Thursday, August 26, 2010

Presenting Tabby as Cleopatra

Tabby enacts her greatest role yet--the last moments of Cleopatra!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider

"Dark Lover" is a wonderful biography of legendary silent screen star Rudolph Valentino, still best remembered today for his role as "The Sheik," his untimely death in 1926 at age 31, and the mysterious "Lady in Black" who still visits his tomb. He was the first and most famous of the movies' "Latin Lovers;" previously all the romantic leading men had been clean-cut American types like Wallace Reid and Italians and other ethnic or Latin types cast as villains, that is until Valentino danced the tango in "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."  Then, as the old saying goes, a star was born. Valentino made the women in the audience swoon and their male escorts' blood boil.

Valentino had a fascinating life even before he sought fame and fortune in 1920s Hollywood--he was rumored to be a gigolo and was a popular "Taxi Dancer," a man rich society women paid to dance with them, and was famous for his graceful and sensual tango. His whole life was fraught with controversy, including persistent rumors of homosexuality. To this day the truth about his sexuality and marriages and relationships with strong and eccentric women of questionable sexuality (Jean Acker, Natacha Rambova, Pola Negri--all reputed or known lesbians) remain the subject of much heated debate. Rumors even surround his sudden and unexpected death, including the suspicion of murder. And the public displays of grief that followed his demise, including riots outside the funeral parlor where crowds actually broke the plate glass windows in a rush to get in to view his corpse as their idol lay in state, and suicides by grieving female fans, are still the stuff of legends.

This is how a biography should be written. I love this author's style, this biography is not written to be sensational like many celebrity biographies, or to make shocking, scandalous, or unverifiable statements and revelations, which is sadly often the case with books about deceased celebrities no longer able to defend themselves. If something is unknown about the subject, Ms. Leider comes right out and says so, if there is speculation or differing viewpoints about an issue, she makes that clear and gives the evidence both for and against. As a classic movie fan, I hope she will write more biographies like this one.

See Valentino in his most famous film "The Sheik" and its sequel "Son of The Sheik"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The African Queen by C.S. Forester

This novel by C.S. Forester, famed creator of the Hornblower saga, is the basis for one of my favorite films, "The African Queen" starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, an unlikely tale of adventure and romance between opposites in German occupied Central Africa after the outbreak of World War I.

In both the pages of the novel, and the movie it inspired, Miss Rose Sayer, a prim, willful, and determined missionary spinster and Charlie Allnutt, a crude but kind Cockney engineer who pilots a rickety old steam launch bearing the grandiose name of "The African Queen" find love as they plot to blow up a German battleship with homemade torpedoes fashioned from blasting gelatin and oxygen cylinders. This audacious act is dreamed up by Miss Rose to avenge her brother's death, and also as a patriotic gesture, to strike a blow for England.

Along the way down the winding and perilous Ulanga River they brave sweltering heat, insects, leeches, malaria, bullets, mechanical problems that test their ingenuity, and rapids that threaten to dash them to death and to pieces as they aim for their target, the ship known as the "Konigin Luise," or "The Louisa."

Honesty compels me to admit that I prefer the movie to the book, but that is not intended as a slight against the book, perhaps it is just that the visual medium as well as the talented actors cast in these roles better and more vividly convey this story than the printed page can, at least for me. The movie does adhere very closely to the book except for the ending.
The book will also, I think, appeal to those who like their romance depicted more discreetly rather than explicitly. Sex is implied, but not shown.

One thing I feel I should mention is the use of dialect. Mr. Allnutt's cockney accent endures consistently throughout the book in a way that might prove annoying, difficult, or distracting for some readers. It is not a mild, occasional case of dropped aitches but phonetic spellings to replicate his speech, for example: fink (think), agine (again), yerss (yes), mike (make), awye (away), wot (what), abart (about). I felt I should mention this as I know some readers dislike extensive use of dialect, while others think it adds authenticity and color and helps the reader "hear" the character's voice better.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Lost Voice of Queen Victoria The Search For The First Royal Recording by Paul Tritton

Part history of the science of sound recording, part detective story, The Lost Voice of Queen Victoria lets readers follow along on author Paul Tritton's quest to track down the elusive wax-coated cardboard cylinder that may contain the only surviving recording of Queen Victoria's voice.

In the summer of 1888 Sydney Morse took a Graphophone (one of the earliest versions of the machines later to be generically called gramophones, which would eventually evolve into record players) to Balmoral Castle to demonstrate to Queen Victoria. Such was Her Majesty's admiration for this new invention, that she let herself be persuaded to speak a few words into the machine.

While researching acclaimed British engineer Henry Edmunds, who was present in the lab the historic day Thomas Edison made the first sound recording, and spoke the words "Mary had a little lamb" into a hand cranked tinfoil gramophone, Paul Tritton discovered this all but forgotten vignette of Victorian history and embarked upon a quest to locate the cylinder and hear the voice of Victoria combing through wills and letters and seeking out descendants of Sydney Morse and Henry Edmunds.

Although a little too technical at times for my own taste, I nonetheless enjoyed spending an afternoon accompanying the author on his quest to solve this historical mystery.