Archives for posts with tag: history

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St. Augustine is another place I wanted to see because of books. Eugenia Price wrote historical novels that brought times and places to vivid life. Reading one of her novels was like giving her permission to invade your mind and show you a movie there. I’ve been to locations from several of her novel series and thrilled to every sighting of something familiar.

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In St. Augustine it was this house that I desperately wanted to see. It was featured in the novel Maria and looks just as I’d imagined as I read. The real life woman who inspired this novel lived in what is known as “The Oldest House”. I stood in her bedroom, and stared at the huge bed decorated with carvings of banana leaves until I had it memorized. What an amazing experience for a lover of books.

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The old fort known as the Castillo de San Marcos also figured in Price’s writing. Its beautiful seaside setting is enough to draw visitors, but that beauty is greatly enhanced by a reader’s thoughts while touring it.

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Palm trees, the ocean, history around every corner, and the opportunity to walk where favorite characters who were also real people walked make St. Augustine a place of wonder on many levels.It shines like a Spanish treasure on the shore of so many peoples’ dreams.

Though Creation was about Charles Darwin, it was Paul Bettany’s movie. He disappeared entirely into his portrayal of Darwin. I don’t think I would have recognized the actor in his character if I hadn’t known who it was. A tour de force in a powerhouse of a movie.

Something in the stark white backed imagery on the box attracted me, though I’ve never really been very interested in Darwin. The real life character, his family, and his discoveries and ideas leapt into full fascinating life, as soon as I started watching.
A part of the attraction was the gorgeous cinematography that should have gotten extra credit as a cast member. Everything was shot in a way that made it stand
out, practically living and breathing in my living room.

I’d known about his Beagle expedition, and the way his ideas about evolution revolutionized thinking that sparks debate to this day. It never occurred to me that someone with such ideas would agonize so over what it might do to the rigid world of Christianity in which he lived. When it began to unfold that his wife’s beliefs weighed heavily on his mind, heart, and soul, the greater part of his struggle became more clear. The way his difficulties were presented in the movie made me think that if not for his wife, played beautifully by Bettany’s real life wife Jennifer Connelly, he might well have been less tortured.

As it was his warring mind and soul manifested in so severe a case of writer’s block that it was crippling. He took water treatments that looked more like torture sessions, and later subjected their beloved, precocious daughter to them as well, when she fell seriously ill. Between her failing health and his suffering marriage it’s amazing that he survived his own life, much less went on to become the historical figure most of us think we know.

From the opening scenes of native children brought to the civilized world to be, well, civilized, with results from the tragic to head shaking irony, to Darwin’s encounter with the first orangutan in the London Zoo, to a family trip to the beach that he made anything but typical, Creation practically sings with love and science and tragedy and success.

I actually bought it because Benedict Cumberbatch is in it, once I saw his name among the cast. I love when I bring home a movie I know little about and end up enjoying it so much I’m still thinking about it weeks later. Creation is one of those and Paul Bettany’s portrayal of Charles Darwin is one of a kind.

Creation Trailer

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

I just watched Fury. Wow! It’s tempting to just leave it at that, because some movies almost defy coherent reaction. There’s a visceral gut level to this one that leaves me feeling as if I just fought an incredible WWII battle. Though all movies do it to some extent, Fury seriously transports its viewers into a 2+ hour experience that feels like a tank crew ride along. In the time it takes to watch the movie, and for some time afterward, I was a silent partner in the horror of fighting in a world war.

Honestly, the first part was a bit of a slog, though there were parts that were incredibly intense and interesting, with incongruously gorgeous imagery. Then the last hour and a half or so hit, with all the power behind a single remaining tank and the soldiers who practically live in it. At one point Brad Pitt’s character, the tough top sergeant with the heart of the great hero he (and his men) becomes says the tank is his home. Watching what they go through, that sentiment is understandable. Their mantra “Best job I ever had.” is as well. Leader and troops, friends, family, a tight unit that sticks with their “Top” even when he decides to stay with their “busted” tank and take on what seems like a small army of SS.

What transpires from that point
onward is one of the most brutal, awful, and terrifying battles I’ve seen portrayed in movies. Of course that’s the only ones of this kind I’ve seen in any way. I wasn’t even born at the time of World War II, and as I watched Fury I was so very grateful for that. Man or woman, seasoned veteran or reluctant soldier then amazing hero like young gunner Norman, it hits me hard as I watch such movies that people should never have to be asked to fight such battles and wars like that should never happen. The heads of Human beings weren’t made to end in an explosive shower of pink wet haze that’s all that’s left of brain matter… and its protective head…after a machine gun spray blankets its mark. Yet countless thousands have done just that. And so awfully much more.

It’s good to be shown such real life depictions of real life war and be reminded just how fortunate any of us are who have only experienced it through books and movies and the stories of veterans. And it’s good to be forced to remember that so many heroes did the incredible things they did to fight unspeakably heinous enemies. Sometimes a movie is meant to be more than the term implies. It becomes unforgettable. That it’s based on a series of true stories makes it all the more so.

