Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I love documentaries, I especially love music documentaries, and Muscle Shoals is one of the best examples of both I have seen.

Muscle Shoals is a small city in Alabama, located on the Tennessee River. According to native American legend, the river sings and is mystical and magical.

Music from this area is now called the Muscle Shoals sound...and here's why:

In the late 50s, Rick Hall, a genius engineer opened his own studio, FAME Studios. His back story up until then was tragic, but with a songwriting and musical background he had a great ear and put it to use. He collected a super group of musicians from the area, who eventually became known as The Swampers, and were the tightest and funkiest sessions musicians...especially as they were white. An unassuming bunch of locals that soon became sought after by the biggest of the biggest. 

Rick had a great ear for production, he would make artists do multiple takes until he got the sound he wanted. Almost always he couldn't actually articulate what he wanted, but said he'd know when he heard it. That is the sign of a true genius, the artists mostly didn't mind, as they always got hits out of his techniques.

Their first client was Arthur Alexander, a local bellhop. I had not heard of Arthur, but when he sung I knew the songs, they were covered by both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The next local to drop by and want a recording of his little song, was none other than Percy Sledge with When a Man Loves a Woman. There is actual footage of Rick ringing Jerry Wexler of Atlantic records and playing the cut down the phone to him.

And so on it goes, Wilson Picket, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, the list is endless.

Aretha was originally signed to Columbia records, but with no real success, five years had gone by and they dropped her. Atlantic snapped her up and sent her to Muscle Shoals. She had this song, Never Loved a Man!! But, no one could make it work, the keyboardist play a few deep, funky chords that now make the introduction to the song and it was cut within a few hours, straight to No. 1 and she was a bona fide star! There is footage from this period...amazing!

Even Sam Phillips said Fame studios influenced Sun Studios, especially in the way they used both black and white artists.

Now this was at the time of segregation, so part of this film shows how music helped to break down barriers, the majority of the session band and indeed Rick himself were white, but there were some blacks playing with them. None of them cared, the were all communicating via music not the colour of their skin...it simply wasn't an issue.

The Swampers, named by Leon Russell, were Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums),Jimmy Johnson (guitar), David Hood (bass). After a while, they split from Rick to form their own studio, Muscle Shoal Sound Studios. Soon The Rolling Stones arrived to cut Brown Sugar and Wild Horses, amongst other songsm there. Keith and Mick are interviewed for the film and rave about the place, especially Keith, wishing they had returned.

Paul Simon contacted them and asked for the black dudes who played on The Staple Singers, I'll take you there. He was surprised to learn they were white, but came down and recorded Love me like a rock and Kodachrome. The list that went through their studios is a who's who of blues/funk in the 70s. Bob Dylan recorded Slow Train Coming there.

My only criticism of the film is too much Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers for my taste and a bit too much commentary from Bono. I love Bono, but am still unsure of his connection to the film!

Muscle Shoals was a complete revelation to me. I knew all the music, really well in fact. But I had no idea of the story behind it all and the links between it all, when you listen to them, as you do when watching the film, you can immediately see the connection to the Muscle Shoals Sound. It's remarkable.

Muscle Shoals has a great story, not just the music, but the characters, the history, the racial aspects and the most stunningly beautiful cinematography I have ever seen.

But it's ultimately about the music, with so much footage, interviews and the songs themselves, I found myself dancing in my seat and grinning from ear to ear. I wept tears of joy watching this and simply enjoyed hearing the stories behind some of the greatest songs of all time.
Here is a link to the trailer:



Sunday, June 23, 2013

May Round Up

Here's the round-up for May, another month flying by...
First off the 42 things:
1. More Live Music
Katie Noonan: I had the pleasure of seeing Katie at Lizotte's with S, C and E. Been a fan since her George days, and love her classical, pop and jazz infused style. The support, Playwright, were excellent; with the singer sounding very much like Jeff Buckley. Katie came on after a short break with just a keyboard, wow! She sung a mix of everything and had us in the palm of her hand with her wonderful stories, lovely humour and stunning voice. We lined up later to purchase CDs and books, she was humble and sweet, taking the time to chat and sign what we purchased. A true star!!!

