Saturday, 7 September 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: To Have and Have Not

The novel and film version of To Have and Have Not are really alike in name only. Director Howard Hawks urged Ernest Hemingway to make a film out of what he (Hawks) considered to be his worst novel! The two worked together on a story that was loosely based around how Harry Morgan met his wife Marie (though the Marie of the film bears almost no resemblance to the Marie of the novel). The setting was changed from the depression era to World War Two, and instead of a grim story about poor vs. rich, it became a romantic WWII adventure film.

Hemingway's novel is far grittier than the film version. The story revolves around a series of vignettes centred around the character of Harry Morgan, and the contrast between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Set in during the American depression the novel presents the 'have nots' as being forced into numerous illegal activities in order to survive, the 'haves' on the other hand are wealthy people who come to the Keys for holidays. Harry and his friends face a daily life and death struggle, not only to provide food for their families, but also against armed gangsters. Hemingway is scathing of the 'haves' who's problems, usually romantic, seem petty in comparison to the struggles going on all around them.

The Harry Morgan of the novel is a ruthless, complicated man. On the one hand he kills without hesitation whenever he feels threatened, and on the other he is a dedicated family man with a wife and three children.The novel is a grim world filled with violence, racism and alcoholism. It's every man for himself in a world that gives nothing and forgives no one.
In contrast the film, though set during the second world war, presents a world of casual glamour. The bar is far more appealing than the one in Hemingway's novel, and Lauren Bacall's sensuality and Humphrey Bogart's tough guy image make the film one of romantic escapism.

 The film is best remembered for being the screen debut of Lauren Bacall, and the beginning of her legendary romance with Humphrey Bogart. The film is sensuous and suspenseful, but only the first ten minutes or so bear any resemblance to the original novel. Howard Hawks apparently did not like stories about losers, so consequently the Harry Morgan of the film ends as a hero. In some ways Hemingway's novel is more realistic, but both film and book should be enjoyed for their own merits, and should really be viewed as seperate entities.
This also marks my final entry for the Summer Reading Challenge! I have thoroughly enjoyed taking part, and am pleased I have completed all six books. Thanks to Raquel at Out of the Past for hosting such a great challenge.

"Above the roar of the motors and the high, slapping rush of the boat through the water he felt a strange, hollow singing in his heart. He always felt this way coming home at the end of a trip." p. 72

"Since he was a boy he never had no pity for nobody. But he never had no pity for himself either." p. 79

"He shut his eyes. It had taken him a long time to get it out and it had taken him all of his life to learn it." p. 178

"I'm afraid if I think about him on purpose I'll get so I can't remember how he looks. That was when I got that awful panic when I couldn't remember his face." p. 203

Friday, 6 September 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: Julie Christie

It turned out this was the perfect book to read after Michael Feeney Callan's Julie Christie book. Melanie Bell's study takes a more in depth look at Julie's film work, and also her activism. She looks at how these influenced public perception of her life and work and how her film choices changed over time, becoming more feminist and experimental.

Bell divides Julie's film work into three categories, her 1960s work, which established her star persona, her Hollywood phase in the 1970s, and then her art house cinema of the 80s and 90s.
Bell also looks at how Julie's early work was characterised by working with highly rated male directors, who she often developed a father daughter bond with. Her interest in feminism, starting in the 70s, saw her taking on female directed roles, and parts that challenged traditional roles of femininity.

After being exploited for her sexuality in the early 60s, Julie became critical of women's roles in cinema. She chose a variety of roles that explored different sides to female identity. As her career progressed she became more confident to reject roles that she saw as being false to her beliefs.
Bell discusses how Julie's activism influenced her film choices, and also changed her popularity with the press. They criticised her and labelled her 'Battling Julie'. Bell talks about how female actress, such as Jane Fonda, were often criticised for their political statements, the press seemed to have a hard time understanding why a woman, and an actress at that, would concern herself with such problems. Julie largely took this criticism in her stride, she never lost her passion and has continued to campaign for what she believes in.

Julie was unafraid to choose roles that could be perceived as 'unflattering' such as in McCabe and Mrs Miller and Return of the Soldier. As an actress she could be warm, and then aloof, in all her roles she used her eyes to portray emotions and to gain an understanding with the audience.
It was fascinating to read a detailed account of the trajectory of Julie's career, and to see how she matured, and grew more confident. Her ability to keep her public and private lives seperate is admirable, and I feel that she has always conducted herself with great dignity and strength despite the difficulties she has faced.
One of the things I most like about this series of books is how they present acting as an art form, and a difficult one, the skill and dedication it takes to be an actor is fully revealed, and it is quite different from the popular perception that acting is 'easy'. As an aside I do wish Bell had analysed Far From the Madding Crowd! But I suspect that's just because I love it so much!!

