Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lauren's Survival Guide to Broadway

Recently I've had several people come to me for advice on going to see shows and how I manage to cram so many in one weekend. I love sharing my tricks of the trade with everyone and I thought that making a little guide would be helpful since I really wouldn't be anywhere without my amazing friends who have taught me so much in the last few years. So, dear reader I give you my guide to theatre:

Currently, here is a list of shows that are on Broadway: http://theater.nytimes.com/venues/broadway.html

First and foremost:


I cannot stress that point enough, I see so many people paying up to $200 on a ticket when they could see up to four for that much. Now, granted most of these opportunities are for people under the age of 30 and college students; thanks to Playbill's wonderful list of Student rush policies, the avid theatregoer can discover just what shows offer such wonderful deals. All that is required is a valid student ID, and be sure to carry cash on you to the theatre because some of the rush tickets are cash only. Most of the shows don't tell you exactly where you'll be sitting, but I've never gotten a terrible seat; also the more popular the show, or if say someone famous is starring in it (i.e. Adam Pascal is currently the male lead in Memphis) you may want to get there at least two hours early. The general time for box office opening is 10am Mon-Sat and I believe they open at 11 on Sundays but don't quote me on that. If you are a student then I would also recommend signing up at StudentRush.org, they often have free ticket giveaways and they have a ton of information about rush policies that are currently going on and off Broadway.
Now if you are not currently a student or are kicking yourself for throwing away your student ID, then fret not dear reader! Most theatre companies understand that not everyone is going to be able to afford a ticket to a show but there are hundreds of people out there that would love to experience live theatre. Enter the wonderful programs that I like to call the "Under 30" programs. Roundabout Theatre Company, The Manhattan Theatre Club, and The Lincoln Center are just some of the notable theatre companies that offer discount tickets for patrons over 18 but under 30, RTC is 18-35. There are no fees, no jumping through hoops or pre-approval...all you do is sign up. The fine print: You MUST have proof that you are between the ages of 18-30 and in some cases whoever you're buying the tickets for must be in that age range as well; not a big deal, especially since you're getting a ticket to a show that probably would've cost you a hundred or more bucks.
Now what of the people who aren't in those age ranges or aren't students? Well my dear friends I have an answer for you as well: TKTS. That's T-K-T-S, not "ticketus" or "tickets," if you say it that way you will get laughed at or shunned by the New York theatregoing community. TKTS is a discount booth, they usually have good selection and have even better prices; I got to see Phantom for like $60, it normally would've cost me $175 for the seat I was in. The employees are super helpful and really nice, they'll answer any questions you may have...as long as its not too crazy there. The best times to go are usually weekdays and if you can't get there on weekdays then definitely get there early on the weekends because it can get pretty crazy very quickly. If you are one of those people that is all about apps for your smartphone, TKTS also has an official app for iPhone and Android; this comes in very handy when you want to know exactly what's currently being offered at the booth. Not every show on Broadway will be at the TKTS booth, but they usually have most of them.

As a final piece of advice, I would like to offer my list of recommendations. These are shows that are currently playing, and some of which are soon closing:
1.) Anything Goes
2.) Memphis
3.) Bonnie and Clyde (this show is closing on Dec 30th, go and see it if you can!)
4.) Follies (closing sometime in January)
5.) Mary Poppins
6.) The Lion King
7.) War Horse (I haven't seen this yet, but everyone is telling me that I must. I mean come on...the horses are life size puppets that people can ride)
8.) The Phantom of the Opera
9.) Wicked
10.) Billy Elliot (closing mid-January)

I also have an extensive list of shows that I want to see, but I won't bore you with those details. I hope that this list helps, and if you have any questions well that's what the comment box is for. Go see a Broadway show! They're much more accessible than you think.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Treasuring the quiet nights

I'll admit it: there are times when people just drive me absolutely crazy. People related to me, people I'm friends with, that asshole who cut you off on your way to work, and just people in general. I really wish that our local and federal government gave good, law abiding citizens a free pass to just go absolutely batshit crazy every once in a while; like full on that chick with a frying pan in the drug commercial.

But I digress.

I think that sometimes our society inflicts upon us the idea that we can't just admit what I just said. That we have to be a beacon of patience and love, to always enjoy the time with our loved ones and treasure them because they may not be here tomorrow. While that's all true, and yeah we should probably do all of those things....there is one tiny little problem with that:

We're human beings. Fallible, speaking, feeling and foolish creatures who sometimes don't use our brains for their intended purpose.

I used to think that my wanting to be alone was simply because of the fact that I was a moody teenager with a bad attitude and suitcase full of demons from my closet of skeletons. While part of that contributed to the fact that I wanted to be alone sometimes, it wasn't the real reason; the real reason is because I too am a human being. People are not dogs nor are we lions, we are not dependent upon our fellow comrades all the time for survival. We are not genetically programmed as pack animals; we are free-thinking creatures that can make our own decisions. Therefore I argue that it is essential to our sanity to be alone for a while, to meditate and reflect or to curl up with a good book; whatever your desire may be, you are free to fulfill it when you are alone without anyone to bother you or tell you what to do.

I discovered how much I loved to be alone when I started my first semester at Salisbury University. Up until that point, I had never really been challenged academically...lets face it: Wor-Wic Community College was cake. The only reason I spent so much time there was because I didn't apply myself, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I worked really hard my last two years there and when I finally decided and finally got out of Wor-Wic, I was so happy I could've skipped around campus throwing daisies.

I soon discovered that this was not going to be a walk in the park, I would actually have to work a lot harder than I did. I would like to think that I'm a good student, I tend to procrastinate yes but I really do want to succeed in my education....especially since I'm paying handsomely for it. I survived my first semester, but this past fall has been particularly difficult. I have no one to blame but myself for this, I did sign up for four 400 level English courses; I had to drop one of them after two weeks. I found myself constantly worrying about my schooling, in addition to my job and other obligations. I felt like I was being pulled in fifty different directions and I wanted so much to get all B's in my classes; I never hope for A's because I always seem to set myself up for failure if I do. There came a point when everyone wanted a piece of me and I was left with absolutely nothing for myself.

