February: Women in Horror Month!

 

This February, 2019, kicks off the tenth annual Women in Horror Month, a celebration of all things feminine and horrific. The two go together perfectly ūüôā

Women in Horror Month is the brainchild of one Hannah Neurotica, creator of the Ax Wound website,  and winner of a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award. According to the website:

“Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre.”¬†

Horror is traditionally male dominated — as it is thought men are naturally more “violent” than women. But au contraire!¬† A closer look reveals that women are the true mothers of invention when it comes to the sinister, the supernatural, the occult and the ominous.

Women are vessels of the blood, keepers of intuition, soldiers of psychic activity and warriors of witchery.  We are the breeders, the birthers, the shadow dwellers and the invisible observers.  Nothing gets past our perceptive eyes and so, in creating horror, women are the deft and delving masters!

Consider for a moment all that women have contributed. Without women, the macabre would be missing out on some of  its finest moments.

There would be no Frankenstein — creator Mary Shelley — who wondered¬† what it might be like to give birth to a monster.

There would be no¬†Mysteries of Udolpho.¬†¬†This novel by¬†Ann Radcliffe¬†(arguably the ‘grandmother of Goth’) was first published in 1794. It is considered to be the prototype of Gothic romance, complete with sudden death, creepy castles, unprecedented misfortune, cruel strangers and forbidden love.

Jane Austen even used The Mysteries of Udolpho in her novel Northranger Abbey, to illustrate the idea of horror-loving women reading one too many Gothic novels and letting their imaginations take over their lives.

Let’s not forget vampires! Without women, there would be no Count Saint Germain (creator Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) no Dark Cathedral (creator Freda Warrington) and no Trueblood (creator Charlaine Harris.)

There would also be no infamous and notorious Vampire Lestat (creator Anne Rice.) Ms. Rice took it upon herself to explore these blood thirsty outsiders as they drifted through hundreds of years of history and struggled to survive. The result was The Vampire Chronicles, a compilation of over twenty  novels, delving into everything from ancient Egyptian deities to modern day rock stars.

Bring on the haunted houses!  Without women, there would be no Hill House (creator Shirley Jackson.)  Shirley wanted to explore poltergeists and paranormal activity in an eerie mansion. The result was overnight guests, foreboding dread and one of the best ghost stories in 20th century literature.

Let’s not forget the heart stopping Agatha Christie mysteries, the dark moor encounters of Emily Bronte,¬† the real world creepiness of Daphne Du Maurier and Joyce Carol Oates. And of course, the horrific dystopia created by Margaret Atwood in A Handmaid’s Tale, where fertile women are kidnapped and then forced to serve as baby making ‘handmaids’ to the powers that be. If you have not yet seen it, check out the series on Hulu, starring Elizabeth Moss.

According to Atwood, everything in¬† A Handmaid’s Tale had occurred at some point in history, somewhere in the real world, so it was not as fantastical as most people think…

Without women in horror, there would also be no Hitchcock Blondes — the whipped cream cool females that broke under the pressure of psychopaths, thanks to the acting expertise of Tippi Hedron, Janet Leigh, Kim Novak and Grace Kelly, to name a few.

There would be no Birds (writer Daphne Du Maurier) no Creature From the Black Lagoon (costume design by Milicent Patrick) and of course, no Halloween franchise (thanks to co-writer Debra Hill and the incomparable Jamie Lee Curtis!)

On a lighter note, plenty of women have taken horror and combined it with comedy. Consider Elvia, Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson),  Lilly Munster (Yvonne De Carlo)  and the fabulous Morticia Addams (Carolyn Jones.)

Morticia served as the general matriarch to the iconic Addams Family, complete with “Lurch” the butler, “Thing” (a severed hand with a mind of its own) her Gothic children Pugsly and Wednesday, her husband Gomez, weird Uncle Fester and crone Grandmama. Morticia had her hands full but she ruled with a funeral parlor cool, far removed from the average sitcom.

Who is your favorite woman in horror?

