Milady & The Young Girl In The Red Dress
Saturday, November 19, 2011
It takes a good man to prevent a catastrophe, Milady, and a great man to make use of one. You and I, my dear, are rare new creatures in this ancient world of impulsive men. We have intellect. We think. And when we think, our impulsive enemies are helpless.
Vincent Price (Cardinal Richelieu) to Lana Turner (Milady)
When she was a 14-year-old nun she ran away from a convent with a young monk. To finance their escape they stole a communion plate from the vestry. But they were caught and the local enforcer branded them as punishment. Before they could be jailed they managed to escape. Under the cover of being brother (he a priest) and sister they arrived at a town where the son of the local big wig fell in love with the beautiful young girl. Even though his parents objected to his planned wedding, she was a commoner, the son married her. Not much later while riding in a forest she fell and her husband noticed her tattoo on her shoulder. He now knew she was a felon and in rage strung her up and hanged her from a tree.
Meanwhile the “priest” was found and was executed by that local enforcer who happened to be his brother.
The young girl, who had somehow survived the hanging, married again but poisoned her husband and was responsible for the death of several other men and at least one woman.
The woman she poisoned, Constance Bonacieux, happened to be the wife of a famous French swordsman by the name of d’Artagnan. The poisoner was Anne de Breul, Comtesse de la Fere, Clarice, Lady de Winter.
For those who have read Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers
or seen any of the many films made, she is simply known as Milady.
To most that may have a passing interest in villains, the villain-of-them-all might be Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 novel Blood Meridian
. The man has no redeeming qualities.
To me he pales in comparison to Milady. If you happen to read again (or for the first time) The Three Musketeers
you will notice that of all the protagonists of the novel (most of which came from real life) Malady is the only real literary manufacture by Dumas. There are some who think that she is the focus of the novel and that the plot revolves around her evil machinations.
Today we watched George Sidney’s 1948 The Three Musketeers
with Gene Kelly, Vincent Price
, Angela Lansbury, Van Heflin, Keenan Wynn and June Allyson. My two granddaughters, Rebecca and Lauren, their mother Hilary and my wife Rosemary sat in the den after a meal of paprika chicken. I had several thoughts. Some of them had to do with the fact that I had taken portraits of Lauren, wearing a beautiful red dress, earlier in the day where she had looked at my camera with a seriousness that went beyond her age.
One of them was that I had been Lauren’s exact age,9, when I had first seen this film. I had been scared to death by the trial and execution scene of Milady at the end of the film. I was even more afraid in earlier scenes when Turner, whose face was exquisitely scary, without a hint of makeup, was lit by lightning inside the Duke of Buckingham’s castle. She leaves the castle (you do not see her face) later and you see blood in her hand. It is scary, so scary and no special effects can serve as a distraction.
Turner’s performance as Milady is for me a tour de force that was never matched even by Faye Dunaway in later films. Many might complain of her over-the-top costumes but to me she was the beauty of death personified. While Dumas’s characterization is far nastier than that of Sidney’s film Turner is superb in carrying out the idea of all the men who self destruct or lead a life of drink (Athos) for having met her.
I watched Lauren as she watched the TV screen. I wonder what she thinks of this woman who is as evil as evil can be? Lauren’s expression was most serious and at one point she sat on the floor leaning on her mother’s leg. Was this for comfort?
|A Musketeer in the Time of
by J.L.E. Meissonier
All I can hope for is that someday she might borrow my Penguin Classic and read for herself why The Three Musketeers
endures and why Lana Turner’s role in the 1948 film may have been her best ever.
As for me I am reading The Three Musketeers, yet again.
De Capa y Espada
Malaya - Embedded In My Head
Friday, November 18, 2011
A couple of days ago I noticed that TCM was about to screen Malaya
. I had not seen the film since 1950 when I had accompanied my parents for the viewing. I told Rosemary that the film was worth watching as it had Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Sydney Greenstreet, John Hodiak, Lionel Barrymore, Gilbert Roland and the Chinese American actor Richard Loo who played (this was a perennial role for him ) the scary and ruthless Japanese officer.
