The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers – (StarChoice: 28)

Excerpts from: The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS 

 …… In one of her memoirs, beautiful actress Lauren Bacall wrote about how in 1945 she met star-finder/star-maker Hal Brent Wallis in the club car of the train while travelling to East with her husband Humphrey Bogart. Wallis, an independent producer since 1944 was on board the Santa Fe Super Chief train, bound for New York to look for new talents there. One night, over drinks in the lounge, she tipped Wallis to take a gander at the young and talented Kirk Douglas – a sort of a young Spencer Tracy – who was in a stage play in New York.

Lauren ‘Betty’ Bacall knew that Wallis always looked for an off-beat quality in his screen heroes.

A man with astute combination of imagination and executive ability, some of the potential actors Wallis found and expertly built them into stars of the screen included Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, Dolores Hart, Elvis Presley, Polly Bergen, Anthony Franciosa, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Cummings, Don Defore, Ann Richards, Kristine Miller, Douglas Dick, Betsy Drake, Marisa Pavan, Shirley MacLaine, …..

People abroad are hungry for film entertainment and share with American audiences a keen interest in new personalities. It is this desire for new faces that has prompted my continued search for talent and the signing of such people as Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey,” Wallis was quoted in 1947.

Betty had a similar story. Taking into heart the All-American dream of every girl in the country at that time, she had come to Hollywood to become a star. In 1943, New York socialite and legendary beauty Slim Hawks, wife of director/producer Howard Hawks, saw the 18-year-old model’s picture on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar (March 1943) and prodded Hawks to “get a hold of this girl” with that “down-under” look. This “great find” was cast with Humphrey Bogart in Hawks’ adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, To Have and Have Not (1944). That had opened a whole new life to Betty.

In June 1945, Hollywood’s “Gentleman Producer” Wallis went to the Broadway production and was impressed by Kirk playing the helpful ghost of the Unknown Soldier of World War I on stage in The Wind Is Ninety (Jun 21, 1945 – Sep 22, 1945). Tellingly, Kirk’s performance earned him best notices for its warmth and sincerity.

At that juncture, Wallis’ company had three films lined up on the production board: The Searching Wind (1946, D: William Dieterle), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Perfect Marriage (1947 D: Lewis Allen). Kirk was summoned to Wallis’ office in New York and later to the coast…….

…….Kirk netted his debut role in Hal B. Wallis Productions’ gripping noir melodrama, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) as the husband of wealthy Martha Ivers, played by Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck, a trouper of vixen roles.

Effectively directed by Lewis Milestone, this exciting movie, from an unpublished story, “Love Lies Bleeding” by Jack Patrick (screenplay by Robert Rossen), told the grim tale of unbalanced emotions in the small industrial city of Iverstown in 1946 where, wealthy, conniving social climber Martha Ivers held a lifelong criminal secret over her weakling, drunkard husband, Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas), a district attorney.

During their adolescence years in 1928, Walter had witnessed Martha commit the murder of her bullying aunt Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson) in a fit of blind anger.

At that time, the little boy O‘Neil had affirmed Martha’s lie about a man having burst into the house and killed the aunt. In due course, Martha inherits a large family fortune from her dead aunt whom she loathed.

With murder and blackmail ruling the roost, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is without a trice of comedy to lighten the tension.

Spectators who have seen this movie would recall Kirk’s introductory scene wherein his first dialogue on screen was the customary salutation of “Hello”.

And, with that one all-time favourite word, Kirk Douglas, at about age 30, took off to a promising start of his phenomenal career.

It was a befitting entry into the movie-stardom for Kirk who proved himself a fine actor who could measure up with such veterans as Van Heflin (back from war and on loan from M-G-M) and Barbara Stanwyck, in a role similar to the alluring double-crosser in the movie classic, Double Indemnity (1944, D: Billy Wilder).

Those who liked the smoky blonde Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo in 1922) in her film debut You Came Along (1945, D: John Farrow), would want to see her don the role of Toni Marachek, the probationer from jail seeking love and companionship.

Cast over protests from female lead Stany, Scott’s Toni is the dynamic love interest of Sam Masterson (Heflin in his Johnny Eager (1941, D: Mervyn LeRoy) -type role), a professional gambler who learns that Martha has one murder to her name.

Perchance the true colours of costumes by master designer Edith Head wither their grandeur in monochrome. Setting pace to Victor Milner’s photography is also the music score by Miklós Rózsa which relate each character, setting, or situation to a musical theme.

This post-war period film was released on July 24, 1946 having completed production during October 2 – December 7, 1945. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers had its world premiere abroad TWA’s transcontinental Constellation trip departing Los Angeles on May 24, 1946.

Reportedly, about five months from the film’s release, the citizens of Kirk’s hometown in Amsterdam, N.Y, launched a pre-election campaign urging Kirk’s nomination for an award for his performance in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, although the official Academy award nominations has not yet begun.

You probably wouldn’t prefer to meet any of the selfish, grasping characters of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, but it’s an edge of the seat evil tale to watch unfold – without children.

Until next time, Jo

Notes:

  • Given that the abridged version of my write-up “The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS” has by now exceeded 105 pages, it is deemed only fair that the write-up should come out, if possible, in its entirety in a book format. Therefore, only excerpts (movie reviews) from it are posted here.
  • Some of the DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article is available with leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, imdb and from my private collection. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Advertisements

The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS

I think of my life like a stone thrown into a calm pool.”

