In Barcelona a group decides that desperate measures call for hard times.
COVID-19 has caused many casualties—among them humans, finances, political stability, and baseball season. But one of the biggest casualties has been humor. Consider this next tale, which under normal circumstances could be funny: Friday night Barcelona police thwarted an orgy, an event that was in clear violation of public health measures in Spain mandating that people stay confined to their homes. But in times of isolation sexual caution is one of the first things to go, it seems. Eight people were arrested, but the event would have drawn as many as thirty had it proceeded as planned. Police were not in uniform when they arrived at the rental flat and were at first mistaken for orgy participants, but they identified themselves as real cops, really there to arrest people, and no doubt hard-ons instantly drooped when the news sank in.
You see, that story could be at least a little amusing, but this coronavirus, in addition to everything else it's lethal toward, is a humor killer. One of the detainees had a cough and fever and there's nothing funny about that. He was sent to a medical center for testing, and amazingly, came up negative. But did he know that in advance? Doubtful. Even if the pandemic robs this curious little tale of humor, it's still instructive as a preview of any potential breakdown of human society. People will inevitably divide into camps or tiny nation-states. Cable television has taught us that.
There will be the hardcore military style groups filled with people who all think they're alpha males, and which will descend into violent social hierarchies in which compassion is banished and anyone who coughs is executed on the spot and their body flung beyond the perimeter with a catapult. Then there will be the party-like-it's-1999 groups who figure they're all screwed anyway, so might as well go out on an alcohol, drug, and sex high, and whose ranks are eventually whittled away while foraging for power sources for their audio system. That would be the group from Barcelona.
Then there will be the start-anew-in-ecological-harmony groups that cultivate staple crops, eat wild cabbage, weave their own clothes, and include among their leadership ranks a guy who insists on being referred to as “The Teller of Stories.” And of course yet another group will consist of people with no discernible skills save a bottomless capacity for cruelty, and who won't be bothered to organize at all except to capture unlucky strays, return them to their encampments in chains, and set them on fire unless their compadres toss out half of everything they have. Scavengers, we guess you'd call them. That group is where most former bankers and politicians will end up.
What group would we end up in? Good question. The paramilitary group, forget it. We'd rather be shot and catapulted. And the fourth group is out because: bankers and politicians. Also, torturing people and taking their goods just isn't us, though it is, we'll admit, very pulp. So that leaves the second or third groups. Both have their charms. At that Barcelona party, police found, aside from guys with boners, an unspecified quantity of cocaine, speed, and crystal and liquid ecstasy. Could be fun fora while, but the companionship of constant drug users can be tedious. We worked in Hollywood, and we can tell you, get stuck next to a suit who's wired to the hairline and you'll beg for death. So maybe the hippie group is the one for us. It might take a while to adjust to eating veggies fertilized with our own feces, but that Teller of Stories gig actually sounds pretty sweet. We're going to Google some weaving techniques right now so we'll fit in.
Edit: Looking at everything we just wrote above, we realize another casualty of this virus must be sanity. We're losing it.
Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
The fundamental things apply as time goes by.
Yes, we're back to Casablanca. Above you see a Spanish poster for this award winning war drama, which premiered in Madrid today in 1946. The movie was a smash hit everywhere because, simply put, it dealt with every important theme in the realm of human experience, which is why it's still fundamental viewing. And that would be true even if most of the characters weren't migrants—a type of person that's very prominent in the news these days.
The poster art is signed MCP, the designation applied to work produced by the Barcelona based design company owned by artists Ramón Martí, Josep Clavé, and Hernán Pico. We'll get back to this trio's output a bitlater. Casablanca generated some very nice promos, and MCP's effort is one of the best, in our opinion. We also recommend checking out the Japanese ones here.
Perversion never goes out of style.
Years ago we briefly discussed the Marisa Mell thriller Una sull’atra and shared an Angelo Cesselon poster made for its Italian run. Well, we're back to the movie today with a poster made for its Spanish run under the title Una historia perversa. The illustration was painted by Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, who signed his work as Jano, and was one of Spain's more prolific cinematic illustrators. We put together a small collection of his work a while back and you can check that out here. Una historia perversa made its Spanish premiere in Barcelona today in 1969.
Havana shopping street catered to the international upper crust.
We're back from vacation. We were surrounded by colonial era architecture, which brought to mind this photo of Havana, Cuba, a former colonial city thousands of miles from where we were, but similar in many respects. The shot was taken along Calle San Rafael sometime during the 1940s. There's a lot of detail in this—in the distance we can see Bar Uncle Sam and a Philco store, and in the foreground the cars and flowing sidewalk mosaics are interesting too. Of particular note is the perfume store El Patio, where a sign tells us the Dana brands Emir, Tabu, and Platino are available. These were pricy concoctions, affordable for only the rare few, sold by a fancy perfumer that got its start in Barcelona back in 1932. Presumably Isaac Habif was a perfume or cologne too, but we can't find mention of it anywhere.
Some of the other businesses on San Rafael included the swank coffee shop Salon H, top jewelers Letrán de Isaac Barquet, Cuervo y Sobrinos, and Gastón Bared, two academies—Academia Pitman and Academia Gregg—which were expensive and private, the department stores Fin de Siglo and El Encanto, Indochina, which was an exotic gift shop, the eyewear boutique El Telescopio, and La Exposición, which sold furs—yes, in that climate. In all, Calle San Rafael wasn't just an ordinary thoroughfare, but a major shopping street serving Havana's economic elite. It remains a shopping street today, but the mosaics and fine brands are long gone. For a bit more on colonial era Havana, have a look here. And for an interesting array of post-revolutionary photos, look here.
I call this game Project Runaway. A model—that's me—points one of these shotguns at a pest—that's you. Guess what you do next?
Above, Natalia enciende la mecha, or Natalia Lights the Fuse, from Ediciones G.P. out of Barcelona, 1961. This was one of a series of books about Natalia, a French model who leads a double life as an international spy, with Marchal serving as the shared pen name of French authors Pierre Aspetéguy and Monique Henry. We first saw a front for this paperback over at the blog Spanish Book Covers way back, but this scan comes from a different copy, so we thought we'd share it here. Spanish Books Covers has been on hiatus a long while, but the site is still live and there are numerous interesting fronts there worth viewing. What we'd really like to know is who painted the cover art. Often with these European editions you get art reworked or copied from U.S. paperbacks, but in the case of Ediciones G.P. we think not. Put this one in the unknown file until further notice.
Experts reach consensus—she was exquisite.
Above is a little artifact from our last swing through Spain, discovered at the Mercat del Vell de l'Estació de Sants in Barcelona. It's an issue of Colleción Idolos del Cine, a magazine that devoted itself each month entirely to one celebrity, with rare photos and personal anecdotes. This one is from 1958 and features Ana Maria Pierangeli, who adopted the lyrical stage name Pier Angeli after debuting on the international cinema scene in Vittoria De Sica's Domani è troppo tardi and winning a Nastro d'Argento, or Silver Ribbon, from the Sindacato Nazionale Giornalisti Cinematografici Italiani. Angeli was a dewy eighteen in that role and looked so young as to be almost half-formed, which was perfect for her portrayal of a teen in the throes of first love. She maintained a youthful and innocent appearance for twenty more years, and is another actress who died young, in her case aged thirty-nine, via drug overdose, though accidental, officially. The printing quality of Colleción Idolos del Cine isn't the best, but the photos are very interesting. Mucho más Angeli below, and we managed to buy five other examples of this magazine, with stars such as Ava Gardner, Analia Gadé, and Belinda Lee, so look for those later.
A prescription for murder.
As long as we’re doing Spanish language pulp today, we might as well share this cover for El siniestro Doctor Crippen, or The Sinister Doctor Crippen, written by Enrique Cuenca for Barcelona based Ediciones G.P., and published in 1960 as part of its low cost Enciclopedia Pulga collection. Eventually, about five-hundred books appeared as part of the collection, including translations of Jules Verne, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and other classic authors. This particular novel is of course based on the strange story of Hawley Harvey Crippen, aka H.H. Crippen, the American physician and fugitive who murdered his wife Cora in 1910 and was eventually hanged in London’s HM Pentonville Prison. Many of the covers we’ve seen from Enciclopedia Pulga are nice, so we’ll try to revisit the collection a little bit later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1946—Antonescu Is Executed
Ion Antonescu, who was ruler of Romania during World War II, and whose policies were independently responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000 Bessarabian, Ukrainian and Romanian Jews, as well as countless Romani Romanians, is executed by means of firing squad at Fort Jilava prison just outside Bucharest.
1959—Sax Rohmer Dies
Prolific British pulp writer Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, aka Sax Rohmer, who created the popular character Fu Manchu and became one of the most highly paid authors of his time writing fundamentally racist fiction about the "yellow peril" and what he blithely called "rampant criminality among the Chinese", dies of avian flu in White Plains, New York.
1957—Arthur Miller Convicted of Contempt of Congress
Award-winning American playwright Arthur Miller, the husband of movie star Marilyn Monroe, is convicted of contempt of Congress when he refuses to reveal the names of political associates to the House Un-American Activities Committee. The conviction would later be overturned, but HUAC persecution against American citizens continues until the committee is finally dissolved in 1975.
1914—Aquitania Sets Sail
The Cunard liner RMS Aquitania, at 45,647 tons, sets sails on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, England to New York City. At the time she is the largest ocean liner on the seas. During a thirty-six year career the ship serves as both a passenger liner and military ship in both World Wars before being retired and scrapped in 1950.
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