The Happy Returns - Pygmalion
Saturday, July 28, 2012
With no competition from TV or frequent sojourns to the movies I am today a finished product of which my mother, father and grandmother worked on. My father was in my life for 11 years and during those years I experienced strict discipline with a kind smile. I became much like my father not because my father taught me much but because my mother would say, “You are just like your father in this.”
Through my mother I learned of her passion for Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach and Grieg and her passion for reading. Many of the books I first began to read where books she placed in my hand. “Alex try this book by Leslie Charteris
(I thought he was a she for many years). It is about Simon Templar known as The Saint. Your father read all the books.”
My first ventures into sex were the books of Frank G. Slaughter which my mother also passed my way. I particularly liked his novels featuring rather worldly bible characters like The Song of Ruth
. Another author with risqué characters featured Saint Luke in Taylor Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician
. These books prepared me for St Augustine’s “O, God make my holy, but not quite yet.”
My grandmother taught me about art and how artists could get away with almost anything if they claimed to be artists. It was her intervention that saved me from the dreaded whippings my mother gave me with her Filipino chinela (slipper).
All three of them, my father, mother and grandmother taught me about film. They were a collective bunch of snobs who took me to see movies that are now perceived as classics. It was my grandmother who leaned in the direction of Westerns and pirate movies and I came to appreciate Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster and Errol Flynn. It was my father who admired Gary Cooper and I will never forget him taking me to see Beau Geste
My mother’s tastes for movies were far more sophisticated and romantic. She liked Leslie Howard, Ronald Colman, Tyrone Power but best of all Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten. She took me to see many films with Katherine Hepburn who confused my rudimentary idea that women wore dresses and had long hair. I could not make my mind on who this woman was.
By the time we moved to Mexico in 1955 my cultural education was pretty well set. It was around this time that my mother slowly weaned me from Hardy Boys
and Tom Corbett Space Cadet
with Hornblower books by C.S. Forester. The character development in Forester’s Hornblower series is all there between the lines. Somehow you learn very quickly what Hornblower is thinking by what he doesn’t say. I learned subtlety. I learned to appreciate subtlety. When my mother took me to see Captain Horatio Hornblower RN
(directed by the stellar Raul Walsh) wit Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo (a pale copy to Maureen O’Hara in Against All Flags
with Errol Flynn and Anthony Quinn) I too became hooked on Peck. Peck was the perfect Hornblower - uncomfortable with women, stern on the outside and milquetoast on the inside. And best of all you did not have to guess what Peck was thinking. If you had read all the Hornblower books it was patently evident.
I was able to see Peck’s Hornblower film for the second time ever last week. Rosemary immediately lost interest as she does not like violence in movies. Peck had ordered, “Ship witness for punishment. All hands on deck!”
Last night TCM aired Roberto Rodriguez’s (more important with cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa the same cinematographer for John Ford’s The Fugitive
, 1947) La Bandida
with María Felix, Pedro Armendáriz, Emilio (Indio) Fernández (the corrupt Mexican general in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch). This film is not readily available anywhere so I called my Mexican-born daughter Hilary and told her to switch on. But she is unable to get TCM and also showed little interest.
It occurred to me then that this was predictable. In the golden age of Mexican cinema, the 50s I would not have been caught dead seeing any of them. I was not interested in María Felix
whose mannish (she never seemed fragile on screen or off) ways made her a Mexican equivalent to Katherine Hepburn. I did not like Mexican westerns in which the heroes were more likely to duel in a bar with guitar and song and keep their guns holstered. For me Mexican films of the golden era were overblown telenovelas. They were over-acted. Only the artificially blonde Sylvia Pinal lured me to her movies (which unbeknown to me were directed by one Luís Buñuel). I avoided all the films that were based on some obscure writer called B. Traven
. I simply did no know any better and concentrated my movie going experience to seeing anything with Grace Kelly and when allowed by terribly strict Mexican censorship standards, films with Brigitte Bardot.
It was with all that info swirling in my head that I went to Limelight Video
on Broadway and Alma on Thursday to rent George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion
directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard and with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller in her first stellar role.
