Bless This House

June 24th, 2011

One of my very favorites — nearly a hymn, first published in 1927, by Helen Taylor and May Brahe. I plan to embroider the first verse on a cushion, or maybe to put into a frame.

Have I ever mentioned my secret passion for collecting late-19th through mid-20th century hymnals and Christian song books? It’s a long story…

Landmark Weekend, Part 2

May 5th, 2011

Last Sunday, we enjoyed the second half of our visit to the stately Landmark Loew’s Theatre of Jersey City (click here to read about the first part of our visit). It was a special performance sponsored by the Garden State Theatre Organ Society (who knew).

The first portion of the program showcased the restored Wonder-Morton Theatre Pipe Organ. This incredible instrument is a replacement for the theatre’s original organ, and has been lovingly rebuilt. I don’t know enough about theatre organs to say anything intelligent about it, and words are sadly inadequate to describe its wondrous sound. This video clip, taken during the concert, comes closest (apologies for the movement, I couldn’t stop breathing):

That’s Don Kinnier, premier theatre organist of the east coast, tickling the key stops with his nimble fingers (and toes). If you ever get a chance to see and hear Mr. Kinnier, don’t stop to think, buy the tickets! Particularly if he is accompanying a film. Though I hear he has also been known to play the conservatory organ at Longwood Gardens.

After the opening concert and a brief intermission, we got down to the feature presentation: The Eagle, considered by some critics to be Rudolph Valentino’s finest film role. It was surely one of his most varied performances, ranging from smoldering sensuality to laugh-out-loud humor. As my film-buff companion commented, it was the first time he’d seen Valentino’s teeth.

The Eagle

This 1925 silent film has a great storyline, based on a story by Pushkin. It also boasts lush costumes and scenery, and a tracking scene of a laden banquet table that made film history.  Louise Dresser shines as the lusty czarina who falls for one of her cossacks (Valentino), forcing him to flee to the arms of the lovely and mischievous Mascha (Vilma Banky).

But let me not forget the real star of this particular screening — it was the impeccable sound track, provided by Mr. Kinnier and the Wonder-Morton. For 87 minutes, he played a solid wall of music, capturing every shadow and nuance of the film, including a dance scene where you’d swear the actors were moving to the music and not the other way around. I’ve never seen anything like it, and though my companion has seen far more silent films than I, he also assured me that this was a true tour de force.

Jealous? Well I don’t think you’ll have the chance to see Mr. Kinnier at the Loew’s anytime in the near future, but you can still catch the magic of a silent film screening with live organ music (sure to be provided by another excellent musician) on Saturday, May 21, when the Loew’s will present Murnau’s Sunrise. I’ll be there.

Landmark Weekend, Part I

May 2nd, 2011

In these days of 3-D and cineplex, we often bemoan the fall of the movie theater. Not that we aren’t grateful to live within an easy walk of six great film centers (Anthology Film Archive, Film Forum, IFC Center, Angelika, Cinema Village, and Sunshine), but none of them really capture the grandeur that once surrounded the silver screen. And there simply aren’t enough revivals. Then I heard about the Landmark Loews of Jersey City from a colleague who has been volunteering there, helping to restore the balcony seating.

Landmark Loews

This April, after failing to convince my darling husband to attend a showing of L’Avventura (he hated it in 1960) at Anthology’s brilliantly titled “Boring Masterpieces” series, he agreed to take me to the Landmark Loews instead. They only show films one weekend a month¬† — not bad considering that the entire operation is staffed by volunteers and much of the interior is still under restoration. The offerings on April 30/May 1 were “The Thing From Another World” (both the 1951 and 1982 versions) on Saturday evening, or “The Eagle” on Sunday afternoon. He wanted “The Thing,” I wanted Valentino. So we compromised and rented a hotel room in Jersey City so that we could attend both shows.

Both our hotel and the theater are located steps away from their respective stops on the PATH train, so transportation was a breeze. When we arrived at the theater on Saturday evening, we were at first dismayed to see a line snaking around the block (little did we know that the 50 odd people waiting would be quickly swallowed up by the theater’s massive interior). While we waited to buy our tickets, there was plenty of time to take in the beautiful building.

Loews Exterior

Loews Exterior

If only they still used the ticket window…

Once we entered the luscious lobby, we were greeted by volunteers selling tickets (a steal at $7, $5 for seniors and children) and concessions ($1 for popcorn or soda, $2 for candy). Alas, there were no cigarette girls, but perhaps that’s something that will be added once the restoration is complete.

While the exterior is impressive for its sheer size and exquisite terracotta, the interior was breathtaking, despite (or perhaps because of) its air of decaying glamor. I know they are working away like beavers to restore it, but I do hope they leave a few of the cobwebs! What character, what charm. None of the snap shots I took inside came out very well, so you will just have to go and see it for yourself. I doubt if even the finest photographer could do it justice anyway.

