Monday, April 30, 2012

Feasts and Festivals: Beltane/May Day

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,/
It's just a spring clean for the May queen.
-Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven"

Beltane was one of the pre-Christian Quartering Days along with Lughnasadh, Samhain and Imbolc. Unlike the other three celebrations, Beltane wasn't turned into a Christian festival.* However, the beginning of May remained a festival day, shedding its pagan past but retaining the more secular celebration of the end of cold, dreary weather and the coming of summer. I might not have a maypole to dance around, but I'm (flower) crowning myself an unofficial May Queen and having a nice scone to top it off.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Third Annual George Sanders Film Festival

left / top right / bottom right

In case you didn't already know, a new film version of  Guy de Maupassant's Bel-Ami comes out in June. I took this to mean that I should include The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947) in this year's film festival. Despite the fact that George Sanders is kind of old to play Georges Duroy ("Bel Ami") and that the ending had to be changed to oblige the censors, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami feels true to the spirit of the original novel. Who on earth, I ask, could possibly play a cad as well as George Sanders? Ann Dvorak (below) is fantastic as Madeleine, Duroy's whip-smart wife and Angela Lansbury (above) is luminous as a slightly-more-innocent-than-in-the-book Clotilde.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Life This Week: April 24, 1939

Dark Victory, starring Bette Davis and George Brent, is the "Movie of the Week." Naturally, Life gives away the ending (you might need a hanky for this one, folks). Thankfully, Dark Victory is an excellent example of melodrama. It seems that they're so easy to do badly!

What is particularly interesting in the Life article, though, is the breakdown of Dark Victory's budget. The entire production cost $800,000. The cost of all the film used was $15,000! Davis and Brent had to split $85,000, which comes out to about $1.3 million in 2010 dollars. I guess they were used to sharing the big bucks--Dark Victory was Bette Davis and George Brent's eighth film together.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Feasts and Festivals: St. George's Day

Here in America, we think of macaroni and cheese (notice the "and") is a very American dish. Like most baked pasta dishes it probably began in Italy--an ancestor recipe appeared as early as the 13th century.1 (But pasta originally came from China! See the problem with tracing a recipe's roots?) By the 14th century, the first (that we know of) macaroni cheese recipe showed up in England in The Forme of Cury.2 So, some form or other of macaroni cheese has been around in England for seven centuries. I feel that makes the dish sufficiently British for St. George's Day! (Also, photographing it with the Queen and Prince Philip can't hurt.)

Leeks make a nice addition and help make macaroni cheese a little more of a spring dish. Use any short pasta you like--I actually used penne, because that's what was available in the bulk section.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Life This Week: April 17, 1939

Really, how could you resist? Dodge City is one of those movies that's so charming and likeable that I forget how ridiculous it really is. It may not be the best film of 1939, but it's certainly one of the most fun.

While delivering cattle and a wagon train of settlers to Dodge City, improbably handsome cowboy Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn) stands up to saloon-owner and all-around baddie Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot). The impressed townspeople want Hatton for sheriff. So, Wade and his buddies (Alan Hale and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams) stick around to clean up the town. Keep in mind that this is the film that helps establish all those Western-genre clichés.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dinner and a Movie: The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is particularly appropriate this week, because there's an article about the hound himself in the April 10, 1939 issue of Life magazine (more about the issue at Tuesday's post). To quote Life, "'Chief' [the dog] helps and excellent cast headed by Basil Rathbone to make Conan Doyle's great detective story moderately good movie fare." All of a sudden, Life has high standards? The Hound of the Baskervilles is much more entertaining than Alexander Nevsky and I simply adore Basil Rathbone. He and Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch are my favorite Sherlocks. (I can't wait for the next season of Sherlock to air--only one more month!)

Since cauliflowers are in season for another week or so, this is a perfect way to serve them in early spring, when the afternoons are warm and sunny but the evenings still have a bit of a nip to them. The cauliflower and the cheddar are hearty and warming while the crème fraîche adds tang and the scallions bring a bright, green, springtime taste. If you've only had cauliflower on a crudité platter, I urge you to try this recipe. I loathe raw cauliflower, but Crème fraîche Cauliflower Cheese is heaven.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life This Week: April 10, 1939

Netflix didn't have Ettore Fieramosca, fascist Italy's anti-French propaganda film, so I had settle for just watching Alexander Nevsky, the other armored flick in "The Italians and Russians Do Films of Armored Knights: Both Use History to Warn Their Enemies." Alexander Nevksy is a famous bit of Russian nationalist, anti-German propaganda. It's the story of a 13th-century Russian prince, famous for his defeat of a Swedish invasion, who must rout another invasion attempt, this time by Teutonic knights. Timely and conveniently anti-German and anti-religion (the Germans and the priests throwing babies into a bonfire was actually kind of funny), this film softened Joseph Stalin to director Sergei Eisenstein.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dinner and a Miniseries: Pride and Prejudice

Chicken and Parsley Pie is the perfect accompaniment to the five-hour extravaganza that is Pride and Prejudice. Both are scrumptious and oh-so-English. I can't believe it's taken me this long to blog about what is one of my absolute favorite movies ever, even though it's really a miniseries. In fact, I think it's better than the book. (Sorry, Jane!) I first discovered Pride and Prejudice a couple of years after it aired. I was in middle school, I didn't have many friends anyway, so seclusion and five hours of Britishness seemed like a good plan for the weekend. I've watched it at least once a year since then and I've owned it on VHS (six of them!) and DVD (only two). That means I've seen Pride and Prejudice at least a dozen times and it never gets old.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Life This Week: April 3, 1939

Can you believe it's April already? Doesn't seem possible! I keep thinking that it can't be spring since we never had our blizzards. Among the weeds in my kitchen garden, I found a couple sprigs of parsley. It never got cold enough to kill them off! As unpleasant as winter can be, it seems wrong to skip it entirely.

Anyway, it's Life This Week time. This week's issue has several interesting items: