Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Les Schtroumpfs II (pure Nostalgia)

Ok so here’s the proper post on the Smurfs/Schtroumpfs/Estrumpfes (depending on your preferred language)… It's probably Nostalgia Central.

I have no idea exactly when or how my love for those little blue creatures started. I am not sure if it was the TV series or the plastic toys, or both at the same time. It was sometime in the early Eighties. I suspect that the books came later – and I had six of them, still have them actually, somewhere in a box. Whatever was the starting point, it soon grew to a collection of over 30 plastic toys – very much played with; two mushroom houses, but had to give the small one to little brother when I got the bigger one; a sticker collection and the books. I remember with affection my first three plastic Schtroumpfs (the black schtroumpf, the walking schtroumpf and one schtroumpfette) and how I lost the Schtroumpfette and aged about 4 made such a fuss that my mother went to every single shop in Lisbon till she found a new one. I also remember how I got two tennis players in a birthday cake.

This summer after I booked a trip to Chocolateland I found out that the Centre Nationale de la Bande Dessinee was having an exhibition on the Schtroumpfs to celebrate their 50th anniversary. I went with a friend and we both loved them all over again, and as a result I now own 11 out of the first 12 books, this time around in French.

So how do they stand the test of time? Mostly well, in particular “Le Schtroumpfissime” and “Schtroumpf Vert et Vert Schtroumpf”. I had never read the second, a brilliant satire of Belgium and the rivalry between Walloons and Flemish which ends in civil war, but it was the first that shocked me the most. Here it was a story that included the rise to power of a dictator complete with random arrests, police brutality, censorship and organised resistance. Not kiddie stuff, is it? True, there are happy endings for both stories, and they are far more adult orientated that all the others, but still quite powerful. I loved them.

It was nice to see the universe Peyo (the author) created developing from book to book – first there are 99 schtroumpfs, then 100 (there is a story for that) and then 101 (the schtroumpfette). But best of all was to (re)discover the Schtroumpf Grognon, who keeps saying “Moi, je n’aime pas” whatever all the others do. My favourite line of his? “Moi, je n’aime pas les yuppi”.

Yes, I think I’m in love all over again.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

A Man to Remember (1938)

Until I received this year's programme for the London Film Festival I had never heard of this film, which was hardly surprising... Classified as a B-movie, produced by RKO, until recently it had never been shown since its original release in the late 1930s. Why? Well, mostly because it has a complicated story behind it. It was part of a set of 6 films given to producer Merian C. Cooper (of "King Kong" fame) as part of a dispute settlement. Later these 6 films got involved in further rights complications only sorted as a result of a request by a TCM viewer in the US (The full story can be found here). While the family of Merian C. Cooper had copies for 5 of the films, one was missing - "A Man to Remember". The only known copy belongs to the Dutch Film Museum - and despite the dutch subtitles and cards, it is the copy that has now been shown.

And Hurrah! for film preservation - this is indeed a wonderful film. It was scripted by Donald Trumbo and directed by Garson Kanin (more famous as a writer himself, especially for a number of Tracy/Hepburn films for director George Cukor). It doesn't have any famous actor, the leading man played the famous thin man in "The Thin Man", but there he's only onscreen for a couple of minutes. It also has an Olivia de Havilland lookalike as his adoptive daughter. The film tells the story of a small town doctor, starting with his funeral, and the immense respect that almost the whole town devotes to him. In a series of flashbacks we are told why. And he truly deserved it - and I must admit I shed a few tears.

Today's screening was at 11am, and if not for the change of the hour I might have missed it (and I can't do the next screening on Thursday). There was a very good introduction by a researcher from the Dutch archives and there about 15 people in the cinema. I hope the next screening is a bit fuller. As for me, I am truly glad that I went.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Les Schtroumpfs

Les Schtroumpfs, the Smurfs or os Estrumpfes (depending on the language) celebrate today their 50th Anniversary.

A proper post will appear here soon, but in the meantime Joyeux Anniversaire!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Perfect Quote

All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!
Lucy van Pelt (Peanuts by Charles Schultz)

I found this today online, along with some variations. I couldn't resist posting it, especially as I am reading a collection of Peanuts comics. If I loved Lucy before, I do even more now.

