, without the walnut" one more time, I'm going to kill you.
Gareth / G-Dawg xxx

PS - Bleugh.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Alright kiddies - the big day is here. Ireland's patron saint's day has arrived and across the world, beer will be being dyed green. Except, ironically, in many parts of Ireland, where we don't enjoy tampering with alcohol unnecessarily. It's not there to be played with!

So to everyone Irish - southern, northern, nationalist, unionist, Protestant, Catholic, neither, other, don't care, all of the above - have a glorious Saint Patrick's Day and enjoy the day off Lent! And to everyone else, a very happy saint's day too. I hope you're wearing your "Kiss me, I'm Irish" t-shirts.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Kate Middleton: Style Icon

Anne Boleyn, Marie-Antoinette, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Princess Grace of Monaco were four royal women well-known for being style icons in their day. Now, with the exception of Vivienne Westwood, most people seem to think that Kate Middleton will be joining their ranks.

The Burberry trench coat which Kate Middleton wore on her recent visit to Belfast (above) sold out twenty-four hours after she and her fiancĂ©, Prince William, visited Northern Ireland. The tour, which completed their pre-marriage tour of the four parts of the United Kingdom, took place last Tuesday and I thought Prince William's pancake tossing lessons to the young girl outside Belfast City Hall were very entertaining. 

The Burberry coat worn by the future Princess Catherine retails at £650 (just over $1,000) and Burberry reported that the online supplies of the coat were gone by the time Lent started, the day after the royal visit to Belfast, which was publicised across the UK and in international media, too. A cheaper coat in a very similar design, offered by ASDA (the UK division of Walmart) increased its sales by 300% in the same period. It sells for about £22 (about $35).

When she attended a wedding back in December, in a black velvet Dulwich coat by Libelula, interest from American fashionistas in brand was particularly high, apparently. And the dress she wore for her engagement interview has ignited great interest in the Issa dresses, which it should, because it was a great choice. 

On a side note, it really irritates me when people start complaining and whining about the royal wedding. What do you want the future king to do? Get married in Gretna Green? Big days like this are good for the country. It's a holiday, it's a spectacle, and to be honest, I think that the world would be a much more boring place if we didn't do things like this. Plus, if Popular has taught me anything, it's that parties are always a good thing! Okay, some people have a "moral" objection to it because they don't agree with the monarchy, but they seem to be acting really surprised that the Prince of Wales's son is getting a wedding at all. I mean, you did know it wasn't a republic, didn't you? You must therefore have assumed when the second in line to the throne got married, it was probably going to be quite a big event. Monarchies aren't really known for running on minimalist chic! If you're a republican, fine, just don't start bitching about it to anyone who shows any amount of enthusiasm for what will be a really fun day. It's not like monarchists go round posting on your wall on normal days of the year, "Ha ha, guess what? We're not a republic. Fyl!" 

The Daily Mail reports that the future princess is more and more being seen as a fashion icon, because her personal style is "elegant and regal, yet age-appropriate to boot." I'm a big, big fan of the way she dresses. It's weirdly like the look and style I tried to capture for Meredith in Popular. Although, I would say Kate is a much, much nicer person! To quote from the article, which you can read in full here: -

"Ever since Kate appeared on the scene as Prince William’s girlfriend at St Andrews University, interest in her has been feverish — and that includes her sartorial selections. Kate’s fashion influence became clear as far back as 2007 when a dress she wore for her 25th birthday (a £40 Topshop tunic) sold out within 24 hours. ... fitted, nipped-in jackets, silhouette-hugging dresses and timeless accessories that are elegant and regal, yet age-appropriate to boot. 
Now, her style is much coveted — Kate has the power to spark a fashion stampede simply by wearing something once. 
She often plumps for British designers such as Temperley, Mulberry and Burberry, meaning her choices have been a good blend of patriotic and classic. But Kate’s fondness for the High Street stores Reiss, Jigsaw and Topshop also show she’s a girl who’s not afraid to mix and match affordable pieces with designer labels." 

Friday, 11 March 2011

Jennifer Aniston's new ad

Really like this new ad for Smart Water.

I always think it's so funny/bizarre when the media try to paint Jennifer Aniston's life as a tragedy and that she's really unhappy. I don't get that vibe from her at all, in any interviews or anything she ever does. 

Anyway, apparently Jennifer recently got hit with a viral sex tape, allegedly showing her, but in fact showing a porn star that looks like her and in her new ad for Smart Water, she pokes fun at that. This is a great ad.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

True Love in Mississippi

I love this story!

A local newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, has profiled the love story of one of my best friend's grandparents! Courtney ("Coco") Pannell is currently a Senior at Yale and one of my favourite partners for cocktails.

Pete and Mary Tate (above) were set-up on a blind date together when she was studying at Ole Mis, back in 1957.  They were married in 1958 and have three sons - Mike, Mark and Jeff. Mary Tate says, "I don't remember the first date, but he came to my door and had on gray pants and a pink shirt, and I thought he was awfully stylish. Oh, and white buck shoes!"

You can read the whole story, here.

Related Posts with Thumbnails