jeudi 13 janvier 2011

My other life

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It all started with Grace Kelly setting a boat called True Love adrift in the swimming pool while crooning with Bing Crosby and then shortly after Leslie Caron spinning round the room describing the pleasures of champagne. I couldn't know it at the time but it was the beginning of a love affair with the glitz of old Hollywood. My mother sometimes used to leave me in the holidays with a cousin of hers, an older well built woman who lived in a bungalow with her husband. We spent most of our days in the kitchen for the simple reason that it was the only warm one, sitting at a table beside a sizzling coal fire. Yet in the afternoons, we generally ventured into the icy living room to switch on the electric heater. Around us on the mantelpiece and on shelves stood rows of elegant porcelain figures in different coloured evening gowns and above the sideboard hung a photo of her beautiful mother who had died tragically young. My mother's cousin had a weakness for classic musicals like High Society and Gigi while her husband had a thing for the legs of Cyd Charisse which probably explains the inclusion of Silk Stockings with her and Fred Astaire in their collection. Perhaps it's because all sense of rhythm deserts me or because I have the kind of voice that makes the sky darken or because I never learned to play an instrument but the films that make my heart flutter the most are still those with tap dancing and jazzy numbers for the stage. For just a few seconds, I like to imagine myself trading places with Ginger Rodgers, Ann Miller or Cyd Charisse and wow the audience. Over Christmas, confined to home with miserable weather and a landscape flattened by ice, I found myself indulging in my other favourite passion, the cinema and developing square eyes. In 21 days, I notched up 34 films, plus the complete first season of Twin Peaks and enjoyed every minute of it. My feet tapped to the beat of the musical numbers, perhap not surprising for someone who's always shared Mia Farrow's dream in The Purple Rose of Cairo to become part of the film. Here's a selection of what I watched:


In the mornings just before and over Christmas, I got up early to catch the classic musical on TCM. I loved Judy Garland and Fred Astaire with their blacked out faces in Easter Parade and the former's touching rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in Meet Me in St. Louis as we exchanged gifts by the fire in the living room. I watched Singin' in the Rain over Christmas lunch preparations and Kiss Me Kate before the visitors arrived on Boxing Day, smiling at the gangsters' advice to brush up your Shakespeare and dazzled by Ann Miller in a skimpy outfit singing It's Too Darn Hot.

Billy Wilder

I had often heard people talk about Billy Wilder's One Two Three and wasn't disappointed. Set in Berlin just before the Wall was built, it was amazing to see the ruins past the Brandenburg Gate entering the old Eastern Sector and hear James Cagney barking out orders while clicking his fingers and promising to work later so that he could practise the Umlaut with his glamourous secretary.

I also discovered Avanti set on the Island of Ischia with the unlikely romance between Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills which made me dream of swimming in warm seas and watching the sun go down from the rocks. Alice's great post on Billy Wilder a few weeks ago made me long to see Sabrina. I loved Audrey Hepburn's face as she appeared at the dance in her Givenchy dress, the soufflé that didn't rise in her cooking class, the way she learns to break an egg with one hand, William Holden and the champagne glasses and Humphrey Bogart turning down the rim of his hat so he looks French.

Christmas films

I couldn't resist giving my Mum a copy of Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox. I know I'm not alone in loving this film or in identifying with Ash, the loser but somehow I loved it even more the second time around and think it's defintely a film more for adults than for kids. We all settled down to watch John Huston's The Man Who Would be King over Christmas Day lunch. I've never seen a film of his that I haven't loved and this was no exception. It brought back memories of reading atlases by torchlight in bed at night, looking for remote destinations to travel to and daydreams of travelling over mountains in snowstorms as well as those Kipling stories read to me as a child. It's A Wonderful Life still makes me cry when the angel finally gets his wings and everyone gathers around the tree to sing Auld Lang Syne. There were the old favourites like Casablanca and Gone With the Wind that reminded me of Christmases past.

We finshed the year with Coen Brothers' film (O Brother Where Art Thou) and I spent the first few moments of 2011 tucked up in bed reading A. Scott Berg's wonderful biography of Katharine Hepburn before drifting off to sleep in spite of the nearby fireworks exploding. 2010 was full of so many changes, most of all getting my own place and it means such a lot to be able to share these moments with you, seeing the world through your eyes. I hope the year has started well for you and promise to catch up soon.