Loews Interior

And here are a couple of details that didn’t get too badly washed out.

Loews Interior

Loews Interior

Believe it or not, the lobby was nothing compared to the theater itself. Opened in September of 1929, the Loews seats 3,100 people. My companion nearly burst into tears when he walked in, and by the time RKO came up on the screen, I was ready to bawl myself. We only stayed for the 1951 version of “The Thing.” It was a hoot, with a young James Arness in a surprise role. Best of all, the audience seemed very much alive, very much involved — not only with the film, but with one another as well. Perhaps it’s the low seats (no neck rests) or the shared experience of sitting in that magnificent space, but I’ve rarely been part of such a collective, genial audience. We laughed at all the corny jokes, and held our breath together when the hero was in danger.

Needless to say, we walked out in a dream, eager to return the following day.

Next post: “The Eagle”

Famous Fragrance

February 19th, 2011

My parents visited last weekend, and brought a dainty treasure. This set of perfume, eau de toilette, and talcum powder belong to my grandmother. She’s kept them on her dressing table for nearly 80 years — since her beau (the one before my grandfather) gave them to her as a gift in the 1930s. Needless to say, I am honored to have been entrusted with their safe keeping now that Gram is beginning to sort through her things and pass them on.

Evening in Paris

The legendary fragrance Evening in Paris was launched in 1926 or 1928 by Bourjois (a leading name in French cosmetics since 1868). By the 1930s, the originally-pale-blue glass bottle had developed into what was to be its signature cobalt color. The curvy silver label is also typical of 1930s Evening in Paris products. Its popularity continued through the 1950s, when it was touted as “the most famous fragrance in the world.”

It went out of production in 1969, but Evening in Paris was revived in the late 20th century, and is now available from The Vermont Country Store. An online review claims that the new stuff doesn’t quite measure up to the original version however.

Back to my grandmother’s set: the perfume in the tiny bottle is long gone — either used or evaporated — but there is still a fair amount of eau de toilette remaining in the larger bottle. And there is plenty of delicately scented talc in the glass shaker as well. The fragrance is elegance personified. It’s rather powdery, as are most from this era (think Je Reviens by Worth), but the top notes are the lightest, sweetest, most exotic florals I’ve ever smelled. Chanel No. 5 is gauche by comparison. Sorry Coco.

Lacking a ruffled dressing table, not to mention the room to keep one (you will recall that I am a bohemian garret dweller), I will likely keep the precious bottles tucked away in a drawer. There they’ll be next to my own favorite bottle of scent — the one I wore as a maid (thank you Thomas Hardy for this delightfully quaint way of describing an unattached young woman), and last used on my wedding day. I know it’s a bit sentimental, but I like the idea of the perfume my grandmother used while she was being courted mingling its fumes with the one I wore during the same interlude in my own life…

And on that (top)note, I shall bid you good evening.

Hat in Bloom

January 28th, 2011

What do Princess Ella (the sweetest girl on the Central Coast), Zelma’s tea cozy, D. H. Lawrence, and Katherine Hepburn have in common? They are all responsible for my winter hat this year.

My Winter Hat

Yes, it does have a pixie-ish top — as Richard Diamond (my favorite radio detective) would say, “bless your little pointed head.”

See, what happened was this. When dear Ella was just a wee thing, I knitted her a baby pixie hat from a pattern that I found online. Ella’s Mammy, Mme. Zelma, was very taken with the little pink pointed chapeau, and jokingly made me promise to make her one too.

Last fall, I was trying to use up yarn from a large stash of acrylics that my grandmother passed along, and managed to crochet a spur-of-the-moment tea cozy. I mailed it Zelma, as my contribution to her legendary salon. She wrote back wondering if I could make a hat to match the cozy (you have to admire a woman whose millinery matches her tea service).

In the process of making said hat, it somehow morphed into a long-overdue adult version of Ella’s hat. It was a misty green, lined with pink and white stripes. But it still lacked quelque chose. So I crocheted a leafy vine with darker green wool and made it grow ’round the hat.

While fitting the hat before sending it off, I realized that the cloche shape suited my face, and suited my new resolve to dress like a character out of D.H. Lawrence (think early 1920s eccentric artist). So I made myself one in grey (also from Gram’s stash). Because the leafy vine took forever to crochet, I decided to decorate mine in tribute to my favorite Katherine Hepburn line: “the calla lilies are in bloom…” Yes, I swear those purple things are calla lilies.

So now you know. Unfortunately, when people stare at me on the street, or stop me to ask about my hat, I don’t have the heart to make them listen to the entire explanation. I’m sorry I wasn’t so kind to you.

And to make matters worse, I have just finished knitting yet another of these hats. It’s a dark Wedgwood-ish blue and only wants a lining and some decorative touches. Then I may give it away (if I can find anyone to appreciate it), or sell it for an exorbitant amount of money. Interested?

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