The 1940 Pride and Prejudice Film: Where’s the Chemistry?

PrideundprejudiceThis post is the first in a series of reviews to complete the “Aficionada” level of Laurel Ann Nattress’s P&P Bicentenary Challenge celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, 1813-2013.

For my first review, I re-watched the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. I had previously enjoyed this black and white adaptation, but when I brought a more critical eye to the screening, I had to re-evaluate some of my old impressions, which I will discuss below. First, though, a story:

Greer Garson and Me

As you know if you know me, or have explored my “About” page, I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is the place Greer Garson lived later in her life after marrying Texas oil man E.E. “Buddy” Fogleson and retiring to their “Forked Lightning” ranch in New Mexico. Santa Fe benefited greatly from her patronage when she endowed the (then) College of Santa Fe (now Santa Fe University of Art and Design) in order to build the Greer Garson Theater. This was a place where I spent a considerable amount of time one season because my brother had gotten a small role in the musical Carousel.

Forsytedress The way I remember it, at the entrance to the orchestra seating for the theater (or maybe in the lobby area) there were two larger-than-life portraits of Miss Garson flanking the doors. I remember in the one on the right she was wearing a splendid green outfit, corseted and fitted, with a green feather in her hat, which was most likely a costume from That Forsyte Woman (1949), designed by Walter Plunkett (costume designer for Gone With the Wind among other iconic films).

Greer_Garson_in_That_Forsyte_Woman_2

I used to study those portraits as I waited for my brother to get out of rehearsal. I was fascinated with how lovely she was, and how glamorous she looked with her flame red hair and green dress. Of course Miss Garson was often to be seen out and about in Santa Fe, and on one occasion in particular my mother spotted her on the Plaza downtown and pointed her out to me. I replied, “Oh, Mom, that can’t be Greer Garson. That woman is OLD.” I was nice and loud too. My mom says Miss Garson smiled, even laughed a little and cordially nodded her head. I don’t really remember that part though. 😉

My review of Pride and Prejudice (1940)

bennetsistersMy overall evaluation is that the 1940 adaptation was frothier and played for more obvious laughs than Jane Austen’s original. I enjoyed the film, but it lacked the character depth present in the novel and (some) later adaptations. Specifically, the necessity of condensing the story for a 2 hour film completely negated the dramatic reversal at the midpoint when Darcy delivers his letter to Elizabeth and all is revealed about George Wickham. And the screenwriters took out my favorite part: the visit to Pemberley where Elizabeth meets Darcy on his own turf. The sublime tension of that moment where so much can be misunderstood but each is inclined to think well of the other…the fact that that moment is missing from this version deflates the whole second half of the movie.

The supporting cast, as is frequently the case in P&P adaptations, was brilliant. Particularly Mr. Bennet played by Edmund Gwenn (from Miracle on 34th Street) and Mrs. Bennet played by Mary Boland. In addition, Frieda Inescort was icily condescending as the disapproving Miss Bingley.Thebennets2

Much has been made in other reviews of the costuming. These are not the classic Empire waisted dresses of the Regency period. However, they are from just a little later, the Romantic period (late 1820s-1830s), under the reign of George IV (the former Regent himself). I actually enjoyed the costuming because it was consistent throughout the film. In other words, if you are going to pick a period, stay there and don’t mix and match. And of course, this film did receive an Academy Award for Art Direction.

EandDawk

Heathcliff and Mrs. Miniver

Now for the main characters. As I watched this version , I couldn’t help but notice two things: first, there was no chemistry at all between Greer Garson as Elizabeth and Laurence Olivier as Darcy; and second, the great Laurence Olivier never seemed to capture the spirit of Mr. Darcy, and the role sat oddly on his admittedly broad shoulders.

HeathcliffI was curious whether their stiffness with each other was just a characteristic of acting in general at that time, or specifically of these actors, so I viewed some clips of other contemporary films with the same actors opposite different leads. The contrast was startling for both Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. Laurence Olivier is perhaps one of the greatest actors of all time, honored with 10 Oscar nominations for acting (winning once), in addition to awards for directing and honorary awards. Mr. Olivier was smoldering and brilliant as the moody Heathcliff in the adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights (1939), but his awkward gestures as Darcy were distracting, almost effeminate, and his voice nasally.

