Liz Smith: Britain’s Heat Wave — The Royal Wedding

And more from our Liz: Carla Bruni regrets? … Hugh Jackman, the two dollar man? … and the last of the new “Mildred Pierce” — whew!

“WOMEN are works of art – men are engineering blocks,” said Lord George Weidenfeld.

Publishing’s Lord W. has considered numbers of women as works of art, including Arianna Huffington and Barbara Walters.

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NOW ABOUT those royals! Here’s the good news for all my friends in the media who are traveling to London to cover the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Britain celebrated the hottest day of the year so far yesterday. It topped 77 degrees and was predicted to be going even hotter. It was warmer in London than in Sydney, Australia or Los Angeles, USA. But I’d still take an umbrella and a raincoat.

Great Britain, however, was busting out all over. The early buds of May could be seen as lavender and violet bloomed and the wisteria soared into being.

The Brits have succumbed to royalty fever, with more than 90% of them deciding they now want a national anthem to compete with those of the Scots and the Welsh. Forty percent of those polled selected “Land of Hope and Glory” and 32% opted for “I Vow to Thee My Country.”

British retailers were happy for a change, looking forward to an almost $300 million dollars in sales to boost the economy.

The bride-to-be, Kate Middleton, has unveiled her coat of arms, with three acorns representing herself and her siblings. Kate’s arms will be combined with William’s after the wedding (his has the usual lion and unicorn, crowns and all that jazz).

And yesterday, William’s father, Charles, the Prince of Wales, set the record for being the longest heir apparent in British history. He has been the heir to the throne since 1952, when his mother became Elizabeth II. And he was so named formally when he was three years old. He is now age 62.

Oh, and incidentally: the wedding cake for William and Kate features a flower motif. It is being hidden under extreme wraps at a warehouse near Leicester and its creator Fiona Cairns calls it “a very romantic cake.” I suppose this means it nestles and coos and makes music.

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Here’s a cute one about our pal, the actor Hugh Jackman. He represents the “Live Below the Line” campaign, which tackles poverty by asking folks to try to live on about $2.00 a day for five days.

Asked if he intended to take part, Hugh demurred, saying, “Nope, I’m working onstage and I don’t want to faint.”

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WILL SHE or won’t she? As we went to press, no one knew whether the first lady of France, Carla Bruni, will appear at the May 11th Cannes Film Festival’s opening, to attend the bow of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” (She has a brief cameo in the romantic comedy.)

Carla and her husband Nicolas Sarkozy are sensitive about representing “too much bling” — and she just might say no to appearing for the film starring Owen Wilson and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard. Carla doesn’t want to damage her husband’s chances for re-election as President of the French Republic.

But the Cannes Film Festival will still show a biopic showing the rise of M. Sarkozy. It is “La Conquete” (“The Conquest”) and shows Sarkozy worrying about being short, using colorful language and discussing the breakup of his marriage to his second wife Cecilia. It is said that this little biopic could turn him into a laughing stock. I wonder how one says “laughing stock” in French?

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And now, back to the good old U.S. of A – Texas, to be exact. At the “Escape Family Resource Center’s” big gala in Houston this very week, the celebrity host, one Jerry Jones (he owns the Dallas Cowboys) was there autographing a football for the auction.

He announced that whoever bought it, he’d donate more to honor his pal and chairwoman, Joan Schnitzer Levy. (Joan is a twin treat; she spends winters visiting Palm Beach.)

Singer Steve Tyrell, who is a regular at New York’s Café Carlyle and also performs at Palm Beach’s Colony Hotel, bought the football, paying $22,000 for it. He had promised to give Joan Schnitzer ten times the football amount and promptly sat down and wrote a check for  $222,000 to Joan’s charity.

And, in New York City, the movie guy Harvey Weinstein will pour at cocktails for veteran Hollywood show biz producer-writer-editor Peter Bart. I have already raved here about Mr. Bart’s historical and super work titled ”Infamous  Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex.)”  The party happens Monday, April 25 at Desmonds on 60th Street.

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I love all my friends at HBO, and I admire most of what HBO produces. So I hope I will be forgiven this.

Several weeks ago I wrote about attending the premiere of HBO’s much-touted mini-series “Mildred Pierce.” They showed two of the five hours. I thought it looked fabulous, with director Todd Haynes’s usual expertise in terms of period mood, décor and costuming. Kate Winslet as Mildred was excellent, I thought, if a bit stolid — but Mildred was a serious, ambitious woman. However, I wondered if “Mildred Pierce” was going to hold up for another three hours. After all, the famous 1944 movie starring Joan Crawford jammed in a good deal of the James M. Cain novel, and threw in some very hot stuff not in the book. The mini seemed rather maxi when it came to moving the story along. The longueurs were … long!

