Waterloo Bridge

Confession time. I have no real reason to post this today, apart from to reflect on the virtues of one of my favourite films of all time ~ Waterloo Bridge (1940). As usual, I’m sure I will find a tenuous link that will enable me to preach acceptance or love or something ,but bear with me. I’ll get there. 
Waterloo Bridge was Vivien Leigh’s first film after Gone With the Wind. She had wanted Laurence Olivier to star opposite her, but he was off being Mr Darcy. Along came Robert Taylor; the heart-stoppingly handsome movie star known more for his good looks than his acting talent. It tells the tale of Myra Lester (Leigh), a young ballerina for the corps de ballet. She meets soldier Roy Cronin (Taylor) in an air raid shelter and over the course of the next few days, they fall hopelessly in love. There is a beautiful scene with almost no dialogue; the two of them dancing at the Candelight Club. Hardly any words are spoken, but by the time the last candle goes out you know they belong only to each other. They very quickly get married, just before Roy goes back to the front. 
Upon learning of Myra’s marriage, her boss fires her from the ballet company for conduct unbecoming. Myra and her best friend Kitty struggle for money in their tiny flat, trying to make ends meet, when Myra reads devastating news in the paper. Roy has died. Heartbroken and utterly destitute, she turns to prostitution to support both her and Kitty. She has nothing left to lose. 
One fateful day, Myra waits under the clock at Waterloo station, dolled up, turning tricks for the soldiers as she has been taught to do; when Roy walks through the gate. There was a misunderstanding, a mistake. He is still alive. Convinced she was forewarned of his arrival, he embraces her joyfully. Her whole world crumbles. 
I’ll sum up the next part briefly: Myra is taken to Scotland to meet his family. (something that always tickles me, Robert Taylor made no attempt to hide his American accent). They are old money and are ecstatic that Roy has found somebody pure and without taint to carry on their family line. Myra cannot live with the guilt of what she has done and can see no other way out to escape her past. She throws herself in front of a car on Waterloo Bridge. 
It doesn’t sound the most joyful of films and it isn’t; but it is beautifully shot with the lovely crackle of early 1940s audio track. Leigh and Taylor have never looked better and their chemistry is undeniable; they have both said this is the favourite of all their work. The soundtrack is stunning, with a faint Russian theme (I’ve never been able to find out what it is) underscoring Myra’s guilt when she relives her shame. It is one of my favourite movies of all time and I urge you to watch, if you can find it. I don’t think it’s available on DVD anywhere other than Korea; so I’ve had to rely on repeat TCM viewings. 
Ah, I’ve found it. The link. Other people’s expectations of you; a thing that has been bothering me for a while. Myra ended her own life because of the weight of expectation from Roy’s family ~ her shameful past couldn’t possibly live up to their shining aristocratic reputation. Now, I have nothing like prostitution in my back catalogue – I’m an actress, yes, but this isn’t the 17th century and I’m very well behaved. But there is one thing that is expected of a woman closer to thirty than twenty; when is she going to get married and have a family?
Since I turned 28 last year, this has been notched up to eleven. I’ve had it from the strangest and most random of people, taxi drivers “My wife’s 26, just had our third. You’re how old? Better get started, love. Time will be running out soon.” Sainsbury’s employees ID’ing me “Ooh, nearly 30? Horrible age. You married? No? Oh.”  TED Talk – “30 is not the new 20” which I think was meant to be inspiring, but actually terrified me to death, and older family acquaintances “So is Emily married? Got any children? She’s single? Lives in a flatshare? Oh.”  The worst, however, comes from doctors. Like many women, I suffer from Endometriosis and PCOS. I have spent the past ten years in and out of surgeries having been asked the same question “So, when are you going to get pregnant?” Ooh, I was thinking May sometime? How can I possibly answer that? It scares me to my soul that fertility is probably going to be an issue for me. I want nothing more than to be a mum. But I can’t make any plans for this at all, not yet. 
But you see, if it weren’t for all these people constantly checking to see when I’m going to get settled down and knocked up, I wouldn’t care. Truth is, I like where I am now. I get lonely sometimes, but that’s not exclusive to single people, is it? As I said, I would love to be a mother, but now really wouldn’t be the right time.It would be incredibly selfish of me to bring a child into the world before I could give my whole being to them… and before I could afford to feed them. I love the fact I can get up one day and decide to go to Hertfordshire (I did that once. My friend had a car. We went to the pub and played Scrabble). I love the fact that I can spend all day in bed eating chocolate watching old episodes of Poirot. I love the fact that I can go out with my friends as and when I want. I love the fact I can go touring round the country for six months a year and not have to worry. If, just for a minute, we decide to ignore society’s expectations of us and take a look at what we have; isn’t life pretty good?
Also, watch Waterloo Bridge. It’s a great film  
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Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I preface today’s blog with two disclaimers. 