I try to find films that will entertain and instruct my daughter Hilary, her two daughters Rebecca, 14 and Lauren, 10 while not offending my wife’s prohibition of too much violence, sex and profanity. This can be tough! But to my amazement all enjoyed the film.
Are they now ready for Major Barbara
and The Petrified Forest
? I hope with caution. It was in 1966 that I noticed that a movie theatre in Buenos Aires, on the then wonderful movie row street, Lavalle, was featuring George Cukor’s Romeo and Juliet
with Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, John Barrymore and Basil Rathbone. My mother had spoken highly of this film with loud romantic sighs. I had seen it in my youth and had little memory of it. I took Susie, my gorgeous new girlfriend. What a romantic notion, to take one’s love to Romeo and Juliet.
Even I found Howard too old and Norma Shearer too cold. As for Susie, without saying much she invited me to see Horoshi Teshihagara’s The Woman in the Dunes
. I was shocked and later turned on by the overt sex of the film. Was love to be more that pure romance? Susie taught me that even Hornblower managed to have children so sex, surely was part of it.
Dilithium Crystals At The Vancouver Planetarium
Friday, July 27, 2012
|Lauren Stewart at the Vancouver Planetarium|
I sat down on the heather. Overhead obscurity was now in full retreat. In its rear the freed population of the sky sprang out of hiding, star by star.
On every side of the shadowy hills or the guessed, featureless sea extended beyond sight. But the hawk-flight of imagination followed them as they curved downward below the horizon. I perceived that I was on a little round grain of rock and metal, filmed with water and with air, whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of that little grain all the swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness, with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud sciences, its social revolutions, its increasing hunger for community, was but a flicker in one day of the lives of stars.
If one could know whether among that glittering host there were here and there other spirit-inhabited grains of rock and metal, whether man’s blundering search for wisdom and love was a sole and insignificant tremor, or part of the universal movement!
Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon
As a young boy, I was 8, before any moon landings where on the space horizon I had seen with my parents in a premiere in Buenos Aires Irving Pichel’s film Destination Moon. The film set me on a course of eventually reading every science fiction book I could find in my mid teens to my early youth.
It was in 1968 that Rosemary and I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Cine Latino in Mexico City. It was still our honeymoon. I was dazzled by the film. I had read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story The Sentinel years before. It is only of late that I find out that another of my favourite science fiction writers (a bit in a decline because of his right wing views) Robert Heinlein had written the screen play for Destination Moon.
The Kubrick film, with its dazzling but, by our present standards, restrained special effects has been in me ever since. I do remember seeing Star Wars at the Stanley with my two daughters and I, too was awed by the special effects but this was really a space cowboys sort of thing. It was entertaining but I had no stomach for pseudo spiritualism and “the force”. Not even Alec Guinness could save the film from what it really was for me, space schlock.
In Mexico I had been a fan of La Odisea del Espacio
. This was a dubbed-into-Spanish Star Trek
. I loved all the characters, who in later years when we came to Vancouver I realized that they had voices very close to their real ones in English.
The special effects in La Odisea del Espacio were laughable. People falling in the corridors of the Enterprise during a Klingon attack or the many people shuffling past a window in an episode about an overpopulated planet were simple and not quite adequate.
But Star Trek was never about special effects or about rockets zooming up. For me Star Trek was the conflict between the body, heart and mind which is what we humans are all about. The mind, logic supreme, was Spock; the body with all its impulse and rashness was Kirk. The most important man on board the Enterprise was neither of them but the man who was the go-between, the man who intervened for balance, Doctor Leonard McCoy. Star Trek was a constant development of Doctor McCoy as the buffer between two salient qualities of humans that sometimes seem to be seen at odds.
To my surprise and confusion I could not understand, in 1975 when we arrived in Vancouver why Captain Kirk was promoting bacon and fruit in a series of Super-Valu TV ads. It was then that I found out that Canada had more than Mounties and totem poles to offer to the world.
I have a personal theory that another reason for the success of the original Star Trek, is that its hero, Captain Kirk played by William Shatner, did not take himself all that seriously. There was a tongue firmly in check to be noticed. Patrick Stewart never seemed to understand that the Captain of the Enterprise was not Hamlet, or Henry V. For me The Next Generation
is simply pseudo-sophisticated space schlock.