Blossoms In The Dust 3_3Meanwhile, Greer Garson took home an Oscar in 1942 for her portrayal of another literary figure, Mrs. Miniver, playing opposite the gawky everyman actor, Walter Pidgeon. She would go on to star in 7 more films with Pidgeon, including 1941’s Blossoms in the Dust pictured left, and garner 7 total Oscar nominations in her career. I thought her performance as Elizabeth was charming and clever, except in the scenes with Darcy where she seemed to be trying too hard.

Olivier and Garson were arguably the best performers of their age, just not perhaps in these roles or with each other.

A couple of other Old Hollywood tidbits:

Vivian Leigh, the actress best known for her role as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939), was the love of Laurence Olivier’s life. Even while they were both married to other people, their affair was an open secret in Hollywood, which paralleled the roles they played opposite each other in That Hamilton Woman (1941) as Jane Austen’s contemporaries, Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton. The costumers played fast and loose with the Regency era costumes in that movie too.hamiltonwoman

Greer Garson, nominated for an Academy Award in 1939 for Goodbye Mr. Chips, lost out to Vivian Liegh (also a British actress) who won for Scarlett.

When Greer Garson won the Oscar in 1943 for Mrs. Miniver, her acceptance speech was the longest in Academy history, clocking in at over 5 minutes. You have her to thank for the “get off the stage” music of today’s Award show.

So, do you watch the old black and white movies? Do you find the acting of that era stilted in general, or is it role or actor dependent? What did you think of Olivier’s Darcy?

Information credits: Wikipedia pages for Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, and Pride and Prejudice (1940 film)

Advertisements

Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: Beautiful Moments

boaw-2013

Thanks are due for the second year in a row to the lovely and talented writer August McLaughlin, and her wonderful idea for a blog festival. Inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem The Beauty of a Woman, which you can read on August’s blog here, we are talking about beauty, feeling beautiful, aging gracefully, and that inner glow. Check out her blog today and tomorrow for stories, prizes, and links to other great blogs!

My contribution from last year surprised even me. As I said then, this blogging thing never really turns out how you expect, but something is always revealed. For this year’s post, I got to thinking about the question, “When have you felt most beautiful?”

I came across Gustav Klimt’s painting The Three Ages of Womanklimt3ages recently as I researched a character for my novel-in-progress. I have been fortunate to see the original in the Museo d’Arte Moderna in Rome. I came around a tucked-away corner, and there it was, at the end of a hallway. Klimt’s figures in this work represent the triangle of femininity often embraced by western culture and repeated in stories, marketing, and media — the Virgin, the Mother, and the Crone. Though not as celebrated as The Kiss, The Three Ages of Woman is interesting in Internet reproduction and stunning in the gold-leaf splendor of the original. The detail of the mother and her little sleeping daughter, lovely. The figure of the crone…well…but that’s the one that draws you in, for its gritty, powerful reality. The knotty knuckles, the fall of wavy grey hair, the strong wide feet. And you know, the more you look at the work, the more it is the crone that is the beautiful one — every bit as appealing as the swirling loveliness of the sweet mother and infant. Here in that stark figure is the truth of a life lived and survived.

I have come to think, however, that a woman experiences beauty not in stages as in Klimt’s painting, but in moments. More like the beads I used to string on dental floss with my young daughters. Some patterns were repeated, some were unique. Some of the necklaces were large and lovely to be seen in public, and some were small and completed only for private viewing, to be tucked away in a secret place, or your heart. So to answer the question, “When have you felt most beautiful?” here are some, a very few, of MY moments:

  • Pulling on my little white gloves with the pearl button on the wrist and the white marabou around the cuffs at about age six.
  • When all of my bridesmaids helped me dress in the cramped choir room in the church where I was married, and the moment after that when my husband-to-be laid eyes on me at the end of the aisle.
  • The incredibly soft star-shaped hands of my daughter stroking my arm as she nursed.GoldfishKlimt
  • My girls piled on either side of me in bed as we read a book of their choosing.
  • Beating another bike racer to the line in a full-out sprint.
  • Right now, remembering all these things.

What are some of YOUR moments? Do women’s lives have stages? Are all stages beautiful?

Painting at right: Klimt’s Goldfish

Be My Valentine, Mr. Grey

dark-grey-silk-designer-tie_600I finally read all three of E L James’s blockbuster Fifty Shades trilogy. I read them at the urging of friends. I read them because when something this big occurs in the world of books, you want to form your own opinions. I read them because as a lifelong romance reader I was intrigued how a story that’s really a staple of the genre became so popular. Though there have been many, many reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, I am going to add my own impressions to the general din because hey, it’s my blog! AND because Valentine’s Day is my birthday. 😉

I’m not going to worry about announcing **SPOILERS** because I figure if you wanted to read 50 Shades, you already would have by now. And if you don’t want to read it, the spoilers won’t bother you.