|Richard Loo, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart
I began to think about Malaya, I would call it war noir
, which was directed (1949) by Richard Thorpe and I was amazed that there were many immediate images of the film that came to mind. The overall ones involved men wearing hats and all of them were dressed in white. I remembered that these men would go up and down with their hands on the wooden blinds of a hotel to get attention. I remembered a white cockatoo that was always laughing at Sydney Greenstreet who was constantly mopping his brow with a large handkerchief (Tracy’s character describes him as: He looks like the moon in a pail o' beer.) I remembered Mexican actor Gilbert Roland, not wearing white but a horizontally striped T-shirt. I remembered that the theme song of the film was Blue Moon. I remembered that a hot Italian, Valentina Cortesa (real name Cortese) sang it and that she was faithful to Tracy and followed him to a certain death except for an extraordinary action by Tracy, a most romantic one, that I will not reveal here. I remember that the film was about smuggling rubber out of Malaya and that there was one very oily villain, Bruno Gruber, a German ("I have not been in Germany for so many years that I cannot possibly be a Nazi," he says to Tracy) played by a mustachioed Roland Winters.
|Sydney Greenstreet, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy
Where possible I did not tell Rosemary what was going to happen and yet I knew the film very much like Tracy said he knew Malaya, like the palm of my hand.
Malaya, like one of Len Deighton’s embedded moles has been in my head all these 61 years ready to spring when needed. Rosemary says it is a sign of my old age that I can remember something in detail from my youth yet I will miss a doctor’s appointment on any given day unless she reminds me.
|Spencer Tracy, Valentina Cortesa & Gilbert Roland
I wonder how Malaya, unknown to me might have affected how I dealt with people in my life. The nasty Japanese, in the end does not betray Tracy for money but for love of country. The only real villain is Gruber. The rest, including the apparently soulless Stewart, all somehow become whole again and even the Dutchman, Sydney Greenstreet, as cynical a man as ever appeared in film,
You'd better let me do the talking. Probably the only thing standing between you and eternity is my vocabulary.
seems to be happy to receive a medal in the end. And as for John Hodiak, he is one of my fave actors of all time. The film of his to see is Battleground
, 1949, directed by William Wellman. My parents took me to see that film, too.
They, those films, have left an indelible mark in me.
Video clip with Lionel Barrymore
The Cat Lady Is Us
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Ever since I was a little boy I have been attracted to all sorts of animals. In our Buenos Aires home we always had some sort of animal. Most came from my Uncle Tony as his wife protested having any pets in their apartment. So he cast off in our direction, collies, poodles, a deer and I brought a tero (an Argentine collared plover) from a summer at “camp”. The poodle took care of the tero and we soon gave up on animals.
I tried to bring cats into the house but they would mysteriously disappear in a few days. I blame my mother as she did not like cats.
|Antonio in Veracruz
In the 60s in Veracruz she had a pair of beautiful Boxers and she gave us the male, the older specimen, called Antonio.
My neighbour friend Felipe Ferrer, who was to become the chief of the federal police in Acapulco went as far as asking me if I had some sort of hidden border living with us. “Who is this Antonio you keep calling or shouting at?” We were much too stupid then to understand that a back garden was not enough space for a dog. We never walked Antonio. Nobody knew we had him
I finally had to take him to the SPCA to put down. He was much too old and sick. It was then that I came to understand that to lessen the loss of a pet you acquired one immediately. Rosemary and I came back with a mutt (quite ugly) we called Mouche as she was colored like a fly.
Mouche was not fixed and she was always having puppies nobody wanted. This was a problem and I will not go into the details on how I handled the problem. When we left Mexico for Vancouver we gave Mouche away to our friend Andrew Taylor who gave Mouche all the attention she deserved and she died of ripe old age.
|Gaticuchi makes the cover
In the late 70s when we lived in Burnaby we lived next to a woman (we thought she was eccentric) who had a dipsomaniac of a husband and she was always talking to her cats. She was the neighbourhood “cat lady” - does not every neighbourhood not have one?
We finally had a cat, a cute kitten that stared at our two young daughters from the window of a garage. I could not say, “No!” to them.
This was our first cat, Gaticuchi. Since then we have had 6 cats not including our present Casi-Casi, an 18 pound male owned by Rosemary, and Plata my sophisticated little female who is now 14 years old, Most of our cats came via the SPCA and looking back at all our felines, I would suppose that had I been another of our neighbours in Burnaby I would find that we are not less eccentric than the “cat lady”.
