Scoppio del Carro, Florence, Italy

For many years the enchanting land of Italy played host to us during our yearly visits. Such frequency is ample proof how irresistible the charm of “Bel paese” is to us. Italy perfectly fitted our idea of a beautiful panoramic tapestry running its length and width – endowed with all manners of fine features: nature, history, religion, tradition, arts, architecture, cultural heritage, romance, wine, cuisine and enthusiastic people. Giuseppe Verdi rightly praised it when he said: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
But at these times, the mood is sombre. Italy is in the news for the wrong reasons – just as in the case of numerous countries. Many of us are on self-quarantine observing sanitised lifestyles, keeping social distancing day-to-day as precaution against a deadly virus hell-bent on wreaking havoc across the planet. The airports, railway stations, streets, stadiums, theatres, Malls, gridlocked traffic – all remain empty.
But what we see around us is love in action – the proclamation that the truest thing about us by this isolation is not our brokenness, but our belovedness. Our adherence to self-quarantine is the most remarkable act of human solidarity to conquer this daunting virus and it allows me to remain confident of our people’s ability to rise to any challenge.
During this Eastertide when Italy, like many countries, are struggling to defeat the menace of the virus, I indulge in quiet reflection focused on our past visits abroad, especially to Italy in 2012 when we had the pleasure to witness Scoppio del Carro at Florence during Pasqua. The relevant post is reblogged below. Jo

Manningtree Archive


Easter Sunday in Florence. The sky was overcast with dark clouds, as we walked up Via dei Servi, bound southwest towards Piazza del Duomo. Of all the beautiful names this city is called, especially Firenze as we call it with our Italian friends, there are also those who lovingly use its most beautiful form, Fiorenza, for it is still considered the flower of all Italian graces. As regards this write up, I would rather refer to it in its simplest form: Florence.

Only few meters ahead, beyond the curve of the street, stood the magnificent cathedral of Santa Maria della Fiore (Il Duomo) crowned with Filippo Brunelleschi’s soaring octagonal dome resting on a drum. It had rained during the early hours of today when we returned to our rented apartment in Via degli Alfani following the midnight Mass at this cathedral – something we had…

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The Roots and Wings of Valentine

Manningtree Archive

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Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year – the holidays of the short evenings are over. The spring vegetables are slowly entering the markets. Given that love is the keynote of that sweetest day of February when moments are made into memories, shops have displayed pretty favours for exchange between lovers and couples to mark the Valentine’s Day. As usual, a good number of high-flying hotels will be a much sought after destination on the 14th of this month for the lovers and couples out for a memorable candlelit evening of gastronomy, drinks, music, romance and to feel like a million dollars.

2Where we live, distinctive venues for such occasions are many and more are sprouting up every other month. Ecstatic to get it going, the dining tables there will be prettily decorated with fresh flowers, ferns, bisque cupids, candles, tableware, in addition to scattered red rose petals over…

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DESK SET

1957 – CinemaScope – Color by De Luxe – 20th Century-Fox

A couple of days ago, we had the pleasure to watch Desk Set, a crackling comedy which scored a genuine acting triumph for the romantic team of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

One of the newly acquired DVDs to our archive, Desk Set invites one to the Research and Reference Department of the fictitious Federal Broadcasting Company in New York. Located on the 28th floor, this department is run by the self-assured, and regretfully unmarried, Bunny Watson (a newly rejuvenated Katharine Hepburn) who works congenially with smart, clean appearing co-workers: Bunny’s breezy ally and sturdy supporter Peg Costello (comedienne Joan Blondell, chosen over actress Thelma Ritter); Sylvia Blair (dashing Dina Merrill, daughter of billionaire Marjorie Merriweather Post, in her début role); and Ruthie Saylor (Sue Randall, aka. Marion Burnside Randall in her youthful freshness).

Equipped with a library containing a wide range of informative data for their manual reference, their responsibility in that corporate environment was to answer almost any query for information covering a wide field. Their motto: Be on time, do your work, be down in the bar at 5:30. As often as not, the kind of abstruse questions they encountered goes like: “What is the highest lifetime (baseball) batting average?”; “I’m trying to find out the truth about the Eskimo habit of rubbing noses. Do they rub noses, or don’t they?”….

Into their cheerful work place walked in a strange character who identified himself as Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy). His face appeared stern, mask-like, almost as though he was trying to keep his feelings hidden. No sooner had he appeared, for reason initially unbeknown to these girls, he looked around the office and started measuring the layout with a tape measure – at one stage, seeking assistance of the girls for this purpose. Maybe he’s an interior decorator assigned to redecorate their department? – or to build a Midget golf?, or is it going to be a Snack bar?, or maybe they are getting an air-conditioning unit, finally? But he didn’t look anything like an interior decorator – rather like one of those men who’s just suddenly switched to vodka.

