April 18, 2014

The Top 10 Shakespeare Scenes



'To be or not to be'' - these are probably the most famous words uttered in literature. However, they do not move the Shakespearean actor and director John Bell as much as the balcony tryst in Romeo and Juliet.

To mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, Bell has put together a list of his favourite scenes. He shies away from the famous soliloquies to compile a top 10 typified by unmatched tension, emotional volatility, complex characterisation and even on-stage violence.

Macbeth's killing of the king occurs offstage. A bell rings, an owl shrieks and Macbeth strides on stage to tell his wife the deed is done. The king is dead. ''Shakespeare's dramatic use of pauses, silences and staccato dialogue build a sense of evil and claustrophobic tension that keeps audience members on the edge of their seats,'' Bell says.

Taking an asp from a clown's basket of figs and pressing it to her breast, the Queen of Egypt shows what it takes to die with dignity and style, triumphant over her Roman captors. ''The sudden switch from comedy to tragedy takes the audience unawares,'' Bell says.

Shakespeare doesn't get more anarchic than this: … a king whose grip on reality is loosening has been led to a desolate heath in the company of his jester and Edgar, who is disguised as a madman. ''The talk is crazy, more absurd than anything Samuel Beckett could think up,'' Bell says. He played Lear in a 2010 production.

Bell watched a young Maggie Smith play Desdemona opposite Sir Laurence Olivier's Othello in London's Old Vic Theatre in 1964, not once but four times. It was that good. ''Desdemona's quiet suffering is more heartbreaking than the deaths of Romeo and Juliet,'' he says. Her love of Othello absolute, the guileless Desdemona is woken by her husband's designs for murder. She begs for her life and, when her pleadings fail to soften his resolve, she submits passively to her fate.

Hamlet's furious quarrel with his mother in her private quarters hints of wild sexual jealousy. ''Hamlet is disgusted by his mother's sex life and her haste in marrying Claudius so soon after the old king's death,'' Bell says. ''Gertrude comes to realise the irreparable rift she has caused. It's a tough role to play, the actor needs loads of self-control, to pace and pitch Hamlet's rage. Peak too early and the scene becomes shrill.''

Shakespeare was in confident form when he parodied Romeo and Juliet in this play within a play, which sent up the theme of forbidden love. A group of amateur actors badly act out the story of Pyramus and Thisbe - two lovers whose romance is thwarted by a lion. ''The comedy lies in the stumbles and pratfalls and never fails to bring the house down,'' Bell says.

 Not regarded as literature's greatest love scene for nothing, Juliet's declarations of love for the son of her family's sworn enemy are ''drop-dead romantic'', Bell says. The balcony scene, evocative of the sweet youthful passion of infatuation, ''could ring true for any modern-day lovers separated by sectarian conflicts, be it Northern Ireland or the Middle East''.

Two of the wittiest characters in the Shakespearean stable go head-to-head in this knock-down verbal stoush. ''Their growing sexual attraction is expressed in lots of snappy oneliners and loads of horseplay,'' says Bell, though it ''never reads as well on the page as on the stage''. Without doubt, he says, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made these roles their own.

Over the coffin of Anne's dead husband, Richard III uses every sleazy tactic imaginable to seduce her, Bell says, stretching audience credulity when he eventually slips his ring on her finger. Yet, in bringing her around to forgiveness and marriage, Richard demonstrates ''his genius for persuasion and charm''.

Sir John Gielgud and James Mason played the unravelling of a friendship between Caesar's murderous conspirators best, Bell says. The row escalates until Cassius, in a fit, offers himself up for Brutus to stab, since Brutus thinks he's such a corrupt guy. ''The volcanic exchange exposes the weaknesses of their characters - Brutus is guilty of vanity and priggishness and Cassius of self interest and insecurity. Their friendship never has time to recover.'' They are not parts Bell has played, but are an all-time favourite of his directing career.  

by Linda Morris


For details of Bell Shakespeare's celebrations for Shakespeare's 450th birthday, see bellshakespeare.com.au/450thbirthday.

With thanks to the Sydney Morning Herald
Top two pictures from the Zefferelli movies. 

Related posts:

William Shakespeare: The World As He Made It
'The Great Gatsby': Seven Life Lessons

Shakespeare First Folio found on Scottish Isle of Bute 
Cleopatra: Was She Killed By A Snake?

