Friday, November 5, 2010

Tension In Every Frame!

"Any sign of the police?" the girl driving the convertible asks the guy in the passenger seat.
This is the first line in the first scene of my favorite film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
A British suspense/thriller, Stage Fright pairs the unlikely duo of Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich.
I would never have thought they belonged in a film together.
My experience of Jane Wyman is limited to Johnny Belinda, her Oscar-winning performance, Falcon Crest, the TV drama of the 80's; and her song-and-dance supporting role in Dancing Lady starromg Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, 1935. HOWEVER, she is the main character in this 1950 film and shows what a commanding presence she was even then. Surprisingly so for me, in the scenes she shares with La Dietrich, Wyman's intensity commands as much attention as Dietrich's mystery and luminosity.
At the age of eleven, I fell under Marlene Dietrich's spell at the Fairfax Theater in 1958 while watching her stunning, shocking performance as Christine Vole in Billy Wilder's magnificent courtroom thriller Witness for the Prosecution! And in Stage Fright, Marlene delivers everything that has made her a legend from day one on the silver screen: that lissome body, gorgeous face, elegant style, and total immersion in the character she is playing, convincing us that she (the character...and, maybe, Marlene, too) has experienced more of life--both agony and ecstasy--than we will ever know.
Compelling in each scene these actresses share is the contrast in physical appearance and character:
Wyman, dark-haired with trademark bangs, young, clear, innocent, and loyal; dressed in sensible suits, simple dresses and hats.
Dietrich, blonde, hair pulled away from the face showing off those remarkable cheekbones and eyebrows, older here than Wyman by at least a decade, complex, manipulative, and betrayed; dressed in clinging gowns, fur stoles, and light-colored netting that drifts from the brim of her hat down her decolletage, netting which Marlene sensually tucks inside the lapels of her expensive, fitted, suit-jacket.
Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, and Alistair Sim play their roles well, but the focus here is on the two women. No matter what anyone else is saying or doing, we are riveted to Wyman and Dietrich: reacting, not reacting, thinking, strategizing, fearing, moving, being!
It is a great film with twists and turns and an ending I don't expect--no matter how many times I watch it!
Do yourself a favor: turn off the phones, close the shades, and give it a go, eh!!


Saturday, September 11, 2010

BRILLIANT! In Every Facet

Definition of the word "brilliant": extraordinarily full of light and sparkling; shining brightly; vivid and bright in color; magnificent, glorious; outstandingly talented and/or intelligent; a diamond of the finest cut with many facets

