Thursday, March 31, 2011

Exhibit News- The Power of Nazi Propaganda

(Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

I was driving past the Holocaust Museum in D.C. today and I noticed that they have an exhibit up called "State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda". I keep meaning to visit the Holocaust Museum, but every time I consider it I seem to shy away on the basis that it just never feels like the right time to experience the sensation of being kicked in the gut, the irrational guilt, and likelihood that I'll cry in front of complete strangers. It's not a place that was built to inspire laughter or good feelings.

It is however the kind of place to go if you've ever wondered, as I have, how on earth it was that one man, or one political party, could convince so many people to carry out a ghastly plan of annihilation towards so many of their neighbors, countrymen, and fellow human beings. How does a failed painter get seemingly normal citizens to put children into gas chambers? It just seems impossible, and yet we know it happened.

This is the kind of question that the exhibit is intended to address. In the words of the Washington Post's reviewer, Philip Kennicott "In many ways, "State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda" feels like an introduction to Holocaust Museum 2.0. The $3.2 million exhibition is one of the largest and most ambitious in years, and certainly the most technologically slick in recent memory. By taking on the subject of propaganda, the museum is taking on the whole of the Nazi project, retelling the story of Hitler's rise to prominence, his consolidation of power, his ideology and his wars, and the aftermath, including a substantial look at how propaganda and genocide remain linked in places such as Rwanda." As someone who has studied the atrocities in Rwanda, and remembers the odd disconnect between knowing what was going on, yet watching the world stand by, I am pleased to see that, though this is a museum piece, it still reaches out and finds relevance in the world at large.

For the full review and more information about the exhibit you can visit the Washington Post's site here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Singing in the Rain- remixed

I was watching AFI's list of greatest films the other night, and in the category of musicals they mentioned the classic Merrily We Roll Along. The most famous scene from the movie is the Singing in the Rain number, which has been parodied in various ways over the years, most particularly in advertisements like the following:-

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dulce et Decorum Est- Grand Duchesses of Russia

I am getting married in July and while I bought something off the rack close to what I wanted, I am making several changes to it to make it more my own. The finished gown will be partially inspired by the court gowns of Russia in the early 20th century, like the one above worn by Empress Alexandra.
Some of the best examples of this type of gown come from the portraits and photographs of the Grand Duchesses of Russia, of which there were many. This picture of Olga Nicolevna is a good example of the general silhouette, complete with sash and hanging sleeves.

In this photo of Victoria Mellita the sleeves are even more prominent and she stands swathed in an enormous train of what looks like heavy satin with some extensive embroidery. My gown has a much softer, organic embroidery with beading on it's overlay, and the train is comparatively short.

Here is Grand Duchess Olga, daughter of Nicolas II and Alexandra, looking simultaneously like a lady and a child in 1910 when she would have been 15 years old.

Lest you think that dresses had to be white, here is a little color. This gown is likely from the 19th century, but the official court style changed very little over time, the hanging sleeves being the most distinctive feature for women.

While most of these feature a pointed waistline and probably a separate skirt, my wedding dress has an empire waistline with heavily-beaded sash, and a fit-and-flare, or trumpet, silhouette. I think it's going to be beautiful, I just need to get the beaded lace to my seamstress for those sleeves!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Film-making in the 1920's

As I've mentioned before, I work in theatre, and sometimes that extends to film and television. Occasionally I meet or hear of someone who believes that a job in the arts is full of fun and ease, after all it's just pretending, right? The truth, of course, is that there are some long hours, extreme conditions, and unexpected requirements involved, so you have to be prepared for anything.
In 1919 actress Lillian Gish (pictured above), began filming Way Down East with director D.W. Griffith. The movie was later hailed as "the greatest ever made", and featured scenes shot on an actual ice flow in blizzard conditions. Below is Ms. Gish's own account of what it took to shoot those moments.

"Mr. Griffith intended to shoot all the exterior scenes outdoors, including the blizzard. He wouldn't be satisfied with the fake fury of a studio storm.

For the climax of the movie, where Anna was to be driven out into the blizzard, stumble onto the river's ice, and faint, I tried to get into condition early with exercise, walks in winter gales, and cold baths.
The blizzard finally struck in March. Drifts eight feet high swallowed the studio. To hold the camera upright, three men lay on the ground, gripping the tripod legs. A small fire burned directly beneath the camera to keep the oil from freezing.

Again and again, I struggled through the storm. Once I fainted - and it wasn't in the script. I was hauled to the studio on a sled, thawed out with hot tea, and then brought back to the blizzard, where the others were waiting. We filmed all day and all night, stopping only to eat standing near a bonfire. We never went inside, even for a short warmup. The torture of returning to the cold wasn't worth the temporary warmth. The blizzard never slackened. At one point, the camera froze. There was an excruciating delay as the men, huddled against the wind, tried to get another fire started. At one time my face was caked with a crust of ice and snow, and icicles like little spikes formed on my eyelashes, making it difficult to keep my eyes open. The temperature never rose above zero during the three weeks we worked there."

Monday, March 21, 2011

In Their Words- Aristotle

“We live in deeds, not years: In thoughts not breaths; In feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.” - Aristotle

Friday, March 18, 2011

Downton Abbey

I have become thoroughly enthralled with a new series, Downton Abbey, set in April 1912-August 1914. It centers around the family and household of the Earl of Grantham, who is married to an American heiress with whom he has three daughters. When his cousins and male heirs die aboard the ill-fated Titanic, it sets the stage for some interesting complications, especially for his eldest daughter, Mary, and the new heir, Matthew.

