Monday, January 28, 2013

Snow, Movies, and One Really Good Book

Park City, Utah
The magical setting for the Sundance Film Festival

This past weekend my dream of visiting a winter wonderland (read here) came true.  We spent a long weekend staying with friends in Deer Valley, Utah and were able to see five of the films that were shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Snow, movies, a magical setting, and one great book.  It was the perfect winter weekend.  

The Movies --

Ashton Kutcher in "Jobs," a biopic about Steve Jobs

The stars Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad and the director Joshua Michael Stern (center)

"Before Midnight" with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
The third movie in Richard Linklater's trilogy

All of the films we saw were enjoyable; these were my favorites:

"Jobs" -- Ashton Kutcher gives an excellent performance as Steve Jobs.  The film take us back to the beginning of Jobs' career when he was a student at Reed College.  The time period of the seventies and eighties is vividly brought to life through sets, costumes, and some really great music.  We watch Steve Jobs as he goes from a young man who dropped out of college and created Apple computers in his parents' garage to the moment in his career when he is about to release the IPhone.  It is a fascinating story and a terrific film. 

"Before Midnight" --  This is the third film in the trilogy directed by Richard Linklater.  It continues the love story between two characters, an American man Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and a French woman Celine (Julie Delpy).  The characters initially met on a train bound for Vienna in the 1995 film "Before Sunrise." They are reunited nine years later in the 2004 film "Before Sunset."  In "Before Midnight"  the characters are married, have children and are vacationing in Greece. They are in their forties, still in love, but dealing with the complications of their lives.  The witty and smart banter is one of the joys of the movie.  If you like great writing and dialogue, you will love this film.

We also saw and enjoyed "Don Jon's Addiction," "Afternoon Delight," and "The Way, Way Back."

The Setting -- 

 Beautiful Deer Valley
I loved having dinner one night at the Stein Erikson Lodge

The Snow --

There was plenty!
Here are skiers enjoying the snow as seen from our window in the morning

The snow continued to fall all weekend

The Book --

With all that snow, there were delays getting out of Salt Lake City.  Fortunately, I had a really good book to help me get through the long hours of waiting.  The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman fit the bill perfectly.  It follows the private lives of the reporters and editors who work for an English-language newspaper in Rome.  From the moment I began reading it, I was enchanted.  This novel is funny and poignant and includes a cast of characters that you will never forget.  Each chapter is about a particular journalist at the paper, from the editor in chief to the copy editor.  Although each chapter could stand on its own as a great short story, they are all connected and add up to a vivid portrait of this eccentric and nostalgic world, that of the newsroom.   This book is so good that it has me wondering, will someone turn it into a film?

I hope you have a chance to see these films -- they were all purchased and should be released in 2013  -- and to read this enchanting book by Tom Rachman.

Photo one via here, photo two via here, photo three via here, photo four via here, photo five via here 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Miss Potter

Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm in the Lake District of England

The Morgan Library and Museum is one of my favorite spots in New York City.  It is truly one of the city's treasures. Whenever I am in NYC, I make a point to visit it and I am never disappointed.  There is always something special to see.  Quiet and serene, it is filled with illuminated, historical and literary manuscripts, early printed books, and old master paintings and prints.  The Morgan began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan and was built between 1902 and 1906 adjacent to his New York residence at Madison Avenue and 36th Street.  After his death, his son J.P. Morgan transformed the library into a pubic institution, making its treasures available to the public.  It is a place to celebrate imagination and creativity.  Once you enter the doors, you are immersed in the words of great writers throughout the centuries.  It is almost as if they are speaking to us.

The Morgan is well-known for its fantastic exhibitions.  A couple of years ago I saw an excellent one on Jane Austen which I wrote about here.   The exhibitions are often of letters and hand-written manuscripts by famous authors.  Looking at these original creations in the author's own handwriting gives the viewer a physical sense of the writer.   If I were there this month, I would make a point of seeing the exhibition, "Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters."  It looks fabulous.