I haven't always been a fan of opera, or its singers. And, even now, I am quite particular in what divas I choose to listen to. My exposure has been recent, within the last 20 years, and limited: Maria Callas, Mirella Freni, Montserrat Caballe, and Joan Sutherland. More recently, Catherine Malfitano on TV's Tosca and in person at a San Francisco Opera performance of Madama Butterfly.  But Wednesday night September 1st on Arizona PBS, the most brilliant light I have ever seen or heard startled me and took me captive--Renee Fleming, the "reigning American soprano".
The program:  Great Performances: Renee Fleming & Dimitri Hvorostovsky: A Musical Odyssey in St. Petersberg.  Fleming is our hostess for the delicious trip into St. Petersberg, called the Venice of the north with its palaces, canals, and fountains.  And her diction is a crystal clear in her narration of history, architecture, monarchs, and art as it is in her vocal renderings of operatic arias in perfect Italian, French, German, Russian, and Czech!
The show opens with Renee and Dimitri performing the final duet from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi in the ballroom of Imperial Palace of the Yusupov, Constantine Orbelian conducting The State Hermitage Orchestra.  The room is bright, regal, and gilded.  So is Fleming, who is dressed in a matte-finish gold gown, low-cut, draping from one shoulder,  the hem cut diagonally, exposing a triangle of black web petticoat.  Her light-brown hair is pulled up, blonde-streaked wisps descending to frame her face and highlight large, gold, lacey, shimmering orbs of earring that dazzle with every move.  Dramatic!  Stunning!
Dimitri is white-haired, tall, and handsome in his tuxedo.  But, my God!  Nothing can compete!  Nothing can upstage the stunning vision of Renee Fleming in that dress before she even sings a note!  When she does open her mouth, and that unbelievablly caressing voice comes out, everything and everyone else fade away.  There is nothing and no one in the world but Renee Fleming and her brilliance!
Clutching her breast she sings, "As I lie here at your feet...Trample on my corpse."  The music, the drama pulses in every fiber of her being.  Her voice, her notes lift me up, out of my body to a higher level of awareness.  Fleming is clear, she's strong, she's tender, and astoundingly agile on each ascent and descent of the scale in this triathlon, hitting every note right in the center! All thrilling on their own, but she's an actress, too! So add her physical expression: she bends and turns and rocks and squeezes out the passion, all with suppleness and grace and a power that whirls me like a tempest into the very center of her performance!
Why have I never seen Renee Fleming perform before??
Having Ms. Fleming as my personal guide through St. Petersburg is sublime!  It is a city I have wanted to visit since seeing another PBS special years ago on The Hermitage and its treasures of art, acquired in the main by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762-96.  As a hostess, tour guide, and history teacher Renee Fleming--in black pantsuit with short tailored blazer over  a splash of white with long, shimmery, silver and gold necklace, hair falling to her shoulders now--is chic, articulate, confident,warm and enthusiastic, with an oh, so engaging smile, on her oh, so beautiful face!
The piece de resistance, the creme de la creme, the high point for me came in the Yusupov Palace, in "an exquisite...jewel-box of a theater," where Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt, and Anna Pavlova performed in years gone by.  A recital by each singer, solo, with piano accompaniment.  Dimitri goes first, dressed in black shirt and pants--very Russian; sings beautifully, powerfully, if a bit wooden in performance. Then...Two women walk onstage together, the tall, slender, short-haired blonde in the thin-strapped, black-sequined, floor-length dress and The Diva, her hair falling to her shoulders, back from her face; long, slim, diamond earrings glistening.  The ladies nod to each other.  The tall, slender, short-haired blonde sits at the white, inlaid-marble grand piano and begins to play.  Head tilted to left, The Diva waits in reverie dressed in a rich, ruby-red, off-one-shoulder lush gown with a lacy, ivory-colored stole draping her torso, slipping around her arms, and in full-flare cascading to her feet.  Renee Fleming is backlit by a huge wall of a painting: a child-nymph, bare amidst a luscious garden of greenery and flowers.  The child-nymph's lips kiss The Diva's right shoulder.  The Diva's lipstick matches her rich ruby-red dress, which matches the color of the full-petaled roses in the luscious garden behind.
This is the moment.
The Diva--looking serene, ripe, gorgeous.  She opens her mouth and begins to sing "Don't Sing to Me Fair Maiden" by Sergei Rachmaninov.  She is uncluttered, uninterrupted  by other singers, conductor, musicians, save the pianist.  Renee Fleming.  Alone.  Close-up.  Her eyes announcing in all directions, leaving no one in the room untouched. The Diva's second selection is also by Rachmaninov: Spring Waters.  "Spring is coming, is coming.  We are the young Spring's messengers..." she sings in creamy tones with immaculate technique.  Alone with the music, alone in the frame--save the child-nymph kissing her right shoulder and the flowers in full-petal--Renee Fleming, the Reigning American Soprano, IS the messenger of ALL that is warm and vibrant and elegant and gifted and passionate and beautiful and BRILLIANT!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Mood for Italy

I found myself alone.  A few weeks ago.  For a week.  So, in typical fashion I headed for the local video store to stock up.  I was in the mood for Italy, not a new phenomenon.  Two films came home with me, both of which I had seen before, one two or three times.  Both shot in Italy, forty years apart.  

The sax man squeezes out Arrivederci Roma, Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg are dancing slowly in the torchlit ambience of an ancient ruin turned restaurant and nightclub.  Mastroianni is stunned by Ekberg.  Something in him has been cracked open by her sensuality, innocence, and earthiness. “You’re everything, Sylvia,” he says, “You’re the first woman of creation.” She understands nothing of the Italian he speaks.  Her eyes close, her shoulders undulate, her neck arches back, so  taken is she by the the music.
Anita Ekberg dominates that scene where she dances in some ancient outdoor location that looks like the Baths of Caracalla turned into a restaurant and night club.  She kicks off her shoes and dances with such untamed abandon, but a graceful wildness that is highlighted to the max by that dress: the strapless black work of art with sheer veil-like petticoats underneath, designed with a kind of cape that flares from the waist-back and is slit up the front, in the middle, flashing her long white legs.  This could not have been more stunning in color; the black and whiteness of it are sheer beauty.  Strategic turns and twists and swoops and dips send the dress into eye-catching flare and glide and cascade.  Of course, there are her breasts abundant; how do they ever stay in the dress? 
There could not have been another choice to play the part of Sylvia.  Ekberg is abundant of form and spirit, a voluptuous and vibrant specimen of womanhood.  With her long blonde hair flying left and right, her shoulders rolling, her hands clapping in rhythm, her movements fluid, graceful, sensuous beyond measure, Anita Ekberg is perfection, and by the time she walks into The Trevi Fountain, we, along with Mastroianni, have surrendered utterly.