On a lighter note, as Brad Pitt ages into his talent I’m struck by the way he’s becoming the modern day Clark Gable to George Clooney’s Cary Grant. More than an undeniably pretty face, Pitt is the kind of actor who makes me seek out his movies. Shia LaBeouf too is coming into his own. Proven by the fact that I can see him in movies now and not once think he’s Sam Witwicky! Jon Bernthal? He’s good, but I still get flashes of Shane from The Walking Dead. Time will fix that too most likely.

At it’s end Fury leaves images burned into my brain, like a TV screen briefly etched onto my retinas. I can only hope they fade away as fast, and leave only memories of a difficult movie to watch that I’m glad I’ve seen.

Fury–Official Trailer

Some articles stand out from the Internet usuals. I find a gem like Christina in red
A girl at the beach, one year before WWI such a thrill to devour, my gaze eagerly leaping from one stunning image to the next.

I didn’t even realize color photography like this existed so long ago, but it did and the photographer made the most of it.  Bright red is such a dramatic hue. It stands out beautifully against the wash of neutral tones and watercolor subtlety of the young girl’s seaside backdrop.

Unlike in modern images arranged to evoke the past, there’s something about authentic historical images that’s strikingly…other. The drape of clothing and hair, the silhouette of body and features…unmistakably Edwardian. The time of the Titanic, Downton Abbey’s timeframe, and the cusp of the Great War all live as background music to everyday lives. A walk on a beach, posing by a pool, a father lovingly capturing beautiful images of a daughter hovering between girlishness and womanhood. And inadvertently he captures a world hovering between innocence and horrific, world changing war.

I keep going back to look at the pictures and imagine the feel of the shale beneath her feet, the sea spray against her skin, the pale warm sunlight of a day stopped in time to be marveled over for generations to come. All thanks to the Internet that had not yet been invented.

I rarely read nonfiction. Usually, no matter how interested I am in the subject matter, I find myself walled out by dense technical language or a dry, dull writing style. Sometimes both will chase me out before I really begin. Fortunately, The Accidental Caregiver is anything but dense and dull. The author’s frank personal style makes his book come alive. It has a pulse of its own, practically throbbing with love and laughter and tears.

At its center is the heart of Holocaust refugee Maria Altmann.
I was drawn to this book because I’ve long been interested in World War II, though I only became emotionally invested in knowledge of the Holocaust after touring Dachau. I’ve always been extremely empathetic and imaginative, leading to a heightened connection to the past when visiting historic sites. I call it feeling the ghosts. Never was that more true than while walking among the echoes of horror at Dachau. Physically standing on such ground is a life altering experience. I believe that a truly compassionate person cannot walk away from such an experience unchanged deep inside. Reading of Fritz Altmann’s imprisonment there was particularly heartbreaking, since I could all too easily imagine the setting.

To have escaped the wider landscape of the Holocaust made the remarkable Maria Altmann more remarkable still. The Accidental Caregiver takes the reader through her entire life, a high point of which is her perseverance as an elderly woman in an ultimately successful quest to have her family’s art collection that was stolen by the Nazi’s returned. Her aristocratic family knew composers, artists, and other historical figures, making anecdotes on her life and background fascinating in their own right. I’ll leave readers to discover these gems for themselves. Suffice it to say I was never bored.

However interesting and moving these aspects of the book are, the title promises a more personal story. All these other parts of Maria Altmann’s story are told of within the framework of the experiences of her caregiver. Gregor Collins was a
young actor whose struggles through the labyrinth that is showbusiness gave way over time to the struggle to see Maria through her waning years, while helping her maintain her dignity, her grace, and her enjoyment of the act of living. Though separated by decades in age, these two very different people formed a deep bond of friendship and love that enhanced both their lives unforgettably.

The Accidental Caregiver is not just one story. It is a collecting of stories, people, and lives that intersect to make history, both public and personal. It is a reminder of the strengths that lie deep inside the human spirit, and a testament to the great power of love to make a dramatic difference in the lives of those it truly touches.

The historic story of soldiers from opposing armies meeting in No Man’s Land to celebrate Christmas together has been told in different ways ever since. A version was depicted in the movie A Midnight Clear. Another in an unusual movie I watched recently titled Oh! What a Lovely War. Different wars, same impromptu camaraderie.

The basis lies in an event, or series of events, that took place early in The Great War. This article,  World War I: The Christmas Truce of 1914 , goes into fascinating detail about the truly remarkable and moving story of the universal oneness of human beings that at rare times supersedes horrific and dire circumstances.

Sainsbury’s OFFICIAL Christmas 2014 Ad captures, a century later, the eerie, touching, tragic nature of this event with respect and high cinematic quality. It’s the most beautiful retelling of the occasion I’ve ever seen. A fine tribute to the nature of the men involved on its own, the added respect given by the donations of all profits to The Royal British Legion makes this “commercial” a class act.