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Entries in May Flowers (22)

Friday
May172013

Ruth Wilcox’s May Flowers

They’re arriving so late in the day because Mrs. Wilcox is a nymph who travels at night.

As far as evocative film openings go this lush green opening for Howards End ranks among the top for me. Really, though, many films would be vastly improved if they open with a strolling Vanessa Redgrave. more...

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Thursday
May162013

Buy a Flower Off a Poor Girl

Another edition of May Flowers is blooming...

abstew here with a look at a film that's so enamored with flowers that beautiful blossoms show up on screen even before the title of the film:

But, the flowers aren't merely decorative... although they are loverly. They line the streets of Covent Garden where the rich come to take in the refined, artistic pleasures of the Opera. And the poor, including our film's heroine, Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn), try to make a decent day's wages by selling the flowers to the visiting elite. The whole series of events that changes Eliza's fate all happens because she tries to sell her violets to one Colonel Pickering (Stanley Holloway). Little does she know that her conversation with the gentleman is being phonetically transcribed by a linguist professor named Henry Higgins (or as Eliza would say, 'Enry 'Iggins and played by Rex Harrison in his Oscar winning performance). Higgins, wondering "Why Can't the English Learn to Speak?", makes the case that it is Eliza's Cockney accent that keeps her in the gutter selling flowers. If he taught her how to speak properly he could pass her off as a Duchess at a ball. The next day she takes him up on the offer, wanting to get a job in a flower shop if he can teach her to speak more "genteel".

And thus begins the transformation of this Eliza:

To this Eliza: 

Instead of selling rain-soaked, trodden bunches of violets, she is now bedecked in rosettes made of pink chiffon and surrounded by lilies in a hot house. What a difference some voice lessons can make!

Unfortunately, Audrey's own voice (singing voice, that is) was more flower seller than Duchess. Though she was cast thinking she would do Eliza's singing herself, producer Jack Warner was secretly having Marni Nixon record Eliza's songs. (Nixon was, of course, the singing voice to the stars. She also did Deborah Kerr's in The King and I and Natalie Wood's in West Side Story. Too bad they didn't ask her to step in for Helena Bonham Carter...). The film went on to receive 12 Oscar nominations (and 8 wins, including Best Picture), but no nomination for Audrey.

Who did win Best Actress that year? Oh, just a British actress making her film debut. She just happened to be the original Eliza Doolittle from Broadway. She took the part in Mary Poppins after Jack Warner determined she wasn't a big enough star for his film. For Julie Andrews, I'm sure success never smelled so sweet.

Tuesday
May142013

May Flowers? Mrs Dalloway Buys Them Herself!

How soon into a movie or book or anything do you know you'll love it? When I first read The Hours, Michael Cunningham's transcendent riff on Virginia Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway" I knew as soon as Clarissa had entered the flower shop. With the film version I knew even sooner, perhaps having been prepped for the movie by the book but also because of the unfussy simplicity of the kick-off to this glorious triptych. (The Hours isn't always unfussy, of course, but note how the music drops out completely in this absolutely key moment when Virginia finds her first sentence.)

All we're left with is three women, three eras, three great actresses, and three separate temperaments. 

Virginia: Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
Laura: Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
Clarissa: Sally, I think I'll buy the flowers myself. 

How utterly perfect and succinct - Art, uttered first in the imagination, is then received and contemplated, and finally lived-in and through, having made its mark. (It's a subtle thing but how beautiful that Stephen Daldry's camera pulls out a bit with each repetition, making more room in the world for the words)

"Mrs Dalloway", Virginia Woolf's masterpiece -- or one of them at least (I can't live without "Orlando") --  was first published 88 years ago on this very day!. The concept, a woman's whole life in a single day. And as the later book and film helpfully extrapolates and reminds us ... and in that day her whole life

I love the cut to Allison Janney's blunt exclamation, that pulls us out of this first sentence reverie before it gets to precious.

[to Clarissa] WHAT? What flowers?
[to Self] Shit.

Which  books do you wish would inspire not straight adaptations but spun off works of art that stand beautifully on their own? How soon did you love The Hours?

Previously in The Hours
Nathaniel talks to Nicole Kidman about her Oscar win
Joe & Nick discuss The Hours its kisses, hands, actresses and tics at length 

Saturday
May112013

May Flowers: Stage Door

The Calla Lilies Are in Bloom Again... 

Such a strange flower. Suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

That line, uttered by Katharine Hepburn in 1937's Stage Door, quickly became synonymous with the actress. One need only adapt that clipped, upper crust voice and mention the bloomin' of those calla lilies for people to know exactly who you're impersonating. No other line is as popular in conveying what a unique star she was. (Well, a strong case could be made for some from On Golden Pond, you old poop. But by then even she seemed to be doing a Katharine Hepburn impression. And none of those have the history of this one.)

The line was used in the film for the play that Hepburn's character makes her theatrical debut in. It came from an actual Broadway flop that Hepburn starred in called The Lake. Just how bad was the show? In Dorothy Parker's review of it, she said, "Miss Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." The play was so wildly atrocious that Kate herself paid the director to halt production. But, it was a learning experience for Hepburn.

When they decided to use it in the film, Hepburn proved that despite the seeming haughtiness and snobbishness people perceived in her, she was still able to laugh at herself and poke fun at her previous failings --–especially in the rehearsal scenes where she mechanically goes though the motions. Later in the film, when she says the line on opening night, she surprises everyone with how great an actress she actually is. The public, like her fellow actresses in the film, had underestimated her. (By the way, if you haven't seen Stage Door–you must! You owe it to yourself as an Actressexual. It's all about a theatrical boarding house and co-stars Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller!)

So, the next time you're doing your Katharine Hepburn impersonations for your movie-loving friends (and, really, who doesn't love a good Kate impression. Hell, Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for it...), remember those calla lilies and make Kate proud.

Wednesday
May082013

May Flowers: Liz & Dick

May Flowers blooming daily in the afternoons…

Andrew here to start things off. It only makes sense that the melancholic showers of Anna Karenina and The Truman Show would give root to the gloomy blossoms which open May Flowers this year. Connotatively you’d expect flowers to be a symbol of good things – life, hope, colour. But, not so in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In Nichols’ adaptation of Edward Albee’s play it’s just another thing in a long line of objects which sparring couple George and Martha use to play games. Who cares about the danger of confusing truth and illusion when there are so many games to play? 

Here George comes to deliver our bouquet...

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Sunday
May052013

May Flowers on their way

Gatsby's waiting on them. 

 

Have you – got everything you need?”

 

Perhaps some more flowers…”

 

Do you think it’s too much?”

Well, we hope not. I asked Nathaniel to renew May Flowers for another year since it's one of the first things I knew the blog from (Sentiment and flowers go well together, yes?). May flowers are coming at you most afternoons. Any requests?

While on the topic of The Great Gatsby, though, are you anxious for the premiere? The film opens Friday. Don't we all feel as nervous as Gatsby at the beginning of the trailer? I want to lean over and ask, "Have you got everything you need, Baz?" Hopefully he does