I can’t believe that it was twenty months ago that I wrote –
I keep on saying that I don’t “do” contests; and then I do. I claim I’m not competitive; by and large I am not, but I do admit to being happy to win – when it happens. So let me declare again that I don’t participate to win, but rather because the topic resonates for me. It also means that I
won’tdon’t always follow the rules….
It was the second of what became a 21-month run of fun contests in which, unusually, I often participated and it prefaced my first entry. The team that launched the contest are entirely to blame, and it has been fun. As they say, all good things must come to an end, and this is the last iteration of the contest – for the moment – I hope.
Going out with gold
I did think I’d make a point of having a final entry, but when I read the post with the final theme, I knew that not only would I “do” the competition, but I’d be hard pressed not to give it, what has now become known as “The Fiona Treatment”.
Choosing one’s favourite Oscar-winning film is a challenge. I confess that the first film to jump into my head, was Out of Africa, which I have seen more times than I can remember. I even had it on VHS tape.
Then I had to go in search of a list: to be sure that I was on the right track.
Childhood musical memories
The list is long and, of course, goes back to the beginning of time before I was born. I was delighted and startled to see that films that I love, including some that bring back memories: those childhood days when we all went to see films in the cinema. My parents were smokers (as so many people were, in the 60s and 70s) so we always sat in either the back third of the cinema or in the circle. I never understood why it was called the circle. It wasn’t. Not even a half circle. It was a balcony.
It was from that balcony that I watched Gigi (1959) and loved Maurice Chevalier’s singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” – because I was one. Then. In his top hat and tails and the pony and trap. Looking at the lyrics, now, I have no doubt that in our suspicious, postmodern world, there would be suggestions of dirty old men and paedophilia…
While on children’s films, musicals and soundtracks, I cannot not but mention The Sound of Music (again) – also an Oscar winner – and which I will watch again; and again. Even though I remember virtually every scene, including some of the dialogue… This was the era of big musicals, but given that I might either not have been born, or well, whatever, the only other one that made sense to the little girl was My Fair Lady.
I couldn’t wait to dance all night in a beautiful, sparkly
frock ball gown.
High school Oscar memories
There are two Oscar-winning films that remind me of high school (in the late 1970s), and both of them pre-date that – and me. One is the classic, Gone with the Wind and which I saw on television. It must have been one of the first I saw on the box after it arrived in South Africa in 1977. My favourite line, and which I use, often, is not Rhett’s famous, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” but rather Scarlet’s
I’ll think about it tomorrow…
The other, also not a contemporary film and one we were compelled to see, was the adaptation of Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for all Seasons., which we studied in year 10 (or in our parlance, Standard 8). Its themes of integrity and ethics, and Paul Scofield‘s portrayal of Sir Thomas More, a man of both passion, devotion and stoicism, resonated for me as much in the film as did the character in the pages of the play. I do admit that our teacher – Mrs Colqhoun – probably had a great deal to do with this, too.
Paring down the list: keeping it on the stage
Looking at the list of more contemporary winners, there are so many from which to choose. Two I have seen on the stage in South Africa. In some ways, those performances made greater impressions on me than the film versions:
In my second year at Rhodes University (1982), and when I was working at the National Arts Festival, I saw a Pieter Toerien production of the Peter Shaffer play. The South African actors, Bobby Heaney* and Richard Haines, who played Amadeus and Salieri, respectively, were outstanding. I can still picture them in my mind’s eye: the evil, cold, ailing Salieri, and the apparently flighty, inordinately talented Mozart. When I subsequently saw the film, for some reason, it simply didn’t live up to my expectations.
*This reference says that Ralph Lawson played Mozart, but not in the version that I saw.
Driving Miss Daisy
Looking at the dates of the stage production at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg – the same year that the film was released (1989) – it would have arrived in South Africa in 1990. I would have seen Driving Miss Daisy on the stage – the same year that it was released. I am an unashamed John Kani fan. I first saw him on stage when I was a twenty year old, and in Athol Fugard‘s Master Harold and the Boys. Also in Grahamstown, at a National Arts Festival. It is a brutal play and made an enormous impression on my young mind. Eleven years later, Hani played Hoke Colburn, making an equally indellible impression. I have also seen him in other stage productions, including Othello. He plays a stupendous Othello.
