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.
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.
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.
The Hall on the other side of our house
A fresh dusting of snow for Christmas
My first Christmas pudding being flambéed
Jasper looking bored