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The Hall on the other side of our house

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A fresh dusting of snow for Christmas

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My first Christmas pudding being flambéed

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Jasper looking bored

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22 commentaires:

  1. Merci pour ce très beau billet un véritable feu d'artifice

  2. What cute kitties! I'd love a slice of that pudding...



  3. I love getting lost in movies too, imagining to live the lives of "Sabrina" or "Gigi'. Those old movies are so innocent somehow.
    We have a similar taste in films and series Vanessa. Isn't David Lynch a genius?
    Your cats are so cure, especially the fluffy, yawning one.

  4. It sounds like you have found the perfect antidote to foul weather... escape to old Hollywood! I know, especially when I am down with a cold or flu in winter... there is nothing more comforting than a good movie and something warm to drink and eat. be well in a better 2011...

  5. Tracy and Hepburn movies...I've got to get my hands on the book about Kate. I hope "The Apartment" was on your list of movies watched over the holiday.

  6. I remember going through a phase in high school when I decided to see every classical Hollywood film I could get my hands on. Our local blockbuster had a promotion on older VHS tapes, 6 for $2 or something ridiculous like that. I watched all the Gene Kelly musicals, and everything in black-and-white and technicolor that the Blockbuster had. Good times.

  7. @Alice - Et merci à toi pour ton billet vraiment super sur Billy Wilder. C'est grace à toi que j'ai vu Sabrina.
    @Rosa - Thanks! I miss seeing the cats every day as it's like a real family.
    @Magda - Yes, it's wonderful that inncocence that you talk about and sometimes I think I was born in the wrong age. Glad to discover another David Lynch fan. He's so brilliant and it's a pity we don't live close enough to meet up for film evenings. Jasper, the fluffy cat, is a real aristocat.
    @Deana - I often find January a bit depressing after all the lights and excitement of Christmas are over so tell myself it's a good excuse to stay inside in the warmth and watch a great movie and when you're ill, it's a must. I wish you a wonderful 2011 too.
    @Tracy - I haven't seen all those Tracy and Hepburn movies yet and am dying to see Woman of the Year and Pat and Mike especially. The Kate book is simply wonderful and so inspiring. Actually, I've been continuously frustrated in my attempts to see the Apartment as it's always sold out in the stores where I want to buy it so now I've ordered myself a copy and plan to watch it next week.
    @Kat - That sounds like a wonderful period in your life and it would have been nice to see those films with you as my guide. Good luck with the book event!

  8. What beautiful cats, Vanessa. This warmed my heart.

  9. L'ambiance était plutôt au western au coin du feu les derniers soirs de décembre (une passion que je ne partage que de loin), et proustienne l'après-midi. Belle année 2011 !

  10. This post is so great! I started watching more movies recently and I definitely crave for old Hollywood flicks... everything with Jack Lemmon and William Holden please!

  11. @Amber - Yes, they are gorgeous and each with such different personalities.
    @Rose - Oh mais j'aime bien les Western aussi, surtout par John Ford ou Sergio Leone. J'espère que tu en nous raconteras sur ton blog ^^
    @Pia - You inspired me with your posts on cinema although whenever I read them, I realise how much I still have to see.

  12. 34 Films?! I'm impressed. Sounds like you saw some great ones.

  13. what a perfect post, it sounds like we have a lot in common. I just read and shook my head in agreement :) Time to get out all my old dvds ...

  14. My kids gave me Netflix last year and I watched every old musical I could get my hands on. Such fun!
    Now I'm catching up with The Tudors, Mad Men, Lost etc. Some I like, some I wonder why they were so popular.
    Are those all your kitties? So cute!

  15. @Christine - I hadn't intended to watch so many but it felt so good having all those movie sessions.
    @Hila - I always enjoy discovering films through your blog so it's great we have similar tastes.
    @Barbara - Netflix sounds great and I wish we had that here. Libraries have good collections but the best ones are little far from my home so I generally buy them up cheap whenever I spot a bargain and borrow from my Mum. Mad Men's a great series although I admit to being painfully out of touch with television.

