Sunday, June 24, 2007


James Wolcott puts the news in proper perspective:

"Gee, I hope they find that "missing pregnant mom" soon, otherwise we'll never find out how the war in Iraq turns out. . Every available set of expert eyeballs is required to resolve this case before America goes mad with apprehension.

"Update: With the somber discovery of the victim's body, the cable-news reporters are diving into the depths of every puddle of information. "You didn't know Jessie but you saw her at church--what was she like?" asked one sob sister. Fox News host Julie Banderas was on her righteous steed, as if she possessed a 360-degree 3-D perspective on the case and was irate that fate had dared to defy her promonitory hindsight and allow the accused killer to coach kids' soccer. Meanwhile...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

On Harriet Beecher Stowe Biography: Snippets from Carol

My friend Carol emails to tell me what she did on her recent visit to Hartford, Connecticut.

"We did have a good time. [Visiting in Connecticut] Betty Cary at 88 is doing amazingly well. She went with us to Hartford Athenaeum and to Litchfield and Watertown. Connecticut is beautiful and rich with our country's history. I've returned with a bio of Harriet Beecher Stowe to read and one of her late works - Poganuc People. She was born and educated in Litchfield and was a teacher and advocate for women's education that eventually led to abolition and women's franchise. Early 18th C. was an exciting time in America - and in England, too. We drove around Hartford Retreat (now called the Institute for Living), grounds designed by Olmsted, who would eventually die there. The Retreat was modeled after an institution in England that pioneered in humane treatment for the insane."....

"Although the book has some delightful high points, I wouldn't recommend it for the book group. It devotes 4 rather tedious chapters to the details of female education and the administration of female academies in Litchfield, Hartford and Cincinnati run by her sister Catherine. There are some other quotes I'd love to share with you when I find time to type them out. The chapter on her marriage endorses what Trollope said about the difficulty of finding servants and time to write (which Harriet - and likely Frances - were doing for income while caring for babies.) They came thick and fast, 7 altogether, for H. and Calvin. Their method of birth control was periodic separations!

"In "Poganuc People" a memoir of her childhood written late in life, she talks about servants, the only people who had time for her in the busy parsonage, also crammed with babies. Servants refused to enter by the back door, though it may have been more convenient. They also refused to answer to a bell. They must be verbally summoned, if only by a child. Nabby, the servant in question, said she felt not only as good as the ladies, but superior, because she was paid a dollar a week and they got nothing!"

"Here's a quote from Joan D. Hedrick's Harriet Beecher Stowe that I enjoyed and laboriously typed rather than struggle withh my scanner:

"In England, he [Calvin Stowe, newly married to Harriet, who could not go on the trip with him because she immediately got pregnant] displayed a confident American perspective on British institutions, and had his revenge on Frances Trollope. He had no awe for the House of Lords, filled with what looked to him like "a parcel of old gracious grannies". "I wish you could have seen some of those old withered up, spindle-shanked, baboon faced specimens of humanity, with their big white perukes and long black robes noble lording one another." He preferred Shrewsbury on market day, where he entertained himself by observing the "whims and oddities" of the common people. Wherever he went he recorded for Harriet's enjoyment the accents that he heard about him."


Literature is Better Than Holy Texts Says Hitchens

Mr. Hitchens makes a passionate case against organized religion as well as theocratic, fundamentalist states. He writes that "religion is not unlike racism." "Literature is a better source of ethics and a better source of reflection than our holy texts," he says. "People should read George Eliot, Dostoyevsky and Proust for moral leadership."
Quote from Huffington Post today.

Christopher Hitchens' new book, God is Not Great, has become a runaway best-seller to the surprise of himself and his obsucre publisher.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Away From Her

Julie Christie makes a stunning comeback to the movies in the recent Canadian film, Away From Her. In the mellow beauty of her 67 years she plays a woman beset by Alzheimer's. Gordon Pinsett, one of Canada's most revered actors, plays the husband who must face up to the gradual loss of his wife. A plot such as this would seem unlikely to tempt customers to plunk down six dollars for a matinee ticket. Why choose to sink into the misery of others? But this is not the case. Wit and irony help keep our heads above water, together with the sympathetic treatment the story receives from the writer, director, and the actors,

I think Alice Munro would like this adaptation of her short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." At least, I hope so. The film makers changed the title to "Away From Her," and for the sake of plot development added a few extra elements. But in all the important ways the film remains faithful to Alice Munro. In fact, Christie who plays Fiona, a woman married to the same man for over forty years at the beginning of the story even looks a little like Alice, a beautiful woman in her own right.

The story, so relevant for our time, follows the disintegration of a marriage--not because of infidelity or boredom but because of a slow but relentless disease.

Julie Christie is a revelation in this movie. My only memory of her before was her role as Lara in Dr. Zhivago where she seemed as inexpressive as a statue--a beautiful one, but unmoving nevertheless. But this picture demands an actor who can act, and and she gives a riveting performance. Nowadays, with lines etched upon her face, she is more beautiful than ever. Her Fiona is a woman in whom humor and pathos are blended with a brave desire to save herself and her marriage. Fiona answers her doctors questions (designed to diagnose her disease) with wit and dignity, but also on a solo ski jaunt across familiar territory loses her way and ends up lost and confused on a highway near her home.