14. Whip my little backyard into shape
With Autumn fading, I have been spending time in my small backyard, or rather the side and front sections. Trimming trees and hedges, tidying and digging in the dirt. I do try to keep things simple as I can go for weeks, months without touching any of it, so high maintenance work is out of the question. But have got it looking more tidy and pleasing. Plus, I enjoy working in the garden, it is good for the soul I think.

19. Eat and drink out more
This has been a fabulous month for trying new places, brand new places in fact. After the French Film Festival opening night, A, L, M & I visited Grain Store Bar, a boutique beer bar in the old View Factory building. Huge selection of beers, great atmosphere and a cool crowd, a lovely addition to Newcastle East. A few days later L & I lunched at Soul Foods, in the old Bank/KFC building, a delicious array of home cooked, healthy and organic foods to choose from. Finally the superb Agosti Espresso on Darby rounds out my trio of new places in Newcastle. A shining beacon at the Hunter Street end of Darby, Agosti has a fabulous bar with cocktails, wines, beers, coffees etc, a large breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, plus a dessert cabinet. The settings are shiny, expansive and expensive looking, very deco and very modern at the same time. Add in a club lounge mezzanine and I never felt so completely at home in a cafe. Highly recommend! I do like lunch at Belmont 16 footers, usually not too busy during the week, the menu ok though best if you choose from the a la carte rather than the precooked options. I mostly like it for the superb views, even on a cold overcast day, the bay at Belmont is luring. I lunched with D for a catch up and whilst a cool day, the views were, as always, lovely.

22. Wash my car more often
Yes, I have been doing this, and both the car and myself feel the better for it. Never my favourite job, but on warm day with a shiny car at the end, you do feel good!
23. Spend more time with my niece and nephew
I had a lovely day on Mother's Day at the Forsyth farm. Our parents still holidaying in Qld, it was to celebrate my sister K and we had a great family day. I had a lot of fun playing tennis with the kids and dogs after lunch. I was throwing the ball for the kids to hit and the dogs brought the ball back to me. After a short while Mr 10 tired, and the dogs not long after, but Miss 5, seemingly charged like the energizer bunnies was unstoppable. Only a walk around the dams later gave my aching arms a rest!

26. Go to the Farmers Markets regularly
This has become a regular routine now. I only skip the fortnightly markets if I am working or the weather is very wet. I have regular stalls I purchase produce from and find it very difficult to leave without my gozleme for breakfast and a bunch of flowers. I almost always run into someone I know, and the walk is also lovely with the lake shimmering at that time of the morning. 

31. Have fun and laugh more at work
We have been working hard at Swansea Library but also having a great time. Having a 3D printer at our hands to showcase to the community has been a blast, with a lot of media attention and phones running off the hook with queries. The attention has been enjoyable and we've had lots of fun and laughs with it. We were also lucky to host a gentleman who paints in the Chinese style earlier in the month. His paintings were superb, but his very, very zen state and descriptions were what captured me. The way he described his brushstrokes and what he is going to paint were fascinating. It made you feel you could do it yourself, I purchased some beautiful hand painted cards.

33. Go to lots of fun social events
As always Newcastle has been a bevy of great events. There was the French Film Festival and shOUT (gay) Film Festival showing simultaneously one weekend at the Tower cinemas.

You can read about it here:

Then L & I went to The Great Gatsby premiere, also at The Towers:


The Bibliotweeps bookclub fell twice during the month. We met early to talk Anna Karenina, a book we all really wanted to read, but with busy lives and 700 odd pages of tiny writing found it difficult to finish. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, but found the detail too much and the huge array of similarly sounding names difficult to keep track of. We are continuing to read it and will check in each month to see how we are faring. Later we met to chat about Let's explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. I adore Sedaris, he is one of my favourite writers. He writes his memoirs in the form of short essays and is incredibly funny. He was easy to finish and was enjoyed by all.

36. Take time to do nothing and daydream more often
I've spent a lot of time photographing rainbows and sunsets this month. And sitting to enjoy the spectacular shows they both have put on. It's a good feeling to pull the car over, get out and just take in the beauty of nature and daydream. I highly recommend it!

Books read
Book Club Books as mentioned above and have been re-reading all of Sedaris! Also been listening to him read his own stories on Talking Book, he is the master as far as this is concerned, he writing is dry, so listening to him tell his stories adds a whole other layer. I always suggest to those new to Sedaris, to go online and youtube him and you will want to devour his books immediately!