When Bunny met Richard upon her arrival back from an appointment at IBM and a small shopping at Bonwit’s, she had wondered if he is from the story department. But that was soon cleared when he revealed he’s a methods engineer – adding that every time he mentioned what he does, people go into a panic. Before she could extract further information, Richard was called upstairs to meet the company’s boss Mr. Azae at his office.

In fact Richard is the efficiency expert assigned there on secret orders of Mr. Azae (Nicholas Joy) to investigate ground setup to install an ingenious electronic brain which Richard has invented. The machine is to be initially activated at Bunny’s reference department. For that reason, Richard intends to hang around that department for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, to get a comprehensive picture of its working. According to Mr. Azae, it’s vital that this be kept a secret from everyone, especially the girls in Research. Of course, it’s almost impossible to keep anything a secret around there.

When Bunny accepted Richard’s invitation for lunch, Peg in her wisdom suggested she try the chicken with truffles, Poularde truffée, expecting Richard would take her to the marvellous Le Pavillon, the finest French restaurant in New York. In all sincerity, Richard’s idea of place for lunch was the rooftop of their building in that grey, chilly weather. What an ideal place for concentration where they can cheerfully banish thoughts of waiters, people, telephones, central heating – save for some pigeons up there – so what?

At the rooftop, a table was soon set. Bunny’s face looked as if she had suffered some bereavement. She noted that he had brought along roast beef, ham, cheese and plenty of hot coffee for a square meal. Their lunchtime conversation illuminated him about the little research she undertook on him and she showed off her knowledge that he is one of the leading exponents of the electronic brain in USA. Richard was just ahead of his time. He is the creator of an electronic brain machine called EMARAC…. the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator – an electronic information retrieval system which offered quick access to enormous amount of detail – the machine she had seen at its demonstration at IBM earlier.

Of late, Peg was the first one to fear from the mistaken notion that the electronic brain will replace them sooner or later. Indeed, the electronic brain in the Payroll of their Federal Broadcasting Company was designed by Richard and no sooner had it installed there to perform tasks faster than the staff, half the department had disappeared. Worries about their jobs proved to be a persistent cloud over the heads of Sylvia and Ruthie while Bunny found herself drifting closer to Richard in spite of her affection for her conceited paramour Mike Cutler (Gig Young), the in-charge of her Reference Department, who found his relationship interfered by the intrusive methods engineer.

The wise-cracking, adorable Peg was trying to encourage Bunny to resist setting her heart on the elusive Mike who, having declared his love, isn’t proposing but even so, the starry-eyed Bunny seemed too willing to give it all up to become Mrs. Mike. In Peg’s book, Mike will certainly take romance but just isn’t the domestic type – he was running at least two horses.

At one instance, Bunny invited Richard to her apartment during a storm. She suggested he dine with her – well aware that the very fact they were dropped at her apartment by the office grapevine Mr. Smithers himself who had too lively a mind, would set tongues wagging soon. Inside the apartment, Richard kicked up his heels and made himself cosy in the man’s robe she lend him to replace his wet cloths and other accoutrements. This should be the starting point of a real relationship between them. But then before the dinner was over, they were taken by surprise when Mike suddenly turned up and in Mike’s amorous temperament, Richard’s mere presence in her apartment was enough to trigger misunderstanding.

Just as the girls feared, the machine was soon set up in their Reference department where a prim and officious Miss Warriner (Neva Patterson) from the lab arrived to run the EMARAC’s operation. Miss Warriner didn’t look like Dracula’s sister but, no doubt, was there to suck out their jobs. Then came the pink slips in their pay envelops bolstering their suspicion that they are to be canned – replaced by the electronic brain EMARAC or “Emmy”……

Known in UK under the alternate title “His Other Woman”, this lightweight comedy yarn produced by Henry Ephron is typical in having a sense of anxiety in an enclosed place where automation and love clash. Filmed at the 20th Century-Fox Studios lot and Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York City, director Walter Lang (King and I) blend the pace and the rhythm, the overtones and meaning of the screenplay as a whole. Desk Set teems with clever and witty dialogue, coffee break, 5 0’clock cocktail, rooftop luncheon, fabulous Xmas party, love affairs, few bars of songs, a good deal of tomfoolery, and that ever reigning universal compulsion called office gossip….before the happy finale.

The screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (parents of writer Nora Ephron) is based on the play Desk Set by playwright William Marchant. Before writing the screenplay, the Ephrons had gone to New York to make note of the spots where the laughs came in its Broadway stage production produced by Robert Fryer. The play had opened at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York on 24 October 1955 and starred Shirley Booth (Bunny Watson), Dorothy Blackburn (Peg Costello) and Byron Sanders (Richard Sumner). As of the closing date of 7 July 1956, it did 297 satisfactory performances.

Spirited actress Katharine Hepburn’s volatile style as Bunny Watson contrasts beautifully with the steady unpretentiousness and shrewd underplaying of Spencer Tracy as Richard Sumner – a role Spence had initially refused.

A whizz in biology, Katie wanted to be a surgeon but her fascination with acting led her to an acting career on Broadway in 1929. The Connecticut-born Katharine came over to Hollywood with aspiring actress Laura Barney Harding, and launched a magnificent career with her screen début in director George Cukor’s adaptation of Clemence Dane’s play A Bill of Divorcement (1932).

According to Cukor, Katie was quite unlike anybody he had ever seen and although she had never made a movie, she had a very definite knowledge and feeling right from the start. A Bill of Divorcement was soon followed by remarkable performance in Morning Glory (1933) based on Zoe Akins play. The movie brought her an Oscar for Best Actress – Katie’s first Oscar.

However, Katie’s public appeal was beset by her unspectacular looks and astringent quality of acting in her early films. Not unlike Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich who ignored what people thought, she too was gathering up reams of attention for wearing men’s clothes before it was acceptable. A magazine quoted her liking for dresses: “I do have a dress or two. I wear a dress only when it would look conspicuous to wear these clothes.”

Although at that time she was gracelessly branded box-office poison who emptied a theatre faster than a fire, she relentlessly worked her way to the threshold of glory through movies of some of the world’s renowned directors including John Ford, John Huston, George Cukor, David Lean, Stanley Kramer, Sidney Lumet, etc.

She is best remembered for Bringing Up Baby (1938) Katie’s first comedy; Holiday (1938); The Philadelphia Story (1940) all the above three with Cary Grant; The African Queen (1951) one of Katie’s favourite films; The Rainmaker (1956) with Burt Lancaster; and later in the screen version of Tennessee Williams’ short play,  Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) with Elizabeth Taylor; besides Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967 – Oscar for Best Actress); The Lion in Winter (1968 – Oscar for Best Actress); The Trojan Women (1972) with Geneviéve Bujold; On Golden Pond (1981 – Oscar for Best Actress), etc.

The teaming of life partners Katie and Spence brought forth nine movies – starting their first pairing with the gentle sex-comedy, Woman of the Year (1942 – Oscar-winning screenplay by Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr.); Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952) – both films written by Garson Kanin and wife Ruth Gordon); Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) which was Spence’s last film appearance and Oscar-winning story/screenplay by William Rose; besides Desk Set, their eighth teaming and first film together in colour.

In Desk Set, Spence as efficiency expert Richard creates a sympathetic, complex character in spite of the initial suspicion of the reference department girls.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin-born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy had initially believed he might become a plastic surgeon. But following military service, he had taken up acting on stage. According to a magazine article attributed to MGM stock player Selena Royle, it was Selena who recommended Spence for a leading stage role when she was a star of a stock company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Once when her company was to open, the show’s producer was distressed over the sudden departure of the leading actor. A replacement could not be arranged immediately from New York. At that time, a boy had walked in asking for a job. He had no experience but wanted to be an actor. Just as the boy started to walk away, Selena had suggested that he be allowed to read for the role. That boy, Spencer Tracy, was then accepted for the role which marked his entry into the profession. Shortly afterwards, Selena’s faith and helping wand worked again for Spence when she, on hearing that her friend George M. Cohan was preparing to produce a play called Yellow, obtained a copy of the play and rehearsed Spence secretly in the lead role. In the audition she managed to arrange for him, they knew he had a natural talent for acting. The final win-out for Spence was the lead role in Yellow – an ample qualification to graduate out of stock and to a grade-A Broadway play. Furthermore, it led him to the lead role in The Last Mile.

It was Spence’s performance in John Wexley’s successful powerful prison drama The Last Mile (initial title: All The World Wondered) which opened on Broadway in February 1930 that caught the attention of veteran director John Ford. He advised Fox Film Corporation to hire Spence who earlier had un-credited appearances in two short films of Warner Bros.