Well, I finally saw the last three episodes of “Mildred Pierce” and all I can say is — three cheers for Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth (who played the vicious daughter Veda) and director Michael Curtiz, who guided their film to screen history and nabbed an Oscar for Joan.

The new version was close to excruciating as it wound down. Talk about a literal translation! And Miss Winslet appeared to be under anesthesia. Crawford was restrained as Mildred, but what she could do with her eyes and the slightest inflection of her voice. Kate — a brilliant actress, usually — appeared here to have no color, no fire. She was just an impossibly dreary masochist, sacrificing everything for her ungrateful serpent’s tooth of a child — and speaking in a flat, maddening monotone.

As for Evan Rachel Wood, who played Veda — sorry, kid, for low-down meanness, but Ann Blyth was the champ. But enough. That’s just my opinion.

24 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Karen Ferguson says:

    “Laughingstock” is translated as “la rise,” ie, you make someone the object of derision, or the “risée” of everyone. I haven’t seen reviews of this film, just bloggers nattering in advance because, actually, they suspect the film makes him not so much ridiculous but instead too much of a celebrity. But I had to laugh when one unhappy voter suggested that the title “La Conquete” should be changed to “”La quête (du) Con.” If anyone remembers that great play “Le Dîner de Cons,” you’ll get the gist.

  2. avatar Karen Ferguson says:

    Ooph. Automatic spell check is irritating. Sarkozy fears the movie will make him “la risée” of the French public.

  3. avatar joanne in jax says:

    I was so excited at the prospect of HBO making a mini-series of one of my all time favorite films, “Mildred Pierce”, particularly after reading your review of the premiere, Liz. I love Ms. Winslet’s talent and this seemed like a sure fire hit. How wrong I was. About half way through the third episode, I found myself screaming at the television to ‘hurry up!’ – it was so slow and tedious, and Ms. Winslet was not a sympathetic character. She seemed to be sleep walking throughout the series. Granted, it was a much different plot line than the Crawford version – which never referenced the first husband, nor did she have a second daughter. Watching the last two episodes, I actually fast-forwarded during Ms. Wood’s over-wrought singing scenes, I just wanted the mess to be over. Such a waste of my time!

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Joanne…actually in the Crawford verison she did have another daughter—the youngster who died.   And Bert, the first husband is very much on hand. What they did with Veda and Monte in the film was far more entertaining than the miniseries version.  Even though it was faithful to the book. (A book I surely will avoid ever dipping into now!)

  4. avatar Bonnie O says:

    I, too, was entralled by Kate Winslet’s performance in Mildren Pierce … for the first two episodes.  The series and she were wonderful!   What happened during the last three episodes … I do not know.  Yes, Kate’s performance was dull.  But the character of Mildred Pierce became dull.  I am at a disadvantage inasmuch as I have not read the novel and I am wondering if the HBO series was a more faithful version of the novel then was Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce.   Whatever….  the mini-series ends with a whopping big sigh of relief when the credits finally appear on the screen.  It is over.

  5. avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:

    Jonathan Freeland wrote a piece in the NYRB called the Windsor Knot which included this tidbit which I found interesting:

    “Pupils in UK schools now study the Third Reich more intensely than they learn about the Tudors. History before 1939, with all its imperial complications, is glimpsed only vaguely. Britain, alone, Churchill, 1940, the Blitz––this is the tale of unalloyed heroism that the country likes to tell and retell itself. And as long as Elizabeth sits on the throne, Britons remain tied to those events directly.
    This is the bedrock on which the current monarchy stands. While the Queen lives, no republican will be able to shake it. After she is gone, she will leave a gap that her son, her grandson, and his new wife––no matter how charming––will have to struggle to fill.”

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      One of the oddities about the loyalty to the House of Windsor is the “blind eye” to the fact that the House of Windsor became the House of Windsor to “divert attention” from the fact that with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the house had become a German house. And still is.  In reality the attitiude of King George probably wasn’t too different from the attitude of Prince Edward. Until the bombs started flying in.  Princess Margaret of course from time to time let a little “prejudice” show through.  One of the “fuzzy edges” of the saga. 

      As for Churchill had he made the decision, there would have been no abdication. And who knows how history would have been written as a result.

      Still there is the tradition and the sense of “continuity” the royal family provides to the British people. The House of Commons has done everything possible to destroy the monarchy as well as the peerage. In the end, the people will always speak when politics forgets the people as it has the past 20 years. God save the queen. Or king. 

      The one thing the House of Commons, and now the common House of Lords, cannot change is the British Constitution. If they go too far, well, Parliament will be “dismissed” and new elections held. Sort of a “safguard” for the monarch. And the monarchy.  