1) I am under fairly strong medication at this moment. There is a chance I may go off on a tangent about dragons, or seeing a colonial woman churning butter outside my window. Please forgive me if this is the case. I will edit said ridiculousness at a more sober time. I should probably be sleeping it off, but I seem to have experienced a pill related burst of creativity. I imagine this is what The Beatles felt during the sitar years.*

*Author not comparing herself to John Lennon. Or Jesus. 

2) I am going to deviate a little from the usual today and touch on – gasp – modern films. Ish. I know, I can’t believe it either. 

I am going to talk of a woman. You know her. We all know her. She is beautiful. She is quirky. She likes whatever underground music you like. She can quote lines from that French film you love. She dresses like a princess and smells like patchouli. Probably. She takes your life and she makes it that little bit better through her manic love of the world and never wastes a day and wants to make all of your problems go away blah blah blah. She’s the girl who jumps on tables and dances because she’s a free spirit. 

This girl is known as MPDG ~ Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She exists in the mind of sensitive writer/directors who make films such as (500) Days of Summer, Garden State and Elizabethtown. (I should say, I like the first two films. Elizabethtown was just awful. What were you thinking, Cameron Crowe? You used to be so good.) But this girl is not real. 

She has existed in some form throughout film history, although the phrase wasn’t coined until 2007. Men who are undergoing some sort of existential crisis, or who have accidentally paralysed their mother, or have just lost a family member, or who are being kept by rich society ladies while they struggle to get their novel published – (that was a long sentence. Does that make sense? Things beginning to get slightly fuzzy) – fall for this mysterious, otherworldly woman. (Wow, the sentence got even longer). 

This woman may have her own issues, but we don’t need to think about those. She is there to fix your problems and sometimes do a little tap dance. She’ll play her ukulele to you on a windowsill. She’ll put some headphones on your head and tell you to listen to The Shins, because ‘they’ll change your life, I swear.’ Now, I really like The Shins. But so far, they haven’t changed my life. 

As I said earlier, this isn’t just a modern concept. Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an early model. C-razy and quirky, this beautiful slip of a thing lives a life of giant sunglasses, telephones in suitcases, long cigarettes and wild parties “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.” and brings happiness to tortured writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard). Now, I let this one slide slightly, because Paul saves her as much as she saves him, in the end. Holly admits she has constructed another life to escape her real one. But she remains a template; an early prototype to later, less developed female characters. 

Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) in Some Like it Hot as been quoted as another early MPDG. Another mentioned is Susan Vance in Bringing up Baby. (I don’t agree with this. Katharine Hepburn does not serve as any man’s saviour; she is far too excellent and rounded for that). But it is in the past ten years that the MPDG has really pulled herself out of the cocoon and emerged as a stunning, zany butterfly, ready to make any man throw away their anti-depressants and climb on top of a crane and scream. 

Quick thought ~ if a MPDG isn’t hot, isn’t she just an annoying, loony bint? But, no. They’re always hot.

My point is this. Sorry to all you fragile, tortured men out there. Especially those with a love of 80s underground music and shoulder bags. We girls aren’t here to teach you lessons about life, love, moving on or acceptance – just as you aren’t here to teach us those, either. We are all human; we have problems and issues just as much as you do. We can’t abandon our own state of mind to take care of yours. I’ve tried it before. It’s rubbish. As Clementine (Kate Winslet) in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind says: “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.” Isn’t the whole point of a relationship  to share each other’s thoughts and pain? It’s not fair if one is the garden and one is the hoe (I got that quote from Will and Grace. I am really pushing the boundary today)

Another thought: is there a male equivalent? Genuinely would like to hear thoughts on this ~ perhaps the Darcys of literature? Grumpy, arrogant men who are actually filled with soft warmth and somehow save the day at the end of the book?

I should probably go now. There is a colonial woman churning butter outside my window. 

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Hitchcock Blonde

She must be sporty. He must be fun. She must have red hair. He should be a blonde. She must know how to cook Italian food. He should have a good job. She must want to give up her job to look after the children. He must be creative. She must have an accent. She must have enough money to live, but not enough that it emasculates me.   

As I have got older, I have found that so many people I know have a picture of the Perfect Person in their heads. The one that would complete them and fit into their lives like a missing puzzle piece. If we find somebody that differs from this slightly, well that’s OK – as long as we offer chances at ‘improvement,’ right? Gym classes, haircuts, film suggestions?

