It’s serious

In all my 48 years on this earth I have not felt so scared for the future as I have felt in the past year and a half after Brexit was voted for and after the US elected an idiot president. In my lifetime I never liked any Republican US president, not Reagan, not the older George Bush and I thought it could not be worse than George W. Bush but I was wrong. I was not a fan of their politics, just like I’m not a big fan of our current Dutch prime minister, but with them I never quite felt like the world was going to end. I do sometimes feel that now with the man who has got to be the most idiotic and dangerous Western leader since Adolf Hitler: Donald Trump! News of the idiot reneging the Iran nuclear deal and telling lies about it as justification is the latest example of his idiocy.

It’s not just Donald Trump and his “me me me” nationalist right-wing racist and misogynist philosophy that scares me. It’s also this whole right-wing nationalist trend, dipped in racism, which is so prevalent in Europe right now that is so damned scary. Donald Trump is alienating the world and when Europe needs unity more than ever to face it, we have Brexit happening and elections in Austria last year and recently in Hungary where nationalist right-wing leaders win (yet again and seem to get more extreme). In the past 70 odd years there never was any danger of war for our small nation alone. We are part of a bigger European Union and the big USA was our friend. Together we could handle it all, but USA doesn’t feel so friendly anymore and the EU is showing cracks. Is it the beginning of the end? There’s a move towards ‘everyone for himself’ and excluding others and for me the end of that move is only darkness, devastation and possibly war…

In 1997 mandatory military service was abolished in The Netherlands. Even before that, it was easy to avoid conscription for even minor health, psychological or conscientious reasons, because there really was no need for a big Dutch army in a unified Europe standing together. Mr Esther never had to serve because of his asthma, my older brother never had to serve because of a minor foot problem he had, my younger brother never had to serve because of a back ailment… I think my other two brothers weren’t even called because they were living abroad and still are. If they were called, there certainly was no difficulty in not having to go into the Dutch military.

My son is turning 17 in two months time and the other week a letter for him arrived from the Dutch Ministry of Defence…

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What the letter says is that, as he is turning 17 this year, he is automatically registered for military service. He doesn’t have to serve, as there is no conscription anymore, but he is registered.¬† Every Dutch man between the ages of 17 and 35 is registered and should there be a need in the future, he can possibly be conscripted and called upon to serve in the military after all. He could possibly have to serve up until the age of 45.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in defending yourself when faced with evil and I do commend military people who put themselves in harm’s way for peacekeeping missions, as the Dutch military does now. The idea is noble, although I feel that war and violence never is the real answer.

I always hoped we had learned from the second World War and that at least within Europe and the US we would never have to fear such evil self-serving idiot racist leaders anymore. Democracy would put a stop to the most extreme ideas and extreme leaders, I thought. Isolationism and “me me me” power struggles were over, now that there is cooperation in Europe and with the US, I thought. Racism after Auschwitz is only a fringe idea now, I thought. I guess I was wrong. Even when ‘justified’, in my heart I do not believe in war. In the end there is only death and destruction and lives torn apart.

If my son had received this letter from the Ministry of Defence 10 years ago, or maybe even two years ago, I would just have acknowledged it and laid it aside. But when I see what the Western world I live in is becoming now, for the first time I really am worried. A lot has happened in two years and even more can happen in the next 18 – 28 years! Yes, my son won’t have to go into the army now, but what will the state of our world be in 5 or 10 years time? What if we are slowly sliding into a World War III? What if my son does have to go to war one day? I don’t even dare think of that scenario… I don’t want my son or anyone else in the generations after him to have to experience war… I always hope that mankind will learn its lesson but with all the wars and devastation already in the world now and with these scary trends now in Europe and the US, I feel that any lessons that may have been ‘learned’ are so easily forgotten. I want my son to live in peace, I want all of us to live in peace!

My son is not in the least bit worried, not yet in any case…

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… but I am…

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A conversation with Gregory Peck

I was watching the documentary A Conversation with Gregory Peck on Netflix earlier this evening (I was very pleasantly surprised to find it there!). It was made in 1999 (4 years before Peck died) during a speaking tour he did throughout the US, where he spoke about his life and his career.