And finally, if you find yourself craving more tales of the terrible, please check out my very own horror stories in¬†The Box Under The Bed¬†and¬†Dark Visions.¬† Here, you’ll find Jack the Ripper, scary fairies, Charon the death messenger and Lucifer himself ūüôā

Happy February frights!

 

 

 

 

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A Halloween Treat: Witchcraft Through the Ages

 

Happy Halloween to all you beautiful ghouls, goblins, horror fans, heretics and lovers of the macabre! Today for your viewing entertainment I have a special surprise!

Long before ‘The Witch’ and¬† ‘The Blair Witch Project’ terrified movie goers, there was this 1922 silent movie gem, called Haxan ( German for ‘The Witch’.)

IMDb describes it as : “Part history lesson followed by re-enactments with actors, this film takes depicts the history of witchcraft from its earliest days through to the present day (in this case,1922 or thereabouts). The result is a documentary-like film that must be among the first to use re-enactments as a visual and narrative tool. From pagan worship to satanic rites to hysteria, the film takes you on a journey through the ages with highly effective visual sequences.”

It is a thoroughly entertaining and interesting film. Luckily I found a beautifully restored version on youtube. Hope you enjoy it!  Running time is approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes. Have a delightful Halloween!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Rice, Mother of Vampires

 

She is the mistress of the macabre, the weaver of witch tales, a native New Orleanian who may never have made her mark in the world if it weren’t for her near blood thirsty curiosity about what it would be like to interview a vampire.

We are only twenty seven days away from Halloween, and no countdown would be complete without a tribute to Anne Rice, my all-time favorite living author!

Luckily, today happens to be her birthday.  (I’m sure it is no coincidence that this woman came into the world so near to Halloween.)

Anne Rice was born on October 4, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was the second of four daughters. Her parents, Howard and Katherine O‚ÄôBrien, were of Irish Catholic descent. The family lived in the hard-scrabble, impoverished section of town known as the Irish Channel, where they rented a 3-room shotgun house. Most of Anne’s childhood was spent dealing with the hardships of poverty and her mother’s alcoholism.

Curiously, Anne is not her real name ‚Äď her parents actually named her Howard, after her father.¬† Regarding her unusual name, Rice has said:

‚ÄúMy birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father’s name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do. She was a bit of a¬†Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher. And she had the idea that naming a woman Howard was going to give that woman an unusual advantage in the world.‚ÄĚ

In their defense, it is true that women with androgynous names sometimes do get certain advantages in life. This idea of boy-girl names for little girls became more popular in later decades. Consider Taylor, Beau, Ricki, Sammie, etc.  In the 1940’s, however, it must have been a pretty shocking thing to do.

Little Howard did not like her name at all. When she went to first grade at St. Alphonsus School, the nun asked her name and she replied. ‚ÄúAnne.‚Ä̬† It stuck. Her parents agreed to legally change her name in 1947.

New Orleans is a spooky and beautiful town, known for its ghosts and cemeteries. The dead are famously ‚Äúburied above ground.‚ÄĚ This is not so appalling as it may sound ‚Äď it simply means that New Orleans adapted the French-Catholic custom of burying the dead in above ground in tombs and mausoleums, rather than underground coffins.

The cemeteries of New Orleans are legendary, hosting tales of folklore sure to fire any imagination. The Louisiana government takes no part in maintaining the tombs, so the upkeep of a deceased loved one is purely a family affair. This leads to a certain beauty ‚Äď each tomb is personal, a work of art.

Here I am with my niece at St. Louis Cemetery #1 in the French Quarter.  In the tomb behind us lies none other than New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau!

New Orleans Cemetery

The O’Brien family lived right around the corner from Lafayette Cemetery #1. This was Anne’s childhood playground. It was in Lafayette that Anne would later place the tombs of her characters Lestat the vampire and the Mayfair witches.

Anne‚Äôs childhood was heavily influenced by her Catholic religion.¬† Black cloaks, dark confessional booths, rosary beads, candlelight vigils and marble statues that seemed to come to life were all part of her sensibilities. Not to mention symbolic blood drinking as designated by the sacraments.¬† Mix that with extreme poverty, family dysfunction,¬† cemeteries, voodoo, hoodoo, Mardi Gras ‚Äď and we can easily see what fueled Anne‚Äôs wicked imagination.