  Letter written by Beatrix Potter to five-year-old Noel Moore, 1895

This exhibition shows how Beatrix Potter, the Edwardian artist and children's book writer, used a series of private letters to develop some of the most famous animal characters in all of children's literature.  Her former governess Annie Moore was one of her best friends and for years Potter wrote charming picture letters to Annie's children about the many pets that she kept.  This exhibition brings together for the first time twenty-two of her picture letters to children of family and friends which contain the beginnings of her celebrated books.  The most famous example is "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," which began as an eight-page letter (see above) to Noel Moore, the five-year-old son of Annie Moore.  Annie Moore persuaded Potter to take back the letter, copy it out, and revise it for publication.  At least six publishers rejected the book, but Frederick Warne & Company finally took it on.  And it was a huge success when the first trade edition finally appeared in 1902.  More than 40 million copies of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" have been sold since it was published 110 years ago.

Renee Zellweger in the film "Miss Potter" of 2007

You probably remember the movie Miss Potter of a few years ago.  It showed Beatrix Potter as a young woman who loved nature and the English countryside.  I remember being inspired by the story of how she developed as an artist and her skill at capturing and memorializing so many creatures in nature.  It was her playful imagination that gave them a fictional identity.  After earning enough money from her books to buy Hill Top Farm in the English Lake District, she went on to purchase acres of unspoiled land and estates.  She became a conservationist and was dedicated to preserving the natural world.  When she died in 1943, she left 4,000 acres to the National Trust in Britain.

By the way, do you remember the television mini-series The Tale of Beatrix Potter that aired on Masterpiece Theatre in 1984?  It starred a young Penelope Wilton (she plays Matthew Crawley's mother on Downton Abbey) as Beatrix Potter.

This exhibition will make you think about the golden age of letter writing when writers took the time each day to write leisurely letters to family and friends.  Beatrix Potter's letters to her young friends were playful and charming.  They were unique because they included art work to illustrate whatever tale she was writing about.  It was as if she were sitting down and telling her young friends a story.  As it turns out, the stories and their illustrations were the genesis of the famous Peter Rabbit books which include the tales of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny and others. Her books retained the simple joy and playful tone of her impromptu letters and this was the secret of her success. She was also a talented artist of the natural world and this exhibition highlights her art work and her career as a naturalist.  Aren't we lucky to be able to see the beginning of her amazing career?

If you miss the exhibition, you can view it online.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Would Jane Think?

Keira Knightley and Rosamund Pike in the 2005 film "Pride and Prejudice"

It is interesting to think about Jane Austen and what she would have thought about her fame today. Could she ever have imagined the extent of it?   It is amazing to think of all the movies, television series and books that have been based on her novels and her life.  She is one of the most beloved and well-known writers in the world and her future fame was surely beyond her imagination.  She would certainly have been astonished and delighted by all the attention the 200th anniversary (on January 28) of "Pride and Prejudice" is getting.  She called this book her "darling child." There are lectures, newspaper and magazine articles, radio programs, exhibitions, and even a BBC television special which recreates the Netherfield Ball as described in "Pride and Prejudice." (Read more here.)   It was shot on location at Chawton house in Hampshire, England, the home of Jane Austen.  All of these programs and articles are examining the reasons for and celebrating the enduring popularity of this novel.

Take a look at this short film about Jane Austen called The Divine Jane.  It was part of an exhibition I saw at the Morgan Library in New York two years ago, A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy.   In this excellent film, actors, writers and scholars talk about Jane Austen and what she has meant to them.      

Part one of "The Divine Jane"

Part two of "The Divine Jane"

I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cold Comforts

Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley in Park City, Utah

Do you remember the scene in the film "White Christmas" when Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen dream about going to Vermont and all that snow?  Well, I have been doing a little dreaming of my own. Right now, roaring fires and hot chocolate in a snowy environment sound awfully good to me.

Maybe romantic snowy scenes have been on my mind precisely because there is no snow where I live.  It has, however, been unseasonably cold here in Los Angeles.  Some people are not very happy about the weather, but I love it.  Taking a walk on a brisk morning is invigorating and inspiring.  There is a sense of feeling alive that comes from being outside in the cold weather.  (My apologies to those of you who live in a frigid climate and are sick of it by now!)   Lighting the fireplace in the early afternoon and snuggling in with a cup of tea and a good book is also my idea of happiness.  The crisp and brisk weather has me feeling nostalgic about snowy scenes from my youth in New England and craving a cozy hotel set in a winter environment.

