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Posts Tagged ‘Tragedy’

I haven’t seen this film since it was in the cinema (10 years ago!!), but yesterday decided to revisit it on the small screen.  How glad I am that I did.  I loved it when I first saw it, and wondered if I would still enjoy it – the answer is an emphatic yes!

Nicole Kidman is radiant (and exquisite) as Satine, a high class courtesan at Moulin Rouge in Paris, a club frequented by bohemians, artistes, writers, who call themselves the children of the revolution.  When penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) meets her, they fall in love…but Satine has already been promised to a rich and powerful Duke.  A love triangle ensues, but even as the lovers struggle to stay together, an even darker force is exerting it’s pull on Satine…

I hesitate to use the word extravaganza very often, but in the case of this film, it’s deserved.  The movie combines, energetic, colourful dance routines, with romance, comedy and drama.  The music is all drawn from familiar 20th century sources, although the setting for the film is Paris at the end of the 19th century (seriously, the songs here are from such artistes as Madonna, Nirvana, The Police, Bolan, Bowie – but all given a new and exciting spin).  The colour and energy radiates off the screen, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments of hilarity.  My favourite scene is where Satine, Christian, and their bohemian friends (including Toulouse Lautrec are pitching their idea for a new show to the Duke, in the hope of gaining his financial backing.

The two leads are brilliant.  Nicole Kidman has never looked more beautiful, and has never been so funny and tragic as she is here.  McGregor too is at his most endearing and makes you want to root for his character.  However, special mention must be made of Jim Broadbent, who played Harold Zindler, the manager of Moulin Rouge; and especially John Leguizamo, who played Toulouse Lautrec.  I have only ever seen Leguizamo in one other role – a coke addled Doctor on ER, and I hated him in that role.  Here however, he was fantastic.  What an incredible actor!

The aforementioned soundtrack is fabulous, and the story plays along nicely with a perfect balance of comedy and tragedy.  If you haven’t experienced Moulin Rouge yet (and if you haven’t, then why not?), I really recommend watching this film.  You might love it, you might hate it, but I doubt that you will forget it.

Year of release: 2001

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pierce

Main cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo

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Loosely based on the novel  ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ by Alexandre Dumas, fils, this 1936 film stars Greta Garbo as Marguerite Gautier, a Parisian courtesan, who falls in love with Armand Duval (Robert Taylor), but is promised to the ruthless Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell).  As Camille’s health starts to fail her, she must choose which man she wants to be with – but Armand’s father (Lionel Barrymore) does not want his son to marry Marguerite, and asks her to sacrifice her love in order to set him free.

This film astounded me – I had no idea that I would enjoy it so much.  It’s listed in the AFI’s top 100 romantic films, and with good reason – this is real romance, and the film is uplifting, sad, moving and sweet all at the same time.

All of the cast are great, but this is Garbo’s picture – this woman could ACT.  She was not a conventional beauty, but she was absolutely stunning and luminous in this role. Robert Taylor did a fine job as Armand, who is stunned by the force of his love for her, and confused and angry at the turn that events take.  While all of the supporting cast were good in their roles, I must mention Laura Hope Crews, as Marguerite’s friend Prudence (but like most of her friends, Prudence is only in the friendship for what she herself can get out of it).

Paris looks lovely and the costumes are divine.  The score is also lush and romantic and absolutely fitting for such a love story.  Anyone who is a fan of true romance in the movies must see this film – highly recommended.

Year of release: 1936

Director: George Cukor

Writers: Alexandre Dumas, fils (book), Zoe Atkins, Frances Marion, James Hilton

Main cast: Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Henry Daniell, Laura Hope Crews

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This is one of the most famous films of all time, and probably needs no introduction!  It is the lavish and ambitious adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s epic, telling the story of the manipulative Scarlett O’Hara and the roguish Rhett Butler, during and after the war.

Some adaptations are disastrous, but I felt that this certainly did the novel justice; having recently read the book I wanted to see the film while the story was fresh in my mind.  There are some slight changes (for instance Scarlett’s first two children Wade and Ella are not in the film at all), but overall the film remains faithful to the original story.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh are perfect in the two main roles (maybe I think this because they are forever associated with the characters and even when reading the book – having not seen the film at that time – I pictured them as Rhett and Scarlett).  It is certainly difficult to imagine Basil Rathbone – Mitchell’s original choice for the role – as Rhett.  Over 1400 actresses read for the part of Scarlett and 400 of those were given screen tests – but it’s hard to imagine that they could have picked a better actress for the part than Leigh.  However, the best performances in the film came from Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, one of the house servants at Scarlett’s home; and Olivia de Havilland as Ashley’s wife Melanie (McDaniel and Leigh received Oscars for their roles, while de Havilland and Gable were nominated for their parts).