April 16, 2014

A 13 Year Old Eagle Huntress in Mongolia



From You Tube:

Most children, Asher Svidensky says, are a little intimidated by golden eagles. Kazakh boys in western Mongolia start learning how to use the huge birds to hunt for foxes and hares at the age of 13, when the eagles sit heavily on their undeveloped arms. Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, shot five boys learning the skill - and he also photographed Ashol-Pan.

"To see her with the eagle was amazing," he recalls. She was a lot more comfortable with it, a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it." The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, and today there are around 400 practising falconers. Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter, may well be the country's only apprentice huntress.

They hunt in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40C (-40F). A hunt begins with days of trekking on horseback through snow to a mountain or ridge giving an excellent view of prey for miles around. 

Hunters generally work in teams. After a fox is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released. The skill of hunting with eagles, Svidensky says, lies in harnessing an unpredictable force of nature. "You don't really control the eagle. You can try and make her hunt an animal - and then it's a matter of nature. What will the eagle do? Will she make it? How will you get her back afterwards?" The eagles are not bred in captivity, but taken from nests at a young age. Female eaglets are chosen since they grow to a larger size - a large adult might be as heavy as seven kilos, with a wingspan of over 230cm. After years of service, on a spring morning, a hunter releases his mature eagle a final time, leaving a butchered sheep on the mountain as a farewell present. "That's how the Kazakh eagle hunters make sure that the eagles go back to nature and have their own strong newborns, for the sake of future generations", Svidensky says.

He describes Ashol-Pan as a smiling, sweet and shy girl. His photographs of her engaging in what has been a male activity for around 2,000 years say something about Mongolia in the 21st Century. "The generation that will decide what will happen with every tradition that Mongolia contains is this generation," says Svidensky. "Everything there is going to change and is going to be redefined - and the possibilities are amazing."

See also the excellent pictures, and photography by Asher Svidensky from The BBC.

The Rugged Lives of Mongolia’s Nomads

April 15, 2014

World's Toughest Job - #worldstoughestjob



Unlimited hours. No breaks. The most important job is also the world's toughest job.

To add to the conversation, Tweet: #worldstoughestjob

Picture credit: Moyuc


April 13, 2014

Richard Corliss: Mom In The Movies - Book Review


I must admit I had never given much thought as to who was ever my favourite mother in any movie.
It is easier to think of quirky mothers - like Shirley MacLaine in "Postcards From The Edge", or really awful ones like Faye Dunaway's  brilliant take on Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest". And really embarrassing ones like Mary Boland's portrayal of Mrs Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice".
The book also mentions Mammies and Nannies. Obviously you can't beat Hattie McDaniel in "Gone With The Wind", or Julie Andrews as "Mary Poppins"! 

So going by the author's comments on the advice given to Velvet Brown by her mother I just might have to agree! And what a great cast!
The new book Mom in the Movies, a glossy coffee-table companion published by Turner Classic Movies, pairs a nostalgic text by Time magazine critic Richard Corliss with over 100 photographs and film stills, in both black and white and color, of mothers throughout film history.
 Corliss organizes the book into themed chapters: “Malevolent Moms,” “Mammies and Nannies,” “The Martyr Mothers of Pre-Code”—and there are intermittent short essays by movie-star mothers and their famous offspring, including both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (whose differing versions of Fisher’s upbringing—one rosily idealized, one tart-tongued and blunt—read like a sequel to Fisher’s autobiographical novel Postcards From the Edge.)


I hadn’t necessarily planned to write anything on Mom in the Movies. Though it’s a delight to page through (and would make a fun Mother’s Day gift for that special cinephile progenitor in your life), this isn’t the kind of book that invites or requires extended analysis. (One note to TCM, though: Next time you put out a reference book containing hundreds of images, titles, and proper names, please include an index! Thanks. I love you. Never go off the air.)
But paging through the section of the book titled “A Gallery of Golden Age Moms,” one entry caught my eye: It was the brief page and a half Corliss devotes to Anne Revere, the statuesque and stern-faced actress who won an Oscar for playing Elizabeth Taylor’s mother (and Mickey Rooney’s employer and mother surrogate) in the beloved 1944 horse-racing drama National Velvet. 