I did a little research and came up with some inviting places to stay in the cold winter months.  These are not hotels that take you away from the cold, but put you right in it and provide all the cozy comforts to keep you warm.  You can be active outdoors by day, and snuggle fireside by night.  And you could also stay inside all day and find plenty to do. But no matter how you decide to spend your time, you would find yourself ensconced in the most comfortable surroundings.  These cold winter days are a great time to engage in some armchair traveling and wanderlust.  If you are dreaming of a scene right out of Currier and Ives that comes with lots of old-fashioned comfort to keep you warm and snug, these places are for you.  They would be perfect for an idyllic winter escape.  We can dream, can't we?

The Pitcher Inn in Warren, Vermont
I have stayed here and it is truly magical!

  Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown, New Zealand

Rusty Parrot Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Hotel Madeline and New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado

Winvian Resort in Litchfield, Conn.

Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont

Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado

Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana

Fire-lit Cove at Lake Placid Lodge in Lake Placid, New York

These magical spots are the stuff of fantasy.  They conjure up images of sitting by the fire, thawing out and staying warm with a glass of wine and cheese fondue.  I can imagine being fireside for hours and catching up with some great books, working on jigsaw puzzles, making S'mores, and drinking hot toddies.  (I have never been sure exactly what those are, but they sound delicious!)   Jane Austen wrote, "Ah there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort." Yes, that is true and and these warm and welcoming places promise a "home away from home" and some old-fashioned comforts to help you appreciate the beauty of winter.   I'm ready, when do we leave?

Photos three and eight via here, photos one, six, seven and nine via here, photos four, five and ten via here, photo two via here, photo eleven via here

Friday, January 11, 2013

Downton Abbey, Season Three

Wasn't it wonderful?

There were so many poignant moments.  Here are three that made me choke up:
When Matthew asked Tom Branson to be his best man.
When Carson and Lord Grantham watched Lady Mary walk down the stairs in her wedding gown.  The look on Carson's face...
And when Matthew visited Lady Mary's bedroom the night before the wedding to apologize (quoting Branson's romantic line that as long as she walks the earth he will never find anyone else) and she made him close his eyes before entering the room and kissing her.

Did you know that Sunday night's episode had a record-breaking audience?  The producers of "Masterpiece" had predicted that the audience for the first episode of Season Three would be bigger than last time, but apparently no one was prepared for the actual number.  Read here to find out more.

This chilly January weekend should be a great one to catch up on a few of the Oscar nominated films, watch the Golden Globes, and enjoy the second episode of "Downton Abbey."

Wishing you a lovely weekend!

Photo via here  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy 200th Anniversary, Pride and Prejudice

Happy Anniversary, Jane Austen!  Congratulations on the 200th anniversary of "Pride and Prejudice," the book that you called your "darling child."

"Pride and Prejudice" was published two hundred years ago on January 28, 1813.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is one of the most beloved books ever written.  It is Austen's most popular novel and, in fact, Jane Austen herself was very happy with it.  She wrote her sister Cassandra: "I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London" on receiving her first copy of the book.  Since then the book has become a celebrated classic.  Its original title was "First Impressions" which refers to the book's main theme:  the problems that occur from acting on first impressions of people, without getting to know them better.        

The first line of the book is one of the most famous first lines in literature.

"Pride and Prejudice" was published in three hardcover volumes costing 18 shillings. The publisher was T. Egerton of London who paid 110 pounds for the rights.  He soon made more than four times that from the first two editions of the book, both published in 1813.

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in the film "Becoming Jane Austen"

All six of Jane Austen's novels have been made into multiple films and television mini-series.  In 1995 "Pride and Prejudice" was made into a five-hour British mini-series starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  This version is often sighted as the best screen adaptation of the book.  In 2005, the book was made into a sumptuous film adaptation directed by British director Joe Wright.  It starred Keira Knightley as Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy.  There was even a film made about Jane Austen's life (a romanticized version with more fiction than fact) in 2007 --  "Becoming Jane," which starred Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen and James McAvoy as her romantic interest Tom Lefroy.  

