Thursday, December 03, 2009
The East is Red Soundtrack, Jane Austen and Other Mundane Ramblings
It was 65 degrees Fahrenheit today in New York City. Two days ago I booked a ticket to the Caribbean beginning later this month. It better be freezing-ass cold by then. 10 days of reading by a pool sounds sooooooo good right now. Tomorrow the Film Forum here in NYC begins a retro on James Whale with all of his classics in tow – Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House – but also have a number of his much less well-known films. Double features! You can’t beat that when you are not working so I hope to get to a bunch of them.
Biograph Film Theater in Washington DC that used to have double features of old American and foreign films. It is no longer with us, but when I was in my 20’s I used to frequent it from time to time and thinking some more about it last night it dawned on me that the Biograph was to a large degree the jump start to my fascination with film. Up till then I was your standard once a month blockbuster filmgoer and in fact had not even seen a lot of films. There is a good reason for that – I was deprived as a child! I was brought up in places like Calcutta, Karachi, Ankara and Kabul in the days when American films being shown were a rarity. Ankara had a theater run by the US military but it was way across town and my parents would not let me go at night on my own. In Kabul forget about it – they tried bringing in a film once every week or two and it was already a few years old. And television? Ha, fat chance. So I had no film base really until I began visiting the Biograph and seeing old Hollywood classics, French, Japanese and Italian films. I recall thinking that Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties was the most amazing film I had ever seen.
A series of Jane Austen mysteries from Stephanie Barron, in which our heroine Jane, writing in first person, becomes involved in murder and mayhem. Barron sets Jane very skillfully into her milieu and her timeline and does her best to imitate Austen’s writing style. The first in the series is called Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrove Manor and she has to save her friend from going to the gallows.
If you ever wondered what happened to Eliza and Darcy after their marriage in Pride and Prejudice, you may be surprised to know that they too become amateur detectives of a sort. Author Carrie Bebris has concocted a bit of a conceit though a fun one in which Eliza and her beloved Darcy become entwined in mysterious deadly happenings that have to be sorted out. In the second in the series, Suspense and Sensibility, she takes this concept even further by bringing in the characters from Sense and Sensibility and mixing them with those of P&P. The writing is fluid and easy but she needs to develop better mysteries as she depends rather fancifully on the supernatural which just feels a bit out of place to me.
And just last night I embarked on a book I came across in the Brooklyn Library and it pricked my curiosity – titled Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler. In it a contemporary woman from California suddenly wakes up to find herself in another person from Austen’s time named Jane Mansfield. It is an odd idea but could make for fun. All these I notice are written by women.
I always enjoy coming across scenes of Hong Kong depicted in old American TV shows. A number of episodes from the I Spy TV series took place in Hong Kong (and Tokyo) and clearly some of the outdoor scenes were shot in those locations. The other night I was watching an old black and white TV series called Checkmate and came across a 1961 episode called Terror from the East. The series starred the portly bearded Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French to many out there), Doug McClure and Anthony George who have formed a detective agency. I can’t say it’s really all that good but they get some famous film stars to appear on the show as guests. This one has Charles Laughton playing a missionary from China who is going to San Francisco to warn a Chinese anti-communist that he has been targeted to be assassinated. It begins in Hong Kong harbor on a sampan but quickly moves to San Francisco where Laughton visits a Chinese Opera and the show actually films a lot of it and Laughton and Cabot get into a lengthy discussion on it. But the real reason I bring this up is that the actress singing in the show and later on with a speaking part looked very familiar and though it took me a while I finally put my finger on who she was – Lisa Lu. Now I know her from some work in Hong Kong – in particular the classic 1969 film The Arch which is considered an influential precursor to Hong Kong’s New Wave film movement. As far as I know it still hasn’t made it on to DVD but I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen (with YTSL if memory serves). Some of her other Hong Kong films are 14 Amazons, Temptation of a Monk, Postmodern Life of My Aunt (from Ann Hui), Invisible Target (still have yet to watch) and a bit part in Lust, Caution. But her main career has been in the West. Born in Beijing in 1927, she studied Opera (so maybe that really is her singing in the TV episode) and then her family immigrated to America. She got into acting and appeared in loads of TV episodes – most I assume of a stereotypical nature – her name in four episodes of Yancy Derringer is Miss Mandarin! If you look her up on IMDB you will see all her credits. I see I have a copy of the Shaw Brothers film Dowager Empress so I will give that a ride this week.
I was going to ramble a bit about Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but I will save that for another day. All I will say is that as much as I hate being there and as much as I look forward to the day (not too far away I pray) when we don’t have one single soldier in the Middle East, he is caught in a horrible box with no good options. Stay at the same troop levels and nothing will get better, pulling out quickly is just plain irresponsible for many geopolitical reasons but most important me it will leave thousands of Afghans who trusted us at the mercy of the revengeful Taliban. As much a Leftie as I am, I get so pissed at their kneejerk reaction to war and peace. So my guess is that this is basically a stopgap decision – go in strong and give the Afghan government and people time to either get their act together (which I highly doubt) or probably start making individual plans to get the hell out by 2011. What a sad tragic mess for a country that I still have very fond feelings for.
Here are some selections from the soundtrack of The East is Red. The film is considered the weak sister of the Swordsman Trilogy by many, but I really love it for its flair, its rash of colors and of course for Brigitte Lin and let us not forget Joey Wong.
Posted by Brian at 6:05 PM