                                – Kirk Douglas, The Ragman’s Son

This tribute to Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas is truly accidental than most of my posts, in the sense that this never followed the carefully visualised course I planned at its inception – which was to create a 1,200-word write-up. But as my research evolved over the last many months, I chanced upon a profusion of representational materials about Kirk that my endeavour to piece together the salient landmarks in his life finally brimmed to the expanse of dimension you will come across in the text below.

Kirk Douglas is one of the last remaining great male movie stars of the studio era, even though certain cinematic greats like Clint Eastwood who came close behind Kirk cannot be ignored. Back in the good old days when movies had little competition and the moviegoers were devoted and regular, Kirk emerged from obscurity to turn into an established star on the strength of combining toughness with an acute intelligence in his choice and interpretation of the parts he played. Amongst the many directors he had the privilege to work with are the best of the crop such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, John Sturges, John Huston, Burt Kennedy, etc.

As with all stars, the glamour and publicity surrounding Kirk is part of his work and charisma. Kirk Douglas once wrote, “When you become a movie star, you create an image for the public.” This perfectly complemented the dialogue Kirk’s character Jonathan Shields spoke to Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) in a scene in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), “When you’re on the screen, no matter who you’re with, or what you’re doing, the audience is looking at you. That’s star quality.”

Kirk Douglas came into my life when I first saw a movie during its re-run in a local theatre two decades after its release. I could recall it as Ulysses (1954). Watching it, Kirk had come across to me as a versatile star – vibrant, handsome, virile – all rolled into one. In those teenage days, I was taken by the ease and punch of his portrayal in the title role, and since then, whenever possible, I had tried to follow his career which, over the years, grew in stature gaining brilliant achievements.

Now, how many millions around the world have seen Kirk’s movies? How many were liked or disliked or earned moviegoers to his films owing to Kirk’s acting and/or celebrity factor? What screen or personal stories perpetuated his legend in the public’s mind?

Many years ago, a magazine featured an interview with one of Kirk’s secretaries of the late 1960s. She fondly remembered him as “a very demanding person to work for, and works at a frantic pace himself. He has many businesses apart from films…. He is a very nice person…. I found him very attractive and virile – a real man’s man.”

Think of it. There is a tremendous amount of the past in all our presents. I have not met Kirk personally. Although I would love to, it is most unlikely that I will ever meet him. But I have always nurtured that curiosity to find out specifically how Kirk earned the reputation of a self-made man, a legendary hardworking American stage/screen actor, producer, director, author, millionaire, humanitarian, philanthropist, art collector, winner of awards/honours for achievements both on and off screen, and a family man with a beautiful wife called Anne Buydens sheltered in a solid marriage now nearing its 64th year on May 29th.

My growing film archive of about 6,500 movies gives primacy to films released up to early 1980s – most of which are now historic milestones of the movie industry. Thus far, it contains almost three dozen movies featuring Kirk Douglas. No doubt, that three dozen would be much lesser compared to the numerous hardbound volumes of scripts of all of Kirk’s movies which, according to Kirk’s memoirs, are arranged in chronological order on the top shelf at his house.

Likewise, I feel lucky that I was born during a period when I could enjoy those just-released films on a large theatre screen – maybe with a lesser quality presentation, but enough to be content in those happy days. And at the close of the movie, to walk out into the Lobby amidst the excited, arguing, impressed viewers. It’s no fun if one happens to see those movies now on TV – greatly edited and, like in our part of the world, interrupted by numerous (but necessary) persistent and disparate commercials that pounce on your senses like rapid gunfire from an AK47; or shown either during the work days or too late into the night.

At length, this compilation is derived from a trail of information that lay scattered in innumerable books, magazines, media interviews, movie documentaries or whatever sources I could possibly access – to all of which this write-up is thankfully and humbly indebted. This is neither a scholarly compilation of biographical data nor could it be free of possible errors – mainly whereas the schedule of production of movies is subject to re-takes, fillers, etc. This is just my personal attempt to recapture the great events, and some minor ones, of Kirk’s life – primarily up to the period before early 1980s.

To minimalize the content, some finer details about Kirk and his movies, readily available in numerous books, websites, visual media, etc., are left out. Keeping in par with the good old times Kirk’s films captured, I must honestly add that, the theory I have adopted for this write-up is to overlook any broken fence and admire the flowers in the garden. As you read further on, I hope you will chance upon the many pleasant factors that inspired me to write about – Mister Kirk Douglas.

(The First instalment of this series follows)

Jo

Notes:

  • DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred above is available with leading dealers.
  • Picture credits: Please refer to “About” of my web page for more details.
  • It would be factual to endorse that the year-long delay in my posts occasioned from a string of turbulence of personal nature that thrashed on the cruising path of my life during the last so many months and yet, the ducks are not in a row. I dedicate this tribute with love and gratitude to: 1) Renate Elisabeth (Carina), my wife and oracle of love for her support, wisdom and unfailing vigilance; and to 2) Carolyn Page, the sweet spot who fondly lit a fire under you-know-where to turn the heat on me to accelerate the publishing of this post.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

 

Staying Power of “The Horsemen”

Concluding installment of the two-part serial: “Catch-as-Catch Can”

In my mind’s eye, artist Said Atabekov’s solo show reminded me of “The Horsemen” (Les Cavaliers), the 1967 best-selling novel written by the French writer Joseph Kessel (1898-1979). Enriched by the extraordinary gifts of characterisation and narrative of Kessel, it was the kind of book that cast a spell over the reader, and when you finished it, the experience preys on your mind to think back over the whole plot and rediscover the many priceless pearls from a bygone era which are littered in it.

