Friday, July 31, 2009

The bride came C.O.D.

Released 1941 this film comes at the end of the classic screwball comedy era that started with It happened one night (1934) - a film with which it has much in common. Indeed, the 'meet cute'*, that mechanism whereby the two opposing characters are thrown together in a screwball comedy, is almost identical.

Bette plays a flighty oil heiress dead set on marrying smarmy band leader (played by the almost oily Jack Carson), who she's known only four days ('You've known head waiters longer!'). Cagney is the deeply in debt small airline operator who gets paid by Bette's dad (the ever reliable Eugene Pallatte) to kidnap his daughter and so prevent the marriage. Tricking her away in his aeroplane Cagney soon quarrells with Bette - she's outraged to find she's fetching just a small ransom price - and the pair crashland in the Californian desert.
One of you's gonna get married and the other one's going to jail,
so you really got a lot in common.

This film has all the screwball characteristics: slapstick and fast paced dialogue. Though a fairly lightweight contribution to the genre it's a small delight, helped along chiefly by the star quality and sheer charm of its leading actors.

It's unusual to see Bette Davis in a comedy but the gal's a real trooper and her trademark earnestness is used to great effect. She also looks particularly lovely, even (or especially) when having cactus spines plucked out of her rear. Too many people remember Cagney for his tough guy act but he was an accomplished singer and quite a hoofer and he handles the comedy with a likeable cockiness. It was Cagney's talent to rise above trite scripts and cardboard characters with a grace and genial amiability that are a joy to watch (and, I must confess, makes him quite handsome). It seems an unlikely combination - you might be thinking more of Carole Lombard and Cary Grant. Davis and Cagney were actually matched together in an earlier and equally frivolous comedy: Jimmy the gent (1934). Apparently Davis didn't think much of C.O.D. but the pair have such easy chemistry and they really do look like they're having fun.

There is great support from familiar character actors of the time: Eugene Pallette pretty much walks through the role of the nouveau riche fat cat father; Jack Carson his wonderful smarmy; and George Tobias, star of many Cagney films and later the long suffering neighbour in Bewitched, specialises in the role of none too bright pal and here stars as the unscrupulous journalist following the couple's escapades.

The Epstein brothers (Casablanca) script is snappy. As a Warner Bros film it almost seems influenced by the studio's famous animated nuttiness, particularly in its use of music. Here is mirrors Looney Tunes conventions - snatches of appropriate popular and classical music are wittily inserted. An extra bonus is the short features and cartoons that accompany the future - just like going to the flicks!

It's all very light and fun - a delightful screwball comedy and one that sustains the effort.

*A good definition of the classic meet cute, courtesy of Wikipedia:
In the film The holiday (2006), Eli Wallach's character Arthur Abbott (a retired Hollywood screenwriter) described a meet-cute by saying "Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in and both go to the same men's pajama department. The man says to the salesman Ted, I just need bottoms, and the woman says, I just need a top. They look at each other and that's the meet-cute." It's a reference to the film Bluebeard's eighth wife (1938) by Ernst Lubitsch with Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Visiting the taxman

Accounting Department, National Bank of Chicago c1940
(Early Office Museum)

Nothing fills me with greater dread than a visit to the taxman. There's something about filling in forms and answering questions to the GOVERNMENT that I find paralysing. And it's not as if I'm being in any way fraudulent. It is, after all, my money.

Our choice of accountant was based on the theory that the dodgier the office space, the more geekish the occupants and therefore, the more focused the accountant. Well this place rated highly on the dodge factor: a window that has been broken all year, grey carpet and broken vertical blinds. Though I was disappointed not to get the elderly Indian accountant with the wig, the elderly Greek accountant with the combover was just as special.

After two and a half hours my miserly refund looked as though it would be entirely eaten up by the accountant's fee and that I would in fact end up being out of pocket as a result of the entire ordeal. And yes, I would be all square with the Tax Department, as the accountant so helpfully pointed out but somehow that idea was less than comforting. Then he springs a final question on me and all of a sudden my sad little tax debt blossomed into a glorious retail filled future.