"Christie finessed her technique in close-up to a type of performance style that I define as 'poetic' in its ability to condense and communicate an intensity of thought and feeling. The actress used this poetic style to suggest a character's emotional depth and convey feelings such as 'empathy', 'caring' and 'romantic love'." p. 51

"The actress could portray characters as inviting or uninviting, hard to read or open and friendly. She could confound audience expectations of empathy and meet those expectations through poetic playing." p. 53

"She described herself as 'very pernickety, very picky, and happy to be so. I look at a scrip and think this is reinforcing this or that prejudice or attitude, and I turn it down'." p. 95

"My relationship with film directors was paternalistic, completely irresponsible in the way I put myself in their hands. That's changed. I'm no longer the little girl letting Daddy do all the work...After that (Demon Seed), I wasn't relying on father figures anymore, which is great, since I'm less frightened." Julie- p. 100

Friday, 23 August 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: Julie Christie

Michael Feeney Callan's biography documents Julie Christie's life up until its publication date, 1984. Julie has long been one of my favourite actresses so I was very interested to learn more about her life. This is not an in depth biography but Callan does give a good overview of her career and personal life, touching on her relationships with Don Bessant and Warren Beatty, as well as her involvement in environmental movements.

I was particularly interested to learn about Julie's life in London during the 1960s. She lived a bohemian lifestyle that involved moving around different flats with groups of friends, cats, and various antique pieces. She had a great interest in history and art and collected books on the subjects. It sounded like a fun lifestyle!
Her initial start in films was frustrating, contracted to make a number of silly comedies where she was nothing more than the 'sex object' Julie was desperate for more serious parts. Early on she realised that her strengths lay in dramatic roles. Her breakthrough in Billy Liar had a huge impact on both her professional and personal life. Suddenly she was catapulted to fame and was considered to be one of the major faces of Swinging London. Her following films Darling and Doctor Zhivago, cemented this status.

Unlike many stars who exude a sense of confidence, Julie has always been quite nervous and self effacing about her talent. Refreshingly she has also always maintained her privacy, rarely giving interviews and often retreating to the seclusion of her Welsh farmhouse.

It always amazes me how poorly Far From the Madding Crowd did upon its release, it is my favourite film and I think Julie is wonderful as Bathsheba. I think sadly people were expecting another Doctor Zhivago, and couldn't appreciate the film for what it was (which is just to say everyone should go and watch it!!)

It is interesting to see how Julie's personal life received such great scrutiny and media attention. She endured particularly intense scrutiny whilst dating Warren Beatty during the 1970s but Julie remained tight lipped about this aspect of her life. Around this time she also became involved with several environmental causes, including protesting against nuclear weapons and against laboratory testing on animals. I found this side to her life fascinating and would like to learn more about it. Her activism was criticised by the press who constantly doubted her sincerity and knowledge of the causes she was fighting for. For too long she was regarded as little more than a beautiful actress, and people were often surprised by her intelligence and interests. As a woman in the film world the press believed her personal life was more interesting than anything she had to say on activism or even acting, in stark contrast many male actors were listened to when speaking about their concerns, and were praised for their interests outside of film. 

This is an easy to read account of Julie's life and I think it is a good starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about her and her fascinating body of work.

"Julie Christie rummaged through a drawerful of old photos and letters in her Kensington flat. She found a picture of a young Richard Burton, a dashing, dark-eyed publicity handout. Maybe, fanlike, she had written away for it, maybe she borrowed it from a school chum. On the back was scrawled: Please don't touch. Very private property. Very precious property." p. 15

"When they told me I might have to go to Hollywood because they might give me an Oscar I...I was overcome, terrified. I was persuaded to go at last. I got on the plane and, suddenly, found myself in that enormous theatre, with all those famous people, stars, the President's daughter. I felt out of place, ridiculous, among all those people so different from me. Then I heard my name called. That was worse than anything. I kept wondering, Why me? I stood up and I didn't know where to go or what to do. I only felt a great wish to laugh. No, to both."
-Julie, p. 90

"I've always been choosy about my films and I've turned down scripts I didn't approve of sometimes, even with directors I wanted to work with. It's so difficult to be sure that a film will have a positive effect on people-but you can easily see which will be negative."
-Julie, p. 161