I also read the book of Silver Linings Playbook, and I almost always prefer the book over the movie, but not in this case. The movie was superior, harsher in parts and softer in other. Very interesting.

I read a memoir called Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L Scott. It is about her time in Paris as an exchange student. She was placed with a wealthy family and her boyfriend with a more bohemian type of family. The books details her experiences and also goes through what she learnt from living in another country. Fascinating. 

Yay, RocKwiz is back. This would have to be my favourite show. Set in the seedy Esplanade Hotel in my beloved St Kilda with Julia (I want to be her when I grow up) Zemiro as host, this pub style trivia show is pure gold. Zemiro is quick witted, amiable and perfect. Brian, the brains trust, is quirky and a fellow music lover. The three piece band, tight and remarkable. The audience members collected for the panels rarely make you squirm and the musical guests are always superb. I adore the duet at the end and love to see how good I go on the questions. With Million Dollar Riff being my area of expertise! I watch the show with a large number of tweeps, most of whom are now close friends I have met in real life and we have a blast chatting online throughout the show! Worth staying in each Saturday night I must say!!

I always say I am not a fan of Australian television (it is usually too parochial) but my other favourite, Offspring, has returned. I have loved Asher Keddie since her Love My Way days and feel I have a little of her Nina in me! But it is Kat Stewart's Billie that steals the show, every time...she kills me. A huge ensemble cast, showing what families are really like, quirky and funny one moment and drop down tragic the next. 

So, there you go two Aussie tele shows to love...who would've thunk it!?!

Other than the Film Festival films and The Great Gatsby, I have only seen one other movie this month and that was Star Trek. I love the original series, so was concerned when this was rebooted, and you know it was pretty darn good. What I love the most about this is the fabulous casting, each new cast member, not only resemble the original cast but takes on their persona. What a coup! The story for this one was not as great and it lacked the impact of the first, however I had fun. Look, this is Star Trek, it is not Academy Award winning drama, and I just watch such films for the ride. The lack of female characters is annoying, but it is based on a 60s TV show, other than Uhuru, you didn't get many women, so it is what it is! Cumberbatch was a great villain, but I still wanted a bit more. We shall see where the franchise heads from here.

I watched a lot of DVDs this month:

Magic Mike - I didn't mind this, it was more about the struggle of the characters than the fact they were male strippers. This is not why I watched the film, I find the whole male stripper thing repulsive, and I think that was the point of the movie. But it is Soderbergh and it had Channing Tatum (who does nothing for me in the looks department either, he looks like a drip if you ask me!) who I think is becoming an interesting actor. It doesn't come highly recommended, but you know, it was solid!

Seven Psychopaths - oh I loved this! Written and directed by Martin McDonagh who did In Bruges which I also loved. Starring Sam Rockwell, Colin Farell, Christopher Walken, Harry Dean Stanton, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits. I LOVE these actors, and they must have had a hoot making this film about psychopaths. Farell is a screen writer, trying to write a film about psychopaths but struggling, all the while psychopathic behaviour is surrounding him, and he takes a while to clue up. It is funny, dark and violent, but in a cool Taratinoesque way. The dialogue is astonishing, Walken steals the film (of course), with Waits coming in a close second. But Farell is great in this, he was also great in In Bruges, so obviously McDonagh knows how to write for him! I highly recommend this is you don't mind a bit of violence.