Coming over to Hollywood for a one-picture contract, he shared début feature-film roles with Humphrey Bogart in John Ford’s Up the River (1930). Then again, when Nunnally Johnson suggested casting him in the role of notorious gunman Jesse James’ brother Frank in Jesse James (1939), an unconvinced Darryl Zanuck had said “Tracy will never make a star. ….Just lacks the juice for a star.”

On the other hand, a book quotes director Stanley Kramer’s observation “….(Tracy) remains to me probably the world’s greatest moving picture actor. No one was more talented – it was the chemistry of his roles that made him so good.” That appeared more truthful since Spence’s talent was honoured with Oscars for Best Actor for two consecutive years for the role of Portuguese fisherman Manuel Fidello in director Victor Fleming’s Captains Courageous (1937) adapted from the 1897 novel of Bombay-born Rudyard Kipling; and for director Norman Taurog’s Boys Town (1938), a semi-biographical movie based on the charitable activities of Father Edward J. Flanagan. It was couple of years later during the formative days for the production of director George Stevens’ Woman of the Year when Spence and Katie met for the first time and became romantically involved.

The capable supporting cast of Desk Set includes: Ida Moore as the tiny old “trademark” woman who gets one cracking with her silent walk in appearances. Harry Ellerbe (office grapevine lawyer Mr. Smithers), Nicholas Joy (Mr. Azae), Diane Jergens (Alice), Merry Anders (Cathy), Rachel Stephens (Receptionist), Sammy Ogg (Kenny), and others…

The crew: Leon Shamroy (Cinematography), Robert Simpson (Film Editing), Cyril J. Mockridge (Music), Lyle R. Wheeler/Maurice Ransford (Art Direction), Hal Herman (Asst. Director), Charles LeMaire (Executive Wardrobe Designer), Ben Nye (Makeup), Helen Turpin (Hair styles). The credits also acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of the International Business Machines Corporation.

Broadway designer and three-time Academy Award for Best Costume Design winner Charles LeMaire’s outfits in this movie are versatility personified, the kind of tailored sophistication for the modern girl who wants to look chic on the job, for daytime dates, luncheons, and for dinner. Master costumer LeMaire who would leave his job at Fox in 1959 for freelancing had a track record of dressing just about every major movie star – among others Jean Peters, Gene Tierney, Susan Hayward, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Sophia Loren, Jennifer Jones, Marilyn Monroe,…,.

Following the world premiere engagement of Desk Set at the Roxy, New York attended by a goodly number of celebs, LeMaire’s original fashions conforming to the cinematic environment in the movie arose wide spread interest, especially among those working women who couldn’t resist new fashions or to look tailored and neat. As a toast to them, he had appearances at Bon Marché, and Strawbridge & Clothier store for style-shows to show off his outfits in Desk Set.

An amusing comedy that generates steady excitement to all types of audiences, Desk Set is rich in delights for all those who love office ambiance.  Until next time/Jo

Notes:

  • DVD/Blu-ray of most of the movies mentioned in this article is available with leading dealers.
  • For promotional purpose, DVD sleeves/posters are shown here. Source: Wikipedia, amazon.com, imdb and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Anne of the Thousand Days

Manningtree Archive has its own story – of memories one has of the past which reflect in the private collection its title implies – a non-profit library stacked with books, movies and music. Looking at it in the right way one can see that this collection is like an ever-growing garden, no doubt. Here below is a promo write-up presenting one of the movies in our collection.

Anne of the Thousand Days

(1969, Panavision-Technicolor, Hal Wallis Production/Universal Pictures)

Produced by veteran producer Hal B. Wallis (Becket, True Grit, Casablanca, Little Caesar) and directed by Charles Jarrott, this engrossing costumer with authentic sets explores the life and times of King Henry VIII. and his pursuit and conquest of the beautiful Anne Boleyn that changed the course of English history.

Adapted by Richard Sokolove from the play by Maxwell Anderson, the events, though in-accurate, are set in one of the great eras of English history – and include the tragic day of Tuesday, 19th of May 1536 when hapless Anne was beheaded by the black-masked French executioner’s sword on Tower Green in the Tower of London. She is a prisoner of history and the facts of that history are now widely known.

 Hal Wallis, a giant in the film industry, was always deeply interested in English history. In 1964, his stunning historical spectacle Becket was released – superbly acted by the million-dollar piece of talents Richard Burton (as Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket) and Peter O’Toole (as King Henry II.) and helmed by director Peter Glenville. Becket was a moneyspinner. According to Wallis, it was during the filming of Becket when Burton showed his interest in filming Anne of the Thousand Days and wanted Wallis to buy the play for him. At length, this was duly done surpassing incidental issues regarding the play’s rights.

