Thank you, Deborah!

10 years ago, in front of my tv, I heard the news of Deborah’s passing away and I had a feeling of emptiness. I realized I had lost someone who had shaped part of the person I had become.
“There should be some more words for ‘Thank you'”, she said, visibly emotioned, in her Oscar acceptance speech. I would need these kind of words today to express my gratitude to her, for her continuing influence in my life.
Instead of searching for those words, I’ll try to put down in writing the reasons for my thank you note.
10 lessons I learned from Deborah:

1) the lesson of acting, versatile, subtle and sincere
2) the lesson of (inside) beauty and true elegance and class
3) the lesson of integrity and morality, from someone who made a successful life and career, without stepping on other people
4) the lesson of optimism and humour
5) the lesson of kindness and compassion
6) the lesson of being true and natural, in a world of false glitter and hypocrisy
7) the lesson of modesty
8) the lesson of self respect and dignity
9) the lesson of responsibility and dedication
10) the lesson of wisdom and intelligence
For all of these reasons, and probably many others, I say today “Thank you, Deborah, from the bottom of my heart!”


A year of anniversaries…

“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them: they can be injured by us, they can be wounded; they know all our penitence, all our aching sense that their place is empty, all the kisses we bestow on the smallest relic of their presence.” – George Eliot

2017 is a year of anniversaries in my book of special people, those with whom I grew up and who influenced my life in a way or another. In October it will be 10 years since Deborah Kerr left us and this July marked the 5oth year since Vivien Leigh’s passing away.
For this occasion, I made a special trip to London, to attend the celebrations organized by the Vivien Leigh Circle, and to pay my respects to this amazing actress who entered my life more than 25 years ago.
At first, it was her striking beauty in the film Waterloo Bridge that caught the attention of a young girl who probably, unconsciously, was looking for feminine role models for her imminent growing up. Her grace and elegance appealed to me, while I was mesmerized by the effect of her face on my tv screen. The many close-ups of her in Mervyn LeRoy’s  film still linger in my mind.
I understood it wasn’t just beauty, in an empty sense of the word, that of a model posing for the camera. It was also the emotions she managed to get through to me, in a subtle way, through her eyes and little gestures, which I later understood to be the perfect kind of acting for the camera, which picks up every detail and nuance.
Thus, her beauty (an asset she always tried to minimize) became a tool in her craft, and gave her characters the quality of a heartbreaking fragility.
As the years went by and I matured a little, I managed to grasp the full gift of her acting in roles like Blanche Dubois or Mary Treadwell.
And getting to know things about her personal life, I understood how courageous it was of her to face in her roles all the demons that plagued her in life, the manic depression, the growing old, the loss of love and the solitude.
She made the best of her tragic heroines, probably giving them little things from her own destiny. They all had a stoic way of facing adversities, like Myra or Anna Karenina, heading with their heads up high towards their deaths, or Karen Stone coolly and consciously playing with her destiny and literally throwing the keys to her future to a stranger. Blanche managed to get up with dignity and follow her kind stranger to the asylum, while Mary Treadwell picked herself up and got off the boat completely composed in appearance.
There is a quality of dignity in their defeat, something that Vivien managed to transmit in her real life too, while facing an illness which was misunderstood and badly treated at the time. Even if she wished she had a “respectable” disease like cancer, she did the best she could to manage the bipolar disorder and submitted herself to the electroshock treatments, in order to be able to keep working.
For all these reasons Vivien won my respect forever, both as an actress and a person and also my admiration for her devotion in friendship and her passion in love and life in general.
As a result, I made this special video tribute to her, which was screened at St. Paul’s Church in London during the memorial that took place on the 7th of July.
I tried to pay homage to her incomparable screen persona, her capacity to stir emotions and inevitably her beauty.