"One of the sharpest things I remember about childhood in Sussex was an overwhelming response to nature. The incredible wonder, the order of it all, the seasons with something changing every second. The pattern of natural life is so stunning..." 
-Julie, p. 165

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: Billy Liar

 John Schlesinger's 1963 film version of Billy Liar is a largely faithful adaptation of Keith Waterhouse's 1959 novel. The changes are minor, often done for the sake of condensing the narrative and adding moments that are alluded too in the novel but are filled out in the film. 
The major difference (spoilers!) is that in the novel Liz encourages Billy to go to London, but she herself is going to Doncaster.
The film does a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere of the novel, the black and white cinematography perfectly highlights the bleakness of Billy's Yorkshire home, with its grim industrial town and its windswept moors.

Despite his incessant lying, Billy's fantasies and desire to escape from the mundanity of his life are  relatable, and the confusion his stories cause also create some rather humorous moments.

The youth of Billy and his friends, especially Liz, is contrasted by the overreaching hand of death that plays a subtle but prominent part in the story. Billy works at a funeral parlour, his fantasies about Ambrosia often involve wars, his Grandmother is ill, and passes away, even the songs sung at the pub are about dying. In contrast Billy plans peaceful futures with both Barbara and Liz, as all the while their Yorkshire home is being pulled down and modernised. The future is encroaching and Billy seems torn between longing for change and living in fear of it.

Both novel and film present Britain on the edge of this change. The free spirited 1960s are just around the corner. Julie Christie's portrayal of Liz in particular came to represent the 'it' girl of the moment, and Billy is like many young people of the time, torn between his desire for a more exciting life and his duties towards his family. The story also highlights an issue that would become more prominent as the decade went on-the generation gap. The continuous struggles, differences and alienation felt between the young towards their parents and vice versa. In a general sense the young embrace change but the older generation are resistant to it.
As the novel closes it is hard not to want Billy to make his escape, but realistically we know he has to sort out his problems. His final decision is sensible, if disappointing to our sense of adventure, though it is somehow heartening to know that he retains his vivid imagination.
Billy Liar is a humorous and poignant story, and I really recommend both novel and film.

"I had a feeling, one that I wanted to keep. It was a feeling of peace and melancholy" p. 93

"I was amazed and intrigued that they should all be content to be nobody but themselves" p. 112

"I wish it was something you could tear up and start again. Life I mean. You know like starting a new page in an exercise book." p. 144

"What I'd like is to be invisible...You know, to do everything without people knowing, and not having to worry about them, not having to explain all the time." p. 151

Friday, 28 June 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait

I still remember how fascinated I was by the film, A Streetcar Named Desire, when I first saw it. I was in high school and we had been studying the play in literature.
There on the schools television flickered to life this intense, grown-up (well for a teenager!), and complicated story. There was Marlon Brando's intense masculinity and sexuality, the atmospheric, moody music and cinematography and the ethereal, tormented, flighty, mysterious Blanche DuBois-Vivien Leigh.
I confess I have only seen a handful of Vivien's films, though I have watched Gone With the Wind many times, but I have always been fascinated by her, and her life. And I have long wanted to read this book having followed Kendra Bean for some time on Instagram, and having enjoyed reading her blog dedicated to Vivien and Larry.

Vivien took great care to play roles that appealed to her and that she thought would show off her talents. That she played the two most famous literary Southern Belles with such skill is an amazing feat for an English actress. Watching Gone With the Wind and Streetcar it is so easy to forget that she wasn't American!
I found it fascinating how Vivien played so many strong, yet ultimately tragic women-Scarlett O'Hara, Cleopatra, Emma Hamilton, Anna Karenina and Blanche DuBois. In many ways each of these characters reflected something of herself-she was both an incredibly strong, passionate, dedicated woman, but she also experienced great sadness and immense loss.

The other major part of Vivien's life and this book, is her relationship with Laurence Olivier. Their relationship was passionate and tempestuous, both were strong-willed and extremely dedicated to their work.
I was surprised to learn that for a long time Vivien was regarded as a lesser actor to Olivier, and many thought she was only on the stage because of him. Their's is a tragic story, they both loved each other dearly, but ultimately were unable to be together. As Vivien reflected,

"There are only two things in my life which I am absolutely certain I would do over. The first is that I should become an actress-the second, that I should marry Laurence Olivier." p. 169

The book also deals with Vivien's struggles with mental illness, she suffered from bipolar disorder. Having experienced my own battles with mental illness I was inspired by Vivien's story. Though her illness caused her immense unhappiness and problems she remained a consummate professional and a kind hearted, generous friend. Despite what she suffered she did not let it stop her work or her dreams.
New York, 1963
This is a beautiful book and a beautiful tribute to a fascinating, talented woman who left an undeniable mark on cinema history. I feel I learned so much about Vivien, and I look forward to watching more of her films.

