Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Edna May Oliver: No Flibberty-Gibbet

 Edna as lady Catherine de Bourgh

Just because an actor is known as a "character actor" doesn't mean they can't make a picture worth seeing in and of themselves. They've been known to literally "steal the show" once or twice . I think the first time I ever noticed my favorite scene stealer  Edna May Oliver when I watched the excellent 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice where she played (with much humor and aplomb) the indomitable Lady Catherine De Bourgh. As she played most of her parts, she played what might have been a dreary snobbish upper class twit with a twinkle in her eye, and great good sense. It takes such accomplishment, not to mention superb timing,  to translate to the audience that stern attitude that isn't really all that stern at all, and that she looked like an old maid school marm with such a knowing eye makes her all the more likeable to watch.

Edna May Oliver, a descendant of John Quincy Adams, was born Edna May Nutter  in Massachusetts in 1883. Traditional school life was clearly not for her as she began establishing her characteristically independent nature early on by quitting school and heading to the stage. That she did continue to study voice and piano should be no surprise though and she actually had a fine singing voice (which she generally declined to use in film or on stage due to her self described "horse face" which she declared was made for comedy). She had some moderate success on Broadway before heading to film work  where she played many comedic roles, but excelled in dramatic ones as well which she charmingly played with the droll Edna May ironic touch.

Edna May Oliver as Aunt Betsey Trotwood with Mr Dick and David

Even though you can find her frequently on TCM in lighter than air mad cap comedies (such as the lively "We're Rich Again" which aired recently) as well as  serialized sleuth Hiledegarde Withers  I prefer her unique touch in more "dramatic roles". She was wonderful as the "boy hating",though softhearted, Aunt Betsey Trotwood in the marvelous 1935  MGM edition of David Copperfield . No one could have been more irascibly sensible and yet loving as Aunt Betsey who not only took David in, but also harbored the decidedly daffy Mr Dick. It is my opinion that Edna May played that part with more humor, fire, and kindness than anyone else could have. Her countenance and voice commanded respect, while the kindness in her eyes provided hope. In another truly dramatic role her versatility is showcased in Ann Vickers in which she played the practical sophisticate Dr Malvina Wormser who was friend and confident to an out of wedlock pregnant  Irene Dunn as Ann. But my favorite Edna May Oliver movie is A Tale of Two Cities in which she played the ever protective and fierce Miss Pross who was watchdog, nurse, and friend of Miss Lucy Manette. Starchy would be a good word to describe her in this role as she disapproves of almost everyone and everything she feels is beneath her beloved charge . Even Ronald Colman's Sydney Carton can't get her to unstiffen with his teasing and far too familiar nickname "Prossy". Her true colors and loyalty come forth as she litterally fights to  save Lucy and her family from the despicably delicious Madame De Farge. That fight scene turns Miss Pross from a mere prude to a true heroine.

 Edna May Oliver as the ferocious Miss Pross

All of the pictures I have referenced and so many more are worth your time. The term "character" actor means so many things to so many people, but to me is usually means turning what could be a small role into something that not only furthers the story significantly but also allows something special to shine through and make that performance  memorable. Don't ever forget to read the credits to see those whose names are farther down than the "stars" of the picture. You will find yourself amazed by the scope and talent of these actors who can exhibit such extraordinary versatility  as they go from demanding role to demanding role often portraying completely different personae in each picture. They are so many of them unsung celluloid  heroes.

Edna May Oliver

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Not Cat, Not Movies, Eradication

I've been debating for three weeks whether or not to address a recent event in my life on my blog. Since it turns out that this is something I can do nothing about, I decided to do what I could about it, and write.

I have two separate lives, each one is precious to me. There is my "real" life at home and work with my husband, family ,pets, and friends.  I have a second life as well,  which it would seem is just as real as my first one, that's my "on line" life. I never realized before how much this virtual life meant to me until it was grossly disrupted, by rejection. The debate about whether or not it should mean anything much to me at all will have to wait.

