Reading to Reels: Bonjour Tristesse

bonjour tristesse poster
Based on the then scandalous novel of the same name by Françoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse (Goodbye Sadness in English) tells the tale of Cécile played by Jean Seberg, a young French girl vacationing along the French Rivieria with her bon vivant father, Raymond (David Niven). Cécile is only 17, and like a lot of jeune filles, thinks she knows everything. She is indulged and indolent, and has left school after doing poorly on her exams. She fills her days with swimming and tanning, and her nights dancing at decadent clubs often with a dashing older man by the name of Phillipe.

Cécile is very close to her dashing father, some might same disturbingly close. And she tolerates his flighty young girlfriend, Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) who at the time is nursing a bad sunburn. Cécile pretty much wants her father all to herself.

Shortly, arrives Anne Larsen (Deborah Kerr), a friend of Raymond’s late wife. Anne is a fashion designer and quite cultured and well-bred. Cécile is not happy with Anne’s arrival. She thinks Anne’s stay will be the end of her care-free summer amusement. Cécile inklings aren’t exactly off the mark. Anne thinks Cécile needs to cut back on some of her fun and frolic, and buckle down and study so she can improve her marks at school and do better on her exams. Granted, Anne has a point; school should be taken very seriously. And speaking of getting serious, Phillipe wants the summer fling he is currently enjoying with Cécile to become a bit more permanent. Not surprisingly, Cécile won’t have any of that. She just wants to have her bit of amorous fun with Phillipe.

It isn’t long before Cécile’s father, Raymond, roving eyes turn towards the more sophisticated Anne. And Elsa is cast aside. But instead another knotch in Raymond’s bedpost, Anne becomes a much more. Cécile is not happy about this. And she vows to break them apart.

With a screenplay written by Arthur Laurents Bonjour Tristesse is directed and produced by Otto Preminger who directed such film classics as The Man With the Golden Arm, Laura and Carmen Jones. Bonjour Tristesse is filmed in both black and white and in color. To me, the color conveyed the blithe of Cécile’s summer on the French Rivieria whereas the black and white speaks of the tragedy yet to come. I did find it odd that other than the supporting cast, the two adult leads, Raymond and Anne, were played by two Brits and Cécile e was portrayed by the very-American Jean Seberg. I must also say I was delighted to see French chanteuse, Juliette Gréco playing herself at a nightclub frequented by Cécile. All actors are quite convincing in their parts, and in the final scene Miss Seberg says more with a look on her face than a page of dialogue could ever do.

Book Review: Again and Again by Ellen Bravo

again and againOver thirty years ago, when she was a student at Danforth University, Deborah Borenstein came back to her dorm room to find her roommate, Liddie Golmbach, being assaulted and raped by the campus dream boat, Will Quincy the III. But even though Deborah is a credible witness and Liddie’s injuries do not deny the facts, these two young ladies aren’t believed by campus authorities. And why would a rich, handsome and popular frat boy like Will have to rape someone? He can get sex from any girl on campus. Besides, everyone saw Liddie drinking with Will and flirting with him. She wanted it; she was asking for it. Liddie Golmbach is just a loser slut who should thank her lucky stars Will deigned to even talk to her.

At the time there was no term “date rape.” Rape was something that was done by shadowy strangers jumping out of alley ways at unsuspecting women (and even then these unsuspecting women might “asking for it” because they were drunk, wearing a short skirt or walking around in a dangerous neighborhood).

Fast forward to 2010, Deborah is at the helm of Breaking the Silence, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group for victims of rape and other sexual violence. She is married to a Democratic political consultant named Aaron, and together they are raising a daughter named Becca. Liddie is living a quiet life in Wisconsin with her husband and she has gained some success as a weaver and quilter.

And Will Quincy the III? He is running for a Senate seat as a pro-choice, pro-women’s rights Republican (yes, obviously Again and Again is a work of fiction). His opponent is a very conservative Democrat who is pro-life and not exactly a supporter of women’s rights.

Soon Deborah soon finds herself in a bit of a quandary. She is being hounded by a take-no-prisoners investigative journalist to spill the dirt on Will Quincy the III after rumors begin to surface about his collegiate past (Liddie, it turns out, wasn’t his only victim). And Aaron is slated to work on behalf of Will’s opponent (who as I explained, is not exactly a friend to women’s issues).

As for Liddie? She wants the past to be the past and is not exactly comfortable with re-living the horrible night. And her long-time friend, Deborah, understands and supports her much to Aaron’s chagrin. This causes problems in what seems like an ideal marriage between two equals.

