Sunday, January 27, 2008

Il Gattopardo (1963)

Casting an American actor to play an Italian prince must be not an easy decision, but Burt Lancaster is very convincing as the Prince of Salina, although he is dubbed entirely in Italian. Il Gattopardo, directed by Luchino Visconti, is a masterpiece, won the Palm D'Or in 1963. Every detail was carefully attended, I wish my television were bigger. After giving some thought about what version I should take, I finally bought the region 2 DVD, which was relatively cheaper than region 1 which actually had more extras - but I decided that I didn't need a cut English dubbed version. The region 2 has commentary by Forgacs and Capitano, which I find very helpful in understanding the movie. However I still had to read some Sicilian history, especially during 1860-1862, in order to appreciate this movie better.

Based from a book by Prince of Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo begins with the interuption of a morning prayer in Prince of Salina's house because the servants have found a dead soldier in the garden. At that time, Garibaldi has landed with his troops in Marsala, seeking freedom from the Bourbons. Tancredi, the prince's nephew, whom he loves more than his own children, goes to join the rebels, and comes back with a wound near the eye and a promotion. A war may take place, but the people's life doesn't change. The prince and his family, like always, go to Donnafugata for their holiday. The prince's daughter, Concetta, developes an expectation that Tancredi is in love with her and will ask for her hand; but when Father Pirrone tells the prince about it, the prince says that Concetta is only dreaming, and that Tancredi needs a very rich girl to meet his ambition. That night Don Calogero comes for dinner with her beautiful daughter Angelica, and soon Tancredi, who has left Garibaldi and now joins the royal army, falls in love with her. The prince approves because Don Calogero, although not well learnt, has lots of land and money. The story culminates in the ball in Palermo, where for the first time Tancredi introduces his fiancee to the high society and the prince realises how old he has become.

I read complains about how long the ball is, it takes about 45 minutes - but I disagree and must say how I enjoy it: the music, the costumes, the decorations - are superb. Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale made a very beautiful couple and it is lovely to see them dancing, so happy they were. In English, the title of this movie is translated to 'The Leopard' - which is not 100% accurate (Gattopardo is a large African cat), but it refers to the big prince with his side whiskers and 'paws'. On the left, you can see the family crest.

My favourite moments:
1. The dog won't let go Tancredi's hand. I heard that Visconti rehearsed every
movement, but this must be an accident. I don't believe anyone can train a dog like that!
2. The singing is so boring that the dog yawns.
3. The local band keeps coming in at the wrong moment.
4. The prince slaps his knee so hard he hurts himself.
5. Tancredi and Angelica dance together.

'If we want everything to stay as it is, everything has to change.' ~ Tancredi Falconeri.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Forsyte Saga

'The present is linked with the past, the future with both. There's no getting away from that.' ~Soames Forsyte

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy consists of 3 books: The Man of Property, In Chancery, and To Let - the last was published in 1920. The story spans from June 1886 to October 1920: begins with the engagement party of June Forsyte to Philip Bosinney and ends with the death of 101 year-old Timothy Forsyte. The story involves lots of characters because The Forsytes are one big family. Jolyon and Ann Forsyte has 10 children: Jolyon, James, Swithin (James's twin), Nicholas, Roger, Timothy, Ann, Hester, Julia, and Susan. The story centers around Soames, James's son, and his beautiful wife Irene. Irene doesn't love Soames, but she marries him because he promises to let her go if she wants. Problem comes when Irene falls in love with Bosinney, June's fiance, the architect who are building a dream house for Soames in Robin Hill. In building and decorating the house, Bosinney uses too much money, which makes Soames sues him, and wins. Meanwhile, Bosinney hears that Soames has forced his right as a husband to Irene, and this makes him upset and in a thick London fog, with his mind clouded, he is run by a carriage, and dies. Old Jolyon likes Irene very much, despite the fact that Irene has ruined the happiness of his granddaughter, June. Jolyon buys the Robin Hills house and after his death, his son Jolyon (Jo) inherites it. This 2nd Jolyon marries too young, has June, and runs away with a foreign governess and has 2 more children: Jolyon (Jolly) and Holly. Jo becomes Irene's trustee. Another problem comes again when James, Soames's father, wants a grandchild. Soames must get Irene back (for after Bosinney's death she leaves Soames) or marries again. Soames, still in love very much with Irene, tries to persuade her to come back, but she refuses and fells in love with her trustee instead, the 2nd Jolyon. Soames divorces Irene and marries Annette, a French girl who helps her mother in their restaurant; and he sees how Irene finally lives in the house which he has built for her after all. The bitterness between Soames and Irene doesn't stop here because Soames's only daughter, Fleur, falls in love with Irene's only son, Jolyon (Jon). It is part of their fault, because they never tells the children what has happened in the past. Fleur finds the truth first, but only tells Jon half of it, so when Jon finally learns all the truth from his parents, he has to leave Fleur forever because he loves his mother too much and no way he can make an acquitance with a man who once treated his mother like a slave. Fleur marries Michael Mont, a young man who adores her; and Jon and his mother moves to Canada and leaves Robin Hill forever.