When Anne was just fifteen years old, her mother died due to complications of alcoholism. Her father, unable to cope with four daughters, placed the girls in foster care at Saint Joseph’s Academy. ¬†According to Anne, Saint Joseph‚Äôs was: “something out of Jane Eyre¬†… a dilapidated, awful, medieval type of place. I really hated it and wanted to leave. I felt betrayed by my father.‚ÄĚ Charles Dickens was Anne‚Äôs favorite author, and it seems her own childhood was a bit of a Victorian Bleak House.

Saint Joseph’s Academy

Two years later, in 1958, Howard Rice retrieved his daughters and moved the family to Richardson, Texas. There, Anne met her future husband Stan Rice, while both were students at Richardson High School. Although Anne left Texas after high school and moved to San Francisco, she remained in touch with Stan.  While Anne was in California, Stan sent her a telegram asking her to marry him.  She said yes! The two were wed in Texas in 1961 when Anne was twenty and Stan was just eighteen. They were married for forty one years until Stan’s death in 2002.

While living in San Francisco in 1973, Anne wrote her first novel Interview With the Vampire.¬† She has stated that vampire literature was nearly nonexistent at the time, but she thought it would be ‚Äúfun to interview one.‚ÄĚ ¬†The novel was published in 1976 and quickly became a best seller. Anne then wrote The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. The Vampire Chronicles had begun!

In 1988 Anne moved back to New Orleans with her husband and son, Christopher. Having become wealthy from her book sales, Anne purchased a mansion in the garden district. She then began writing The Witching Hour, the first of the Mayfair Witch Trilogy. The house that Anne lived in was located at 1239 First Street. It is the coolest house ever! It became as much a character in the books as the Mayfair witches themselves.

Here’s me in front of the magnificent house — a must-see if you are ever in NOLA!

New Orleans Anne Rice House

In 2004, after the death of her husband, Anne moved back to California and has lived there ever since.

Interview With the Vampire was made into a movie in 1994. It starred Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kiirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas. The movie received critical acclaim. Three more of Anne‚Äôs novels were made into movies ‚Äď Queen of the Damned, Exit To Eden¬†and The Feast of All Saints.

For many years, Anne had given up film rights to her own novels, because movie studios had optioned them.¬† In 2015, Anne regained the rights and set about trying to turn the entire Vampire Chronicles into a television series. In 2017,¬†Paramount Television and Anonymous Content optioned the rights to 11 books. The series was picked up for broadcast on Hulu, and should be premiering sometime in 2019. I can’t wait!

Fun Facts:

  • To date, Anne has written 41 novels.
  • In addition to Gothic and horror, Anne also writes erotic novels under the pseudonyms A. N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling.
  • Cosmopolitan magazine called her ‚Äúthe queen of sexy vampire fiction‚ÄĚ.
  • Although her vampires are known for their charm and sensuality, none of them actually have sex. Because they are, you know, vampires…

  • Anne tried reading Bram Stoker‚Äôs Dracula as a teenager and was too terrified to finish the book. As an adult she attempted it again and loved it.
  • Anne became a self described ‚ÄúAtheist‚ÄĚ after leaving the Catholic Church at age 18.
  • In 1998, Anne returned to the church. After twelve years as a practicing Catholic, she renounced Christianity, stating: ‚ÄúI remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity.‚ÄĚ
  • Anne almost joined the world of the dead herself, in 1998, when she fell into a diabetic coma. She came close to death once again in 2004 when she suffered a bowel obstruction and surgery.
  • For several years, after her return to New Orleans, Anne held an annual Halloween vampire ball at the mansion on First Street. The ball is still going strong, now operated by the Anne Rice/ Vampire Lestat Fan Club.

image

  • The Rice’s first child, a daughter named Michele, died from leukemia when she was just six years old. The loss devastated them.
  • Anne, a self-described ‚Äėalcoholic‚Äô, stopped drinking in 1979 after the birth of her son Christopher. She has stated that she did not want him to have the same childhood she did, in dealing with an alcoholic mother. Anne has made public service announcements regarding alcohol and sobriety.
  • Anne has stated that she chose vampires as her means of self expression, because she was facing painful issues which she could not discuss directly.
  • Regarding the movie Interview With the Vampire, Anne claims ‚ÄúBrad Pitt played me, because I am Louis.‚ÄĚ Louis, as you may recall, was the most ‘human’ and conflicted of the vamps.