But because we live in Paranoiaville something is sure to go wrong and I won't actually see any of this money.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Melbourne Open House

Mum was up from the country on business just in time for Melbourne Open House. This event gives people an opportunity to see inside some of the city's most significant buildings, a mix of heritage and modern architectural marvels. It's a chance to be a tourist in your own city. Early Sunday morning found us on a tram in high spirits and feeling just a little bit smug - we were going to be there super early and we'd already formulated a plan of attack! Only to find queues for some venues stretching for blocks... Everywhere we turned were determined looking people clutching little blue maps. All looking maddeningly patient in face of the queues.

We did some rapid change-of-planning. Top marks for doing it on the fly but zero points for map reading - how did I miss the opening of Queen's Hall at the State Library of Victoria? The slv is one of my dearly loved buildings! And there were rumours of the Regent Theatre's art deco ballroom being open though clearly not part of the program.

I've had to pinch a few photos (sorry if you're uncredited but I've lost my list of references). Somehow my camera, which has made it through rural China quite happily, had a bit of a hissy fit when asked to take photos in the Melbourne cbd. Luckily, a photographic competition has been held in conjunction with the open day. So in a week or so I'll be able to show you how beautiful the venues really were.

271 Collins Street - Former National Bank of Australasia (1927)
Up the elevator and through a very pedestrian modern renovation you come upon some magnificent hidden rooms. The board room and dining room of the old National Bank of Australasia are fully lined in oak and Tassie blackwood. Though 1920s this is no art deco do. Built on classical lines and conveying a sense of weight and stability, these are rooms that would certainly make you feel very important. The ground floor banking chamber is marvellously grand - all white marble with an ornate high ceiling (though we had to sneak into the Lindt chocolate house to see it). [pic from SLV]

Athenaeum Library (1842)
Scooting past the theatre downstairs to pop up to the library. This the first Mechanic's Institute in Victoria and so, one of the oldest cultural institutions in the state. It still operates as a subscription library, though I question how sustainable this is. It certainly is a charming space and I had a good chat with Jill the lovely librarian. It houses the sweetest elevator ever - all wood panelled with a small recessed dome for the vintage light fixture. There's also the old bakelite telephone exchange (complete with the connection for Miss Otterthwaite). The wooden shelves are cosy, comfortable and sadly impractical. They'll soon make way for standard library shelving. I did wonder where they would be sold...

Treasury precinct (1850s)
I haven't spent much time up the government end of town and I'm ashamed to say I discovered a good many official buildings that I never even knew existed, including the old Government Printers Office. And these are BIG buildings! There was some charming etched glass but my favourite moment was the description of WWII precautions. The Treasury Gardens were completely dug with trenches. Judging from the picture I'm not entirely sure how much protection these would have provided. [pic from The Argus Newspaper, SLV]

Tasma Terrace (1878)
Formerly upmarket boarding house for politicians and the wealthy, now home of the National Trust. This is a series of extremely fussy, much wallpapered houses - full Victorian splendour! This was designed by the same fellow who did the nearby Windsor Hotel and it is interesting to see how he planned on a small scale. The rooms are neatly proportioned and cosy and yes, we talked about how lovely it would have been to live there. [pic from inail1972 on flikr]

St Pauls Cathedral (started 1880)
This was truly a grand experience. This is a Melbourne landmark. It's part of the busy intersection of cathedral, the Young and Jackson Hotel, Fed Square and Flinders Street Station. I've gone past it a billion times. I've kept an eye on the ongoing restoration work - part of which afforded the opportunity to watch traditional craftsmen such as stonemasons at work. But I've never, ever gone inside because, well, it's a church. In cathedrals such as this it's easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer extent of decoration. A special feature here is the remarkable tiles. I've never seen a church with tiled walls. The look is almost Middle Eastern or, according to a tale told by an old geezer with a badge (as distinct from young geezer with dog collar), like a pub.

