John Waterhouse or The Many Faces of A Woman in Love

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The Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood and John Waterhouse have always been favorites of mine. Is it the intense colors and the natural world expressed with a wild, exotic realism? Is it because the characters from classical stories manifest from script into the definitive definition of Western Civilization’s concept of beauty? Is it the erotic undertones steaming out of the eyes of the femme fatale within a Victorian prim and proper world? The esthete in me is drawn to the stories in the faces. I pretend I am she and wonder about the possibilities.  The contrast of languorous positions and unblemished bodies with repressed emotions sizzle in those bewitching eyes.

The mermaid positioned before a natural doorway sits on a rock. Who is she looking at? It is he!

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A Mermaid, 1900

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda challenges her father, Prospero, to save the sailors. The chaste, innocent daughter looks for her mate.

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Miranda–The Tempest, 1916

“Had I been any god of power, I would/Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere/It should the good ship so have swallow’d and/The fraughting souls within her.” Act I, Scene II. 10-13

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Ulysses and the Sirens, 1891

Odysseus (Ulysses) orders his men to stuff their ears with wax and tie him to a mast so he can’t escape, but he can still hear the intoxicating sirens singing. They are beautiful women-birds, and men are their prey. Here is the irrepressible seduction of the female portrayed throughout time. The manipulating emasculator. Beware!

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Boreas, 1903

She is the daughter to the Greek god of the North Wind. The insecure, tumultuous side of love. Does he love me or not?

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The Lady of Shallot, 1888

“Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.”

The famous heroine in A. L. Tennyson’s poem is about a woman looking for her Lancelot. Considering the candles and the tapestries, she prepares for a long wait. Her knight will appear. Just around the next bend. Hope!  Nope. Cursed, she dies. Love is tragedy, too.

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The Annunciation, 1914

Here’s Mary, who received the news from the angel Gabriel. Me? OMG! Motherly love. Unconditional.

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The Crystal Ball, 1902

Is this real? Or am I dreaming? How do I know?

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La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1893

In John Keats’s poem, the elf entraps her knight and corrals him with her other conquests.

The hopeless romantic in me sees in these faces the expressions of love. The founder of the Pre-Raphelites Brotherhood was Danti Gabriel Rossetti and he dabbled from poetry to painting all his life.  His sister was a fine poet and her poem below entitled, “The Birthday” captures romantic love. These are the words I imagine in Waterhouse faces. Joy, bewilderment, and despair. Waterhouse captures love on canvas better than anyone.

Christina Rossetti,  1830-1894
“The Birthday”
My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.
Mon Tresor, Je T’aime!

To Everything, There is a Season

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Future pianist??

“The attempt at creating positive memories for the duration of your child’s life.”  That pretty much sums up the definition of a parent. Today I am reminded, in the simplest terms, life is simply about endings and beginnings and the transitions therein. Saying goodbye to dear faces or welcoming new faces brings different tears. These milestones aren’t original, but when they happen to you, they are life altering. While dealing with an end or a beginning, the world stops rotating and time is suspended. Both extremes cause one to give thanks. Thanks for knowing you. Thanks for the opportunity to get to know you. Ah, the heart surely sags under the weight of it all. Despair and Jubilation. These feelings are exhausting. They are the extreme feelings a human being encounters. And when not saying goodbye or hello? The transitions of life are bearable because of the compassion from friends and family. We all need to hold hands and have our hands held.

That’s it. That’s life. Everyone has one, and everyone experiences the same emotions. Not at all original except when it happens to you.

Welcome, today, my granddaughter, Amelia! Can’t wait to make memories with you!

What Makes a Great Actor? Ladies First

There are two kinds of actors out there. A great one transforms into a new identity and the other plays one character great. In both categories,  audiences clap, colleagues praise, statues gather dust, and some are knighted as national treasures. I love both types, and both types draw admiration from me for different reasons.

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The British put out the best actresses. Dame Judi Dench is one. Judi is an actor who plays one type of role better than anyone else on the planet, the royal snob. Maggie Smith is a close second and funnier. Not only does Judi Dench specialize in playing queens and the matriarch of whatever, she has bitchiness down to an art form. Her scowl is legendary. Still, did you notice a soft side in her role as “M” in Skyfall? Did you notice her eyes worry and her mouth twitch when affronted? If you look hard enough, her expressions reveal a vulnerable, human side. That hardness is a mask. She’s doing her job efficiently, and so you don’t mind the supercilious side because haven’t we all felt at times like we’re surrounded by fools?

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Shakespeare in Love (1998). Scowl? Check. Ubiquitous eyes? Check. Powerful and manipulative? Check.

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This is one of my favorite British films, Her Majesty Mrs. Brown (1997). Billy Connolly is charming and virile as the Scottish servant who dares to confront and befriend the grieving Queen Victoria. If you like the Downton Abbey series, you would appreciate the upstairs/downstairs element in the plot. Here’s other films where she plays the same haughty role: Pride and Prejudice (2005), Importance of Being Ernest (2002), Notes on a Scandal (2006), and she is my favorite Lady Macbeth from 1979….

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“Out damn spot! out, I say!” (V.i)

There are only three movies I’ve seen Judi Dench play a role where she was soft and sweet. The first was an exquisite film called Ladies in Lavender (2005) with Maggie Smith. Set in WWII, two sisters on the Cornish coast rescue a handsome, young Polish violinist. It was a tender, beautiful film. Second, the recent The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012).  A relevant film for baby-boomers everywhere. With an outstanding cast and unusual plot, it was a satisfying movie experience. See it even if you aren’t a baby-boomer, for it’s an universal love story involving multiple generations.

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The third time I’ve seen Judi soft and whimsical was in the most un-typical film I ever thought I’d see Judi Dench in. Did you see her as the spirit in The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)?

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What a surprise! Good for her.

So Judi Dench for me is that actress who only has to do one thing great, and that’s her legacy. What about the other kind, the great actor? When I think of transforming performances, of actresses who can become different people–the more different the better, well, there are only a few who can do that . . . .

1. Meryl Streep. You knew that was coming, yes?

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Best acting performance EVER. Sophie’s Choice (1982).

2. Kate Winslet.

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Not because of Titanic, but because of The Reader (2008), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Revolutionary Road (2008).

3. Hillary Swank.

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MDB is a perfect film. It’s because of Hillary Swank. She is fearlessly transforming. Didn’t you believe she was a man in Boys Don’t Cry (1999)?

4. The last great actress living is Natalie Portman. From The Closer (2004) to V is for Vandetta (2005) to The Black Swan (2010), she is phenomenal. It is for Star Wars where she gained my respect!

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She’s the only one in a cast of reputable actors who actually acted. Who can act in front of green screen? She did. Her joys, cries, and pain were believable. The men standing next to her were cardboard props or melodramatically unconvincing. (I blame Lucas.)

There are many, many actresses out there not on this brief list (sorry Cate Blanchett and Jody Foster) who have my respect, but if I had to pick only four great actresses, this is my list.

What do you think?