Things I didn’t like in the 50 Shades books (AKA a few unanswered questions):

1. Why did Ms. James decide to set the series in Seattle if she was going to have her characters speak the Queen’s English? “Laters, baby.” “Kinky f**kery.” “Fancy a game?” All British-isms. Christian even says, “Quite.” I ask you, do you know any American men who would use that word in that way? Ever?

2. Why do we never find out why Anastasia is so inhibited about sex? We spend the whole story in her head but she never mulls over why she decided to hang on to her virginity and her apparent ignorance about things sexual until she met the enigmatic Mr. Grey.

3. Why did Kate Kavanaugh, college newspaper editor extraordinaire, send her roommate Anastasia Steele to interview Seattle’s hottest bachelor billionaire with only a list of questions and no other preparation? Did she have laryngitis in addition to her flu and couldn’t speak? This in a way is a deal breaker for me story-wise because this unbelievable set up both starts and ends the story (the ending is from Christian’s point of view. Wished for a little more of that…)

4. At the climax of Book 3, after everything they’ve been through, why does Christian STILL think Ana is leaving him when she withdraws $5 million to save his sister Mia from kidnappers (other than it is a necessary plot device)? This does not bode well for their continued happiness, IMO.

Things I DID like (AKA why Christian Grey would make a great Valentine):

1. He is constantly feeding her while telling her she’s too thin. 🙂

2. He also tells her she’s beautiful, smart, capable, and most of all, sexy.

3. He gives her things: clothes, cars (Audis!), first edition Thomas Hardy, trips to France, Laboutin’s, a publishing company, hearts and flowers, an iPad with all of his favorite songs downloaded, orgasms.

4. His “vanilla” sex gives new flavorful meaning to the finest of the flavors.

5. His non-vanilla dominant sex (what’s the opposite of vanilla? chocolate?) is creative, uses fun props, and (control issues aside) is all about Ana (see #3 orgasms). Except when it’s about jealousy or revenge, in which case there is always a safe word, and it’s not “vanilla.”

6. He thinks of her while he is at work. We know this because he sends her great emails. In fact the email exchange between the two was one of my favorite parts of the whole series.

I have read many, many romance novels–which is maybe why friends urged me to read these booksand regarding 50 Shades of Grey, I am more in the “meh” category than the “love,” so I offer this list of follow up reads:

NRChesapeakeIf you liked 50 Shades for the complex story of how a young man damaged by an abusive past–but good to the core–is redeemed by the power of love, there is no one who does that storyline better IMO than the Queen of Romance herself, Nora Roberts. Her Chesapeake Bay series Sea Swept, Rising Tide, Inner Harbor, and Chesapeake Blue are some of her best.

wildcard2012lg

If you liked 50 Shades for the singe-your-eyelashes sex with dominant men and the feisty women who love them, I recommend Lora Leigh’s EARLIER BOOKS, Wild Card (recently reprinted with a 50 Shades-type cover), Hidden Agendas, and Dangerous Games (I don’t recommend the later series because they suffer from repetition and a general lack of editing IMO).

If you liked 50 Shades for the escape of the “life style porn” of glamorous clothes, private jets, yachts in Monte Carlo,

caitlincrewsand brooding men who own all these things and want to give them (and their love!)  to one special, possibly virginal, young lady, try Harlequin’s long-running “Presents” series, particularly Jane Porter, Caitlin Crews, and India Grey. The books tend to have really off-putting titles like Bedded by the Billionaire and His Majesty’s Secret Baby but the writing is emotion-laden and intense.

Blinkie courtesy E L James author website.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!!! Anyone have great plans for V-day? Any book recommendations? Whatcha been reading lately?

The Technology of Packaging Words: Digital vs. Print

IMG_0139
IMG_0132

IMG_0134
IMG_0135

I have a book problem. Meaning because I love books, I have more than I probably can ever read, and yet I adore finding a new book, cracking it open and immersing myself in the story world. The hubster stated the other day that books should not be the ONLY decorating theme in our home, to which I replied, “Why the heck not?”

