Posted in 1910s, Movies, Silent film

Happy 100th birthday, Broken Blossoms!

Broken Blossoms, released 13 May 1919, was based on British writer Thomas Burke’s 1916 story “The Chink and the Child,” from his collection Limehouse Nights. All the stories are set in and around London’s Chinatown in the Limehouse district, in the East End. A second story from the collection, “Beryl and the Croucher,” was turned into a film in 1949, No Way Back.

In contrast to many of D.W. Griffith’s other films of the 1910s, Broken Blossoms is a small-scale production instead of a grand, sweeping, lengthy epic with a huge ensemble cast. It tells a heartrending, intimate story of marked visual contrasts.

The première at NYC’s George M. Cohan Theatre, during the D.W. Griffith Repertory Season, featured moon lanterns, flowers, and gorgeous brocaded Chinese draperies.

Critics and laypeople alike loved it, to the tune of $700,000 ($10,412,843 today). However, many were deeply disturbed by the depiction of child abuse, some so much they left the theatre to vomit. Griffith himself took several months to edit it, so disturbed and depressed was he by the subject matter.

In 1996, Broken Blossoms was chosen for inclusion in the U.S. National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. The film is widely regarded as one of Griffith’s finest, and one of the great treasures of film history.

Owing to the strict anti-miscegenation laws of the time, Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess were unable to have any love scenes. Even when both actors were white in real life, they were legally barred from kissing onscreen if their characters were in an interracial relationship.

Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess) sets out from China with a pure heart and soul full of love and idealism, little realising what ugliness and cruelty await him. He “holds a great dream to take the glorious message of peace to the barbarous Anglo–Saxons, sons of turmoil and strife.”

Prior to his departure, Cheng interferes in a fight between foreign sailors, trying to tell them not to do unto others what is hateful to themselves (a maxim found across almost all religions). His message of peace and love is received with violence and mockery, but that makes him even more determined to spread the word.

London’s notoriously seedy, impoverished East End is a shocking wakeup call to this gentle-hearted, sensitive Buddhist missionary. A few years after his arrival, he’s nothing but another poor shopkeeper, and his “youthful dreams come to wreck agains the sordid realities of life.” To try to cope with the ugly real world, Cheng smokes opium and gambles.

Meanwhile, boxer Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp) is raising his daughter Lucy (Lillian Gish) as a single dad. Battling, “a gorilla of the jungles of East London,” is violent outside the ring too, and an alcoholic. It really speaks to how desperate Lucy’s mother must’ve been to relinquish her to Battling.

Battling’s manager rightly complains about his drinking and womanizing, but Battling keeps his anger in check for the sake of his career. He saves the release of his rage for Lucy, his personal punching-bag, who’s too passive and weak to stand up for herself or escape.

Lucy is warned by both her married friends and prostitute friends not to follow in their footsteps, since their lives have been nothing but sorrow and misery since starting down those respective paths.

Cheng has been admiring Lucy from afar for awhile, struck by her fragile, haunted beauty amidst the muck and mire of Limehouse.

Battling’s manager finds him womanizing at a bar, and the ensuing lecture sends Battling into a rage. At home, he unleashes his rage upon Lucy with a whip.

Severely wounded and half-conscious, Lucy escapes after her father departs for training across the Thames, and collapses on the floor of Cheng’s shop. Cheng shows her the first gentleness she’s ever known when he cleans her wounds.

Cheng carries Lucy upstairs to his flat and tenderly nurses her back to health, beautifully decorating the room as befits a princess. He also gives her gorgeous clothes and renames her White Blossom.

Troubled waters start brewing when one of Battling’s friends comes to Cheng’s shop. While Cheng is out getting change, he hears an odd noise from upstairs and goes to investigate, finding Lucy asleep in bed.

Battling is horrified to learn Lucy is living with a Chinese man, and races home to get his revenge after the big fight. The concluding scenes are some of the most powerful, heartbreaking, and unforgettable of cinematic history.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Food, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—A great feast

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP.

As last year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets come from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

I decided to skip the scene of the turkey being butchered and go right to Thanksgiving, when five generations of Cinnimin Filliard’s family gather together with the five Smalls to enjoy their immense feast. The women in Cinni’s direct maternal line are usually very long-lived. Cinni herself will live to 120.

Thursday at 4:30, Cinni sat down to a Thanksgiving feast with her extended family and the Smalls. Both sides of the table were piled high with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, candied carrots, applesauce, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and bread rolls. Additional foods on the Smalls’ side were chopped liver and some kind of dish made from the other turkey innards. To avoid cross-contamination, the Smalls had several layers of placemats under their tableware, and several folded-up tablecloths underneath their pots, pans, and platters.

