Sunday, April 23, 2017

THE TAO OF HITCH

Here's some sage advice from the great Alfred Hitchcock, which crossed my desk last week:

"You use one idea after another and eliminate anything that interferes with the swift pace."

Hitch was talking about constructing a movie, but his words are also very useful for writing the first draft of a novel — as I am now.

And a writer slogging away in isolation seizes on any good advice she can get!

With Beast (finally!) loping off to the copyeditors, I'm ready to dive back into my next book. I submitted a proposal to my editor, and last Monday, I got greenlighted to go for it.

So now it's back to the keyboard for me!

Oh, and the reason I found myself consulting the Tao of Hitch? Santa Cruz Shakespeare is launching its 2017 season this summer with a new stage adaptation of The 39 Steps — described as "a madcap adaptation of Hitchcock's 1935 thriller."

I was invited to participate in a panel discussion of the story — stage and film versions — that SCS will present in conjunction with their production. (Venue and details tba.)

Scurrying to my dog-eared copy of that classic movie resource book, Hitchcock/Truffaut, to read up on the film, I found that priceless quote above on how Hitch kept the action moving!

Meanwhile, over at the Republic of Goodreads, they're doing a promotion on the "Joys of Re-reading." Big thanks to all intrepid Goodreaders who have been listing Alias Hook as a book they are reading for the second (or even third) time!

You readers rock!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

THE FRENCH CONNECTION


Frantz is a haunting tone-poem on love, loss, absolution

Sadly, the First World War did not live up to its advertising as "the war to end all wars." Its consequences were devastating and prolonged, particularly within the European community where a generation of young men were lost, either dead or damaged, fighting their neighbors in the trenches.

French filmmaker Francois Ozon revisits that era in all its complexity in Frantz, a moody, mysterious, and utterly engrossing tone-poem on love, loss, and absolution.

The story is adapted from a 1932 stage play by Maurice Rostand, which Ernst Lubitsch made into the film, Broken Lullaby, the same year.

At that time, no one knew the world was on the brink of yet another Great War, which only proves how stubbornly the human species refuses to learn from its mistakes — a situation Ozon finds as disturbingly timely as ever today.

Protagonist Anna (poised, wistful Paula Beers) is a young German woman in a small town, whose fiancé, Frantz, was killed in the war.

It's 1919, and Anna has moved in with Frantz's parents, doctor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stotzner), and homemaker Magda (Marie Gruber), to share their grief.

On one of Anna's daily visits to the cemetery, she finds a stranger, soft-spoken young Frenchman Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) leaving flowers on Frantz's grave.

Adrien tells them all he knew Frantz in Paris, where their Francophile son lived for a time before the war. Most of the townsfolk, Hans included, are suspicious of a Frenchman in their midst, but Magda warms up to Adrien; she calls him "shy and stormy" — like Frantz.

They are charmed that Adrien plays the violin, like their son. Anna too befriends Adrien, showing him around to places that held special meaning for Frantz, in exchange for Adrien's precious memories of her lost love.

The rest of the plot is best left to be discovered; the movie keeps changing direction, but never quite ends up where you might think it's going.

Ozon shoots in expressionistic black-and-white, evoking both the between-the-wars period, and the element of mystery at the heart of his story.

(Special kudos are due to costume designer Pascaline Chavanne, especially for Anna's simple, elegant period gowns.)

Both visually and in storytelling terms, Frantz is an immersive experience, drawing us into the characters and their world. Ozon's images are as haunting and steeped in emotion as the story deserves.

The compelling Niney has the expressive look and demeanor of a silent movie actor, with his dark-rimmed eyes and pencil moustache. He doesn't exaggerate, but you can read everything he's feeling on his face.

His Adrien desperately wants to do the right thing — by Frantz and his family, and by Anna — if only he could figure out how.

This is a beautifully crafted movie, full of substance and feeling. Don't miss it!

VIVA LA BETE

The countdown continues toward the pub date of my next book. (Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, for those of you who came in late. Due March 6, 2018, in a bookstore near you!)

Yes, it's a long time away. But to help pass the time, take a look at my Beast of the Month for April!

Behold this luscious image from Jean Cocteau's dreamy 1946 classic, La Belle et la Bete.

Sure, Disney's new Beauty and the Beast movie is getting all the buzz (a live-action remake of the studio's own 1991 cartoon feature). But Cocteau's sumptuous fairy tale, shot in glorious black-and-white, gets my vote as the Best.Version. Ever.

That's French heartthrob Jean Marais behind the fur, with Josette Day as the rightly smitten Beauty.

Marais was a handsome guy, but look at this soulful Beast!

It's said that when Greta Garbo saw the film, she cried out at the end, "Give me back my Beast!"

Who could blame her?