But I admit it is a problem, illustrated by these pics of my many, many bookshelves, from the spare and uncluttered one in the living room to the one actually jam-crammed inside a closet (just a sampling, I assure you). I could have one of those rooms with floor to ceiling shelves like the library of Downton Abbey (complete with a book-laden door that leads to the music room! Click link and scroll down for the picture) and STILL find more books I want to read. Don’t let him fool you, the hubster likes books too. Weighty tomes with weighty titles like The History of the World, Come Retribution, and Diseases of Animals, as well as Life of Pi and The Last Werewolf. My shelves, on the other hand, are a jumble (and I mean JUMBLE!) of romantic and historical fiction, history and biography, and writing craft books.

MattLloydDowntonAbbey

And then there are my ebooks. I actually have a Kindle and an iPad (on which I have installed iBooks, Kindle, Nook, GooglePlay, AND Kobo apps). And the books are just as jumbled up there as they are on the shelves. Truth be known, I have a little stash of books in PDF on my computer too. All of which makes the argument of digital versus paper, for me, really about packaging. The MAGIC of a book is what is inside the package. Whether you open the cover or click on the icon, that’s just the delivery technology, the true innovation is the language itself.

If pressed, I would probably choose paper books as my story vehicle of choice, but only if I had unlimited shelf space–that decorating issue remains. With paper books, I feel a commonality with generations that have gone before me. I mean, Jane Austen held a book in her hand, opened it, and read the story contained therein. Just as I opened HER book, Pride and Prejudice, the other day and did the same. There was a time when people–humans–were NOT able to reach back in history and feel kinship with “book” readers. The printed word was new. A new technology, just like the digital book. But the STORIES, well, they were still around then, weren’t they?

Do you have a digital versus print preference for your reading? Or a shelf problem? Or a decorating theme you just can’t agree on? I’d love to hear about it…

Happy Anniversary, Pride and Prejudice!

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x150
Today’s 200th anniversary of the printing of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
is (for me!) a perfect moment to announce my participation in Laurel Ann Nattress’s P&P Bicentenary Challenge. If you have been reading along, you already know I am a Jane Austen fan! In fact, this post on Jane’s Irish connections apparently was my most viewed in 2012.

Here are the basics of the Challenge (details can be found on Laurel Ann’s blog):

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Time-line: The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 runs January 1, through December 31, 2013.

Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 selections, Disciple: 5 – 8 selections, Aficionada: 9 – 12 selections.

Enrollment: Sign ups are open until July 1, 2013. First, select your level of participation.  Second, copy the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 graphic from the Austenprose blog and include it in your blog post detailing the novels or movies that you commit to reading and watching in 2013. Third, leave a comment linking back to your blog post in the comments of the Austenprose announcement post. OR, if you do not have a blog you can still participate. Just leave your commitment to the challenge in the comments section of the P&P Bicentenary post.

My Selections

I found quite a few versions of Pride and Prejudice in my personal library, plus a few continuations, retellings and off-shoots. Enough to up my level of participation to Aficionada. What a great way to dive into some books that have languished in the To Be Read pile and to revisit my favorite movie adaptations of this most romantic classic. I don’t have months assigned to each one yet, but here is the list so far:

BOOKS

Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brandt (2012)

Pride and Prejudice, The Annotated Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks (2010)

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (2011)

The Darcys and The Bingleys by Marsha Altman (2008)

The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Anne Collins (2008)

Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds (2008)

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos (2011)

FILMS

Pride and Prejudice (movie with Keira Knightly 2005)

Pride and Prejudice (BBC/A&E miniseries with Jennifer Ehle 1995)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (movie with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier 1940)

I hope you will join me as we celebrate Jane Austen’s lasting legacy through the most popular and well-known of her novels, Pride and Prejudice.

“He walked here and he walked there, fancying himself so very great!” ~Mrs. Bennet in P&P

How to Finish Your Novel In 6 Excruciatingly Easy Steps

Typing

My first novel began during a NaNoWriMo while I was living in Rome. I talked about that writing adventure with best-selling author Diane Capri in an interview on her blog Diane Capri Reveals yesterday. Because that first novel began in a frenzy, I have high hopes for this second one, having just completed a 50,000 word draft in the last 30 days…

Someone asked me once if I had always written stories. The truth is: no. Sadly, no. I became interested in constructing fiction—writing it—only a few years ago, when I looked around my bookshelves and saw that fiction is what I read, what I have always read. Oh, I round out my to-be-read pile with a good non-fiction account here and there, but my love of reading has always been about a good story. And, again truthfully, I am no journalist. I can construct a decent feature article, but my heart isn’t really in it. I only achieve that elusive “flow” when I write fiction.

As I said to Diane, it was Rome that really inspired me to write fiction. There was so much to look at, so many stories: An embracing couple in the gardens of the Villa Borghese—what was their story? A lovely woman, with rings on every finger and Fendi pumps on her feet, striding down the Corso with a frown on her face—what was her story? A beautiful man, speaking with animation, and many gestures, into his cell phone—what was his story? And because I didn’t really know these people’s stories, I made them up. And then I wrote them down. Fiction.

Of course Rome has been inspiring writers for thousands of years. It’s part of the charm. As Tacitus said, “All things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome.” What a wonderland of ideas, of marvels to observe, and people to enjoy. I miss it. But the good part is, I have my published novel The Vendetta to remind me of Rome. Cool, huh?

So, since I have done it once, here are my tips to for writing and finishing a novel:

1. Find a topic you are passionate about. Even if you don’t write historical novels, you are still going to have to do at least a little research on setting and character occupations. Even if your characters live where you live and do what you do, they are not going to be you exactly. If you start out on page 1 with a topic/setting/occupation that doesn’t hold your interest, you will regret it on page 62. Trust me.dustbunny1

2. Write. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in handy. I find that self imposed deadlines are not nearly as effective as ones that have the guilt of social pressure attached (and/or if you are cursed lucky enough to have a publishing contract, monetary pressure too). 50,000 words in 30 days is doable. 1667 words per day. For 30 days. Sounds simple. And it is, mostly. But beware what must drop by the wayside as you pursue this goal. These are pictures of actual dust bunnies under my (unmade) bed. I am thinking of naming them. Any suggestions since Flopsy and Mopsy are already taken?dustbunny2

3. Rewrite. My favorite part. The rewrite can take many more months than the actual drafting. Find a system that works for you. Some suggestions: The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray and Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon

4. Send out for comments. You should have at least one, ideally three, readers you can send a rough draft to for their comments. This is not a line edit but an attempt to capture their impressions of the overall flow. Are they confused anywhere? Did the story drag in places? What did they really like about the story?

5. Rewrite some more. After comments you may have to rewrite the thing again. By this time you will be sick of this story and these characters. But persevere, the book will get better with each draft.

6. Let it go and start something new. The truth is, you will never feel like your novel is really DONE done. Whether you hide your manuscript under the bed or you send it out into the world to be rejected, or published, or rejected AND published, at some point you will need to let it go. It is finished. Find that new thing/setting/character that fires your passions, write about it, then rinse and repeat.

Do you have any tips for writing or getting something done that you always wanted to do? I am thinking of getting a robotic vacuum, but then the bunnies would get eaten. Suggestions?

There WAS a Toilet In My Garage: Happy World Toilet Day…Again

Hey, would you look at that? It has been a little over a year since I launched Kecia’s Blog–All I Want Is…Everything on WordPress. My awareness of the passage of time came about because it is once again…World Toilet Day! I blogged about this annual event created by water.org last year at a time when toilets seemed particularly relevant for me since there were two of them taking up room in my garage. This year Matt Damon and friends have some great info on this most solvable of world issues at the water.org website. New video below: where would you go if you didn’t have a toilet? And water.org produced this cool poster about toilets for our enjoyment and education. Take a look and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY…ERM…WORLD TOILET DAY, to me!

MY NOVEMBER 17, 2011 POST BELOW

In my house we are currently in the middle of painting and sprucing our bathrooms. As a result we have a toilet (two actually, the old one and the new one in a box) in our garage. When you take such an an appliance, used on a daily basis, out of its natural, er, habitat, it looks a little odd. So shiny and pristine, like a sculpture. Since the old one is old enough not to be in working order, it almost makes me want to fill it with dirt and plant some petunias or pansies in it.

As much as I can take my toilets for granted, however, there are many in the world who don’t have that luxury. Interestingly, one of my favorite actors, Matt Damon, has lent his voice, time, and famous face to a crusade to bring toilets to those who need them. Here he is with a sound bite about diarrhea–a leading killer of children under five.

Matt has another couple of great quotes on video at toiletday.org (though what’s with the haircut? 🙂 ) plus a wealth of info on the problem of toilets (or lack of same) globally, and links to water.org , the organization he co-founded with Gary White. The Huffington Post recently covered water.org ‘s innovative methods to bring clean water and toilets to places where even charities have failed to make a difference.

The first step is awareness, hence the celebration of World Toilet Day on November 19th. At toiletday.org you can sign up to lend your voice via Facebook or Twitter. Or as Matt says, you can talk sh*t about toilets…

Because even though my house has a surplus right now, there are many who have no toilet at all. Something to think about…while you’re on the can.