Tuesday, 11 March 2014
"When I first began, the technicians, camera and make-up men made me feel so self-conscious that I began to have the biggest inferiority complex about my looks."
"I dreaded doing close-ups."
"Victor Saville used to say to me, Darling, you look beautiful. With his magic and the lighting there was no doubt about it, I looked beautiful."
"So, over my shoulder goes one care
Over my shoulder go two cares
Why should I cry, it's blue above
I'm free at last and I'm in love
Over my shoulder go three cares
Over my shoulder go four cares
Bye bye to trouble, it's gone beyond recall
Over my shoulder goes it all."
Jessie Margaret Matthews, OBE (11th March 1907 – 19th August 1981)
Saturday, 8 March 2014
Friday, 7 March 2014
Dame Kiri te Kanawa was 70 years old yesterday! To celebrate that fact, she appeared on stage in a new production of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden last night for the first time in seventeen years, although it may turn out to be her last.
In a typically camp twist, her role as the Duchess of Crackentorp (normally a non-singing part) has been rewritten to allow her to sing an arietta.
Martin Kettle, in his review for The Guardian, says that despite the role deviating from the original: "Most people won't give a damn. Te Kanawa is operatic royalty and, especially for those who heard her in her prime, it's a joy to welcome her back!" Here she is, talking about the production:
Dame Kiri made her debut at Covent Garden in 1971 and achieved global recognition when she sang at the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana ten years later to a worldwide TV audience of 750 million. In an interview for ITN she says this is “most probably” her full opera farewell. “But it doesn’t mean retirement. One door closes, another one opens,” she said.
Last year she played the part of Dame Nellie Melba in Downtown Abbey, and is reported to have reduced the cast and crew to tears when she sang on set.
Here are a couple more examples of her impeccable craft:
With Frederica von Stade - Guarda mia sorella from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutti:
And the rare full video of The Sorceress (Arias by Handel):
La Fille du Regiment is at the Royal Opera House until 18th March 2014.
Dame Kiri Janette Te Kanawa ONZ DBE AC (born 6th March 1944)
Thursday, 6 March 2014
As "Sweet Sue" in Some Like It Hot:
- "Those idiot broads! Here we are, already packed, Ready to leave for Miami, and what happens? The saxophone runs off with a bible salesman, And the bass fiddle gets herself pregnant. Bienstock, I ought to fire you!"
- "Are you two from the Poliakoff agency?"
- "There are two things I will not put up with during working hours. One is liquor and the other one is men." [To which the classic retort from Tony Curtis as "Joe" was: "We wouldn't be caught dead with men - rough, hairy beasts with eight hands!"]
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
All the world's a stage,One of the most inciteful and influential pieces of writing by history's greatest ever poet and dramatist William Shakespeare, the "Seven Ages of Man" was also an apposite binding theme for an evening dedicated entirely to The Bard, performed solo by one of our finest thespians Simon Callow, that we went to see on Monday.
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow.
Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth.
And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
As Alice Barker says on The Upcoming online magazine:
"Shakespeare with a difference. How could one possibly do Shakespeare with a difference? Many have done Shakespeare with a modern twist and often done so with so-called funny anecdotes and modernisation of his work. But this was a celebration of the life of the greatest writer to have ever lived."And such a celebration! Weaving the factual life history of Mr Shakespeare with a multitude of well-chosen - and brilliantly performed (as one might expect) - examples of his work to illustrate and illuminate his "many parts", Mr Callow had us transfixed.
From the mysteries of the real-life Forest of Arden that must have impressed the infant William (interwoven with the "sprites and goblins" tales of young Mamillius from Winter's Tale), through his schooldays learning grammar and little else, to work and success, to his death at the premature age of 52 (thus escaping the fate of the senile King Lear: "Pray, do not mock me. I am a very foolish fond old man, fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less. And to deal plainly I fear I am not in my perfect mind. Methinks I should know you, and know this man."), we were treated to the full "seven ages" journey, his ups and his downs, his triumphs and his disappointments, his losses and his gains.