This is the movie I have seen three or four times now.  Diane Lane does what I think she does best in this film, embodying total vulnerability, fragility, self-deprecating humor, tenderness, and transformation.  The scenes of Tuscany and particularly The Amalfi Coast are enough to get me to watch it again and again.  And the food scenes!  That long table with platter after platter of beautiful and enticing Italian dishes: the pastas, the vegetables, the beans, the meats, the wine!  My god!  I have to cook something delicious after every viewing!
There is, however, a scene in this movie that I had forgotten.  A scene where Lindsay Duncan, one of my favorite British actresses, cast as the eccentric and somewhat bizarre English Lady of Cortona, one night gets drunk on a magnum of French champagne and wanders into the town’s fountain, black strapless dress and all.  She does her dancing, as it were, in the fountain and seems to delight in performing for the crowd that has gathered to watch her. 
In contrast to Anita Ekberg’s Sylvia, who was clearly moving and grooving spontaneously to please her innocent animal self.  Duncan's turn in Under the Tuscan Sun is a beautiful homage to Federico Fellini’s classic scene; to Ekberg, to her timeless and unforgettable performance.
Duncan’s character is elegant, a bit subdued, older than Ekberg’s character in La Dolce Vita, leaner in physique, yet sparkling and luminous, enjoyable, in part I am sure because it recalls the memory of La Dolce Vita, and Ekberg, and That Dress in vivid detail!

Buon Appetito!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Deeper & Darker

Murder on the Orient Express, by Dame Agatha Christie, is reincarnated in the new PBS Masterpiece Mystery production that aired last night.
I usually tape these shows and watch them the next day, but not last night, Josephine!
From the first scenes of Hercule Poirot, slimmer of body and heavier of mood, declaring his principles on law and justice, immediately after which the perpetrator shoots himself in the head splashing Poirot's face with drops of blood, to the scenes of Poirot on the train struggling with what is right action and what is true justice, I was riveted!
Having seen the 1974 star-studded version, I thought I remembered the story quite well, and who the murderer was.  But this new production was so dark, and Poirot was so haunted that it felt like a whole different story.
Have we ever seen Poirot pray?  Did we ever know he was Catholic?  This one scene took Poirot, and me right with him, to such deep levels. Territory we have not traveled together.  And it was thrilling!
I realized toward the end that I had not remembered who the murderer was.  Shock hit me all over again upon learning the truth.  The exquisite cast and direction managed to bring each character to new life, not enslaved by the iconic performances in the earlier famous film.
I have watched many, many Christie mysteries and read others.  This crime is more brutal than all those put together.  Her stories draw me particularly because of the lack of brutality and gore, focusing on the psychological and motivational aspects of her characters and the superb drawing of her sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  After last night I want to know what was going on in Agatha Christie's life at the time she wrote Murder on the Orient Express?  Why the sharp turn to such a brutal crime?
The last scene in the film, which I won't reveal in case you haven't seen it yet, shows a part of Poirot that we have never seen before, that maybe he has never seen before, and it moved me to tears.
The film will be repeated maybe two times on PBS this week.  Check your guide or go to for the listings.  DON'T MISS IT!!