I tried really hard to not complain, I hate it when people complain about trivial things especially when they really aren't in a position to complain (i.e. when your parents/significant other/sugar daddy/whatever are paying for everything and all you basically have to do is show up to class or nothing is ever absolutely perfect and everything is a catastrophe. Seriously? GTFO.); I feel like a hypocrite when I do because I feel so strongly about that whole "Everything you do has a consequence and if you want anything you have to work hard for it" motto that I grew up on. I feel as though as long as you have been given the gift of waking up in the morning and seeing the faces of those you love, you just need to stop bitching.

But sometimes life can get overwhelming and everyone, including myself, has a breaking point. You reach a point where you've pent up so much frustration that the slightest thing ticks you off, another blog I follow calls this the Sneaky Hate Spiral. While that makes light of the situation, it can sometimes be so frustrating to the point where you're so stressed that you're literally sitting in the shower in the fetal position crying like a baby. Or you're sitting at a stoplight on your way to school and some song triggers something in you and you're a sobbing, swollen eyed wreck by the time you get to class.

These last few weeks of my fall semester have taken a lot out of me, there was a point where I became so upset that I truly thought that I was failing everything and all of the time, effort and money that I had spent on my education was all for naught. I thought of how much easier it would be if my Mom were here to tell me I would make it, to help me with my homework and to just sit and talk to me about my day. It is during these difficult periods that I really miss her, and I realize how wonderful it was to have her comforting smile and safe embrace when I felt lost.

I felt lost, I felt hopeless, I felt like a total failure. I was sick and tired of people wanting things of me, and not understanding or getting mad when I couldn't give it to them. Most of all I just really missed my mom.

It was then that I realized how important those quiet times alone really are to my sanity. I need a time where I am not bothered by anyone, where I can just sit and relax with a book, or put in one of my favourite movies that I've seen dozens of times. Its during those times that I am allowed to really meditate, to calm myself down and think. I reach levels of serenity and awareness that I wouldn't be able to reach if someone were talking to me. It's okay to admit that sometimes we just don't want to hear anyone else's opinion because we already know the answer to our own problem; its much easier to come to it ourselves sometimes.

So if I ignore your phone calls, don't answer your texts or lie and say I have things planned for the weekend when I don't; don't take offense, don't get mad and please just accept the lie or call me out and say "Lauren, just tell me you don't want to go, that you just want to be alone for God's sake." All I ask is to just allow me my quiet nights at home, I would do the same for you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pre-Code: Boobies, drugs, violence and more!

I love it when I read an article with a catchy title, and unless you're not a curious person you've most likely done exactly what I wanted you to do: Click on the link.

When most people think of Classic Hollywood films, they automatically name off the same ones; I've come to title these as "the basics:" The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Sound of Music, Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life. Don't get me wrong, these are all fantastic films but they're a bit too...clean for me. The boy always gets the girl or there's always a happy ending...the heroine learns her lesson...blah blah blah. I mean that's good and all, but I really just want to see a little more than just your basic package.

You can take that last phrase any way you please.

I always thought that Classic Film was pretty conservative, life was all gay and nobody ever suffered; that's the life that some films of that era portrayed. At least from 1934 on. The films that most of us see from the classic era followed a very strict production code called The Motion Picture Production Code, or "Hays Code" after William Harrison Hays. So what about the films prior to 1934? That my dear friends is an era that has come to be known as Pre-Code Hollywood; an era where provocative filmaking was champion.

Pre-Code Hollywood refers to the era in the American film industry between the introduction of sound in the late 1920s to 1934. Although the Code was adopted in 1930, oversight was poor and it did not become rigorously enforced until July 1, 1934. Before that date, movie content was restricted more by local laws, negotiations between the Studio Relations Committee and the major studios, and popular opinion than strict adherence to the Hays Code, which was often ignored by Hollywood filmmakers. As a result, films in the late 1920s and early 1930s included sexual innuendo (it was far from subtle, in some cases it was down right blatant), references to homosexuality (which was just outrageous...we all know that gays didn't show up until that whole AIDS thing), miscegenation (inter-racial relationships and marriages were frowned upon and you could face jail time), illegal drug use, infidelity, abortion and intense violence. From this era came the infamous gangster films and strong women-dominated films; Along with featuring stronger female characters, films examined female subject matters that were not revisited until much later in Hollywood history. Nefarious characters were seen to profit from their deeds, in some cases without significant repercussions, and drug use was a topic of several films. The bad guys didn't always get what they deserved and often times the films were a testament to how people really behaved, felt, and what was really going on in America at the time. Beginning in late 1933, and escalating throughout the first half of 1934, American Catholics launched a campaign against what they deemed the immorality of American cinema. This, plus a potential government takeover of film censorship and social research seeming to indicate that so-called "bad" movies could promote bad behavior, was enough pressure to force the studios to capitulate to greater oversight.

Leave it to the Catholics to take away all our fun.

Anyway in 1929, lay Catholic Martin Quigley, editor of the Motion Picture Herald, a prominent trade paper, and Jesuit priest Father Daniel A. Lord, created a code of standards, and submitted it to the studios. Lord's concerns centered on the effects sound film had on children, whom he considered especially susceptible to their allure. Several studio heads, including Irving Thalberg of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), met with Lord and Quigley in February 1930. After some revisions, they agreed to the stipulations of the Code. One of the main motivating factors in adopting the Code was to avoid direct government intervention. It was the responsibility of the SRC headed by Colonel Jason S. Joy to supervise film production and advise the studios when changes or cuts were required.
The Code was divided into two parts. The first was a set of "general principles" which mostly concerned morality. The second was a set of "particular applications" which was an exacting list of items that could not be depicted. Some restrictions, such as the ban on homosexuality or the use of specific curse words, were never directly mentioned but were assumed to be understood without clear demarcation. Miscegenation, better known as the mixing of the races, was forbidden. It also stated that the notion of an "adults-only policy" would be a dubious, ineffective strategy that would be difficult to enforce. However, it did allow that "maturer minds may easily understand and accept without harm subject matter in plots which does younger people positive harm." If children were supervised and the events implied elliptically, the code allowed "the possibility of a cinematically inspired thought crime."
The Code sought not only to determine what could be portrayed on screen, but also to promote traditional values. Sexual relations outside of marriage could not be portrayed as attractive and beautiful, presented in a way that might arouse passion, nor be made to seem right and permissible. All criminal action had to be punished, and neither the crime nor the criminal could elicit sympathy from the audience. Authority figures had to be treated respectfully, and the clergy could not be portrayed as comic characters or villains. Under some circumstances, politicians, police officers and judges could be villains, as long as it was clear they were the exception to the rule. The entire document contained Catholic undertones and stated that art must be handled carefully because it could be "morally evil in its effects" and because its "deep moral significance" was unquestionable. The Catholic influence on the Code was initially decided to be kept secret. A recurring theme was "throughout, the audience feels sure that evil is wrong and good is right." The Code also contained an addendum commonly referred to as the Advertising Code, which regulated advertising copy and imagery.

