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King’s Speech Sweeps Oscar Nominations

January 25, 2011

The King’s Speech today fulfilled the expectations of not just AngloFiles but those who actually Know Something about the Movies by garnering a slew of nominations for its directors, leads, its brilliant screenwriter, soundtrack and others:

Still, remember wincing in, oh, 7th grade when some Popular Girl announced a sleepover party and “ooh, am I invited?” immediately popped from the mouths of her hangers-on? When I opened the New York Times Carpetbagger blog to check on Oscar announcements today, first thing I saw was a video ad for the movie blaring from the right-hand column:

Is it just me, or does The Weinstein Company look like it’s trying too hard?

Good luck to them anyway, I say, in the final vote. Even if they are a little bit gauche about politicking for them, the makers of this movie deserve a raft of statuettes — for vision, talent and, given the Queen Mum’s informal embargo on the film (“wait ’til I’m dead”), patience.


Dulce et Decorum Est — of Poppies and Wreaths

November 15, 2010

On 11/11 each year, at 11:00 a.m., we commemorate the signing of the armistice that ended the first World War. Thursday marked the 92nd such anniversary, with Veterans’ Day in our country and Remembrance Day in Britain. It is the custom in British lands to also wear lapel poppies, a poignant crimson reminder of the wildflowers that grew atop the trenches’ carnage in France and Belgium, as memorialized in the poem by John McCrae that closes, If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.

Today was Remembrance Sunday when, with appropriate gravitas and ceremony each year, the Queen lays a memorial wreath at the foot of the memorial cenotaph in Whitehall, London’s government district:

The cenotaph is the work of Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the imposing memorial at Thiepval, in France, to 72,189 missing. As I wrote on Remembrance Day 2009, “These deaths occurred in the Somme alone, just one sector of the European front, and only through March 20, 1918.” The memorial at Thiepval looms high on a hill:

The United Kingdom alone, excluding its colonies and the Commonwealth, lost more than 800,000 soldiers (nearly 700,000 killed plus 140,000 missing) in World War I; another 1.6 million were wounded in combat.

Many in the British elite considered the character of youth corroded in the new century and recommended the bracing experience of war to toughen and “cleanse” the upcoming generation. Responding to Lord Kitchener’s recruitment drive, tens of thousands of young men enlisted daily when war broke out. The military often grouped them geographically, meaning some towns lost almost all their young boys in a single day or battle.

One survivor, Arthur Savage, who enlisted when he was young and unemployed, reflected much later to historians, “Of course, what really died in that war was youth, a generation of young men. In my street where I grew up one family lost six sons, all killed in France. The population was out of balance. All through the twenties and thirties a massive surplus of women because so many men had been killed. There were simply thousands of lonely women who grew old alone and never married because they lost their men in the war and the children grew up fatherless. The effects were far reaching. So many people were broken and lost for the rest of their lives. Mind you, all the war leaders lived to a ripe old age.

Perhaps Wilfred Owen best captured the futility in his poem, Dulce et Decorum Est. Does the title echo a schoolmaster sending his slender students off to war? Or perhaps some fat, fatuous codger ensconced in a leather club chair, waving a well-masticated cigar? Change the setting to a Washington steakhouse and the battle aims from Flanders to WMD, and it all sounds frighteningly fresh.

The Latin translates as: “[How] sweet and right it is, to die for one’s country.”

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Thiepval photo by Amanda Slater on Flickr.

Duchess, Corpse and Cockroach: Seriously Gross Hotel Stories

November 11, 2010

Turn with me to the 18th century and a French inn worthy of But first, a more contemporary story, called

Mr. AngloFiles’ Most Gallant Act

Our Hawaiian honeymoon included a one-night stay in “heavenly” Hana. Several hours and 617 hairpin turns from Maui’s bustling beaches, its famous, among other things, as Charles Lindbergh’s last retreat. The state park’s rainforest cabins were such a popular destination that my foresighted fiancé had booked ours almost a year earlier.