"I was not cast in the mold of serenity and in any case, although you may succeed in being kind at twenty you cannot be calm, with all your life still before you, and your ambitions unfulfilled"
-Vivien, p. 24

"Actual beauty-beauty of feature is not what matters, it's beauty of spirit and beauty of imagination and beauty of mind. I tried in Streetcar to let people see what Blanche was like when she was in love with her young husband when she was seventeen or eighteen. That was awfully important, should have been able to see what she was like, and how this gradually had happened to have to evoke this whole creature when she was young and when she was tender and trusting, as opposed to what she had become-cynical and hard, mad, and distressed and distraught."
-Vivien, p. 137

"I have always tried to tackle things that I thought were beyond me"
-Vivien, p. 149

"I don't think life can be considered in terms of depression and elation. I just don't understand people who say they plan their careers...Planning means that the chance opportunity, the unexpected challenge, cannot be seized. And these are the things that make life exciting."
-Vivien, p. 237

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in World War II

I've been very excited to read this book, being both a massive Audrey Hepburn fan, and a bit of a World War Two history buff!

Whilst most people are aware that Audrey grew up in Nazi occupied Holland, her reluctance to talk about this aspect of her life led many biographers to gloss over it. However, as author Robert Matzen realised, to understand what happened during the Second World War is to understand Audrey and her views about life.
Audrey lived through the Nazi occupation, the Battle of Arnhem and the hunger winter of 1944. She lost close family and friends, and many times her own life was in danger. I really hadn't realised just how close the battle was to her home, and how relentlessly and devastatingly her village was bombed.
Matzen's book is meticulously researched, he's cleared up many points that were either hinted at, or ignored, in previous Audrey biographies-such as her involvement with the resistance, her parents stance on the war, and her family background. We learn about her difficult, but close, relationship with her mother, her passionate dedication to ballet and her work helping in a hospital run by the Dutch resistance.

Audrey with her mother Ella Van Heemstra, 1942
Audrey with her beloved Aunt Meisje and Uncle Otto

Many of Audrey's experiences were incredibly harrowing and traumatic but she retained her love of dance, children and nature. Matzen does a wonderful job of setting the scene, he tries to make you feel as if you are experiencing the sights and sounds of battle, and I think this is crucial in trying to understand just what it was Audrey lived through as a young woman.

Audrey experienced so much in her early years, more than many experience in a lifetime, but despite the horrors she saw, she remained a loving and kindhearted person, devoted to helping others, I have so much respect for how she lived her life, she really was a special soul.
I recommend this book to anyone who may wish to learn more about Audrey, Dutch Girl, does an amazing job of highlighting an essential part of her life story.

Audrey dancing in 1942

"There's a curious thing about pain. In the beginning, it's an enemy, it's something that you don't want to face or think about or deal with. Yet with time it becomes almost a friend. If you've lost someone you love very much, in the beginning you can't bear it, but as the years go by, the pain of losing them is what reminds you so vividly of them-that they were alive. My experiences and the people I lost in the war remain so vivid to me because of the pain."
-Audrey, p. 105

"I don't think you ever forget anything, totally, but life, and especially time, gives you a way to deal with it, to live with it. I have a good cry every so often, like everyone else."
-Audrey, p. 150

"My childhood in Arnhem and in Velp was the most important part of my youth, I was ten when the Germans invaded the Netherlands and I was fifteen when it was all over. They were very delicate, precious years. I experienced a lot then, but it was not all misery. The circumstances brought family and friends closer together. You ate the last potatoes together."
-Audrey, p. 236

Audrey's wartime identity card

Monday, 3 June 2019

Summer Reading Challenge

I'm pleased to say that this year I will be taking part in Out of the Past's Summer Reading Challenge (or Winter if you're me!) I participated in 2016, but only managed to read four books, this year I'm hoping to read the full six!

The books I have chosen are:

1. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in World War Two by Robert Matzen

2. Julie Christie by Melanie Bell

3. Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

4. Julie Christie by Michael Feeney Callan

5. To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

6. Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean

(I think Julie Christie might be my theme this year!)

If you would like to participate all the details can be found here-Happy Reading!