It was with all that in my head that my son-in-law Bruce Stewart, my daughter Hilary Stewart and their youngest daughter Lauren Elizabeth (10) and I went to the projection of Star Trek 2009 tonight Friday at the Vancouver Planetarium
. I had not seen it before and I was marvellously and pleasantly surprised that the spirit of the original Star Trek was still there.
I also noted that Lauren had that wowness I her face at having seen something that pushed her imagination. The only bitter part of the experience is that my older granddaughter, Rebecca 14 dislikes Star Trek and prefers anything to do with Star Wars. She did not come with us and opted for staying at home.
I believe that the difference in approach here is those who are attracted by the special effects of Batman, and other super heroes and those who appreciate films with a more speculative approach.
We can realize with almost absolute certainty that dilithium crystals will never ever push us beyond the speed of light or that the likelihood of finding a space worm hole to take us from here to there in a wink will not happen ever or at the very least in our present lifetime. We will be lucky to send an expedition to Mars. But we will not escape the gravitational pull of our solar system. We are stuck on Stapledon’s grain of sand. But like Stapeldon’s unnamed dreamer we can wonder the stars with our imagination and special effects be damned.
The next space oriented film at the planetarium, August 10, 8 pm is The Right Stuff
Finding Comfort In A Dominatrix
Thursday, July 26, 2012
I first met Yuliya Kate a few years ago when she was a model at Focal Point where I teach photography. She is striking and elegant. The moment she begins to talk you realize quickly that some sort of argument will ensue. She has opinions. And should you introduce her as Yuliya the woman from the Ukraine you will be lambasted by a verbal barrage explaining that she is from Ukraine and no demonstrative adjective is needed.
My wife and Yuliya have one common defect (for me) and that is that they rarely like anything I do. My Rosemary is my worse critic. It has served me well as she has always pointed out the little things in photographs (a little finger in tension, an example) that ruin them. Whenever I take photographs I have Rosemary somewhere in my brain helping me scan those little offending things. Yuliya does not like any of the pictures I take of her. In some rare situations she has acknowledged that a picture is “not bad”.
Yuliya Kate is a professional dominatrix. I have been to her lair (where I took the picture you see here) and have noted that parts of it resemble areas in sports gyms. There are metal devices. I am simply too old fashioned and perhaps even afraid to inquire exactly what the metal devices are for, or what exactly a dominatrix will do to willing (and paying) clients.
But important to me is that as long as the word dominatrix exists and no ill-advised feminist decides for a one size fits all nomenclature, dominator it means that one of the most beautiful words of the English language will have to stand, too. I cannot imagine anybody saying, “That great American aviator Amelia Earhart” when we can replace that sexless word with that most wonderful aviatrix.
I try to explain to my 88 year old first cousin and godmother, Inesita O’Reilly Kuker who speaks a most beautiful English (the queen of England sounds like her because my cousin is older than the queen) in her apartment in the Belgrano district of Buenos Aires, that back in Vancouver you deal with servers in restaurants, chairs in boardrooms and fishers on boats. She is aghast when I mention sex workers and that beautiful young women with thespian tendencies are now actors.
In her clipped Argentine Spanish she says, “Alexander no te puedo creer.” (I cannot believe you.)
So as long as Yuliya Kate practices her profession I think the world, my world, a world in which stewardesses will never become flight attendants, will be a world in which I will find comfort.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Michael John Unger aka Johny Tomorrow
|Johnny Tomorrow & Harold at the Vancouver Planetarium|
I am a collection of molecules called Johnny Tomorrow
, and I am a traveler of space and time.