I started this book very slow, but soon enjoyed it very much. The writing style makes this not difficult to read, despite the thorough details. There are also side stories like June and her lame ducks, the love story between Holly and Valerius Dartie (Soames's nephew), the loyal dog Balthasar, Gradman who has served the Forsytes 54 years, the fight between Val Dartie and Jolly, Soames's sister Winifred and her troubled marriage, the painting collections, etc. Some readers may find it hard why the previous generation couldn't let things happened in the past pass away and let Fleur be happy with Jon, but in my opinion Soames explained it well as he said to Fleur: 'You're putting the feelings of two months against the feelings of thirty-five years! What chance do you think you have? Two months - your very first love affair, a matter of half a dozen meetings - against what you can't imagine, what no one could who hasn't been through it.'

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Necklace

Last night I saw this on TV. The title sounded strange: Chez Maupassant - La Parure. I think I also saw the word "Les Bijoux" as part of the title, but I failed miserably looking up for this at IMDb. Now I know Maupassant is the name of the writer.

The movie reminded me of a book I got for Christmas in the kindergarten, or was it my cousin who got the book and I got another entirely book. I loved the story and was glad last night to be reminded of it.

Mathilde and Jeanne are both friends from convent. Jeanne marries a very rich man and every time Mathilde visits her, her jealousy is getting bigger and bigger. Mathilde's husband, Charles, is not very rich, but a trusty hard-worker. One day, after finishing an important task, Charles gets an invitation for a party which some minister will attend. Mathilde wants to look her best and she asks Charles some money to buy a new dress. Charles sacrifies his plan to buy a new rifle and gives Mathilde the 400 francs. Now Mathilde wants a necklace to go with the new dress, saying that she doesn't want fake jewels. Charles suggests her to borrow one from her friend Jeanne. Jeanne lends Mathilde a very beautiful necklace. Mathilde has a great time, even dances with the minister. After the party, back at home, Mathilde realizes the necklace is gone. Perhaps it has fallen somewhere. Charles re-traces their route from the party, but it is no use. Mathilde can't tell Jeanne that she has lost the necklace, so she and Charles have a jewel-maker to make the same necklace for them for 36.000 francs (after discount). They use their inheritance, borrow from friends, and everybody else. Jeanne doesn't know it isn't her necklace, but a replacement.
It takes 10 years for Mathilde and Charles to pay all their debts. They live in poverty, work more harder, and have no time to make children. Then, Mathilde meets Jeanne with her boy and she tells her about her unhappy life. Jeanne is surprised, because the original necklace she has lent to Mathilde, is actually a fake. The last part when Mathilde meets Jeanne again shows clearly how big the difference between the two. In the beginning both women are young and beautiful, but in the end Jeanne is still the same while Mathilde has become an old, weak lady with white hair.

The Sicilian Clan (1969)

The Sicilian Clan is one of the most enjoyable movies I've ever seen. I know Jean Gabin and Alain Delon, but don't remember if I had seen Lino Ventura before.

The title suggests it's a mafia movie, but it is not. Directed by Henri Verneuil, the movie starts with The Manaleses's attempt to free dangerous robber and cop killer, Roger Sartet (Delon), while being transferred to prison. The head of the family, Vittorio (Gabin), is an ambitious man who seems to want all the land in Sicily. Sartet comes with an idea to rob jewels worth 50 million, but after Vittorio Manalese and his old friend Tony Nicosia (Amedeo Nazzari) checked the exhibition building, they realize it is impossible. Later Nicosia comes up with a better plan: hijack the plane which transfers the jewels from Paris to New York.

The plane heist is done without much dialogues, also no killing, no hostages, no shots. I like how the pilot says he won't do anything that will endanger any of the passenger. Gabin and Delon, stands side by side, both wearing dark glasses with pistols in their hands - although with so few dialogues, we feel how dangerous they are and that they won't hesitate to kill the pilot if necessary. Another suspense is succesfully created when Mrs Evans enters the plane, looking for her husband, and then back to the information desk to say her husband is not there. The ending is very good: at first I didn't like that Sartet must die, but it's the best for everyone; and better still, it's not the police who shots him.