  16. Hi Vanessa...I'm so glad you had the movies to keep you company over the holidays. I grew up w/a movie mad mother so one thing that I never feel guilty about is spending time watching, reading about them, or -- when I have the $ - going to the theatre. I loved the description of going into the front room with the figurines...

    I remember watching variety shows as a child & suddenly there would be Cyd or Ann dancing up a storm. They were rather "old" by then but still so great. My parents always said,"Oh those dancers...they always look so great. Never really age." They were right. Ah. You wrote such a wonderful post that I can't comment on everything. But I love the pix of the kitties, too.

    I noticed someone mentioned The Apartment. It's one of my favorites. Such a great film. I hope you can find it. Wish you had Netflix. Someone needs to do that in Germany. As several of my friends in Germany & France have noted. There must be a law against it or's such a great idea. I have a hard time thinking no one's noticed how popular it is here. Having them delivered & then access to a lot of others instantly, even as poor as I am now, is such a wonderful luxury. At $10.52/month for unlimited instant & one DVD at a, that is amazing.

    Icy cold & raining here. Bleep. (Sorry:)

    PS: I really enjoyed Metropolitan...forgot to tell you. xo/S.

  17. Lovely, warm post. Made me want to cuddle up and watch a film myself. Adorable kitties too!

  18. @Susan - How lovely to hear about your memories of growing up. Some people I know think it's a dreadful waste of time watching all these movies but I don't feel bad. It's true that those dancers got older but never really old because the passion for what they did was still alive. The cats often join us in the evenings for the film sessions, although sometimes Oscar can't be persuaded to leave the warm spot on the gas boiler.

    Actually I finally managed to watch the Apartment last night and absolutely loved it. So funny and charming but also bittersweet. In Berlin a Billy Wilder season has just started so I'm going to be watching as many of his films as possible. Netflix is such a great idea and a real bargain. Laws in Europe can be extremely strict so I can't see it happening soon here, although maybe in Britain. I'm so glad you have it though and can enjoy all those great movies and am especially pleased you liked Metropolitan. I feel for you being ill when it's rotten outside but it's good you have Julie for company. Get well soon!
    @Nicolette - Thanks! It's true the kitties are all adorable. Actually, Jasper's the naughty one but is so charming, you can never be angry for long. His favourite thing is to run up curtains and bring them down.

  19. It seems you've ended the year well, Vanessa, with good movies, family, Christmas pudding and cute kitties. I've always loved Sabrina. I even liked the remake, which is not typical for me. The Fantastic Mr. Fox was a lot of fun. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine were pretty charming in The Apartment. I saw it outdoors in the summer, Grant Park in Chicago. I just always cringe when I see the way women in offices were treated back then. Such a different era, thank goodness.

  20. C'est drole cette habitude que nous avons tous de regarder des vieux films au moment de Noel. En France c'est plutot Les Tontons flingueurs et Le pere Noel est une ordure, qui passent tous les ans a la meme epoque. Mais j'ai vu aussi - et vraiment apprecie pour la premiere fois- quelques comedies musicales, dont Singing in the rain. Je ne sais pas explique pourquoi, ca fait partie de l'atmosphere des vacances de fin d'annee, d'une certaine paresse, de longues heures passees sur le canape devant le feu, ou enfin, on se donne le temps.

  21. Happy New Year, Vanessa, and happy new digs! You've remided me I've a copy of Gigi sitting forgotten under our televesion, which I've never seen and ordered to correct that error and now can't wait to sit down and watch.

    What a lovely story, this mother's cousin of yours.

  22. @Denise - I'm glad you love Sabrina too, although I haven't got around to the remake yet though. Outdoor cinemas for the summer are so wonderful, staying up late with the sounds of the park around you and a good film. It's true that I feel nostalgic for the times of old movies but there was much more discrimination back then which makes me realise that today isn't so bad either.
    @Gracienne - Je crois que ces longues journées à la maison avec la famille sont des occasion parfaites pour regarder de vieux films. Je n'ai pas encore vu les deux dont tu parles mais ils sont sur ma liste pour cette année! Chez nous, on a regardé aussi La Grande Vadrouille pour la première fois et tout le monde était mort de rire.
    @Molly - Same to you dear Molly. Gigi is a wonderful film for everyone so I hope you enjoy it.