The Quarter Finalist announcement came some time ago, but this is the kind of thing where it takes time for me to feel like writing about it. Actually, I never feel like writing about this kind of result. However, since I’ve been doing it whether my result is good, not so good, or in this case extremely unpleasant….

I didn’t make the Quarter Finals.

Miss High Hopes here expected to. Not without good reason. My science fiction script has done well in other competitions. Particularly The Page Awards (Semifinalist once, Quarter Finalist twice). Also, this is the first time I’ve completely washed out of a competition in years, with zero recognition of any kind.

Do I understand how that happens? No. I know it does to other people all the time and apparently precedent has no bearing on any given competition, with any given script, so now it’s happened to me. One thing I’ve learned about the potential for success in both screenwriting and fiction is that there is no logic to any of it. Maybe there should be an offshoot of all things written run by Vulcans….

I’ve run the gamut of reactions. I’ve felt like quitting. I’ve tried to figure out a better way. I’ve tried to ignore my in progress screenplay. It wouldn’t let me. I’ve just tonight started working on it again. I still love doing it. Darn it.

So I’ll have script number five in the can eventually. And enter it in competitions, come what may.

It’s what I do.

In my movie watching life this happens sometimes. I get one because of who’s in it, then they’re eclipsed by someone else. It’s hard to eclipse Vanessa Redgrave, but Peter O’Toole certainly did it in Venus.

I had tried to watch it before, but was so not in the mood to watch Peter O’Toole get a prostate exam. Time passed. My mood against that kind of thing didn’t change. That’s what the remote is for. I fast forwarded through that thankfully brief scene the second time around and watched the rest without incident.

Well, okay, I thought the euphemistically termed language was a bit over the top. Some of the stuff uttered by the geriatric set in the cast seemed strategically placed for shock value. I’m tempted to say the same about the sexuality between O’Toole’s Maurice and his Venus, but it was actually pretty subtle. Which left plenty of room for the charming, whimsical, even romantic, elements to creep up on me.

Maurice is an elderly actor, riddled with failing health, and exercising the remnants of a chivalrous nature and romantic soul. His best friend’s young great niece enters his life and brings him a last hurrah that affords adventure, nostalgia, and companionship tinged with something more.

Peter O’Toole shines as Maurice.
Forlorn, wistful, bold to the point of borderline lasciviousness, he navigates his elderly life as best he can, then better than he might have imagined possible. He calls his young friend Venus, as he comes to appreciate her rough edges, even as he smoothes them. The highlights of the entire movie come for me when he recites Shakespeare extensively. Here is a chance to see the great Peter O’Toole as few of us have. It’s a reminder of what a wonderful actor he was, as well as what a loss his talent now is to the world.

Vanessa Redgrave is not in the movie much, but she makes the most of her brief scenes. She plays Maurice’s wife. They are no longer together, but obviously care deeply for each other. Her character is in bad health and looks it. Part of what I love about Vanessa Redgrave’s skilled acting is her fearlessness and lack of vanity. Both are on display in Venus, and she shines any time she’s onscreen.

Venus is a bit unusual, with the central couple’s disparate ages and unlikely friendship that takes on a life of its own. It’s filled with eccentricities and wry humor, overlaid with a bittersweet knowledge that life is too short for regrets and excuses to not live it to its fullest.

Venus Trailer

Anything related to Virginia Woolf catches my eye and I am drawn into a closer look. This piece from Brain Pickings quotes from Mrs. Dalloway, my favorite of her books so far, which gives me a little thrill.

That’s something I love about Wolf’s writing. All throughout a passage, a chapter, a novel, I get little thrills from reading the exquisite beauty of her prose. I have never in any other writer found such consistent beauty. She can take such simple things, like buying flowers or watching a lighthouse as it stands sentinel across the water, and turn them into imagined art. I see what she sees in her mind with my own. My imagery may not exactly match hers, but I see it so vividly it’s as if I am there with her, two minds on literary vacation in an inner landscape. Other authors evoke the sensation, but no other to the same extent as Virginia Woolf.

There’s a deeper element as well. I come to know her characters differently than those of other writers. As if I stand on the porch with Mrs. Ramsay, watching the lighthouse, watching her friends, caring for her family… my lighthouse and friends and family too, while I read about them and care for them.