Collins Street Baptist Church 1845
What an absolute contrast to the cathedral! This building is light and open, in keeping with the Baptist understanding of the building - not a sacred space but a place for a community to gather. It has an airy white interior with soft pale lavender and green stained glass details. Most restful and welcoming.

Capitol Theatre (1924)
Oh the fabulous picture palace! The Capitol is now owned by RMIT Uni and used as a lecture theatre (which I must say is better than the Church of Christ hall I had my accounting lectures in). The building was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony (who planned Canberra). And they more than fulfilled their design brief to create a cave-like interior. The theatre itself has a ceiling that most resembles geometric stalagtites, that used to be backlit with coloured lights that would change in time to music. It's a bit sad to see these aren't working anymore but with over 2000 light globes in the ceiling and some less than OHS compliant access points I can see why they've not addressed this. Much of the theatre is in a sad state, thanks to the ill conceived conversion of the theatre foyer into an arcade sometime in the 1960s. We got to visit the upper circle lounge foyer and mezzanine level, where an RMIT lecturer gave a vivid description of its glory days - complete with gentlemen's smoking room and ladies' boudoir. There were lots of photos, scraps of the original carpet and hints at the rich bush-toned colour scheme - oh it was glamorous!

Melbourne Unity (1929)
Oh the queues! We never made it to this building. It was all I wanted to see. It has a marvellous art deco boardroom. Apparently. The tower has magnificent views. So I'm told. It used to have a highly polished dance floor and an aviary of Australian wild birds but that was in the thirties. Maybe next year. [pic from the MUBB website]

We had a glorious day. The weather was perfect. Blue skies and just enough chill to make walking a pleasure. It's exciting being in the city during an event such as this, such a buzz. You find yourself chatting to people in queues and it inspires you to check out the architectural features of other buildings as you walk along the street. And of course, we had tea at the gallery!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wings to the wind...eyes to the skies!

All I felt like was a good World War II espionage flick. Something that offered a 'will they get away with it?' moment. Astoundingly, no such thing was to be had - our extensive dvd collection seems completely devoid of spies, Germans and the RAF (though why I didn't think of the 49th Parallel I'm not sure). So I had to turn to the Americans, where everything is Pearl Harbour and The Japs, who never seem to possess the devilish cunning of movie Germans and are, well, a lot less fun.

Dive bomber has been described by Mr C as a 'very, very, very bad film'. And I had an absurd amount of fun watching it. It's a war film, with no war. The plot plods around the story of flyboys and the medical researchers' attempts to combat the problems of G-forces and high altitude sickness, and the development of the G-suit. And you'll never guess who's in the film. Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. Yep, Robin Hood and the Nutty Professor. I won't begin to discuss the acting but you won't be surprised when Flynn gets socked in the eye and MacMurray dies a noble death. Earnest Ralph Bellamy is in there too (being v. earnest).

Released in 1941 it's pure propaganda for the American public, preparing them for the possibility of entering WWII. All in glorious Technicolor. There are snappy uniforms, dazzling blue skies and plane, after plane, after plane. The navy must have spent a fortune on this film! (Navy? Planes? I know, but think air craft carriers - which in this case happens to be the famous USS Enterprise, the most decorated US ship of the war.) This film gets the plane buffs raving, with its endless shots of formation flying and row upon row of shiny aircraft: there are Vindicators, Devastators, Helldivers, Buffalos, Curtiss Hawks and more. It's almost like Busby Berkely gone macho! By the time the film was released most of these planes were already obsolete (look at all the biplanes!) And this was still a time when the planes were painted dazzling colours - yellow and scarlet and green. You can just see some of the newer more subdued camouflaging coming into use. The film was actually nominated for an Oscar for its photography and the aerial shots are truly glamorous. There's just an awful lot of them.