”]Hana and its rainforest turned out to be (duh!) somewhat rainy, and restaurant prices proved heavenly, too, as in “on high,” so we retreated with relief to our one-room haven and cooked a simple meal (probably Rice-a-Roni, a staple for us then) before tucking ourselves under the thin sheet and blanket.

In the dark of the night, my husband woke to a strange tickle on his cheek. Pulling the cord on the overhead lightbulb, he saw a scene he’s never forgotten: He, we, and everything else in the cabin were absolutely blanketed in cockroaches. The big, ugly, rainforest kind. His wake-up itch was a critter skittering across his cheek.

So, what did he do for me? He swept them from ourselves and everything else he could reach, covered our faces with the sheet and pulled the light off. Then he lay there, sleepless, until dawn came without waking me up.

In the morning, he told me. I love that man.

Henry Cavendish could have used Mr. AngloFiles at his side when he signed a guest register in the 1750s. In the annals of horrible hotel stays, none  may be funnier than Dave Barry’s account of a sojourn at the “Hotel Shpennsylvania” (you know the one—if you stand outside Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, it’s right there):

Pennsylvania, Shpennsylvania

But none may be weirder than the experience of Cavendish, a scientist—scion of the Dukes of Devonshire—known for his work on hydrogen and pendulums. It is told by the elegant, 90-year-old Deborah Devonshire (née Mitford, one of the infamous sisters and widow of the 11th Duke of D) in Counting My Chickens, a collection of her homey, often crabby commentaries on country life and the evils of practically everything else.

Traveling with his brother, Frederick, she writes, Cavendishes was headed for Paris:

When they arrived in Calais they stopped at an inn and had to sleep in a room where someone was already in bed. It was a corpse laid out for burial… Nothing was said by the laconic pair till they were well on the road next morning. Eventually, Frederick said, ‘Brother, did you see?’ ‘Yes, I did, Brother,’ Henry answered.

Just think what would happen now. First the hotel manager would be sent for and given a dressing-down, as he often is by spoilt travellers who don’t like finding a dead person in their room. Then the rich headlines would follow: ‘Duke’s nephews practice necrophilia in French hotel.’

But don’t stop there, Debo! Next, the hotel would be called out on TripAdvisor, Yelp and The brothers would Facebook their experience. To deal with the necro-negativity, the inn’s Social Media Team would bring in Consultants in Angular Eyewear to initiate a YouTube marketing campaign focused on innkeeping grossness intended to make a joke of the affair and thereby win back brand loyalty.

Yes, it’s all too, too whiny. But before you join her ladyship in clucking over those “spoilt” customers, remember that she needn’t deploy her own stiff upper very often at the Shpennsylvania or Motel 6. Here’s her account of a trip presumably not booked through Expedia or the AAA:

We have just come back from the Republic of Ireland, staying at Lismore Castle, a house we know well, this being the 47th year we have spent part of April there.

In 1753, Lismore Castle and its lands passed by marriage to the fourth Duke of Devonshire, a patron of Thackeray and Dickens.

Explains the castle’s website, “Lismore Castle has been the Irish home of the Dukes of Devonshire since 1753 and is possibly the most spectacular castle in Ireland.”

Monarchy at the Movies: The King’s Speech

November 4, 2010

George VI: From stammer to stiff upper lip.

The King’s Speech, opening in cinemas November 24, looks to be a winner and, for us AngloFiles and -philes, a must-see. Set in the lead-up to World War II and starring Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter—

Well, enough said.

Okay, a bit more: The movie stars two of England’s most intelligent screen actors (the versatile Bonham-Carter easily inhabits everyone from Merchant-Ivory heroines to a surreal Alice in Wonderland) as King George VI and his consort. A sprightly telling of a little-known episode in the monarchy’s history, it recalls the future king’s resorting to a clever Australian commoner for help with his crippling speech impediment. The homey encounter between George, known to family as “Bertie,” and irreverent therapist Lionel Logue expands to take in the far larger drama when Bertie, the Man Who Wouldn’t Be King, was forced on the eve of world war to assume his brother’s cast-off crown—one of the monarchy’s most parlous episodes and easily the House of Windsor’s most precarious moment, at least until the death of Princess Diana.