Can you see why they were lax in enforcing it for so long? I mean really..."art must be handled carefully because it could be "morally evil in its effects" and because its "deep moral significance" was unquestionable."

Screw that.

And they did. For almost fourteen years they just sort of forgot about it. On February 19, 1930, Variety published the entire contents of the Code and predicted that state film censorship boards would soon become obsolete. However, the men obligated to enforce the code, Jason Joy, who was the head of the Committee until 1932, and his successor, Dr. James Wingate, were generally ineffective. The very first film the office reviewed, The Blue Angel (Marlene Dietrich's claim to American stardom and the first German sound film), which was passed by Joy without revision, was considered indecent by a California censor. Although there were several instances where Joy negotiated cuts from films, and there were indeed definite — albeit loose — constraints, a significant amount of lurid material made it to the screen. Joy had to review 500 films a year using a small staff and little power. The Hays office did not have the authority to order studios to remove material from a film in 1930, but instead worked by reasoning and sometimes pleading with them. Complicating matters, the appeals process ultimately put the responsibility for making the final decision in the hands of the studios themselves. How effective.
One obvious factor in ignoring the Code was the fact that some found such censorship prudish, due to the libertine social attitudes of the 1920s and early 1930s. When the Code was announced The Nation, a liberal periodical, attacked it. The publication stated that if crime were never presented in a sympathetic light, then, taken literally, "law" and "justice" would become the same. Therefore, events such as the Boston Tea Party could not be portrayed. And if clergy were always to be presented positively, then hypocrisy could not be examined either. The Outlook agreed and unlike Variety, predicted from the beginning that the Code would be difficult to enforce. Additionally, the Great Depression of the 1930s led many studios to seek income by any way possible. As films containing racy and violent content resulted in high ticket sales, it seemed reasonable to continue producing such films. Soon, the flouting of the code became an open secret. In 1931, the Hollywood Reporter mocked the code, and Variety followed suit in 1933. In the same year as the Variety article, a noted screenwriter stated that "the Hays moral code is not even a joke any more; it's just a memory."

I'm sure the Catholics and supporters of the Code just loved that.

Although the liberalization of sexuality in American film had increased during the entire 1920s, the Pre-Code era is either dated to the start of the sound film era, or more generally to March 1930 when the Hays Code was first written. It seemed as though this era of provocative film and free spirits was safe after all. Not so much...
By 1932, there was an increasing movement for government control. By mid-1934 when Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia called for a Catholic boycott of all films, and Raymond Cannon was privately preparing a congressional bill supported by both Democrats and Republicans which would introduce Government oversight, the studios decided they had had enough. They re-organized the enforcement procedures giving Hays and the recently appointed Joseph I. Breen, a devout Roman Catholic, head of the new Production Code Administration, greater control over censorship. The studios agreed to disband their appeals committee and to impose a $25,000 fine for producing, distributing, or exhibiting any film without PCA approval. Hays had originally hired Breen, who had worked in public relations, in 1930 to handle Production Code publicity, and the latter was popular among Catholics. Joy began working solely for Fox Studios, and Wingate had been bypassed in favor of Breen in December 1933. Hays became a functionary, while Breen handled the business of censoring films. Breen was a rabid anti-Semite, who was quoted as stating that Jews "are, probably, the scum of the earth." When Breen died in 1965, the trade magazine Variety stated, "More than any single individual, he shaped the moral stature of the American motion picture."

Its such a comfort to know that upstanding Christian men were at the head of this Code. Unfortunately some Pre-Code movies suffered irreparable damage from censorship after 1934. When studios attempted to re-issue films from the 1920s and early 1930s, they were forced to make extensive cuts. Films such as Animal Crackers (1930), Mata Hari (1931), Arrowsmith (1931), and A Farewell to Arms (1932) exist only in their censored versions. Many other films survived intact because they were too controversial to be re-released, such as The Maltese Falcon (1931) (which was remade a decade later), and consequently never had their master negatives edited. Some films were even destroyed, or too damaged to restore as a result of these "upstanding moral values." Who knows how many great films we lost as a result of this crusade.

A lot of people who aren't into Film History have no idea that this era even existed, for them film starts with the Golden Years (1939 to about 1960) and ends with the most recent box-office hit. There's nothing wrong with that, but I feel that this era deserves a lot of credit; it shouldn't be tossed to the side. It contained stars like Ruth Chatterton (seriously, check out Female. It's awesome) , and Warren William (the so-called "king of Pre-Code") who excelled during this period but are mostly forgotten today which is a shame. Starlets like Barbara Stanwyck (see my previous post for all the wonderful deets about her), Jean Harlow (my FAVOURITE blonde bombshell; she basically set the standard for every blonde-haired, curvy beauty to follow her), Norma Shearer (the Queen of MGM), Joan Blondell, Mae West (C'mon up and see me sometime), and Marlene Dietrich all got their start and thrived in the Pre-Code era. Famous leading men such as Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, James Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson wouldn't be the icons they are today had they not starred in some of the most violent gangster films of the time.