Game Change  - is the made for tele movie about Sarah Palin starring Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Ed Harris. It's a solid effort with Moore nailing Palin, and a very interesting behind the scenes look at the campaign and what went on. Suffice to say she was even less smart than we thought, so much so I almost felt sorry for her at times...almost, but not quite! What I love the most about Game Change is it was written by Danny Strong, who Buffy fans will remember as Jonathan!!
The hunter  - this is a superb Australian film starring Willem Dafoe as an animal hunter tracking Tasmanian Tigers....yes, Tasmanian Tigers!! It is a very haunting film, set in the Tasmanian bush, it has the feel of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Japanese Story, whereby, you are waiting for something to happen. It is eerie and thrilling, and also speaks to environmental issues. I really loved this, one of the best Australian films I have seen in a long while. The cast is rounded out by Frances O'Connor and Sam Neil.
La Traviata - this is the filmed version of the classic opera as staged on Sydney Harbour. You know, with the humungous Swarovski crystal chandelier! It is a larger than life Opera and even more so on this remarkable set. It is romantic, and gorgeous and sumptuous and sexy, as all good Opera should be, but the stars twinkling in the sky, the Bridge and Opera House within shot and actual fireworks add a few extra layers of dazzling perfection. If you love Opera, or want to start enjoying Opera, this is a must see!!!
Mammuth - an interesting French film with my beloved Gerard Depardieu. GD is retiring work and finds out he won't get his pension as the government does not have the details of his other jobs. So he sets off on a journey on his bike to his past 10 employees to see if he can track the paperwork. Sounds odd, but is sooo French! Some of the journey is funny, poigant, sad, odd, there are sexual encounters and trips down memory lane. To be honest it sounds better than it was, it was good, but not great. I found his usual impecable acting rather sloppy and annoying. Mon Dieu!
Take this Waltz - oh I loved this too. About a young married couple, Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan, but she is restless and falls in love with their neighbour. At first theirs is an affair of the mind, and whilst you feel for her husband, you see how happy the 'new' couple are together and it makes more sense. It is the kind of film where you constantly change your stance and have your morals challenged. It is very bohemian and subtle, stunningly acted. I loved this a lot, I think about it a lot, I still don't know what I feel. I won't tell you what happens, I am not sure I know myself. Williams continues to dazzle me, I am yet to see a performance I don't like. Also a great supporting turn from Sarah Silverman, who I also like a lot.
Cabin in the Woods - this was pure silly and I can't say I loved it.  It did intrigue me. A group of teens go to a cabin in the woods and mysterious things happen, but who is controlling them, are they being controlled at all and why!! Sort of a thriller, comedy, horror co-written by Joss Whedon, who obviously was mucking around with us!?!
Your Sister's Sister - Jack (Mark Duplass) is grieving his brother, his best friend (Emily Blunt) let's him stay in the family cabin. But her sister (Rosemarie Dewitt) turns up, wounded from a broken relationship. And things get messy from there. It is a predictable story, with some strong acting from both women, who I admit I will see in anything, they are both charasmatic actresses. 
Boardwalk Empire S3
I've always enjoyed Gangster films, and BE empire is a brilliant depiction of the 20s in Atlantic City with prohibition and bribery and scandal and crime. Buscemi is charismatic and hypnotic as Nucky Thompson the kingpin of the town. I have always loved Buscemi and he is on fire in this role where he walks a fine line of utterly charming and menacing thug. Supported by an outstanding cast of character actors including Kelly McDonald, Gretchen Moll, Michael Shannon, Vincent Piazza, Jack Huston and Dabney Coleman. The set design is outstanding, with intricate attention to detail in the boardwalk, homes, cars, and costumes. Also a superb soundtrack that I must get my hands on. It is violent of course and this season the violence gets taken up a notch with the introduction of new guy, Rosseti played with malevolent force by the wonderful Bobby Cannavale. 
Rake S2
Richard Roxburgh is devilishly sexy as rogue barrister Cleaver Greene, even his name is delicious! With a crime of the week feel, but oh so much more. Based on supposed real life events, this is always tantalising and hilarious. Great Aussie tele...yeah maybe we aren't so bad after all! If you haven't seen Rake, then get moving...geez, what's wrong with you!?!

New Girl - this is good, not great, but it's getting there. I do love Zooey Deschanel, but she can be a little too twee in this! I gave up watching it on tele, but then saw she was dating the dreamy Dermot Mulroney, so I caught what I missed up on DVD, and enjoyed it a lot more. So give it a go, it's harmless and cute and this creepy world can do with some more cute I think!

I've been listening to Katie Noonan, sublime and The Rolling Stones, I bought Grrrr, which is an excellent compilation, I've really been getting in to it! I've always loved The Stones, had no choice growing up in my family, and lurve Keith more than words can say. But have always preferred the early, more obscure bluesy tracks. But the funky 70s tracks like Emotional Rescue and Waiting on a friend are just fabulous.
Check out this video for Emotional Rescue, hilarious!! If this doesn't make you groove and/or smile there is simply something wrong with you!!!

Ohhh, and Solid Gold anyone????????

Monday, June 10, 2013



Alfred Hitchcock. Cary Grant. Mistaken identity. 

Eva Marie Saint. Mount Rushmore. The Plaza Hotel.  

