Sunday, August 28, 2011

For ABC Wednesday and Magpie 80

"G" is for "Genevieve"

This week’s Magpie prompt reminded me – the prompt always reminds me of something – of a highly unusual French film of a few decades ago. Perhaps you’ve seen it:

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”
What’s unusual about it? Well, the producer had the audacious idea of making a motion picture, a love story – all in song.
Might sound like a bad idea at first thought, but the combination of the music of Michel Legrand and the beautiful colors of the film, along with Catherine Deneuve when she was a young beauty, made it a hit.

Catherine Deneuve, of course, is one of the most famous French movie stars, having made over a hundred films. In "Umbrellas," she plays a young girl named Genevieve, who helps her mother run a chic umbrella shop.
The rather startling thing about this film is that all the dialog, even the most mundane, is sung. I got a kick out of the way the film begins: it’s a garage and a customer has come to claim his car.

Customer (returning to the garage): "Finished yet?"
Mechanic (working on car): "Yep. The engine still rattles when it’s cold, but that's normal."
Customer: "Thanks."
Mechanic: "You bet."
Boss (in the background): "Hey, Foucher--could you stay an extra hour tonight?"
Mechanic: "Tonight would be a problem. But I think Pete’s free. Pete -- could you stay later tonight?"
Pete: “Okay."
Boss: "Fine. Check the ignition of this Mercedes."

There are not many scenes from opera or operetta like that; funny thing, it seems to work.
The love story: the 20-year-old garage mechanic has to leave for two years of military service in Algeria. He and his girl friend, Genevieve, are madly in love and swear to be true to each other. However, he doesn’t write (because he’s been wounded), so she, learning that she’s enceinte, as they say, winds up marrying a different guy.
So the film isn’t a happy-go-lucky romance; you can detect overtones of “Romeo and Juliet” in it, in spite of the bright colors of the umbrellas in the umbrella shop. It’s a tale of love unfulfilled, made very relevant for the time because the characters have to deal with the tragedy of the Algerian War, France’s civil war.

This struck home to me when I saw the film. I was in France in 1962, the year the civil war was at its peak. Right-wing generals of the French army had promised never to give up their treasured colony, Algeria, and vowed to invade to defeat the French government and assassinate President Charles de Gaulle. There was fear everywhere in the city of Paris at that time; people expected paratroopers to drop from the sky, kill the president and take over the country.
They especially feared plastic bombs; they were thought to be everywhere. I was shooting a film at that time and I dropped into a cafe for coffee. Without thinking, I stowed my camera equipment under a nearby table. The place suddenly emptied out and a couple of cops showed up on the double. I managed to convince them I was an innocent American who had nothing against de Gaulle. :-)
To get back to the film, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” has become a classic – probably because there aren’t many of its kind – and can be enjoyed today.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

For Sunday Scribblings and ABC Wednesday

“F” is for “Fish”

For those of us who belong to an older generation, today’s popular music is often difficult to appreciate. It doesn’t always seem to make sense.

How different, then, is an old song I heard recently on the radio. Way back in the late 1930s it was the top hit of the land, primarily because of its touching, beautifully nuanced lyrics, very unlike so much of the “music” of today. It was sung by the Andrews Sisters, whom you may have heard of because of their careers in grand opera.

With this song, the Andrews Sisters, aided by their muse, were able to bring out overtones of tenderness and sadness, of serenity and tranquility, as well as of deep psychological understanding.

Join with me now as we study their unforgettable lyric:

Hold tight, hold tight,
Want some sea food, Mama?

I like oysters, lobsters too,
And I like my tasty buttered fish, foo!
When I come home late at night
I. Get. My. Fav. Or. Ite. Dish:

Hold tight, hold tight,
Want some seafood, Mama?

They just don’t write songs like that any more. :-)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Magpie 79

It happened eighty years or so ago.
My grandfather, proudly driving his handsome 1928 Model A Ford – he was young in those days -- was paused at a stop sign in his home town.
A car pulled up alongside him, waiting at the same stoplight.