There are way too many of these films for me to even start to talk about my favourites. I will however share with you a wonderful collection of these films that our friends at TCM have compiled together and preserved for future generations to treasure and watch; they have been dubbed the Forbidden Hollywood Collection.

Volume 1 contains Baby Face, Red Headed Woman, and Waterloo Bridge, which would be redone years later starring Vivien Leigh. I own this collection and I have to say that it's one of my favourites, it sits right next to Volume 2. The second volume contains a goody bag of five films that include The Divorcee, A Free Soul, Female, Three on a Match, and Night Nurse.

Now I can't offer any insight on Volume 3 because I don't have it...yet.

I'm open to charitable gifts though.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Barbara Stanwyck: The greatest actress of all time. Period.

Its clear to see that if you read my blog enough you'll notice that I drop a few names of my favourite classic Hollywood film stars. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, and many others have come up quite frequently but not as many as Barbara Stanwyck. I should admit first and foremost that I haven't been a Stany fan for very long, probably about two years now but I seriously think that she may be my absolute favourite actress. Ever. In order to justify the rather bold (but true) statement that she is the Greatest Actress of all Time, I think that a little biography is in order:

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Catherine Stevens in good ole' Brooklyn, she was the fifth and youngest child; When she was four, her mother was killed when a drunken stranger pushed her off a moving streetcar. Two weeks after the funeral, Byron Stevens joined a work crew digging the Panama canal and was never seen again. She and her brother Byron were raised by their elder sister Mildred, five years her senior.[4] When Mildred got a job as a John Cort showgirl, She and Byron were placed in a series of foster homes, as many as four in a year, from which she often ran away.
During the summers of 1916 and 1917, Ruby toured with Mildred, and practiced her sister's routines backstage. Another influence toward performing was watching the movies of Pearl White, whom Ruby idolized. At age 14, she dropped out of school to take a job wrapping packages at a Brooklyn department store. She never attended high school, I'm assuming that most of her education was self-taught or maybe she was taught by her sister, I'm really not sure. Soon after she took a job filing cards at the Brooklyn telephone office for a salary of $14 a week, a salary that allowed her to become financially independent. Gotta love those roaring twenties. She disliked both jobs; her real interest was to enter show business even as her sister Mildred discouraged the idea. She next took a job cutting dress patterns for Vogue but because customers complained about her work, she was fired. Her next job was as a typist for the Jerome H. Remick Music Company, a job she reportedly enjoyed. But her continuing ambition was to work in show business and her sister gave up trying to dissuade her.
In 1923, a few months short of her 16th birthday, she auditioned for a place in the chorus at the Strand Roof, a night club over the Strand Theatre in Times Square. A few months later she obtained a job as a dancer in the 1922 and 1923 seasons (I think) of the Ziegfeld Follies. For the next several years, she worked as a chorus girl, performing from midnight to seven a.m. at nightclubs. This experience in the nightclub would prove to be very useful once she finally got into movies.
In 1926, Ruby was introduced to Willard Mack by Billy LaHiff who owned a popular pub frequented by show people. Mack was casting his play The Noose and LaHiff suggested that the part of the chorus girl be played by a real chorus girl. Mack agreed and gave the part to Ruby after a successful audition. She co-starred with actors Rex Cherryman and Wilfred Lucas. The play was not a success. In an effort to improve it, Mack decided to expand Ruby's part to include more pathos. The Noose re-opened on October 20, 1926 and became one of the most successful plays of the season, running for nine months and 197 performances. At the suggestion of either Mack or David Belasco, Ruby changed her name to Barbara Stanwyck by combining her character's first name, Barbara Frietchie, and Stanwyck, after the name another actress in the play, Jane Stanwyck. Stanwyck received rave reviews for her performance in The Noose and was summoned by film producer Bob Kane to make a screen test for his upcoming 1927 silent film Broadway Nights. She lost the lead role because she could not cry in the screen test but got a minor part as a fan dancer. This marked her first film appearance; her first sound film was The Locked Door in 1929, followed by Mexicali Rose that same year. Neither film was successful; nonetheless, Frank Capra chose Stanwyck for his 1930 film Ladies of Leisure. Capra would later declare that Barbara Stanwyck was his favourite actress, and he used her in more of his films than any other actress at the time.

Whew. Okay, now that I've gone over the biography...lets talk about my favourite part: The films.

Out of all of the actresses I can name, and all that I've ever seen in movies, I can't think of one that has the range, presence or that elegant quality that Barbara Stanwyck had. I can think of a few that come pretty damn close, but they simply don't have the grit or the vulnerability that she did. Then again, most of the actresses today didn't have as rough a childhood as she did, nor did they have to deal with the issues that she did because it was the 20th century. I'll admit that, but I will never be swayed to believe that anyone is better than Missy. Missy was the pet name that Billy Wilder gave her, and its one that I've noticed her fans affectionately stick to even today.

But back to the films, there are so many that I've seen and so many I could name. She is one of the few actresses that I can say that I've never, ever disliked her performance (sadly, I can say that about my other ladies...sorry Grace I absolutely HATED Green Fire); I may have hated everything about the movie, or just not been interested in the plot but I would stick it out just to see her performance. I can see why The Locked Door didn't do very well: most of the other actors weren't very good, the movie was a little longer than it needed to be, and the plot was so-so. The only redeeming thing about that film was Barbara Stanwyck's performance; she was vulnerable and yet at the same time when she had finally had enough of this total asshat she let him have it.

I really want to talk about a few of my favourites though so lets move on to that. Yes, I realize this is long so now's the time to get up, stretch your legs and get a refreshment. Go ahead, I'll wait.

We good? Sweet, so lets talk about some Stany movies.