Crop Dusters. Bernard Herrmann. James Mason. Martin Landau. 

This is North by Northwest and it is my favourite film by the master, Alfred Hitchcock. It is a film I have seen many, many times, but never on the big screen and I was lucky enough to see it at the Tower Cinemas last week. It was magnificent.

Made in 1959, it has not dated in the slightest. Cary Grant, at 55, never looked better. Eva Marie Saint was a lucky girl indeed.

From Saul Bass's amazing opening credits you know you are in for a treat. Everything about this film is a masterpiece. The big and the small.

I love the character's names: Roger O. Thornhill, what does the O stand for...nothing! James Mason as the villain, Phillip Vandamm, what a great name. I love seeing Edward Platt (the Chief from Get Smart) in a small role as The Thornhill's lawyer, Victor Larrabee - also a great name, one I am certain Mel Brooks used for inspiration in Get Smart.

James Mason and a very young Martin Landau are excellent as the baddies, very menacing...even after seeing it as many times as I have.

And of course, a small cameo by the master himself, very early on in the film.

North by Northwest is suspenseful, it's classy, funny and romantic.

And what a romance! Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint...she got to star against two of Hollywood's greats in their prime, Grant in this and Brando in On the Waterfront. In both she is feminine and lovely, yet strong and their equal. A true star, she wins Grant over easily on a railway trip quite early in the film, their flirtatious dialogue is not only witty and fast paced, but very, very sexy. It's quite risqué for the period and whilst not exactly spelling out their intent, it's easily translated...blushing with envy...

Of course Eve Kendall is not all she seems, the hurt on Grant's face when he finds out is palpable, and he means business getting to the bottom of things. A formidable pair they make as the film progresses with twists and turns, in their relationship and especially in the action scenes, where Saint holds her own. And then there is the final scene, which is very cheesy, I am still unsure whether Hitchcock intended it to be subtle, it is certainly not...if you have no idea what I am talking about, I am not going to divulge it here...you simply have to see the film.

The action is where this film is at. Beautifully done too, Grant is on the run as he has been mistaken for a man called George Kaplan. From the breath holding initial scenes, where the baddies kidnap and ply Grant with alcohol and pop him behind the wheel of a sports car around some twisty bends, you know you are going to be in for a ride. Filmed as if you were behind the wheel, you do wince with every turn of the steering wheel. Not long after he escapes his kidnappers and is trying to work out what on earth is going on, Grant witnesses a murder but is mistaken for being the murderer (in a classic plot moment), so not only are the baddies are after him but the police too!

On the run, he is trying to find the person who everyone thinks he is, George Kaplan. If he finds Kaplan, all this craziness will end! In one of the most classic action scenes of all Hitchcock films, and probably action films ever, Grant is waiting alone by the side of the road, near fields in the middle of nowhere. He is waiting for Kaplan, but it's a set up. A plane is above, 'dusting' the crops, but the plane turns and starts to hunt Grant down. This was pure exhilaration to watch on the big screen for the first time. It's iconic, clever, simple in fact, and looked timeless and brilliant!

The more grueling scene of Saint and Grant climbing over president's faces at Mount Rushmore towards the end of the film, with the baddies in hot pursuit, is also breathtaking and very clever. Using an iconic monument for an iconic scene can be common place these days, but Hitchcock made it his own in North by Northwest.

Speaking of icons, the house used by the baddies will also go down in cinematic history. Hitchcock was not allowed to film at Mount Rushmore, so they recreated the monument in the studio. And he wanted to build a Frank Lloyd Wright House on the top near the monument. Neither was possible, the grounds wouldn't take something built there, and Wright was too expensive to commission. So they built an imitation, The Vandamm House as it is known, not bad really!

Throughout the film, you are hearing the music of Bernard Herrmann, in fact, in some of the more suspenseful sections, you will hear pieces that seem like a precursor to the shrill strings that make the shower scene in Psycho so iconic.

The dialogue is great, witty and sophisticated, and from the great Ernest Lehman. It was Lehman's idea for Mount Rushmore, that was the first thing he came up with, a climatic scene atop the president's faces. His humour can be seen in many of Grant's sharp one-liners, especially when he is initially kidnapped, with his mother, and in the auction scene.

Above all, this is Grant's film, he is sharp, witty, sophisticated, masculine AND gets the girl. He has never looked better, no wonder this was his biggest box office hit.

