Exit The Actress by Priya Parmar

Book Review
Title: Exit The Actress
Author:  Priya Parmar
Publisher: Touchstone
Released: February 1, 2011
Pages: 464
ISBN-10: 9781439171172
ISBN-13: 978-1439171172
Stars:  3.0

Exit The Actress by Priya Parmar is historical romantic fiction set in England between the years 1662 and 1670 during the Restoration reign of King Charles II.  A young orange girl named Ellen Gwyn becomes a celebrated actress known as Nell, who finds herself involved in a succession of relationships with three men, all named Charles.  Her story, which is based in fact, is revealed through a series of journal entries, letters, broadsheets and other historical documents.

According to Wikipedia: “Eleanor “Nell” Gwyn (or Gwynn or Gwynne) (2 February 1650 – 14 November 1687) was a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England.

Called “pretty, witty Nell” by Samuel Pepys, she has been called a living embodiment of the spirit of Restoration England and has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella.

Elizabeth Howe, in The First English Actresses, says she was “the most famous Restoration actress of all time, possessed of an extraordinary comic talent.”

However, it also states that “Gwyn was illiterate her entire life (signing her initials “E.G.” would be the extent of her ability to read or write), adding an extra complication to the memorisation of her lines.”

While those last two “facts” didn’t quite come across, Exit The Actress is an intriguing imaginary account of Ellen’s life right up until the end of the book when a short and disappointing Epilogue rather awkwardly ties up the story.

Other than that, there are two other things that I didn’t care for, the first being how small the regular font is and how hard the secondary scriptwriting font is to read throughout.  The second thing I noticed is that for a poor, barely educated oyster girl of 12 years old (at the beginning of the book), Ellen writes suspiciously beyond her years and this just doesn’t ring true for me.  I concede that women had to grow up fast in the 17th century and were often married off very young, but still…

The story begins in May 1662 in London and King Charles II has just taken Portuguese Infanta, Princess Catherine of Braganza, as his queen.  Exit The Actress is well researched and Parmar paints a gorgeous tableau.  However, in the midst of Ellen’s journal entries we are interrupted by correspondence from different characters within the Royal family, the Royal court, and a mysterious, flamboyant gossip columnist named Ambrose Pink (who immediately reminded me of Perez Hilton) – again printed in a tiny scriptwriting font – and I found this intrusion at first annoying because it broke my connection to Ellen, but eventually got used to it.  Parmar includes a cast list of all the characters in the front of the book so you can go back and refer to it.  The main characters are remarkable and fully realized and I particularly enjoyed Edward “Teddy” Kynaston, Ellen’s cross-dressing and not so closeted homosexual actor friend as well as King Charles himself.

Ellen’s mother is a drunken tavern maid and Madam who pushes her oldest daughter, 14 year old, Rose, into prostitution to help bring in money for the family.  Ellen writes about her life and how the actions of the Royal family influence everyone around her, and when on her 13th birthday she is asked to become an orange seller, she accepts the position gladly as she will smell of oysters no longer.  Not even a year later, the orange girl, falls in with the King’s acting troupe and soon, the lithe, red-haired beauty with tiny feet becomes the darling of theatre society.

It took me a few chapters to get used to the structure of Exit The Actress and the letters from the Royals, but once I did, I enjoyed it more.  The book’s sections are broken down into the different periods of Ellen’s life, starting with London Ellen, then Orange Girl Ellen, Theatrical Ellen, Actress Ellen, Independent Ellen, etc., all the way to section 10 – Exit The Actress.  There is also an Author’s Note, Acknowledgements, a Reading Group Guide, A Conversation with Priya Parmar, and tips on How To Enhance Your Book Club.  It seems that books are now including Special Features, just like DVDs.

Significant historical events included London’s Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Charles II’s war against the Dutch.  However, I was most fascinated by Lord John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester – the poet that Johnny Depp so brilliantly portrayed in The Libertine – whose considerable role as Ellen’s and King Charles’ friend and confident was revealed.  Whenever he is mentioned, I found myself even more interested in the scene, as he is a colourful and complex character, known as a writer and Wit who constantly battled his demons and eventually allowed alcohol and promiscuity to lead him to an early grave.  He died at age 33 from syphilis.  Rochester’s story is perhaps even more interesting than Ellen’s as her plot line contained very little conflict aside from having to share King Charles with his long line of mistresses.

Overall, Priya Parmar has written a fine although somewhat uneven debut novel but I will look forward to her future work.

Don’t Miss Irish Singer-Songwriter Andy White In Kingston This Friday Night!

Andy White, one of the great Irish singer-songwriters, tours the world with his 12 string guitar in one hand and a book of poetry in the other. He has worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison and Neil and Tim Finn, been musical director at WOMAD UK and won Ireland’s top songwriting awards.

