June 23, 2014

Valmont vs Dangerous Liaisons

Milos Forman’s film Valmont came out in 1989, the year after Steven Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons. Both are based on Chloderos Laclos' scandalous 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Both feature rich and bored aristocrats and are set in Baroque France prior to the guillotine.

A scheming widow, the Marquise de Merteuil, and her sometimes-lover Valmont make a bet regarding the corruption of a recently married and very pious woman. Valmont wagers that he can seduce the newlywed, even though she is very honourable. If he wins, the Marquise promises him one last night with her. However, in the process of seducing the married woman, Valmont falls in love.

I prefer Valmont to Dangerous Liaisons. Colin Firth as Valmont does the "wet puffy shirt" before Mr. Darcy strips off in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice. Firth is passion and charisma to John Malkovich’s reptilian cold-bloodedness. I know who I’d rather snog with.

This was the first role I saw Annette Bening play. She’s ripe, peachy and pretty and looks too nice to play Madame Merteuil but she’s just as evil as Glenn Close.

Pretty Meg Tilly played the pious Madame de Tourvel. Well and truly seduced, Firth moved to the forests of Canada to be with her.

Here’s a list of the major players in Valmont and their equals in Dangerous Liaisons.

Colin Firth – John Malkovich
Annette Bening – Glenn Close
Meg Tilly – Michelle Pfeiffer
Fairuza Balk – Uma Thurman
Henry Thomas ( Elliot from ET) - Keanu Reeves.

And the 1989 trailer.

Café De Flore - Un Film Fantastique

The themes of music and love tie Paris in the 60s together with contemporary Montreal and wrap the whole story up in a completing knot in the last seconds of the movie. Café de Flore is an epic love story that covers two lifetimes. It recalls the destinies of Jacqueline, the Parisian mother of a Down Syndrome child, and Montreal DJ Antoine and the women orbiting around him.  It raises the question if soul-mates can last forever.

The character of Antoine is deftly portrayed by Quebec rocker Kevin Parent in his first acting role. The sharp-edged Jacqueline is played by the ex-Mrs. Depp, Vanessa Paradis. 

Café de Flore is stunning - expertly crafted - yet has only made about 20% of what the film cost. This mostly Canadian cine-gem would be a contender for Best Film if it were made in Hollywood. People would be laying prostrate at the feet of director Jean Marc Lavallee as the new great auteur.  Although the ending could only be called bittersweet, I fully recommend that you watch it.  

Georges Méliès - The Inspiration for HUGO

Scene from Hugo, Paramount Pictures
 I first posted this story 2 years ago. I've just returned from seeing Martin Scorsese's Hugo and I hadn't realized that the film was so closely tied with the story of the real Georges Méliès. Here's a synopsis of Méliès life. Please enjoy the accompanying films. 
Many of us have seen a clip of the ancient film where the poor Man in the Moon gets smacked in the face by a rocket. Georges Méliès, born in Paris in 1861 is responsible for that early film and as a film maker Méliès was the first to utilize cinema's potential to tell magical stories.

Méliès was an illusionist by trade. Before making films he was a stage magician at the Theatre Robert-Houdin (how wonderful).

In 1895, after seeing a demonstration of the Lumière brothers' camera, he became interested in film. Two years later he established his own studio.

From his rooftop property in Montreuil, Méliès directed 531 films ranging from 1 minute in length to 40 minutes. These early films are similar to the magic tricks that Méliès had been performing on stage featuring disappearing objects or people. Despite this, Georges Méliès revolutionized early cinema. Although many of Méliès’s early films were devoid of plot, his special effects and storyboards became fundamental aspects of filmmaking. His films were even pirated!

He wrote, directed and acted in nearly all of his films. His most widely-known film is 1902’s A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la Lune) includes the celebrated scene mentioned above in which the rocket-ship hits the Man in the Moon.

However, Méliès, the poor guy, could not compete with the larger studios like Pathé (who eventually bought him out) and he spent his last years selling toys in a boutique in Paris’s Montparnasse train station.

Méliès did not grasp the value of his films, and he allowed most of his film stock to be melted down into boot heels during World War I. Many of his films were recycled into new film and as a result much of his legacy does not exist today. Luckily, a copy of Méliès's 1899 short film Cleopatra, believed to be lost, was discovered in Paris in 2005.

The importance of his work was recognized in the years prior to his death. In 1932 the Cinema Society gave Méliès a home in Château d'Orly where he died in 1938.
Please enjoy these Méliès videos found on Youtube.


Midnight in Paris

"Talk about a fulfilling movie. That's the kind of movie I could sit through again immediately" That's the sort of remarkable thing my husband sometimes says and what he said to my son and me as we exited our local rep cinema after watching Woody Allen's latest foray, Midnight in Paris. Our west-end Toronto street-scape is more like the Wild West than the cobbled, curvy streets of Paris but we sauntered home, with romance in our eyes, expounding on the virtues of this great film.

We're on a bit of a Woody Allen bender at the moment; seeing Annie Hall on Friday and Manhattan on Saturday. My two men were expecting another witty, urbane rom-com and they got it. What they weren't expecting was a little time travel thrown in.

In Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson plays a Hollywood screenwriter working on his first novel. He's totally besotted with Paris; its beauty and its foibles. Disenchanted with his life, he longs for the days of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. His fiance, exhibiting the worst xenophobic American traits, and his soon-to-be-in-laws are in tow, soaking up the best Paris has to offer but putting the city and the French down at the drop of a chapeau.