Happy Birthday Ms. Rice! Wishing you Immortality ūüôā

 

 

 

 

Respect!

 

Her musical accomplishments were unprecedented. The Queen of Soul could belt a ballad to beat any band. But Aretha Franklin taught us what is perhaps the most important lesson one can learn in a lifetime: We deserve Respect.

Today we bid good-bye to this talented icon.

Ironically, she shares this death date with another all time great, Elvis “The King” Presley, whom we lost way back in 1977. There seems to be a great symmetry in this. The King of Rock and the Queen of Soul had a lot in common. Both started from humble beginnings, singing Gospel. Both¬†went on to conquer every corner of the music industry including Soul, Blues, Jazz, Ballads, Rock and R &B.

Aretha’s accomplishments are no less that royal.¬† Born in Detroit, Michigan on March 25, 1942, she began her career singing Gospel in¬† the New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was a minister. This daughter of a preacher-man would go on to gain unprecedented fame and fortune.

Franklin won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and sold over 75 million records worldwide. In 1987 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. She was the first female artist to be inducted! Yes, Aretha called for “Respect” and got it!

In 2002 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Ironically, although her roots were in Gospel, it was not until 2012 that Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

That is a lot of awards and inductions! 

As a native Chicagoan and a Blues fan, one of my favorite comedies is “The Blues Brothers” starring the late great John Belushi, with a cameo from Aretha.¬† (If you have not yet seen it and you like to laugh, stream it immediately.)

Elwood Blues and his brother Jake (who just got released from the Joliet Maximum Security Prison)¬† embark on a “mission from God”. Their aim is to collect money for the orphanage where they were raised to prevent its closing. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. (Besides, if they lose they will face the wrath of The Penguin, their childhood nun. She is pretty scary.)

However, the only way Jake and Elwood can possibly earn any money is through music, in which case they must Get the Band Back Together.

At the local soul food diner, they attempt to recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy. His wife Mrs Murphy, played by Franklin, has other ideas! (Obviously Jake and Elwood missed their mark. They would have done better to just recruit Aretha and the Murphettes!)

Aretha demanded Respect,¬† taught us¬† the importance of A Natural Woman and engaged in a good deal of Day Dreaming. But my favorite Aretha song is “Spanish Harlem” written by Ben E, King.

“It is the special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street
Right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming”

Performed here by the Queen of Soul herself.  Hope you like it!

Aretha Franklin Rock In Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Blue

 

It is a lovely color. It represents the sky and the sea, peacocks, cornflowers, turquoise, sapphire and lapis. Not to mention glaciers, Kentucky grass, robin’s eggs, blueberries, bluebells and blue jays. So how does such a beautiful color get such a bad rap?

Think about it.

When we‚Äôre sad, we‚Äôve got the blues. We can be in a blue funk, a blue mood, full of blue notes, and this might even occur on a Blue Monday. ¬†In which case we might find ourselves listening to¬† ‚Äď The Blues — an musical institution fueled by hard luck, rough times and downtrodden guitar players.

Not feeling well?  You might be blue around the gills.  A hangover is called the blue flu. In fact, drink enough alcohol and you might get the blue devils (delirium tremens).  Even your malfunctioning computer faces the blue screen of death.

One might impulsively do things out of the blue.  A non-stop chatterbox will talk a blue streak.  An angry person will curse a  blue streak or even scream blue murder. Stubborn people might do something repeatedly, until they are blue in the face.

Afterward they may wonder what in the blue blazes prompted them? On the other hand, their behavior may only occur once in a blue moon.

Get in a fight and you’ll end up black and blue. Worse yet, the blues and twos¬†(ambulances) might take you to the hospital. And if things get really violent. someone may have to call the Boys in Blue.

