Movie Hero of the Week – Colleen Atwood*


Colleen Atwood Practicin' Her Art

When I grow up, I want to look like Colleen Atwood.  She has a striking and beautiful sense of personal style.

But that’s merely a sidebar.  What we are really discussing here today is her work.

I’ll tell you why I’m a Tim Burton fan aside from his aesthetic, he collaborates with lush, talented people who have this striking aforementioned sense of personal style.  A true genius knows who to hire.  And Tim Burton hires Colleen Atwood.

But he’s not the only person who hires Colleen Atwood.  Rather than list these collaborators, feast on this:

The Silence of the Lambs

That Thing You Do!

Little Women

Beloved

Chicago

Big Fish

Memoirs of a Geisha

And friends, that’s just a few.

The work of Edith Head, another Movie Hero of the Week, comes down to tailoring, line,  and structure.  A character costumed by Edith Head immediately gives a sense of grace, being “put together”, rich.  Colleen Atwood’s work has a larger sense of movement.  She’s quoted as saying, “As a designer, you have to solve a lot of problems. Even though people are wearing clothes that are supposed to look beautiful, they’ll have to do all kinds of things.”  She’s influenced a bit more by current fashion.  You can see that she wants to push boundaries and really inform the audience of who this character is.

My favorite thing about Atwood’s work is her use of color, which runs into the deep jewel tones (my personal fave) and her use of sparkle and glitter.  Rather than head in the drag queen direction, she moves in the fantastical, elegant, and lush direction.

Check out this episode of Threadbanger wherein we get an interview with Colleen Atwood, plus two AWESOME Victorian-Punk-Trash sewing recipes.  Bon Apetit!

Says Ms. Atwood, “I’ve always loved movies, art and clothes.”  Me too, Colleen.  Me too.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

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Portuguese Fiasco Peace Soup: Dutch Ovens, Phallic Potatoes, and Abundance


You Can't Do That In My Kitchen

The recipe said “SERVES 8.”  I thought, “Great!  2 servings each tonight.  2 servings each Wednesday night.  And I won’t have to cook for awhile.”

I was looking for a recipe that used up the rest of my bag of potatoes and took advantage of cabbage which was on sale without heading down the corned beef road.  Thanks to Allrecipes.com’s ingredient search I found my answer:  Portuguese Soup.  Cabbage and potatoes were major players, which made me happy, and it called for smoked sausage, onions and beans which spoke to Will.  Cheap, probably decent if not good, and a big ol’ dose of waste not, want not.  I baked bread last weekend, and that would be the perfect accompaniment with some fallish beer.

Cut to later in the evening:
WILL (to bro in law):  Betsy made too much soup again.  Come on over.

I always make too much soup.  WAY too much soup.  I just follow the recipe!  I mean, I know I could do those “Cook for Two” recipes but then there aren’t leftovers and we eat leftovers for lunch and dinner and then I can cook way less (when I’m not feeling it) or freeze it for a crazy night.  Crazy like schedule.  Not like I find leftover soup exciting.  Oh hell, maybe I do.  Shut up.

But this time I made  way too much soup.  Ridiciulously too much soup. Insanely too much soup.  Comically too much soup.

Coming to  my own  defense, I followed the recipe.  To a t.  Perhaps I should have paused when I saw it called for an entire HEAD of cabbage and 2 2/3 qt’s water, but I didn’t.  I was just so happy I was going to use up all those damn potatoes.

Before I had even finished completing my mise en place, the kitchen had already begun to feel like a scene out of Beetle Bailey (ignoring how phallic that particular link is…).  As my grasp of the situation grew, I began to rename the recipe:  Portuguese Fiasco Soup.  I looked at my hardworking respectable Calphalon Dutch Oven.  It was waving a white flag.  I had only put in the onions, sausage and liquid and it was shouting mayday.  The broth was threatening to edge over the top and I still had my BIGGEST hilarious mixing bowl filled with cabbage, beans and potatoes waiting to take a dip.

Oh shit, I thought, this is a fiasco.  Am I going to have to get out the Ridiculous Stock Pot?

I had to get out the Ridiculous Stock Pot.  We bought the stock pot for one reason only: to cook a hell of a lot of pasta for our friends when I make Sunday Gravy with ribs and meatballs.  That’s it.  Even when I make stock I use the Dutch Oven.

I have to say, for such a small country, the Portuguese had certainly overwhelmed my kitchen.

Will took one look at the pot and called his brother for gastro-backup.

