Saturday, September 24, 2005

2005 Emmys

Historically, I have always thought of the Emmy Awards as a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Emmy is the one award where occasionally something new and different can get recognition. In 1966 both Batman and The Monkees were nominated for Best Comedy. The Monkees won the category. On the other hand, more often than not the Emmy Awards seem to prefer giving their prizes to the tried and true. A case in point is the rather typical police drama Cagney and Lacey, which garnered Emmy nominations and awards year after year. This year's Emmy Awards ceremony, held last Sunday, reflects the history of the Emmys quite well. Some new and different shows were recognised, as were some tried and true shows.

As for the new and different, I was very happy that Lost won the Emmy Award for Best Drama, as well as the awards for Directing for a Drama Series for its pilot episode. And while I am. And while I am not a big fan of nightime soap operas and I have never even watched the show, I must say that it was nice to see Felicity Huffman win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for Desperate Housewives, as well as the award for Directing for a Comedy Series for the show's pilot. Like Lost, there has never been another show like it if the buzz surrounding Desperate Housewives is to be believed.

As to the tried and true, I was very disappointed to see Ian McShane of Deadwood lose to o James Spader of Boston Legal in the Best Actor in a Drama category. McShane plays one of the all time great villains on American television, while Spader plays simply another lawyer. I was also disappointed to see Terry O'Quinn, John Locke on Lost lose the Best Supporting Actor award to William Shatner of Boston Legal. As much as I love Shatner (I am, after all, a Star Trek fan), he is simply playing another lawyer on Boston Legal while O'Quinn is playing one of the most interesting characters on television at the moment. I must say that I am also unhappy with the award for Best Comedy. HBO's Entourage, easily the best comedy on television at the moment, was not even nominated for the Best Comedy award. Worse yet, Everybody Loves Raymond beat out Scrubs and Arrested Development for the award. Indeed, with the exception of Desperate Housewives, Everybody Loves Raymond won the lion's share of comedy awards.

As much as I grouse about tried and true shows like Boston Legal and Everybody Loves Raymond winning awards, I have to say I was happy with many of the other awards. It was good to see Tony Shaloub win Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Monk. I was also happy to see Geoffrey Rush recognised for his incredible performance in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (having watched many of Sellers' movies, I must say Rush was pretty convincing).

As I said earlier, this years Emmy ceremony reflects the awards' history quite well. This year some new and different shows were recognised as well as some tried and true shows. I suppose one can only hope that next year's awards more new and different shows are recognised and less of the tried and true.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Yesterday was the autumn equinox. Today is the full day of fall. Alongside spring, fall was always one of my favourite seasons. In Missouri it is one of the few times of year when we have weather that is neither too hot (as in the summer) or too cold (as in the winter). In the season we can generally look forward to high temperatures in the seventies and lows in the fifites (using the Fahrenheit scale--I've little idea what that would be in Celsius).

Of course, fall is the one season for which the English speaking world can't seem to agree on a name. Here in the United States the season is most popularly known as "the fall," even though elsewhere in the English speaking world it is more commonly called "autumn." In Old English the season was known by yet another word, hærfest. For the most part these words for the season refer to the two events most commonly associated with it--the falling of the leaves and the gathering of the crops. Referring to autumn as "the fall" dates from about 1664 and is short for "the fall of the leaf," a phrase which itself dates from about 1545, both being references to the leaves changing colours and falling from the trees. In England and other English speaking countries, referring to autumn as "the fall" fell out of use over the centuries, although for some reason it has persisted here in the United States. As mentioned earlier, in Old English autumn was called hærfest, our modern word harvest. The word harvest seems to have originated in reference to autumn as the season when crops are gathered. The word harvest ultimately derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *kerp- "to gather, pluck, harvest. From the 14th century onward, the meaning of harvest gradually shifted from "the time when crops are gathered" to the "action of gathering crops" and eventually "crops which have been harvested." It is at this time when the season came to be known by the word "autumn," which itself derives from autumnus, the Latin word for the season.

The fall of the leaves is an event to which many, myself included, look forward. In many areas of the world, my home of Missouri included, the leaves will change colours from green to a dazzling array of yellows, reds, browns, oranges, and so on. In many places people will actually make tours to see the various colours of the leaves on the trees in the fall. Of course, the other event for which the season is known is also the harvesting of crops. Today the harvesting of grain is usually performed by a combine, but before the Industrial Age it had to all be done by hand. Harvesting the crops was strenuous work, requring many people to do it over a number of days. After the work was done, people were generally in a mood to celebrate, hence we have the many harvest festivals throughout the world. In the United States this usually takes the form of "fall fairs," such as the Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair which takes place here in Randolph County (actually the second week of September, which is a bit before the fall, but we won't go into that...).