Love and mystery,

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Agatha's Best

David Suchet on the Orient Express...did ya see it?  Last night on PBS?  Wow!  What a fabulous trip, not only on the famed luxury train but also into David Suchet the man.  
For those of you who don't know who David is, let me be the one!  He is an English actor who has become the most exquisite, eccentric, and compelling embodiment of Agatha Christie's legendary private detective Hercule Poirot.  
Along the journey, we are treated to the pianist in the bar car tinkling out the theme from the Hercule Poirot Mysteries on TV, Suchet entering the room to his music.  Regarding Poirot, Suchet says that he would have loved being on this train to observe.  "He is a great observer."  And Suchet mid-word slips from his velvety baritone voice, "He works with-" into the more pinched, breathy tones of Poirot, "-the psychology. Ah! The details, always the lit-tle details, the truth, the facts, Hastings, the facts..."gently pointing his finger to the ceiling for emphasis and breaking into a smile of sheer joy in the character.  And with a twinkle in his eye that betrays a mixture of pride and awe, Suchet says of Poirot,  "He's extraordinary."
The train itself and the journey are mesmerizing.  If you missed the show, it will be repeated Thursday 7/8 at 3 am and Sunday 7/11 at 3 pm.  These are Mountain Time hours.
Of course, all this is a prelude to the first of three Poirots on Masterpiece Mystery this season, which begin on Sunday 7/11 at 9 pm with none other than Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express!
A brand new production starring David Suchet.  Remember the 1974 movie?  Albert Finney as a blustery, snorting, cartoon portrayal of Poirot.  The rest of the cast, of course, was exceptional: Ingrid Bergman in an Oscar-winning role, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Hiller, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, a very young Jacqueline Bisset, and Michael York, directed by Sidney Lumet.  
This PBS production with Suchet at the helm aided by Dame Eileen Atkins, Barbara Hershey, Hugh Bonneville, David Morissey, and Toby Jones, I am sure will at the very least match the intensity of the film, and, I bet you, bring depth, breadth, and that undefinable but oh, so recognizable THING that puts the MASTERPIECE  in Masterpiece Mystery and Theater.  Don't miss it!
On a more high-desert note: took an early walk alone this morning to find a bobcat/lynx sunning itself on my neighbor's low stucco wall!  I greeted it; it looked at me; I blessed it; it looked at me.  Found out on the way back that my neighbor's cat had been lounging on lead on the patio at the same time the lynx was sunning on the ledge!  Wow!  Guess the lynx had already had breakfast.  Maybe they were having a catty conversation?  My neighbor got her feline in safe and sound but was still a bit rattled when I saw her on the way back.  Oooooweeee!  Life in the wild!
All for now.
Love and Poirot!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fire & Rain to FIRE!

Carole King & James Taylor Reunion at The Troubadour in L.A.: Great to see them together, to see them in such an intimate setting, to see them so loving and appreciative of each other.  And the original band backing them up as did fifty years ago??  Let's hear it for longevity!  I have to say that for me Carole's rendition of "I Feel The Earth Move" solo, pumping away at that piano, was the peak.
Other great musical offerings on PBS last week:  Pavarotti: A Life in Seven Arias; Elaine Paige Onstage:
check out her performance from Sunset Boulevard, the musical.  Gloria Swanson, I think, would've been thrilled, for Paige really DID Gloria doing Norma Desmond.  The flare of the eyes, that faraway look, that just-a-little-wild grin.  I had never seen Elaine Paige before, but now I am a convert.
To FIRE: It's June in Arizona, big fire month.  We almost made it through without a threat, but now there are fires close enough, in Flagstaff, to be threatening should the daily wind change direction and blow south.
We are putting together emergency evacuation bags in case we have to get out quickly.  Last time, we had five minutes to leave!  Hope it doesn't happen here this year.
All for now, gotta pack!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What a Birthday!

Hey, y'all!  Just back from two wonderful days on the road in Northern Arizona!  Got a surprise mystery trip to Winslow as a gift for my 63rd birthday. Now, you might think there's nothin' in Winslow worth writing about, but, listen up, my friends, because one of the most wonderful hotels in the world is right there: Mary Jane Coulter's La Posada!  It is a historic complex that reflects the early days of train travel in the West.  Originally a Fred Harvey hotel, it still has it's Harvey Girls, and Boys, serving in the five-star restaurant, and the overall ambience is out of this world. 
Designed by Ms. Coulter to reflect the great haciendas of the Southwest, rooted in the Spanish but influenced by Mexican and local architecture and lifestyle, La Posada IS the experience!  Each hotel room is named for a famous person who stayed there.  For example: Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Howard Hughes, and President Truman!  Gotta love that! 
So what does one do there?  Oh, bask in the sun (or shade) on the patio in the afternoon, rest, read, nap afterwards, or during.  Dress casually for an exquisite meal in The Turquoise Room, stroll in the gardens after dinner and watch the trains pass right by what used to be--in the heyday of Superchief's--the front entrance, dance to classical guitar music in the lounge, watch the stars (not Carole or Clark, but the original ones up there in the vast night sky), sleep like a baby.  Rise at dawn to see the sun making its way above the never-ending horizon, breakfast on baked eggs topped with melted cheese served on a bed of spinach nestled on creamy polenta with a house-baked cinnamon roll and silky hot chocolate made in the espresso machine. Stroll down to "Standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona..." and take some pictures, then check out the trackside train park complete with red cabooses (cabeese?) and gazebo, make your way back to Posada and settle on the porch bordering the spacious, grassy, cottonwood grove to play a game of cards, nod off, or wait for the BN&SF, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe, to roll by and set your imagination to wandering.
Now, many make La Posada their base for visiting the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Monument Valley, and other fabuolous sites in the area-great choice!  I, however, go to La Posada to inhabit La Posada.
Nothing could please me more than to wake-up there on my birthday morning!  Or any morning! 
Do yourself a favor and book it now!
Love to you all,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Where'd I go???