And his loves. There were two in William's life - the main one being of course Anne Hathaway, the older woman who taught him so much about (ahem!) passion (she was pregnant with their first child when they wed), and for whom it is presumed he wrote his greatest romances including Romeo and Juliet.
However, his other lover (to whom there was more work dedicated even than to Anne) was the "Fair Lord" - probably the extremely beautiful Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was William's loyal patron. For him, Shakespeare wrote the most wonderful piece of poetry in the English language, Sonnet 18:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?Simply beautiful.
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
And with the mellifluous voice of Simon Callow reading it, even more so.
Here's a taster of the show Being Shakespeare:
Simon Callow: Being Shakespeare is only at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 15th March 2014 - so be quick!
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
Monday, 3 March 2014
Saturday, 1 March 2014
Friday, 28 February 2014
To call Marlene 'lesbian' would not be quite accurate. To call her bisexual would also not tell the whole story. Perhaps 'queer' describes her best or simply, as one commentator said, 'unstraight'.
She made love to those she was attracted to at any particular time in her life, their gender was immaterial. This is extraordinary, given that most of her career was built on being the ultimate fetish object for straight men. The film critic Kenneth Tynan defined this bisexual appeal when he said "she has sex without gender."
"Dietrich was a legendary movie star, but she was much, much more than that - she was a cipher, an allegory, someone who could fulfil any fantasy or fit any construction. But most of all she was entirely her own woman whose amazingly full life was an example that all of us can take inspiration from."Thus Terry Sanderson (president of the National Secular Society and lifelong Marlene obsessive) described his idol, a tribute to whose life he lavishly presented for us last night at the twee Conway Hall as part of the celebrations for Camden and Islington LGBT History Month 2014.
Mr Sanderson took us on a journey all the way from Miss Dietrich's early Berlin life, her transformation from podgy teenager into the glittering god-like creature beloved of photographers, queens and audiences the world over, her determination to decry the devastation the Nazis had wrought upon her homeland and its people (mainly by working her proverbial arse off, entertaining the Allied troops), and her love-hate relationship with Hollywood - and its leading ladies and men.
Juicy titbits emerged, such as the fact she once shared a wealthy lover with Garbo (Mercedes de Acosta), her views on religion were singularly scathing (“I lost my faith during the war and can't believe they are all 'up there', flying around or sitting at tables, all those I've lost,” she said), and her fabled last screen appearance opposite David Bowie in (the universally panned) Just A Gigolo was actually filmed hundreds of miles away from her co-star as she refused to leave Paris for the studio in Berlin where the film was being made; they had to build a re-creation just for her, opposite her apartment.
But it was her sexual allure and defiant self-determination that most explains her enduring legendary status, and it remains a favourite topic of gossip even today.
According to her daughter Maria's tell-all biography/expose, "Marlene used sex as a kind of weapon in her affairs with men - she didn't actually care much for "it". It was a way of controlling and manipulating them. With women it was different. Marlene actually enjoyed the sex, and the relationships were much more satisfying for her."
The late Maximilian Schell (who made an academy award-nominated documentary about Marlene in 1984) said of her: "She was a typical Berlin woman who could handle king and beggar with equal adroitness, and she was totally open about her homosexual relationships. I had the impression that Marlene did not converse with the people she met but rather wanted to provoke them. There was a spirit of confrontation in the air wherever she was."
Among the rarer bits of footage Terry Sanderson unearthed for our delight was this clip of her successful audition for The Blue Angel - as Mr Sanderson said, "I wouldn't have liked to be that piano player!":
To conclude his cornucopia of uber-camp clips of Dietrich at her most alluring (an exotic dancer in in Kismet; "that lesbian kiss" from Morocco; the smouldering vamp in Shanghai Express and Desire) and most surprising (arriving in a gorilla suit in Blonde Venus; brawling and boozing in Destry Rides Again), Mr Sanderson provided us with a real treat - Marlene's Stockholm concert in 1960, when she was absolutely at the top of her cabaret success, in full.
