Five-and-a-Half Stars!

NTLive_AStreetcardNamedDesire_DigitalA5LandscapeI was completely blown away last night at the National Theatre Live presentation of A Streetcar Named Desire, performed at London’s Young Vic Theatre, with Gillian Anderson playing the lead role of Blanche DuBois. Ben Foster as Stanley Kowalski and Vanessa Kirby as Stella were also standouts, but Gillian Anderson was so completely imbued with the character, she was actually physically transformed to the point of being unrecognisable until the very end during the standing ovation. The role of the self-deluded, blind-drunk, neurotic, loud, talkative aging beauty seemed to suit her to a T, and you had a sense she must have practiced it all her life, either that or she was showing us her true personality (somehow unlikely), so totally convincing was she. Every time she downed a mouthful of “alcohol” and careened along, you fully believed it and felt the booze was coursing through her veins, and the intensity of her performance, down to the funny-yet-heartbreaking little broken giggle she let out after every utterance didn’t let up for a moment. It was truly an electrifying performance. I don’t know if it helps that I never did manage to sit through the movie version with the oh-so-beautiful Marlon Brando when I was younger, making the material seem that much fresher to me. You could have cut the tension between Stanley and Blanche with a knife and I hated Ben Foster with all my might, believing him to really be Stanley, so fully was I invested in the play. The whole cast was outstanding, and director Benedict Andrews made this now nearly 70-year old Tennessee Williams play feel absolutely fresh and timeless. I’m even considering going to see the encore performance. Nothing light and easy about it, more blow your socks off, tear you heart out, but oh my, what powerful entertainment! And what a role of a lifetime for 46-year-old Gillian Anderson, who certainly seized the opportunity to leave her mark on an unforgettable Blanche performance. Five-and-a-half stars! ★★★★★½

Encore:
Sunday, September 21, 2014

Signature Sís

0374380694.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry by Peter Sís ★★★★
Source: Municipal InterLibrary Loan
Edition: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 48 pages
Original publication date: 2014

I guess you could say I’m somewhat of a Peter Sís enthusiast by now, having read over a dozen books he’s contributed to in one way or another, either solely as illustrator or as both writer and illustrator, and it’s safe to say he’s evolved a signature style when it comes to biographical subjects (his graphic novels Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei and The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin immediately spring to mind here), telling the stories with words and pictures, and pictures within pictures that give the impression at first glance of complex tapestries that you can stare at for a long time to discover endless fascinating detail. For this reason, I find I can never take in his books in one short sitting, no matter how slender the volumes are, as they are intellectually stimulating and pack a lot of information.

Here the subject is the author of that iconic children’s book The Little Prince (which I happened to grow up on and venerate), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Sís introduces us to Saint-Exupéry from his birth in 1900 onward to what seems to have been a fascinating and adventure-packed life, most of it having been devoted to flying and writing in more or less equal measures. Unbeknownst to me, he had made a name for himself as a hero for his flying adventures on the one hand and as a successful author on the other well before  his iconic little book about the prince from another planet was published, with his books based on his flying adventures, one of which became an international bestseller in 1931 and won him the Fémina Prize and which inspired the venerable French perfume house Guerlain to issue a perfume named after that novel two years later, Vol de Nuit, (known as Night Fligh to English readers). Sadly, he disappeared during a flying mission on July 31, 1944, when he took off in an unarmed P-38 on his ninth reconnaissance mission from an airbase on Corsica and vanished without a trace. His legend lives on.

A gorgeous book, much recommended to lovers of Sís and/or Saint-Exupéry. I was already interested in reading more work by the legendary author/adventurer, but I think I’ll seek out his other books more actively now.

(click on images to view larger)

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Legends Never Truly Die Away

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Peter O’Toole, the lead character in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia, a role which led him to be considered one of his generation’s most respected actors, passed away yesterday at 81. I tried watching this epic movie in my youth, but a four-hour movie about skirmishes in the Arab desert somehow failed to capture my addled teenage brain back then, even if blonde blue-eyed, six-footer O’Toole was quite the dish in his prime.

I recently acquired a beautiful Folio Society edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence—the original Lawrence of Arabia—who wrote about his involvement in the Arab Revolt on which the film was based. What sold me on it wasn’t so much the blurb on the Folio site as much as this description of a paperback edition:

This is the exciting and highly literate story of the real Lawrence of Arabia, as written by Lawrence himself, who helped unify Arab factions against the occupying Turkish army, circa World War I. Lawrence has a novelist’s eye for detail, a poet’s command of the language, an adventurer’s heart, a soldier’s great story, and his memory and intellect are at least as good as all those. Lawrence describes the famous guerrilla raids, and train bombings you know from the movie, but also tells of the Arab people and politics with great penetration. Moreover, he is witty, always aware of the ethical tightrope that the English walked in the Middle East and always willing to include himself in his own withering insight.

Earlier this week I got a great deal on the audio edition of the recently published Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson, of which Janet Maslin writing for The New York Times says: ‘For those already fascinated by Lawrence’s exploits and familiar with his written accounts of them, Mr. Anderson’s thoughtful, big-picture version only enriches the story it tells.‘ So now it seems I’ve got my work cut out for me: read T. E. Lawrence’s book, then listen to Anderson’s, after which I should be well prepared to fully appreciate the movie version.

Tanti Auguri, Birthday Girl!

 

Today is Monica Vitti’s 81st birthday, so I thought I’d send her best wishes and show her beautiful face in her prime to embellish my blog (besides which, current photos of her proved nearly impossible to find). I’ve heard of her since I was very young, but I don’t believe I ever saw a movie she was in, so I decided to have a little Vitti festival by borrowing L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961, with Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau), and Eclipse (1962, with Alain Delon) from the library, all in Italian with English subtitles, and all directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and forming his famous “trilogy on modernity and its discontents”. According to wikipedia, Antonioni “redefined the concept of narrative cinema” and challenged traditional approaches to storytelling, realism, drama, and the world at large. He produced “enigmatic and intricate mood pieces” and rejected action in favor of contemplation, focusing on image and design over character and story. His films defined a “cinema of possibilities”. Should be interesting. And nice to look at!

 

Death of a Visionary

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple died today. He was only 56 years old. He’d been battling pancreatic cancer for a long time. He was a visionary who, as says in the NY Times “helped usher in the era of personal computers and then led a cultural transformation in the way music, movies and mobile communications were experienced in the digital age”. Very sad news indeed.

R.I.P. Steve and thanks for your many contributions.

A Tribute to Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud, Girl with Fig Leaf, 1948

Celebrated painter Lucian Freud (grandson of that other Freud), passed away last week at the ripe age of 88, leaving behind an astounding body of work (see the New York Times article here). I’m sad about his passing of course as I’m a big fan of his early drawings which I discovered through a great book I made sure to get my own copy of called Lucian Freud on Paper. I thought I’d do my own kind of tribute by posting an art project I did a while ago (still ongoing) which was inspired by a drawing of his called Girl with Leaves. Just visit here to see what it’s about.

R.I.P., Amy Winehouse

The singer Amy Winehouse has been found dead at her flat in north London at the age of 27. The award-winning artist, famous for hits including Rehab from the critically acclaimed album Back to Black, was discovered by police in the late afternoon. Her death was being treated on Saturday night as “unexplained”. – guardian.co.uk