Grandad smiled and signaled “hello.” The folks in the other car smiled and responded. They could not have known how low he was in spirit.
Something had happened back in New York, down in lower Manhattan, on Wall Street. They called it the Great Crash of ’29. My grandfather’s business, the company he had founded a decade earlier, was wiped out, almost overnight. He suddenly found himself without a job.
Today, so many are experiencing what he experienced. It seems to me that there’s a song of our time that sums up how he must have felt as he waited at that stop light and regarded the smiling folks in the other car. Do you know the song?

I don't know who you are but
I’m with you,
I’m with you.

I’m looking for a place,
I’m searching for a face.
Is anybody here
I know?

Cause nothing's going right
And everything's a mess.
And no one likes to be

I don't know who you are but
I’m with you,
I’m with you.

He had his trusty folding Kodak on the seat next to him; he grabbed it and caught a quick picture of the group in the other car, a photograph that remained hidden in an album somewhere for over eighty years.

I don’t know who you are but
I’m with you,
I’m with you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

For Sunday Scribbling and ABC Wednesday

“E” is for “Major Eberhart”
(Summer, 1944)
“Come in, come in, Colonel. Sit down. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“The pleasure is mine, Ma’am. I hope you’re comfortable here in the hotel.”

“Oh, yes. The Forum is a fine hotel. By the way, we’ve known each other for quite a while; call me Anna.”
“Oh, no, Ma’am. I mean, the General’s wife…”
“Couldn’t we forget all that General’s wife thing for a while? I feel almost as though I was here on vacation. You see, Colonel, I know Bratislava well; I went to school here as a teenager. And now, here I am staying at the famous Hotel Forum.”
“Ma’am, I do apologize for bringing this up, but Major Eberhart has put out an official proclamation doing away with the old name of this city, Brato...”
“Yes. Since March of ’39, this city has a new name, a proper German name: ‘Pressburg.’ That is the only name that we can use when referring to this city in either conversation or in writing.”
“And that is on the orders of – Major Eberhart?”
“Colonel, I’m a little puzzled. My husband placed you in command here until he arrives next month. You certainly outrank a major. Why is this Eberhart giving orders?”
“Well, Ma’am, it’s a bit complicated. I realize you are new to the army and it must be confusing at times. It’s just that this is the way things are done”

“Is Major Eberhart SS?”
“Yes, but that has nothing to do…”
“I see. Don’t worry; I’ll say no more about it.”
“Perhaps that would be best.”

“Look at this picture, Colonel. Someone slipped it under my door back in Berlin. We were told that the Slovaks welcomed us when we came in ’39. Now here’s a picture of a woman who was forced to give the Nazi salute and she was crying as our troops marched in.”
“No, not at all, Ma’am. That’s a famous picture. Those are tears of joy. She is happy at the thought of her country becoming part of the Third Reich and that it will last for the next thousand years.”
“I see.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Ma’am?”
“Well, yes, Colonel. There is something; I wanted to ask a favor of you. I thought it wouldn’t be difficult – (she laughs) – but that’s before I heard about Major Eberhart! You see, I have a friend here in…uh…”
“Yes. Her husband has been arrested and is being held somewhere here in the city; they won’t tell her where. She swears he has done nothing wrong. This woman is an old school friend of mine, a very close friend, Colonel. I wonder if you could allow the man to be released to go home to his wife and family.”
“I wish I could be of help, Ma’am.”
“It would certainly mean a lot to me. It’s why I made the trip here.”
“I’ll submit the request to the proper authority and we’ll see what can be done.”
“The proper authority – that would be Major Eberhart?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And that means there is little chance that this will happen?”
“Very little.”
“Perhaps there is a way that you could do this without having to bother friend Eberhart, without having to notify him of it?”
“Perhaps I should explain. I could easily do this. I could sign a paper and your friend’s husband would be home with her in a couple of hours. But Ma’am, I would be a dead man! Do you know how the SS handles people they regard as traitors?”
“I have tried not to think about it, actually.”
“Well, think about it for a moment. They use a hook, a huge sharp meat hook that they place here, see, right under the chin – and they HANG YOU LIKE MEAT!”
“Good heavens.”
“If I may offer some advice, Ma’am. Take the sightseeing tour of the city and then go back to Berlin and plan for what you might do when the war ends – and it looks like that might not be all that far in the future.”
“Back to Berlin? You don't know how bad things are back there now, Colonel. Everyone's running around like people in a shipwreck. Tell me the truth – do you think we might lose the war?”
“I bid you good day, Ma’am.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Magpie 78

