Title: The Barefoot Contessa
Release Date: September 29, 1954
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Production Company: Figaro
The Barefoot Contessa is part of the trend of “show business is sleazy” satirical dramas following on the heels of Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve (the latter written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who wrote and directed this film). Writer/director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is part of a Hollywood team traveling Europe looking for a “new face” when they discover flamenco dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner, born in North Carolina and not the slightest bit Spanish) in Madrid. Maria becomes a superstar after making three films with Harry, before marrying Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rosanno Brazzi). But since the movie begins at Maria’s funeral, and the film is told in flashback, we know that things are not going to end well.
Despite the title, the movie is not really about Maria. She is more of an object for men to desire and for more conscientious men like Harry to philosophize about. To be fair to the film, it makes no pretence at being a movie about Maria and spends a lot of time in voiceover monologues by Harry, Count Vincenzo, and even the sleazy publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien) who works for a couple of millionaires who are pursuing Maria romantically. But it strikes me that the movie would be much better if it was from Maria’s perspective. The dialogue in the film strives towards witty repartee, but misses the mark so that it just embarrassing. The film starts very well, and the friendship between Harry and Maria is very strong, but ultimately The Barefoot Contessa is a disappointment.
Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.
Title: The Spirit of the Beehive
Release Date: 8 October 1973
Director: Víctor Erice
Production Company: Elías Querejeta Producciones Cinematográficas S.L. | Jacel Desposito
Set in a small Castilian village just after the Spanish Civil War, The Spirit of the Beehive is a film that captures the intersection of childhood wonder and fantasy with grim realities. If that description seems to fit Pan’s Labyrinth as well, then you won’t be surprised that Guillermo del Toro drew inspiration from this film. Ana (Ana Torrent) is an adorable 6-year-old with a vivid imagination. Her father (Fernando Fernán Gómez) is a beekeeper and writes extensively about bees. Her mother (Teresa Gimpera) writes letters to distant lovers. Neither of them seem to be all to involved in the lives of their children.
The film begins when a traveling movie show brings Frankenstein to the village. Ana becomes entranced by Frankenstein’s monster, especially the scene when he kills the little girl. Ana’s older sister Isabel (Isabel Tellería) tells her that “Everything in the movies is fake” and that the monster didn’t kill the girl and that in fact he lives in a nearby sheep shed. Ana visits the sheep shed often and finding a wounded republican soldier hiding there, she brings him food and clothing.
The Spirit of the Beehive is set at the beginning of the Franco regime and was released shortly before Franco’s death. Erice gets a lot of credit for telling a story that is critical of Franco through metaphor and thus evading censorship. But beyond the plot that I’ve summarized here, much of the film is more of a tone poem capturing the everyday wonders and fears of a young child. It’s beautifully filmed and Ana Torrent’s performance is remarkable.
Around the World for a Good Book selection for Spain
Author: Javier Marias
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
Title: The Man of Feeling
Publication Info: New Directions (2003)
This short meditative book is narrated from the perspective of a young opera singer who travels across Europe for performances. On one of his journeys he shares a train cabin with an attractive woman, her husband, and a man who works as their handler (for lack of a better word). It seems painfully obvious that the narrator will lust after the woman, that the power-hungry husband won’t like that, and the handler will play both sides against one another, because that is exactly what happens. Marias narrator is not a sympathetic character, even as he details the reprehensible behavior of the others in this quartet, he still comes off as the worst. The saving grace is that Marias – and his translator – makes good use of lyric writing with a few turns of the flowery word and a narrative built on a dreamlike quality. This is not a book to read for the plot or the characters, just the well-crafted prose. Marias describes his work accurately in the epilogue as ‘a love story in which love is neither seen nor experienced, but announced and remembered.”
This afternoon, my wife, son, and good family friend Craig took in the performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The annual pageant of music, dance, storytelling, and drama focused this year on the pilgrimage along the Camino de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia. As a Celtic culture, the Galicians have their own version of the bagpipe called the gaita which featured prominently. Any piece featuring gaita and drums was a highlight for me. The largest drum resonated throughout the house.
The story of this Revels follows Everyman (portrayed by Jay O’Callahan) on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and onwards to the End of the Earth in Finisterre. Elements of Don Quixote are woven into the story as Everyman is knighted and joined on his journey by squire Sancho (Billy Meleady, who starred in last year’s show) and the tavern keeper Angélica (the delightful Angélica Aragón).
Usually the theme of a Revels’ performance is an excuse to tie together song and dance numbers, but this story of a pilgrimage actually maintains a pretty continuous narrative built around set pieces along the Camino, in a tavern, at a monastery, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and finally at Finisterre. The sets and lighting are really remarkable in adapting the stage for the different places along the journey.