Wilson's character, Gil Pender, distances himself from his betrothed, her family and their new know-it-all friends. At the stroke of midnight he magically finds the portal that takes him to his favourite time period: Paris in the 20s.

He's startled  to be hobnobbing with Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, and Cole Porter. No explanations are given for the time warp and Gil doesn't seem to want any. He just wants to go back again, and soon.

Actor Corey Stoll plays an excellent Hemingway; "Who wants to fight?". Marion Cotillard is Gil's 1920s lovely love interest. In another hiccup in time, Adriana (Cotillard) and Gil find themselves face to face with Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Gauguin.

Rachel McAdams plays Inez, Gil's fiance. Michael Sheen (whom I saw arm-in arm with McAdams on Toronto's Bloor Street, yay!)  plays their pendantic friend. France's First Lady Carla Bruni has a cameo as a guide at the Rodin Museum.

When I saw Kathy Bates' name in the opening credits, I thought who could she be but Gertrude Stein. Check mark! The Surrealists had no problem at all with Gil's time travel. Adrien Brody's turn as Dali (Rhinoceros!) was so perfect I had to see it again. I told my husband I wanted to rent the film as soon as it came out.  "Rent it," he said, "I want to buy it." Could there be a better endorsement?

Finders Keepers - A Winslow Homer on the Rubbish Tip

This is such an interesting story. I hope I can do it justice. I originally saw it on BBC's "Fake or Fortune". As a genealogy and art history buff, some of the research gave me goosebumps.

Ok. Back in 1987, a fisherman, Tony Varney, found some art left lying around near the gate of a rubbish tip in the south of Ireland. Even though one of the pieces was signed Winslow Homer, Tony didn't know what he had. He didn't bother to research it at all and gave the painting to his daughter Selina who gave house room to other things her dotty old dad collected.

The small watercolour was of three white children wearing ethnic costume. Somehow in 2008, Tony and Selina got their wits together and took it to The Antiques Roadshow where it was confirmed by expert Philip Mould to be a work by Winslow Homer, one of America's most important 19th century artists and valued it at £30,000.

Philip Mould, art aficionado extraordinaire, cleverly knew that this painting would realize a higher price in US, where Winslow Homer is more highly esteemed. Mould had the painting packaged and sent off to Sotheby's in New York.

Phillip Mould's team of researchers went through the rest of the contents of Tony's cardboard portfolio. They found interesting things like a ticket to a costume ball at the Governor's Mansion in the Bahamas, a painting done by the Bahamian Governor's wife. They determined that Sir Henry Arthur Blake, the Governor of the Bahamas from 1884-1887, had his ancestral home in Ireland. Myrtle Grove, County Cork, was about three miles from the rubbish tip where Grandpa Tony found the painting.

Mould's lawyer was left to do due diligence and related to Mould, and the viewers, that the descendents who lived at Myrtle Grove were unaware of the painting and ignorant of the fact that they even owned it.  They had never registered a burglary.

Philip Mould jetted off to the archives in the Bahamas where he found on microfilm newspaper details of the costume ball at the Governor's mansion. Who was in attendance? Mr. Homer.  What were the children wearing? The same pseudo-Turkish costumes as in the painting. A later social notice said that Winslow Homer intended to paint the Blake children in their Turkish costumes. Eureka!

By this time, Sotheby's in New York had authenticated the watercolour and because of the provenance, had estimated that the picture would now reach at least $250,000 - about 5 times the original estimation.

So everyone back home in Coventry, England was very excited. The painting had been professionally cleaned and framed. It appeared in Sotheby's catalogue. Selina and her dad Tony went to New York for the sale. Twenty four hours before the sale, the Blake family in Ireland decided that "hey, that's our painting. We could use some of that lovely lolly to fix the roof of our ancestral home" (I'm paraphrasing).

Magnanimously, (I'm being sarcastic) they tell Selina she can go ahead and auction off the painting and she can keep 25% of the proceeds as a finder's fee OR auction it off and Sotheby's could hang onto the money until they could work  out ownership later. Selina, rightly pissed off, said the sale should go on and ownership could be worked out later.

The next day, ten, ten minutes before her lot was going to come under the gavel,  Blake's great-great grandson Simon Murray appeared in New York and said that Selina would have to take a 30% finders fee, but with out an agreement as to who owned the painting, he could not let the sale go on. Selina Varney rejected the revised offer and Sotheby's decided to withdraw the painting as they could not guarantee a good title to any potential buyer.

After this fracas at Sotheby's, the painting, now dubbed Children Under a Palm Tree,  was placed on the Art Loss Register. Why, I don't know. Covering their behinds, methinks. They know where it is now - under lock and key in Sotheby's New York. The family believe it disappeared from Myrtle Grove after a series of robberies in the 1980s, although Philip Mould notes that there was no crime reported. According to Great Grandson Simon Murray, his family didn't know that the painting was stolen until it was put up for auction at Sotheby’s. Simon Murray conducted further research among his family's papers and found a letter which described in detail the circumstances under which the painting was produced. When the Fakes or Fortunes episode aired in June 2011 ownership was still the subject of a legal dispute.

"I think we would rather keep it," said Simon Murray, who, as a lawyer, is still representing his family's interests. "It is such a special picture. The colours are wonderful. It's a very significant part of my family's history and we really want it back." Riiight...

The Varney's had the painting in their possession for two decades with no claim on its ownership and no report of any burglary on the part of the Blake/Murrays. I say that unless they can prove that Grandpa Tony stole the painting then tough titty. I say Finders Keepers.