Again and Again flips between the Deborah and Liddie’s collegiate past and the roadblocks they faced as they tried in vain to bring Will and his crime to justice, and to the modern day of this issue causing conflict in Deborah and Aaron’s marriage and their career aspirations, the PTSD Liddie still suffers from and how rape is now more or less understood as a truly detestable crime.

And this is where Again and Again stumbled a wee bit for me. Though I admired Deborah for her commitment to women’s causes and her friendship with Liddie, I found her to be a bit of a Mary Sue. Liddie, at times, seemed to be a mirror, shining brightly on Deborah’s qualities and not so much of a compelling character whose PTSD and the decades since her years at Danforth I desired to see more of a focus on her. And I also found myself not caring that much about Aaron or Becca.

As for Will, well, you can read the book to see what his reaction is to being outed as a serial rapist back during his college years and if he truly feels contrite or not.

However, I do want to commend Bravo for having the balls (or should I say ovaries) for taking on a subject-rape-where the victim is often put more on trial than the actual criminal. Again and Again is a book that would make a strong book club selection and one that will inspire much needed discussion about a crime that is still not understood.



Book Marks

bookmarks obamaThe late David Bowie’s reading list.

Did the media dumb us down or did we dumb down the media?

Great books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Books to add to your 2016 Book-it List.

Nothing says laziness like publishing a book of your old posts that people can read at your blog for free. Oh, and apparently this broad went for her MBA just to get her MRS.

Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, to release serialized novel in app form.

How we pay for celebrity-penned books without actually buying them.

How being a journalist can help you write a novel.

Well, this is unsettling. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is selling out in Germany.

What’s next for E-books?


Book Review: Romany and Tom by Ben Watt

Romany and tom picThere comes a time when we are forced to see our parents as actual human beings, and not just our parents. And we also have to face the fact our parents are getting older and will soon leave us with nothing but memories. Musician, songwriter and author Ben Watt not only experiences both these issues but writes about them in his memoir Romany and Tom.

Without a doubt most music fans have heard of the multi-talented Mr. Watt. Along with his wife, Tracey Thorn, he been at the helm of the pop duo Everything But the Girl for several decades. But he is also an immensely gifted writer. His earlier memoir Patient, Watt chronicled his near-death struggle with Chugg-Strauss syndrome. Now his focus is on his parents, and what a tale he has to tell.

When God made Romany and Tom Watt, he definitely broke the molds. Tom Wattwas a charming rascal, a jazz musician and band leader who enjoyed a brief but notable amount of success until pop and rock began to steal the aural leanings of the listening public.

Romany was a Shakespearean actress who later turned her talents to writing becoming a notable journalist chronicling the gossipy going-ons of various celebrities. She was also a fallen woman, a divorcee, who had three children before she met and married Tom and had Ben.

Romany and Tom begins just as Watt’s parents are facing the inevitable-the end of their lives. In rich detail, Watt describes the phsyical and mental frailties of Romany and Tom, the slips and falls in the bathroom that leaves the elder Mr. Watt badly hurt and Romany completely befuddled on how to call for an ambulance. While reading these passages, I could actually envision these two once hale and hearty people decaying and feeling a great deal of empathy towards them and Watt as he attended to their care.

While dealing with his parents Watt also had to come into terms with his own rather less than orthodox childhood and his parents’ odd marriage. Sure, to a woman like myself, Watt’s childhood seemed positively glamorous! His father was a musician and his mum got to hang out with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (and got paid to do it). But to young Ben, it was just a part of life in the Watt household. His parents also faced career setbacks and perished dreams, which often put a damper on the Watt household vibe, particularly the Watt marriage.

And it is once Romany and Tom are older that it is not just their physical and mental states the younger Watt has to deal with, it’s also their feelings for each other. Let’s just say it’s much easier to herd cats than it is to manage the tangled web of anger, love, sadness and other emotional entanglements of marriage that is not one’s one. But somehow Watt does it without puffing himself as a hero or making a himself a martyr. It’s just a part of life. There is pain, but there is also beauty in a reality a majority of us will face (if we’re not facing it already).

To say this memoir was at time a difficullt and an uneasy read is putting it mildly. At times I had to put Romany and Tom down because it made me face the concept and brutal certainty of getting older. And I know it must have been very difficult for Watt to face the demise of his larger than life parents swallowed up by the physical and mental dessication that occurs duing the twilight of one’s lives.

Yet, Ben never expresses pity towards his parents, nor does he wallow in pity for himself and his parental predicament. Romany and Tom is both beautifully truthful and truthfully beautiful, and once again, Watt proves to be a masterful writer of both music and memoirs. I can only imagine what other books Watt might write in the future. And I hope he does. In an age where D-listers and reality show cretins get book deals, it is comfort to have a celeb that actually deserves one. Bravo, Ben, bravo!