As I watched it, I realized I must have seen at least some of it before although there were also bits I didn’t remember. As an old-time Gregory Peck fan, hearing the stories he had to tell about his career (even though I already knew many) was an absolute joy! At one special moment in the documentary the actress who played his daughter, Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird was in the audience. Apparently she still called him Atticus and he still called her Scout. ūüôā¬† He also invited his wife Veronique up on stage for a little bit…

The documentary also touched on Gregory Peck’s political convictions. He was famous for being a democrat and liberal and in the video speaks of opposing the Vietnam war while at the same time being proud of his son Stephen who had served in the army during that war. He is also shown giving a speech in Philadelphia in 1999 about gun control…

He says,“Is it the culture or the guns that led to the massacre at Columbine High School? And it is of course both. What is wrong with keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people?” Today, 19 years on, I could still give him a standing ovation for that. Gregory and I would certainly have agreed with each other politically…

What I loved even more in this documentary was the behind the scenes glimpses of him, with his wife and his family. His daughter Cecilia co-produced this documentary and was in it a lot…

Conversation Gregory Peck 08

… but there are also glimpses of his other kids (two sons, Stephen and Carey, from his first marriage and a son, Anthony, from his marriage to Veronique). I loved the images of a family get-together, where they all sat around and watched basketball. Look at the anticipation on the faces of Gregory and his son Stephen here!

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I had to blink away a few tears when Gregory spoke of his son Jonathan who had committed suicide at the age of 30, with Gregory wondering whether he could have done more to prevent that. And I blinked away major tears when the film featured Gregory waiting at the hospital for his daughter Cecilia to give birth and then meeting his 10 minute old grandson! Most parts of the documentary are also up on YouTube, I’ll just share this part about the birth here (from 5.20 minutes onwards in this video)…

The fascination with his new grandson and the concern he shows over his daughter just after giving birth so very much reminds me of my own father (and my mother) after my son was first born. Yet again, here is Gregory reminding me of my dad, even in the way he was a dad to his daughter! My parents showed that same love to my baby and the same concern for me…

2001 A. born papa mama Esther

… and their love and concern was repeated two and a half years later when my daughter was born..

The look of being in love with a new baby grandchild is very similar… It made me miss Gregory Peck and it made me miss my dad.

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Oh, how I still love Gregory Peck! If you like him too, I recommend you check out this documentary on Netflix a.s.a.p…

Celebrations!

Every year our sovereign’s birthday is celebrated and for the past 5 years we’ve had a King (Willem-Alexander) to celebrate. Still not used to calling it ‘King’s Day’ (instead of Queen’s Day as we had a queen for 30 years before that) but this past Friday (April 27th) ‘King’s Day’ was celebrated. This is our royal family: the king, his wife Maxima and their 3 daughters…

Amalia is the eldest, the crown princess, and only 12 days older than my daughter!

The King and his family visited Groningen in the north for a day of festivities, but unlike last year, we didn’t really watch much of their visit on TV.¬† Instead, my family and I went to the south in Eindhoven for the day, meeting up with Mr Esther’s oldest friend and his kids. It was really busy with markets and restaurants overflowing and lots of live music and everything is orange themed (orange is our national colour)… We had a lovely time!

Then yesterday, more celebration as my family got together for a nice family lunch. My youngest brother was visiting from Israel for a week, so we took the opportunity to get together with all family members that were present in The Netherlands (2 other brothers weren’t there with their kids, they live abroad). Brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and my mother and my aunt were there for a lovely buffet lunch at a Middle-Eastern restaurant. Again, we had a lovely time! If our meeting were made into an oil painting, it would look something like this (I am 4th on the right in dark blue with the visiting brother beside me)…

Family

As I had hardly talked to my brother I went on to visit him yesterday evening as well (he’s flying back today) at my mom’s house. It’s always great to talk to him.

And there’s more fun to be had today, as my son and I go off in about half an hour to see the latest Avengers movie in 3D IMAX together with two friends of ours. The two ladies are coming home with us afterwards for dinner here. Socially packed weekend! I need a breather to catch up, but alas, it’s back to work again tomorrow…

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!

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.