Just hope you don’t end up in the notorious¬†blue room made famous by the French madman¬†Blue Beard, who murdered several of his wives, left them to rot there and forbade anyone to enter.

When facing¬† a choice of two evils, you are between the devil and the deep blue sea. ¬†If you continue to look at the matter through blue glasses¬†(as opposed to ‚Äúrose colored glasses‚ÄĚ) you will have a distorted and gloomy view of things.

By remaining ignorant and closed to new ideas, you take the blue pill. (Although Neo in the Matrix chose red.)

Then there is blue and sex.

An unsatisfied man gets blue balls.  Prostitutes were once referred to as blue gowns because of the garments they wore in jail. A bawdy person might tell a blue joke or enjoy a blue movie (pornographic). When we dip into the blue we say something obscene. And of course, novices should always be careful, lest they end up screwed, blued and tattooed.

But it is not all bad. There are plenty of positive blue references too!

Elvis Presley had a Blue Christmas and a bad case of the GI Blues, but he also ended up in Blue Hawaii! 

She wore blue velvet.¬†¬†(At least in David Lynch’s dreams.) Picasso, Van Gogh and other artists went through very creative painting stints known as¬†blue periods, producing some of their best work.

The very rich are called blue blooded, the best prize of all is the blue ribbon, and the only kind of friend worth having is a true blue one.

Your blue sky thinking just may result in a flash of genius, a new invention or an out of the box solution.  Similarly, you may be inspired by a bolt from the blue, and if you are lucky, you may even travel into the wild blue yonder! Blue can be a great source of happiness and inspiration.

Different colors affect people in different ways. What do you think of blue?

And finally, no study of blue would be complete without this song.

Baby Blue was first recorded by Badfinger in 1972. Sadly, two of the band members, Peter Ham and Tom Evans, had SERIOUS cases of the blues.  Suffering depression, they would both meet their deaths by suicide in the years to come.  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful song.  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

Witchy Wednesday: The Owens Sisters

 

The women of the Owens family are under a curse. A terrible, inescapable curse of the worst possible kind. It goes as follows: Any man who falls in love with one of them will, through some unexpected accident or unforeseen circumstance, end up dead.

The curse began some 300 years ago in colonial Massachusetts when ancestor Maria Owens was condemned to death for witchcraft. She was put to the hangman’s noose but escaped through magic. Maria was then banished to a small island off the coast. She was pregnant, ¬†and although her lover had promised to come for her, he never showed up. Maria vowed to never again deal with the messy heartbreak of love. That vow, it its weird twisted way, turned into a curse against all men who dared love an Owens woman.

Now, sisters Sally and Gillian had better watch out!  Of course, as luck would have it, both of them are going to fall in love. More than once.

Practical Magic, adapted from Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel of the same name, is one of my favorite witch movies!  It stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as the two sisters, who are orphaned after their parents die of curses and broken hearts. The girls are sent to live with their Aunts in the sleepy Massachusetts town where prejudice against witches still runs rampant.

Stockard Channing and Diane Weist are their wild and wacky aunts who eat chocolate cake for breakfast, cast love spells for the neighbors and dance naked in the moonlight.

As Sally and Gillian come of age in their Aunts’ glorious seaside mansion, they start to realize the true nature of their powers. Neither girl cares to practice magic.

Subdued, bookish Sally (Sandra Bullock) is the more gifted of the two, though she rarely casts a spell.  Wild child Gillian (Nicole Kidman) cares more for boys than witchery, and even runs away from her Aunts’ home to increase her opportunities with men.

The sisters are separated for a time, but, connected by blood and a psychic bond, they are never far apart.  Gillian gets involved with an abusive man named Jimmy Angelov.

One night, Sally gets a premonition that Gillian is in real trouble and immediately flies across the country to rescue her. She finds Gillian held hostage, but the forceful  Jimmy kidnaps both sisters.  An accidental overdose of belladonna, administered by Sally, sends Jimmy Angelov to sleep with the angels. Or in his case, the demons…   The sisters then find themselves in a tight spot; they are inadvertent murderers.