The Horsemen told the gutsy saga, in contemporary setting, of family conflict between Uraz, a proud and ambitious Afghan horse rider and Tursen, his father, the Master of the Horse at the stables of the regal Osman Bey and the bravest Buzkashi chapandaz of the time, renowned for his highest degree of horsemanship, physical strength, courage and competitive spirit.

By the time producer/writer Edward Lewis and his constant film collaborator, director John Frankenheimer decided to turn The Horsemen into a movie (the films rights of which they had purchased jointly), two of Kessel’s novels were already lauded as popular films: The Lion (1962, D: Jack Cardiff) which is a marital drama of an American lawyer who goes to Africa to deal with his child and animal interest; and Belle de Jour (1967, D: Luis Buñuel), a fascinating fact and fantasy tale of a surgeon’s wife who took a liking to afternoon work in a brothel.Lewis and Frankenheimer contracted with Colorado born screenwriter (James) Dalton Trumbo’s (1905-1976, Spartacus, Exodus, Papillon), to adapt Kessel’s book. Joseph Kessel, who considered Trumbo in the first rank of screenwriters, was delighted by the news. According to a book on Dalton Trumbo, they agreed to pay him $125,000 for the completed script and another $125,000 in ten equal instalments.

Although Lewis questioned Trumbo’s depiction of the lead character’s motivations, Frankenheimer found the finished script “perceptive” and “damned good.” However, when made into an old-fashioned action-adventure movie of the same title, the studio executives demanded that the rough cut be reduced from slightly over three hours to two hours.

A co-production of John Frankenheimer Productions and Edward Lewis Productions, Inc. with the cooperation of Afghan Films, Colombia Pictures released The Horsemen in mid-1971, the year the studio turned to look back rather than forward – releasing movies such as Nicholas and Alexandrea (D: Franklin Schaffner), The Last Picture Show (D: Peter Bogdanovich), 10 Rillington Place (D: Richard Fleischer), The Anderson Tapes (D: Sidney Lumet), etc.

Similar to film directors such as Arthur Penn, Delbert Mann, Marty Ritt, Franklin Schaffner, Sidney Lumet and George Roy Hill, director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002), took the road out from television to Hollywood, where, retaining only the most useful elements of his earlier style, he became one of the most versatile directors in the American cinema.

He made dramatic hits such as Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), Seconds (1966), although the movie that catapulted his name to fame was the satirically angled political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate (1962). A demanding director, whose hallmark was working well with most actors, Frankenheimer’s work projected a fascination with the mechanics of visual story telling.

A reporter once noted in a newspaper: “You won’t find much romance or many complex leading ladies in a Frankenheimer film: For the most part his characters are men, real men, fighting each other or some outside force trying to destroy a way of life. His films are known for their biting look at this country’s political and social times.”

Director Frankenheimer’s flair in games and sports were evident in his Grand Prix (1966) and The Gypsy Moths (1969). The Horsemen (Cavalieri Selvaggi), made just before Frankenheimer’s career went into sharp decline in the 1970s, was the first film ever made in Afghanistan during a period when it was a popular destination all the year round for Western tourists to enjoy its rugged mountains and valued relics of ancient civilisation.

The production received plentiful cooperation from the government – and according to a magazine article, the authorities even allowed Frankenheimer to bring in a helicopter to shoot aerial scenes.

The film featured a spectacular tale of human drama giving emphasis to the skill, violence, and great courage of man-and-horse rivalries played out in the ancient equestrian tradition of buzkashi, an amalgamation of dirty polo and open rioting which brings to one’s mind the legends of the Golden Horde of the times of Mongol king Genghis Khan, whose warriors slipped into enemy camps and without dismounting from their horses, swooped up goats, sheep, etc., and rode away undetected with their pillage.

Having realised that he could no longer play in buzkashi, the valiant chapandaz (specialist buzkashi rider) Tursen’s (Jack Palance) mind was clouded over by his son Uraz’s (Omar Sharif) youth and prowess. For Uraz, like his father before him, is reputedly the greatest chapandaz in the three provinces of Meymaneh, Mazar-e Sharif and Qataghan.

To prove his machismo and to challenge the code of behaviour by which he had been raised, as well as to please his imperious father who refused to give up the values and beliefs of his native land and had chosen Uraz to ride on the newest and finest purebred stallion, Jahil, Uraz had decided to compete in the king’s Royal Buzkashi tournament on the field of Bagrami in Kabul. Winning the game would ensure that Tursen would deed Jahil to Uraz – which was Tursen’s challenge to secure Uraz’s victory in the Buzkashi competition (1).

The game featured in the movie, where the horseman with the carcass is fair game for an all-out assault, was played at its roughest when the leather whips were applied with devastating effect on challenging riders.

Although Uraz’s boldness and fierce competitive spirit was evident throughout the game, in an unfortunate incident during the game after he had grabbed the carcass off the ground, Uraz fell and broke a leg. But then, in the last moment, his colleague Salih had leapt onto Jahil to win the tournament for their Meymaneh clan.