We learn that the marriage has not been completely ideal. Grant has indulged himself in a few dalliances over the years and while Fiona knew this, she has kept it to herself. The role of the husband has been enlarged somewhat, and in Pinsett's fine performance we see a man in whom remorse and sorrow live together on a day to day basis. Soon after Fiona is placed in the Meadowlake Nursing Home she devotes all her time to a fellow resident and no longer remembers her husband or who he is. One can't help wondering whether Fiona, at some level, is paying Grant back for his former infidelities. In a typical Alice Munro twist, Grant gradually forms a relationship with Marian (expertly played by Olympia Dukakis) , the wife of the man Fiona is now devoted to. Dramatically unlike Fiona-- some would describe Marian as "common"-- but the sorrow she and Grant share helps them both move on.

The film is enjoyable on many levels, including the photography, background music, and the beautiful landscape of western Ontario. The camera lingers over the wide fields of grain framed by dense woods in summer, and the ice and snow of a lake in winter near Fiona's home. Knitting is featured too in the hand-made scarves worn by the characters and the afghans and shawls swathing the furniture in Fiona's living room. The views of life in a nursing home are particularly instructive. Meadowlake is obviously upscale and staffed by caring professionals. But the institutional life is clearly evident--one that's run on business lines and often petty rules.

I was particularly tuned into the sound of the film because Sonia's friend's daughter was responsible for it. Jane Tattersall of Tattersall Sound of Toronto did the sound work that added a sharp reality to a work of fiction. In fact the crew of Away From Her is dominated by women, including the director, producers, and others. Sarah Polley who directed it acted in the notable film, "My Sweet Hereafter."

The film won't stay long at the Montrose Cinema, but thanks to them we do see out-of-the-mainstream movies once in a while. I was amazed to see they are now running a French film!! Mon Dieu! The Valet. Look it up. It sounds promising.

Sparrows, Meadowlarks, and Bobwhites Are Disappearing in the Millions

Millions of sparrows, meadowlarks, bobwhites, grackles, and other common species of birds have gone missing in these United States. The Audabon Society has announced this and the Times reported it today. It's true when you think about it that we no longer in Grangerburg hear the sweet sound of the bob white or see the occasional pheasant poking in the brush. Grackles I never liked, but now they've gone missing I grieve for their loss. First the bees, and now the birds are leaving us. Soon we will awaken to silence instead of to the lilting sounds of birdsong in the trees. Factory agriculture and sprawling developments and poisoned air are some of the reasons for our bird loss. The 21st century is turning out not to be that glimmering future we once thought was in store for us.

For the Times article, "Millions of Birds Missing in Plain Sight go to :

The Famous Stage Lupinos

Remember Ida Lupino? She's Turner Classic Movies' star of the month which means they're trotting out a lot of her pictures. Apparently she got the parts at Warner that Bette Davis couldn't or wouldn't take. I've seen a couple so far and think she's better than Davis who compromised her roles with performances that were too mannered. "They Drive By Night" has Ida playing a wicked temptress who seduces humble truck driver George Raft (playing against type). Ida did some acting in England as a child and then Hollywood beckoned. Her career also included television acting and directing. She moved comfortably between British and American accents.

Ida's father was Stanley Lupino a famous pantomime star in England and Lupino Lane, her uncle, was an equally famous music hall star. An earlier Italian Lupino forebear who excelled in comedia dell 'arte introduced stage puppets to England. [Thank you Wikipedia].

Here's what the New York Times says about her today: (Ida's "Italian family" had lived in Britain for 200
years! )

"8 P.M. (TCM) ON DANGEROUS GROUND Ida Lupino, born into an Italian theater family, acted in films steadily from the age of 13 and in the 1950s was one of the few female directors working in Hollywood. Turner Classic Movies is paying tribute to this actress, director, writer and producer throughout June; tonight a series of her performances will be showcased, starting with this 1952 drama about a police detective (Robert Ryan) who helps a blind girl (Ms. Lupino, above with Mr. Ryan) whose brother has been murdered. Next, at 9:30 p.m., is “While the City Sleeps” (1956); at 11:15 p.m. Ms. Lupino plays a widow terrorized by a deranged handyman in “Beware, My Lovely” (1952); and at 12:45 a.m. comes “Ladies in Retirement” (1941), an understated thriller about women living on the moors."

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Latest on the Royals

This evening we saw an expanded version of Matt Lauer's chat with the two princes at Clarence House, their very own palace in London. It boggles the mind that not only do princes still exist in the 21st century but that they are taken seriously--at least by some. A few things struck me as I watched. They were candid about their feelings for their mother, antagonistic toward the media, and they spoke with a singular lack of aristocratic accent. In doing so, are they rejecting the familiar "posh" Oxford English speech patterns of the royal family? Instead they speak in what the Brits call "Estuary English" a London dialect that is not directly cockney but has some elements of it including the glottal stop. This probably has come about because of the two boys' immersion in pop culture from which many of their friends and acquaintances come. Elizabeth's narrow circle of courtiers and her grandsons' wider milieu make an interesting contrast. Impossible to think of Elizabeth before she married haunting nightclubs, falling into gutters, or attending university for that matter.

Also of interest during the interview was Matt Lauer's casual style. Where a British reporter would have at the very least addressed the boys as "Sir," Matt called them "William" and "Harry.," and even at one point, "you guys." as in "You guys will be famous for life? How do you live with that?" The explanation for this informality is simple. Will and Harry may be the lords of all creation in Britain. But in democratic America where the royal family was thrown over nearly 220 years ago deference is earned not given away.

Perhaps when the Queen passes on we'll see the end of god-like royals There's something very godlike about the way she goes about her business and appears to the public-- and the way they respond to her. She mustn't be touched by lower mortals, or spoken to first, and they must back out of her presence. She never speaks candidly in public or even talks informally. Charles during his short reign will probably try to continue the tradition because he will take his divine anointing very seriously, but it's hard to imagine William carrying on as a god. .