The family is troublesome enough, with an uneasy alliance between his mother, the dowager Countess (played by the formidable Maggie Smith), and his wife whose fortune has been subsumed by the estate in such a way as to make it impossible for her to separate it from the inheiritance of Grantham itself. On top of this are the three feuding sisters; Mary, Edith and Sybil, with their differing personalities and politics, a middle-class heir and his strident mother, and an ever-revolving score of visitors and possible suitors.

This would be enough to retain interest and keep the story going, but in a parallel and intriguingly intersecting world are the lives of the servants of Grantham. There's a stiff butler with a more colorful past, a bossy cook, sneaky (and not-so-secretly gay) footman, disabled valet, socialist chauffeur, ambitious maid, and a downright despicable Lady's maid. They connive, fall in love, sneak away, conceal their defects and reveal their hopes all while doing the things that servants do. At times the members of the family help or hinder them, and are in turn aided and thwarted by them.

Lest you think it's all domestic quarrels and lush sets and costumes though, be aware that an understanding of the politics and history of the time period will permit a more enjoyable viewing. There are Turkish visitors, women's rights, medical advances, references to wars, architecture, and headlines, not to mention rising hemlines. If, however, you want to watch it simply for the sets and costumes, you won't be disappointed; they are simply beautiful. There is something so lovely about the draping, delicately ornamented evening gowns, and large framing hats that balances the aesthetics of the older, more formal Victorian world with the new century. There are rich hues of scarlet and violet and emerald green, and then pinks, creams and soft blues, combined in such a way that the men and women all look as if they absolutely belonged together. Oftentimes the three sisters are in similar shades, or their colors are played off of each other (strong color to soft color for example) to show who has the upper hand in a situation. Though the designer, Susannah Buxton, he relatively unknown in America, her costuming is very well done and is quite the equal of any Hollywood regular.

Filmed on location in Britain Downton has only the best in interiors to choose from, and they are shown to full effect. My favorites are actually the servants rooms, and it's fun to get a better understanding of how such a house worked, from the scullery maid's timing, to exactly how many people it took to make all of the beds and dress everybody for dinner. Little details like the mens and womens quarters with the lock in between, and the way they revere or seek to escape "service" is extremely enlightening, especially as various characters grapple with whether or not to stay in their careers and what they must give up if they do.

If you love Gosford Park, you would enjoy Downton Abbey. I am trying to pace myself through the limted 7 episodes of season 1, as season 2 does not begin until Autumn 2011. It will be a long wait until then.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hand Fans- How to Find Them

I'm an avid collector of fans, and anyone who has spent time online trying to find good antique fans, or even good approximations of antique styles, knows that they can be difficult to come by. For instance, you might find a lovely painted fan, but often they have lace at the top or a hanging loop, so they can't be accurate for 18th century reproductions. Or the angle that the fan opens is very wide, and not useful for 17th century reproductions.

How to find good fans? I'm going to let you in on a secret. After spending hours trolling e-bay for likely specimens, I stumbled upon a site called Collector's Weekly which has a section specifically for hand fans, and what the site does is automatically search and compile all of the e-bay listings with their current prices, watchers, and end dates. They also have lots of other collectibles, if your interests lie in another direction.

Now that I've shared my little secret, don't go sniping all of the good auction items!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Film Review- Nightwatching

My, but I am tardy in posting! Forgive me, dear readers, it is a combination of several shows going up at once, my wedding preparations, and having to move within a month that has me so preoccupied.

Back to business...

I caught an interesting movie last night called Nightwatching. In sort of the same vein as Girl With a Pearl Earring, it follows Rembrandt as he paints his famous portrait "The Night watch", more accurately known as The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch.
The film suggests that Rembrandt found out about a plot between the members of the militia he was convinced to paint, and inserted various clues as to the crime, as well as the dirty little secrets of each member, into the painting itself. This leads those involved to work against Rembrandt in such a way that it brings about his personal and professional ruin.

Naturally the movie involves a lot of conjecture into the personal lives of the artist and his associates, their personalities, sins, and relationships. It seems to center, apart from the militia plot, upon the sexual and romantic relationships of Rembrandt, and the life of a young girl who shows up on his rooftop from time to time.
If you are looking for an upbeat movie, this is not it.
If you are looking for something easy to follow, this is not it.
If you are looking for a family-friendly film, THIS IS NOT IT.
The plot, not to mention the subplots, are all a little hard to follow, made harder by the artistically-focused direction of the film, which at times seems far more like a theatrical production (complete with a giant bed on wheels). The other surprising thing is that the movie doesn't end with the painting's completion, nor with it's critical reception, or even with the completion of the various subplots. A while after the painting was finished and presented the movie kept going, and my fiance decided to check how much time was left- 40 minutes. As it turned out it was largely 40 minutes of sex, in various positions and with varying levels of brutality, so if that and adult language turn you off, then you probably won't enjoy the movie.

The artistic side of the movie is actually quite intriguing, set, as it is, almost like a theatrical piece, with the chiaroscuro of Rembrandt's own works; which oddly enough went out of style almost as soon as The Night Watch was finished, part of what led to the painter's decline.

I give it a mixed review. I was interested enough to watch it once all the way through, but I doubt if I would do so again. If any of you have seen this film I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.