I did lose myself in the movie – it’s very long at almost 4 hours, but it didn’t feel like it – but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a a movie with a lot of sadness and tragedy – my emotions were certainly put through the wringer!  As when reading the book, I veered from dislike of Scarlett to a begrudging respect for her, and I found myself liking Rhett despite myself – but the real heroine of this story is surely Melanie – who was full of grace, kindness and forgiveness.

The cinematography is lush and vivid, considering that the film was made in 1939 – it simply looks fantastic and certainly immerses the viewer right into the story.

Well worth watching – but you need to put a whole evening aside for it, and it may be as well to keep something cheerful put by for afterwards!

Year of release: 1939

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor (uncredited), Sam Wood (uncredited)

Writers: Margaret Mitchell (book), Sidney Howard, Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling, John Van Druten

Main cast: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Leslie Howard

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the film ‘Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara War’.

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On 6th March 1987, the car and passenger ferry Herald of Free Enterprise, capsized shortly after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.  Almost 200 people died in the disaster, which happened because the bow doors were not closed as they should have been.

Stephen Homewood was Assistant Pursur on the ferry, and helped to save the lives of many people on board.  (He was subsequently awarded the Queens Gallantry Medal for his efforts in the rescue mission.) 

This book is his story of the events of that tragic night, and the psychological effect it had on him and other survivors.  It is openly critical of Townsend Thoresen (which were taken over by P&O in the same year), and their slipshod attitudes towards safety.  Indeed, the subsequent enquiry into the disaster said that the company had been riddled with the disease of sloppiness from top to bottom.

The story is certainly a tragic one – I remember the disaster happening well, but was not so aware of the attitude taken by the ferry company after the disaster.  Unfortunately, it appears that the survivors were treated with disrespect afterwards, and it was as if the compay just wished to brush the matter under the carpet and let people forget about it.  Stephen Homewood is understandably angry at this (it’s worth remembering that the book was written just the following year after the tragedy), and lays out his case clearly and consisely.

The author comes across as a thoroughly decent and honest man.  I was concerned that there would be a lot of technical talk about the inner workings of the ferry, but this was not the case, and everything was explained very clearly.

An interesting read, although for obvious reasons I’m not sure I could call it an enjoyable one.

(For more information about the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise, please click here.)

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1984: 10 year old junior detective Kate Meaney spends her days wandering around Green Oaks Shopping Centre, in Birmingham, looking for suspicious activity.  Living with her disinterested grandmother after the desertion of her mother and the death of her father, Kate finds it hard to make friends and her closest confidante is her toy monkey, Mickey.

2003: Kurt, a security guard at Green Oaks Shopping Centre, who has few friends and suffers with a sleep disorder, is haunted by the image of a little girl with a toy monkey, which he sees on the security camera at the centre, and which invokes memories of young Kate Meaney, who went missing almost 20 years earlier.  Meanwhile, Lisa – a manager at Your Music, in the shopping centre finds a toy monkey stuffed behind a pipe in the centre, and is also reminded of when Kate disappeared.  Gradually, the truth of what happened all those years ago is revealed…

I really liked this book.  I had a particular interest in reading it as the author is local to the area where I live, and I am very familiar with the shopping centre on which the book is partly based. 

The first part of the story centred on Kate Meaney and her life.  All she wants to do is become a detective – and maybe find someone who understands her.  The only friends she has are Teresa – a schoolfriend, who for different reasons to Kate is also something of an outsider, and Adrian – the son of the local newsagent.  Kate feels largely invisible, and certainly it seems as if she is often overlooked by others.

The second part of the book shifted to life at the shopping centre, and in particular for Lisa and Kurt, who don’t know each other, but become friends.  The author used to work at just such a shopping centre, and it shows through in some of the anecdotal stories of awkward or eccentric customers, and the trivial incidents which get blown out of all proportion. There was a lot of humour in this section of the book, but also a lot of tenderness.  Both Lisa and Kurt seem to be drifting through their lives, finding little satisfaction anywhere and having let go of all of their dreams.

I thought the three main characters of Lisa, Kurt and Kate were all very well drawn, and the author seems to have a real talent for getting into the minds of these slightly off-beat characters. 

The writing also flowed beautifully and I found the book hard to put down.  Most of the chapters are short and choppy, which makes it a quick and absorbing read.  I also particularly liked the little thoughts of various anonymous people around the centre, some of which were very funny and some of which were sad or poignant.  One of the things that did jump out at me was how for some people, a huge shopping centre such as the one in this book becomes almost the centre of their lives.  It’s a social meeting place, a way of avoiding boredom, somewhere where people can become anonymous and get lost in the crowds.

The book isn’t perfect – a couple of the things that happened struck me as too unrealistic – but it was a very enjoyable read, and I will certainly be looking out for more work by Catherine O’Flynn.

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