But Portuguese Fiasco Soup became Portuguese Fiasco Peace Soup as the night went on.  Will mentioned giving some leftovers to some homeless guys who hang out down the street from where he works.  I felt peace and gratefulness that I was lucky enough to be overwhelmed by too much nutritious (albeit treacherously high in fiber) food.   That’s a rare thing in this world.  I felt assured that, come a blizzard, or bad financial times, or an unexpected crowd, I can feed us and whoever shows up.  It was a stone soup/ loaves and fishes feeling.

Although…

BRO IN LAW:  What about this is Portuguese?
ME:  I have no idea.

Portuguese Fiasco Peace Soup
SERVES (A hell of a lot more than) 8

Recipe notes:

  • Get a bigger pot than you can even conceive of needing.
  • Don’t skip the vinegar.  It makes all the difference.  (However, I found just splashing a little in individual bowls worked just as well.  Try the red wine or white wine kind.)
  • If you have someone particularly averse to vinegar, and I do, try splashing in some hot sauce (per individual serving).  It helps add a bit of much needed acidity and kick.  I feel that lime or lemon juice could also do the trick.
  • Goes great with homemade bread.  I think cornbread or biscuits would work, too.  Even an Irish soda bread would be good.  Salad might too much roughage for even the most dedicated fiber connessieur.
  • Serve with a darkish beer or ale.  I had hard cider.  Added to the acidity.  It was good.

Movie Hero of the Week – Gary Oldman*


It took awhile for me to become a fully-fledged Gary Oldman fan.  He can be, shall we say, unsettling.  But that’s because he’s so good.  SO good.  Heads and tails above most of the rest.  I’d like to think that’s because he honed his craft in theatre well before getting into film.  I know he’s hardly undersung, in the sense that he’s a pretty famous guy.  But I think he is thought of as kinda crazy and weird.  What we are missing is how incredibly talented he is.

I’m going to list the reasons I think that Gary Oldman is one the top 5 best actors today.

1.  His vocal work.  Minnie Driver, for example, has a knack for dialects.  Meryl Streep, too.  They just really have an ear for that sort of thing.  You could say Gary Oldman does, too, in the sense that he performs them admirably.  But the thing is, the dialect is only 10% of what he is actually doing with his voice.  You close your eyes while watching Ms. Driver in, say, Sleepers.  And it’s Minnie Driver doing a Brooklyn accent, albeit a good one.  You close your eyes during Romeo is Bleeding and you hear Jack Grimaldi, corrupt cop and tortured soul.  And still, it’s Gary Oldman.  And yeah, he’s doing a good, subtle Brooklyn accent.  But it’s so much more than that.  There is depth and nuance.  Romeo is Bleeding is actually kind of a typical 90’s bleak cop/gangland movie.  But Oldman kept me watching.

2.  His intensity.  He is authentically intense.  Judging by his list of wives, I imagine this comes pretty easily to him.  He throws himself into these roles.  There is always something simmering underneath.  This is a direct quote from the man himself, “I had this idea of myself as a shy, kind, sweet chap. I was working with Winona Ryder and she turned to me and said, “F***, man, you’re really intense!” I was so shocked, I went, “What do you mean? I’m not intense, I’m sweet!” My passion and energy get mistaken for anger.”  His first major movie role was playing Sid Vicious.

3.  He says things like this, “Any actor who tells you that they have become the people they play, unless they’re clearly diagnosed as a schizophrenic, is bullshitting you.”  Hallelujah.  I am staunchly on the no actor crazy talk bandwagon.

4.  I find, that no matter what awful lunatic he might be playing, that I always empathize with him.  With some actors, when they play such roles, they seem so easy to hate.  They are essentially hateful plot devices.  But when Gary Oldman is playing these characters, you see tortured soul.

5.  He doesn’t look like anybody else in Hollywood.  That’s interesting and imminently watchable.

6.  He never phones it in.  Every second he is onscreen his is completely engaged.  I would LOVE to see him onstage.

Certainly, I haven’t seen every movie Gary Oldman has ever made.  But I have seen a lot of them over the years, and I will share my favorites with you now:

Sid and Nancy.  I don’t think I understood what “co-dependent relationship” meant until I saw this movie.  Luckily, I don’t think I’m in one.  My absolute favorite quote from this movie happens when Nancy (Chloe Webb) has just up the phone with her parents:

Nancy: I f***ing hate them! I f***ing hate them! Ass! Ow! F***ing motherf***ers! They wouldn’t send us any money! They said we’d spend it on DRUGS!
Sid: We would!