Rosemary talks to Casi-Casi in a way that makes me wish the early years of our marriage would suddenly come back. In those days Rosemary called me Cheri and she was melodious in her conversations with me. Those days seem to be gone and I feel most jealous of the attention Casi-Casi gets. Since this makes Plata jealous she sits on her lap for attention.
But I do get attention from Plata. When I arrive in the Malibu, she comes to car door as I get out and makes a unique little noise and jumps up so I can pet her on her head. Plata also walks with my two granddaughters and in the summer. We go around the block to the surprise of our Oriental neighbours who have never seen a cat that acts like a dog.
Plata is particular about where she gets her water. As an older cat her kidneys are beginning to fail so she drinks lots of water. We have a dish in one of the bathrooms, a drinking fountain I the kitchen, one outside but, her favourite source is the water from the tub. When I get in she comes around and gets on the ledge. I pour water from the tub and she laps it up. Then she stays and keeps me company.
Am I the “cat lady”? Perhaps.
Meg Roe, A Fenómeno Of The Penelopiad @ The Stanley
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Looking back at those rosier periods of my life I find that even those extremely boring commencement speeches I had to suffer through both as a student and as a teacher now seem less boring. These speeches always included two words, two very important words, excellence and passion. In those times past I could hear our own ears shutting loudly like a slammed door at the mere utterance of either of those words. Every once in a while a third word was added, one that still makes me cringe, responsibility.
When Rosemary, our two daughters and I came to Canada in 1975 we missed the bright colours of the Mexico we had left. We missed the passion and the outward manifestation of feelings of its inhabitants. We found Canadians as cold as Vancouver tap water.
But by the late 70s I had found that passion and excellence did exist if one knew where to look. I found it in the guitar playing, and singing of Art Bergmann
and in an unforgettable performance as Richard III by Christopher Gaze
. Slowly I saw glimpses of it in our local dance community. And when I saw Evelyn Hart
for the first time I equated her performance with that of Mexican and Basque jai-alai players I had seen in Mexico City’s frontón
or in the bullfighting of such luminaries as Paco Camino and Don Álvaro Domecq. In Spanish this kind of brilliant, passionate excellence can only ooze out from fenómenos
. Fenomenos and their talent have no rational explanation. This word defines those, one-of a-kinds who are above most of us. We can aspire to try to be like them but in most cases we can only glory and be humbled at having experienced them in a performance, and, better still, thrill, if we are so lucky, at actually having met them in person.
That is but an overture for the real theme of today’s blog which is about Meg Roe's role in that play The Penelopiad
that is on until the 20th (this Sunday) at the Stanley. The play, adapted by Margaret Atwood from her novella by the same name is an excellent play. It is a play all should see before it closes. I could go on and on, to no avail of persuading any who might read this to see and experience it.
But if like me you are tired of the middling mediocrity of our time, of concert pianists, violinists and cellists with crazy hair that all play the same, with great skill, but with no apparent (to me) passion, I have the right ticket for you.
Go to experience (and it is an experience) the virtuoso performance of Meg Roe who in what appears to be an effortless performance (she is far prettier but what Spencer Tracy used to do comes to mind) that quickly made me almost ignore the 10 other women on stage (all good actresses in their own right).
should be savoured as a one woman show which proves why it is that I go to the theatre in Vancouver. More often than not, I will find excellence and passion and my ears will be wide open for punishment and glad of it.
As for Meg Roe there is only one word, fenómeno.
A catharsis at the Miracle Worker
TB Or Not TB?
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Rosemary and I watched Carol Lombard, Brian Aherne and Anne Shirley in a 1940 medical “dramón” Vigil in the Night
which was directed by George Stevens.
The film has some scary scenes (for me and I will explain) of children in an isolated ward who mostly dying of a disease, diphtheria that is mostly unknown now.
Diphtheria was still ravaging the world in the late 40s as I remember that every year we were given a vaccine at school. This vaccine was administrated (very much the way a picador pushes his lance into the bull) as in injection somewhere in the middle of back at the spinal column. This vaccine made me pathologically afraid of all needles. When possible, throughout my lifetime I have taken pills when possible.