Sorry, not sorry, Morgan Freeman.
Another aside (or two)
Nineteen eighty three was the height of apartheid and the beginning of what became known as the total onslaught. It was illegal for folk of different races to share a stage – anything – for that matter. Fugard’s play reveals the complexities of relationships between, not just masters and “servants”, adults and children, complicated by a system that demeaned black Africans. These dynamics that were as relevant then, and as they are, now: themes very similar to those in Driving Miss Daisy.
Fast forward to 1986, and I’m working in Johannesburg. A regular Friday night “thing” included partying in Soweto. One of my fondest memories is talking the evening away, playing music, with Kani’s co-star from Master Harold, Ramalao Makhene. I’ve never seen him since, other than on stage in Sophiatown in the 1994 production with Patrick Shai, also there that evening. I followed his career and have warm memories of whiling away time discussing music with an interesting, gentle, articulate man.
There were a few contenders for my top three Oscar winning films. The deciding factor was whether or not I’d watch them again, and why. Two have African or South African connections. All are biographical.
Even as a child, Gandhi fascinated me. My British parents were very colonial having met and married in Uganda in the 1960’s and as I was growing up, Indira Gandhi was India’s Prime Minister. This film came out and arrived in South Africa at the cusp of my political awakening. Gandhi and his family have long and strong political connections with South Africa and there is a scene in the film, set on a train in South Africa, and where he’s asked to vacate a compartment. Because he (a practising attorney) is not white European. It’s not apocryphal.
Ask me to select three individuals who’ve made an enormous impression on me, Gandhi would be on that list. With Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. My meeting her is a story for another time.
Out of Africa
Yes, this is a chick flick. And a whole lot more. Karen Blixen‘s story is one of resilience, friendship, bravery, love and loss. Universal themes. I’ve not watched this for a while, but even so, I recall thinking about the strength of the woman who defied the social mores of the time and who was, at the same time, their victim.
I rue the day I lent my copy of Out of Africa to somebody. It has never returned.
The King’s Speech
This is one of the few films that didn’t disappoint in the reading of the book. While the book gives more insights into Lionel Logue – himself a fascinating man – the film gives insights into King George the VI and his struggle as monarch following the abdication of Edward VIII. It’s a period that fascinates me. Perhaps because my parents remembered the abdication; perhaps because my father told stories of, as an apprentice at Kew, having to shoo a young Prince Charles from a teasing fish in a pond. Perhaps because they disapproved of what “Mrs Simpson did”…
I’m a conflicted royalist and as I get older, I have greater and greater sympathy for the fact that the people that are royalty often have to sacrifice so much in a paradoxical world of so much.
This is probably Colin Firth’s best ever role, and I’ve seen him in a few. Including as Mr Darcy which, I’m afraid, did not live up to my teenage imaginings of the dashing, devilish rake.
Of the films that have won best picture, my top three, in no particular order, are
- Out of Africa
- The King’s Speech
I began, saying that it’s twenty months since team of @gaz, @foxyspirit, @plantstoplanks and @nickyhavey launched the monthly “Top 3” contest. I haven’t “done” it every month, but when I have, I’ve gone at it hammer and tongs. I’ve loved the way the topics have made me remincisce, reflect and flex forgotton synapses.
It’s no mean feat to dream up topics and manage contests – let alone every month. They have done it with aplomb. It’s been fun. I shall miss it and hope that Q (@yourtop3) will return after a well-deserved break. #nopressure #justsaying.
At the risk of beating a boring old gong, this Oscar-winning song had been one that was on my list of possibles for that first entry – and possibly some others – but as I was spoilt for choice, and could only choose three, it just didn’t get a mention.
So, from the Queen of Disco, this is for the team and for us all…
An apt way to dance into the sunset. For the moment.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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