Oldman shines, if you can shine while playing the particularly scatalogical Vicious.  What’s surprising about his performance is how strangely optimistic it is.  You might already know what happens in the end, but it’s really hard not to follow his faulty and disturbed logic.  “This is just a rough patch. It’ll be okay when we get to America.”  You can see how relationships…as well as heroin…can be so addictive.

Check out this clip where you get a small sense of his physicality.  He just sort of lumbers along, like his body is made up of spare parts.

Dracula. Only after viewing this movie did I realize what a sad, tragic character Count Vlad Dracula is.   His loss, in the beginning of the film, is astounding.  Raw.  I have no interest in the Twilight series.  Why would I?  Nothing can compete with Oldman’s Dracula.  The movie itself leaves a few things to be desired.  But his performance does not.

I am completely susceptible to Wounded Soldier syndrome.  Rrrgggglll.

True Romance.

Absolutely ridiculous.  He’s maybe onscreen for 10 minutes.  It doesn’t matter.  This movie is it’s cameos.  Check out Oldman, but also check out Brad Pitt as the loser roommate and his honey-bear drug accoutrement.

The Professional. Perhaps the least cuddly squeezy of the Oldman roles.  It’s like being in the same room as wet dynamite.

This is just a small sampling.  He’s a heartbreaker.  When his Beethoven is reduced to playing the piano with his head on the soundtable is maybe, for me, one of the more tragic moments in film.  Oldman as Sirius Black is perfection…and those chest tattooes.  Girrrllll….   This guy has been around a long time, and yet he still surprised me with his fatherly, slightly frumpy and long-suffering Jim Gordon.

If you’ve avoided Oldman, or haven’t bothered to explore his filmography, grab a drink (you might need it), and enjoy.  Truly he is one of my faves and not only a Movie Hero but (risking geekdom) an Acting one, too.  As long as this guy is out there, we need not bemoan the death of the great Actor.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

Golden and Glowing by Autumn


It's Fall, Y'all!

I’ve mentioned before how much I love Autumn.  Truly September through December is one big freakin’ holiday as far as I’m concerned.  I love traditions and there is something about the fall that just drips with tradition and ritual.  A couple weeks ago, my sister-in-law and I were getting mutually pumped up about fall and the things we love to do.  She likes to have a pot of soup simmering away on the stove while she puts together scrapbooks and watches college football and the Steelers.  If she’s anything like her brothers, I assume the soup ends up being sprayed all over the room and all the pictures ripped to hell.  Whatever floats your boat.

I, too, like a pot of something savory bubbling on the stove.  My craftiness lends itself more in the knitting and sewing direction.  In fact, I am just now completing a fall apron.  A few years ago, I found a couple yards of the most fabulous autumn toile.  Instead of the traditional French country scene, however, this fabric has a vintagey-50’s country scene with jack-o-lanterns, harvesty wheat and a hayride.  I adore it.  So much so I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.  A skirt?  A throw pillow?  A tablecloth?  I eventually decided on an apron.  My favorite thing in my favorite fabric.  It will not only be my fall puttering apron, it will serve as decoration when it’s hanging up.  I have another autumnish apron from my Mom and a vintage one that should blend nicely.  I’d like to have aprons for every season.  Summer and spring are fairly covered due to the bright florals of typical aprons.  I have two Christmas aprons, although I would like to make another.  And winter definitely calls for a cozy flannel, I think.

There is just so much to see and do in Autumn.  Books to read.  Movies to watch.  Food to eat.   I occasionally wonder how I wasn’t born a Scorpio.  No matter.  I married one.

Each month of Autumn has a particular feel, I think.  September is very much about Back to School.  October, of course, is a bit spooky and mischevious with gorgeous colors, and November is somewhat dark and cozy.  I like to watch certain movies during certain months.  Have certain foods as well.  I sort of got a little ahead of myself this year and already made a typical September recipe in August, and watched Sweeney Todd (a November pick) last Saturday.  Ah well.  Patience is not my personal virtue.   Although, Hope, it should be noted is my middle name.

Get a load of these pumpkins!

The following are lists of SOME of the fun things I like to do when the breezes turn chilly, and the leaves get crazay.