The film’s already winning awards and being bruited as Oscar material. If its emotional touch is deft, that sensitivity undoubtedly stems from the fact that screenwriter David Seidler contended himself with a stutter. As a child, hearing the wartime king speak with confidence on the radio inspired him and his parents to think “maybe there was hope for me,” Seidler told the New York Times. He based the script on Logue’s own diaries but waited to make the film, at the request of George’s widow, the Queen Mother, until after her death.

The Woman He Loved: Wallis with Edward.

George VI was forced onto the throne when his brother, the popular and rakish Edward VIII, relinquished it to marry disreputable American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Frail and quiet, Bertie had been content to live a cosseted life as Duke of York  with his charming Duchess, the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, and their daughters, the future Queen  Elizabeth II and her sister, Margaret.

Even with his brother still on the throne, Bertie dreaded the public eye—and microphones. It was an impending and dreaded tour of Australasia, with all the public speaking that entailed, that inspired his plucky wife to engage Logue in 1926. Bertie himself had soured on therapists. “He entered my consulting room … a slim, quiet man with tired eyes,” clearly beaten down by his disability, Logue wrote in his diary, as quoted in William Shawcross’s The Queen Mother. “It is hard to exaggerate the almost instant, indeed superb effect Logue had upon the Duke’s self-confidence,” Shawcross concludes.

Charles with Diana on tour (in Indonesia): Hardly "thankful she came too."

The movie implicates insecurities stemming from a severe upbringing as a cause of Bertie’s weakness; though genial in public, his father, George V, ran a rigid, judgmental household. Logue’s journal accounts are rife with breathing exercises and tongue-twisters, but perhaps for dramatic effect, The King’s Speech homes in on the psychological breakthrough he effected for the Australasian tour and, later, the far weightier circumstance of world war.

The self-trained, straight-talking Logue had honed his technique on shell-shocked veterans of World War I. His unconventional methods included, with Bertie, the use of first names—unprecedented effrontery in a tradition where even his own offspring must genuflect to the king.

While Firth seems to capture well the diffidence and sense of duty the reluctant monarch embodied, Bonham-Carter may be rather a dark choice to play his warm and smiley but intellectually lightweight queen. The real Queen Consort and her cheery mien unequivocally charmed the crowds throughout Australasia and later won the loyalty of Her people at home during the war.

One can’t help comparing the couple to the Waleses of our own time. On more recent royal tours, Charles, Prince of Wales—no stammerer, but still awkward as a glad-hander—sulked in the shadow of his young wife, Diana, as she wowed crowds around the world. Bertie, by contrast, took comfort in having a popular and confident wife at his side: “I could never have done the tour without her help,” he wrote his father from the royal yacht heading home from the South Pacific, “that I know, & I am so thankful she came too.”

Keep Calm and Carry On: AngloFiles on Decor

September 23, 2010

[Post-publication oopsie note appears at bottom.]AngloFiles is going to win a prize. But she needs your help.

Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Master blogger and Ultra-Anglophile Meg Fairfax Fielding of Pigtown Design is offering a prize to whoever* can most convincingly name a successor to mid-20th-century decorator-prince Billy Baldwin (1903-1983). Baldwin, whoarranged carpets and étagères for luminaries from Cole Porter to Jackie O., eschewed the chintz-y frou-frou of design predecessors, preferring a sleek and tailored look. And he hailed, like Mlle. Pigtown — and the notoriously nouveau Wallis Simpson, a.k.a. Duchess of Windsor — from Baltimore.

The now iconic “Keep Calm” poster is a reminder, however, not of the Pretentious Duchess but of her nemeses: the Royal family of King George VI, who essentially exiled her and her Nazi-loving, natty-dressing ex-monarch from the Sceptred Isle. George was thrust reluctantly onto Britain’s throne on the eve of war when his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated it to marry the svelte Mrs. Simpson.

Wallis and Edward spent World War II under the Bahamian sun while their sovereign and his government toughed it out  back in London, preparing with stiff upper you-know-whats for what seemed an inevitable German invasion. The poster at top was printed in 1939 for mass distribution if things got really bad, but never used. (Thank Churchill for that, not to mention Lend-Lease, Bletchley Park and the Russkies, among others.)