And here it is. Enjoy!
Read Terry Sanderson's full article on Marlene in the Huffington Post.
Marlene Dietrich website
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
From her obituary by Paul Levy in The Independent:
Fanny Cradock was a preposterous character, the foodie you loved to loathe. With her monocled husband Johnny, both of them dressed for going to a ball, rather than working in a kitchen, the pair delighted and astonished television audiences in hundreds of early cookery programmes, starting in 1955. In Kitchen Magic they put on airs as they demonstrated souffles and eclairs. It was not a parody, however, but Fanny and Johnny's genuine idea of how our social betters wined and dined.
In a mocked-up studio kitchen, Fanny, with a pinny over her evening gown, kept up a constant flow of chatter, quite often disparaging Johnny's knowledge of food, while she busied her hands in the flour-jar. Johnny (in his dinner-jacket), whose knowledge of wine originally began and ended with Barsac, showed he had learnt a little something about wine, but accepted his wife's chastisement on matters culinary. Rationing had just ended and viewers adored the performance.
Fanny always claimed that she was born to the bon viveur classes. The vulgar title the Cradocks used for their cookery and restaurant columns in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, "Bon Viveur", is a mid-19th- century expression for one who lives a life of luxury, and was chosen over the protests of the women's editor of the Telegraph, who pointed out that the correct expression was bon vivant, "gourmand". Fanny's common touch paid off: in a later dispute with the Telegraph, she cited the earlier argument, and they ceded copyright in the title to her. Though she was contemporary with Elizabeth David, she had litle in common with the high priestess of post-war food; rather, Fanny Cradock was the Lady Docker of food...
...I cherish a 1959 volume called Wining and Dining in France with Bon Viveur, which contains the Cradocks' extraordinary advice on how to choose a restaurant. It begins, "Avoid establishments hemmed in by a fringe of mouth-organ motor-cars from the U.S.A." and continues, "Pay absolutely no attention whatever to motoring organisation symbols of recommendation... Never expect to eat and drink really well where there is a sign out `diner-dansant'! Eat first, dance afterwards and get the best out of both."
The Cradocks' secret was the snobbery and pretension of the times. In the post-war era they made their hungry, servantless readers and viewers feel they still belonged to an elite. They chided their readers to "stop fussing about those confounded lavatories. Use the pedals or the privies without complaint. Some of France's most primitive establishments provide some of France's most memorable meals."
As for the food itself: "It is ridiculously simple to make a good souffle. It is monstrously hard to roast a gigot of lamb to perfection, to cook a proper piece of calf's liver (which no English butcher has yet learned how to cut)... it is impossible to find a real potato salad in the British Isles (except in a few private houses of course)."
This is what the Cradocks' audience wanted to hear - that and the abuse Fanny heaped upon the heads of everyone from her fellow television presenters to Margaret Thatcher (she "wears cheap shoes and clothes"). It was a far cry from the foodie revolution of the 1980s.
"Carping about the way cabbage is cooked in Britain is like shooting a sitting bird with a gun that isn't licensed, on a Sunday out of season."
"There's only one convenience in convenience food: profit for the manufacturers. It's a load of muck."
"The enormous increase in Italian restaurants since the war has given pasta a head start, and although a considerable incursion has been brought about by the pizza, I do not think this will be permanently ensconced."
"When it comes to cooking, the best friends of a working woman with a family are a three-tiered steamer and a casserole."
"We approached our new microwave oven with the trepidation of two people returning to a reactor station after a leak."
"To adults the language of 'disco' participants is as esoteric as that of two scientists swapping gen on germ warfare."
"If people really want to be conned into paying out two and three hundred pounds for a restaurant dinner party, then prices will continue escalating until there is one monumental explosion."
Fanny Cradock (born Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey, 26th February 1909 – 27th December 1994)