 Revere’s character, the formidable butcher’s wife and former English Channel swimmer Araminty Brown, has to rank among my top few movie mothers: She’s an indelible and mysterious figure who, no matter how many times I watch National Velvet (and now that my daughter loves the movie too, I must be moving toward at least a dozen total lifetime viewings), always has new depths to reveal. 
In Enid Bagnold’s 1935 novel National Velvet, Araminty Brown (referred to throughout the book as “Mrs. Brown”) cuts a very different, though equally imposing, figure: She’s a muscle-bound, monosyllabic woman “embedded in fat, her keen, hooded eyes hardly lifting the rolls above them,” who communicates mainly in cryptic grunts. Though her fierce devotion to her four children is clear on every page, this Mrs. Brown opens up to Velvet in only one scene, as her youngest daughter swabs iodine on a wound caused by the stays of her tightly bound steel corset. “Lot o’ nonsense talked about growing up,” she tells the nervous, horse-mad 14-year-old. 

“Don’t you dread nothing, Velvet. … Things come suitable to the time.”
That last bit of wisdom is picked up by the notably rangier and more philosophical Mrs. Brown of the movie version of National Velvet. “There’s a right time for everything,” Araminty assures her daughter, explaining why she hasn’t yet revealed the full story of her past to Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney), the son of the man who, many years ago, coached her through that grueling Channel swim. Mrs. Brown’s long-past athletic achievement hovers like a ghost—a benevolent one—over the film. It’s her deep gratitude to Mi’s recently deceased father that convinces her to take the vagrant lad in as a butcher’s shop assistant, and it’s her long-saved-up prize winnings, a bag of gold sovereign coins, that will pay for Velvet’s eventual entry fee to the Grand National.
National Velvet tells, in some sense, the story of the supplanting of the mother’s moment in the sun by her daughter’s: Velvet’s training with Mi for the big race is a generational echo of her mother’s long-ago apprenticeship with his father.

 But Araminty’s passing of the torch has none of the martyrly self-sacrifice of, say, Lana Turner’s ceding her lover to her spoiled, oblivious daughter in Imitation of Life. Rather, there’s a Buddhist equanimity to Mrs. Brown’s restrained but evident joy at helping her dangerously “lit-up” daughter realize the dream her mother calls “a breathtaking piece of folly”: capturing the Grand National title with a rough country horse she won in a raffle. The wise, practical Araminty and the perpetually daydreaming Velvet share a common belief in the nobility of folly, as well as a thirst for glory for its own sake (or in Velvet’s case, for her horse’s), a non-egocentric drive to work and succeed and excel.

Though it’s often cited on lists of the greatest sports movies, or horse movies, or movies for children—all citations this magnificent film deserves—National Velvet is perhaps dearest to me for its lovingly detailed and precise portrait of this very particular mother-daughter relationship, and for the intertwined performances of the dry, laconic Revere and the tremulously radiant Taylor (who was already, at age 12, a sophisticated and sensitive actress). 

In a just-try-not-to-cry scene at the center of the movie, Mrs. Brown takes Velvet up to the attic to fetch the entry money for the race. They go through a scrapbook of old photos of that long-ago Channel swim—the first time in many years, one senses, that the no-nonsense Araminty has allowed herself to linger over these memories. “There was greatness in him,” she says of her late trainer, Dan Taylor, in a soft voice that makes you wonder, not for the first time in the film, if there might have been anything romantic between the young swimmer and her coach (devoted as Araminty now seems to her irascible butcher husband, played with befuddled charm by Donald Crisp). 


The way Revere plays the character, with seemingly infinite reserves of quiet strength and wry humor, it’s impossible not to invent such imaginary backstories for Mrs. Brown, a fact Velvet herself acknowledges in the attic scene: “Often I just sit and wonder about you, mother. I wonder what you’re thinking. You don’t think like the rest of us, Mother”—and here Taylor touches the back of her shiny black pageboy—“you think back here.”

Maybe this is what I love so much about Anne Revere’s performance as Mrs. Brown: that sense she projects of having a rich but invisible inner life, a complicated past that mattered to her and shaped her before becoming a mother, and which she looks back on without regret or nostalgia. Revere, who died in 1990 at the age of 87, seemingly possessed that kind of strength of character too. 

A direct descendant of the Revolutionary war hero Paul Revere, she became a patriot of a different kind by refusing to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee about the supposed Communist affiliations of her colleagues and subsequently spent 20 years on the blacklist, unable to get work in Hollywood (time she used wisely by going on the stage, where she won a Best Actress Tony for Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic). 

The real-life Revere never had children, though she was married to the same man, theater director Samuel Rosen, for 49 years. She played many a patient, forbearing mother during her years on-screen, including that of John Garfield’s hotheaded boxer in Body and Soul and Montgomery Clift’s anguished social climber in A Place in the Sun.  