In a role originally offered to Buenos Aires-born actress Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet, 1968), the young French-Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold shines as Anne Boleyn, the winsome young Maid of Honour who danced into Henry VIII’s line of vision and eventually became the second of his succession of wives, fostered by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

Hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the convent-educated Bujold had appeared in Montreal’s theatre productions and in films such as director René Bonniére’s Amanita Pestilens (1962), La Fleur de l’Age ou les Adolescentes/Adolescents (1964), before she was chosen in Europe by French director Alain Resnais to play in La Guerre est finie/ The War Is Over (1966) opposite Yves Montand and Ingrid Thulin. This was followed by Le Roi de Coeur/King of Hearts (1966) and Le Voleur/The Thief of Paris (1967). However, her only successful performance during that time came in the title role of Isabel (1968) – written, produced and directed by her then husband Paul Almond. In their 28th September 1970 cover story on Bujold, Time magazine called Isabel a success d’estime.

Hal Wallis who screened movies in his private screening room at home in search of new talents was impressed by the sensitivity, warmth and youthful maturity of Bujold’s performance in Isabel for which she won the Canadian Film Award for Best Performance by a Lead Actress. He has now found his Anne Boleyn and words were pledged to Bujold.

Richard Burton who held approval rights over his co-star, also found her acceptable. Burton’s position garnered all respect. Bujold reminded him of “the late and lamented Vivien Leigh.” Burton insisted that Bujold, whom he nicknamed “Gin”, must be given ‘star’ treatment as he did himself. This didn’t digest well with wife Elizabeth Taylor who haunted the set to keep an eye on them.

Producer Elliott Kastner (Where Eagles Dare, 1968) had earlier sought Liz Taylor to do a film at the same time as Richard Burton did Anne of the Thousand Days. During the early pre-production stages a problem arose – a sense of onrushing doom for the movie. Indeed, it was the role of ravishing Anne Boleyn which Liz wanted to play.

Hal Wallis took Liz’s request with gloomy silence of disapproval. She has past her prime to play the beautiful and coquettish young Anne. According to Wallis, Burton who was there chipped in and skilfully let the steam off: “Sorry, luv. You’re too long in the tooth.”

References to Anne’s appearance from all that I have read indicate that, besides her tall stature and classical oval shaped face with a deceptively prim mouth, the other notable feature of this refreshingly witty conversationalist was her expressive dark eyes and a wealth of black hair.

When the film was released, Bujold’s success in the role of Anne was so pronounced that it earned her the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, turning her into an overnight sensation in Hollywood. Some critics hailed her as the new Hepburn.

With many royal roles gracing his acting career, playing royalty was nothing new to Richard Burton. Seeking a powerful screen performance, Burton donned the part of Tudor King Henry VIII. (Reign: 1509-1547) – that finest dressed sovereign with a beard of gold, gigantic appetites and a will of iron who desperately desired to swiftly divorce Katherine of Aragon, his queen of nearly 2 ½ decades, to hastily wed the dazzling Anne Boleyn although her elder sister Mary Boleyn’s improper familiarities with Henry VIII. were hardly a secret in a close court where it is hard to keep secrets.

With this role, Burton entered the realm of actors who has portrayed the controversial Tudor monarch marvellously interpreted previously by Charles Laughton in the sweeping biographical movie, The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933, D: Alexander Korda).

Greek actress Irene Papas is the richly apparelled, Queen Katherine of Aragon, daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile who proffered royal support to Christopher Columbus in his expeditions. Papas came across perfectly as a queen lovely in person and in mind – truly gentle and feminine in her manners as Katherine of Aragon is reputed for.

The Toronto-born Shakespearean actor John Colicos as the villainous Thomas Cromwell and one of Britain’s most brilliant character actors Michael Hordern as Anne’s father Sir Thomas Boleyn; give noteworthy performances in their pivotal roles.

Apparelled all in red is Anthony Quayle as the skilled diplomat Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. During his earlier stage career, Quayle had tackled the title role in director Tyrone Guthrie’s theatre production of Henry VIII at Stratford-on-Avon. In that fine performance, Quayle’s Henry, with short red hair, was a very political king, strong and vigorous with a lust for life. Soon after watching the play in 1950, His Majesty King George VI. (r.1936-1952), who was with Queen Elizabeth, had gone to the dressing-room and congratulated Quayle on his splendid performance. Adding to Quayle’s favourite part of his growing resume, this portrayal as Cardinal Wolsey in Anne of the Thousand Days won him the nomination for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category in the 42nd Academy Awards 1970.

