CHRISTOPHER LEE – A TITAN OF CINEMA

Is Count Dracula one of your favourite book/screen personalities? Well, the 6 feet 4 inches veteran British actor/musician/Opera singer/author Christopher Lee will not be reincarnating in the form of Count Dracula anymore. Lee of horror characters such as  Kharis the high priest/Mummy (The Mummy, 1959), Count Dracula, Dr. Fu Manchu, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Lord Summerisle (The Wicker Man, 1973), is reportedly sadly died on Sunday 7th June at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, after suffering heart and respiratory problems. Chris-3

Lee, who belonged to the Carandini family, one of the oldest families in Italy dating back to the first century AD and to Emperor Charlemagne, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest leading actor amongst Clint Eastwood and others. He was also a step-cousin of the late Ian Fleming, author of James Bond novels. According to reports, Fleming had recommended Lee for the role of Bond’s nemesis in Dr. No (1962) but the role went to Joseph Wiseman. Finally, Bond in the form of Roger Moore faced him in the role of the three-nippled, million-dollars-a-hit assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

From early on Lee’s flair for acting was evident when he appeared as the evil Rumpelstiltskin at Miss Fisher’s Academy in Wengen, Switzerland. In spite of his five-year stint in the Royal Air Force and Intelligence during World War II he was rejected for a role in the war-movie The Longest Day (1962) on the grounds that he didn’t command the look of a military personal. Chris-4 After his retirement from the RAF by the end of the war, taking heed from the suggestion of his cousin Count Nicolò Carandini, he obtained a seven-year contract with Rank Organisation in 1946. Lee debuted in the psychological drama Corridor of Mirrors (1948), the first film directed by Terence Young. In the following decade, despite that he was remonstrated for being too tall, dominating the frame, he appeared in many films. Chris-1

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Then came his Hammer years. At the age of 35, Jimmy Carreras’ Hammer Film Productions cast him in the role of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1957). This successful role earned him the mantle of Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian bloodsucker Count Dracula in Dracula (aka. Horror of Dracula, 1957). Under the master direction of British film director Terence Fisher, Lee portrayed the fanged Count as the most attractive and virile of all screen vampires. How can one forget that striking first entrance of Lee’s Count Dracula at the doorway and his descent down the stairs? Lee would go on to feature the stature and presence of Count Dracula in further eight movies including Dracula Prince of Darkness (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1965), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Dir. Freddie Francis, 1968), El Conde Drácula (Dir. Jesús Franco, 1970), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (aka. Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, Dir. Alan Gibson, 1974), etc. Chris-6 With British studio Hammer specialized in the production of screen horror, Lee’s name was for many years synonymous with the best in horror films. He was part of the four iconic horror film stars: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing and they acted together in House of the Long Shadows (Dir. Peter Walker, 1983).  While Vincent Price shared his birthday with Christopher Frank Carandini Lee (born on 27th May 1922 in the upmarket Belgravia area of London), Peter Cushing was born a day earlier on 26 May. Although Lee set up his own production company, Charlemagne Productions Ltd, he diverged from his horror image to mainstream film roles. Nevertheless, it is an unwritten fact that, just as Sean Connery will be indelibly associated with James Bond, the image of Count Dracula will always be correlated to Christopher Lee. Chris-7 Fluent in a variety of languages, the English-born actor Lee was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II (15-Jun-2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours) and Knight of the British Empire 2009. He is also a Commander Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In 2002, Lee was awarded the prestigious World Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vienna, etc. Lee was also presented with the Academy Fellowship at the BAFTAs in February 2011. Chris-2

Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Sir Christopher launched his singing career in the 1990s, with an album of Broadway tunes. During his illustrious career, the veteran actor appeared in over 250 films, some of them the most iconic of our times. Watching the innumerable films of Christopher Lee in my collection was always joyful for me – especially those of 1950s to mid-70s. Chris-8   Endings are usually sad and we will miss Sir Christopher Lee. Nevertheless, there always will be the comfort in knowing that I can sit with a couple of soft pillows and a glass of red wine and watch the legendary actor come alive through one of his movies, his deeply melodic basso voice booming.                                                                           FINIS NB: The DVDs of the above movies and music albums of Sir Christopher Lee are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

(© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 21: JEAN SIMMONS: Lovely – Radiant – Luminous

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As Varinia in  Spartacus

On January 31, 1929 a child was born in Crouch End, London. Her parents, physical education teacher Charles Simmons, and his wife, Winifred, named her Jean Merilyn Simmons. 2 Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus

Later “discovered” from the Aida Foster School of Dancing in Golders Green in North London, she would become known to the world as Jean Simmons, the beautiful, radiant actress who made a name for herself especially through British and Hollywood movies working with some of the greatest talents in the film business. 3 Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus

In a career that flourished more than 60 years, she would go on to receive numerous award nominations, and also win an Emmy Award (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie) for her role in the 1983 mini-series, The Thorn Birds. The British honoured her with an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 2003 for her services to acting. 4 Although I had seen David Lean’s film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” (1946), it was her role as the passionate Kanchi, the Indian servant girl in the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film “Black Narcissus” (1947 – starring Deborah Kerr) that brought Simmons to my attention. 5 -The-Robe