  6. avatar Bonnie O says:

    Liz –  Do you know if any of Diana’s family are invited to the wedding?  Charles Spencer who was once dubbed Champaign Charlie by the media  (Unfair, IMO) and who is now the current Earl or any of the sisters.  Have William and Harry remained in contact with the Spencers inspite of the fact that there is an estrangement between the Prince of Wales and his former in-laws?

  7. avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:

    Oh, one more thing. Within hours after Kate and William announced their engagement, copies of both Middleton’s ring and the sapphire-blue dress she had worn as she posed for the cameras had sold out––the dress in its original £ 385 and later £ 16 budget version, the ring courtesy of the QVC shopping channel. To conquer both ends of the market so rapidly suggests a commercial clout Kate Moss would envy.

  8. avatar Paul Smith says:

    The MP remake was a real stinker.  Closeups of Ms. Winslet made me yearn for the power of the Crawford face. 

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Paul…a face never more powerful than in “Humoresque.”

      • avatar rick gould says:

        I always thought Mildred Pierce, Humoresque and Possessed were Crawford’s zenith as a star/actress. And Daisy Kenyon, from that period, I have not seen, but now has a reputation as being highly underrated.

        When promoting the new Mildred, everyone involved was blathering on how this was the faithful, true version to the book. Well, I guess that’s why film versions are “adaptations.” And sometimes for the better!

  9. avatar Paul Smith says:

    The remake of MP was a stinker.  Can’t compete with the fierce Crawford’s closeups.  And the snappy screenplay.  Even Rachel Wood’s full frontal was a yawn.

  10. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    Prince William will probably spend a significant amount of time on the thrown. Much more time that Prince Phillip, who very well may be in his 70’s when coronated as King. Queen Elizabeth shows no sign of letting go of her grip so most of the royal duties will fall on the shoulders of Prince William, who appears to be much more socially active than his low keyed father. I suspect that Prince Charles is fine where he stands now. Queen Elizabeth could remain Queen forever, in his eyes. Prince William is out there, helping in non-profits and Kate, coming from a humble background has many interests, especially in fashion. Many more interests than 19 year old Princess Diana, who grew into her role from ‘just a kid’. I was working the graveyard shift when Charles and Diana married, at 3am (our time). I won’t be going out of my way watching this wedding.
    “Live Below The Poverty Line” as Hugh Jackman (who won’t) laments by existing on two dollars a day for a week to ‘feel’ poverty. Didn’t “I Love Lucy” have an episode when the men bet the women that they couldn’t live without modern conveniences, before 1900, for a week? That was funny. This isn’t. Jackman’s campaign is a bit faulty. Those participating are living on two dollars a day for only five days; where as those who really live on two dollars a day see no end in sight. It all boils down to perspective, hopelessness and adaptation. It just isn’t a true representation of the issue. But, on paper…in between his thousands of dollars a night stage performances…it looks good. Ha!
    I knew from its very inception that “Mildred Pierce” was going to be a big bore as a mini-series. There really is no suspense to it until, perhaps the last ten minutes of the film. Following the book or not, the material is not the least bit compelling. The pace of the film hit the mark in 1945. It belongs to 1945 and taking it out of that place in time (while keeping the mini-series in the same era) never works very well because the style of acting was much different then, as it is today. I can see anyone under 40 changing channels very quickly. Joan Crawford was playing Joan Crawford and Kate Winslet is definitely not. (But, by the way, I saw both Joan Crawford films ‘Straight Jacket’ and ‘Berserk” over the week-end and my eyes never strayed from her over the top performances)

  11. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Dear Richard…Kate didn’t have to play Joan Crawford.  She just had to play it like she was among the living. 

    As for Joan, “Mildred P” is a remarkably pulled-back performance.  That she allows Ann Blyth to go for broke in scene after scene is a testament to Crawford’s artistry, generosity and belief in the material.   I am especially fond of her reactions when she goes to see Veda singing in a seedy dump.  “Are you happy here?” she says to Veda, who has the dead eyes of a doll.

    “Straight Jacket” and “Berserk” are colorful  and even compelling, but by then she was in some other world–the JC who had begun to emerge with  “Flamingo Road,”  “The Damned Don’t Cry,” “This Woman Is Dangerous,” “Harriet Craig” “Queen Bee and “Female on the Beach.”    By the time she got to “Torch Song” and Johnny Guitar” (in Technicolor, no less) the harsh transformation was complete.   You couldn’t look away, but you weren’t too sure it was proper to look.

    But, boy oh, boy–Joan was the original queen of re-invention, long before that word was hung around Madonna’s neck.