The 2005 film of "Pride and Prejudice"

In "Pride and Prejudice" Austen created the unforgettable Bennet family -- five daughters anchored by the intelligent, witty and sensible Lizzie Bennet, a silly mother whose goal in life is to get her daughters married, and the long-suffering father Mr. Bennet who hides from them all in his library.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet

With Elizabeth Bennet, Austen created one of the most beloved heroines in literature

"I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know."  Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, January 29, 1813

"Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize.  But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression in her dark eyes.  To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying.  Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form,he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.  Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with."

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

And with Mr. Darcy, she created one of the most romantic heroes


I have always loved the novels of Jane Austen.  With the 200th anniversary of "Pride and Prejudice" coming up, it has been interesting to think about why this book is so popular and why it has stayed eternally fresh.  Maybe it is because Austen's themes are as relevant today as they were at the time of the novel:  love, friendship, money, reputation and personal happiness.  Though she spent most of her life in a small village in the English countryside, Jane Austen understood more about human nature than most.  As the narrator, she communicates her observations about people and delivers her funny social satire in a voice that is wise, ironic and sisterly.  The comedy and wit of the book are as appealing today as they were 200 years ago.  With Elizabeth Bennet, she created a heroine with whom women can identify and most readers love.  And although customs and costumes have changed, this book (as well as her others) contains universal truths that never go out of style.   

But perhaps the theme that keeps readers coming back for more and filmmakers endlessly adapting this book into films is the romance.  In Austen's time, arranged marriages and marriages of convenience were common and yet her heroines are determined to find true love.  "Pride and Prejudice" contains one of the world's most cherished love stories, and, as in most love stories, the hero and heroine have to deal with many stumbling blocks along the way before they can find true happiness.  Like all of Austen's books, "Pride and Prejudice" ends with a marriage and the reader is swept away into the romance and the promise of life lived happily ever after.  And, if truth be told, we all love a happy ending.

We know from her letters that Jane Austen was pleased with "Pride and Prejudice" and her delightful heroine Elizabeth Bennet.  But it would have been hard for her to imagine that 200 years later her book is still being read and adored by millions of fans around the world and is considered to be one of the greatest novels of all time.

Photos one, three, and six via here,  four, eight and ten via here, seven via here, nine via here, and others via pinterest.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Downton Abbey Weekend

Photo via here

Are you ready?  Season three of "Downton Abbey" begins this Sunday on PBS.  Some people are having "Downton Abbey" parties, others are getting ready by rewatching seasons one and two, and some will be staying home and watching it in their pajamas.  (That will probably be me.)  But no matter how we choose to watch the first episode of the new season, I think most fans are in a celebratory mood.

Just like last year, the holidays are over and the new year is beginning with another season of this delicious and addictive period drama.  During the cold winter months when we want to stay home and curl up with a good novel or a good television show, "Downton Abbey" combine the best of both worlds.  The leisurely episodic format of the show makes us feel as if we are immersed in a sprawling Edwardian novel.  The characters are multilayered, their relationships provide many poignant moments, and the evocation of a vanishing lifestyle is beautifully rendered.  The story is anchored in history and as we watch it unfold we see how the events affect the characters' lives.  We are watching life as it existed one hundred years ago.  The show started with the sinking of the Titanic and will probably take us right up to World War II.  This season promises stories about women's suffrage and the social revolution that occurred in the twenties and thirties.

Here are  few things that we can look forward to in season three:

There will be a wedding -- Lady Mary and Matthew's.
Lady Mary's grandmother -- Lady Grantham's mother, played by Shirley MacClaine -- will come to Downton for the big event.
The costumes will be more glamorous than last season, according to the show's new costume designer Caroline McCall  She has said that the new season sees the onset of the Roaring 20's and that the costumes will reflect the fashions of the time.

The new costumes will be just one element of the show's overall beauty.  And it is a beauty of a show;  the sumptuous sets and beautiful English countryside are very easy on the eyes.  The show is a dream  for anglophiles (I can relate to this) who like nothing better than a family saga that unfolds within a magnificent English country house.

A romantic and elegant costume drama is great escapist entertainment.  From the reviews of season three that have appeared in the British newspapers, it looks as if we have a wonderful January and February ahead of us.  Fans of the show can once again look forward to Sunday nights at Downton Abbey.  Enjoy!