But some of the happiest couples I see around me went completely against their usual sort. A girl who I expected to end up with an older, tortured, multilingual, patches-on-elbow professor, has just married a city banker, three years younger than herself. When I asked what made her step out with him in the first place, she replied ‘I thought it was time to start saying yes.’ 

I do find myself saying ‘no’ a lot, although I don’t really have a type. Funny, kind and intelligent. As long as those three attributes are present, I am breezy. Although he must be taller than me. Creative. Generous. Likes old films, obviously. Arrogance is a particular turn off. So, humble. Dark eyes, maybe? A soft accent is always preferable. Nice arms. A sense of romance. Optimistic by nature. Gentle sarcasm is attractive. Must like the country. And the pub. And dogs. But I reiterate, I don’t have a type at all.

One man who definitely had a type was Alfred Hitchcock. His preference for blonde, classy willows is of legend. They appear throughout his films: Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly – these untouchable glass beauties clad in Chanel and Edith Head. Stories have surfaced recently of his amorous attentions on these leading actresses. How these ladies feared a decline in their career if they denied him.

Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is almost an allegory of his fascination with this woman; a tale of obsessive love. Based on the novel D’entre les morts, it tells the tale of John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart… told you he’d make several appearances on here), a former detective suffering from a crippling fear of heights owing to an accident on duty. Scottie is hired by an old friend – Gavin Elster – to tail his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) after she begins to act oddly. After watching the disturbed young woman from afar, Scottie falls in love with her. Thus begins his downfall.

I refuse to give anything away of this film ~ the beauty of the twist and the denouement is too good to give away if you haven’t already seen it. The image of Madeleine is an iconic one; chances are you’ve already seen it, even if you weren’t aware. A beautiful woman in a grey suit, nude make up, platinum hair swept back, green light surrounding her like a ghostly halo. But there is a scene that I must mention, without revealing too much of its place in the film. 
Madeleine is no longer around. Scottie, having suffered a breakdown, finds a young woman who bears a resemblance to her. Judy Barton is brunette, brassy and untroubled ~ the complete antithesis of Madeleine. She is clearly desperately in love with him. He clearly cannot get Madeleine out of his mind and starts to mould Judy into a copy of her, like a 1950s Galatea. She resists at first, “Couldn’t you like me, just me the way I am?” but gives in under his staunch insistence. “If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?”  She dyes her hair blonde and pins it back. She wears the grey suit he picks out for her. She changes her make up. She walks out of the bathroom to Bernard Herrmann’s stunning theme (have a listen here, the music for this film is unparalleled in its brilliance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObbHRxvpLJ4), a carbon copy of his lost love. He cannot believe Madeleine has come back to him. 
If you’ve seen the film, you know this does not end well. I shan’t say anymore. But what if Scottie had decided to accept the advances of the lovely (but decidedly not Madeleine-esque) Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) instead?
It is easy to have in our mind’s eye the type of person we should be with. This is either based on former partners – the one that got away- film stars, Austen heroes (I am particularly guilty of the latter. Northanger Abbey’s Henry Tilney has a lot to answer for) or just simply an ideal. But is true happiness only possible once we let go of these prerequisites? And once we find ourselves in a relationship, why do we try to change our partners? Surely the point of being with somebody is that you love them for them, right? 
(I still think buying clothes for your other half is a Good Thing. Moulding them into something they’re not is bad. Improving their dress sense… well, that’s just kindness, isn’t it?) 
I’m joking. A bit.
 
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You Mean, All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?

Happy International Women’s Day!

I was out for dinner last night with two lovely ladies, friends from my temp job. After pizza and rose wine (possibly the world’s best combination?) one of the girls turned to us and said “You are both brilliant. None of my friends realise how great they are.” 

How nice. Not because of my own vanity (although you know, warm fuzzy feeling and all that) but because it is a Rare Thing. Now, this does not relate to everybody, not at all. But there is a small group of women out there who are quicker to make a nasty remark about one of their own sex than to offer them a compliment. Competition is rife. We compare ourselves to our friends ‘She is slimmer than I am’ ‘She has a better job than I do’ ‘She is in a happy relationship and I’m not’ or in some cases, ‘I am slimmer than she is’ ‘I have a better job than she does ‘I am in a happy relationship and she is not.’ I will admit, I have done it. Occasionally, when I’m feeling very sorry for myself, I will lament my lot in life and wish I were as happy/slim/successful/loved as a friend. And I will find myself making a snide remark to placate my own sense of failure. But shouldn’t I – and we – fight against the innate temptation towards comparison and competition?