The first time I ever saw Barbara Stanwyck in a movie was The Lady Eve. I was very familiar with Henry Fonda because of his performance in Twelve Angry Men and The Wrong Man. I had heard about how awesome Barbara Stanwyck was from people on Tumblr and of course the incomparable Robert Osbourne on TCM, the movie sounded really good so I thought I would give it a shot. It turned out to be the best film decision I ever made.
I'm not going to go into the plot because you have it right there in the link, I do want to gush a bit about Stany though (duh). Not only was she absolutely hilarious, showing a talent for comedy that I had never seen before, but what really struck me was that even in a comedy she was still able to completely turn the table and break down. For instance, in the scene when Henry Fonda finds out that she's a con artist he completely shuts her off because he thought she was playing him the whole time. While it did start out as a con, she found herself growing very fond of this naive brewer's son and eventually fell for him. She's completely heartbroken, and you honestly believe it; its the way her eyes are, that sad longing that a woman gets when she's just had her heart crushed...its there. You can feel it, and your heart is breaking right along with her. I was so impressed by this that I vowed to watch every one of her movies that I could from that day on.

Leading me to my next, and possibly absolute favourite of the "pre-code" era: Baby Face. Any film that shows a woman using everything that God gave her and making fools out of men as she goes is a film worth watching in my book. I love everything about this film, I don't care if that makes me a bad person. Its awesome. There is a scene in that movie that I think epitomizes my point that I'm trying to make here. It is very clear from the beginning of the film that Lily can take care of herself, this scene shows that she doesn't have a problem telling a man to go and screw himself. However when you get to the end of the clip, you see a very different side of Lily; you see her vulnerability, and how damaged she is. You see that her father is a self-serving, perverse and cruel man that whored out his daughter at a young age so his speakeasy could stay open. The intensity, the anger that Stany brings to the character is just absolutely spellbinding. I have seen that film many times and each and every time I am taken aback by her performance.

The final film that I'm going to talk about, I know I can just hear the "Oh thank Christ she's almost done" coming from your mouth, is quite possibly one of her absolute best films: Double Indemnity.

YouTube didn't have the clip I was looking for, and I didn't really have time to sift through the thousands of clips to find it so I'll have to settle for this wonderful tribute by Jennifer Jason Leigh that aired on TCM as a filler in between movies. The clip I'm talking about is the scene where the Fred MacMurray character murder's the husband with Stany's character driving the car. Leigh describes the scene better than I ever could, and she is spot on with those eyes. I mean really look at them, pause the video and really get a good look. I'll wait. See what I mean? You can't quite place what that look is. You know that there's determination and repulsion, but what else is there? I have never been able to place it and I've seen this movie God knows how many times. This movie really showed me that she could play just about any role that she was offered. From a card shark, to a waitress who sleeps her way to the top, to a femme fatale that has her man by the short and curly's; she is the Queen.

I know that I really didn't solidify my point at all in this post, it was more of a gushy, fangirl rant on my favourite actress. However dear reader, I wanted to share with you why I adore her so much: Its because I can relate to her. I am know what it feels like to have a crack in this "tough broad from Brooklyn" facade; to always worry that someone is going to see right through you and see how vulnerable you really are. I admire her so much because she was a survivor, she didn't know what self-pitying was.

That, dear reader, is why I will always stand by my statement: Barbara Stanwyck is the greatest actress of all time.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why I quit Smoking

I thought that since my last post was very touching and poignant, it may have even drawn a tear or two...

It would be appropriate for me to do a little light-hearted blog to follow it.

Some of you may know, and some of you may not know, that I used to smoke. Now when I say smoke I mean it was probably like a pack a month, nonetheless its still a bad habit; you would think with all of the knowledge out there, and all of the risk factors I have already for cancer I wouldn't have started at all.

I blame Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Pathetic? Probably but can you blame our grandparents for smoking like chimneys when that was on the big screen?

I started when I was 18 and it wasn't a frequent habit, only a cigarette or two when I was stressed or just needed a break; I barely went through a pack a month, sometimes the pack would last me almost three. Then when I hit 21 and could legally drink outside my house...well I don't have to elaborate. In a sense it was very calming to have a cigarette with my cosmo, Jameson and ginger, or gin and tonic; I won't lie: when I was in heels and a dress I felt like goddamn Barbara Stanwyck. I talk about her a lot because she is basically the greatest actress of all time and she, along with all of those other fabulous femme fatales, looked so desirable and seductive with that damn cigarette hanging delicately between their fingers as they traced the rim of their glasses; knowing that they got this joker hook, line and sinker.

In all seriousness, though those fabulous ladies didn't help, they weren't the real reason for my smoking. It was because I was just starting to come away from that darker period in my life. I was a good kid when I was in high school: I never snuck out, I never drank...at least until I was 18 and my dad knew about it, I never got into any sort of trouble with drugs, and I was pretty good at following my curfew. However I was angry and confused, I was searching for something and thank God I didn't go the wrong way that so many other kids did in my situation but I did turn to those vices when I became eligible to buy them. Like I said before, it wasn't a frequent thing...most of the time I didn't even inhale because I was a wuss. But it was something that I didn't allow anyone to know about, I would hide it from people that I knew would give me a hard time about it and because I knew everything and knew that I wasn't really doing anything harmful I was okay with that.

It was almost thrilling to have a secret vice, to know that not everyone knew that goody-goody Lauren wasn't really so goody-goody. To a kid like me who grew up pretty conservatively, and who had an adolescence where she shut herself away, it was exciting.

Wow, I can't believe I was that pathetic...anyway:

I acknowledged that I was addicted when I started to buy more than one pack a month. I also knew that I was smoking and drinking to self-medicate, not to an extreme degree and not all the time but any sort of self medication is not recommended. I acknowledged it, and then went on the road to fixing it; eventually I stopped the self-medicating, but not the smoking...I justified it by saying that I only socially smoked when I drank. All this time, I could imagine my mother getting royally pissed at me and occasionally things would happen: I would drop my cigarette on the ground, usually in a puddle or something, after only a drag or two, or my lighter/matches would disappear the moment I wanted to use them....

Then one night, my mother got so fed up with me that she decided to reach down from heaven and teach me a lesson.

I home by myself one night and I remember it had been a really bad day. So I bought a bottle of gin, a bottle of tonic water, some lemon juice and a pack of Camel whites. I put in a Stanwyck movie, opened the window, poured myself a strong drink and lit a cigarette; I was very happy with the way the night was going to turn out. Now I had never smoked in the house before out of respect for my father, and I don't know why I decided it would be a great idea to do it now and to this day he doesn't know that I did. Though, I suppose he will now since my Aunts and other members of my family read this and are on Facebook. Sorry dad....