I've been "blocked" on twitter by someone I admire who was not only someone I followed, but who also followed me as well. Now in the recent past I was also blocked, by someone with mega fame, a former Tour de France winner who I will not name, and whose "blockage" was sought and delighted in, a badge of honor
This latest episode however came as a complete shock and surprise. And what is no less surprising is how damned much it hurts! (may I add an addendum here by saying I inadvertently  unfollowed several people on twitter last night all of whom contacted me immediately expressing their hurt, so I guess I'm not overreacting as much as I had supposed) I have processed this event within myself, with friends, with anyone who would listen and I am coming up empty on causality. I have no idea what I did (or didn't do). Now, I admit that I can be enthusiastic, but I was minding my manners out of sheer admiration  and being ever so polite. I also admit I can be slightly obsessive, but I kept my tweets to a couple a week, and for those of you who know and love me you know that is showing no small amount of restraint. I can be curious as well but never ever would I "stalk" someone, even in the on line world. No, I can come up with nothing.
This essentially  begs the question, why should rejection on twitter from someone you don't know mean so much? I'm not too sure...but I feel like Mary Reilly right now.

I suppose like most people I vacillate between thinking I AM all that, and thinking I am nothing of the kind. So I wander between how dare he block me, to why in God's name who anyone follow me in the first place? Ah, there's the nugget I've been digging for. Over the past three weeks I have wondered, why does the one "no" outweigh all of the "yeses"? Why is it that as humans we only tend to hear what is negative about us rather than what we are praised for? Is it that the negativity, the rejections, confirm what we really think about ourselves? That we are only worthy of being censured, and ostracized? If so this shines a beam on a truly sad aspect of human nature. And unfortunately I have come up with no answers, perhaps time will allow me to gain some wisdom and insight from this event. (And apparently I am not the only person out there scratching her/his head)

What small bits of clarity I have realized  however are these (and my wisdom only extends as far as twitter, I can't help you much with the "real" world)

Would an "unfollow" do as well as a block? (unless of course someone is stalking you, or being obscene) I mean seriously do you need to use the nuclear option when batting a mosquito? Most people are upset enough at an unfollow and will generally get the hint.

If someone tweeted something you found obnoxious, but was not directed at you, can you ignore it? You can do this easily by unfollowing or  "muting" their tweets. This way they won't show up in your timeline, and you won't make them feel lower than dust by blocking them.

On twitter sometimes it's hard to know who is talking to you (especially if like me they don't give their real names) Don't block someone because you think they might be someone else you may have had issues with. Look at their profile, you can tell a new "stalking" type account from a well established genuine one.

And finally, consider how you might feel if someone you admired blocked you. I can assure you that even in the ethereally anonymous world of twitter it feels really awful.

I'm happy to say I'm not angry at this person, and if  forgiveness is appropriate and mine to bestow I've done that. I am merely befuddled and confused, and I think I am correct in thinking that if this person knew how much angst his actions have caused me (however unjustified) he would feel badly.  I suppose that I won't ever know what happened and that's fine. Maybe in the end I don't want to hear something along the lines of, "well I just didn't like her". Knowing that might actually hurt more than being blocked, and at this point who needs that?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Forgotten Man, Still Forgotten?

If you've never seen the delightfully paradoxical "Gold Diggers of 1933", a "pre-code" gem already shown in Turner Classic Movie's 31 Days of Oscar, you need to be sure to watch the next time it's on. It's highly entertaining and is for the most part escapist fluff about a group of Broadway showgirls trying to make it through the depression without compromising their virtue, well not too much anyway.

An elaborate scene from Gold Diggers of 1933

The movie uses the time honored concept of showing a production within a production, and involves the tribulations of  Broadway show producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) who is in desperate need of an "angel" to back his idea for a musical about the Depression. The song writing boyfriend (Dick Powell) of one of his usual cast members (Ruby Keeler) just happens to be the wealthy scion of a conservative Back Bay family who has strayed to "The Great White Way" to seek personal fulfillment as a composer. When Barney's splendid idea for a show that highlights the plight of the "forgotten man" loses its backer, Brad Roberts (a.k.a. Robert Treat Bradford) comes through with the cash which puts into motion hilarity, confusion, and finally love for more than a few of the cast members. (for a detailed look at cast, crew, and plot go to the excellent The Gold Diggers Wiki )

Gloriously marching off to war!

 What amazed me so much the first time I saw the film though was the complete about face its tone and meaning take during the stunning last number, "Remember My Forgotten Man". While 7/8 of the movie is highly entertaining  but essentially lighter than air 1930s musical nonsense, the last few scenes are devastating. Busby Berkeley, who choreographed and staged the film, was inspired by the Bonus Army March of 1932 and made use of what he had seen and felt as the inspiration for the "Remember my Forgotten Man" number. So what was essentially a boy-meets-girl-going-through-the-usual-tribulations movie, becomes a damning musical indictment  on the state of WWI veterans during the Depression.

