Stop all the clocks

Our neighbour very unexpectedly passed away at the age of 71 last week. We weren’t close but we were friendly and her sudden passing came as a bit of a shock. Her husband and two grown up children were left devastated. The funeral was held this morning, we attended with a few of our other neighbours and it brings home to me yet again how much I hate funerals… It’s so tough seeing the ones who were so close to the deceased struggling to deal with their loss and brings back memories of my own loss. The programme is always the same: there is music, there are speeches, sometimes readings – with every funeral I go to, the words of WH Auden, beginning with “stop all the clocks”, ring in my head (also so beautifully performed by John Hannah in Four Weddings and a Funeral) …

… and afterwards there’s coffee and tea and people lining up to give their condolences to the grieving loved ones.

I’m thinking that maybe, when I go, I don’t want a funeral… it’s too heartbreaking for the loved ones left behind. Just everyone have a party if they must and then have everyone just leave… No endless sad speeches and sad music, no endless line of people shaking hands and paying respects… Just party, send me on my way with images of things I have loved, like this…

… or this…

… or this…

… or this…

… or this…

… or this most recent one….

… and be done with it!

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James Stewart rediscovered

For some reason, and I wasn’t sure how until I started digging through my memory of the past few weeks, I’ve started watching Jimmy Stewart movies (when not distracted by Richard Armitage at a film festival in Newcastle and all the subsequent reports and pictures streaming in). Now, I’ve always known James Stewart, have always really liked him, he’s one of the favourite actors of my younger brother but he never made it to the top of my “I love him/her so much!” actors list. I think that has now changed!

Digging through my memory, I think it was the fault of falling into an old 1943 movie about six or so weeks ago with Jean Arthur called The More the Merrier (if you want to see a very sexy love scene from the early 1940s that also makes you smile, check out this scene from that film!). I happened upon this scene on YouTube, then found the whole movie and watched it and really enjoyed it! Charles Coburn was truly excellent and funny in it (he won an Oscar for that role; luckily I didn’t find out till after I had seen and enjoyed the movie that Coburn had been a white supremacist!) but I was also very impressed with Jean Arthur! So, I jumped to the only other movie I knew with her, called Mr Smith Goes to Washington, with James Stewart (I now know she also did Shane, still need to re-watch that one). I had once seen Mr Smith many years ago but barely remembered it, so I watched it again and that is when James Stewart blew me away (don’t get me wrong, Jean Arthur is very good in this too!). So, after watching that, I have been binge-watching all of Stewart’s movies! Well, a whole lot of them, in any case.

What I think really hit me with James Stewart this time around is how extremely well he listens and reacts to others! I was pondering that over the past few weeks and then yesterday I was reading an obituary the NY Times had done on him where he is quoted as once having said, “I don’t act, I react”. I don’t quite agree with the “I don’t act” part. I see how the criticism can be that he is often himself in movies but I think he does something way cleverer than that: every character is quite different but somehow he takes every character and he finds a way to also inject them with his own humanity. What I do very much agree with is the “I react” part of that quote. Come to think of it, I think he was one of the best ‘reactors’ I have ever seen! He is an ‘everyman’ and very human in his expressions, that makes him so very relatable.

In his pre-war movies he starred in some dramas (like Mr Smith…), there was his first Western (Destry Rides Again) where he played a pacifist lawman (co-starring with Marlene Dietrich) but mostly the movies were lighter, romantic comedies, with The Shop Around the Corner being my absolute favourite one. That movie I have seen several times and re-watching it confirmed yet again what an adorable movie it is and what great chemistry James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan had (she helped kick-start his career and was also a close friend). In these early movies you can see that James Stewart had great comedic timing and a dry humour, which has served him well throughout his career. It looks like he is never purposely funny and yet he is funny. There is light-heartedness about him that I love, like in the scenes you see in this fan video I saw on YouTube…

To me, his most brilliant comedic performance, again where his character doesn’t mean to be funny but he really is, was a scene from The Philadelphia Story that he did with Cary Grant. The story goes that this scene wasn’t rehearsed, that they just played (and shot it) in one take. James Stewart is drunk and, in the middle of the night, visits Cary Grant’s house. Apparently the part where he starts hiccupping wasn’t scripted at all (neither was Cary Grant’s “Excuse me” response) and you can see that the men are struggling to keep it together, but keep it together they did. James Stewart won an Oscar for his role in this film, and I have a sneaking suspicion that, while he was excellent in the film, him winning the Oscar may have been because of this little scene. Here it is, the very funny “Oh, C.K. Dexter Haaaaaaaven” scene…

But he wasn’t only good at comedy, one of his stand-out dramatic performances was in the first movie he did after leaving the army (he had been a commanding fighter pilot in WWII), the very famous It’s a Wonderful Life. James Stewart’s time in the army did something to him, I think, in that it gave him some more gravitas, like in this heartbreaking scene from It’s a Wonderful Life which is so superbly acted (as is the whole film)… Really, this was a brilliant role for him and such a lovely lovely movie!