After about the fourth drink, second Stanwyck movie and the sixth cigarette I was feeling.....content to say the least. That was when I'm sure my mother had just about had enough of not only my sheer disrespect of my father's house, but of my disgusting habit. What I am about to tell you is rather funny, so don't drink anything for the next few minutes.

I can remember exactly what movie it was I was watching, it was Barbara Stanwyck's lesser know "Lady of Burlesque." I had just freshened up my drink and lit another cigarette, I remember thinking how awesome the movie was. Now I am slightly ashamed to admit that I had quite a bit to drink and I know how pathetic this must sound...but anything to teach a lesson. I had only taken a drag or two on my cigarette and I was sipping on my drink, I was wearing a tank top that was pretty low cut, and my absolute favourite pink bra that I had just gotten from Victoria's Secret a few weeks ago. Now I don't know if I had just become really engrossed in the movie or what, but I failed to notice that my cigarette was burning rather quickly and the ash was accumulating on the end. For those of you who have no knowledge of smoking, you're supposed to flick the ash off in an ashtray so it doesn't just fall off....

In this case I failed to remember that.

The ash had accumulated at the end, and had gotten too heavy to sustain itself on its perch so physics took over and it fell off...

Right down my goddamn shirt.

Not only did it fall down my shirt, but it somehow had wedged itself in my bra and was burning me. I spilled my drink, and on top of having the hot ember in my shirt, I DROPPED THE CIGARETTE ON MY FOOT. So not only did I have a hot tits but hot feet as well.

The burn to my foot was fine, the cigarette rolled off...but my girls were not so lucky. I had a terrible burn on my chest where the ember had settled into my bra and just decided it would hang out there. Not only that but it almost burned a hole in my new bra.

After dressing my wounds I decided that it would be best to flush the rest of my cigarettes down the toilet. I somehow knew it was my mother warning me to stop smoking. I am happy to say that I have not touched a cigarette in almost six months and plan on never, ever, EVER touching one again.

That's why you don't smoke kids, you may get set on fire.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Sir I want to buy these shoes, for my mamma please..."

I hate that song. I hate it so much that I try to listen to it every year just to see if I can make it through the first damn verse without crying. I never do, and I always seem to be totally depressed afterwards...

For about two minutes.

Then I realize that the whole reason I am the way I am, the way I will never act my age at Christmas, and the way I still never get tired of watching Rudolph, is because of my mom. My mother was so full of the Holiday spirit I thought sometimes she would just about bust from sheer joy; it was a joy that she not only passed on to her children, but I think it was very infectious and everyone who came in contact with her always seemed to have a little more holiday spirit than they did prior to talking to her. From November first, to January second my mom was in full blown holiday mode. Thanksgiving had a fair time in the spotlight, she dared us to play any music before black Friday; I know now that she was showing us it is important to give thanks before we embark on the journey of gift giving and receiving. My mother was the perfect example of what it meant to be in the holiday spirit, and what it means to give and be thankful.

That first Christmas without her was one that I would give anything to forget; the way my dad was trying so hard to make it special even though there was a void there that seemed to swallow us in a dark wave of sorrow, or the way everyone was painstakingly trying not to bring her up...it was terrible and I thought I would never get that spirit back again, that it was gone forever like my mother. Then the second Christmas came, followed by the third and the fourth; slowly but surely, as it always does, time began to ease the pain and fill that seemingly endless void of sorrow. Stubbornly, I held on to my void; I thought that if I did let go I would forget her, I would forget everything that mattered..so I continued to let my wounds fester. I was just angry. I was angry and confused, but most of all there was still that fourteen year old girl inside of me that cried out for someone or something to take the pain away, to just let me see my mom one more goddamn time.

Then one day, I'm not sure when nor what happened...it just clicked. I finally saw that I was being stubborn and I was stuck on pause trying to hit the rewind button. If my mother were here, she would reem me out for being so stubborn...as a matter of fact I can almost hear her doing that (and still can occasionally when I screw up), and know exactly what she would say:
"Lauren Ellen Wilson! Now you know better than that! I taught you better than that, you stop being so hard headed! It's Christmas, and you know how special this is for me and for you. Don't make me take you to the bathroom..."

That last phrase was probably the most terrifying phrase my mother could ever utter...


I'm not saying that things are all fine and dandy around the Holidays, that ever present void is still there...but it is not consuming. Its just that tiny little pang of heartache every now and then when I open the box of decorations and see her favourite ornaments or Rudolph comes on and she's not here to hold me because the stupid Yeti scares me. Or how she encouraged me to believe in Santa Clause until I was almost twelve years old, despite the crap I took from my peers.
The most painful part for me is when everyone goes to bed and the house is dark and quiet, the only noise comes from the owls outside or the quiet murmur of our motion ornaments. It's in those moments, when I'm lying in my bed and my room has that ethereal red glow from my lights that I am swept back into the past; its like a movie in my head that plays from my earliest Christmas memories, its so real I can even remember how her clothes smelled like fresh baked bread that mingled with her perfume, or how she would help me style my hair and I can feel the gentle strokes of the brush as she ran it through my hair. Its then that I'll allow myself to grieve, to cry and to allow the longing that I have for her to really show. In those quiet nights, I am at my most vulnerable.

Then the sun rises, and I am greeted by its warmth. It is a new day, one day closer to Christmas; not only that but I am not alone, I have my family (friends are included in that statement), I have a safe place to call home, I am loved, I am a recipient of a bountiful harvest and I am still here. I have no reason to be sad then, it is because of my mother that I realize this, it is because of her that I have an overwhelming love for the holiday season. I feel her presence everywhere, especially around this time of year, it was always there; I just never allowed myself to be open to it until a few years ago.

So to you dear reader I offer this:
Yes the holiday season is doomed to be commercialized. Yes there will always be that one miserable son of a bitch that tries to completely suck every ounce of holiday spirit out of you like a leech. And yes you will probably get a fruitcake, an ugly holiday sweater, have to deal with that one relative that you wish would disappear, and you won't get what you want.