With Richard Burton in The Robe

Soon after, I saw her in The Robe (1953 – D: Henry Koster), the Biblical film she is most known for. Indeed, it was the potent mixture of Biblical events in addition to the  presence of talents like Richard Burton and Victor Mature that impelled me to see this film adaptation of Lloyd Cassel Douglas’ (The Big Fisherman) Roman epic novel about the magic robe of Christ. 6-The-Robe

With Richard Burton in The Robe

In that first CinemaScope movie, Jean Simmons, with her startlingly attractive dark looks and screen presence, performed well amidst a fine troupe of stars. She played the graceful Diana, a noble Roman with Christian beliefs, in love with Roman centurion Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) who wins the robe worn by Jesus in a dice game. 12 -The-Big-Country-with-Carrol Baker

With Carroll Baker in The Big Country

7Later, I saw her captivating beauty and talent in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948 – as Ophelia); in the screen version of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion (1952 – D: Gabriel Pascal); Angel Face (1952 – D: Otto Preminger); The Egyptian (1954 – D: Michael Curtiz); with Marlon Brando in Désirée  (1954 – D: Henry Koster), in Guys and Dolls (1955 – D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz); The Big Country (1958 – D: William Wyler); Elmer Gantry (1960 – D: Richard Brooks); Spartacus (1960 – D: Stanley Kubrick); etc. Then there were many lost opportunities for her like the role of Princess Ann in Roman Holiday (1953) which director William Wyler wanted Simmons to play. But as fate had it, the role eventually went to Audrey Hepburn and earned Hepburn the Best Actress Academy Award for 1953. Simmons once summed up her career with a quote, “My career has had a lot of ups and downs, but basically it has been wonderful.”     8a 11 Spartacus

With Kirk Douglas in Spartacus

Married to Stewart Granger (m. 1950–1960) and Richard Brooks (m. 1960–1977), the doe-eyed British beauty died on January 22, 2010, at her home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California. 13 Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus

14 January 31 also marks the birthdays of several popular personalities: Tallulah Bankhead; Suzanne Pleshette; James Franciscus; Kelly Lynch; Portia de Rossi; Carol Channing; Mario Lanza; Derek Jarman; Daniela Bianchi; …. Austrian Composer Franz Schubert; Authors Zane Grey and Norman Mailer; etc. As Jean Paul Richter quotes, “Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time.” Bye for now, Jo 15 Notes:

a) The DVDs of this movies referred above are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

b) This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of the movies mentioned above. Please refer to “About” for more details.

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With Kirk Douglas in Spartacus

 (© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

UNDER THE MISTLETOE

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In a season for giving and sharing, of stocking the freezer and checking the lights, these are moments to treasure – special moments to share in twinship with the special one.

We are at home this Christmas time, after many Christmas spent far away from home – away from its relentless commercialisation.

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We all have our favourite things about Christmas. Our Christmas tree and the little electric lights were brought out for the ritual of decorating it with enormous pleasure by my wife Carina, born in Germany where the tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas is thought to have originated. Her creative skills to try out new decorative ideas are evident on our tree decked out with readymade decorations (no edible decorations on this tree!) brightened by the magical glow of little lights.

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A red tablecloth, embroidered by Carina’s mother, covered our dining table – its centrepiece, a beautiful floral arrangement in a crystal container. Two stars, white and silver, were hung on two locations. We love this time. It can be magical – of Peace, Hope and Love.

Love can give us a fairy tale – all the sweets of life…. It is said “Love is only a word until we find the person who gives it a sense”. We would not disagree on that…

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We wish all of you more happiness and good health to light up this Festive and Family time of the year. – Jo

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Some more Christmas scenes from our house:

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(Photos: © Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

THE PASSION FOR FASHION

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Bangalore (Bengaluru*) is the capital of the State of Karnataka in India which shares the border of our State, Kerala, with Tamil Nadu. I have enjoyed the temperate climate and higher elevation of Bangalore many times since my teen days, but more often from the time our daughter Bianca enrolled at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bangalore in 2010. This time around, in June 2014, we had gone there to attend the NIFT Graduation Day/Convocation Ceremony 2014.

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NIFT, which is unique and special, provides the best training for budding Indian designers with a sense of fashion, ideas and dreams. It gave them hope that one day they could also become fashion pacesetters of the future like established designers such as Manish Malhotra, Rohit Bal, Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Tarun Tahiliani, J J Valaya, Manish Arora, Michelle Salins, etc.

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My tryst with a major fashion event was back in September 2002 at Colchester, England, which sparked a long dissertation over the subject of “dressing for dinner”, which extended across that day’s dinner with Carina at the Prince of Wales (8 Kensington Church Street, London). That dinner had concluded with the opinion that good taste and judgment is of supreme importance if one wishes to be well-dressed.