Yo'!  Blogpals!  I have returned!  
I can't believe it's been three months since I wrote to you, but it has.  And that time has been quite miraculous.
Thrilled and delighted I was about getting tickets to all the movies I wanted to view at the Sedona Film Festival, but it was not destined to be.  My back went out after bending over to sign a credit card receipt at a local natural foods store throwing me out of commission for six weeks!!!  I mean I could walk and sit and lie down--but not without excruciating pain!  Pain that would have me shrieking just trying to turn over in bed.
I bucked-up and trussed-up and went to one screening at the Festival: Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney, introduced by my favorite guy Robert Osborne.  Well, I had to get up and stand because my back hurt so much.  I gave up the rest of my tickets and prayed to make it through the ordeal.
I did.  Not without a few dark nights of the soul.  And, I am happy to say, not without maintaining my joy.
Yes, thanks to The Course in Miracles, Network Chiropractic, and a growing communion with The Almighty, I did not get lost in my pain.  Wow!  This is monumental growth!  I have to thank my back for gifting me with the opportunity to clear out that old debilitating stuff.  
The first week in April, when I believed I was finally ready for a road trip in the car, Kathy, Shasta, and I drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  We were in search of Georgia O'Keeffe country.  Man!  Did we find it!  Not only Santa Fe, which houses The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum,  but an hour or so northwest we discovered Abiquiu, the Chama River Valley, Ghost Ranch and all those glorious landscapes that Georgia O'Keeffe lived in and painted so stunningly!  I was in awe every step of the way, so much so that we are planning a longer stay there next spring.  
Up to The Enchanted Circle, northeast of Abiquiui, to a charming Swiss ski resort called Red River.
Nine thousand feet or so up in the mountains, it is a total surprise in the otherwise rugged desert landscape of northern New Mexico.  We will return there for a longer visit also!
Now, I am writing on my next book; setting up a marketing website, which will be up and running by June, I hope, containing free ebooks written by me that promote my other books to the world!!  It's all very exciting!
Having come through the illness and injury of the last six months, I try not to take for granted vibrant good health and everyday mobility.  And, oddly enough, I am lighter and stronger in this new phase of being!!
Catch you sooner rather than later!
Love to you,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Not THAT Complicated!

Fans!  Beat it down to your local theater to see Meryl Streep in It's Complicated.  I belly-laughed out loud so many times during this film that I almost levitated.  Nancy Meyers wrote a terrific script, and the chemistry between Alec Baldwin and Meryl makes every scene they are in together funny, or touching, or both.  Miraculous Meryl is showing us at 60 a new lightness of being and flair for the comedic that we certainly wouldn't have bet on a decade or two ago.  There is NOTHING this woman cannot do!  Thank you, Meryl and YAY!!!
While you're at it, catch Robert Downey, Jr. in Sherlock Holmes.  Jeremy Brett is my favorite Holmes to date, but Downey, Jr. gives Holmes a humanity and humor I have not experienced before with any of the interpretations on film.  Thus, not only did I like the character better but I was surprised and satisfied to be sharing a couple of hours with Robert, Jude Law, and Rachel McAdam: a team I'd like to see again in these roles.
That said, last night I watched the most refreshing film I've seen in a long time:  Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.  Yes, you heard me, the same Davy Crockett we watched as kids with Fess Parker and Buddy, soon-to-be-Jed-Clampett, Ebsen.  My niece Jamie VanBoskirk of Marysville, Pennsylvania for Christmas very thoughtfully gave me a DVD of two Crockett films.  I had mentioned to her that he was a hero of mine growing up, and she gifted me with an inspiring piece of my childhood.  How great is that?  REALLY GREAT for me.  The amazing part is that the story was compelling and touching and funny.  The production had an air of simplicity in its delivery that left me with my breathing intact, maybe even expanded.  Thank you, Jamie.
Taking my book, I Knew It Then, to its first Literary Salon on Sunday here in Sedona.  Up at four this morning choosing passages to read and rehearsing them out loud.  Got it!
Haven't a clue what to make for dinner.  Oh, well, Nicoise olives, Danish Fontina cheese, crusty Rosmary-Sea Salt bread from Wildflower Bakery dipped in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a rich gold in color this time, from Lucca, and a glass of Bolla Bardolino will do the trick anytime!
More culinary tales from la Bella Toscana, beautiful Tuscany, to come...
Love and Peace,