George VI and his queen greet London air raid victims

All this is preamble to explaining that AngloFiles intends to persuade Pigtown that she is the heir to Billy B. She asserts this on the evidence of the decorous and decorative calm-keeping oasis — she calls it the Throne Room — established in her entry hall in the spirit of the King and Queen who stuck out the Blitz among their People. If you’re persuaded by the case that follows, do tell Pigtown yourself, via her comments, that you vote for AngloFiles as the heir to Baltimore’s Billy B.

Let’s turn first to Baldwin, whose appreciation for strong graphics matched that of the “Keep Calm” poster’s designers:

Baldwin, according to Architectural Digest, embraced lacquer, comfort, pattern, dark walls, rattan and cotton. He professed to hate fussiness or clutter (so just pretend you never saw this Red Room design for Diana Vreeland):

And the man knew (like me) how to transform a neglected corner with dramatic contrast, a great graphic and a snazzy but comfortable seat:

So, at long last, the reveal — The AngloFiles Throne Room:

While lacking the expanses of Jackie O’s pad on Skorpios, perhaps, the space honors Billy’s principles in its understated comfort. Walls in deep mulberry (they look red here, courtesy of iPhone) stand in dramatic contrast to the black-and-white toile cushion nestled in a glossy black high-backed banquette (okay, bench):

Note the seat’s curvy edges — a playfully Medieval contrast to its otherwise austere, Edwardian lines: Mixing and matching styles was a Baldwin hallmark. That the piece was a curb pick-up (wobbly, peeling, cushionless and painted puke-yellow) conforms to his preference for incorporating items already on hand.

So, tell Meg you vote for AngloFiles at Pigtown Design. While you’re there, check out her great post on Chatsworth, the storied stately home whose doyenne is the last of those marvelous Mitford girls.

By the way (and I hope Pigtown and Bad Dog Conor won’t throw out my contest entry for saying it), Baldwin — like Mrs. Simpson — happily ditched his hometown for more glamorous surroundings. “I was in revolt against Baltimore,” he once said, “a town in which there could not have been more than three or four French chairs. In New York there were thousands of French chairs—and lots of Rolls Royces so the traffic looked better.”

*Grammar addendum from MizParse: Lest you be tempted to over-correct her, AngloFiles means “whoever” and not, perish the thought, “whomever.” The pronoun in this case serves as subject in “whoever can name,” which entire phrase is the object of the preposition “to” preceding. “Whomever” can’t name nothin’. Thank you for your attention.

Oopsie: Pigtown’s contest is a drawing. You should vote anyway for the AngloFiles-Billy Baldwin tie, if only so you can have a chance to win the prize. Besides, you’ll like Meg’s blog.

A Sugar By Any Other Name? And an AngloFiles Recipe!

September 23, 2010

No matter what you call it, I'll still be needing the dentist!

The American Corn Refiners Association wants a new name for high fructose corn syrup, according to the New York Times — something truthier, maybe, to match the new ad campaign that touts the demon sweetener as “a natural ingredient made from corn.” They propose “corn sugar.”

Wise move, perhaps drawn from the playbook of the iconic British goo that the Guinness Book of World Records has deemed Britain’s oldest brand: Lyle’s Golden Syrup, still made in the U.K. in a refinery in Silvertown, East London. Abram Lyle, the Scots-born son of a cooper (barrel maker), made his fortune shipping cargo, including sugar, before turning to refining it at home in England. By further processing the sticky byproduct created by processing cane into white sugar, Lyle created a new fix for the British sweet tooth and named it for its color.

The green and gold packaging has changed little since he first poured it into tins in 1885. Its lion-and-bees logo, drawn from the biblical story of Samson, was registered as a trademark in 1904.  Lyle later merged his business with that of Henry Tate, a grocer turned sugar baron who brought Britons the sugar cube in 1875. (Tate’s art bequest, in 1899, formed the core of one of the world’s great museums.)

