Tag Archives: movies

An English Eccentric

I was sad to hear of Peter O’Toole‘s passing this week. Eighty-one sounds like a pretty good inning, I suppose, but I suspect that when the day comes, it always seems too early. All the more reason to grab life and squeeze every last drop of living out of it. And, that, Peter O’Toole certainly did, in his own eccentric and inimitable way.

I was only a child when I first saw Lawrence of Arabia but it made a huge impression on me. Not least the image of Peter O’Toole as Lawrence walking on top of the train silhouetted against the sun, his white robes blowing in the wind. But it wasn’t only that. He was mesmerizing. The blue eyes seeing something we couldn’t see, the quiver in his voice, his vulnerability. The movie had (and has) so many things to recommend it — the sweeping vistas of the desert, Omar Sharif (that’s another blog), the music. But it was Peter O’Toole who held it all together. And from the moment I saw him in that movie, I was hooked.


As we know, he went on to have a long and brilliant career. But I will always remember him as Lawrence, and as the engaging eccentric I saw many years later riding a bike in the rain down the King’s Road in Chelsea, wearing a plastic bin liner.


At the Movies

I’d seen the posters in the Underground for several weeks — Wadjda, the first feature film made my a woman in Saudi Arabia — was coming to town. So, yesterday I made my way to the centre of town for the 4:00 showing (I love going to movies in the afternoon — it feels like I’ve stolen hours out of the day where I can’t be found).


Wadjda is director Haifaa Al Mansour‘s story about a spirited Saudi girl who lives with her mother and wants the freedom to ride around town on a bike, but the older she gets the more religious and societal codes restrict her life. She hatches a plan to raise the money for the bike, even as her mother faces the prospect of her husband marrying a second wife because of her inability to have another child.

I loved what the Curzon cinema had put up on their marquee. I couldn’t agree more.


There’s something about going out to the movies that still gives me a thrill… the smell of popcorn in the lobby, the sounds muffled by carpet, the dark colours and muted lighting, the sinking into deep chairs, pressing my knees against the chair in front as I hunker down for the feature. Heaven.


The movie was marvellous. By far the best movie I’ve see in ages. Waad Mohammed as Wadja is a relevation and the simple story is engaging while it unveils (literally) aspects of Saudi life which are normally hidden from us. I couldn’t recommend it enough. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pcCCbLzhcY

After the film I was peckish, so I wandered along Old Compton Street in Soho and spotted a Vietnamese noodle bar called Nam, http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/nam .


Just the thing! I went in, ordered by chicken noodle soup…


…and slurped it down while I watched the world go buy outside the open window.


Then I wandered up Charing Cross Road towards the Underground, getting waylaid by Foyles bookstore on the way. http://www.foyles.co.uk/


I picked up Stoner which I’ve heard great things about, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/22/john-williams-stoner-review  , and which was given a prominent place in the display windows…


… as well as the “Complete Dorothy Parker“, because you never know when a Parkerism may come in handy (and it’s impossible for me to leave a bookstore with only one book). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Parker

What an absolutely brilliant date.

The Great Valentino

I had a sudden urge today to look on YouTube to see if any of Rudolph Valentino‘s silent movies were on it. And, yes, they are there! Like most people, I had heard about him, a silent screen heartthrob of the 1920s, dead at the height of his career of appendicitis — the “Latin Lover”, the “Sheik”.

valentino sheik I don’t know why it popped into my mind to do this today. I’d been out for a jog, then a walk in the forest with Ralphie, then I’d spent several hours editing my novel, then…hmmmm, I wonder if there are any Rudolph Valentino movies on YouTube?

I watched “The Sheik“, (1921) which was one of the films which made him famous (the other main one being “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, also released in 1921.


He’s 26 years old. It’s one and a half hours — and very fascinating. Agnes Ayres is a revelation a well. By 1921, he’s already appeared in 24 films — some as an uncredited extra — so he was no overnight sensation.


When Valentino arrived at New York’s Ellis Island in December of 1913 from Italy, he was 18 years old. He spent time on the streets and did odd jobs as a waiter and a gardener before he found regular work as a taxi dancer (a paid dancing partner) in New York’s dance halls, a skill he would use when he danced a fantastic tango in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, which was, incidentally, the first film to gross a million dollars. That was a lot of dough back then. It’s well worth watching the tango sequence:



Valentino’s final film, “Son of the Sheik” was released on July 8th, 1926. On August 15th he collapsed at the Hotel Ambassador in New York, In the hospital it was discovered that he had severe appendicitis. He was operated on, but he developed peritonitis (the same thing which was to kill Houdini a few months later), and on August 23, 1926, Rudolph Valentino died at the age of 31. His funeral in New York caused pandemonium, with over 100,000 people turning out, as this newsreel of the time reports:


Rudolph Valentino, the “Latin Lover”, never really died though. He lives on in his films, dancing the tango through time.

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Oh, and when I read his biography on-line, I read something that sent a tingle down my spine. His birthday was May 6th.

PS: I hope the links work. If not, just go on YouTube and search Rudolph Valentino. You’ll find them all there.