Later, escaping from the hospital where he was admitted, Uraz was forced to journey back home to the province of Meymaneh to face his father. Disgraced and humiliated in failing to measure up to his father, Uraz imposed severe ordeals on himself – eventually suffering terrible tribulations from the amputation of one of his legs infected with gangrene. Accompanying him through the treacherous old Bamian Road across the mountains were his faithful syce Mukhi (David de Keyser, uncredited) and a crafty nomad woman called Zareh/Zereh (Leigh Taylor-Young sporting a new gold nose ring) with her greedy eyes set on to acquire Jahil.

Having allowed to join Uraz in his journey  as Mukhi’s woman and having seen Uraz sick and weak, Zareh’s mind was devious to realise how a good buzkashi horse like Jahil would play for as long as twenty years and would bring glory and wealth to her. Encouraged by the knowledge that the prize-horse Jahil’s ownership would pass on to Mukhi upon Uraz’s death, Zareh took upon herself to convince Mukhi that they could go to the land of Hazarajat and make a fortune by racing the swiftest Jahil in the great annual fair.

As Uraz progressed on his passage home with his animal powers of endurance and survival, it didn’t take long before Zareh found out that, although Uraz liked women, he liked horses even better.

The great old film stars are everlasting. They live on in the hearts of all who have adored their looks and performances, and anytime is a good time to view their films repeatedly.

Star of Doctor Zhivago (1965, D: David Lean) and Funny Girl (1968, D: William Wyler), the dark-eyed Omar Sharif (1932-2015, born: Maechel Shalhoud in Alexandria of Syrian-Lebanese descent) whom actor Peter O’Toole irreverently dubbed “Cairo Fred”, needs no introduction. Following his dramatic entrance from the sands of the Sahara into screen stardom in the opening scene of Lawrence of Arabia (1962, D: David Lean), the flamboyant American actor became a whirlwind which brought him adulation, riches and hearts of millions of female movie lovers in particular. He frequently appeared in dashing leading man roles, relishing the honour of being a social idol, a superstar and a worthy successor to Rudolph Valentino.

The Memoirs of Roger Vadim quotes Omar Sharif as “a charming man and exciting friend, but he had a very particular style with women. In spite of the passionate lover that he played on the screen, he was rarely romantic.”  Sharif had remarked during the filming of The Horsemen that he welcomed the opportunity to play a straight role. It  is a provocative film role in which he shared something in common with the character of Uraz – the ambitious chapandaz dressed in a thick caftan and high-heeled boots, leather whip gripped between his teeth, his head adorned with a hat lined with astrakhan fur and the emblem of a chapandaz fixed on it.

As a racehorse owner and breeder himself who, during that time, paid US$50,000 to send his mares to America to mate with wonder horse, Canadian-bred Nijinsky, (about which he was asked to narrate a French documentary in 1970,) Sharif did not shirk some tough riding in The Horsemen – at times holding the reins in one hand and the sand-stuffed, 120lb. carcass of a goat in the other, sequences which were added in Spain.

During production, he spoke of his understanding of horses. At the age of four he had begun by riding on tourist horses trotting around the pyramids: “It’s not all that difficult, really… I have ridden horses since I was a child in Cairo and I can hang on to a horse.” Then again, Sharif who had brought along an American masseur to Afghanistan to ease his muscle strains from the game, was, on tricky bits, obliged to indorse assistance of a double for some of his buzkashi riding scenes.

According to an article, the required footage for the film was canned by Frankenheimer by making the teams play every day for 30 straight days. Just like artist Said Atabekov, director Frankenheimer with his Polaroid would, at times, shoot interesting pictures of the men and horses in action. To complement the game scenes shot at Aranjuez in Spain, about ten chapandaz (including leading buzkashi riders, Jalal and Habib, who had tremendous riding and game-time experience in buzkashi) were flown from Afghanistan for filming a third of the movie over a parched Spanish playing-field. A Spanish army helicopter was also engaged for this.For the role of Tursen, the filmmakers wanted a star with enough physical presence and regional look to match Sharif. Movie audiences have seen Omar Sharif and Jack Palance together in Che! (1969, D: Richard Fleischer) although they were criticised as miscast in the roles of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Maybe the filmmakers had hoped to derive a better result from this combination from their roles as Uraz and Tursen.

The hard, villainous skull-faced one-time boxer Palance was the heaviest Heavy Hollywood knew in the old days before he deserted Hollywood for Europe. The lantern-faced Palance chews the scenery as a “mean as dirt” gunslinger imported by cattle interests to confront former gunfighter Alan Ladd in Shane (1953, D: George Stevens), Paramount’s splendid outdoor drama of the Old West.Moviegoers may also remember him as a disillusioned film star in The Big Knife (1955, D: Robert Aldrich) and in a good number of films made in Europe such as: The Mongols (1961, D: Andre de Toth/Riccardo Freda), Barabbas (1962, D: Richard Fleischer), The Professionals (1966, D: Richard Brooks), Justine: Le Disavventure della Virtu (1968, D: Jess Franco), Vamos a Matar, Companeros! (1970, D: Sergio Corbucci), Chato’s Land (1971, D: Michael Winner), etc.According to a biography of actress Joan Crawford, during filming of the solid suspense thriller, Sudden Fear (1952, D: David Miller), Crawford was disturbed by Palance’s “moodiness and particular techniques, such as racing around the studio stage to incite his emotion.” Quite possibly, Palance, in his first starring role and an actor whom Crawford once fired, was nervous and apprehensive about acting as the new husband of Crawford, the legendary star who had shared screen space with biggest film icons such as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, etc. In The Horsemen, one will find Palance mellowed, put on weight and smiles as if he meant it.Beautifully filmed in Eastmancolor and Panavision (2) in Afghanistan and Spain, Cinematographer Claude Renoir brilliantly succeeds in recapturing the look and feel of the period. The original cinematographer James Wong Howe (nicknamed Low Key Hoe) who had worked on many Frankenheimer movies was replaced.According to the book The Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Howe admits having worked two or three weeks on his last picture, The Horsemen, but left over a disagreement with director Frankenheimer for refusing to use a particular lens rented for the movie. (3)