Oddly enough, this got me thinking of that 1962 classic thriller Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The fact that I write of this film whilst extolling the virtues of female solidarity is dripping with irony. As is widely known, the film’s two stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had a bitter rivalry that lasted through their Hollywood careers and to their deaths. Davis, having studied acting and honing her craft on the stage, resented chorus girl Crawford for ‘sleeping her way to the top.’ But, as ever, it was a man who put the final nail in the coffin ~ Franchot Tone. Davis, hopelessly in love with the elegant actor, could only watch as he married Crawford.

Despite their long standing hatred of one another, Davis and Crawford agreed to team up for Baby Jane after a shift in the times had both left them as ‘box office poison.’

Baby Jane Hudson is a child star of the vaudeville era, spoiled and adored by her doting father. Her elder sister Blanche stares from the shadows, ignored and unwanted. Fast forward twenty years, and Jane’s fortunes have fallen. She can’t get work for love nor money and drinks to hide her pain. Blanche however, has grown into a successful and beautiful actress, one of the stars of her age. One fateful night, they return to their mansion and a car accident snaps Blanche’s spine, leaving her paralysed.

1962, and the two aged women still share the same home. Blanche (Crawford), wheelchair bound, watches her old movies on repeat, tended to by Jane (Davis) who believes her own drunkenness in 1935 caused her sister’s paralysis. Jane drinks excessively and cakes on stage make up in an effort to recapture her younger self, repeatedly singing her signature childhood tune ‘I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy.’ When Blanche suggests selling the house, Jane, teetering on madness and desperate not to leave, veers into disturbing territory, terrorising Blanche with cut phone lines and dead parakeets.

I shall not reveal any more, for the ending has a delicious twist; suffice to say the two Hudson sisters’ rivalry is proved pointless at the end. As Jane says sadly “You mean, all this time, we could have been friends?”

My point is this; women have a hard enough time in the world. Even though things have moved on incredibly, it is a harsh truth that we still have to fight to be treated the same as a man. Let us stick together, hold each other up, celebrate our achievements. Let’s not tear each other down. The temptation to ‘bitch’ about another woman, to passive aggressively ‘dig’ at her if we are threatened, is something that happens all too often.

To my fantastic female friends: I am so proud of you all. For your brilliant new jobs, for being brave enough to start new lives in New York and Australia, for volunteering, for growing in your relationships, for building a life on your own, for studying for a second degree and working full time, for your wonderful generosity. You are talented, funny and brilliant and I’m sorry if I don’t tell you this often enough.

(I should mention that I also think my male friends are also pretty great. But today isn’t your day. I will get to you all soon enough).

Let’s be good to each other. Go on. Go and tell a woman in your life how special she is today.

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Every Time a Bell Rings

It has been said that the streets of London are paved with gold. I disagree with this statement; the streets of London are paved with dog poo, angry commuters and deserted cans of Strongbow. And loneliness. Now, worry not ~ I am not about to break into a Ralph McTell number, nor am I about to expound on the evils of city living. For a gigantic, cosmopolitan, melting pot of a place, with thousands of blurred faces passing us each day, it is so very easy to feel alone here.

We wake up, we grunt at the ticket master, we wobble on the tube, we tut as a stiletto heel pierces a toe, we work, we eat lunch, we work, we wobble, we drink, we sleep. A day rushed, with the vaguest possibility of losing who we are with each passing moment.

I think many of us have had that thought ~ if I were to disappear, would it make any difference? Would anybody notice? I have vibrant, wonderful, intelligent, kind friends who suffer with crippling bouts of self doubt and helplessness and I can see them fading before me in this busy world of rushing and expectation.

But. I was chatting today with a friend of mine, a friend who has never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. This film to me, is more than a sentimental Christmas tale; it is a message of hope.

I’m sure many of you know the story. But indulge me, I’m going to tell it anyway. George Bailey (James Stewart ~ an actor who will undoubtedly make several appearances in this blog. He is my very favourite) lives his life selflessly. Keeping close to his heart a dream of travel –  “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…”  – he ends up stuck in the small town of Bedford Falls, helping out with his father’s ailing business. He gives up his college opportunity to his younger brother and he gives his lovingly saved honeymoon money to the citizens of the town after a run on the bank. He stays in Bedford Falls, he marries, he becomes a father. He takes over the business upon his father’s death. He doesn’t travel.