Sometimes my mother would interrupt me playing with my action figures to tell me that Star Wars was on TV. Before we got a VHS machine an airing of Star Wars would have been the only time to view it, so you can imagine my excitement. I would rush out of my room in my Han Solo pajamas only to realize that it was Star Trek that was on. My mother always got them mixed up. Perhaps it was a generational thing. Star Trek debuted in 1966 at a time when space exploration was at the forefront of people's minds. Really besides the fact that they are both set in outer space, Star Trek and Star Wars are two completely different franchises. When the Star Trek movies started to come out in the 80’s they paled in comparison to the Star Wars films which drew a line in the sand when it came to the Star Wars Generation in how they felt about Star Trek. The main problem with the movie franchise was that it was portraying characters that were in their prime back in the 60’s so it seemed immediately dated. It wouldn’t be until they smartly revived the franchise for a new generation to rekindle the flavour of the original TV show in its mission to seek out new life, new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before. Still though when translating the TV characters to the big screen, they never quite hit the mark. In 2009 J.J. Abrams released his reboot of the franchise in what would be the 11th to hit the big screen, and despite a string of unsuccessful attempts, this one worked. The core of the success is probably due to returning to the characters that everyone fell in love with back in the 60’s: Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the gang, but setting it on a timeline before the original franchise, telling us the story of their origins. The inclusion of Leonard Nimoy, playing the older Spock alongside the younger Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, reminded people of one of the greatest science fiction characters of all time.
On July 27th the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre will be presenting the Star Trek reboot inside the planetarium theatre with aid of Harold the Star Projector. The Zeiss-Jena-Mach 1 Universal Star Projector came to Vancouver in 1968 from Jena, East Germany weighing just over 2 tonnes. His two heads, four legs and 32 eyes lend to a very alien appearance, but just like Spock there is a human side to Harold. While the logical precision of Harold’s instruments shows the sky at any moment in time, there are humans that have given him colour, personality, and even emotion. David A. Rodger was the original planetarium director and narrator of many of the early shows. John Tanner
presented the very first show in 1968, and still continues to navigate Vancouver audiences through the skies in 2012, and Bill Reiter
has lent his talents to give Harold his “voice”.
I have had the pleasure of working with all of these talents in my travels of time and space and look forward to the meeting of Harold and Spock on Friday.
Johnny Tomorrow -Awe & wonder
|Harold Zeiss & Johnny Tomorrow|
I Was Stunned, Too
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Hey Alex. my my time does fly...
You've got a teen? I can't imagine having a teen at 70! My patience is quite thin at 49...how do you put up with your teen? Mine is 15, a boy and he's a good kid..not at all like his mum was at that age..whew..don't think i could deal with a terrible teen...
Man 70...you're getting up there Alex..I'm aiming for 88 personally..
I live about 2hrs from Pays Basque..nice place..my son is off to the Landes, just near by in August.
I looked at your blog I must say...I had never seen all the pictures, I remember that day, remember the shoot..but my impressions and feelings of that day 21 years ago...are just wisps, not tangible enough to be translated into words.
I have never liked my image at the given moment and...I'm often stunned at how attractive I was. I'm sure it will be the same when I look back at pictures from this époque...I've attached a photo, me 'au natural.
I’ve been here for a while, lived for some time in Paris, then moved to the Toulouse region. I worked at an airline company for 12 years, got laid off for economic reasons recently this year, so I'm enjoying my UI benefits (finally have time just to be) and will have to look for a new job at one point...I've changed men as many times as I have moved house..but this relationship will be my last..at last...;o)
I firmly believe in the expression "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.."
Lots of harmony to you Alex and those you love
Once again thanks for seeing that something in me, that I ignored.
Love at the Arch
David Kerfoot - A Man I Never Photographed
Monday, July 23, 2012
David Kerfoot is a man I never photographed. He was photographed by Doane Gregory with such style that I knew I could never top it. The picture appeared in either Books in Canada
or Quill & Quire
quite a few years ago. I remember that Kerfoot, a longtime employee and manager for one of Celia Duthie’s stores was wearing a white blazer and perhaps a hat.
Only yesterday I called up Gregory to see if he could find the photograph. He seemed doubtful. He was going to look through his film files (Gregory shoots and has been shooting digitally for years) but advised me that he did not own a scanner so he would have to go to a neighbour’s house. Alas that picture and all pictures of David Kerfoot are not on the web.
It was yesterday that I was crossing Cambie at Broadway for a semi-clandestine (it felt clandestine, even though it was not) appointment at Starbucks with Darcy Patko
who fixed my non-operational iPhone 3G in a jiffy while I finished a tall whipped cream macchiato.