Speaking of painting, and painters, I’ve always been fascinated by the life of Paul Gauguin.
An interesting story.

Picture a stockbroker, actually rather successful, who for years lived a conventional, fairly stuffy middle-class life. In his spare time he became a self-taught amateur artist – and he painted conventional pictures.
It was in the 1880s that he decided to pack it all in so that he could paint full time.

I’ve been to Arles in the south of France, where Gauguin spent nine weeks painting with his friend Vincent van Gogh, and I’ve visited the island of Martinique, where he hoped to find an idyllic landscape. Above, his self-portrait.

But it was in 1891 that he decided to sail to French Polynesia to escape European civilization and "everything that is artificial and conventional".

His rejection of European urban values led him to Tahiti, where he found – some say he created -- an unspoiled culture, exotic and sensual.

Gauguin's greatest innovation was his use of color, which he used not for its ability to mimic nature but for its emotional impact.

The first artist to systematically use the effects of the art movement known as Primitivism and achieve broad public success was Paul Gauguin.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

For ABC Wednesday

“D” is for “Dead Leaves”

I know, I know. The title of the song is “Autumn Leaves.” But I wanted to go back to the French original, “Les Feuilles mortes,” or “Dead Leaves” – there’s a nuance of difference as far as meaning is concerned.
The song takes me back a few decades, back to the days when many Americans were fascinated by the work – the poetry and the films – of Jacques Prevert.

Students of the golden age of French cinema are familiar with Prevert's classic motion picture, “Les Enfants du paradis,” which many claim was the greatest French film ever made.

But what brings his work to the minds of some of us old-timers is of course Prevert’s famous song – especially as sung by Edith Piaf or Yves Montand. There were, of course, English versions, but I’ll stick with the original.

“C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble,
Toi, tu m’aimais et je t’aimais.”
It’s a song that resembles the two of us,
You who loved me and I who loved you.

“Et nous vivions tous deux ensemble,
Toi qui m’aimais, moi qui t’aimais.”
And the two of us lived together,
You who loved me and I who loved you.

“Mais la vie separe ceux qui s’aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit.
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants desunis.”
But life separates those who love,
Softly, making no noise.
And the sea erases on the sand
The footprints of lovers who are no longer together.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Magpie 77

It’s a poignant scene, this week’s Magpie prompt. I imagined it as a couple breaking up.
And the words of the poet Lord Byron came flooding back:

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

What a man was Byron, what an incredible life. In the early years of the 19th century he was what can only be described as a scoundrel and a rake, running up huge debts and chasing women -- though all the while turning out the magnificent poetry that even today causes him to be regarded as one of the greatest British poets.
Lord Byron was not just a leading figure in the movement known as Romanticism, he was romanticism itself. He travelled, as an idealist, to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek War of Independence.

But it’s his adventures with women that I find interesting. As far as I can see, he could not resist going after them, whatever their social status, married or single, and they, in so many cases – even those who despised him – often couldn’t resist him.

His mother wrote to a friend about her son: “He has no indisposition that I know of but love, the worst of all maladies in my opinion.”

After his well-publicized affairs with a number of ladies of high social position, he had an even more well-publicized affair with the married Lady Caroline Lamb that shocked the British public.