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We could also endorse the dictum that men should be kept in mind while designing clothes for women!

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The show at Colchester later prompted me to read the autobiography of Paramount / Universal Pictures costume designer, Edith Head (Edith Claire Posener). Winner of eight Academy Awards, she had not only transformed glamorous stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Yul Brynner, etc, into the characters they play on the screen but also designed costumes for opera and circus. Who could fail to notice the everyday girl style of Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” (1953)? Or Yul Brynner’s in ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956)?. Soon I was paying attention to the works of Edith’s contemporaries such as Irene Sharaff, Ann Roth, etc.

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But my real interest in fashion was awakened when Carina and I were staying in Milan with a friend who often did promotions/networking for major fashion shows in Milan. Since then, apart from being fascinated by fashion window displays in many World capitals, I had kept a climatic eye on the dressing of women. One is never bored!

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Fast-forward to Bangalore: the aggressive monsoon showers that lashed onto the NIFT Campus on that June evening did not cause hindrance to the students, their guardians converging from around the country, their confrere, the NIFT faculty and other consultants/volunteers/technicians, pouring into the main auditorium for the KNIT MODA / FASHIONOVA Graduation Show 2014 – the most important event in the knitwear/fashion curriculum of NIFT.

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Apart from the opportunity to the budding designers to enhance their specialised learning by participating in their first fashion event, the show provided them with a creative platform for designing; fabric research; to create dresses with fantastic fit and impeccable construction; and also strikes a fine balance between backstage work and catwalk presentation. The event acted as a lever for aspiring talents to make fresh impressions and move forward into the public eye – ready to take their life to a whole new level.

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And really, during the past few days, the prestigious NIFT campus had seen visits from recruiters interested in fresh ideas and new blood which is integral to their business. They had interviewed the undergraduate designers which had provided them with opportunities to hear about the emerging talents’ awareness in fabric, textiles and fashion trends in addition to their views on creativity, the cycles of fashion, the glamour of the job – the type of designer they aspire to be. Some of these inexperienced fashion enthusiasts will eventually go through all the apprentice stage and tough employment conditions of the industry to master the dictates of fashion before, driven by an unprejudiced joy of fashion, establish their own fashion service.

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As we entered into the excited atmosphere of the auditorium, we could see that apart from the cunningly lit lights and sound, a platform was installed as the runway that would showcase the little debut collections of Womenswear and Menswear derived from the hard work and talent of the Resident fashionistas. A battery of photographers with their gadgets was shuffling around the runway like the organisers of the event. This is going to be fun!

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After the preliminary introductions, the show commenced with presentation of the Knitwear collections followed by Fashion apparels. Presented on time, the collections came into focus one after the other attired by fabulous models adorned with trend-led accessories and fascinators. Their movements crackled with energy while their faces displayed emotions of joy, anger, sadness and pensiveness in synergy with each theme.

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The collection was a mixture of Western and traditional cuts. Some featured the vibrant colours inspired by the summer festivals of India while one attired her models with dresses that would fit into the modern architecture and rooms currently in fashion in emerging cities of India. Some showed great deal of personal originality while others almost fantastic in their novelty.

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The entire show was highlighted with coloured spotlights, and during occasional breaks from pumping Asian-Western soundtrack, well-known commentator Prasad Bidapa enchanted the spectators with the salient features of each presentation before the designer, cheerful, full of gusto, full of zip, appeared on the runway to endorse his/her collection. Indeed, shows like this being part of the curriculum will continue to exist. However, some media news has raised the issue that fashion shows could possibly become endangered events since its survival is threatened by scheduling complications, technological advances and infighting.

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Fashion is a glamorous but tough industry and it has grown into a huge industry and worked at so many tiers. The idea is that, a degree in Fashion design is not just about fashion design anymore as there are so many other directions to take you off considering the various elements connected to fashion. These new aspects have undoubtedly made fashion an unbounded turf for motivated students where people would be their passion – their curiosity would be in peoples’ personality and their figure.

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The NIFT show had begun, as such shows should, quite mildly but its conclusion was marked with whistles and thunderous applause as the audience rejoiced. Well, the event of the day has come to an end, mission accomplished with ease and grace, but there would not be a let-down in the energy and enthusiasm of these undergraduates. When the Earth turns on its axis one more time, it will be the Graduation Day for them and the successful culmination of their dream.

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These students are coming fast into focus and hopefully, one day may provide a new fashion experience surmounting the existing line-up. This is an age of creativity and the ground is always fertile for the inspired designers. Essentially, they can get inspiration from almost everything. Besides, there is no age in clothes today. An elegant blessing is that fashion creates its own demand. Till next time, Jo

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Nothing captures the moments of the Show better than photographs – some of the best are here below.

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1)     A 9th century Ganga inscription refers to Bangalore as “Bengaluru”. “Bangalore” is believed to be an anglicised version.

2)    Manningtree Archive congratulates the winners and each one who made the KNIT MODA / FASHIONOVA Graduation Show 2014 a memorable event.)

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(Photos: © Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)