The 23-year old, fresh-faced, Leigh Taylor-Young, when contracted to play the leading lady role in The Horsemen, which took about two and a half years to make, had a repertoire of film appearances credited to her career.

Debuting in the Broadway play Three Bags Full (1966)  under the name Leigh Taylor-Young, she progressed with appearance in the TV soap opera Peyton Place, following which she went on to make five major motion pictures in a row.The Horsemen also features: British general purpose actor Peter Jeffrey (Hayatal), George Murcell (Mizrah), bald-headed Viennese character actor Eric Pohlmann (Merchant of Kandahar), Vernon Dobtcheff (Zam Hajji), Saeed Jaffrey (District Chief), John Ruddock (Scribe), Mark Colleano (Rahim), Salmaan Peer (Salih), Aziz Resh, Leon Lissek, and Vida St. Romaine as the Gypsy woman. Some websites identify actor Srinanda De in the role of Mukhi.

The crew also consists of: Costume designer: Jacqueline Moreau; Production Designer: Pierre Louis Thevenet; Music composed and conducted by: Georges Delerue.

Following the filming, director John Frankenheimer had joined Harold F. Kress to edit the film in Paris and also devoted part of the nights attending cooking classes for three months at Le Cordon Bleu which was followed by a tour of Europe studying the great chefs. Undeniably, the film’s production had occasioned a learning experience for Frankenheimer in the traditional game of buzkashi which inspired in him the thought of holding buzkashi tournaments in the USA.

As for Sharif, whose interests thrived on bridge games, globe-trotting, dating girls and owning horses, among others, his movie days in Afghanistan acquired him a new buddy to share his Rolls-Royce and his new Penthouse overlooking the Bois de Boulogne in Paris: a majestic Afghan hound named Baz (Bazo), a gift from the King of Afghanistan (4).

Until next time, Jo

PS: This here Second installment of the two-part serial “Catch-as-Catch Can” would have appeared earlier, had I been able to go ahead with my scheduled visit to Dubai in April-May for research work for that post. Unfortunately, I had to forego that trip and sustain subsequent delay due to urgent engagements.

Notes:

  • Please refer to the first part: “Catch-as-Catch Can” for more details on Buzkashi.
  • The film’s Trailer states “Super Panavision
  • For the benefit of minimal content in this post, many finer details re. the production of this film, readily available in numerous websites, books, etc, is not incorporated.
  • A chapter in “No Better Friend: Celebrities and the Dogs They Love,” by Elke Gazzara features an interesting narration about how the last king of Afghanistan, Muhammad Zahir Shah (1914-2007; Reign: 1933-1973) presented one-year old Bazo to Sharif, through his emissary, while Sharif was already inside the aircraft waiting to take off to Paris after having spent more than five months location shoot there for The Horsemen.
  • Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, 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.
  • In memory of John Frankenheimer who died on July 06, 15 years ago.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Catch – as – Catch Can

Excitement is soaring for high-class racing action in Dubai where horses are a passion. This excitement is hardly surprising in the Arabian Peninsula – the region from where the pure-bred Arab stock had emerged to become lauded as the oldest of the world’s recognised breeds – their influence in creation of the Thoroughbred generally acknowledged all over the world.

A land of startling contrasts, Dubai of United Arab Emirates, has, years on, offered a sparkling calendar of interesting equestrian pursuits and leisure activities such as courses for riding skills, show-jumping, dressage, polo, horse riding trips, etc, through its various clubs and stables. The Dubai World Cup (DWC) 2017 will take place on Saturday, March 25 at Meydan Racecourse where the 2017 DWC Carnival is underway.

As for me, UAE is the region in which I had flown in the most number of times, for short visits and transit – like drive traffic, all stop and go, since I very often flew with regional Airlines from the early-nineties – a silent witness to the city’s astonishing growth to today’s modern metropolis, Dubai (which I was told is a mixed Farsi and Arabic word meaning literally, two sides of the water. I have also heard its meaning being referred to the Hindi words “Do – bhaee” (Two – Brothers)! Few documents may exist before 1799 when the local inhabitants were primarily engaged in fishing and harvesting pearls. But at the creek of Dubai, one can still see the big wooden dhows and smaller, short-keeled sambuqs.

Of the many activities complementing the Dubai World Cup is a Solo Show by Said Atabekov, the internationally renowned Uzbekistan born contemporary artist, who now lives and works in Kazakhstan.

Titled “66 Lbs”, Atabekov’s show featuring photo, video and site installation, can be viewed at Andakulova Gallery (Unit 18, P4 Level, Damac Park Towers DIFC) in Dubai during March 06th – May 12th, 2017. What attracted me to this show is not simply because it featured horses.