I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, with more waiting to be read.  This article reminded me of how much I love those books. How much I admire Woolf’s tremendous mind, delicate and fearfully complex at once. Her musings take on an enviable depth and height, with the same quality of other and same that is so striking in her fiction.

I read it with admiration and regret, wondering what more she might have written if she could have lived.

I woke up last night and couldn’t go back to sleep. An all too common thing with me. As often happens, a wave of tangenting thoughts set in, until I landed on a weird memory I thought I’d share.

When I was a kid, my Daddy would suddenly decide he wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon visiting his sister, Bertha. Yes, I really had an Aunt Bertha! She was sweet and soft spoken. I was fond of her, but I was even more fond of the fact that I hadn’t been named after her.

Aunt Bertha lived about an hour and a half away, in an area of odd geography. Where I grew up, which is also where she grew up, the land alternates rolling hills and flat fields. Where Aunt Bertha settled the land was very flat. Except when it wasn’t. We’d be driving along, admiring the huge fields of nodding sunflowers that seemed to add an extra glow to the sunbaked afternoon. Then, suddenly, the flat fields gave way to the closest thing to mountains anywhere around. Red hued bluffs rose abruptly to loom mildly over the surrounding checkerboard of farmland. I never understood why, unless it was a place where the Cumberland Plateau swept toward the Mississippi Delta. A couple of other places where the geography changed drastically were more subtle descents, so maybe the minor bluffs were the result of the great earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 that changed the landscape of that area forever. Whatever the cause, I can so distinctly remember the change in the air, as we entered the cool, leafy contrast to the sunflower sunfest we left behind.

One curve in particular made Daddy slow our progress, so he could point out the place where a small stream of clear cool water emerged from the rock face. I had trouble believing his stories of drinking water that ran directly from the ground, and marveled at the imagery as I imagined how such water would taste. My wellwater had always come from a faucet, tasting slightly of iron with a familiar metallic tang. The very idea of drinking from a stream seemed like magic.

One particular time we were not concerned directly with water, be it from stream or a faucet or a restaurant glass. No, our minds on that day were occupied by a bizarre story we’d heard on the news. An unassuming, unsuspecting family in a town near where my aunt lived became notorious for their 15 minutes of fame, when they used up all the water in their water heater. Some malfunction I still don’t quite understand the mechanics of caused alarming pressure to build up inside the tank. Eventually the alarming pressure became dangerous pressure that basically turned their mundane water heater into a missle.

According to the news story that was the buzz of a third of the state, the water heater blew right through the roof of the house and landed in the yard! No injuries were reported, except perhaps the family’s collective dignity.

Of course we had to find that house. We wouldn’t rest until we’d witnessed for ourselves the site of such a marvel of modern ingenuity gone so horribly wrong. Now that I think of it, maybe that afternoon is where my desire to visit places I’ve read about in novels originated. Dickens’ London, Rilke’s Paris…the water heater peoples’ house.

Without an address we just drove into the small town and aimlessly went up and down streets, looking for signs of excitement. It took quite a while, but we were in no hurry. The quest for confirmation was all consuming. A time came when we knew we were on the right street, approaching ground zero. There in the distance, growing ever closer, was a small ranch style house, with a water heater size hole in its gray shingled roof.

It looked so normal. A neat yard. A well kept home. Not a single brick out of place. Any of one of a thousand small town families could have lived there. But only one family called what temporarily passed for a minor tourist attraction in the rural South home.

The Water Heater People.

We drove by slowly, gawking as if we’d stumbled into the single exhibit of a small town cabinet of curiosities. It was absolutely nothing. Yet it was everything we’d hoped to see. A house with a hole in its roof. A house I never forgot. Somehow, my child’s mind was beginning to think like a science fiction writer already. In my mind’s eye, the appliance with a bad temper and a penchant for flying took on the accoutrements of a dreamer. It sported sweeping little wings out each side.

That house had launched a water heater toward the stars.

Often traveling involves making the best of whatever weather the sky decides to provide during the one day or few hours available to you, in the places you most want to see and  photograph. Europe for me was hit or miss. Sometimes the sky was glorious. Other times it was gray or positively glowered. I was just glad when it didn’t pour rain, snow…or flocks of grackles.