If you have not seen this movie, go find a copy of it right now and if you ever get a chance to experience it in a cinema, go go go!

Finally, if my gushing is not enough, have a look at the trailer as narrated by Hitchcock himself! 

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I rarely do full book reviews here...which is odd, given the amount I read and the fact I am a Librarian.

But I read the most remarkable book yesterday that I have to share.

It is called The Secret Museum and is by Molly Oldfield.

Molly is a researcher for QI, amongst other things. The book is a lovely small sized coffee table book about hidden treasures in museums of the world.

Many museums, galleries and libraries do not have all of their collection on show, in fact usually it is a very small percentage that one can see. The items are moved around to make the most of the collection, but most have some items that they NEVER show. This is usually because they are too large to place on display, or too small to showcase properly, they are rare, light may effect their wellbeing or other odd reasons.

Molly goes to many museums and gets to see some of these amazing items. The book was full of fascinating information of these items, and the history behind them. I was transfixed.

So here are a few that tickled my fancy, but are only a small amount of those mentioned.

The Gutenberg Bible - Morgan Library, New York
Below the amazing Morgan Library are three floors of vaulted materials, all underground. I think I was amazed by that more than what might be in these vaults. Amongst the treasures is one of the first Gutenberg Bibles...which is the first known book.

Spacesuits - Smithsonian Storage Facility, Maryland
First off, I had no idea this facility even existed, Maryland is outside of Washington where the main Smithsonian Museums are. The facility has a range of spacesuits, all worn by various people who have made that trip up into space. They are housed specially as some of them have moon dust on them...moon dust!!!! They are working on the most special one of all, have been for some time, trying to restore it, but being careful with the moon dust...that suit belongs to Neil Armstrong of course!

3 pieces of Mars - Vatican Observatory
Just outside of Rome is the Vatican Observatory and YES they have three pieces of Mars. The book details how they came to be distinguished as pieces of Mars. And then when the Mars Rover went up they could validate their theory. Amazing stuff. Apparently other scientific and space labs have pieces too. They fall to Earth quite regularly!

Vladimir Nabokov's Butterfly Genitalia Cabinet - Museum of Contemporary Zoology, Harvard University
Yes, it takes a while to get your head around this one. When Nabokov was not writing books, he was a foremost Butterfly expert and worked out of Harvard, being appointed curator in 1942!! He collected and identified many new species of Butterflies, 20 of which are named in his honour. His room is much as it was, just someone new in his spot, and some computers now. But this curiosity is not as racy as it may seem, though it is Nabokov we are talking about. The genitalia (YES, Butterfly penises to be exact!!!) are how one can distinguish between some species. They are collected and stored in a small cabinet and kept under wraps as they are incredibly fragile.

Dickens's Letter opener - New York Public Library
This will fascinate some, but why so special...it has the paw of his cat, Bob, on the end of it!! Bob the cat, loved to go through Dickens's mail and help him, so when the cat passed on, he had the paw fixed to a letter opener. Also with the collection are his collection of prompts. This fascinated me, as I had never heard of them. Dickens loved to perform his own material, so he took the best or favourite scenes from his novels and placed them in a separate book of 'prompts' for him to read from whilst performing. These are one off books and housed at the New York Public Library too, how wonderful!

Archives - Roald Dahl Museum, Buckinghamshire, England
Now, I did not know such a museum existed, got to stick that on my travel list. Amongst other things, the museum houses his archives, which is fairly standard except for one piece. This piece is remarkable, it is the first thing Dahl kept or archived. It is a letter from C.S. Forester's agent stating quite simply that Dahl should be a writer. Basically it is the piece of correspondence that changed his life and without it, we may have never been entertained by his stunning array of work!! Forester had interviewed Dahl for war stories, he had heard about Dahl's experiences during the war and felt he could get some great stories for his own books. They met and chatted and Forester was so transfixed he took no notes. He asked Dahl to write them down for him, but was so overcome with how well they were written, he sent them to his agent, who in turn wrote this letter. What a turn of events!!

Animals - Museum National d'Historie Naturelle, Paris
Underneath this natural history museum there are 3 floors of animals, stuffed, taxidermied or in jars. The thought of a complete zoo or Ark underground in Paris is rather fascinating.