In some ways autumn is a time of endings. It is the time when the growing season ends, when the crops are gathered. It is also when the trees lose their leaves. Oddly enough, however, in the English speaking world, it is also a time of beginnings. In the United States it is traditionally when the new television season begins. I suppose the reason for this is that in the summer people usually have other things to do than watch television--vacations, picnics, trips to various lakes, et. al. By September people are apparently ready to settle down and watch TV again. In much of the English speaking world it is also the beginning of the school year. I suspect this is rooted in the agricultural calender. In the days when most farm work had to be done by hand, children would have been needed at home on the farm to help with the work. Once the crops were gathered, they could return to school. In the United States autumn has also been the time when new car models are released. I have no explanation for this, as it seems to me that this could take place any time of year. Maybe the automotive industry simply figured that after a summer's worth of wear and tear on the family car, people would be ready for a new car.

At any rate, I am certainly ready for the fall. This summer in Missouri was particularly hot and dry, hardly pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. Right now I am more than happy to have mild temperatures when I can wear a sweater or jacket if I so choose and when one can simply throw open the windows to cool the house down. It is a welcome change from the heat of summer.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Greta Garbo's 100th Birthday

Today would have been Greta Garbo's 100th birthday if she was still alive. She was born in Stockholm, Sweden as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, the youngest of three children. Her father's death when she was 14 and a none too good relationship with her mother required her to find work at an early age. She was first a lather girl in a barbershop, then a department store clerk. It was her job at the department store that led to her career in movies. While there she appeared as a model in their newspaper ads and in a commercial short for the store. This led to appearances in a comedy short and the movie A Happy Knight.

By this time Garbo considered herself an actress. She studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm from 1922 to 1924. While there she met director Mauritz Stiller. Stiller gave her the stage name "Greta Garbo" and gave Garbo her first big break--a role in the film Gosta Berlings Saga. In 1925 Stiller signed a contract with MGM. Among his conditions was that Garbo also be signed to a contract. Unfortunately, Stiller's career in Hollywood was brief. He was eventuallyfired by MGM. This was quite a different matter for Garbo. She became one of Hollywood's biggest leading ladies.

Garbo's first American film was The Torrent in 1926. She went onto make some of the most successful films of the silent era, including Flesh and the Devil and The Temptress. Garbo was one of the actors to make the transition to film, despite the fact that she had a husky voice with a thick Swedish accent. If anything, she became an even bigger star with the advent of sound than she had been during the silent era. She starred in such movies asGrand Hotel, Quenn Christina, Anna Karenina, and Ninotchka.

Despite Garbo's success as an actress, she remained a very private person. She very rarely gave interviews and almost never attended premieres. She never signed autographs or answered fan mail. When shooting was taking place with Garbo, the sets were always closed to visitors. Her line from Grand Hotel, "I want to be let alone," abbreviated to "I want to be alone," became her catchphrase for more reasons than the fact that it was a good line.

Garbo's success was not simply starring in movies that did well at the box office, but in Oscar nominations as well. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actres for Anna Christie (1930), Romance (1930 movie) (1930)), Camille (movie) (1937) and Ninotchka (1939). Despite this success, it seems that Garbo's life as an actress was not a particularly happy one. Her well publicised romance with John Gilbert ultimately failed, as did his career. From 1932 to 1934 she had a contract dispute with MGM which kept her out of movies for two years. As time passed Garbo apparently became choosier about her roles, appearing in movies less and less frequently. She turned down the starring role in Dark Victory to do Anna Karenina instead.

In 1941, two years after she'd appeared in Ninotchka, Garbo appeared in her last film, Two Faced Woman. At that point Garbo more or less retired from film, taking no parts in any movies offered her. In 1949 she did a screen test, but nothing came of it. Thre were rumours that she would appear in an adaptation of Remembrance of Things Past, but nothing came of that either.

Garbo lived the rest of her life as a private citizen. At times she would socialise with other celebrities, although as time passed she ceased to do this as often. She lived her last several years as a recluse. She died in April 1990 at the age of 84.

Garbo starred in some of the most successful movies of all time. To this day such films as Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, and Camille are still shown on television and in art houses. And while Hollywood treated her as one of its most glamourous stars, she was a serious actress. When she played the role of Queen Christina of Sweden, she insisted on looking as much like the queen as possible, even though it meant that she would look less glamourous doing so. Unfortunately, it seems to me that Garbo's career was largely eclipsed by her mystique. As an actress who fiercely guarded her privacy during her career and entered private life at a relatively young age afterwards, Garbo became an icon known for her life of seclusion. Even into her eighties she was still a target for the papparazzi of New York City. While today Garbo may be best known for her life as a recluse, it seems to me that she should also be remembered for her film career as one of the best actresses of her era, having made a number of classic films.