The few hours my tour group had at Versailles were gray, with threat of glower.
Some pictures are framed in such a way that the crowds of tourists don’t distract the eye. Such as these shots of a couple of the beautiful fountains…that were turned off when I was there in the winter. Of course.
I must say I found them beautiful anyway. They look entirely different with the water rippling,  splashing, and spraying I’m sure, but I like the stark still way they stand against the backdrop of the immense grounds.
This array of elaborate chandeliers gives but a hint of the grandeur inside.
As does this gorgeous gold architectural detail.
Here I cropped out the tourist masses so that this scene looks as it would have when it first graced the palace site.
Such a contrast to the uncropped version that brings centuries old history and the modern into sharp contrast. I like the way the middle distance, then far as the eye can see carries the viewer out into the countryside, with a tantalizing feeling of being mere steps away from the past in its unaltered present.
Finally, I love the way this cloudy sky glooms over an inner courtyard and the different shapes and sizes of the different sections look like a village as much as part of such a grand palace. The barely focused modern tourists, in their dark clothes and huddled attitudes, can so easily be imagined as centuries old citizens of a revolution torn France, walking along the same cobblestones today’s tourists tread. It’s eerie and awe inspiring. And one of the most beautiful palaces, or places, I’ve been privileged to see.

Please let this movie be as wonderful as I want it to be.

It is a rare thing for me to so anticipate watching a movie that those words run through my mind as I’m about to press Play. I randomly watched the trailer for A Little Chaos on YouTube and fell instantly in love. I bought the DVD as soon as I saw it in a store and watched it as soon as I had a chance. I found myself holding my breath, afraid it wouldn’t live up to the promise of a single, brief trailer.

A Little Chaos is my idea of a nearly perfect movie. As I held my breath, it held my attention. Its elegance and grace swept across the screen, with a mix of grandeur and simplicity. The king of France and a lady landscape designer are at the heart of this heartfelt story, though they each love someone else. They meet on a plane filled with grief and loss and…flowers. And in their unique way, dictated by their time and the constraints that places on them, they help each other find happiness and fulfillment.

The great and beautiful Palace of Versailles is home to some of the most famous gardens in the world. I say some, not one, because the massive grounds showcase a wide variety of styles and designs of decorative landscaping. It is a place of magical beauty that cries out for admiration, even as its tragic history demands somber reflection. I know. I’ve been there and felt its dual pull.

It’s the having been there part that makes me nervous about movies dealing with places I’ve seen for myself. I adore Versailles and desperately wanted A Little Chaos to enhance that, without taking anything away. It succeeded beautifully.

My personal hopes and expectations aside, it was just my kind of movie. Gorgeous, gorgeous…did I say gorgeous yet? Imagery. Soundtrack. Cinematography. Acting. Direction. The only small mark against it was a very slight annoyance with the dialogue. A few times a question went unanswered or a statement fell out into the shimmery atmosphere that seemed unnecessary. Something like that will bother me if my attention gets snagged, but it’s a very minor thing.

Two scenes were my favorites. The first is when Sabine encounters the mourning king, mistakes him for a gardener, invades his privacy, and finds a kindred spirit in the slight, soft spoken man bereft of wig or crown. The other is the end, when she dances with the king in the heart of her creation. It was so very easy to imagine the true story as it took place in the past, peopled by familiar faces of actors transformed.

Alan Rickman cowrote and directed this low key masterpiece. I hope he is as proud of his creation, as I am thrilled to experience it

A Little Chaos left me feeling  transported into the past. It was as if I’d been given a rare opportunity to visit a place I love, as it came into being. I just watched it, and can’t quite extract my head from it. I feel as if just a tiny piece of me is roaming the gardens of Versailles, reluctant to pull away and leave it for the world of now. That to me is a movie experience all too rare.

A Little Chaos Trailer # 1

This Variety article has some interesting insight from creator Julian Fellows on his feelings about the series and the possible future incarnations of Downton Abbey, as well as a really lovely one minute Season 6 teaser trailer that includes just about all the main cast.


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