Livingstone and Stanley's hats - Royal Geographic Society, London
Keep under wraps behind the scene, but side by side.

The hidden Miro mural - Guggenheim, New York
This is quite the story. Inside the entrance to the Guggenheim is a large white wall, this is a false wall hiding a Miro Mural! The mural was commissioned as a memorial for Harry F Guggenheim's wife, Alicia. It was displayed for some time, but it was felt the piece overwhelmed everything else on display and the false wall was built to hide it. Occasionally it is knocked down to reveal the hidden mural, but mostly it stays unnoticed.

An unopened book - Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
I know this museum well, and would love to visit it one day. I read a fabulous book about a large heist that was pulled there back in 1990, the items still lost. Isabella began collecting in the late 1800s after her son died at age 2, and with an inheritance from her father. Distraught from her sons death, she took to travel. She loved art and especially Venice. After her husband died in 1898, she began to build a museum/house in a Venetian style (in Boston)to house her works. It remains today, her collection is the largest private collection in the world amassed by one person, and a woman too! There are many books within the collection, but one that is rarely seen by others, so much so, only a handful of people know what is in it. The author was lucky to arrange a visit on one of the special invitation only evenings where a few pages of the book were to be shown. It was quite the experience and the book is one of 11 volumes from Naples (the rest remain in Italy) and is an illuminated manuscript of Gregorian chants. The book includes the actual music, with notations very different to what we know today.

Friendship book - Anne Frank's House, Amsterdam
I left this very special piece until last and will admit it had me in tears. The friendship book belonged to Juultje, a school friend of Anne Frank. It is kept locked up due to it's fragility. Like Anne, Juultje didn't make it out of the concentration camp. Friendship books were little books where friends wrote words of encouragement to the owner of the book. It was given to Juultje on her 11th birthday and Anne was 10 when she wrote this beautiful poem:

Dear Juultje,
What shall I write here?
Wait, Dear Juul, I have an idea;
Good health and all the best!
Be good and full of zest,
and whatever fate may be divining.
Remember, every cloud has a silver lining.
In memory of your friend,
Anne Frank.

Ten. Years. Old. 

Wise beyond her years, intelligent, a way with words, so chilling and sad.

There is many more items within this amazing book, lots of drawings and such, but the disappointing thing, no pictures of these items. I guess they are hidden for a reason, but knowing they exist made me smile.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


I saw The Great Gatsby last week and I really enjoyed it...which would be a different response from most reviews of it. But then I have never had most people's taste! Nor really bothered about most reviews.
I did not love it, that is not unusual for me and Baz. I adore his first film, Strictly Ballroom, a masterpiece in my opinion. Fun and flashy, great music, fabulous story, and very Australian. The dance scene on top of the shop roof at dusk with the twinkling Coca-Cola sign in the background is one of the most beautiful and romantic scenes in Australian film.
Then there was Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, and with each of these films he went bigger and better and more flashier, so you expected something more each time, I loved both of them, but walked out wanting more, thinking there was something missing, something I have never been able to put my finger on. 
Was it my expectations, or the fact Strictly Ballroom was hard to follow? 
I think for both of these films there were so many outstanding scenes, usually towards the beginning of the film, so when there were quieter, less flashier scenes you felt let down. But as I say, it is an intangible thing that stops them from being as good as Strictly Ballroom.
And then there was Australia...the less said about that appalling piece of crap the better.
So, onto Gatsby, it's a favourite book of mine, I love Fitzgerald's prose. It is part satire, part tragedy, an odd choice in a way, but you can see why Baz choose it. Those party scenes, over the top, frivolous and vacuous, expensive and gauche, perfect for that trademark Baz razzle dazzle. But how would he handle a book with so much inner dialogue and observations that may be hard to translate from words.? This was my concern, and you know, I need not have been concerned at all.

To me, and this is the most important thing, he *got* the book, the satire, the excess, the tragedy, and above all the doomed romance between Daisy and Gatsby. For a smallish book, there is a lot packed into it, and whilst not every single moment is captured - that can never happen in film, too difficult - he does a great adaptation of it. There was the addition of Nick being placed in some sort of sanitarium and being told to write his experience, definitely a dumbing down for the American (??) audience. This worried me when I heard about it, and whilst completely unnecessary it actually worked.