While crossing I spotted a familiar man with glasses. I was not sure but became so when I noticed he had a battered and faded Duthies Book Bag
(littera scripta manet) over his shoulder. I went up to him and said, “Kerfoot, it is you but I don’t have time to talk to you because I have an appointment with my iPhone repair man.”
Perhaps 15 minutes later I was walking up Cambie to my car when I spotted Kerfoot sitting at a bus stop by City Hall. I sat down and we chatted, “What are you reading?” He produced a paperback High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby and proceeded to give me a detailed explanation on the excellence of the author.
Believe me I always did trust Kerfoot’s literary tastes. In fact we both shared a passion for Jerome Charyn
(the other who shared our like for the Manhattan writer is George Bowering
). We visited on the bus shelter bench. We traded other favourite books we had recently read. I mentioned that I had loved J.J. Lee’s book The Measure of a Man Lapsed
. I told Kerfoot, “Since you have a sense of style you would really love this book.” He countered with, “ I woul love to read that book. My step-father was E.J. Lee (no relation to J.J. Lee) and my step-brother was Barron Lee
(who had taken over his father’s exclusive Vancouver business in high end suits and dinner wear for men)”. Which explained for me that iconic photo of Kerfoot by Gregory.
The bus arrived and as Kerfoot got on the bus I said, “You are a snob!” With one of those Kerfoot smiles (some people can indeed smile with intelligence and panache) he corrected me, “I am not a snob, I am an elitist and there is a difference.”
Some Of My Plants Don't Bark
Sunday, July 22, 2012
|Hosta 'Hirao Majesty'|
While living in Mexico City in 1972 our big Boxer, Antonio
became ill. He was simply too old so we took him to the Mexican SPCA to be put down. Rosemary was grief stricken. It was then that I understood that the best cure for the sorrow of a dear dead dog was an instant brand new one. I told Rosemary we would return with one. We went to the pen where all the dogs were kept and they all began to bark. I imagined that they were barking, “Take me home. You’ll see what a good dog I will be.” But there was one forlorn gray mutt that was silent and looked at me with such sorrow that I told Rosemary that was our dog. She interjected that he (it was a she) was very ugly. We took him home and Mouche
(she was the colour of an ugly fly). Mouche may have had some Airedale in her blood but it was a very thin part of it. When we left Mexico City for Vancouver we gave Mouche away to our friend Andrew Taylor who kept her until she died of old age.
|Hosta 'Hirao Majesty'|
Walking in the garden today, tinkering, pulling out weeds, deadheading roses I thought of Mouche. My roses bark at me and they beckon me to put my nose to their petals or admire their colour and complexity. Our trees with their handsome peeling bark invite me to pass my hand to feel the roughness through my fingers. I avoid Rosemary’s handsome Astrantias because of their foul odor resembling an unwashed human body.
The variegated hostas stand out and I may not notice the more elegant and stately green ones. The green hostas calm, their different shades of green calm. The variegated hostas bark for attention. Why would I have an identical hosta to a very nice one, Hosta
‘Gold Standard' ? It is variegated and just right by the pond. The other one happens to be called Hosta
‘Captain Kirk’, that’s why!
|Hosta 'Invincible' |
I passed by three hostas, two green, Hosta
‘Hirao Majesty’ and Hosta
‘Invincible’ and the blue one an ordinary small blue one called Hosta
‘Blue Boy’. I looked at their flowers. Two of the plants had flowers that had yet to open. I saw an understated elegance and beauty that did not scream for attention. Not quite the Mouches of my garden, but I did notice them in spite of their botanical quiet.
The other plant that I stopped at in marvel was one of Rosemary’s species rhododendrons, Rhododendron makinoi
. The old foliage (last year’s) is notched by nasty weevils. The new growth, fuzzy like a cat’s ear is pristine, beautiful.
Beauty is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. I miss my Mouche. I looked at Rosemary’s very big cat, the portly Casi-Casi sprawled in the shade. In his own way he is beautiful, too, even though like most cats he will not bark.
|Hosta 'Blue Boy'|
The pictures above are not photographs and I did not use a camera. I carefully placed the above hosta flowers and leaves over my Epson V700Photo Scanner. I call them scanographs and that makes me a scanographer.