Since his breakthrough single ‘Religious Persuasion’, Andy has produced ten internationally acclaimed albums, the latest of which, Songwriter (Wildflower Records) is widely acknowledged as one of his finest.

Songwriter has many Canadian connections. After working with Po’ Girl in the UK, Andy wrote a series of songs with lead singer Allison Russell including the first single off the album, the duet ‘If You Want It’.

Andy then called up old chum Stephen Fearing to co-write live favourite ‘Turn Up The Temperature’, an emotional highlight of the album Faithful Heart.

Stephen and Andy met at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1998 and have co-written a series of songs for Blackie and the Rodeo Kings including ‘If I Catch You Crying’.

Songwriter was recorded in Vancouver and features Allison Russell on vocals, Paul Rigby (Neko Case/Jakob Dylan) playing electric guitar and pedal steel, and John Raham (Be Good Tanyas/Frazey Ford) on drums. It’s a new rootsier direction for the Belfast songsmith.

As well as releasing albums, Andy is a published poet and writer. His latest book is 21st Century Troubadour (Lagan Press), an On The Road style narrative.

People are fascinated by the world of rock music, and 21st Century Troubadour was written in its hidden corners — backstage, hotel rooms and departure lounges. The reader is introduced to depressive promoters, crazed club owners and diva superstars. There are lists, poems, and advice on topics such as how to how to avoid excess baggage fees, which hand signals to employ when driving in Italy, and what to do when you’re mistaken as one of U2.

You’ll not only find out why Johnny Depp bought Andy a beer at Peter Gabriel’s place, but enter a whole different world of glamour in Andy’s life as a modern-day folk singer.

In concert he’ll be featuring songs from his back catalogue, including Irish classics ‘James Joyce’s Grave’ and ‘Street Scenes From My Heart’ as well as songs co-written with Stephen Fearing for Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and selections from Songwriter.”

“I love this man and his music. Rave on!” (Janice Long, BBC Radio 2).

www.andywhite.com

Andy White opens for the legendary Judy Collins at Sydenham Street United Church on Friday, April 22, 2011.

Venue: Sydenham Street United Church, 82 Sydenham Street, Kingston, ON K7L 3H4
Tickets: $35 plus HST
Available at the Grand Theatre Box Office
613-530-2050
www.kingstongrand.ca

and at:

Brian’s Record Option
381 Princess Street, Kingston, ON
613-542-2452

Find Andy White on his:

Official website
Blog
MySpace
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors DVD Review

When You're Strange movie poster

DVD Review
Title: When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors
Director: Tom DiCillo
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Starring: Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek & John Densmore; narrated by Johnny Depp
Run Time: 90 min.
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Stars: 4.0

As the imperturbable narrator Johnny Depp has already said, “As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.”

The mesmerizing When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo, opened in North America on April 9th of this year and I attended the premiere that evening in Kingston. The theatre screening was two-thirds full with an audience of mixed demographics and everyone sat still with rapt attention and watched for the most part in sober silence for 90 minutes. There were a few laughs along the way, usually at Jim’s expense. The DVD viewing experience allows you to truly indulge in your emotional response to it, out loud. For Doors fans, it is the ultimate film treasure.

The opening sequence of When You’re Strange is riveting, with Jim Morrison climbing out of a crashed car on a desert highway in never-before-seen footage from his and Paul Ferrara’s 50-minute 1969 film HWY, that is so clear and vibrant that it could have been shot yesterday. As Jim drives along a California highway in a slick, blue Shelby GT500 we hear reports of his death on the car radio and so begins a factual and retrospective look back at one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever to grace this planet. With Johnny Depp at the helm, we’re taken for a sail back through time to an era when counterculture was born and a gorgeous, young, Elvis-obsessed, and very well read James Douglas Morrison was quoting William Blake. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Jim also knowingly said, “The music can’t help but reflect things that are happening around it.” That is still true of music today although no other band has so clearly defined an era in history as perfectly as The Doors depicted the end of the 1960s and the end of the Kennedys’ Camelot vision for America. Tom DiCillo has captured this fact perfectly in his commanding film about Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison and he made sure to emphasize the importance of each band member’s contribution. Presented primarily in chronological order from archival footage supplied by Wolf Films and producer Peter Jankowski, When You’re Strange is not only a bittersweet love letter to the band, but a Dear John letter to the era that spawned them.

“The fact is the music is strange. It is music for the different, for the uninvited. It carries the listener into the shadowy realm of dream.”