Others in the supporting roles are:

Joseph O’Conor (Bishop John Fisher),

Peter Jeffrey (Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk),

director Jarrott’s then wife Katharine Blake (Elizabeth Boleyn),

Valerie Gearon (Mary Boleyn),

William Squire (Sir Thomas More),

Terence Wilton (Lord Henry Algernon Percy, heir to the Earl of Northumberland who offered Anne Boleyn his hand and heart);

Lesley Paterson (Jane Seymour);

Nicola Pagett (Princess Mary);

Amanda Jane Smythe (Baby Elizabeth), et al et al.

At the insistence of Richard Burton, Liz made a surprise (un-credited) appearance in a bit role as a masked lady with low-cut gown in a scene featuring Katherine of Aragon being interrupted while praying in Greenwich Chapel. A report indicates that Liz Taylor purportedly received pay of $35 for the afternoon’s work. Un-credited bit roles feature Liz’s daughter, Liza Todd and Burton’s daughter, Kate.

Crew includes:

Bridget Boland and John Hale (Screenplay);

Georges Delerue (Music Composer);

Arthur Ibbetson B.S.C. (Cinematography);

Maurice Carter (Production Design);

Lionel Couch (Art Direction);

Margaret Furse (Costume Design);

Mary Skeaping (Choreography);

Richard Marden (Editor) and others.

Made at Penshurst Place, Hever Castle (Kent) and Shepperton Studios outside London, the film, sprouting from a script of 144 pages long, brims with excitement, pageantry and scenery reflecting the Tudor love of music, dancing, gardens and flowers. At that juncture when the filming was being completed, the whole world was abuzz over the landing of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the moon on 20th July 1969.

Anne of the Thousand Days was released three months early and qualified for ten Academy Award nominations. Margaret Furse (Becket, The Lion in Winter) was the winner of Oscar for Best Costume Design. Her richly superb costumes were patterned after the famous portraits by German painter Hans Holbein the Younger whilst the period costumes and footwear were prepared by London firms: Bermans and Frederick Freed, respectively. The other Golden Globe awards honouring the film came for the categories: Best Motion Picture – Drama; Best Director; Best Screenplay.

Anne of the Thousand Days was selected by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the Royal Film Performance and shown at the Odeon Leicester Square, London on 01 February 1970. Prominent among the dignitaries presented to Her Majesty on that unique Annual event for charity was the film’s producer Hal B. Wallis, wife/actress Martha Hyer and Geneviève Bujold clad in a long white gown with a white cape worn over it and escorted by director/husband Paul Almond. A well-made movie – it’s our turn to have a good time. Jo

Notes:

  • Some delightful remembrance of King Henry VIII in our collection: The Sword and the Rose (1953, James Robertson Justice), A Man for All Seasons (1966, Robert Shaw); Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972, Keith Michell), The Prince and the Pauper/Crossed Swords (1977, Charlton Heston); Henry VIII (2003 TV series, Ray Winstone); The Other Boleyn Girl (2008, Eric Bana).
  • DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article are available with leading dealers.
  • Image source: Wikipedia, amazon, Pinterest, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Grand Entrance

Soon it will be “Goodbye 2010s” to an eventful decade and on its wake will resonate “Hello 2020s” in spirits of fresh-found confidence. Despite the anticipations of the prospect of a flourishing brand new year, considering the shifts in attitudes, fixation on praising excess, awful incidents emerging around the world, etc, one can’t help feeling a quiver of anxiety about what have the wheels of fate in store. As the years roll by with an almost frightening rapidity in a fusion of happiness, apprehensions and solidities, experiences prove that there are instances when one could not help feeling like a hooked fish on the time’s line.

Now as we hold up five fingers, four, three, two …. to signify the final-run-down to the Christmas day, the tale of Christmas miracle cannot be aptly told without music. This time around, in our mind’s eye, we go to Salzburg – to that gem of the Austrian Alps of castles, fortresses, churches, museums, parks, and, of course, nature.

Some years ago, we had the pleasure to drive around and savour the enchantment of Austria. Vienna hosted us as the base of our domicile for this visit. A clear rival to Paris in the superiority and variety of its architectural decorations and every style of art, Vienna proffered us a good stroke of fun with the fortunate presence of our friends.