I have been brave enough when the rewards outweighed my fears. Such was the case of my donating blood every three months when I was in the Argentine Navy. There was an almost unknown statute of naval regulations that stipulated that donating blood and the presentation of an affidavit confirming the donation gave the conscript a free day the day after. I donated blood at the British Hospital in Buenos Aires. My donation included a “thé completo” which included scones and “sanwichitos”.
But whenever I have to go for a blood test (and that has been frequent in the last few months) I warn the nurse that I have been known to faint at the sight of my blood or the needle.
It was about a year ago that my pinkies became large and painful. I thought I had the gout and since I never drink claret or have greasy foods I decided I was going to buy some good wine and drink to see if the fingers would get worse confirming my suspicion of having gout. My GP did not agree and sent me to a doctor (and here is where all the fun begins) who happened to have been born in the Mexican State of Tabasco. In all my years in Mexico I had never ever met anybody from Tabasco.
Doctor … is short, very fit and he sports a military haircut. In Mexico we would have instantly guessed he was a “médico militar” whose reputation in Mexico is unparalleled for brilliance.
Doctor… looked at the vertical striations on my finger nails and told me, “You have psoriatic arthritis.” I thought this odd as I have never suffered psoriasis. For many years I had equated psoriasis with scabies. The medicine used to control this somewhat rarer form of arthritis is called Methotrexate. I was prescribed (and soon found out the folks at Blue Cross will not pay for it) to take it and after a couple of months I felt no relief. Doctor… said that the medicine worked better in conjunction with a daily dose of sulfa. And he added that the Methotrexate was more effective if injected weekly.
Close to nine months later I am in fear of the evening, once a week when I must inject myself (on my thighs). The sulfa did not help but it gave me dizzy spells, a constant bitter taste in the mouth, a loss of appetite and worse of all I did not want to drink my favourite daily tea.
Doctor… told me that any medicine that reduced my appetite was good as I would lose weight! I stopped the sulfa after my GP told me to take it for two weeks then not take it for two weeks to see if there was a difference. There was I was drinking my tea on those sulfa free weeks.
Doctor… had a Plan B and a Plan C. Plan B was to take some pills (with the Methotrexate ) that was known to attack bone marrow if a particular enzyme was not in my blood. I was sent for a blood test (expensive as no BC Medical plan pays for it) that was sent to the US. I did have the enzyme and I soon started to take those pills with no measurable improvement.
Plan C is very expensive and even worse for the immune system than all the other medicines. But plan C cannot be given to anybody who has had tuberculosis. So I was sent to the BC Tuberculosis Clinic on 12th Avenue for a blood test. I was told that if where I was injected became infected it meant that I had TB in my system. I returned next day clean as a whistle. But I was told to come back for a just-in-case chest X-Ray.
The X-Ray technician did her job, smiled at me and told me everything was fine.
A week later I received a letter from the TB Clinic enquiring why I had not returned. They had called my GP who called me to find out what was going on.
The night before my re-scheduled appointment I had visions of them having found some sort of tumor, a cancerous one, or the remnants of an unknown type of until now not virulent consumption. When I left the house I told Rosemary to plan how she was going to spend y life insurance.
After going from one attendant to another, I finally went into an office where I saw a very English and very serious female doctor who told me to close the door.
The of course had found some small lesions in my left lung. I had had pneumonia a couple of years ago. But she was precise in telling me that since I had lived in Argentina and Mexico (she did not use the words “Third World” but implied them) they had to be sure. They did not want me to walk around Canada infecting people left and right, or is that right and left? You see I am a dyslexic.
So I have no TB but my psoriatic arthritis isn’t going away. But then there are some surprising benefits. How many out there can claim not only knowing a former inhabitant of the state of Tabasco but also one who happens to be a doctor who is about to patent a proven method for losing weight?
I might inform Doctor ... that I have Plan D in the works. This plan has me not taking anything and simply grinning and baring it. No more needles!
Hilary & A Butterfly Net & Ale In A Canoe
Monday, November 14, 2011
One always thinks about what might have been if one…The fact is that we live the life we chose within the limitations (that few of us know) of what we think is free will.