SEPTEMBER

New clothes
New office supplies
Big Seasonal Scrub and Organization
Getting rid of old stuff
Initial fall decorating (no Halloween stuff, yet)
Apples
Late summer vegetables: corn, tomatoes
Three Sisters Soup (try tempering in a beaten egg at the end) Serve with cornbread.
Joann’s, Home Goods, and Kohls for fall candles and crafty stuff
Fall table setting
Corn chowder with homemade bread grilled cheeses or cheddar biscuits
Trip to the library
Fidget Pie
New perfect Fall sweater (this year, brown)
Michaelmas – blackberry stuff on September 29
Fall wreath
Order Halloween and Fall Items from the Victorian Trading Company
Fall essential oils
NEST pumpkin chai candle
Football – tailgating, hot chocolate
Pumpkin lattes from Starbucks
Autumn in a jar

Witchay Woman

OCTOBER

Spooky movies
Halloween parties
Fun movie nights with warm snacks and mulled cider wine
Fun spooky ipod lists: Bewitched, I Put a Spell On You, Jill Tracy songs
Planning and making Halloween costumes
My Fall Festival:  Fall stew, Sleepy Hollow, and Cider cocktails with apple dumplings and whipped cream
Trips to occult bookstores
Tarot readings
Lighting candles for those we miss
Pumpkins and Jackolanterns
Taffy Apples
Pumpkin patch/Farmer’s Market
Preserve leaves
Use pumpkin as a vase and as a toureen
Fall picnic
Vanilla candles
Pumpkin scents
IKEA
Scary books
Pumpkintinis
Football
Winter clothes out, summer clothes away
Baked Oatmeal
Ghost Tour
Donuts and Cider

Now Is The Pilgrim Year Fair Autumn's Charge

NOVEMBER

This year, we are trying to plan a fun fall getaway to a friend’s lake house
Nights with books and a pot of tea
Planning for Thanksgiving
Butternut squash
Early Christmas planning
Caramel Corn
Scary, Gothic books
Ghost stories

Truly in my head I am wearing a navy toggle sweater, holding a huge bunch of colorful leaves, wrapped in a plaid blanket with hot cider, and donuts (a huge dose of Zyrtec) on a big pile of hay, singing “Ichabod Crane” from Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Almost makes ya miss youth group.

Almost.

“Broad’s Way” – The Musical Project – Broadway Melody of 1929


Finally!  My first entry in The Musical Project.

I have to be honest with you.  The DVD for The Broadway Melody of 1929 sat, untouched, in our apartment for 2 months and 9 days.  I kinda sorta was not into watching it, if you can tell.  The thing is, movies from the 20’s can be a little tough to watch.  Sometimes they were merely transferred to DVD, rather than being restored.  (Even things from the 50’s can have this problem.  I tried to watch some episodes of Flash Gordon as research for a role one time.  The volume was at max and I could still barely make out what the actors were saying. )  PLUS, the musical as we know it now wasn’t around quite yet.  Broadway was more of a glitzy vaudeville.  Big costumes and reviews, but little substance (not that I always look to musicals for substance.)  So anyway, this is my explanation for the delay.  Reluctance.

But last night, I came home. Slapped down my things and declared to any cat that was listening that yesterday was the day, goddammit.  So I changed my clothes, grabbed our portable DVD player and watched The Broadway Melody of 1929 while I made risotto.

Initial Observations

1.  Apparently, if the cast of this film are any reflection of Broadway at the time, you didn’t have to be, um, talented to work on the Big White Way. A bottle blonde seems to be the main qualification.

2.  I was expecting a sort of early Ziegfeld follies, but what I got was a sister story.

Not to say there was no Ziegfeld at all.  Instead we have ZANEfeld.  Oh ho ho! Clever!

I don’t mean to sound snarky, exactly.  This is the precursor to today’s Broadway.  Certainly, as a kid, I fell irreparably in love with the Broadway of the 80’s.  So I have respect for those that came before.  In fact, for everyone who bemoans the commercial entity that Broadway has become I argue thus it has always been.  In Broadway Melody of 1929, we have tuxedoed, occasionally drunken investors who care not for the quality of the product but for the return.  Broadway in Chicago might be newish to Chicago, in the scheme of things, but Zanefeld..er…Ziegfeld wasn’t so much a theatre artist as a theatre entrepreneur.  So while it may be depressing, certainly, we aren’t witnessing some sort of downfall.