As I wrote in earlier posts, we drove or foot-marched over much of the city to set our sights on the fave haunts of the locals and also on out-of-the-way tourist spots not counting the 18th-century Schönbrunn Palace, the Museums, Wiener Staatsoper, the Burgtheater, Stephansdom, Café Sacher Wien and other coffee spots where no one knows how to make bad coffee.

Hoping to get some more inspiration and to make good of the plentiful time at our disposal, we had jumped in with both feet and visited places as far as Graz, Salzburg, and their vicinities. Without a glitch, those days were mostly bright and of clear blue sky. All the way the only shadow cast was from the trees.

Our trip to Graz was covered in the car and company of my old business friend in Vienna from my days in the Middle East. At Salzburg, we were driven around by Herr Rupert, a gentlemanly fellow who only wanted to please as he took us around. Rupert, as we know, is the name of the patron saint of Salzburg who founded the Abbey of St. Peter’s beneath the sheltering cliffside of Mount Mönchsberg in the center of the Old City. With musical luminaries as talented as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Herbert von Karajan gracing the annals of the city, the delight of music is so divine and tangible in the air.

Now back to Christmas – a little more than 200 years ago, Josef Mohr (1792-1848), an assistant priest in the sacristan of Oberndorf bei Salzburg wrote a new poem of Christmas flavour at his first parish in Mariapfarr, the village of his father where Josef had cut his teeth as a priest at a young age in 1815.

Although limited to a year, Josef’s clerical term out at Mariapfarr was in 1816 when Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773–1859), the Chancellor of Austria, won repossession of the Province of Salzburg for Austria from the Bavarian crown. The following year, Josef was appointed as curate to Oberndorf, about twenty km from Salzburg. It was a village of boatmen, wooden and stone houses located on the Austrian bank on the serpentine bend of the River Salzach (Salt River/Igonta). Originally a Roman settlement, Oberndorf was mentioned in the Salzburg chronicles as early as 1050.

It is said that a clergyman sees you at your best, a lawyer at your worst and a doctor as you really are. Having taken up residency in Oberndorf, Josef conducted his priesthood which enriched the life of that parish.

During the morning of the day Josef had written the poem, he was with his closest friend Franz “Franzl” Xaver Gruber (1787-1863), a village schoolmaster, song writer and church organist. Josef was attending a celebration in the school house of Franz in the village of Arnsdorf when they realised that there was no really great Christmas song. The Christmas is already right at their doorstep.

And so, the poem Josef wrote celebrates the greatest birthday of all time – illumines the holy night and the birth of a baby in a stable at Bethlehem long time ago. It held the vision of a baby so little and soft – pure as a white flame. Having grown up close to River Salzach, no doubt, Josef must be inspired by the legend of the statue “The Enthroned Madonna with Child” (about 1500) which is believed to be a work of miracles and supposedly washed ashore by the ice-drift in the River Salzach.

At Josef’s instance, Franz who lived in Arnsdorf and performed in the post of organist at Oberndorf since 1816, soon composed tune to accompany the poem in German verses which was named the “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” (Silent Night). A task he accomplished creditably, Franz’s composition, said to be done during the afternoon of November 24, 1818, was goodness set to music and his idea of perfection lauded the dictum that a good melody must be rooted in the nature of the human voice.

 

The song was performed publically for the first time during the Christmas Midnight Mass of 1818 at St. Nikola parish church at Oberndorf – just a stone’s throw away from the serpentine bend of River Salzach. The working partnership of Josef and Franz was extremely successful – an alliance that would subsequently unite their names famously for all time. Rendering the song as a duet in the plain rural dignity of that church, curate Josef sang the melody and played the guitar while composer Franz sang the bass. It was complemented by chorus of the resident choir. Undoubtedly, Josef and Franz didn’t want to face less than perfection in their song and it made a remarkable effect on the congregation of parishioners of that great Midnight Mass.

In such ready expertness, “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” had to be first played to guitar accompaniment because the works of the church organ on which it was to be played at the church service was damaged useless probably by the gnawing mice and river flooding. Even though under normal circumstances guitar was not a medium in vogue acceptable to play a German song in the church service, the guitar had become a favoured medium since by that period the six-string guitar had replaced the lute completely and was of greater prominence on the European concert stages.

The work of Josef and Franz more or less would have been confined to the repertory of that parish and slipped into obscurity had it not been for Karl Mauracher, an organ builder, a one-off who came to repair the damaged organ. He took an interest in the song and sought a copy of its text and music to take along with him to his village in beautiful Tyrol in Western Austria which attracts many tourists.