The film’s editing is superb and perfectly paced with Depp’s narration while the sequence with “Riders On The Storm” playing during graphic footage of the Vietnam War is particularly powerful. When You’re Strange covers all the well known seminal moments in the career of The Doors as well as some private ones among the band members which offer a more well-rounded depiction of their relationship. It reveals the fact that even before the infamous Miami concert the cops were really hard on Morrison and denied him his constitutional right to freedom of speech. It was DiCillo’s position to simply allow their story to unfold as it happened within the contexts of the footage he had to work with and the major news events of the time period (1965-1971) and he let the material speak for itself.

You will thoroughly enjoy the footage that you haven’t seen before while being reminded of the band’s relevance in the history of rock’n’roll. When You’re Strange can’t help but stir up emotions for anyone who lived through the time period it represents but it also gives new fans the big picture as to why The Doors music is timeless and why it continues to live on long past the lives of the men who dared to challenge the boundaries of rock music with intelligent, poetic lyrics and jazz, flamenco, classical and blues infused rock’n’roll. No one had done it before and no one has made music like it since.

The one DVD bonus feature is an interview with Jim’s father Admiral George S. Morrison (who admitted that he was a very poor interpreter of Jim’s talent and didn’t know him very well after he left home) and his sister Anne Robin Morrison-Chewning who share their fond memories of Jim.

When You’re Strange was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, aired on PBS’ American Masters program on May 26, 2010 and has gone on to earn an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in a Non-Fiction Series. It continues to do well in Europe and will undoubtedly make Top 10 Best Rock Documentary lists all over the world.

When You’re Strange – Exclusive: Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek Interview

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors by Tom DiCillo

When You're Strange movie poster

Movie Review
Title: When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors
Director: Tom DiCillo
Studio: Rhino Entertainment
Starring: Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek & John Densmore; narrated by Johnny Depp
Run Time: 90 min.
Release Date: April 9, 2010
Stars: 4.0

As the imperturbable narrator Johnny Depp has already said, “As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.” I concur.

I went to see the new, mesmerizing rock documentary When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo tonight with friends, my niece and her boyfriend (20 & 19 respectively) and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a buzz going on at the premiere screening in Kingston, hosted by K-ROCK 105.7 radio. The theatre was two-thirds full with an audience of mixed demographics and everyone sat still with rapt attention and watched for the most part in sober silence for the next 90 minutes. There were a few laughs along the way, usually at Jim’s expense, and I caught myself smiling through much of the film. There’s something about being middle-aged and having to be responsible that goes against my inner will to be weird. Watching When You’re Strange made me want to party with my friends and listen to Doors music all night long but reality had something less debaucherous in mind.

When You’re Strange opens with never-before-seen footage of Jim as a drifter in the desert in his friend Paul Ferrara’s 50-minute 1969 film HWY that is so clear and vibrant that it could have been shot yesterday. As he drives along a California highway in a slick, blue Shelby GT500 we hear reports of his death on the car radio and so begins a factual and retrospective look back at one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever to grace this planet. With Johnny Depp at the helm, we’re taken for a sail back through time to an era when counterculture was born and a gorgeous, young, very well read James Douglas Morrison was obsessed with Elvis Presley and could quote William Blake at the same time.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Jim also knowingly said, “The music can’t help but reflect things that are happening around it.” That is still true of music today although no other band has so clearly defined an era in history as perfectly as The Doors depicted the end of the 1960s and the end of the Kennedys’ Camelot vision for America. Tom DiCillo has captured this fact perfectly in his commanding film about Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison and he made sure to emphasize the importance of each band member’s contribution. Presented primarily in chronological order from archival footage supplied by Wolf Films and producer Peter Jankowski, When You’re Strange is not only a bittersweet love letter to the band, but a Dear John letter to the era that spawned them.

Although I knew much of what was presented about the band already, I still thoroughly enjoyed the footage that I hadn’t seen before and I loved being reminded of the band’s relevance in the history of rock’n’roll. My only complaint is that I wish it was longer because when the music was over, I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to turn on the lights, and I didn’t want to stop listening to the band. This is probably why people will want to go to see it over and over again.

“For the music is your special friend
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end
Until the end
Until the end

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down

I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it…
We want the world and we want it…
Now!”

~When The Music’s Over~

When You’re Strange can’t help but stir up emotions for anyone who lived through the time period it represents but it also gives new, younger fans the big picture as to why The Doors’ music is timeless and why it will continue to live on long past the lives of the men who dared to challenge the boundaries of rock music with intelligent, poetic lyrics and jazz, flamenco, classical and blues infused rock’n’roll. No one had done it before and no one has made music like it since.

When You’re Strange (a film about The Doors) – Interviews

When You’re Strange (a film about The Doors) – Sundance Interview