As time wears on, the business becomes further and further in debt and through several misadventures, George ends up being arrested for fraud. In sheer desperation, he stands on a bridge, staring at the waves below, wishing he’d never been born. However, as he is about to end his own life, an old man appears to fall into the river. George jumps in, fishes him out, takes him to shelter. The old man – let us call him Clarence, for that is his name – tells George that he is an angel, and that he has granted his wish. It was just as if George had never been born.

George stumbles through the town. His brother is dead. The town has been turned into a seedy underbelly by Potter, the corrupt spider-like businessman. His uncle is in an asylum, his childhood friend is a prostitute. His wife is – shock horror! – a spinster librarian. George Bailey gradually comes to realise that his own life has touched many others. The difference he has made just by being alive is invaluable. He has not achieved everything he has wished to achieve, but he is loved, he is treasured and he is indispensable to those in his little world.

My point is this. You, there – you, who have felt worthless and useless. You, who think the world would not miss you if you were to disappear ~ you are so wrong. You have touched a hundred odd lives, just by being here and being you. The difference you have made cannot be counted with what you consider achievement. Each and every one of my friends, my family… I would not be the person I am today without a contribution from every single one of you. You are all amazing and if ever you feel that you are insignificant, take a look at what you’ve done, who you have met, who you have loved and who has loved you. The world would not be the same if you were not here.

As Clarence himself says, ‘No man is a failure who has friends.’

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The Blue Danube

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. No; I jest ~ that would be eminently impractical and wet, seeing as ours is currently blocked. I write this sitting in my North London flat. My flatmate is working in the kitchen. The sounds of his 100 Wartime Memories album float through the divide and I note with slight amusement that I know all of the words to these songs and yet remain wholly ignorant to the current top ten. (Steps aren’t cool anymore, are they? Do people still say cool?) (Is the top ten still a thing?)

How odd it is to be twenty-eight and have a frame of reference at least seventy years out of date. I often find myself feeling a sub-intellectual dolt when topics of current affairs arise, but I can chat for hours on Hitchcock’s use of mise-en-scène or Hepburn and Tracy’s love affair. (Note – if you haven’t read Katherine Hepburn’s Me, do so. Her frank revelations of their relationship are beautiful).

I was on a date about a year ago, a twenty-something London tradition I do not look upon with great fervour. Unless sparks fly, it becomes a formulaic box to tick off – ‘at least I’ve tried, nobody can say I haven’t’ – with too much talk of siblings and television and not enough connection. This chap however, was fairly pleasant and the evening didn’t involve as much clock watching as per usual. (This sounds bloody awful, but I’m not a hideous date. I don’t sit there tapping my foot, or anything. And I always offer to split the bill). It culminated in a walk along the Southbank, an area of London I actually adore.

The night before, I’d watched Goodbye Mr. Chips for the fiftieth time. The 1939 version that is; don’t get me started on Peter O’Toole (God rest his soul) and as for the Martin Clunes version… no, this is the solid gold Robert Donat and Greer Garson original, based on the book by James Hilton. Hilton writes beautifully and optimistically; his Random Harvest is wonderful (I will talk of the touchingly romantic film version another time) and he won an Oscar for his Mrs Miniver screenplay ~ clearly he and Greer Garson made a wartime Dream Team).

Donat’s Mr Chipping and Garson’s Kathy only share a relatively small amount of screen time. They meet and fall in love whilst on a mountain – he: shy, reticent and courteous, her: vibrant, chatty and personable.They continually bump into each other around Europe whilst both on biking holidays – “We always seem to meet in a mist!” – until the inevitable happens and they marry. Unfortunately (SPOILER) Kathy and their child both die a year later… but we shan’t think of that just now.

Whilst bound for Vienna on a boat, both Chipping and Kathy both comment on the brilliant blue of the river. Their companions point out wryly – “The Danube is only blue to the eyes of people in love.” Strauss plays on and a beautiful romance is born.

Anyhoo, I’ve digressed. There I was, with this perfectly lovely man, walking along the river in London. We stopped and consider the river in silence and he steals a look at me. I think this is the bit where a kiss happens, or something. Oh dear. I glance at the Thames and it is dull, grey and milky. I understand there is no Strauss legend connected to it, but surely this indicative of something? Wouldn’t it at least be all shiny if I were meant to be with this nice man? I laugh awkwardly, slip away and say I have to be in an early meeting. I don’t have meetings. I run off and don’t call him again.

My point is, have old films and their idea of romance tainted my view of modern relationships? Is it possible that there is no ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ no ‘You want the moon, Mary?’ no Blue Danube? Did I let go of a thoroughly decent bloke because of Robert Donat?

Probably, yes. But I’m quite happy with my incurable romanticism. Life would be a little duller if it weren’t in black and white.

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