The glamour of battle disappears

When I last saw the film, I got to wondering exactly how far we've come in honoring our "forgotten men",service people returining from Afghanistan . When we watch classic film I think we are sometimes amused by their datedness. (it's actually a big part of their charm) The quaint nature of classic films may be why in some ways we may pat ourselves on the back for just how far we've come. But how far have we come when it comes to caring for and genuinely honoring our vets? I think that the small improvements in job offerings and medical benefits over the past few years have certainly helped, but when I see the statistics of suicide and  mental illness, augmented by  low income fueled by rising veteran unemployment  I fear we have our own generation of "forgotten men". Celebrating returning service people when they come back from war is highly deserved and important, that recognition is such a turnaround from the way in which our returning Viet Nam vets were treated, but after the local news crews leave and all of the hoopla has ended how much better off are some of these men and women than the "forgotten men" of the post WWI era, or any previous era? We know so much more now and have so many more resources at our disposal than did the people of the 1930s that we shouldn't ever have to ponder this topic, yet sometimes it seems we are all too willing to let those who have served fall between the cracks once service to their country has ended.

The ultimate reality of war

To be sure the enormity and import of this subject might be better served in a venue other than a movie blogathon as noble a project as this is. (by the way,  thanks to my host Aurora, @citizenscreen)   I suppose my point is that, at the very least, a daffy musical from the early 1930s got me looking into and recognizing  a subject we should all care deeply about. In essence this is just one more example of the power of film. So, see it if you haven't and watch it again if you have. Enjoy the light-hearted snappy banter and terrific score, and  then  feel the utter despair of the "forgotten man".

The final scene staged expansively by Busby Berkeley

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Scary Times...

 Sophie, as she was then

Now that my short stint as a movie blogger has ended I need to get back to the reason I created this blog in the first place, my kitties.

 Star, always my good big girl

First the good news. Star is as always, my bestest girl. She is so sweet and so loveable. She always has a chirp and a purr for you (and a mouth full of hair if you give her a kiss with lip gloss on  :-) I love her so and do not know what I would do without her. 

Cosmo, 20 lbs of love, and breaking Mommy's back

Cosmo is pretty good right now too. After 8 months of largely useless therapy (and excessive spending) his Indolent Ulcer seems to be under some control. After trying everything his vets could think of down here we took him up to East Amherst to the Veterinary Dermatologist Dr. Karyn Beningo who after extensive testing discovered his has some serious seasonal allergies. To get the ulceration under control he was prescribed Clavamox, Atopica (Cyclosporin), and after VARL testing he now gets specific allergy shots every three weeks (administered by me) . This may not sound like "good" news but it is. Cosmo has gained back a pound of weight (he's up to 20) and is feeling better than he has for over a year. The allergy shots will not really take effect for four months (he needs to slowly build up immunity) so it may be a bit up and down until they do, but at least there is great hope now where there was none before. Plus it's likely not a food allergy so I don't have to be a cat food Nazi anymore :-) (he and Star both now eat EVO, Sophie eats.....well the Sophie story comes up next)

So, in case you've been wondering there is some "bad news". Well it started out badly but ended well, at least I hope it's ended well.

Sophie, as she is now. "Lionized"

 Sophie my little waif girl has after living with us for 2 years come to trust and accept us. She has "good" relations with the other two kitties, and is loving and sweet, if not a bit hard to handle, thus part of her problem. Sophie literally panics when groomed, so I go slowly and comb what I can while trying to keep her calm. This would not be a huge problem with most cats, it would be a matter of just keeping them tidy, but Sophie is of course long haired and is a compulsive  groomer. She grooms far more than do either Star or Cosmo and is thus prone to hairball problems. Stress seems to be the likely cause of her over groomng  and Sophie is an intense cat. She does not like the high fiber foods we have tried to help her hairball issues with (and it's hard to get the loose surface hair off when an animal refuses to be well combed) but we have managed to keep up with it with only a few very "interesting" regurgitated hair balls the result. Two weeks ago though we came home from a day at the endodontist and beach and noticed that Sophie had not eaten. She was quiet, and seemed uncomfortable. I tried getting her to drink, but she could not keep even water down, and what came up had an alarming odor. I called our  vet who had us come right in. She examined Sophie, didn't like what she felt, and decided to keep her overnight for  x-rays and observation. A mere two hours later however a call came from the Dr who felt emergency surgery for the removal of an intestinal obstruction was imperative. We got another call after an agonizing 45 minuet  wait that Sophie was doing fine and the obstruction had been successfully removed. Then the Dr  asked me, since Sophie was still under, if I wanted some hair removed. I said sure, thinking that her "arm pits" and "britches" would be buzzed as I've had them done before to prevent matting. See the pictures for the result. When we visited her next day unaware of the extent of hair removal  I admit I cried when I saw her.  There she was in a cage with an IV in her little arm and no hair!! (well almost no hair) . It was a simple misunderstanding and is probably for the best when you consider her ample coat and compulsive grooming are the cause of her dangerous problem. But after the hot weather seems to have left us she is cold, and I look forward to her getting some of her lovely Blue Smoke coat back. 

