Is it Live or is it Marilyn?: What a daunting challenge to recreate an icon on the level of Marilyn Monroe and come away not only unscathed, but glorious. Of the few actresses I can think of who could attempt such a feat, Michelle Williams would not have been among the first to come to mind. In My Week With Marilyn, she pulls off an amazing performance that goes way beyond surface physical transformation to encompass the troubled psychological depths of a tragic legend. If Monroe’s luminous sexuality had a bit of a hard-edged tinge, Williams’ take is more softly scintillating, adding emotional contours that go a long way in helping to understand the woman who was the most famous of her time. A wonderful moment has Williams as Monroe asking “Shall I be her?” as she approaches an impromptu crowd, and in a blink of an instant, switches the light on her other self, the Marilyn the public always expected, in all her splendor. Oscar, anyone? (A shout-out also to Kenneth Branagh, in a masterly portrayal of the great Laurence Olivier.)
Don’t let the title mislead you. Much of Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing, now released in paperback, is about remembering many things.
Director, producer, and screenwriter of such films as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie & Julia, Ephron has also long been known for her wit as an essayist, her pieces routinely appearing in publications like the New Yorker, New York Times, Vogue, and, in recent years, The Huffington Post. (Some may also remember an early Ephron novel, Heartburn, based on her marriage to philandering Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame; it was later made into a movie with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.)
I Remember Nothing follows her successful and similarly packaged compilation of previously published essays about middle-aged angst, I Feel Bad About My Neck (2006), which is probably the better of the two anthologies. Thematically scattered, the subjects in Nothing range from Ephron’s beginnings in journalism to observations regarding momentous issues such as “No, I Do Not Want Another Bottle of Pellegrino,” and “My Life as a Meat Loaf,” about a recipe’s short-lived incarnation at a tony New York restaurant.
But the mini first and last chapters, (“I Remember Nothing” and “The O Word”), that are the whole point of this collection, are enjoyable and on the mark. In the former, the 70-year-old, doesn’t-look-it Ephron shrewdly notes that the “Senior Moment” has become the “Google Moment.” So true. You forget something, you immediately finger the iPhone or Blackberry or whatever, and (snap!), there’s your answer. Cuts the time for berating yourself for forgetting.
“The O Word” (O is for “old”) is a contemplative summing-up (“My memory, which I can still make jokes about, will be so dim that I will have to pretend I know what’s going on”). In between, the best (though out of place) piece is “Pentimento,” about her friendship with the playwright Lillian Hellman; Ephron paints a vivid picture of the woman with one of the more memorable countenances in American literature.
The book ends with “What I Won’t Miss”/”What I Will Miss,” a series of one-liners (e.e. cummings-style) that are a bit of a throw-away, but nevertheless an appropriately breezy conclusion to a light and amusingly astute read.
[First published as Book Review: I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron, on Blogcritics.org.]
The story of a heretofore unknown photographer, much of which remains a mystery, will eventually be folklore, not only because her talent remained in the shadows until after her death at age 83 – but for the unlikely fashion in which her work came to see the light.
In a twist on one of those masterpiece-found-in-the-attic tales, a Chicago real-estate agent named John Maloof came across a box of negatives at an auction in 2007. Hoping they were historic photos of his Portage Park neighborhood, he paid $400 and stored the 30,000 negatives away for later review. When he took a look, what he saw, though not what he expected, was captivating – prompting him to hunt down what turned out to be another 70,000 pictures. When he posted some of the images on Flikr, his instinct regarding the greatness of the pieces was confirmed; hundreds of e-mails followed.
The creator of those photos, Vivian Maier, had died shortly before Maloof could contact her after his big find. (It wasn’t until 2009 that he discovered her name, scribbled on an envelope buried in one of the batches of film.) It turned out she had been a nanny for several affluent families in the Chicago area throughout the ’50s to the early ’90s, toting her Rolleiflex on assorted trips and outings, quietly capturing just some of the images now featured in the book Vivian Maier: Street Photographer — released this month and compiled by Maloof after the incredible acclaim that followed their widespread dissemination on the Internet, along with subsequent exhibitions in Norway, Denmark, and England.
In approaching Maier’s work, one is struck by the naturalistic similarities to the craft of the Depression-era photographer, Walker Evans: the second-in-time spontaneity, the cut-to-the-heart facial expressions, the prosaicness of the everyday street scene taken to a sublime level. Maier photographed people from all walks of life, young and old, black and white, rich and downtrodden. Like all great street photographers, she understood that moments matter. And the expansiveness of what would now be called her portfolio shows that her curiosity about what lay behind those moments never wavered.
Her pictures are not titled and can just be described by their subjects – faces, places, and instants that only an outstanding eye could grasp: the simple sidewalk scene of a group of women shot from the waist down, with a pair of rotund legs unexpectedly revealed by a sudden burst of wind; a quizzical glance by a bystander at a man inexplicably attired in a hat, jacket, and boxer shorts; an aging, wealthy doyenne in mink, her haughty look implying impatience with the camera.
There’s irony in the fact that Maier’s newfound reputation owes itself to the networking of the digital age. Described as a highly private woman, she never made a point of sharing her secret passion with anyone, and were it not for Maloof’s accidental discovery, and her photography subsequently going viral, the treasure trove would sadly have remained undetected – and unlauded. As it is, the Maier archives are a unique contribution to the annals of American photography.
[First published as Book Review: Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, Edited by John Maloof, on Blogcritics.org.]
There’s the old saying, attributed to General Douglas MacArthur, that “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” In the world of ballet, you can substitute “dancers” for “soldiers” and “pirouette” for “fade” and it’s just as true.
Last night’s Career Transition For Dancers annual gala, held in New York City, with a scheduled appearance by the former Russian étoile Natalia Makarova, brought home that very point. Having witnessed her at the summit of her career, in what many call a “Golden Era” of ballet in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I realized I hadn’t thought about Makarova in years. And then I recalled some of her colleagues then also at the peak of their fame, like the American ballerinas Cynthia Gregory and the once-wunderkind Gelsey Kirkland, and wondered…what happened to them?
Of performing artists, ballet dancers have the most limited time in the spotlight. Unlike opera singers, for example, who are allowed to grow older (and heavier) but whose voices continue to thrive, dancers face the toughest of careers, longevity compromised by the reality of finite physical endurance. Compounding the irony is the fact that artistic maturity finally catches up when the legs don’t have as much left to give.
A poignant reminder of the fickleness of this most beautiful yet treacherous of avocations is the sad end of the legendary Margot Fonteyn, who died (in dire financial straits) at a hospital in Panama in 1991. Laid to rest in a pauper’s grave, it was a tragically unfit closing act for the great — some consider greatest — ballerina of the 20th Century; one would think she could have been accorded a less ignominious goodbye as a Dame of the British Empire. (Sic transit toe shoes, so to speak.) Her equally illustrious partner, Rudolf Nureyev, fared better, stylishly buried at a Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris, in a tomb draped in a mosaic of oriental carpet.
There are some exceptions to the fade-away rule: Mikhail Baryshnikov, of course, who went on to other endeavors after ballet superstardom, via work with modern-dance troupes and the eventual creation of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, as well as appearances in movies and on television. In Miami, New York City Ballet alumnus Edward Villella forged a world-class ballet company which magnificently carries on the traditions of his mentor, choreographer George Balanchine.
But exceptions they are. Fortunately, an organization like Career Transition, founded in 1985, recognizes the special needs of those less famous, and helps to assist in that difficult grand jeté to a post-performance life.