The Tate & Lyle name stuck to the syrup for more than a century, but just this year, the firm sold the treacly product to (gasp!) an American firm. Like sweetness on the tongue, nothing lasts forever.

To my London-born mother-in-law, Sheila, Lyle’s Golden used to seem almost as rare and valuable as molten gold itself: On rare trips home to Blighty, she and Poppa used to cart it home by the suitcase (crushed tins were sometimes a problem), along with Heinz Baked Beans and a mayonnaisey goop called “Salad Cream.”

But now you can get Lyle’s in your local U.S. supermarket. So I’ll pass along one of Sheila’s recipes using the stuff. It came to her from Evelyn Sutcliffe of Lancashire, a friend of Sheila’s mother’s as well as the mother of her own lifelong friend, Margaret. Here is how to make Flapjack, which is not pancakes but a sort of golden oatmeal-blondie.

Nanny Sheila’s AngloFile Flapjack

4 oz. margarine
3 oz.* sugar
4 oz.* flour
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch salt
2 tsp Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz. oatmeal
½ tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together margarine and sugar. Add syrup and vanilla, then dry ingredients. Bake in a greased 8-inch-square dish for about 20 minutes.

*an ounce of sugar or flour comes to roughly a tablespoon

Chuck Close: Close and Closer

September 13, 2010

I can’t possibly be the first to note the irony in the artist’s name. Here you are (above), nose to nose — literally, as you’ll see in a moment — with a print by Chuck Close hanging last week in D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Note the nursery palette, which makes sense when you look at this next shot, taken from a few steps back:

There’s no Anglo angle to Chuck Close, but this was such a cool show, I had to blog about it.

Close was termed a “photorealist” when he burst into popular consciousness in the ’70s with his monumental, pixellated close-ups of friends and fellow artists. (“Pore-traits?”)

But photorealism’s a misnomer,  or at least reductive, as this fascinating — and, alas, just ended — Corcoran retrospective demonstrates. (The show originated with the Blaffer Gallery. Not clear where it will come to light again next. But you tour it and hear Close’s narration in a video, here.) What really made the show, in addition to expansive gallery spaces that permitted not just nose-to-nose eyeballing but lots of backward pacing for broad perspectives, was its focus on process.

Five myths about Chuck Close:

  1. Chuck Close is “just” painting from photographs, graphically recreating them on a monumental scale.
  2. Chuck Close is just painting at all: The works featured in “Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration” did include at least one canvas — the template for a print series — but the rest consisted of prints, sketches, reduction (linoleum) blocks, paper collages, mylar stencils, wood cuts and even a carpet.
  3. Chuck Close works in _______ [insert medium here]. He can’t be pinned down that way. Close’s media range from traditional etchings, aquatints, lithographs, silk screens, wood cuts and reduction-block prints to hand-dyed paper pulp collages and the afore-mentioned throw rug.
  4. Alex Katz, by CC

  5. Chuck Close delegates the artistic heavy lifting. It’s true that Close works closely with a California print studio to realize his works (the machinery alone — giant presses and the like, shown in exhibition videos and photos — must require a hangar-sized space). But the vision is his and he is highly involved in the print-making process. That makes a difference when the process proves unpredictable, as in the almost shiny, plastic-looking monotint reduction prints of painter Alex Katz that resulted when giant linoleum blocks cracked and the printers resorted to using the stencils that remained.
  6. So, credit belongs to Chuck Close alone. The making and manipulating of complex stencils, plates and cut-wood blocks in layers and layers of color that go into Close’s brobdingnagian studies require an artistry in themselves, hence the word “collaboration” in the show’s name.  Close’s reliance on master printer Yasu Shibata to render the above portrait his niece, Emma, which Shibata calls “the biggest woodblock ever made,” is a good example.

Speaking of Emma and woodblock prints, you may have heard the medium discussed before by another name, ukiyo-e. And you have probably seen what may be the most famous ukiyo-e ever, Hokusai’s The Wave, from the early 19th-century:

The exhibition shows how Close and Shibata got from the original cut and dyed blocks — like this one:

and this:

to this:

Chuck Close, "Emma" 2002, woodblock


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