Actually, the story is pretty good.  Simple but sort of heartwarming in that typical Put Your Modern Values Away To Watch an Old Movie way.  Still, we meet up with the Sweeney…er…Mahoney Sisters, who are girls out on their own.   They’re fresh in from Peoria and ready to hit the heights!  Queenie and Hank Mahoney (guess which one’s the “pretty” one) shuffle off to Buffalo…a bit laboriously…and occasionally hilariously, not intentional I’m sure.  If Broadway Melody of 1929 was supposed to be the typical vehicle for songs, then it fails.  There’s only a couple songs, and I already know the choreography.  Not because I’m good at picking up on choreography (I’m not really), but because it’s just a lot of two-steps-forward, one step back, with a smile and silly hands.

Yet, it’s a heartwarming sister story, and frankly one that rang true with me at present.  Hank, the eldest, is perhaps over-mothering Queenie, the younger.  Queenie is making horrendous choices just because she can, and there’s nothin’ anybody can say about it!  While Hank might be a more selfless sister than I (Queenie marries Hank’s boyfriend with Hank’s blessing), I certainly understand Hank’s frustration.  Honestly, aside from the 1920’s quips and trappings, I like these two sisters.

The Mahoney Sisters

The Broadway Melody of 1929 is significant in that it is both a representation of early musicals AND early film.  In fact, it was the first sound film to win Best Picture!  While some of the acting retains a certain jerky silent film quality, I was pretty impressed with how it holds up.  Much like my experience with watching the AFI Top 100, I found myself groaning at old jokes, only to remind myself that at the time, the jokes weren’t old.  The Mahoney Sisters aren’t similar to the Haynes Sisters of White Christmas, The Haynes Sisters are a nod to the Mahoneys.  I assume.  You even get a little feel of Velma and Roxy: love and rivalry, career vs domestic.  Is it sad or universal that we sometimes still, after all these years,  feel this way with our lives and our sisters?

The Wedding Number

White Christmas actually makes many nods to The Broadway Melody of 1929.  There is a very “Mandy”-ish Wedding number.  We have a seasoned pro trying to help a sister act along.  I would assume that Irving Berlin had a soft spot for Georgie Cohan.  And Cohan this is.  Cohan’s work has an air of celebration be it for country or Broadway.  Truly his work embodied that early-mid 20th century (pre-crash, pre-war) optimism.  All you needed was some pep and pick up.  And yet, we see a grimier side of showbiz.  Queenie gets offered a limo, an apartment and jewels from Zanefeld himself.  If this were Bullets Over Broadway (a film that shares the setting of the roaring 20’s), some sassy maid would be telling her, as she does Jennifer Tilly’s Olive,  that “you better get in the mood, honey, because he’s paying the rent.”  But it’s George M. Cohan, and instead of getting down with the bigshot, Queenie gets married to a heartsick hoofer from Vaudeville and Hank moves in.  Which is a truer representation?  I wouldn’t move in with my ex-boyfriend who married my sister.  But that’s just me.  I think the true choice is Queenie’s diamonds or Olive’s black pearls.  I’m a little dark, myself.

Here is the opening number to the film. It’s almost like the ESPN office commercials.  I love the idea that somewhere there is an office where people are just jammin’ and dancin’ and makin’ musicals.  You could very nearly pick this number up and insert it right into Yankee Doodle Dandy.  James Cagney and Charles King do that high-steppin’, high elbows dance-travel thing oh so well.  It is also the way my Dad dances through the kitchen.

Also interesting to me is that Hank  (you gotta figure Mr. and Mrs. Mahoney either wanted a boy the first time around, or figured their first little girl wasn’t going to be the picture of beauty) is actually the scrawnier of the two sisters.  Queenie is considered the looker of the two, and Queenie is kinda big.  I mean, look, anyone with a cup size higher than A looks a little frumpy in the sleek lines of the 20’s, but still Queenie has some thighs.  What I note about this is that 1.  Anita Page wouldn’t have gotten the role in today’s sickly Hollywood., 2. I had always thought of the 20’s as a particularly lean time as far as body types went.  But Queenie is absolutely considered the more desirable of the two very differently sized women.  This, of course, doesn’t have a lot to do with the history of musicals, but the changing tastes and the ideals of beauty through the centuries fascinate me.  It is my nature to comment.

All in all, Broadway Melody shows that what we tend to think of as “modern” is hardly that at all.  Broadway has always and will always be commercial (which is why any truly aspiring theatre artists might want to wish to pound the pavement in this here city of Wind…); Sisters will always have complex, weird, and nurturing relationships; American movies strive to be positive; and even though their may not be any original ideas left (which I don’t quite believe), we can always improve upon the old ones.