The scientific stuff in the film is rather odd. I can't tell if it's pure hokum, or just wierdy. The problem of G-forces was a real concern. In combat, the plane that could fly the highest triumphed. These planes would dive bomb their targets, descending and ascending rapidly. High levels of acceleration force (G's) causes blood to pool in the lower extremeties and as we know, the brain ain't too happy without blood. Pilots were suffering blackouts and confusion, slow reaction times and difficulty breathing - not to mention the complications with changing air pressure and ice forming on the wings. The result was simple: death. The film's account of the dangers seems accurate and the solutions you see are pretty much heading in the right direction. (Except for the diving bell. No diving bells on pilots.)

But why do we get so much information? Surely this is just giving the enemy a leg up? And there is a State Secret aspect to the film. In the 1970s Flynn was posthumously accused of hobnobbing with some German spies (which he did - but Flynn was the original party boy, he hobnobbed with everyone). It was alleged that Flynn had become involved in espionage, by insisting the film be shot on location at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Flynn was hardly a paragon of virtue but I think we can let this one lie.

There's some god awful period comedy in there that will have you wincing, a bombastic score and a pretty stilted script. But this is a recruiting film. It's there to make you want to be brave and dashing in your new uniform. You'll be invited to parties! You'll be bouyed up by mateship and the company of strong men and noble self-sacrificing leaders. There will be ladies throwing themselves at you! But you'll love 'em and leave 'em! (The anti-marriage subtext is brazen. Obviously, the armed services preferred men without ties.) The film was shown with recruiting booths in the cinema. It's a film of its time: sadly innocent and naive in its propaganda. Just two months after its release the Americans were devastated at Pearl Harbour. Flynn's character is actually assigned to duty in Pearl Harbour and changes his plans at the last minute. Many of the pilots and planes featured in the film were fighting Japanese within the next two years, including the Devastator bomber squadrons, that were all but wiped out in the Battle of Midway.

It's a ridiculous film. But I watched it with affection.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ah, le Tour

Tra la la! It's time for le Tour! Super extra hurrah for having a TiVo - which means no more lonely nights. We can now tape le Tour - all 4+ hours of it - and watch it at our leisure. Which is excellent, not only because I feel asleep last night, way before a single pedal had been turned in Stage 1, but because my library colleagues were looking worried. Apparently last year I didn't handle the late nights too well. But I slept through most of le Tour last year also so I think people are being needlessly alarmist. I'm sure I was perfectly lovely.

I've been practising my hair this weekend. Got some quite respectable Victory rolls happening and with a swash of mascara and some red lippy I was feeling ready to face the crowd at the library. Had a lovely shift. Busy busy but with a good crew. I was nice to the punters and they were nice to me and the crazy people were spoken to and everyone behaved themselves admirably. And the old dears loved my hair which is the nicest compliment of all.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The day is settling into dusk. There's a kitten on my lap, worn out by the day's adventure. I have closed the curtains, lit the heater, made a cup of tea. I am reading haiku for winter.

While moon sets
atop the trees,
leaves cling to rain.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The winter night is deep

Well I've had an interesting time over the past few weeks, being my unique individual self. Yep, had a med change and got, well, a trifle enthusiastic. Poor Mr C. was a tower of strength and I truly drove him to distraction. I took up residence on the couch, watched back to back anime and refused to shower. I was grumpy as all hell: fractious, touchy and difficult. You should see all the blog entries I didn't post. Tomorrow we go to a funeral. A friend's partner died in very sad circumstances. I never met the partner (one of those things we were always going to do) but I'm there to support my friend. She's an old one of Kim's but a new one for me and I like her and want to be there for her - at the funeral and in the time to come. It's hard not to let this be overshadowed by my very personal reaction. My relationship is young - about a year and a half! - but oh how important to me. I think what it would be like, knowing that tomorrow you were going to bury your companion. Mr C. and I bug the hell out of each other. We snap and are rude and voices get most definitely raised. But he's MY person to annoy, to make watch the tennis, to keep awake with my snoring, to clear up all the cold cups of tea I leave around the house.

So, tomorrow. I will hug my friend. I wil be there for her, as strong and generous and loving as I can be. And I will hold Kim's hand very tight.