Monday, January 21, 2019

Betrayed by Rita Hayworth? Or Hollywood? (A Film Review, of Sorts)

While I’ve always enjoyed movies, it’s not an obsession so that, on occasion, something comes to my attention that I hadn’t noticed (or only barely knew of) before. That was the case on Saturday night, when our local PBS station showed director Charles Vidor’s Gilda, the film that made Rita Hayworth a star.
Filmed in late 1945 and released in 1946, Gilda is a noirish drama that aroused my interest because its ostensible setting is Buenos Aires, where small-time gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) becomes the right-hand man of corrupt casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), newly married to the stunning Gilda (Hayworth) who—unbeknownst to Mundson—has an ambivalent history with his new employee.
Palermo's Hipódromo offers casino slots today, but probably not in the 1940s.
I won’t comment further on the plot, because I want to focus on the movie’s presentation of Argentina and its capital. In the first instance, it’s worth noting that, when Mundson first invites Farrell to his casino, he provides him a “key” because casinos were not legal in the city. This rings true because that’s still the case—there are casinos in the provincial suburbs, but not in the capital except for the floating Casino Buenos Aires (two vessels docked at Puerto Madero) and some slot machines in the Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo, where betting on horse races is legal (I doubt that the Hipódromo had slots in 1945). Other than that, there are only a few bingo parlors.
As the Hotel Centenario, the Palacio Vera was an ostensible location in Gilda (photo by Julieta Sol Narganes, Creative Commons)
Most of the film’s action takes place in building interiors—there’s a brief soundtrack moment of tango and a nod to Carnaval—with almost nothing to suggest the streetscapes of Argentina’s capital (so far as I can tell, the entire film was shot in Hollywood in just three months). One ostensible location is the Hotel Centenario, which then occupied the Palacio Vera, an Art Nouveau structure on the central Avenida de Mayo that dates from 1910. Again, though, the movie does not even offer an image of the building's exterior.

Though the Brooklyn-born Hayworth herself was a Hispanic woman (her father was a Spaniard), she does not play one in this movie. At one point she flees to Montevideo, across the river, but again the only scenes of Uruguay’s capital are interiors.
Argentina Brunetti was one of two Argentines with bit parts in Gilda.
The Hungarian-born Vidor introduces the theme of Argentina’s World War II dark side in the person of two German mining cartel members who frequent the casino. The ostensible Argentines are few, including a police detective played by the Maltese actor Joseph Calleia and another policeman played by Manhattan-born Gerald Mohr, and a washroom attendant played by the Ukrainian Steven Geray. Two Argentines play bit parts: the Buenos Aires-born Argentina Brunetti, who appeared in many Hollywood movies in the 1950s and 1960s, and Jack del Río, best known as the fourth husband of pop singer Peggy Lee.
The late Argentine novelist was a movie geek.
That’s not to dismiss Gilda as a film, but I suspect it could have been even better had it been filmed on location (a remake might be interesting). Who knows, could that be one reason that the late Manuel Puig titled his first novel Betrayed by Rita Hayworth?

Gilda is available on several streaming services.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Airport Scrabble? SFO to LAX to SCL to PHD(?)

Over the weekend, the New York Times Magazine published an amusing column on airport codes as literature, and it coincides with a southbound trip I’ll be making to from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Santiago de Chile and beyond next month. The rest of the trip from Chile’s capital will be mostly overland, with an exact itinerary to be determined.
Outside the international terminal at SCL
Flying used to be a pleasure but today, for the most part, it’s an experience to be endured. On my upcoming trip, though, I at least have the benefit of an overnight non-stop from LAX to SCL, though a potential LIM (Lima) stopover would at least have offered the option of a pisco sour (which, however, will be abundant if rather different in Chile). Still, I can’t help but put in a word for favorite airline and, by extension, my all-time favorite airport code.
On the tarmac at Stanley
The FIGAS pilot checks with the passengers.
That would be the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS), which connects the Islands’ capital of Stanley with outlying airports and settlements. In fact, there’s only one other true airport, Mount Pleasant Airport (MPN), where intercontinental flights arrive from the United Kingdom (via Ascension Island) and South America (via Chile and, occasionally, Argentina). The other destinations have grass airstrips which serve relatively small settlements and some single-family farms.
The Royal Air Force manages Mount Pleasant Airport, which explains - at least in part - its utilitarian aspect.
In the mid-1980s, when I spent a year-plus in the Islands under a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad fellowship, I had the opportunity to visit many of those outer destinations, occasionally by sea—hitching a lift on the vessel that gathered the wool clip—but also by air. In fact, the introductory chapter of my dissertation was a round-the-Islands itinerary in the form of a FIGAS flight, with observations on their natural and cultural landscape.
A FIGAS flight arrives at Carcass Island, in the archipelago's northwestern corner.
While my own itinerary was an amalgam of flights that I had actually done, I recently learned that visitors to the Falklands can do this in the form of a “round-robin flight” that depends on seat availability—if a given day’s flights are not full, it’s possible to arrange the trip for £55 (East and West islands only) to £88 (including outer islands). In fact I have done this de facto, without paying any premium, because the day’s itinerary just worked out that way (FIGAS itineraries depend on individual demand for any given day).
Island settlements have grass airstrips, such as this one at Port Howard. The flowering bushes surrounding it are gorse.
Most visitors to the Islands are cruise ship passengers, for whom this not really an alternative, but for land-based passengers it’s something I’d highly recommend. Given that there are only weekly flights to the Islands from Chile, there’s no guarantee it’ll be possible to arrange it on short notice, but it’s worth consideration.
Port Howard settlement from the air
Referring to the beginning of this post, I'll return to the theme of my all-time favorite airport code, which is Port Howard’s “PHD,” as depicted among others in the photograph here.
FIGAS airport codes, including Port Howard at the lower left.
Missing Malbec?
Leaving California at this time, even for a relatively short two-month trip, is bittersweet—an epiphany that came to me as I read an article in the Buenos Aires daily La Nación about a Mar del Plata family that located its missing Alaskan malamute after six years, thanks to a Facebook page that they had persistently maintained. Chornyk had been stolen but then found—now 16 years old—in the western Buenos Aires suburb of Caseros, nearly 400 km to the north.
Chornyk disappeared six years ago from the beach resort of Mar del Plata.
This strikes home because my own beloved malamute Malbec is approaching his 15th birthday and, for a dog his size, that’s elderly. He still has a healthy appetite and surprising strength and stamina, but he’s increasingly arthritic—walking around our block, which is about half a mile in distance, is pretty much his limit. At his advanced age, there’s always a chance he won’t be here when I get back, but Chornyk’s longevity at least gives me cause for optimism.
In his retirement, Malbec no longer participates in backyard squirrel patrol.
An Addendum
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