With a good number of original “sporting art” also bolstering our love of arts, paintings of sedate hunting or race horses are not alien to our house. From the horse’s first appearance in a convincing anatomical form in an Assyrian bas-relief of the seventh century BC, at length, it has been an inspiration in all forms of arts and later in literature for the majesty and grace of this spirited animal “par excellence”. Over time, many terms sprang out of its name: horse-radish, horse-parsley, horse mushroom, iron horse, pale horse, white horse, brazen horse, wooden horse, Trojan horse, horse bridge, horse-power, horse trading, …..

The largest physiques of horses I have come across, to name but a few, are the set of four horses (Triumphal Quadriga) at Basilica di San Marco in Venice; the wooden horse inside il Salone of the Palazzo della Ragione; Donatello’s equestrian statue of Gattamelata on Piazza del Santo (both in Padua); and such other statues in many piazzas and squares in Europe.

According to classical mythology, Poseidon created the horse. Indeed, from the domestication of the horse, possibly by the tribes of the steppes flanking the Caspian Sea thousands of years ago, the horse has been the friend and companion of man, prized for his beauty, loved for his docility. Eaten, sacrificed, worshipped, it gradually became a means of transport, communication and of horseback conquest in the heroic age. As a story goes, in the early centuries before Jesus Christ, when the Greeks colonised Southern Italy and brought in thousands of horses, the luxurious people of Sybaris trained all their horses to dance to the sound of music – of flutes in particular. Then again, there was also a time when some were addicted to the atrocious practice of sacrificing live horses to their gods or bury them with their masters.

The show’s distinctiveness is the bridge the artist has built between the past and the present with strong images that resonate with tradition – with emphasis on the ancient nomadic game of Kokpar of Kazakhstan. A primitive version of polo, played in two considerably different forms: tudabarai and qarajai, the game Kokpar  has two (or more) teams on horseback competing to pick a headless goat carcass off the ground (zamin-gir) without dismounting or snatch it from someone else at full gallop (chakka-gir) and carry it over the goal line. Usually, the credit for best horsemanship, strength and courage goes to the winning team.

Being aware of this as I am – it is gross the way it sounds. But the element of my main interest in this equestrian sport, part of the cultural backbone of some countries, is merely the nomadic tradition and the strict set of rules it accentuates. According to this solo show, the mandatory weight of the animal carcass used for the game which is fixed as 66 Lbs – hence, the title of this Show.

The Kazakh horses are traditionally an ancient breed originally bred in that region and are exceptionally hardy and competent to withstand extreme climatic conditions. Kokpar (known in a variety of names or simply as “catch-as-catch can”) of the Central Asian countries is one of the games fostered not only out of necessity – but also for recreation as well. The game, which probably owes it origins to the period of reign of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (B: 356 BC – D: 323 BC) or Genghis Khan (B: 1162 – D: 1227) of the Mongol Empire, or to the Turkic-Mongol people, is part of the contests devised to provide, in times of peace, excitement as well as to retain fitness, readiness and skill of horse and horsemen for sudden deployment in unexpected wars. Such activities also aided to counter their boredom resulting from specific exercise in one place.

Specialization in such games enabled the noblest horse and its valiant rider to attain mutual equilibrium as one unit – as can be visualised in the artistic depiction of half-man and half-horse – the fabulous centaur of Greek mythology – the fusion where man dominates mentally and dictates the strategies taking advantage of the obedience, physical strength and exceptional memory of the horse – a feat attained from the animal owing to kind and patient training.

Whereas, in the mounted folk game of Kokpar, known in Afghanistan as Buzkashi (buz, a goat and kashidan, to pull) (Mongolian baz-kiri), the goat (or calf) carcass is the objective for the contesting buzkashi riders (chapandazan) who to carry it off to a “goal”.

The 51-year old artist Atabekov has captured the vibes and thrill of Kokpar by actually riding amidst the two teams of powerful masculine participants on powerful horses – his camera mopping up their emotions, vanity, endurance and the intensity of their action in all its complexity.

The mayhem of lurching, rearing, bumping, kicking, biting, leering, cursing in the midst of dust, noise and sweat as it happens when they engage in grapple from each other in fierce competitive spirit, sometimes (unintentionally!) hitting out at the opponents (not at their horses) with their camchin (buzkashi whip with wooden handle). In his relentless effort, the artist has endeavoured to draw attention of the viewer to the game and spirit of Kokpar and the national sport of Kazakhstan.

Back to you…soon. Jo

The concluding instalment of this two-part serial will follow.

Notes:

  1. The horse in the title header is one of those stationed by the Colosseum of Roma, Italy
  2. My thanks are particularly due to Karen Fernandez, Andakulova Gallery, Dubai for her interest and the pictures and in-put on the artist.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Heirlooms – On Memory Trail

1

Concluding instalment of the two-part serial: Heirlooms – Old Habits Die Hard

Whenever we travel to countries where we have consolidated friendships, we often get the wonderful chance to attend parties. To be honest, when I am away from home, I would rather be a guest there than a host.

2

Some fifteen years ago, attending a dinner party in the house of a Singapore businessman I know in a professional capacity, I had the opportunity to see some fine examples of old walnut, and mahogany cabinets of his Indonesian ancestors, dating back to the 18th century.

3

Whenever I popped over to Singapore, a country of gentle memories for me, we would set aside business interests and shared wonderful dinner time when he would bring his personal histories up to date. A sparkling personality, whenever he spoke, he had that confident reassuring voice you feel when an aircraft pilot speaks before the take-off.