I would love to find the actual strip this appears, but I doubt that it will happen soon: the strip ran for nearly 50 years (end of 1950 till February 2000) and "The Complete Peanuts" collections published so far only cover the first 20 years.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Tea and Sympathy (1956)

Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy is one of the lesser known of the director’s melodramas, and often lost among his films of the late 1950s, which include the far more famous The Cobweb, Lust for Life, Designing Woman, Gigi and Some Came Running. Personally, I prefer it to all of these. The reason, I imagine is that it touches a few raw nerves.

For a long, long time, it topped the list of films I wanted to see. I first knew of it when Deborah Kerr got an honorary Oscar in 1993 – one film critic raved so much about it that I got curious. Then I got to see snippets of it in a couple of documentaries, which seemed very good. Finally I had my dream came true in September 2003 when the Portuguese Cinematheque showed it twice. I fell in love with it at first sight, and couldn’t help going a second time and drag some people along. I knew that another chance would be too far into the future – to be exact just over 5 years, as I caught it on Wednesday at the BFI. And I imagine the next one may be even further away as I see no prospect of a DVD release (although once upon a time there was a VHS release in the US).

Adapted from a stage play by Robert Anderson, it tells the story of a young man (played by John Kerr) being accused by his colleagues of being gay (with the blessing of one of his teachers) and bullied because of it, and the wife of said teacher (Deborah Kerr, no relation) who decides to protect him. The play, it seems, made it clear the young man is in fact gay. I never saw it (would like to, though) so I can’t comment. The film, because of John Kerr’s performance and the Hays code is slightly more ambiguous. For better or worst, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is a gay character, although that’s likely (and I am not even considering the preposterous epilogue added to the film). He can just be someone who differs from standard behaviour just enough to be considered an outsider. The reasons for being tortured by the others are so thin, so vague, that as Deborah Kerr’s character suggests, it is indeed very easy to smear a reputation. In a sense it becomes a bit more a film about bullying and McCarthyism, and less about closet homosexuality. But just a tiny bit – if I doubt the leading man’s preferences, those of his best friend (who defends him constantly and almost seems to be in love with him) and that of the teacher are clearly obvious, despite both being deep down in the closet.
This is one of a handful of films responsible for making Deborah Kerr one of my favourite actresses. And here more than in any other film her hair is so beautifully red – actually, the whole film has a pink glow which I love, although it is possible that this is a fault with both copies I saw.

And to end, this film has one of my favourite lines (which is the final line of play), a gentle request of how one would like to be remembered by our past lovers: years from when you speak about this, and you will, be kind.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Circle

A year ago I wished for an opportunity to see Somerset Maugham’s The Circle on the stage and my wish came true last week. I had to go to Richmond during the evening rush hour (there are definitely better Tube lines at rush hour than the District Line) to see it, but I did.

I really like Somerset Maugham. He is unsentimental and cynic, but he can be incredibly funny and touching. “The Circle”, arguably the best of his comedies along with "The Constant Wife", is a play of history repeating itself. After deserting her husband and child 30 years prior for her husband’s best friend, Lady Kitty, played by Susan Hampshire in the version I saw, returns to her old home (with said lover) to finally meet her son. However, her daughter-in-law is also planning to run away with one of the house guests.

The whole play only makes sense in a time where divorce was something hard to get, but still says a lot about loveless love affairs. While Lady Kitty’s husband divorced her quickly, her lover’s wife didn’t so they couldn’t get married and had to spend 30 years in exile, swallowing infidelities and committing some, growing indifferent and in her case, fearing that he would leave her and she would have no means to support herself. Above all seeing each other never truly forgiving the other for the sacrifices they made in the name of a love that has long disappeared – as Lady Kitty says to her ex-husband, if she had her time again, she would have been unfaithful but would have never ran away.

The production I saw was a good one. The performances, mostly by actors I have seen at some stage or another on the small screen, were excellent and it made me sad that such a good production with some good reviews is highly unlikely to make it to the West End.