Also, I had the chance to literally walk in her footsteps at Notley Abbey and Tickerage Mill. The beauty of these places and their tranquillity reminded me of her words:
“I read a book called ‘The Martyrdom of Man’ and I underlined a passage then, which I came upon the other day. I think of it often because perhaps what is lacking today is the time just to sit and wonder. The lines say what I feel and what I hope. They are:
‘And the artists shall inherit the earth and the world will be as a garden.'”
In life, she managed to make herself a garden wherever she lived and to bring beauty to those places, something that sprung deep from her artistic soul. She made herself little paradises to live in, and eventually she went to the bigger one, which probably gave her spirit peace and tranquillity.
As Noel Coward said,
“She often reminded me of a bird of paradise. Now perhaps she can find her own.”

The result of my visit to Notley Abbey, Tickerage Mill, Durham Cottage & Eaton Square:

Remembering Deborah (September 30, 1921 – October 16, 2007)

A sentimental, nostalgic journey through Deborah’s career:
– from her last roles: The Assam Garden, A Woman of Substance, Hold the Dream, Reunion at Fairborough, Witness for the Prosecution, A Song at Twilight
– to the debut of her career: Major Barbara, Love on the Dole, Penn of Pennsylvania, Hatter’s Castle, The Day Will Dawn, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Vacation from Marriage, I See a Dark Stranger
– and going through all those roles in between: Black Narcissus, The Hucksters, If Winter Comes, Edward My Son, Please Believe Me, King Solomon’s Mines, Quo Vadis, Thunder in the East, The Prisoner of Zenda, Dream Wife, From Here to Eternity, The Arrangement, The Gypsy Moths, Eye of the Devil, The Night of the Iguana, The Chalk Garden, The Innocents, The Naked Edge, The Grass Is Greener, The Sundowners, Beloved Infidel, The Journey, Separate Tables, Bonjour Tristesse, An Affair to Remember, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Tea and Sympathy, The King and I, The Proud and Profane, The End of the Affair.

8 reasons to vote for The Assam Garden

The British Film Institute has recently launched an appeal to vote for a forgotten British film (until March 11), that would be restored and made available to the public.
Among the three choices is Deborah’s last role on the big screen, The Assam Garden. I feel it is my duty to defend my choice and give you a few arguments to vote for it too, some of them serious, and some just for the fun of it.

1. It is an intimate, slow-paced, atmospheric film that puts the viewer in an introspective mood, as we join Deborah Kerr’s character in a journey of self discovery. The long shots, with the camera following her all through the vast gardens, are beautiful from a cinematic point of view, and perfectly in tone with the character’s journey.

2. It is a beautiful story of an unlikely friendship, that evolves from a cold encounter to a deep human connection. It’s very relevant to the multicultural world we live in today, when we are used to closing doors to people who appear to be different from us. Sometimes, when we take the time to discover them, we may create strong bonds.

3. Deborah’s acting
As usual in her career, Deborah is so good at creating a complex character: this time tough in appearance, but full of underlying sensibilities and vulnerabilities. The switch between the two is perfect in Deborah’s subtle interpretation.
I think it was the kind of role that she waited for, many times in her career: a multi-dimensional role that gave her the opportunity to create a full character.
“Every woman I play on the screen has to stand up to one test: Is the woman a real person, a believable person… whether she is good, bad, or a mixture of both, as most women are, anyway. Can you believe that she has a head, a heart and body?”
“I must portray someone whom I can describe on the screen. In other words, I have to live the part.” (Deborah Kerr)

And this role provided her the chance to show us once more how good she was at acting, with words and silences.
“The hardest kind of acting is giving character to a quiet sort of person.“
“I always like to cut out words if I possibly can. Why do I have to say anything? You know, just look at someone and it says it.”
“I’ve always rather liked scenes where nobody’s talking for a change. They’re always more powerful, I think.” (Deborah Kerr)

4. This is the opportunity to see a Deborah like you’ve never seen her before.
You know the nice lady image you’ve been accustomed to? Well, forget it. She shows an unpleasant, bitter, cynical side that’s totally delightful. Because we’re so not used to seeing her as a grumpy old lady, aggressive towards “innocent” children and nice neighbours.

Deborah herself was enchanted when she had a chance to play against type in her career.
“Why do what’s expected of you? Why play it safe?”
It appealed to her primary calling for acting: the game of pretending to be someone you’re not, hidden behind costumes and make-up and armed with only your talent of envisioning imaginary characters.
“When this came along, it offered me the chance to play a totally different character from the usual roles I get offered. I play a 70-year-old acid-tongued, intolerant woman, and I loved it.”
“Everyone says, ‘Deborah Kerr, she can’t be nasty’… Well, maybe I can. Good heavens, it’s an actress’s job to be able to be nasty if necessary.” (Deborah Kerr)

5. She pleasantly surprised the film’s younger team and crew with her determination and usual professionalism but also with her presence, and they found her a joy to work with.
Producer Nigel Stafford-Clark: “I could hardly believe that she would take on such a demanding part and one that put years on her, rather than glamorizes her.”
Director Mary McMurray: “I always thought she’d be good in it, not because of those rather ‘English rose’ pieces she tends to be associated with, but because of her grittiness.”

6. I think this was a fitting way of ending a prodigious career in cinema. Even more so that it came after a 16 year absence from the big screen, because the roles she was offered were not worthy and she was at a “difficult” age for an actress. But she anticipated the joy she would have when she’d be the right age to play character roles:
“As a performer, the passing of the years won’t worry me, because they’ll mean I’m all the more right for character roles. Believe me, I’ll have a merry time when I’m of age and will be playing one of the witches in Macbeth, without having to dip into the makeup box. Those witches are good, showy parts. ”
“That was the attraction [of The Assam Garden]. For years I have been looking for this sort of part which has a real character to play. It is the bridge I have to cross. I am at a certain age where the parts can’t be the same as they used to be and I am not completely ready yet just to play old ladies.” (Deborah Kerr)

It was also a low time in her career, when she decided to close the door to the theatre stage after a disappointing last play and negative reviews. It was a comforting situation that The Assam Garden was embraced with enthusiasm and she felt the warmth and love of the public, as she writes in this letter to a friend.

7. She really did a lot of work in the garden, and she enjoyed it all, despite the hard effort. She’s digging and watering and carrying heavy things and planting and cutting and a lot of other operations I don’t even know the name of.

Deborah: “It was a joy working on that movie. I adored it. I wanted it to go on forever.”
Interviewer: Hard work in the garden, it looked?
Deborah: “Oh my God, the garden and the weather and the rain and the mud and the hose pipes and the ruddy bananas.”

8. Did I mention Deborah’s looks? I mean the hair, the hats, the baggy jeans and boots that no one in Hollywood, the likes of Edith Head and Sydney Guillaroff has ever had the chance to put on her.

“I always wanted to look not in the least like me or the character I’ve played so many times. People always expect me to be the same – pretty – pretty, charming, and gentle… That is the awful reign that’s put on you if you have a certain look. The audience doesn’t want you in old gum boots and sloppy hair and an old scarf, slopping around the garden.” (Deborah Kerr)

When referring to her retiring plans, Deborah once joked that:
“I’d like to do as much as possible while my face and figure hold up, then I’d like to buy a place outside Florence where I’ll paint. Then one day people will come by, and one will say, ‘Do you see that elderly lady with the floppy hat? She used to be a good-looking movie star.’ And the friend will probably say, ‘What are movies?'”

I think this is the closest image of her as a possible Florentine eccentric painter in floppy hats.
What I do hope is that we still know what movies are and especially good movies, and we vote for their restoration and in case this film doesn’t win the vote of the public, I really hope the British Film Institute has the good judgement of restoring it for the sake of good cinema and good acting.

Bonus reason no 9: Because she’s the cutest grumpy old lady gardener you’ll ever have the chance to see.

The End


PLEASE VOTE for The Assam Garden, Deborah’s last feature film, to be restored by the BFI
Vote open until March 11, 2016
The film today is practically impossible to find and it amply deserves to be restored and made available to watch for all cinema lovers. It is a touching story and it shows Deborah Kerr in a very different and strong role, that also emphasizes her acting range and artistic sensibility.
I hope you’ll enjoy watching a short video preview of this wonderful film.