Highlights of the show include:
- the talent and hard work of the Revels’ children whose performance more than ever is fully-integrated into the show.
- the charming line dance when the pilgrims are greeted by the monks to the tune of “Alborada de Ourense.”
- O’Callahan telling the story of “The Singing Sack.”
- sing-a-long with choreography to “Fum, Fum, Fum.”
- puppetry and lights to enact the Galacian version of the posadas ritual.
- an amazing bit of stagecraft where a giant censer is swung like a pendulum over the performers on the stage (based on the Botafumeiro at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
- Jaime Jaffe’s solo performance of “Ondas Do Mar De Vigo.”
- a mummers play featuring a mustachioed dragon who performed the hammiest death throes.
There were some disappointments. Jay O’Callahan was hard to understand and I’m not sure if he was mumbling or mic’ed improperly. Sitting in balcony center meant it took a long time to get downstairs to participate in “The Lord of the Dance.” It ended just as we reached the lobby. While I would not rank this among my all time favorite Revels’ performances, it was still delightful and I recommend seeing it if you have the chance. There are four more performances before the show closes on December 27th, so get your tickets now!
The Boston Globe has a more-detailed review for your perusal.
Here’s the report on my first week as a novice soccer fan. See my previous post Forming an Association with Football for more details.
USA v. Brazil (10 Aug 2010) – A friendly match in the New Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey to thank the US fans for their World Cup support. Supposedly the experienced US side fresh from the World Cup would have something to show to a young Brazilian team featuring many players appearing in their first international match. Instead, it turned into an embarrassing rout with stylish Brazilian play exposing the weakness of the USA’s back line with attack after attack after attack. Only great goalkeeping by Tim Howard and Brad Guzan prevented Brazil from running up the score. More on this debacle from the Boston Globe.
At the very least seeing Brazilian players in the Meadowlands reminded me of the glory days of Pele and the New York Cosmos.
Mexico vs. Spain (11 Aug 2010) – I stopped in a pub in Boston for supper on Wednesday night and they had Spain’s first World Cup championship friendly at Mexico on the TV. This game was Spain’s first defense of a lesser-known title, the Unofficial Football World Championship. Basically the UFWC folks have created a basic title system akin to boxing championships tracing back to the earliest international football match in 1872. When Spain defeated the Netherlands in the World Cup championship they ended the Dutch run of 21 title defenses and unified the UFWC with the official world championship. Mexico had a good chance of snatching the title away from Spain with an early first half goal but David Silva of Spain equalized in stoppage time just before the end of the game (the UFWC champion retains the title in a tie). The drama of the moment was lost on me because the Univision broadcast for some reason reset the clock at zero at the start of the second half so I had thought I was watching the first half until the players started shaking hands.
Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid (13 Aug 2010) – Yet another friendly, this team matched two European club powers to contest the Beckenbauer Cup in tribute to the Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer. It was fun to watch some of the best players in the world duke it out but the game ended as 0-0 tie with Real Madrid winning the cup in a penalty shootout. Real Madrid’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas proved to be the hero of the match with several dramatic saves.
This leads me to a question which will probably betray my ignorance and American heritage: How is it that with the goals in soccer being so enormous that there are so many scoreless games? I mean if you ever stand by one of those nets it would seem impossible for a ball not to get in there no matter how good the keeper and the defense.
This weekend was too busy to watch soccer so I didn’t see any games of the teams I purportedly am following. I did learn that as a supporter of Everton and the US national team I can be double embarrassed by Tim Howard’s fumble in the penalty area which allowed Blackburn to score the only goal of the game:
I’ve also I discovered a German team with the best name ever: Wormatia Worms. Granted it’s funnier in English if you imagine annelids playing soccer, and ignore that Worms is the name of city in Germany. Still, if the Wormatia Worms played higher than the fourth division in Germany I’d definitely start watching their games.
In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.
Title: L’auberge Espagnole
Release Date: May 17, 2002
Director: Cédric Klapisch
Production Company: Mate Production | Via Digital, BAC Films | Ce qui me meut | France 2 Cinéma | Studio Canal
While lacking in plot structure, and carrying the message that it represents the New Europe of international cooperation, this is a funny movie that shows what happens when you take students from all over Europe and put them together in an apartment in Barcelona. The movie is told from the point of view of Frenchman Xavier, who is an arrogant ass, but still fun to watch as he sinks into the mad European pudding. The movie’s at it’s best when showing the group dynamic and people interacting in silly ways.