Monthly Archives: April 2014

Creative Kaleidoscope: The Swallow Sisters

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I must have checked the inside pocket of my school blazer at least twenty times on the walk home. The Swallow sisters were incredibly selective when it came to friends. I often wondered whether it was that they could not agree on which people they liked or if they were so secure in having one another, outsiders were merely an accessory. I think it is more likely to be the latter, because whenever the opportunity arose they relished in putting on a bit of a performance.

Frog Hall Manor was a grand old house, the kind wealthy retired people ummed and ahhed at on property programmes, admiring the period features. Mum said they must have inherited it, there was no way two music teachers could afford such a place.

I arrived at twelve on the dot, spare clothes and snacks in tow. Jane greeted me at the door, requesting I remove my shoes and follow her to the festival area. She walked very quickly, it was a struggle to keep up, my socks slipping on the glossy dark oak floorboards. As we reached the door to the library she swiftly moved to one side, sure not to block my view so I had the full effect.

The door creaked open with her small, pale palm pressed down against it. Tents of all colours were pitched amongst the books and the instruments and the busts of historical figures. A few familiar faces popped out, each in a tent.

They played music all through the night. We painted one another’s faces, transformed into a tribe of wild creatures. We invented games, picking books at random and reading an excerpt in the most whimsical way imaginable. Midnight snacks consisted of lavender lemonade and asparagus tips wrapped in prosciutto to dip in soft-boiled eggs that had tiny flowers hand painted all over the shell.

Every time I see the canary yellow yolk of an egg I think of that night.

Photo: Little Gatherer

Inspiration: The Daily Post

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“There are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity…”

Today’s post is a tribute to Monsieur Gustave H. in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Ralph Fiennes dazzles as the deliciously camp protagonist in this film, addressing his fellow characters as “darling” or “my dear” throughout. Monsieur Gustave is the saccharine combination of being unashamedly vulgar whilst also representing the impeccably polite and hospitable nature of the early twentieth century Englishman. Whilst running The Grand Budapest Hotel he embodies the magnificent building, from its candy-pink palatial exterior to the affluent aristocracy inside.

I had the pleasure of watching this film last month during my birthday weekend spent in Leeds with friends. We were all horribly hungover, much more ‘drop’ than ‘shop’ as we sauntered around the crowded shopping centre, only to stumble across Leeds Trinity’s Everyman Cinema. It was a hangover haven, a little on the pricey side for a ticket but for the couple of quid extra it was completely worth it. Instead of the stiff and stained seating you find in most multiplexes, Everyman has armchairs with cushions and coffee tables to rest your glass of wine or slice of handmade pizza on. I was worried The Grand Budapest Hotel would be a little sickly-sweet for our delicate states but it was perfect.

Everyman Cinema Leeds

A feast for the eyes, Anderson wants his audience to be aware they are watching a film. Much like Tarantino, he opts for chapter titles to signal the different stages of the narrative. His frequent reminders somehow made it a more fun and imaginable experience. I hate it when somebody says ‘that would never happen’ when watching a film. My favourite film makers are the ones that approach it as an art form, they are creating something that is essentially artificial so why not create something incredible? The eccentricities of this film and its characters do slightly border on obscene at points, but the attention to detail regarding the film’s design and staging go down like a glass of champagne.

Tilda Swinton as Madame D.

Monsieur Gustave carries many of the best lines, most notably, as he stands over the corpse of Madame D. and says: “ You’re looking so well darling, you really are. I don’t know what sort of cream they put on you down at the morgue but, I want some.” Certainly, his flamboyance fits with the film’s overall aesthetic, but I like to imagine Monsieur Gustave appearing unexpectedly in an environment not quite up to The Grand Budapest’s standards. Offering a helping hand to Dame Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, swanning through the hallways of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, irritating a grumpy Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. He provides an old form of comedy and delivers it with style, unlike the subtle irony so often seen in today’s films.

Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave H.

Ultimately, Monsier Gustave reminds us, albeit in a rather extreme way, of a European manner that was sadly lost after the war. It would be silly to hope this breed of funny-man makes a comeback, but it was lovely to see Anderson and Fiennes pull it off so well in this beautiful film.