But when I’m floundering through the day-to-day trials of mothering, with its constant pendulum swings between pragmatism and the affirmation of folly, it’s Araminty Brown’s Zen wisdom in the attic I try to draw on: 

“Win or lose, it’s all the same. It’s how you take it that counts, and knowing when to let go, when to go on to the next thing … All in proper order at the proper time.”


With thanks to Slate

Below my comment is the synopsis from Amazon:

There are quite a few interesting ones mentioned here as well. However, out of these my personal favorite, although not a mother, has got to be Rosalind Russell as "Auntie Mame". I never tire of this movie. Russell is fabulous in it! Who wouldn't want an "Auntie Mame"?


"With a foreword written by Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher, and sidebar essays by Eva Marie Saint, Illeana Douglas, Jane Powell, Sam Robards, and Tippi Hedren, this book is packed with an incredible collection of photographs and film stills. Mom in the Movies makes a great gift for any mom—and for anyone with a mother who oughta be in pictures

From the cozy All-American mom to the terrifying Mommie Dearest or the protective Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, when it comes to mothers on the silver screen, it takes all kinds.

Turner Classic Movies and film historian Richard Corliss presents Mom in the Movies, a definitive, fully illustrated book that shares the many ways Hollywood has celebrated, vilified and otherwise memorialized dear old Mom.

Here, you will meet the Criminal Moms, like Shelley Winters in Bloody Mama, and the eccentric Showbiz Moms, including those from Gypsy and Postcards from the Edge. You’ll also find Great American Moms, as warm and nourishing as apple pie, in movies such as I Remember Mama and Places in the Heart, along with Surrogate Moms, like Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother, Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame, Dianne Wiest in Edward Scissorhands and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. And who can forget the baddest mothers of all? 

No book on movie moms would be complete without Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate."
Biopics Now Focus On Key Moments Rather Than A Whole Life

A Look at a Legend: Elizabeth Taylor

The Best Movies Of 2014

Some Biopic Actors And Their Real-Life Counterparts

Cleopatra: Was She Killed By A Snake?

Elizabeth Taylor's Bulgari Jewellery Goes On Show In Melbourne




April 12, 2014

The Amazing Wieliczka Salt Mines Of Poland


Deep underground in Poland lies something remarkable but little known outside Eastern Europe.

For centuries, miners have extracted salt there, but left behind things quite startling and unique.
Take a look at the most unusual salt mine in the world.

From the outside, Wieliczka Salt Mine doesn't look extraordinary. It looks extremely well kept for a place that hasn't mined any salt for over ten years but, apart from that, it looks ordinary.

However, over two hundred metres below ground it holds an astonishing secret.

This is the salt mine that became an art gallery, cathedral and underground lake.

Situated in the Krakow area, Wieliczka is a small town of close to twenty thousand inhabitants.

It was founded in the twelfth century by a local duke to mine the rich deposits of salt that lie beneath.

Until 1996, it did just that but the generations of miners did more than just extract.

They left behind them a breathtaking record of their time underground in the shape of statues of mythic,historical and religious figures. They even created their own chapels in which to pray. Perhaps their most astonishing legacy is the huge underground cathedral they left behind for posterity.

It may feel like you are in the middle of a Jules Verne adventure as you descend into the depths of the world.

After a one hundred and fifty metre climb down wooden stairs, the visitor to the salt mine will see some amazing sites. About the most astounding in terms of its sheer size and audacity is the Chapel of Saint Kinga. The Polish people have for many centuries been devout Catholics and this was more than just a long term hobby to relieve the boredom of being underground.

This was an act of worship.

Amazingly, even the chandeliers in the cathedral are made of salt. It was not simply hewn from the ground and then thrown together; however, the process is rather more painstaking for the lighting. After extraction the rock salt was first of all dissolved. It was then reconstituted with the impurities taken out so that it achieved a glass-like finish.

 The chandeliers are what many visitors think the rest of the cavernous mine will be like as they have a picture in their minds of salt as they would sprinkle on their meals! However, the rock salt occurs naturally in different shades of grey (something like you would expect granite to look like).

Still, that doesn't stop well over one million visitors (mainly from Poland and its easternEuropean neighbours) from visiting the mine to see, amongst other things, how salt was mined in the past.

For safety reasons, less than one percent of the mine is open to visitors, but even that is still almost four kilometres in length ... more than enough to weary the average tourist after an hour or two.