The casting was always going to be interesting. I thought Tobey Maguire did well as Nick Carroway, the outsider included into the inner sanctum of Gatsby and those around him. Elizabeth Debicki and Joel Edgerton were perfect as Jordan Baker and Tom Buchanan. Carey Mulligan, who I always love on screen, was solid as Daisy Buchanan, but somewhat not exactly right...though who would I cast otherwise, I have no idea. She was fragile and beguiling, a little ditsy, but maybe because you knew it was Carey Mulligan, she brought with it a certain otherworldliness that Daisy should not have. Also I was very distracted by her fake fingernails, they were the 'right' sort of nails for that period, but so obviously fake I was annoyed by it. I generally have issues with fake nails, I can't stop looking at them and wondering why anyone would do something to ridiculously stupid to themselves...but, you know, that's me.

Jay Gatsby, enigmatic, heroic, childish, aloof, naive, idealistic, flash, false, true, passionate. What a character, what a difficult part to cast. Redford never pulled it off and Leonard Dicaprio comes very close, but not quite. But again, I can't imagine who could pull this character off. I do adore Dicaprio, a great actor who is becoming a stunning leading man. It took a while for me to buy him as Gatsby, as he was, you know, Leo! But there was a scene, where he is at Nick's cottage about to meet Daisy for the first time in years, he disappears and reappears soaking wet - his Colin Firth/Darcy moment if you will - and he was Gatsby, standing there is a pale blush suit, looking ridiculous, earnest and wet. From then on he pretty much pulled it off, which is saying something. Not 100% but close!

The supporting cast was a who's who of Australian character actors including Baz himself!

There was much fuss about the music, a lot of hip hop and very modern music. This had me really really concerned. I love the 20s/30s above all periods, and therefore adore that music. Why on earth would you do a period piece without the period music. However it was a lovely mix of both, the modern worked quite well. And the masterpiece scene where they are partying unlike anything you have ever seen before and subtly introduces Gatsby at the same time was accompanied by Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. This is my favourite piece of music of all time...bar none!!! You have to do it justice otherwise incur my wrath...it brought tears to my eyes, in the right kind of way...splendiferous! 

Which brings me to the set, perfection! Rambling houses, stunning rooms, deco sets, chandeliers, fountains, swimming pools, and Moet! Nothing was left to chance, it was utterly amazing, bright and sparkly, a rapid movement of flash and glitz, yet I wanted more. What, how, who can know? I think maybe that's where his quick, quick cutting fails, you actually don't get to see the detail in as much detail as you like because the camera never lingers long enough on what you want to look at. It's more like wow, that was, what was, oh gorgeous, huh, what...with an overall feel of spectacular, spectacular...but then a bit of longing for more. Someone later pointed out the cgi, which I sort of noticed at the time, but wasn't that bothered by. But, yes, each sweeping shot was more than likely cgi'd in, which is a shame. I think this with the severe and sharp cutting always add to my wanting more, or wishing the sweeping wasn't so sweeping and definitely not cgi, and the quick, quick, kept a fast pace but maybe not so fast!

The finer detail of costumes, jewels, room design, floral arrangements, food, cars and so forth were also spot on perfect.

Some scenes are great though, Myrtle's demise, and Gatsby's final scene with the pool were as I imagined them when reading the book. The Rhapsody in Blue scene that introduces Gatsby, perfectly reveals the excess of the period. The hot and cranky scenes at The Plaza hotel also perfectly captured. Gatsby longingly looking across the bay from jetty to jetty. His love of Daisy, so pure and so painfully unobtainable. I always thought Jay Gatsby was the most desirable character in the piece, in that his character was the purest and most realistic. The others were too flawed, or not quite fleshed out in a desirable way.

I also loved the billboard that distinguishes the various areas in the movie, It has the iconic blue cover on it, almost as if Fitzgerald was watching over the movie and guiding us through.

I didn't see it in 3D, I would be keen to see it again in 3D. I did thoroughly enjoy it, but yes, all the parts did not quite add up to love, love, love. But the film still stays with me, more than a week after seeing it too. It certainly more than makes up for the severe disappointment that was Australia.

I saw it for a fundraiser at The Tower Cinemas in Newcastle, L and I dressed up for it, as did everyone else in attendance...what a thrill.

Don't listen to the critics, go and see The Great Gatsby, and then go and find the book and read it too.