The Perfect Gift

Classic movies count among my favorites. -

Classic movies count among my favorites. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Prior to Christmas vacation, I endeavored to find a unique family gift for us. A Eureka Moment manifested itself as I rifled through our collection of DVDs. In haste, I ordered the recently released The Complete Thin Man Collection. The collection consists of seven DVDs, six of which are titled “The Thin Man”; “After the Thin Man”; “Another Thin Man”; “Shadow of the Thin Man”; “The Thin Man Goes Home”; and “Song of the Thin Man”. The seventh is “Alias Nick and Nora”, a documentary of “Thin Man” stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. The Complete Thin Man Collection proved a Christmas hit with my daugher!

While we did not watch all of our favorite Holiday movies this year, we did view all “Thin Man” movies in order of their release. The movies were made over a period of years, beginning in 1934, with the last in 1947. Filmed during The Great Depression, and then World War II, the strength of these films endure today for, I believe, an overarching reason: They are incredibly good. The sexy, witty repartee between the characters of Nick and Nora Charles is irresistible. Based on Dashielll Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, Nick and Nora are supposedly modeled on Hammett and his long-time lover Lillian Hellman. One can only imagine the conversations between these two great writers, but we are able to savor a bit of the flavor of it through Nick and Nora Charles’ erudite exchanges. My daughter found it hilarious that the married couple slept in separate twin beds in each movie, yet alcohol flowed freely, as did hangovers, throughout the six films. My take on it is that with the Twenty-First Amendment heralded an end to Prohibition in December 1933, and “The Thin Man” movies reflected a cultural reaction of the legal flow of alcohol. Nick Charles, former private investigator, married into wealth with San Francisco socialite Nora. Like Dashiell Hammett’s novel, “The Thin Man” movie was wildly popular. Dapper, cool-headed Nick and intelligent, beautiful, sassy Nora portrayed a new kind of relationship: One in which there was a true partnership, based on mutual respect and love, all of which comes across magnificently on the silver screen. Even Asta the dog, is an integral member of the Charles’ family. Asta accompanies Nick on dangerous sleuthing that keeps drawing him in its snare.

Since Dashiell Hammett died on January 10, 1961, it seems fitting to watch his movies again this month. While he wrote the stories “After the Thin Man” and “Shadow of the Thin Man”, he did not write their screenplays, but the films bear Hammett’s signature detective writing mark. Maybe Hammett’s own work experience with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency echoed in “The Thin Man” films since his fictional protagonist Nick Charles had worked for Pinkerton’s. Nora’s fashions, and elegant and breathtaking they are, seem au currant today, as does Nick’s classy suits and tuxedos. I love these black and white cinematic wonders that exude sophistication and charm. Compared to much of what is churned out in today’s underwhelming movies, it is small wonder that I turn to Nick and Nora Charles to see how movies could be sophisticated, articulate, coherent, and simply entertaining, thanks to the superb pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy in fourteen films, including the six “Thin Man” films. On this cold winter night, I think I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch the first “Thin Man” movie.

Ciao for now.

Buon Capo d’Anno! Happy New Year’s Day!

Brie with fig jam is a delicious way to kick off New Year's Eve festivities at home. -

Brie with fig jam is a delicious way to kick off New Year’s Eve festivities at home. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Last night I made homemade chicken soup, my daughter Anjelica toasted French boule bread, and we sat down to eat by candlelight, toasting the New Year with Prosecco laced with St. Germain liquor. I would have mixed us a French 75, but I could not immediately locate the cucumber infused vodka [New Year’s Resolution: Organize the chaotic liquor portion of the pantry]. After dinner, we feasted on our homemade biscotti, made with Anisette and whiskey, among other key ingredients. While munching the biscotti and imbibing more Prosecco, we watched the movie “Little Women”, the one with Christian Bale in fine pre-Batman “The Dark Night Rises” form. Later we viewed various contemporary musicians on the Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve broadcast from Times Square. I thanked God I was not wedged in with those New York crowds. The overriding practical question I ask is, “What does a person do if Nature calls in that mob?”

Coco Chanel wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! -

Coco Chanel wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! –

Instead of eating Oysters Rockefeller at Midnight, we opted for chocolates. This New Year’s morning, after giving Fellini, Coco Chanel, and Anjelica’s cat Shelton Rae an extra helping of Fancy Feast Primavera White Chicken, I put together a Potato Basil Frittata, a` la the Barefoot Contessa, aka Ina Garten. For Capo d’Anno dinner, I am making Shrimp Scampi with Linguine, Swiss Chard, the ubiquitous “Swiss-a Charge” as my late Italian father called, and Prosecco, for it is, after all, New Year’s Day. Somewhere in between we shall feast on Oysters Rockefeller, just because [New Year’s Resolution: Continue to eat more seafood, particularly of the Omega-3 variety].