Almost everything looked identical, since Mrs. Small had worked from Mrs. Filliard’s recipes. The only differences were that the Smalls’ gravy was made with extra flour, and without cream, butter, or milk, and that their candied yams had a rainbow of colors from the unusual flavors of marshmallows.

Tatjana Modjeska, Cinni’s 98-year-old great-great-grandmother, was petting a fluffy Persian cat in her lap. Sparky was a bit wary of animal fur getting into the food, but anyone who’d lived to almost a hundred was entitled to bring her pet to dinner. Cinni’s great-great-great-grandmother, Helga Wisowska, had passed away four years ago, so Tatjana must miss her mother at the holidays.

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katrin, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Arrive at the Penthouse

This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., the final version doesn’t pedantically use accents, and Katrin wisely leaves out the very personal information about Matryona’s painful past. Instead, she just says “If not for the Civil War, both might’ve been married years ago.” The birthdate I created for Sandro (not Sandros) also makes him already 29 as of June 1927.

***

“We’re on the top floor,” Katrin says. “It’s a penthouse suite, which is sort of like a luxury apartment. My husband and I are going to a wedding tomorrow, so we’ll have to trust you to mind yourselves while we’re gone. A friend of mine has a stepsister who’s getting married at the high age of thirty-five. Her husband-to-be is a few years younger. The bride-to-be isn’t a physical virgin, but her betrothed is modern and enlightened, and understands some terrible things happened to good people during the Civil War.”

“We lost everybody to the Revolution and Civil War, except maybe my aunt,” Naína nods. “I used to have two cousins, but the older one was beaten to death by some grotesque orphanage warden in St. Petersburg. The little suitcase we brought with us belongs to my younger cousin. She disappeared on the train taking us from our Kiyev orphanage to Cherkasi last January, and we never found a trace of her after that. We hope she’s alright, if she were found before the worst happened, or if she only got lost instead of being kidnapped.”

“Well, you’re in a free country now. I have to warn you, there are a lot of discrepancies between rich and poor, and a lot of government-sponsored censorship, both of ideas and speech, but at least this is a far better place to be than the Soviet Union. I was a Bolshevik once, but I discovered they weren’t being true to the real ideals of Socialism. Now I’m involved with real Socialists, not people who only espouse one way of thinking.”

Oliivia timidly walks up to the visitors, dragging her doll Aurelia behind her. “Eesti, vene, või inglise keel?”

“These nice girls speak Russian. Right now they have to unpack their things and get settled in a bit, but I’m sure they’d love to play with you, your sisters, and your godbrother when they’re more relaxed.” Katrin turns back to Naína and Kátya. “I don’t suppose you ladies know any Estonian. This one’s Oliivia, my oldest. She’s smart. She’s fluent in Estonian, Russian, and English, and she’s only three and a half.”

“The only other language we know is Ukrainian,” Kátya says. “But we’re not stupid. We’ll work very hard to learn English. Does your maid ever speak her African language?”

Katrin laughs. “Mrs. Samson was born in this country, and her family’s been here for quite some time. Most Negroes don’t speak African languages unless they’re recent immigrants. As far as I know, she doesn’t know where in Africa her ancestors came from, and she has no desire to learn any of the African languages. But she will teach you the latest jazz dances, if you’re interested.”

“Are your other female servants English?” Naína asks. “Their names sounded English to me. I assumed your butler is Greek.”

“Greek? Does he look Greek to you? He doesn’t even have dark hair or eyes!”

“But isn’t Rhodes one of the Greek islands?”

“Who knows how the name of the island came to be an English name. No, all of my servants are of English descent except Mrs. Samson. They were all enlightened enough to work for an Estonian, and we enjoy a good working relationship. Many people in this country are very racist against anyone not originally from Western Europe.”

“But this entire country is made of immigrants,” Kátya protests. “Even the Indians had to come here from Siberia.”

“Don’t ask me to explain why so many people are so hypocritically racist in a nation of immigrants. I never understood such a strange attitude myself. By the way, will you be going to church? My family goes to a Unitarian church, and Stásya goes downtown to a Russian Orthodox church. She goes with Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy, but makes them ride on another level of the bus or a respectable distance from her on the subway. Her reputation would be ruined if it were found out by the wider public that she’s got a bastard son.”

“She actually kept a bastard?” Naína asks.