I often wonder what may have been of my life if Rosemary and I had sold our house in Arboledas, Estado de México as soon as we put it on the market. We had quit our jobs teaching and we were ready to move with our two daughters, seen here, to Vancouver. The house did not sell. It was 1974. To make ends meet I decided to make my hobby of photography help us pay while we sold. I was equipped with a clunky 35mm Pentacon F
and a slightly better Pentax S-3
. I had four lenses, a 120mm, an 85mm, a 50mm and a 28mm. I used Kodak Tri-X. I had a little darkroom in the bathroom of our garage/shop. Rosemary helped me get clients which ended up being wealthy Mexican families
with children. Before I knew it I was making very good money. Nobody was doing then what is now called environmental portraiture. The photo studio was king in Mexico. By word of mouth I was getting many clients while suffering the travails of poor availability of photographic paper and the fact that I had to dry mount the photographs on board using a common clothes iron.
My friends in the neighborhood told me that fate was holding me back in Mexico and that I should stay and make my fortune there. But we had made our decision. We sold and we left for Vancouver.
I do believe that a year of taking those portraits in Mexico prepared me well for what I was going to eventually do which is to photograph people for magazines.
In yesterday’s blog
there are some pictures of my oldest daughter Alexandra. I took them on our way to a wedding on Bowen Island. Here are three pictures of my younger daughter Hilary who was 11. Unlike the more tomboyish Ale, Hilary liked white, frilly dresses> I don’t remember where we got the butterfly net but we used it as a prop.
Thanks to my scanner I can now enjoy these pictures. Not again as the first time around I may have only looked at them under a loupe and decided to print a few at a future date. Then I got busy…
Again I must point out the special quality of the sadly gone Kodak Technical Pan film.
Killer Sequence On BC Ferries & Rice Pudding
Sunday, November 13, 2011
I feel I must continue with yesterday's nautical theme, since as I was while filing stuff I found an envelope with the title: Ale + Hilary – Bowen Island and Ferry. There are many nice photographs in this bunch. There was no date but since we knew we had gone to Bowen Island to attend the wedding of Clemen, our former Mexican housekeeper, we knew the date to be April 1983. Now that I have that date I can go to the 1983 family file where I know I have the colour negatives and slides to match this envelope of all b+w (35mm) pictures.
In 1983 I was still keen on using Kodak Technical Pan Film in 35mm (they had still not come out with the 120 version for my Mamiya). In those days I was still not using Nikons but a Pentax Spotmatic F with threaded lenses and Pentax MX with a bayonet mount. I liked to bring a small Sunpack flash that fit on the hot shoe over the Pentax Mx. That combination was the one I used to shoot rock bands and rock band concerts for Les Wiseman’s In One Ear column in Vancouver Magazine
The sequence you see here of my daughter Alexandra who was 14 is with that remarkable Tech Pan film with its extended red sensitivity which is so startling in its reproduction of skin. Because Tech Pan was slow film (ISO 25) I would be pretty sure of my exposure here. I would have been 1/60 at f-11 and my Sunpak would have been set for the same f-1. The Sunpak was not too accurate so I believe that its automatic eye might have given a touch more light. In those days I was hampered (its explanation is a bit beyond the purpose of this blog) by my Pentax’s cloth focal plane shutter which could synchronize (at its fastest) with flash at 1/60 of a second. The Nikons I was going to one day get would synchronize at 1/125 and eventually at 1/250 second. That gave a photographer more control when mixing flash with daylight on a sunny day. What saved me here was the slowness of Tech Pan. Using the sunny 16 rule which stipulates that the correct exposure on a sunny day is f-16 with a shutter that is the reciprocal of the ISO it meant that my initial exposure to consider was f-16 at 1/25. To alleviate the power of my Sunpak and to cut the camera shake and movement of the ferry f-11 at 160 was a better combination.
"Whatever," as my youngest granddaughter Lauren would say, the combination produced this startling sequence which serves to remind me that as long as I don’t look at myself in the mirror, that I can safely say that in my family I have always been surrounded by great beauty.
An in spite of whatever we might criticize our BC Ferries for, and specifically that a Sunshine Breakfast will make any day a cloudy one, I must point out that a ferry boat and wind in the hair is a dynamite combination.
The other colour pictures of Rebecca, on one of the Spirit vessels to Victoria, I have placed here as proof for the pudding (If you have tried the excellent rice pudding served in the BC Ferry’s buffet lounge you will know what I mean!). I took them with my iPhone 3G so they have their limitations but I still think they are beautiful.
Romance on the BC Ferries
The Bishop and Rice Pudding