4

Once, I got so engrossed in the history of Dutch Batavia and romance of each cabinet (couple of them were in marquetry) explained by my friend that our earlier conversation about Australian Aboriginal breast-plates was completely overridden in his talk. It was real pleasure to closely see those lovely “conversation pieces” and perceive how his narrations about family possessions developed as an acute reminder of the joys and fascinations of collecting.

13

Romance and antique collecting go hand in hand. Speaking about Fort Cochin in our local grounds, an area which had experienced Portuguese/Dutch/English settlement since 1500s, old reputed (especially Anglo-Indian) families of Fort Cochin once had many valuable possessions reminiscent of that era.

6

These heirlooms had pride of place in their living room as something that is functional and to enhance the home and status. Many early family heirlooms such as old furniture, Christian figures, wall carvings, photo frames, porcelain, books, bric-a-brac, have, over the years, been lost due to negligence, lack of proper antique restorers, shifting of residence or on the open market – some of which can still be found in those local don’t-touch-or-we’ll-make-you-pay sort of places in Jew Town. However, for most of such families, besides the traditional recipes from that bygone era, a Bible or framed photos of ancestors, family photo albums or a wedding dress or similar has always retained their charm as heirlooms.

7

8Having recognised the value of their possessions in context with the settlements, I believe there are still those few who had refrained from throwing out a potential pot of gold. They have retained them for their descendants in perpetuity.

In the future, those items must become worth more for sheer rarity, apart from its association with our past. Who knows what things scorned today will be tomorrow’s highly prized?

The possessions in our home which we consider precious could not all be of great monetary value but nevertheless remain priceless to us. One of the near recent additions is an early 19th century Bible, quite bulky and slightly soiled, which we acquired from an antique seller in Portobello Road near Notting Hill Gate in London.

9

Even though we had to pay through the nose to acquire it, that was less worrying compared to the effort it took to bring it home to Cochin since, during that trip, we had to traverse in a pre-scheduled journey by Eurotrain to Paris, and to Milan, to Padua, to Florence, to Rome and home via Dubai. Having brought home under the stewardship of our daughter Bianca, its arrival here was met with such greater happiness that all those hardships seemed insignificant.

10

For ages, the Bible, the world’s most famous book, has not only earned its place as an important family heirloom, but has gained an accretion of ceremonial use. The last time we saw the images of couple of Bibles together was on the television when beautiful Melania Trump’s hands held two Bibles upon which her husband, President-elect Donald John Trump took the ceremonial oath of office as the 45th President of the United States of America, on January 20, 2017.

11

I understand that the bigger Bible, an 1853 King James version bound in burgundy velvet with metal trim, which rested directly on soon-to-be First Lady Melania’s right palm belonged to President Abraham Lincoln upon which he was sworn in for his first inauguration in 1861. The smaller one on the top belonged to President Trump, gifted to him by his beloved mother on June 12, 1955.

12

If that smaller Bible has not already been regarded as a family heirloom, the occasion of that swearing-in ceremony has no doubt catapulted its transition into one. Maybe, that Bible would eventually be passed over to one of President Trump’s children – probably to his youngest son.

5The strength of a nation lies in the individual. And the people are progressive. Who can predict now the chance that, probably many years into the future, on a January 20th, that son himself may stand tall at the same spot where his father had stood at the west front of the Capitol in last January, with his left palm resting on his heirloom Bible.

Predictions are difficult. Going forward, only God knows who has more than a walk-on-part in history. So this is faith. Until next time, Jo

PS: Dear reader, this article about family heirlooms is definitely apolitical.

14

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Heirlooms – Old Habits Die Hard

001

Few weeks earlier I came across a small book about the traditional qualities of gem stones corresponding to each month of the year. Garnet, the birthday stone attributed to January, was naturally the first in the order of analysis. Having been born in the first month of the year, I was indeed curious to refresh my info about Garnet and its hypothetical force. When the book’s evaluation touched upon the Amethyst of February and its associated Sincerity, it made me recall an incident I heard about a woman’s beautiful Amethyst flower brooch, a family heirloom from her mother, which she had lost just before she bid adios for good to Middle East in the late 1990s.

Time leads us with many memories and family heirlooms have co-existed with durable memories – making some of the family’s best moments to stay with us. From Kings and Queens to the Shah of Iran to Philip Niarchos to our next-door neighbours, old, rare, treasured possession from a great ancestor has been part of many of us.

002

003Not everyone can have a Rotschilds collection, of course. The only disparity exists in the varied types of the possessions – which may bore the shape of a grandiose mansion; a lake house; delicately carved antique furniture of great and small; paintings; exquisite silver, gold jewellery; beautiful silverware; fine old pottery and porcelain, glasswares; metalwares; antique costumes and accessories; mother’s wedding dress; grandmother’s engagement ring; an enchanting tablecloth of genuine Nottingham Lace; a hand-made Persian rug; a Japanese Kaga-ware vase; a rare manuscript or book; clocks, gold/diamond studded watches and precision instruments; a Cartier set of gold lighters, gold cigarette case; a knitted lace shawl, frock or bedspread; a grand piano; stamps, banknotes, coins and medals; a Swan Vestas matchbox; crested cuff-links, bowler hats; a water Buffalo horn walking stick from the time of the Raj; collection of ties and tie-pins; dolls and dolls’ houses; a Kathakali mask, a 20th century enamelled advertising sign,…. – the list is unlimited.