“She moved back with my family after I discovered she was pregnant, and made up a story about a long illness to explain away all the months she missed at work. I also made her give birth at home, since God knows what would’ve happened to her in the hospital.”

“It’s normal to give birth in hospitals here? I thought only very sick people went there.”

“You’ve got a lot to learn about American life. But right now, all you need to do is unpack.”

“We haven’t gone to church since 1919,” Kátya says. “I don’t think either of us remembers how to behave.”

“What’s a Unitarian church?” Naína asks.

“It’s a very progressive Protestant denomination. If you go with Stásya, you can just copy what other people do. They’ve got some benches there, since it used to be a Roman Catholic church. A lot of the people stand or walk around during services anyway, since they’re so used to having done that back home. I’m sure we can find some scarves for you to cover your hair with if you go there.”

“Can we ask how old you are?”

“Twenty-seven. Stásya just turned twenty-eight, and Sándros is going to be twenty-nine in a few months.”

“Wow, you look very good for having had five kids at your age. I can only imagine how many you’ll have within the next ten years!”

“None. I was fixed in January, when my youngest Viivela was a month old. I wanted five, and I got five. Now I’m medically assured of remaining at five forever.”

“You’re allowed to be sterilized in this country without a medical emergency?” Kátya asks. “This is like a science fiction story come to life!”

“I went underground, but yes, there are doctors out there willing to secretly perform the procedure on women who know they’re done having kids. In public, only prisoners and morons are generally sterilized. You can learn more about my views by perusing the articles I’ve written for the various left-wing Russian, Estonian, English, Latvian, and Lithuanian publications when you’re done unpacking.”

Posted in 1960s, Music, The Monkees

Happy 50th birthday to The Monkees Present!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use Doctrine

Released 1 October 1969, The Monkees Present was the band’s eighth studio album, and their last with Nez until 1996’s Justus. Peter had already left in late ’68. This album was their final attempt to regain popularity and commercial viability after the cancellation of their TV show.

Despite heavy promotion, the album only reached #100, and the two singles didn’t even make the Top 50. Shortly after release, Nez announced his plans to form a new band. Due to unfair stigma about The Monkees’ origins and poppier style of music, many people didn’t take Nez seriously, and The First National Band only lasted two years.

Originally, the plan was to release a double LP, with one side for each bandmember. After Peter left, that idea was no longer possible. The band’s plummeting popularity also compelled them into making a normal single LP.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Little Girl” (Micky)
“Good Clean Fun” (Nez) (#83 in the U.S.; #26 in Australia)
“If I Knew” (Davy and Bill Chadwick)
“Bye Bye Baby Bye Bye” (Micky and Ric Klein)
“Never Tell a Woman Yes” (Nez)
“Looking for the Good Times” (written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart; sung by Davy)
“Ladies Aid Society” (written by Boyce and Hart; sung by Davy)
“Listen to the Band” (Nez) (#63 in the U.S.; #15 in Australia)
“French Song” (written by Bill Chadwick; sung by Davy)
“Mommy and Daddy” (Micky)
“Oklahoma Backroom Dancer” (written by Michael Martin Murphey; sung by Nez)
“Pillow Time” (written by Janelle Scott and Matt Willis; sung by Micky)
“Calico Girlfriend Samba” (Nez)*
“The Good Earth” (short poem written by Ben Nisbet and delivered by Davy)*
“Listen to the Band” (alternate take)*
“Mommy and Daddy” (alternate take)*
Radio promo for the album (delivered by unknown person)

In 2013, the wonderful Rhino released a deluxe three-CD set with lots of bonus tracks, in addition to a vinyl 45 with two songs.

My favourite tracks are “Mommy and Daddy” (one of Micky’s most criminally underrated songs!), “Listen to the Band” (one of The Monkees’ signature songs), and “Ladies Aid Society.”

I really like this album. It’s my favourite of their two 1969 records, and shows yet again they were capable of so much more than easily-disposable teenypop. The Monkees evolved into a very mature, stylish sound, and produced some incredible records after their peak of popularity.

Posted in 1910s

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

To mark the 101st anniversary of the end of World War I, here are a sampling of newspaper headlines broadcasting the glorious news. Sadly, the last veteran passed away in 2012, and the last combat vet passed in 2011.

But as we so painfully know, freedom is never free. My Belarusian characters the Zyuganovs are taught by their father to always bring Martagon lilies to the graves of their five brothers who were killed during the Russian Civil War, since lilies represent peace. If everyone leaves peaceful flowers on the graves of war dead, there might never be another war, nor would any serviceperson be killed in the prime of life again.