No sooner had they heard the version of the song from the organ builder, the Strasser Quartette, famous for their beautiful singing of Tyrolese mountain songs, was won over by the full zenith of its charm. At length, they added it to their repertoire and performed widely on their concert tours as “The Tyrolian Song” due to its place of birth. It was often considered a folk song but without any known authorship of its poet or musical composer.

Although the Rainers, another singing group had taken “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” into their shows as early as 1819, it was later sung by the Strasser Quartette before the congregation at the great cathedral of Leipzig, Germany. The song remained unprinted until 1840. Some attributed its melody to Johann Michael Haydn (1737–1806) until the Royal Court musicians in Berlin, in their wisdom, enquired with the Abbey of St. Peter’s (Stift Sankt Peter) in Salzburg about the origin of the Christmas song “Silent Night”, believed to be by Michael Haydn of that Abbey. Through Franz’s son, this inquiry reached the ears of Franz who was then still alive while Josef had since deceased. It was nearing the end of 1854 when Franz set his claim to Berlin and soon after received credit for his creation.

In 1854, the “romanticist on the throne” Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia (Reign: 1840-1861), whose beautiful Queen consort Elisabeth (Elise) Ludovika of Bavaria who had been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, took great interest in “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” following its performance before him by the Berlin Church Choir. He delightfully ordered it be given first place in all Christmas programmes. Curiously, he was the first Emperor of Prussia to enter a Roman Catholic place of worship when, back in 1844, he attended the celebrations marking the completion of the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom). From that distance of time, trooping ahead past events like its performance during the World War I front-line during the Christmas Truce, until today, “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” was on a moving treadmill fuelled year on and on by popularity – casting a celestial spell upon all Christendom and in a multitude of directions.

During an interview in the early last century, the grandson of Franz produced a copy of the manuscript of “Silent Night” in his possession which he claimed to be a copy made by Franz Gruber in 1836. The original is no longer in existence. It was the oldest known copy and contained the original stanzas penned by Josef for which voices and instruments were arranged.

Presently, the Stille Nacht Kapelle, the memorial chapel blessed in 1937, stands on the site of the old St. Nikola Church which disappeared with time – perhaps consequent to the deadly maelstrom of floods of River Salzach in 1899 when most of the river-side houses were carried away. The year 1899 may be remembered by movie lovers as the year of birth of American actor Humphrey “Bogie” Bogart. He was a Christmas baby born on December 25th. The image of the old chapel can be seen, among other works, on the brochure of Stille Nacht Kapelle and as chocolate-box scenes.

The carols we always associate with Christmas are of very old religious lyric and musical idea. The combination of singing and dancing carols is undated since it existed among people from time immemorial. As one could think of the Christian tradition of the joyful hymn of praise “Gloria in excelsis Deo” the angels sung to the Shepherds, appreciating the Nativity story in a stirring age in our history, the popular mind could also reflect on the soft lullaby of the Nazarene maiden Mary as she lulls her new-born babe to sleep in a manger of that hamlet called Bethlehem (according to a book, the name Bethlehem signifies the “House of Bread“).

Fashions have changed – tastes have altered – the carols may go in and out of favour. Then again, together with the seasonal favourites “O Come All Ye Faithful / Adeste Fideles,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, the jubilant “Joy to the World”, etc, the soulful Christmas carol “Silent Night” has always sweetened the joyous effect in our home during the Christmas Eve.

As Christmastime shows up annually, we have had our moments in the festivities, feasting and jollities that goes along with it. In common parlance, the Christmas favourite lists: the living room dressed in the house’s finest, the Nativity crib, a brightly decorated tree to glisten and gleam with baubles, tinsel and fairy lights, the mistletoe, the Christmas stockings and gifts, the brass and silver brightly polished, the holiday table laden for sumptuous feast fit for a gastrophile at heart, the seasonal melodies like the “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,” to moon and swoon, to talk over old and new times with near and dear. All those Christmas traditions are perfect and nice to hold on to – and meaningful, too.

The concept of the illuminated Christmas trees in legends of Germany relates to the heathen belief that the new life energy developed after midwinter by all trees and sprigs should be taken into homes to radiate its power among all those who live there. Delightfully, there are other things also not to lose sight of – mind you, to ensure a certain period to reminisce and meditate about all things that one builds too high in one’s mind and to thank for our many blessings.

At this time, Christmas would seem funny here without snow. But we would overlook that – for it has always been so. Then again, certainly there will be melodies inspired by my wife from our collection of her native Weihnachtslieder to ensure this Christmastime will be one of enchantment.

A Merry Christmas full of Joy and Cheer

Jo & Carina

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)