What to do?

Rather than let Jimmy stay dead, they decide to try their hand at necromancy.¬† The Aunts warn against it, believing he may come back as something ‚Äúdark and unnatural‚ÄĚ.¬† Gillian assures them that he always WAS something¬† ‚Äúdark and unnatural‚ÄĚ.¬† What have they got to lose? ¬†But will the spell work?

To make matters worse, when Jimmy is reported as a missing person, detective Gary Hallet (played by Aidan Quinn) comes investigating.

The detective may have a hard time arresting Sally when he realizes he is falling in love with her.

Practical Magic, released in 1998, is a fun, sometimes spooky, romantic comedy.  The movie recently made news headlines when co stars Bullock and Kidman showed up as presenters at this year’s Academy Awards. As the women reunited, Practical Magic fans conjured up the notion of them doing a sequel to the movie.

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock Oscars 2018

Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; there will never be a shortage of fans hoping for it.

Throughout the movie, we find a number of spells and occult references. Here are some fun witchy facts:

It Runs in the Family

Sally and Gillian are descendants of Maria Owens who cast spells, broke hearts, and escaped the noose through magic. In reality, very few modern day witches can claim this kind of bloodline. Most witches are self made, through their own discipline and study of the Craft. There are, however, several families in  the Salem area who claim blood relations to those who were arrested for witchcraft in the 1692 witch hunts.

Bella Donna, the Beautiful Lady

Atropo Belladonna is a poisonous plant. It has been used as a sedative and antispasmotic.¬† Large doses can be deadly.¬† In medieval Italy, young women put drops extracted from the plant into their eyes. This dilated their pupils, creating an effect that was considered to be beautiful ‚Äď hence the name Belladonna, which in Italian means ‚Äúbeautiful woman‚ÄĚ.

Yeah. Because nothing says sexy like the pie eyed opiate induced dummy stare ūüôā

J.R.R. Tolkien fans might remember the character Belladonna Took Baggins. She was the wife of Bungo Baggins, lady of Bag End, and mother of the original ring bearing hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Blood Drinking Optional

The character Jimmy Angelov, played by Goran Visnjic, was supposed to be from Transylvania. We are not sure if he was an actual vampire, but his Romanian roots certainly lent an air of darkness and danger to him. In real life, Goran Visnjic is from Croatia. Close enough.

In the 1998 movie, a ten year old Evan Rachel Wood played Sally‚Äôs daughter Kylie.¬† Kylie took after her Aunt Gillian in both looks and temperament. We might wonder how she’d grow up…

Since then, Wood took on a bunch of noteworthy roles, including a vampire in True Blood.

Herbal Medicine

When a frightened Gillian returns home with a bruised face after Jimmy has assaulted her, Aunt Frances, in typical witch fashion, suggests applying mugwort.  In Medieval Europe, mugwort was believed to be a magical herb that would protect against evil spirits, diseases and misfortunes.

Don’t Know Your Past You Won’t Know Your Future

While fans may be clamoring for a sequel after seeing Sandra and Nicole on the red carpet, author Alice Hoffman has actually written a prequel. This book, called The Rules of Magic, tells the story of the Aunts, Frances and Jet, when they lived as teenage witches in 1960’s New York City.  Read more here.

And finally, no review of Practical Magic would be complete without a visit to Midnight Margaritas! Watch as the Aunts stir up a powerful brew.¬† Grab some limes and enjoy the show ūüôā

 

 

 

 

Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 50th Anniversary

 

Today, March 4th, 2018, marks the 50th Anniversary of the premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film”Romeo and Juliet” at London’s Odeon theater.

With a host of talented actors, rich period costumes and lush cinematography, this gorgeous movie is arguably the best ever adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.¬† Famous critic Roger Ebert included it in his list of ‘Top 100 Films’. Ebert wrote,¬†“I believe Franco Zeffirelli’s¬†Romeo and Juliet¬†is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made.”