    • avatar Richard Bassett says:

      Mr WoW,

      The reason Joan’s performance was pulled back was due to the guilt that she felt as she believed that she put her work before her daughter. Every scene between Mildred and Veda involves material items and the behavior as a spoiled brat, who really wants her mother’s love. Joan is much more powerful than the whiney Veda on screen. When Veda goes after Mildred’s man, we know that she’s gone too far…and from then on it is about hurting Joan more than Veda’s love starved rebellion. But Joan cracks at the end, using guilt to declare that she was the actual murderer. It really is a mother/ daughter love story more than a woman coming from nothing and climbing up the ladder. At least it is shown in 2 hours.
      I’ve seen most of those transformation films of JC and I see another transition from the 1950’s to the 1960’s, when her films went from love stories in the 1930’s, the strong brazen women of the 1950’s, to the bizarre roles of the 1960’s. They tried to interject a love story in “Berserk” between Joan and a much younger man (when she lets her red hair down) but there was nothing romantic about Joan then, so the story line never evolves. She had already become steel, in the same way Lucille Ball did on television in the 1970’s. I haven’t got around to seeing JC in 1972’s “Trog” though I vaguely remember seeing it in 1972. That was the end.

  12. avatar rick gould says:

    Two of my favorite moments from Strait Jacket:
    When 60 year old Joan Crawford, excuse me, 29 year old Lucy Harbinger, gets off the train in the prologue, with the camera leering up her, beginning with her famed “f*ck me” shoes to her smirking over-lipsticked face and jet black pompadour.

    The second is while flirting outrageously with her future son-in-law, JC’s lighter doesn’t work, so she strikes a match for her cig on the record-player, with a “ziiiiiiip!” sound effect worthy of The Carol Burnett Show!

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Rick…ah, but remember–in the second scene she’s being driven mad and “not herself.”
      (I guess we can say she was also being driven mad in “Berserk” in her lady-ringmaster tights?)

      I like when she confronts the parents:  “Yes!  It was an insane asylum.  And it was hell.  It was twenty years of pure hell!!  But…I’m better now.” 

      By the way–didn’t Christina Crawford get a lot of her material from these final Crawford films?  Just saying…

      • avatar Richard Bassett says:

        My favorite “Straight Jacket” scenes were Joan’s expression in the beginning of the movie when her daughter is showing her the farm and talking about slaughtering the chickens and butchering the pigs. Each time she said “slaughter” and “butcher”, Joan cringed. I loved it. Berserk was really about freaks in a side show. It was all she had left that he hadn’t worked with! Oh, and she had a Christina look-a-like daughter who was thrown out of boarding school. And, of course, she was the murderer.

      • avatar rick gould says:

        Or the movies’ got their material from off-screen Joan? Hard to say! Mother-daughter strife was the stuff of many latter day Joan flicks 😉

        Speaking of strange “mother-daughter” flicks, I watched “Secret Ceremony” and thought of you Mr. W… Despite the wackiness, I actually found a number of moments with Elizabeth Taylor quite touching… very underrated film.

        • avatar Mr. Wow says:

          “You don’t look at all like my late wife.  She was rather delicate, expect for her famous mamalia.  You look more like a cow.  Moooooo!”  Robert Mitchum to Liz in “Secret Ceremony” which indeed has some  effecting moments between Mia and Liz.  Our girl certainly did not  care about box office appeal.  The crazier the better in those years.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Mia apparently didn’t care about the box office appeal either. Still, an interesting film. Night Watch was interesting as well. The ending in particular.  Instead of being quite mad the character in fact was simply quite cunning. And didn’t like being cheated on.  I loved the ending. When she calls the police again about the dead bodies across the courtyard. Knowing the police think she’s crazy. Knowing she just committed the perfect murder. Compared to films today, some of the “bizarro” films of yesterday at least held us spellbound. Some of hers certainly did.

            Joan Crawford the exception.  And of course most of the “costars” of her “bizarro” films really didn’t like her. And so in a way were miscast. But then I suppose no one at that point really liked her.  I watched Johnny Guitar last year on TCM. One film AFI should accidentally forget to preserve. I was actually cheering on Mercedes McCambridge at the end. “Shoot the bitch. NOW.” 

            In the recesses of the foggy brain I remember Bette Davis being asked how she could push a pot over on poor Olivia de Havilland in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.  “I just imagined it was Joan Crawford .”  No doubt explains the expression on her face in the film when she pushes the pot over on Olivia de Havilland.

  13. avatar Lila says:

    The fallacy of challenging people to try to live on $2.00 per day is that in many parts of the world, $2.00 goes quite a long way, whereas in the US, it won’t even buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. And while in the third world, you might be able to just buy raw milk from a cattleman, or bread from some makeshift roadside bakery, that sort of thing is regulated out of existence here for “health reasons.”

    It’s apples and oranges.