He also did the movie Harvey in 1950 after having played the role on Broadway and on the London stage. I’d always heard of the movie and had read about it and knew it was supposed to be legendary (Stewart was nominated for an Oscar for it) but I only actually watched it recently during this binge phase. I think that this role has now gone straight to the top of my fave James Stewart performances ever! If you haven’t seen it, go and watch it. James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, who has a 6 ft 8 invisible white rabbit (but not invisible to him) called Harvey as his best friend, is just absolutely charming and so heartwarming. I swear, it’s one of the most endearing characters I have ever seen and yes, unintentionally funny as well. Apparently it was one of his own favourite characters too. Here, have a look at one of my fave quotes of the film…

After the war James Stewart did a few very good Hitchcock movies (my fave of those is Rear Window with Grace Kelly) and he became famous yet again for his Westerns (he made many!). For almost all the Westerns he did, he rode a horse he had come to love, named Pie, and he wore the same cowboy hat in almost all those movies as well…

I’ve seen a few of those Westerns and there is a quality of tenderness in the man, despite some of the acts of violence the characters played by Stewart display. There’s a vulnerability there in Jimmy Stewart’s eyes that makes me actually enjoy watching these Westerns (not normally a genre I enjoy that much) and in some films where Indians play a role, they are even humanized instead of demonized, like in Broken Arrow (from 1950) where he helps negotiate a peace with Apaches. I think my fave Western of his is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (where he doesn’t ride a horse or wear his hat) and co-stars with John Wayne (whom I really dislike and don’t like much in this movie either). However, I do love James Stewart’s character, who is a man who believes in the power of words over violence and yet finds himself in a situation where he needs to resort to violence.

James Stewart Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceAnother surprise to me was that I hadn’t remembered how good he was at being the romantic lead and how passionate his body language is. Again, his unparalleled reaction skills truly show! And being so tall helps him too. The way he looks at the women he loves on-screen, the way he reacts to them and then the way his tall frame totally envelopes them when he embraces them, holds them oh so tight and kisses them is just absolutely beautiful! In most movies I saw, I found he managed to manufacture great chemistry with his leading ladies. In fact, I just had to make a fan video about James Stewart being in love with his leading ladies!

The first scene I used in my fan video is from It’s a Wonderful Life with the beautiful Donna Reed opposite him. The tension and subtext just jump off the screen and punch you in the gut in this phone scene (that I cut somewhat but you can view in its entirety here, including what happens right before that phone part starts). The reacting, the breathing, the outburst of a man trying to fight his feelings but being overpowered by them – I can’t praise this scene enough! The role of George Bailey, to me, may have been his greatest romantic role ever… Anyway, here’s the video I made.

He did several of his early movies with Margaret Sullavan, someone else made a nice video for that…

After the war his on-screen wife for a few movies was June Allyson, whom he also had great chemistry with…

I also really liked him with Vera Miles in Liberty Valance and another movie called The FBI Story. The film itself is not that great, but Jimmy and Vera really do work very well together. Here, take a look at this scene of them together in that movie…

In reading up on him, I think I would rarely have agreed with him politically. He was famously best friends with Henry Fonda since the early 1930s and despite vehemently disagreeing with each other’s political views, they remained close friends until Fonda’s death in 1982.

Maybe we could learn something from these two men who had such opposing political views and yet were such friends (apparently their hobby was building model airplanes together!). Jimmy Stewart really seems to have been a humanitarian and I always respond well to that. I also love that he was so happily married to his wife Gloria for 45 years until she died in 1994. He became father to her sons of a previous marriage and they had twin girls together.

Apparently his final words before he died at age 89 in 1997 were, “I’m going to be with Gloria now.”

Just as everyone underestimates Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, I think I may have underestimated James Stewart. I always liked him before, but now I can honestly say I love him.

Spring is here!

It’s only partially sunny here today and even a tad chilly when the sun disappears behind the clouds, but it is warm enough for me to be sitting outside in our garden for the first time this year! One of our cats has joined me as well…

When I got back from my weekend in Newcastle two weeks ago, Mr Esther had already gone spring-happy, buying potted flowers for in our garden. Now our little pink blossom tree has started to bloom as well! I have mostly enjoyed these flowers (and the beginning of the pink blossoms) from through the window, I love that I can now sit and enjoy them while relaxing outside! 🙂

MTA: Now my other cat has joined me as well, she is fascinated by a bumble bee flying around here. She could catch it too, if she tried…

Her nickname in this house is ‘mass murderer’ as she is very effective at killing mice, birds and frogs

The cat is out of the bag

Now that Jane has made this little film public, I can now share it here as well!

This little film has been sitting on my phone for the last 10 days and I have watched it over and over again countless times! Christine was so sweet asking Richard to do this for her friend Jane and Richard was so sweet to do it. As I set up the video, Christine made a move to step aside but Richard wouldn’t let her. He says at the very beginning of this clip “you be in it” to her and gently invites her in and puts his arm around her shoulder so she too would be in this video. I love the look of joy on Christine’s face and that very tender look on Richard’s, this is such a little gem! It’s made me smile a lot over the past 10 days.

Speaking of cats, I got home late from work today (after watching the Christine-Richard-for-Jane video again on my phone on my way home), sat down on the couch and within seconds was welcomed by this little man who joined me there (he never lies on our laps, just nestles up against us)…

Eff

It’s so nice having cats out of the bag (and such beautifully joyous reactions to go with that!) and cats lying against me. 🙂

April 3rd actors & me…

Today is the 96th birthday of Doris Day (and yes, she’s still alive, and I always really liked her!)

Doris Day

It’s the 94th birthday of Marlon Brando (but he is no longer living and I was never a big fan)

Marlon Brando

It’s the 60th birthday of Alec Baldwin (I’m neutral on him)

Alec Baldwin

And it’s the 57th birthday of Eddie Murphy (used to quite like him, not sure what he’s up to now)

Eddie Murphy

It’s Matthew Goode’s 40th birthday (oooh, I quite like him!)

Matthew Goode

And Cobie Smulders’ 36th birthday (I quite like the few things I’ve seen of her as well, especially How I Met Your Mother)

Cobie SmuldersAnd today is also my birthday (the 48th one) and just look how pleased I am with my own actor birthday gift!

RA & ES2Thank you for the meet & greet, Richard Armitage. 🙂