The most important news is she seems to have healed very well. (though she was very quiet for a week and was kept isolated from her two rough and tumble playmates) She is eating lots too, probably in part an effort to keep warm. I don't know what the future will bring for this little one, but we will do our best to keep anything like this from happening again, that includes a yearly buzz cut if needed. 

As you can see, still absolutely gorgeous!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Broken Blossoms

To me Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl is a horror film, and I don't know if I can adequately say how important a film I believe this is in an article such as this. (for a scholarly take on the film read this excellent 1981 piece by Julia Lessage)  In our time people love zombies, vampires, aliens, and buckets of blood.  Films containing those things are classified as "horror" films, but they are really just roller coaster amusement rides in false fear. Broken Blossoms with its utter brutality, a brutality that exists for far too many children in this world, is real horror. That the film with all of its unvarnished issues was even made in 1919 seems unusual and may be the reason the film still has such impact some ninety-three years later. That and the sad reality that much of what is portrayed in the film has not substantially changed. I often wonder what people from the more "sheltered" parts of the United States thought when they saw this film way back then.

Lucy, finding joy at first and at last

Even today with our jaded life view Broken Blossoms can be a difficult film to view. The ugliness that people perpetrate upon the innocent is always hard to watch. It's the kind of thing that makes us shudder, and makes some of us turn away. Lucy (Lillian Gish, featured today August 15th in TCM's Summer Under the Stars) is a child of London's slums who has lost her mother. She finds herself caring for a boxing father, Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp), who is not only unappreciative but completely brutal in the treatment of his daughter. He terrorizes her both physically and emotionally leaving her unable to even smile of her own accord. Yet incredibly this film examines not only child abuse, but also racial prejudice, and the differing roles "masculinity" plays in Western society. In contrast to the misogynistic Battling is "The Yellow Man"  (portrayed by Richard Barthelmess) a genteel Chinese Buddhist who comes from the Orient to spread kindness and peace to the "civilized" west. (the debate about the propriety of a while man portraying a Chinese man must wait for another time). What ensues is the life and death struggle for decency and joy in the life of Lucy between her loutish father and her Oriental admirer. You'll find no sappy Hollywood ending here.

Watch this D W Griffith masterpiece, even when what you see makes you want to look away, because the film is so utterly visually stunning. Some of the scenes were hand tinted to enhance the mood Griffith wanted to viewer to experience (some of these effects were even created by the burning of gauze on the camera lenses) I could obviously go on at great length about this film but this blog is just a tease to give you the motivation to watch a silent film, perhaps for the first time.

Finally a genuine thank you to TCM for showing Broken Blossoms, the first silent film I ever saw and the one which caused my silent "love affair". Don't expect to see it and file it in the back of your mind though. Its images and the tale it tells will be with you for days.

Little Lucy, lost in unfathomable thought

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Not Cats, Mata Hari

How lucky can I be? I have been given the opportunity to write about something I love almost as much as I love my kitties, classic film. This month Turner Classic Movies repeats its annually anticipated event "Summer Under the Stars" (also known as SUTS). I have chosen two films to write about in the SUTS  Blogathon which is generously hosted by Michael Nazarewycz (Michael's blog is here) and Jill Blake (and you can find Jill's blog here.) Be sure to check them both out! Today's entry in the blogathon is the MGM Greta Garbo vehicle Mata Hari  (1931) which is on TCM  Friday August 10th at 8:45AM EDT (a day dedicated to the films of the illustrious Lionel Barrymore who also stars).

