October 31st, 2005

Milwaukee Film Festival, "Mrs. Henderson Presents"

Yes, Milwaukee has an annual Film Festival. This year was the third, and, although the Festival has not attracted any greeat attention to Milwaukee (yet) it has brought us batches of quirky films we'd be unlikely to see elsewhere. One of this year's important films was "Mrs. Henderson Presents," starring Dame Judi Dench, and Bob Hoskins (Hoskins was also a chief producer). Dench plays Mrs. Henderson, a wealthy and bored recent widow who purchases the dilapitated Windmill Theatre in London's West End, refurbishes it, and hires theatre veteran Vivian Van Damm (Hoskins) to run it for her. Mrs. Henderson has some progressive ideas about shaking up the London entertainment scene and begins by running her new review "continuous" as Vaudeville and Burlesque houses did in America. ("Continuous" means that the show starts when the theatre opens in early afternoon and runs in repetition until the theatre closes for the night. Which, since Mrs. Henderson was staging a "revue" rather than a vaudeville style variety show, must have been brutal on the company, reflecting how hard up for work many performers were in the late Depression days of 1937-8. In a variety, most of the performers have their one or two acts, and have a break until their "turn" comes round again. In a review/revue, there's one company and many of them, especially the dancers, would be in most of the numbers--.) The idea is a sensation, and is rapidly copied by competitors, which throws Mrs. Henderson's success into the red. Her next innovation is to add "nude girls" as done on stage in Paris. Since in England, all theatrical productions have to be licenced by the Lord Chancellor (as in Shakespeare's day) she has to wangle government approval. She can manage a partial success since she's known the Chancellor (Christopher Guest) since he was a boy. The success is only partial, since he will only allow nudes on stage as long as they don't move--having therefore the artistic qualities of statues or paintings in a museum.

The story goes on to relate the probems inherent in staging nude tableaux, including finding performers who are willing to appear nude, not having done it before. Henderson and Van Damm knock heads in a number of fashions over the course of the story, friction partly brought on by Mrs. Henderson's discovery that age has not yet deadened her to passion. With the advent of war, the Windmill goes from being a scandalous entertainment to a patriotic enterprise, supporting "the boys" morale in a way the governments are usually too stuffy to acknowlege is needed.

This is a beautiful, sweet, sentimental, and mostly funny story, based on true events, and it is a miserable shame that our uptight stupid society will insist on it getting an R rating, which means it will be restricted to art-house release, at least in the US. Of course, the reason is nudity, most of it female, (although there is one brief hilarious scene involving some full-frontal male)and most of it breasts. The film, as Mrs. Henderson promised the Lord Chancellor, is very canny at using lighting and angle to obscure the "female parts." On the other hand, there are a LOT of breasts. I've never been sure if the Joe-Bob Briggs metric on this subject is per actress or per scene, but if it is per scene, then this film must be second only to "Caligula" for number of breasts on screen. That said, all the nudity IS tasteful, and seeing how the producers work a nude tableaux into everything from sweet sappy love songs to patriotic anthems is a hoot and a half.

The script is chiefly a star vehicle for Dench and Hoskins, and they are not in the least upstaged by the youthful pulchritude on display. Dench is particularly fine, including a touching scene in which she strikes poses to her boudoir mirror, imagining herself as a nude artiste. Hoskins as the blustery Van Damm is more one-note, but if this film got into wider distribution, I would say it was Oscar time for both of them. If Dench is not at least nominated, there is no justice.

I recommend the film for all. Of course, children will not be allowed--.

Lytheria Halloween

As usual, this year, our Halloween Celebrations centered around Lytheria, the east-side mansion owned by our friend Lee Schneider, and inhabited by a changing cooperative household of fans and students. Saturday night was the open-house Halloween party, which we attended in costume. Our friend, Lisa Mason, had suggested that "Scary Godmother" a cartoon character by writer and artist Jill Thompson would make a good costume for Georgie. (See Wikipedia entry on SG here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scary_Godmother ) After some time of finding the right parts the costume made its debut at the party, with me going as her skeleton lodger, Mr. Pettibone. Both costumes were well recieved, and a good time was had.

The following afternoon was the Trick-or-Treat production. We had decided that this was the year if any to do "Star Wars", never having done it, and set the theme as "Coruscant Job Fair" with recruiting tables for both Jedi and Sith, Imperial Armed Forces (motto: "The Clone Army Builds Men!"), droid repair school, and the Mos Eisley Musicians Guild. I came as Count Dooku, but turned the Sith table over to my master, Emperor Plapatine (Kev Gallimore) and spent most of the afternoon working the stairs and sidewalks when we had a line, which was most of the time. Georgie came as female Jedi Bariss Ofee, Henry Osier was the Imperial recruiter, Todd Voros the droid repair tech, Janice Hanchar the Cantina performer, Lee Schneider and Gary Cone as Security, Julie Ann Hunter as the Jawa, Barisha Lettermann as Amidala, and Chuck Tritt, Steve Hanchar, Jolene Stiles and Mike Davis (aka "Raxus") as bounty hunters/mercenaries. Perhaps due to the good weather, we had our largest turnout ever, giving away ALL the candy we had on hand except for some emergency reserves, meaning in excess of 600 visitors, mostly not counting parents. The schtick was that the kids had to choose whom to sign up with, at which time they got a chit to hand in for a "hiring bonus" from the cashier (Therese Roden).

As usual, fun was had. The best moment was when we saw a Yoda costume coming. The reaction of myself, Chuck, and Mike was "Yoda! Let's get him!" Taking charge as my "Count Dooku" personality, I declared "He's mine!" I went to the sidewalk, took a guard position with my (toy plastic) lightsaber, and gave my challenge: "OK, you shrivelled green runt, time for a rematch!" "Yoda" was taken aback for a bit, then gamely deployed his lightsaber to the cheers of the onlookers and moved in for the attack. We had a brief "duel" which ended when I let Yoda touch me on the leg. I then escorted the victor to up to claim his candy.

OK, let's see if this works: The Halloween 2005 folder should be publicly viewable at:


Hmm. Forgot to upload the photos to this folder. Check back later!