But, to the commercialization and the Scrooges say "Happy Holidays" anyway, say thank you to the fruitcake and the sweater, welcome your dysfunctional relative with open arms, and realize that there's always next year.

There are so many wonderful things about the holidays dear reader, but remember that you are wonderful. You are a divine, beautiful being with a soul and a heart; you have the ability to feel complex and beautiful emotions. Somewhere in your life, there is someone that loves you, someone who cares for you. Remember all of these things my friends, I know it sounds really sappy and cliche....but I truly believe all of this.

If it hadn't been for my mom I wouldn't have known any of this, and for that I am truly grateful. Its the best gift I could've ever received from her.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Too many Mornings

I didn't think my previous post did any justice to the spectacular production of Follies that I saw last weekend. Wow, was it really only a week ago? Holy crap...


I just wanted to talk about a few things that I liked about the show; now I realized that not everyone reading this is as into theatre as I am, so no worries I will provide you with a brief synopsis courtesy of the official site:
Past and present, dreams and reality collide for one triumphant, haunting and unforgettable night when former members of the "Weismann's Follies" reunite on the eve of their theater's demolition. Two couples remember their glorious past and face the harsher realities of the present as the shadows of their younger selves remind them of the complicated steps they've danced—both on the stage and throughout their lives.

Basically two couples meet in a dilapidated theatre, take a not so jolly trip down memory lane and the shit hits the fan.

The title alone should give you a clue that this is more than just a show about a theatre being torn down, it has a much deeper, more haunting meaning: the follies of human beings. The ambiance of the set was truly wonderful, when you first sit down in the theatre you really feel like you're sitting in a run-down, moldy, enigmatic theatre that is about to be torn down. I definitely give a huge round of applause to the amazing creative team, because they truly did a wonderful job in creating that world. The staging was just a dream, there was always a glamourous "Weismann girl" in the shadows to remind the audience of the greatness this particular theatre once held. I think it was some of the best staging I've seen in a long time.

Another thing that was very enjoyable for me was the way that the show flowed, because the premise of the story is entirely based on the different characters' memories, it was very fragmented. For me, that was the beautiful thing about it because our minds, especially when it comes to memories, are not consistent all the time; there are times when we remember things and they are not in chronological order, for most people they're fragmented and in bits and pieces, leaving us to put them together like a puzzle. The music was woven seamlessly into the show, Sondheim's genius really shines in this because the music is just as fragmented; each song is a display of the raw emotion the character is feeling, there is no other way for them to get that feeling across except through song. It truly was wonderful.

As you've probably already seen from the links posted, Bernadette Peters is starring as Sally Durant Plummer. If you don't know who Bernadette Peters is, I suggest you click here and here....quickly read before I come find you. This is the second time I've seen her live, and to be honest I wasn't impressed the first time because I preferred her predecessor in A Little Night Music. Not hatin' I just didn't think she was right for the part. I was very, very pleased with her performance as Sally. She breathed a sense of fragility and longing into Sally, portraying her as a woman who is on the end of her rope, a woman that longs for a second chance so she can have the life she dreamed of. Sally is a character that really, really, REALLY got on my nerves...but I also pitied her immensely, even if she had a few bats in her belfry. Bernadette Peters is a legend for a reason, someone didn't just say "Oh lets slap the Legend sticker on her!" No, she earned it through her pipes and talent as an actress; this show also showcased that she can still dance too. I consider myself very lucky, and am very humbled by the fact that this is the second time I've seen her live; I'm also very happy that I got to share it with someone who had never seen her before.

Jan Maxwell....oh let me count the ways. I had never seen her live before, and knew very little about her except that she was awesome. People don't get nominated four times for a Tony just by being mediocre unless you're sleeping with or blackmailing someone in the Wing. Jan Maxwell's performance was absolutely phenomenal. She was such a commanding presence, the character of Phyllis Rogers Stone just came so naturally to her. Did I mention that she was HIT BY A CAR like a few weeks earlier? You wouldn't have known it by the way she was performing, she simply blew me away. Do yourself a favor and see what I mean.

This musical really reminded me why I'm such a fan of Sondheim, why I have no trouble going to see a Sondheim musical that I know nothing about, because usually it's a musical that speaks to human nature. Sondheim's lyrics and music are a roadmap of the human mind and spirit, each lyric is something that everyone has felt or known someone to feel. This musical wasn't any different, on the way home my friend even said "I've had one of those moments." I too have sometimes felt the way Phyllis has felt, or even (God help me) the way Sally felt; if I didn't truly know what it was to feel that way, I definitely know someone who has.

That's the beauty of the theatre, it shows other human beings what it means to be a human being.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hello Little Dream, Hello.

"I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being." - Oscar Wilde

I should be doing the immense amount of work that I've shamelessly procrastinated doing. But I was so overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions that I just had to get this down, besides I've been in school this long...whats a few more semesters?

I think that it is quite obvious that I love New York, and I've gushed several times about shows and the things I do when I am in the one place that I can truly disappear from the world; for a few days I don't have to worry about anything because I'm too far away to do a damn thing about it. Irresponsible? Perhaps, but I find a little irresponsibility now and then saves sanity in a world that can be terribly suffocating with all of its responsibility.

But I digress...

As always this weekend in New York was magical, and I think what makes each visit more magical (and more addicting) than the other is the obvious: the amazing people that I get to share this experience with. The gang was all together again and we had a new member to add to our merry troupe. It was such an amazing thing to finally be able to share this other world with someone from my everyday life, to be able to allow them into this other life that I escape to when my provincial one becomes too suffocating; to watch them fit like a glove to my world and the people in it makes me so happy I could cry. Call me over-dramatic, and maybe I am (I did want to be an actress...and part of my soul still yearns for that life) but I don't think anyone could possibly understand unless they were that exceptional person I allowed in, or they spent a week in my shoes; and I thank those who don't try to understand.