My favourite scene is when Sartet runs away from the whorehouse. Delon seems to do the stunts himself. In the trailer, the guy who lands on the bed seems not to be him, judging from the wavy hair, but this is gone from the movie. The police in this don't have much luck. The steel vehicle seems to be made from recycled cans and they miscalculate that Sartet dares to leave Paris for Rome. Poor Inspecteur Le Goff (Ventura) is even more depressed because he has decided to stop smoking. In the end, thankfully they are not so stupid and can solve the case.

The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is funny at times, with 'boing-boing' sound, like a spring toy.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Michael Ball - One Voice concert

Last night I watched the newest Michaell Ball concert video One Voice - One Special Night, recorded at Hammersmith Apollo London last year. Compared with his previous recorded concerts, I think this is Michael Ball at his best. His voice is so wonderful, so is the music. I also like very much his choice of songs to sing that night. This is the songlist:

1. One Voice
2. One Night Only
3. Since You've Been Gone
4. Feelin' Good
5. Do You Mind?
6. Living Years
7. Home
8. A House is Not A Home
9. This is The Moment
10. High Flying Adored
11. All I Ask Of You
12. Loving You
13. Stranger in Paradise
14. This is My Beloved
15. A Little Fall of Rain
16. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
17. Tell Me It's Not True
18. The Show Must Go On
19. Crazy
20. Rehab
21. Don't Stop
22. Dancing In The Dark
23. I Don't Feel Like Dancin'
24. One Voice (1st encore)
25. Love Changes Everything (2nd encore)

He was so good that he got 3 standing ovations in the middle of concert: for This is The Moment (from Jeckyll & Hyde), This is My Beloved (from Kismet), and A Little Fall of Rain (from Les Misérables). For the 'A Little Fall of Rain' duet, he had a special guest, Sian Crisp from North Wales, who had won an auction for an opportunity to sing on stage with him for £25,000 (the money went to the Children In Need). Miss Crisp has a wonderful voice (suitable
for an Eponine. She did remind me of some of the best Eponine I'd heard) and she truly deserved the standing ovation. Of course in the end, Michael Ball did get another standing ovation after Love Changes Everything, his signature song. None can sing it like him.
The concert ran for almost 2 hours, and, I think, without intermission; because he wore the same clothes from the beginning to end. Amazing, since most of the songs are not easy to sing.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Carousel (1956)

In Indonesia, Carousel is not as popular as The Sound of Music or The King and I. I happened to hear two of the songs from this musical, If I Loved You and You’ll Never Walk Alone and thought they were very beautiful. Later I bought the London Cast Recording (1993) and since then fell in love with the music. The best version of If I Loved You I ever heard is the one by Lesley Garrett with the BBC Concert Orchestra (not sure if this is available on video, but in the show she also sang Papageno duet with Michael Ball); and the best You’ll Never Walk Alone is by Michael Ball in his The Musicals (1996) album.

Two days ago I re-watched the video, the 1956 movie with Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. Billy Bigelow is a carousel barker in a carnival and one day he meets mill worker Julie Jordan and both falls in love to each other. Billy’s boss doesn’t like how Billy gives Julie a free ride and she fires Billy. Julie’s boss also doesn’t like how she stays out late with Billy. Both out of work and after marriage, they stay with Julie’s cousin. Billy now is often out of temper and hits Julie. Jigger, Billy’s friend, comes and asks Billy to join him in a robbery. At first Billy refuses, but after Julie tells him she is pregnant, he knows that he needs the money. The robbery, however, fails and Billy is dead. Billy goes to Heaven and is told that he could go back once if he wants to settle some unfinished thing. Billy sees from above that his daughter, now a 15 year old girl named Louise, is unhappy because other kids scold her for being a thief’s daughter (shown in a beautiful ballet sequence). Billy goes down, meets Louise, and gives her a star. He also sees her graduated and tells her to believe in herself. Dr. Selden gives a speech at the school that day and tells the graduates that they should not rely on their parents’ success or be held back by their mistakes.

Shirley Jones made a very good Julie Jordan, with her beautiful voice and her innocent look. Billy Bigelow is not a character I would like, though, with his roughness and unintelligence. He does love Julie very much, but doesn’t know how to express it and ends up hurting her. As for the music, I like better my London Cast Recording. Apart from If I Loved You and You’ll Never Walk Alone, this musical by Rodgers – Hammerstein also has beautiful numbers like the Carousel Waltz, You’re A Queer One Julie Jordan, Mister Snow, June is Bustin’ Out All Over, When The Children Are Asleep, Real Nice Clambake, … well, I guess I love all of the songs, except Soliloquy, which I think is not easy to sing. I think until now the version of Soliloquy I’ve heard isn’t satisfying, because the original notes are beautiful, like for the line “My boy Bill, I will see that he’s named after me. I will!” and “My little girl, pink and white as peaches and cream is she.” I think the music of Carousel is more beautiful than The Sound of Music.