The movie won a Golden Globe Award for Best English Language Foreign Film. ¬†It won¬†Academy Awards¬†for¬†Best Cinematography¬†(Pasqualino De Santis) and¬†Best Costume Design¬†(Danilo Donati).¬† It was also nominated for¬†Best Director¬†and¬†Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to be nominated for Best Picture to date. Coincidentally, the anniversary of its London premiere just happens to fall on the same day as this year’s Academy Awards presentation.

This movie is unique in may ways. Director Zeffirelli had the innovative idea of using¬† teenage actors for the roles of the star-crossed lovers.¬† This was the first time in the history of the play’s performances that actual teenagers¬†were cast to play the teenage roles. Olivia Hussey played Juliet and Leonard Whiting played Romeo.

Hussey and Whiting both received Golden Globes for ‘Best New Stars of the Year’.

Zeffirelli also chose unique historical locations, adding to the rich authenticity of the movie, which was set in 14th century Renaissance Italy.  These locations included:

The Palazzo Borghese, which was used for the famous ‘balcony scene’. The Palazzo was built by¬†Cardinal Scipione Borghese¬†in the 16th century. It is located in Artena, 20 miles south of¬†Rome.

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!”

The interior church scenes (where Romeo and Juliet are wed) were filmed at a Romanesque church named St. Pietro Somaldi in Lucca, Tuscania, 50 miles northwest of Rome.

“For by your leaves you will not stay alone, till Holy Church incorporate two as one.”

The tomb scene (where both lovers commit suicide) was also filmed in Tuscania.

“O happy dagger, this is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.”

The Palazzo Piccolomini, built in 1460 by¬†Pope Pius II, served as Capulet’s magnificent palace. It is located in Pienza, Siena province.

“His name is Romeo, a Montague, the only son of your great enemy.”¬†

The dueling scenes  were filmed  in the old Umbrian town of Gubbio.

“A plague on both your houses!”

Some fun facts:

  • Paul McCartney was being considered for the role of Romeo, before Zeffirelli plucked Lenoard Whiting from the London stage. Although I love the Beatles, Paul as Romeo would have been a terrible mistake!

Paul McCartney as Romeo

  • Anjelica Houston was considered for the role of Juliet, but her father, director John Houston, insisted she work on another film (one of his own) at the time.
  • Olivia Hussey was originally rejected because Zeffirelli thought she was overweight. Upon her second reading, she had apparently lost weight and was accepted.
  • During the Italian filming, Zeffirelli once again became concerned with Olivia’s weight and insisted she not be served any pasta on the set. (I know!¬† Rude, inconsiderate, and possibly damaging — both physically and psychologically — to a teenage girl.)

  • Because there were nude scenes in the film, Zeffirelli had to get special permission to film 16 year old Olivia topless. Len Whiting was already 17¬†and of legal age for nudity.

  • Sir Laurence Olivier, who happened to be in Italy at the time of filming, reportedly showed up on set asking if he could contribute.¬† He became the narrator, and also dubbed lines for the actor¬†Antonio Pierfederici who played Lord Montague but had a thick Italian accent. Sir Laurence’s contributions are not listed in the credits and he would accept no pay for them, stating he did this out of his ‘great love for Shakespeare’.¬† What a guy! ūüôā
  • In 1977, Olivia Hussey and Laurence Olivier reunited, along with co star Michael York (who played Tybalt) for the production of¬† Jesus of Nazareth. Hussey played Mary the Mother of Jesus, Olivier played Nicodemus and York played John the Baptist.

  • Produced with a budget of just $850,000, the movie went on to earn nearly $40 million at the box office and later earned another $18 million in re-releases and rentals.
  • Thom Yorke of Rodiohead reports being very moved by Zeffirelli’s film. He later went on to compose music for the 1996 version of Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann. Yorke said, “I saw the Zeffirelli version when I was 13, and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn’t understand why the morning after they shagged, they didn’t just run away.”

Many readers of R & J have wondered the same thing. Young love can be messy.

If you have not yet seen this phenomenal movie, I suggest you rent or stream it at once!

And finally, in honor of the 1968 London Premiere, here is a youtube compilation where Queen Elizabeth herself greets the young stars. Hope you like it!