She wrote: “He is mad, bad and dangerous to know.” He then broke off with her – (“When we two parted”?) -- to begin a relationship with Lady Oxford; Lady Caroline did not give up easily. She did what we today would call stalking. She would show up at his home dressed as a messenger boy just to get near him again.
Rubbing salt in the sore wound, Byron then went after Lady Caroline’s cousin, Anne Milbanke. She was something special. She was a beautiful, highly intelligent woman (some say she was a mathematical genius), and she was also an heiress. He of course treated her badly and the marriage was very unhappy. If any man today ever wonders why the movement known as feminism came into being, it’s surely because of stories like these.

After his disreputable adventures with members of the opposite sex, Byron left England. When he arrived in Greece, he assumed command of part of the army, even though he had no military experience. He had acquired an appropriately colorful uniform, above. Before the expedition could sail for the war in February of 1824, he fell ill. The usual remedy of bloodletting, along with the unsterilized medical instruments, were enough to kill him.
George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron, was indeed a scoundrel, but he was capable of some truly beautiful poetry.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

For Sunday Scribblings and ABC Wednesday

“C” is for “Cargo”

“The most important thing is, we must remain calm.”
“Remain calm? What is there to remain calm about?”
“Oh, there’s Mrs. Krumwieser. We wondered where you were.”
“I was checking out the boats.”
“You looked on the starboard side?”
“I don’t know which that is. Is that the side that’s on my left?”
“Depends on how you’re facing.”
“Well, the way I’m facing now.”
“Starboard is right, if you’re facing forward."
"Look, folks, that's all very interesting but to save precious time, did you see any boats?”
“No. There don’t seem to be any.”
“I coulda told you that. I looked earlier. The boats are gone.”
“Are we all here? All eight of us?”
“Yes. Have any of you realized what an incredible situation we’re in? I am steadily approaching a state of near-hysteria.”
“But we’ve got to stay calm.”
“I kept telling Mrs Krumwieser we should take a Norwegian or Royal Caribbean cruise. But no, she wanted a cruise on a freighter. The romance of life on a small cargo ship! Well, this is the romance – we’re stuck on a small cargo ship and the cargo’s on fire.”
“Read that note again.”
“’Emergency. Fire in hold. Gone for help.’ And it’s signed by – can’t make out the name. Maybe the captain.”
“And he and the crew went in the boats. Could be they know what the cargo is and it’s something that's gonna blow up so they just panicked and took off.”
“Good to know they had a reason. All this was going on while we were in our rooms recovering from that lunch. Migod, those canned Brussels sprouts!”
“Our problem at the moment is a bit more unpleasant than those, though they were unpleasant enough. I didn't know they even made canned Brussels sprouts. What have you got there, Bob?”
“Fire extinguisher. Only one I could find.”
“That looks older than this freighter, if that’s possible. You planning to go down into the hold and fight the fire with that?”
“You got any better ideas?”
“What we should do is get on the ship’s radio and call for help.”
“Who knows how to operate a ship’s radio? You don’t just dial 911.”
“I know how to send ‘SOS’ – three dots, three dashes, three dots.”
“Good. Get Marconi on the line and send it to him.”
“When I think that tonight was to be karaoke night. Frank was dying to do his ‘Moon River.’”
“Afraid we’ll miss out on that pleasure. We may need him to do ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ a bit later.”
“Look, when the skipper and the crew reach land they’ll report the situation, so the rescue helicopters should soon be here.”
“If we’re lucky, before this old bucket blows up.”
“Maybe we should go and see just what kind of cargo we’ve got down below. It could be something like wheat flour, so a fire wouldn’t be all that dangerous.”
“Yeah, we could be sitting on the world’s largest pancake.”
“Situations like this are difficult for Mr. Krumwieser. He has a tendency to suffer from acid reflux.”
“Now, Martha, I don’t want any special treatment. I avoided the canned Brussels sprouts so I’ll be all right.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Magpie 76

I’ll let Pete Seeger comment on this week’s Magpie prompt:

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace; I swear it's not too late.
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