Photos: Pure Bohemian, Premier Construction, ilovemovies and The Guardian

“I don’t want realism. I want magic!”

Blanche DuBois was one of the characters that made me fall in love with literature, made me choose it as my major at university. I studied A Streetcar Named Desire in college and often still think about her character in a ‘What would Blanche do?’ sense. Not that I should be taking advice from a woman as hysterical, deceptive and “lost” as she is. Yet she always springs to mind, most poignantly when it comes to men. I’m forced to argue with myself that she’s not hysterical, she’s passionate. She’s not deceptive, she’s romantic. And the matter of her being “lost”, that’s the one I struggle with throughout the entire play and beyond.

Truth be told, a lot of Blanche’s traits reside in one of my favourite people, my grandmother. It seemed natural writing about her for my first post, my ninety-year-old Granny currently sat in a hospital bed, awaiting further tests and results. Visiting her has been a whirlwind. The first time I went she looked incredibly vulnerable, speaking nostalgically of her time spent in a sanatorium during the war, of losing her parents and dearly beloved sister. On my second visit she was a performer, flirting with the doctors, projecting her voice across the ward, the surrounding patients her audience. During my most recent visit she was uncooperative with the staff, rude to the nurses and acted like a snob towards other people on the ward.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois

Actresses taking on the wondrous challenge of playing Blanche on stage have a lot of ground to cover. Fundamentally, an actress portraying an actress. Playing with the variety of aspects to her personality, deciding which to let dominate the performance and which fall to the wayside. Blanche’s actions and words throughout the entire of Williams’ play could be interpreted as tongue-in-cheek, or read literally. There is a fine line between comedy and tragedy, which I believe makes Streetcar all the more dynamic. It is a miracle a single audience member is able to identify with Blanche, her behaviour and emotional state fluctuates, the sincerity of her character dwindles.

It may be foolish, but I adore Blanche’s inconsistency and unpredictability. It is arguably the main component to her character that makes her attractive, more than the Southern belle image she clings to under the “naked light bulb”. Blanche accepts her mission to bring magic to the dowdy New Orleans apartment her sister and brother-in-law share. She implores: “I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth!” Leaving a breadcrumb trail of lies obviously worked in her youth, yet when she followed them back to her home Belle Reve she didn’t find what she had hoped for. Stella and Stanley’s apartment is entirely the wrong setting for Blanche’s charades, leading to her inevitable downfall.

But who doesn’t want magic? Blanche romanticises everything, glorifies every experience, even the ones she invents in her head. It’s a struggle most people go through in their lives, a dull ache in the pit of your stomach that is so much more than hunger. Blanche’s boredom leads to her beautiful breakdown and we have the pleasure of watching the event unfold.

“Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour – but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands – and who knows what to do with it?”

Perhaps I sound a little unsympathetic, but I like to think that Blanche is fully aware of what she is doing. So much of Williams’ writing is littered with metaphors likening Blanche to a fragile moth or butterfly. I don’t buy it. This woman may not know what she wants but she is relentless when it comes to tasting the new things in life. Even the climactic “rape” scene between herself and Stanley, I remember so clearly writing about why what happens between Stanley and Blanche remains ambiguous, putting it down to the social and historical context of the play in my college exam. This argument still haunts me. Consider that Blanche consensually slept with Stanley, it is her guilt which fuels rape allegations. Perhaps she doesn’t approve of the domestic family life her sister is now locked into, Blanche’s response would free her of these ties. Could she have dreamt up the event, in the way the story concludes, Blanche so lost in her imagination and delusions that she is admitted to hospital. Yet the audience more often than not assume she is telling the truth, that Stanley is the villain.

Certainly, I admit this is not a feminist reading of the play. It is entirely plausible that Blanche exercises her ability to seduce, but this does not mean she wishes to act on her overt sexuality that remains so potent in Streetcar. I may be as romantic as Blanche in saying this, but I want to believe as she leaves New Orleans in the arms of a doctor, she does so with a twinkle in her eye. She’s no rhinestone tiara, she’s the real deal.

Even if you honey lambs are not a fan of the theatre or old movies, I advise you go and see it. If for no other reason, Marlon Brando may play a pig but he is a complete hottie in Kazan’s 1951 film adaptation.

Photos: Britannica and NPR