Oscar Night

When I was a teenager growing up in Quebec, Oscar Night was a big deal in our house. Mom was taking night courses at a local university back then and she’d invite a bunch of students to the house to hunker down with all of us on bean bags and cushions on the carpet in front of the TV to watch the Academy Awards. The first one I really remember is 1974 when The Sting won best picture. It was a big year for ragtime and 1930s style and Robert Redford and Paul Newman were gods on top of the Mount Olympus of filmdom.

the sting

It was the year that a streaker ran behind presenter David Niven as he was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor to announcde the winner for Best Picture. David earned himself a place in Oscar history by saying, “Isn’t is fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”

david niven

Since that year, whenever I’ve had access to a TV that was broadcasting the Oscar ceremony, I’ve commandeered it for all the interminable hours the show was on (oh, why don’t they just cut the terrible musical numbers?), just to experience those few moments when the stars shone bright, right there on stage in all their glamour, spreading a little of their fairy dust my way.

So, this year, again, it was the stars i wanted to see…the divine Barbra….

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….the incomparable Meryl…

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…the ingenue Jennifer tripping on the stairs like Barbra Streisand did when she won her Best Actress Oscar for Funny Girl…

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…and wildman Jack….

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…and golden boy Ben…

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…and the witty, self-effacing and devastatingly handsome Daniel (oh, Rebecca, you’re a lucky woman!)…

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…so good I’m putting him in twice.

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We even got the First Lady announcing the Best Picture to Argo.

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Now, Argo. The Oscars wouldn’t be the Oscars without a little bit of controversy and this year Argo was it. The thing to remember about Argo is that although it’s based on the true events known as the Canadian Caper when members of the Canadian embassy in Iran, led by then Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and immigration officer John Sheardown, harboured the six fugitive American diplomats and worked with the CIA to engineer their escape, it is a fictional take on the story, one in which the CIA role has been heightened at the expense of the heroic role the Canadians played. Ex-US President Jimmy Carter who was President at the time, has weighed in saying, “Ninety percent of the contribution to the ideas and the consummation of the plan were Canadian and the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. The main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”


(Photo: The Canadian Press/Peter Bregg)

So, congratulations to Ben Affleck and his co-producers (including the modern day Paul Newman, George Clooney) for their Oscar win which I’m sure is well-deserved. But let’s just remember that Argo is a fictional movie and we shouldn’t forget or undermine the heroism shown by Ken Taylor and his team during the real events in Iran in 1980.

Hollywood Canada

It seems that everywhere you go in BC you bump into a TV or movie production. Jamjarjude, Ralphie and I were deep in the rain forest one day when we stumbled upon the cameras and the umbrellas and the shivering actors and rain-soaked production team shooting an episode of the TV series “Once Upon a Timehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_Upon_a_Time_%28TV_series%29 …

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…and then we were driving down a country road in Aldergrove and suddenly it looked like we might have the opportunity to check into the infamous Bates Motel of “Psycho” fame…

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…where they’re currently filming “The Bates Motel” all about how the infamous serial killer Norman Bates became that way http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2188671/ .

And we were driving along another day when we passed the big BC film studios where all sorts of American TV shows like the “Stargate” series and “Emily Owens MD” are filmed…

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which called to mind a story I’d read about the actor David Niven standing outside Paramount Studios in Hollywood day after day with a cork in his mouth until he was noticed and invited in for a screen test. Hmmmm, now where to I find a bottle of wine with a cork nowadays….

Shining Stars

I have been a movie buff possibly as long as I can remember being me. My grandfather opened up the first movie theatre in Grand Falls, Newfoundland and by the time I was born in the Sixties, it was run by my Uncle Charlie. The Classic Theatre was a grand place — it was located on a prime spot on the high street and had a proper marquee outside which advertised the coming attractions. Instead of a door, you’d walk down a long corridor with framed movie posters along each wall. The candy concession was manned by my Uncle Jerry who would always let me pick whichever bit of candy I wanted. Jean Harlow

At night Uncle Charlie ran all the latest releases, but the matinees were reserved for old black and white movies and cartoons . My mother would often leave me in one of the fat old upholstered theatre seats in the front row while she went off to do her shopping, and I’d sit there, only four or five years old at the time, and watch these beautiful giants up on that enormous screen, while I happily munched my gobstoppers or ice cream sandwich or Smarties. This is where I first saw Laurel and Hardy and Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and Mae West and WC Fields and the luminous Jean Harlow. I don’t remember the movies I saw, but I remember those remarkable faces and how much I loved to sit in that dark place and let these magical people talk to me. I believed in fairy tales — all you had to do to find them was walk into my Uncle Charlie’s movie theatre and there they were, up on the screen.


One day after I arrived in Nanaimo a few months ago, I was scrolling through the TV menu and stumbled upon the Turner Classic Movie network and there’s been no looking back. They do delightful  things like a week of Greta Garbo movies — and Jean Harlow, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck. But not just the faces you’d expect, but ones which you don’t hear so much about any more — Gene Tierney, and Rosalind Russell, Sydney Greenstreet and Charles Boyer. I sit in the wingback chair with the broken springs in the seat and I’m that five-year-old again, back in the Classic Theatre in Grand Falls, Newfoundland watching stars shine.

Jean Harlow and Robert Williams