Part of a family’s heritage and traditions, family heirlooms have been, in most cases, passed on by succeeding generations duly tagged with relevant stories vis.a.viz., who made, purchased, owned or used them. However, some of such original items, including those considered out-dated or unfashionable or treated with utter disinterest, could lay discarded or banished in the attic or end up with collectors through antique dealers, car boot sales, fairs, markets, roadshows, auctions and also through such dubious trade dealers where remarkable range of fake objet d’arts were also manufactured with “period look” to sell off as antiques – taking care they would not be exposed through anachronisms of stylistic detail and construction.

Whether created, or bought, or inherited or found, almost all collections start with one or very few items. The numerous art galleries, museums, curio shops and other trade outlets mushrooming all around the world owe their larger slice of trade revenue to the increasing number of connoisseurs of antique and valuable rarities that diversify into categories of utility, adornment, and decoration.

For their assistance, numerous price guides and specialised books are now available on every subject of antique collecting to distinguish “pottery from porcelain from bone china from stone china.”

004

From personal experience, I know the surge of euphoria a true admirer gets every time he/she pass by or examine the favourite antique and unique objects in his/her possession. Having spent enormous amount of time trawling antique shops and markets in many countries, we have experienced the pain of lost opportunities to acquire exquisite objects due to restriction on weight during travel or due to other impediments. But the feeling is far worse when you lose a cherished personal possession. The topic brought to mind an amusing short story which I had read a long time ago.

005

Right, I will get to the point. Of the few letters which had arrived for young Ann and her husband one fine morning in the 1940s, two were of importance. The first was from Ann’s sister-in-law – inviting them to the upcoming christening ceremony of her daughter on the following day. The other letter, from her husband’s Aunt, brought news of her arrival for dinner that day. Another reason for the visit was to collect Ann’s husband’s great-grandfather’s christening mug, a sort of heirloom, which was in Ann’s possession. That silver mug will be used for the new-born baby to cut her first tooth as had all her ancestors cut theirs.

The information threw Ann into a panic. Where had she put it? The psychological adage is that, if you don’t encode, you can’t retrieve. She remembered having placed it on the top shelf in the pantry with all the other odds and ends. As her mind raced like a sprinting hamster in an exercise wheel, her body wasn’t far behind. An extensive ransack of the house after her husband had left revealed that the mug was nowhere to be seen. She burst into tears at the vague realisation that, in a clumsy careless moment, she had accidently thrown the mug down the incinerator chute together with a whole big basket full of discarded items following the comprehensive tidying-up of a couple of weeks ago.

006

When Ann’s young neighbour learned about her anguish over the burnt mug, she simply laughed it off and suggested that Ann go to one of those many silversmiths/antique shops in London and get an old mug. She is sure to find a suitable one there. Everyone turns a christening mug into cash sooner or later. They would get the inscription on it, if any, altered.

Ann was startled. How she can pitch such an idea! However, with a little prodding from her neighbour her mind was made up. After all, no point crying over the onion. It’s gone. With the advice rattling around her head, she quickly located the right mug at a silversmith in London, altered the inscription on it and was back home with the “heirloom” in time for dinner with her husband and his Aunt.

Upon arrival, the Aunt silently appreciated the inscribed silver mug. She wouldn’t have missed the heirloom since it was strategically placed by Ann on the dining table in front of Aunt’s place for maximum focal point.

007

In due, the husband had rushed in. He was apologetic for being late. Ann’s mind signalled an internal red alert when, quite suddenly, he presented a silver mug to them. She sat perplexed when her husband explained that he had taken the mug in the morning to have it cleaned and polished. He beamed as if he was one of life’s doers. The next moment, his high-founded confidence faltered as his eyes fell on the shiny mug on the table.

All the while, the Aunt sat there with a serene exterior. Presently, she reached into her bag and placed a third mug on the table – positioning it in a straight row with the other two mugs. For a millionth of a second neither of the couple moved, frozen in time and space. Then, their Aunt related the snapshot of the story about how she had luckily chanced upon the original mug last week at an antique shop where Ann’s husband had sold it due to shortage of cash.

I wonder, how many nature lies in human nature. Jo

The concluding instalment “Heirlooms – On Memory Trail” of this two-part serial will follow soon.

008

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Lovescapes of Hearts

00

Have you ever looked for love in the petals of a rose…. or a tulip? If the answer is yes, then this write-up is for you.

Just as in real life and in literature, opera, poetry and in lyrical music, love’s tenderness, beauty, joy and fall out has been eulogised in fantastic depictions on the silver screen. To many movie-goers, most of those vintage movie magic by renowned film personalities are like love letters, though short of handwritten in ink, but visual illustrations of romance set amidst glamour and mystery – joy and melancholy. Made to touch heart strings and to stay with the viewer long after it ends, few are nevertheless unabashedly sentimental and manipulative or even cheapo exploitation flicks.

Here below are representative posters of some renowned movies heralded in the romantic genre made in a span of 50 years during 1930s to 1970s:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

Until next time, Jo

Note:

  1. I have limited the selection of movies to those only forming part of my cinematic collection of 6,000 movies plus. The omission of many fine representations including details of the movies are simply due to lack of space.
  2. Most of the movies in the pictorial section above are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  3. Posters/DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia, imdb and from my private collection.
  4. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

00

Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)