  Greta Garbo as the seductive spy Mata Hari

Hollywood has often take liberties in its treatment of historical figures, this is something that is actually made easier in the case of Mata Hari  (Indonesian for "eye of the day") since much of that exotic dancer's life is veiled in mystery and misinformation. What is known about Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" Zelle's life is that she was born in the Netherlands and studied to become a teacher. When she was harassed by the headmaster of her school she was removed to the home of her uncle where she answered a newspaper advert for a wife placed by Rudolph MacLeod, an officer in the Dutch Colonial army. They were married and moved to Java where the marriage proved to be no bargain for the young Margreet. Bored and disillusioned she  began studies of the native culture which included exotic dancing lessons. After many alleged affairs, syphilis, and disaffection from her husband and children she moved to Paris which is where her storied life began in earnest. (you can read more about the life of Mata Hari by clicking the link on her name)

 The real "Mata Hari" dressed scantily in jeweled brassiere  and little else

The movie Mata Hari starring Greta Garbo was not the first, nor the last, treatment of the glamorous spy's life. What she and Garbo have in common is an almost animal eroticism. Garbo was of course beautiful, which few would say about the real Mata, but they shared that ability to become the only person one sees in the room. That the real Mata was executed for "spying" is certain, that she had affairs with many officers during WW1 is certain as well, but the circumstances of her fall and redemption in the MGM movie are purely speculative. Still, to see virginal nuns weep for the heroic Mata as she is led away to her demise is almost poignant. It is nearly as moving, though in a completely opposite way,  as the world weary and dominating Mata's soul stealing seduction of Ramon Navarro in front of a Russian icon of the Virgin Mary, a scene which was censored/altered in some quarters.

 Mata (Garbo) manipulates a hapless General Shubin (Barrymore)

Be sure to be on the lookout for Garbo's scenes with frequent dependable co-star  Lewis Stone who is the "master of spies". But, perhaps the real treat of the movie is the over the top portrayal by Lionel Barrymore as Mata's tortured and obsessed Russian officer lover. His jealousy over her serious infatuation with heroic Russian pilot Navarro (and Mata's love for the pilot) prove to be both of their undoings.

Not to be taken too seriously this movie is a complete pleasure from Garbo's erotic dancing (allegedly done by a stand in) to her ultimate and courageous end. (one in which she tries to spare the unlucky Navarro as much pain as is possible) Once this movie starts you cannot take your eyes from it. From the incredible designs of Adrian to the naive depictions of Parisian intrigue during WW1 it's a perfect over the top 1930s melodrama. It will suck you in and have you dancing too. Enjoy!

Mata's (Garbo) touching farewell to the blinded Lt. Rosanoff (Navarro)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cosmo Update

Cosmo, so brave and such a good boy about all he has gone through!

Hello everyone! I know it's been forever since I've written about the babies, but life and work often get in the way of doing the things we do for sheer joy. Everyone is fine, generally speaking, though Cosmo is still plagued with his ECG. Sophie continues to thrive, in her own special way, and actually allows some grooming. I love her dearly and she alone sleeps with us each night (with the two "big cats" downstairs as they have been since we got them in 2008) And Star (aka "Sissy") is as always, my good big girl. She is kind, fun, loving, and sweet.

Sophie, my little "wild child" She's such a joy!

But, back to Cosmo and his rodent ulcer. One major setback we have had is that we lost our vet Dr. Derby who moved south to be with her husband. Sh
e was wonderful with us as we began this journey with Cosmo last October and I feel her absence keenly. As of now we will take Cosmo to Dr Coburn who, as luck would have it, owns a cat who also gets rodent ulcers. Her cat gets over them with shots of prenisolone though, I sure wish our Cosmo did. It's hard for me to look at his disfigured little lip, and I know that this at the very least bothers him as well. I hate to think that it causes him any real pain, that is too hard for me to imagine. So, next week we take him in to have blood drawn and to have what is called a "Heska" test done . This test may determine any allergies he might have and best case would allow us to have a serum created that we could give him (via injection) to control his allergic reactions. I am hopeful, but only reservedly so.

Sissy takes good care of her baby brother.

If the testing doesn't reveal anything specific then what I may do is find a temporary home
for him with someone and see how he reacts in another environment. In a few cases rodent ulcers have quickly resolved when a cats' location was changed, and I guess if this happened with Cosmo we would have to seriously consider finding him a new, and for him, healthier place to live. I pray it never comes to that, but I cannot simply watch his lip erode away. I feel completely helpless sometimes, but never hopeless!

I'll try to keep you all updated on this continuing "saga".

The three "babies" on the stairs in a rare moment together :-)