The mine was closed for two reasons:
.... the low price of salt on the world market made it too expensive to extract here. Also,the mine was slowly flooding ... another reason why visitors are restricted to certain areas only.

The religious carvings are, in reality, what draw many to this mine ... as much for their amazing verisimilitude as for their Christian aesthetics.

Another remarkable carving, this time a take on The Last Supper. The work and patience that must have gone into the creation of these sculptures is extraordinary. One wonders what the miners would have thought of their work going on general display? They came to be quite used to it, in fact, even during the mine's busiest period in the nineteenth century.


The cream of Europe's thinkers visited the site ... you can still see many of their names in the old visitor's books on display.

These reliefs are perhaps among some of the most iconographic works of Christian folk art in the world and really do deserve to be shown. It comes as little surprise to learn that the mine was placed on the original list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1978.

Not all of the work is relief-based. There are many life-sized statues that must have taken aconsiderable amount of time ... months, perhaps even years ... to create.

Within the confines of the mine, there is also much to be learned about the miners from the machinery and tools that they used ... many of which are on display and are centuries old.

A catastrophic flood in 1992 dealt the last blow to commercial salt mining in the area and now the mine functions purely as a tourist attraction. Brine is, however, still extracted from the mine and then evaporated to produce some salt, but hardly on the ancient scale. If this was not done, then the mines would soon become flooded once again.

To cap it all, there is even an underground lake, lit by subdued electricity and candles. This is perhaps where the old legends of lakes to the underworld and Catholic imagery of the saints work together to best leave a lasting impression of the mine. How different a few minutes reflection here must have been to the noise and sweat of everyday working life in the mine. 
Many thanks to Ray for sending me this via email.
This Hotel Is Made Entirely of Salt
Are These the World's Most Magical Places?             

Some other posts on Art include:

Van Gogh On Dark Water Animation

This Fake Rembrandt Was Created By An Algorithm  

Fore-edge Painting: Artists Hide Paintings Along The Edges Of Old Books  

Insanely Realistic Pencil Drawings

Found: A Missing Paul Gauguin Painting

Royal Academy of British Art Coming To Town

Australia and the UK Battle Over Historic Paintings Of A Kangaroo And A Dingo

Finally: A Digital Home For Lost Masterpieces

America: "Painting a Nation" Exhibition in Art Gallery of NSW

Chauvet Cave Paintings: Cave Women Left Their Artistic Mark

London exhibition of Australian art holds up a mirror to our nation: more iconic images
500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Some Fascinating Pictures featuring Alyssa Monks

Visual Art of the Human Body by Cecelia Webber

Ronnie Wood: His Art and The Rolling Stones

The lost Van Gogh: Painting found in Norwegian attic is confirmed as priceless work by Dutch master

Market Find Turns Out To Be A Lost Faberge Egg

Charles Dellschau: Secrets of An Undiscovered Visionary Artist

Tom Pinch: Time - Lapse Portraits of Paul McCartney and John Lennon

How JMW Turner Set Painting Free 

The Curious Case Of The Renaissance Cockatoo

Images On Andy Warhol’s Old Computer Discs Excite University Students

Human Ingenuity: From the Renaissance to the Age of the Internet - The Sistine Chapel

Katsushika Hokusai: Japanese Artist

Picasso's "Women of Algiers" Breaks Auction Record

Looted Treasures Open Door To The Dark Nazi Past

Long-lost Caravaggio Masterpiece Found In French Attic

Frederic Remington: The Man Who Helped Bring The West To Life 

Loving Vincent: The World's First Fully Painted Film 

Vincenzo Peruggia: The Man Who Stole The Mona Lisa And Made Her more Famous Than Ever

The Isleworth Mona Lisa: A Second Leonardo Masterpiece? 

 Optical Illusions In Art

MC Escher: An Enigma Behind an Illusion  
Hidden Degas Portrait Revealed

First Faberge Egg Created For 99 Years Goes To Doha  

The World’s Priceless Treasures

Woman in Gold: Another Biopic For Dame Helen Mirren 

Australia and the UK Battle Over Historic Paintings Of A Kangaroo And A Dingo

Finally: A Digital Home For Lost Masterpieces

Could Anyone Paint A Vermeer? 

Artemisia Gentileschi - Her Biography And Her Art

John Constable Painting Sold By Christie's For £3,500 In June 2013 Will Now Go To Market To Sell For £2 million

The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy

Yulia Brodskaya:Paper Explodes With Life In This Artist's Hands

David Bowie's Personal Art Collection Auctioned Off For $30 Million