Tuesday, March 25, 2014



There is no rest for the weary so back I went back to the soundstage today to film the fashion parade segment for my new infomercial, Virtually Vicki. I persuaded a number of my old friends from the studio days to serve as models for VickiWear. The art department created a darling little catwalk down which they can sashay and turn with flair, allowing the viewing audience to see both the incredible styling and fabulous fit these garments can provide.

Gloria Stuart is wearing one of the lame nuns' habits from The Sound of Music collection; she’s paired with Farley Granger in the satin lederhosen. Shirley Temple Black is wearing the khaki and grass skirt South Pacific dress. Esther Williams, true to form, wears the bathing suit inspired by Edward Albee's Seascape . Jane Powell will look divine in the A View From The Bridge dress. Olivia deHavilland flew in specially from Paris to model the Cat On A Hot Tin Roof  lingerie collection. For the GlamourPuss Gowns, haut couture inspired by the costumes from Cats , I wanted talented actresses with modeling experience so Cindy Crawford is wearing the Mungojerrie, Elle McPherson is wearing the Skimbleshanks and Naomi Campbell is wearing the Bustopher Jones.

Things went swimmingly, except for Gloria Stuart's small stumble off the ramp (the doctors say she should be walking again in no time) and Elle and Naomi's argument over whose eating disorder was worse. We wrapped early and I was able to race home and put my feet up with a film before dinner. I collapsed on the couch in front of the home theater and started to channel surf and was astonished to run across yet another one of those films of which I had never heard. This one is a movie version of Pat Barker's exquisite novel Regeneration, entitled Behind the Lines for its video release, but popping up on premium cable under its original title.

Regeneration is a fictionalized account of a true story from late in the course of World War I. The British poet, Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), an officer in the British army, publicly protested the conduct of the war in print and tossed his Military Cross into a handy lake. (I did much the same thing with my Golden Raspberry award a few years back.) The army, not wanting to draw more attention to his very valid anti-war points, did not court-martial him, but rather sent him to a sanitarium which treated officers suffering from shell shock and other war related conditions in order to make him realize the folly of his positions and to get him to return to the front as the superior officer that he was.

At the sanitarium, Sasoon comes under the care of the psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) whose job it is to patch up officers' psyches and return them to the horrors of the trenches. 1917 was during the infancy of psychotherapeutics and Rivers and his methods are regarded by the military establishment with suspicion and contempt, both because of a lack of cultural understanding, and because psychotherapy is seen as Austrian in nature (Freud et al.) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire is the enemy. Sasoon also meets and encourages another budding poet at the sanitarium, Wilfrid Owen (Stuart Bunce) and spends time with his friend, writer and poet Robert Graves (Dougray Scott).

In contrast with Sassoon, is another officer, Prior (Jonny Lee Miller) who comes from the working class and who worked his way up from the ranks. Prior is mute following some agonizing frontline experiences and Rivers works with him as well. In a scene as terrible as any of the battles, we see the contrast between Rivers' gentle psychotherapy and the military's usual methods when another military doctor treats a mute with bondage and electrical shocks.

The stories and memories of these men are worked together in a meditation that takes on, amongst other things, the horrors of war, the nature of class, sanity versus insanity, and what is the nature of a healer and healing. Sassoon must be convinced that the way to most make sense of his antiwar stance is to return to the front; Prior must be made to accept that is inability to cope with what he has faced is not necessarily a failure; Rivers must heal the unhealable despite the toll it takes on himself; Owen must find his destiny beyond his beautiful poetic words. This is one of the few films to deal with poetry that actually has poetry in it, both in words and in images - a distinct contrast to that irksome piece about Rimbaud and Baudelaire from a few years ago.

The performances are marvelous in the best British Masterpiece Theater tradition (although the movie itself appears to be a Canadian/Scottish co-production from the credits). Pryce brings infinite soul to a man who is pressed from all sides by human suffering and human misunderstanding. Wilby is sullen fortitude. Miller, sans jolie femme, shows that he can actually act and is not just the pretty face of the month. The photography of the lovely old edifice that serves as sanitarium is beautiful, contrasting the lushness of home with the grim monotone of the mud of trench warfare.

On a side note, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Graves a number of years ago when I played Messalina in Clau-Clau-Claudius!, the musical version of his famous novel, on the London stage. We did not discuss the war poets, but rather where you could get good Chinese take out in the West End. I also read Pat Barker's novel a few years back - brilliant. I must tell Oprah.

Surviving eyeball. Exploding shells. Dinner vomiting. Distinguishing armbands. Jonny Lee Miller sex. Gratuitous boat play. Serious literature. Primitive electrical generators.

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