Bad movie, good memories (for Valentine’s Day)

He was not in love yet but he realized that he was an attractive quantity to women, and that the fact of a woman caring for him and wanting to live with him was not simply a divine miracle. This changed him so that he was not so pleasant to have around.

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

stvalentines02A few nights ago I read the screenplay for Letters to Juliet, the 2010 American movie that had Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave reuniting after many years via a long-lost letter that Redgrave’s character had written to Juliet.  It’s the type of movie for which I would have liked to have written the screenplay.  Professional critics, for the most part (60 per cent according to Rotten Tomatoes) didn’t like the movie; the reverse was true of audience reviews.  Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful review, as he often did.

I know “Letters to Juliet” is a soppy melodrama, and I don’t mind in the least. I know the ending is preordained from the setup. I know the characters are broad and comforting stereotypes. In this case, I simply don’t care. Sometimes we have personal reasons for responding to a film….

As it happens, this story stirred memories of romantic memories in my own life. Once in a small hill town outside Rome, under a full moon, I stood before the balcony being used by Franco Zeffirelli for his great film “Romeo and Juliet” (1968), and heard Nino Rota hum his theme music to Zeffirelli. Some years later, I stood beneath the “Juliet’s Balcony” in Verona itself with a woman dear to my heart and saw the notes pinned to the wall.

And the very first movie set I ever visited, before I was yet a movie critic, was “Camelot” (1967). On that set I met and interviewed Vanessa Redgrave, who was not yet 30, and Franco Nero, who was 26. They played Guenevere and Lancelot. They fell in love on the set, married and had a child. Finally on New Year’s Eve 2006, they married. Even earlier, Franco walked Vanessa’s daughter Natasha Richardson down the aisle when she married Liam Neeson.

So you see, when Vanessa marries Franco 40 years after falling in love with him, and they are playing characters who meet after 50 years, and this all has to do with Juliet’s balcony — reader, what am I to do? I am helpless before such forces.


Yesterday Farley and I read the first three chapters of The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. It’s been more than 60 years since I read the novel and I was struck by how unintelligible the book will be to my grandchildren, should they read it.  As unintelligible as Dickens was to me when I was a teen.  There’s a chance they’ll know what a typewriter was, but a horse cab?  a cable?  carbons?  the New York Herald Tribune?

I loved the novel as a teen and now I love it, perhaps more so, for entirely different reasons.  There’s still my admiration for the leanness of the prose, but I find so much more humor in Hemingway’s cattiness than I ever did as a teen.

One of the things that seemed timeless was the whininess of ex-patriates.  Jake’s friends sit at cafes and bars and complain that Paris is “boring,” just as ex-pats today complain in Bangkok and San Miguel of their boredom.

Cruella de Vil

An acquaintance has invited me (and perhaps a few hundred others) to a Chinese New Year’s party later this month. She’s requested that we wear costumes appropriate to the year of our birth in the Chinese zodiac.  But how does one do that, exactly?  Born in the Year of the Dog, I’m not about to spend the evening on all fours as “Lady” from Lady and the Tramp.

This being San Miguel and the number of animal lovers being somewhat greater than the number of live bodies, I thought Cruella might be a fun choice.  I can probably find a Dalmation print somewhere to fashion into a cape, but how do I do a black and white wig?  And it’s highly unlikely I can find red satin opera gloves, let alone find them in my size.  Should I even consider finding a cigarette holder?

I think I’ll have to attend if for no other reason than to see how people pull off the Snake, the Rat, and the Ox.  If I had been born in the Year of the Goat, I’d simply take one with me.

Andy Georges, Verona (from Letters to Juliet)

Nino Rota, Theme from Romeo and Juliet


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