EST. 2009

October 9, 2014

That Roma Aeterna

THE AGE, THE SCALE, THE SPLENDOR. The geometric perfection. The monolithic might. The grandeur of millennia long past. If I am being verbose, it's because no small set of words can seem to describe what I found in Rome. A week now since we visited and I am still filled with awe.

At the major attractions, there is little escape from the hordes of tourists. But even motley crowds are unable to dilute Rome's cinematic appeal. From atop the Il Vittoriano, a vision in itself, views of the Eternal City sweep like a scene from a movie. Ornate domes tower over stone pines as Vespas splutter on the cobblestones below. Stealing the show is the Colosseum; iconic like a veteran star unfaded by age. Used originally for holding spectacles both grand and gruesome, the amphitheatre today is the main attraction, visited by thousands of tourists every year. The grand. The gruesome. We're all still here taking selfies.

Over at the Vatican, Bernini's Piazza San Pietro won my affection not only for being my namesake, but for its dramatic, almost theatrical layout. With colonnades on either side of St. Peter's Basilica, each lined with four rows of columns, the piazza was designed to "embrace visitors in the maternal arms of mother church." An obelisk moved thrice since importing from Egypt punctuates the center of the piazza, serving as a gnomon to a giant sundial on the limestone floor.

Also imported with such arduous performance were the columns fronting the Pantheon. Each weighing 60 tons, the columns were quarried in Egypt and either dragged or floated through the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Tiber, and any land mass along the way. The scene to see, however, is inside the building. Up top. Shining in through an oculus at the dome's apex, a spotlight of sunlight slowly circles the interiors, illuminating its rich carvings and marble patterns.

When in Rome, it seems, do look to the heavens. At the Vatican Museums' Gallery of Maps, paintings and decorations fill a 120-meter-long ceiling. But even with its length, it is no rival to Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece. The Creation of Adam was directly above where we stood amidst a sea of other tourists, and like a true drama queen, I teared up in heart-swelling awe. “In a secularising world," says Alain de Botton, "art has replaced religion as a touchstone of our reverence and devotion.” But what then of art that depicts religious themes?

The trip was my first to Rome, and in just a few days, it made me wish I were an artist, an architect, a scholar, or even a mere resident of the city, just to be surrounded by its beautiful, millennia-spanning profundity. If I could channel Anouk Aimée in La Dolce Vita, I would love that too.

Maybe it's the spectacle of tourism. Maybe it's the glamor of cinema. Gore Vidal in Fellini's Roma calls Rome "the city of illusions. Not only by chance you have here the church, the government, the cinema. They each produce illusions."

No matter. "Veni, vidi, vici." I came. I saw. But it was Rome that conquered me.

Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Hotel Pulitzer Roma, La Zanzara, Pantheon, Vatican Museums, Tre Scalini Piazza Navona and Piazza San Pietro, Rome. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

October 1, 2014

That Spoonful of Julie

WE KNOW HER BEST having "confidence in sunshine," longing to "have danced all night" or advocating a "spoonful of sugar" to help the medicine go down. But less known about Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews is the hard childhood she endured, which instilled in her a tough off-screen character in stark contrast with her very celebrated, very wholesome roles. Within the industry, she's been dubbed "nun with a switchblade" for possessing traits some considered shrewd, even repulsive. My Fair Lady co-star Rex Harrison threatened to quit the production if Andrews were to stay. The Sound of Music co-legend Christopher Plummer remarked that working with her was "like getting hit over the head with a Valentine card."

On her appearance, Cecil Beaton called her "the most hopelessly unphotogenic person" he had ever met. The photos above proves otherwise, being not only beautiful, but feeling symbolic of Andrews's ability to triumph over inadequacies; superficial and otherwise. A child from an impoverished, broken home becomes Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first Cinderella. A stage actress rejected from playing the film version of her role goes on to win an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award for a role in a contending film. Late in the 60s, Julie Andrews starred in a couple of commercially disappointing films, and in the late 90s, lost her four-octave soprano in a tragic attempt to remove nodules from her throat. 

But Andrews surpassed all that. The new millennium established the film and theater veteran as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the performing arts. Perhaps "Dame" pales in comparison to Queen Guinevere but it's no doubt a big leap from Cockney flower girl. And unlike the latter two, Andrews's damehood is a real-life role to play.

"Perhaps I had a wicked childhood. Perhaps I had a miserable youth." Maria sings a most beautiful song in what may be the most awkward scene in The Sound of Music. "But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past, there must have been a moment of truth. For here you are, standing there, loving me. Whether or not you should."

Yes, Dame Julie. For filling our childhood with melodious magic and wholesome song, we love you. Whether or not we should.

Julie Andrews by Cecil Beaton, and by Philippe Halsman,

September 24, 2014

That Voyage dans la Lune

ON THIS MONTH, 112 YEARS AGO, what is considered to be the world's first science fiction film was released in Paris. Le voyage dans la lune, French for "Trip to the Moon" was a silent film that ran 16 minutes long, costing 10,000 francs and taking three months to complete. Created by Georges Méliès, who wrote, produced, directed, starred in, designed, publicized and even worked on building the set for the film, Le Voyage dans la Lune is regarded as one of history's most influential films, not only for generating its iconic moon image but ultimately for exploring the capabilities of the film medium.

Anyone who considers themselves a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, The Matrix, or any science fiction film at that, has Méliès to thank for pioneering the genre. Though Le Voyage is fundamentally more fantastic than scientific, the film was one of the first to incorporate themes of scientific ambition and exploration. Imagery, scientific elements and alien life forms, not to mention scantily-clad females, are elements in Méliès's film that can be found across multitudes of sci-fi films that have been released since. Bringing these elements to life was a combination of set design, costume and special effects, particularly the "stop trick" or substitution splicing that utilized editing to make film elements transform or disappear. Le Voyage was one of the first films in history to employ such techniques.

Poof! With a whack of an umbrella and a puff of smoke did a moon-inhabiting Selenite disappear. Just like its magically vanishing creatures, Le Voyage dans la Lune itself has undergone its own disappearing act, embarking on a century-long adventure of piracy, oblivion, rediscovery and restoration. Proving a blockbuster after its release, the film was pirated so rampantly in France and the United States that Méliès opened an American branch of his company to combat the illegal distribution. Between 1917 and 1923, the film's reel, along with other Méliès films, was destroyed both by the French military and Méliès himself, in an act of fury over the demolishing of the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, and Pathé's takeover of his company.

In 1993 however, 91 years after Le Voyage's first release, a copy of its hand-colored reel was discovered in Barcelona and donated anonymously to the Filmoteca de Catalunya. Though the film was in very poor condition, the discovery led to a restoration of the cinematic gem, completed in 2011 by Lobster Films, the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage.

With music by Air's Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, the restored Le Voyage dans la lune Premiered on May 11 at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Feeling much more like a music video than a science fiction movie, the film offers magic onscreen and off, demonstrating that wonderful advancements and discoveries are only ever coming our way.

Le Voyage dans la Lune, 1902. Directed by Georges Méliès. Film excerpts from Fondation Gan pour le Cinéma


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