Shelton Rae echoed Coco Chanel's sentiments for a prosperous New Year. -

Shelton Rae echoed Coco Chanel’s sentiments for a prosperous New Year. –

Before dinner, we are going to the cinema. This is rare for me since I am a Netflix aficionado, and I am too thrifty to spring for the price of a theater ticket. For live performances, I’ll shell out, for movies, not so much because there is so little to see of worth. Today, though, I promised Anjelica to enter the movie theater to see “Into the Woods”. Had NPR not given it a reasonably good review, I probably would have waited for its release on Netflix. While Anjelica has been on vacation from law school, we watched all six of “The Thin Man” movies, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. I purchased the box set of DVDs for our family Christmas present this year. Frankly, I do not think films get any better than Nick and Nora Charles’ comic, sexy sleuthing. In the same category of exceptional cinematic moments would be Peter O’Toole in practically anything, but particularly in “Lawrence of Arabia”; “The Ruling Class; and “My Favorite Year” [New Year’s Resolution: Push full-steam ahead with my novel writing and maybe even give screenplay writing a try].

Shelton Rae donned his Scottish Highland plaid tie for New Year's Day breakfast. -

Shelton Rae donned his Scottish Highland plaid tie for New Year’s Day breakfast. –

No matter what is eaten, watched, yes, even football, or read today, I heartily wish one and all a protean Happy New Year [New Year’s Resolution: Keep trying out recipes in my two new cookbooks from my daughter and niece]!

Fellini hastened to find sanctuary once the fireworks began on New Year's Eve. -

Fellini hastened to find sanctuary once the fireworks began on New Year’s Eve. –

Ciao for now.


Te Nora Laudemus

English: Nicholas Pileggi and Nora Ephron at t...

English: Nicholas Pileggi and Nora Ephron at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was neither a close friend, nor an acquaintance of Nora Ephron’s, yet I felt as if I had known her.  Throughout the years I have laughed over her movies, devoured her essays, and lauded her scathing novel Heartburn.  When the news hit last night about her death from pneumonia via acute myeloid leukemia, my grief was heartfelt.  Through Nora’s crisp dialogue, witty essays, and sharp blog posts, I have learned much about writing.  The same is true, I admit, from reading Woody Allen’s prose and viewing his films.  If we had National Treasures, both Nora and Woody would prove worthy candidates for their linguistic prowess, their hegemony of the written word.

Nora Ephron’s 2010 book I Remember Nothing kept me in stitches, for I too forget people’s names.  I purchased the book for friends, just as I did her 2006 book, I Feel Bad About My Neck.  Her prose rang true, her insight acute regarding women and random life events.   My friends marveled at the humor and pathos in the essays, particularly when Nora wrote of her mother Phoebe, who became an alcoholic and died at fifty-seven.

   Sleepless in Seattle had ranked as my favorite Nora Ephron film, until Julie and Julia came along.  My copy of Julia’s My Life in France is dog-eared; I have read it multiple times.  Suffice to say that when the foodie film based in part on My Life in France arrived in theatres, I was on deck.  Nora thrilled me with her film so much that I reread her books and Julia’s again.

In fact, I again was reading I Remember Nothing this week.  Now Nora Ephron is no longer with us on Planet Earth, but I am heartened to know that she lives on through her movies, essays, books, and in revealing the secret to life is to marry an Italian.  Adieu, Nora.  Thank you for enriching my life and for reminding me to be the heroine of my own life.

Ciao for now.


Addicted to Woody

The bridge shot

The bridge shot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I unabashedly admit to being a Woody Allen disciple. Early on, I sought out his movies.  Then in 1977, my ardor swelled with Annie Hall.  After dragging friends to behold the magic of Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, my mission was to convert my entourage to the distilled essence of this perfect film.  In 1979 along came Manhattan, and I swooned for Woody all over again.  We college students agreed that Manhattan could only have been filmed in black and white with George Gershwin’s surging music a powerful underpinning to the storyline.

Match Point jarred me; it was such a darker sort of Woody film.  Yet it was not when I remembered Hannah and Her Sisters and Stardust Memories.  I prefer not to reveal the number of times I have viewed Vicky Christina Barcelona; suffice to say I worship at Woody’s altar.

In 2011, I was front and center to take in Woody’s latest flick, Midnight in Paris.  The Cole Porter songs wafting throughout the movie mesmerized me.  I remain enraptured of Midnight in Paris and the luminaries of the Lost Generation it evokes.

To Rome With Love opens in New York and Los Angeles today, with me sitting in The Heartland, eating pasta with pesto and fagioli for lunch, but alas, one needs sustenance even when dreaming of Rome. My spirit is channeling you happily in Rome, Woody, even though I believe you are already writing your next film, perhaps set in Venice.

Ciao for now.