I was able to show her what makes this city amazing to me, my tips and tricks for seeing up to 4 shows in a weekend, the little holes in the walls with their wonderful gems, and the organized chaos that comes with rolling the dice and taking chances. We couldn't see the show we picked for our evening matinee, so we kept searching until we found one. You'd think that she'd been doing this all her life, by the second hour she was a pro; I wondered why I hadn't asked her to come with me before. Naturally the gang was warm and welcoming, I was so happy that she got to see why I adore them so much and why I need them in my life. I was finally able to give someone the looking glass and have them see into my own little world, and have someone know why I sometimes run to it so often. It was truly a beautiful weekend.

Now on to the shows:
I should just go ahead and face the music now: I saw Anything Goes this weekend with Stephanie J. Block and will be seeing it again next month with Sutton Foster thanks to my amazing sister. So I am sorry for lying to you Lindsey. Please don't tear up the tickets.

Besides Anything Goes, I also saw Follies and Memphis (for a second time) and was able to share another institution with her: the theatre. I was very surprised when we arrived at the Marquis to see that they still had student rush for Follies because it did have the legendary Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige, not to mention the superb Jan Maxwell (who had just been HIT BY A CAR while crossing the street like TWO FREAKING WEEKS AGO), and Danny Burnstien. I had heard the music before and owned the soundtrack (the kicker was Marin Mazzie singing "Loosing My Mind" at Stephen Sondheim's birthday concert, hang on to your hats kids, this dame is amazing) and really didn't care for it that much, but after seeing the show I realized that it made much more sense.

Memphis was the reason (and a damn good one) we didn't get rush tickets to Bonnie and Clyde, see there's this little modern day legend called Adam Pascal whose currently starring in it as the role of Huey. I thought he did a fantastic job, and naturally sounded amazing with Montego. It's always good to see a show at least twice with two different casts or minor cast changes to the leads because 1.) it's almost like seeing a different show and 2.) if you're the kind that likes to see different interpretations that's the way to go. I mean there was a guy that literally saw every performance of Rent on Broadway...that's going a little too far in my book but whatever floats your boat pal...

Anything Goes was just...I mean that's what all my feelings are about right now. Sutton Foster is currently out because she's filming a TV pilot, but that's not the real star of the story: the real star is the magnificent, amazing and just damn good Stephanie J. Block. If you know anything about me, or if you're one of my many dedicated readers...you know how I feel about Steph, and when the opportunity came to see her in a Cole Porter musical I would be a terrible fan to pass it up (besides, seeing it with Sutton in December will be like a whole new show). Stephanie is a very natural and instinctive actress, she just knows what to do without being over-dramatic or looking like she's trying; she's that way with her singing too (mad, MAD props to her vocal coach) she just has this voice that flows and you're swept away on a sea of melody, vibrato, harmonies and belts. Her dancing...I mean...wow. I was simply speechless during that AMAZING, FANTASTIC, MIND-BLOWING tap number at the end of Act I. To make this even more spectacular is the fact that Steph only had TWO FREAKING WEEKS to learn that entire show. Its no wonder she's going straight home after most shows, I can't imagine how tired she must be. She performed Reno Sweeney the way Barbara Stanwyck would, I swear she even had the Stanwyck saunter down pat. Last time I saw her was at Vera Stark and we established that classic film is amazing, so that's why I went off on a Stany tangent, no apologies.

I would go on more about the show but I think I've procrastinated enough and I should probably get on the ball here. Thank you dear reader for putting up with this word vomit, and for just reading.

If I could sum up this weekend in just one phrase, I would use the phrase that Lord Evelyn Oakleigh used when talking to Moonface Martin: "You give me hot pants."

But in all seriousness, I think another one of my little dreams came true this weekend, and I am eternally grateful for it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Picking up where I left off

I've grown up quite a bit in the past year, and in that growing up I totally forgot that I had this blog. So, here we go:

I suppose the reason I'm writing this is to remind myself what I'm grateful for, I, like so many of us, tend to forget what there is to be grateful for in life; for whatever your reason may be, I think the important thing is to recognize that you can occasionally loose track, and that's okay as long as you find yourself picking up where you left off. Life can be trying; it can be a real bitch to even the most positive of people. We've all had those really low periods in our lives where it seems futile just to get off the couch, and after seeing Bridesmaids, its times like that where I really wish I had a friend like Megan (minus the nine dogs).

I promise I have a point here, just bear with me.

There is a scene in the movie where Megan goes to visit Annie, who has had a pretty bad time to say the least (to those who have seen it please don't spoil it for those who haven't). Annie is ambivalent, she doesn't want anything to do with anyone or the outside world; she's hit rock bottom. Megan proceeds to slap the hell out of her, taking on the persona of "Life," and proceeds to bite her in the ass whilst continuing to slap the hell out of her. "Life" is kicking (and biting) Annie's ass, and she's just letting it happen. Megan is telling her "I'm trying to get you to fight for your shitty life!" Finally, Annie gets so tired of getting slapped around by "Life" (honestly the bite on the ass would've done it for me) that she slaps back almost surprised that she had it in her (or afraid that Megan is going to kick her ass, but I digress).

It is then that possibly the most poignant and impacting piece of advice in the movie: "You are your problem Annie, and you're also you're solution."

How can you be your own solution?

By realizing that you have an amazing family, a family that makes you laugh more than they get on your nerves; that your sister knows you more than anyone ever will, or that your father is the greatest human being in the world. That you have possibly the greatest friends in the universe, and they're more like family because either you've known them all your life or they just "get" you. How about all of the teachers that have impacted you, do they realize that they are the sole reason why you chose to teach yourself? Realizing that you are still being taught, there is still so much to learn, and despite your age...your are not wise.

I'm a human being. I swear, I tend to be belligerent and loud, I have so much baggage that any bellboy in his right mind would turn and run the other way, I'm terrible with money, I hate paying for things that don't bring me pleasure (i.e. car payments, insurance, gynecologists visits, etc) I would rather use the money for a trip, I tend to drink too much at parties and become even more belligerent and loud, and I have a really hard time trusting and opening up to people.

But I'm a human being, I feel love, happiness, joy, anger, jealousy, sadness, etc. I am a work in progress, and will be until I die. But that's okay, because I have so much I'm thankful for.