…I can’t remember whether it’s a film or a play… But here’s the story: An actress goes for an audition. She is asked by the director to simply describe the contents of her bag. She opens it and starts going through the little objects that had been hidden there for ages: an old purse, a little mirror, a photograph. Each object is linked to a memory, a moment, a place. Each object tells something about her personality, her past, her character. Some memories are funny, some moving and the director is really touched. So touched, he’s determined to give her the part. The actress is about to leave the theatre, when the director calls her back: “hey, wait, you’ve forgotten your bag!” he yells. The actress smiles. “Oh no, it’s not mine. I hate carrying bags. I’ve borrowed it from one of the girls waiting outside…”
I always liked that story. One can feel cheated – the actress fools everyone into believing every single word about the bag is true, and nobody likes to be teased – but, after all, isn’t she there exactly for that reason? To prove her acting ability, her talent for creating illusions? I also like the idea that so much can be implied and imagined just by looking at a bag and its contents… I don’t know about you but sometimes I carry the same bag for weeks and after a while things start “sedimenting” on its bottom (and I don’t mean necessarily organic leftovers!), small items end up in the seams, each pocket seems to contain some unexpected surprise, things I’ve been looking for for days… After a month, my bag could be “analysed” like a rock, layer by layer, each part telling a different story…
All this to introduce a photo. You might wonder why I havent written for quite a while and the reason is that I kind of set up a theatre company, LegalAliens, and produced a rehearsed reading of a new play, here in London… But I’ll tell you about that in a later post. During rehearsals, a photographer came. First she took very professional and serious pictures of us rehearsing. Then she probably got bored out of her mind, and she began to look around. Click click… Among her random clicks, she shots this:
It’s my bag. My notorious, apple green bag that has been punctually appearing every summer for the past 5 years (it’s too bright for winter…) It’s huge. It’s like Mary Poppins’ bag, I could probably fit a lamp and a wardrobe in, if I tried hard. It’s fake leather and it’s peeling off. I don’t care. I’m not discarding it, not until I find an alternative, big, bright bag to take its place. I need big bags because I’m often out and about for the whole day and I need to make sure I’m prepared for every occasion life can throw at me – rain, cold, sunshine, the idea for a new novel, hunger, the man of my life, two hours on the Northern Line stuck at Camden Town for signal problems… I need money, food, water, clothes, pens (I have at least 6 or 7 in each bag), paper, travelcards, credit cards, maps, reading material, music, make up, laptop, USB key with all my recordings, USB key with all my writing, USB key with all my photos (I need a USB key with bigger memory to save them all in one, I know…), hair clips, hair bands, curls activator (hair plays a major part in my life). Basically I need to know that if a nuclear war starts, if an earthquake destroys London, or if a thief breaks into my flat and takes everything away, I’ll still be fine, because all I care about is with me. Be prepared. “Alertness is all”, Peter Brook says…
On that particular day, as you can see, my bag contained:
– a denim jacket – This jacket, like the bag, has also been making a punctual appearance every summer for AGES. All my friends remember it. I’ve tried other things: cotton jackets, jumpers, cardigans… But nothing is as good. First of all denim goes with everything. It’s not too warm nor too light. And it’s faded, a bit torn, it has personality… I like clothes with personality, with a “life”…
Here’s a picture of my jacket, my bag and myself (to prove I’m actually telling the truth, no actress making up lies here). It was taken in Scotland two years ‘ago:
– Next item: a necklace. Green, like the bag. I bought it at Stansted airport a few months ‘ago. I couldn’t resist. I’m such a sucker when it comes to shopping. And I do tend to shop at airports… Problem is, I spend so much time in airports, traveling up and down between ITaly and the UK, I need to kill time while there… It’s stupid. I wake up at impossibly early hours in the morning in order to fly cheap, then I arrive at the airport and all I’ve managed to save on the flight goes into face creams, make up, underwear… Necklaces! The problem is, since they introduced rules restricting handluggage, you can only travel with one ridiculously small suitacase. Thanks to my small size, I manage to fit all sorts of stuff in my little bag, but I always forget something. On that occasion, fun jewlery. Can I possibly survive 4 days in Milan with no bright necklaces? No way. I bought one.
– a banana. In LOndon, no actors travels without bananas in their bags. And water, of course, but water is more internationally spread. Bananas are more specific to British actors. Even Shakespeare is believed to have carried bananas with him. No, this isn’t true. Anyway, in Italy there’s such a variety of cheap and quite healthy snacks, no actors need to carry bananas. You carry crackers, pavesini, or seasonal fruit. In autumn, apples or pears. In winter, oranges. In summer, peaches or apricots. In the UK they don’t grow much fruit, so you’ll find the same tasteless apples all year round. Peaches are soft and messy or hard and bitter. Plums are expensive. Bananas are the best choice. Easy to carry, they don’t smell (unless they’re off) and are energetic and filling. They dont make you feel guilty like chocolate bars, and they don’t make you look fanatic like energy bars. They keep you going, when your director decides the scene you’re rehearsing looks crap and “we’re going to work through lunch to improve it, is everybody fine with it?” Sure, of course we’re fine… By the end of the scene you’re so hungry you’re prepared to stick a kebab through the director’s ass and eat him alive… But at least, if you’d managed to quickly have a banana beforehand, you’re not going to faint. Some actresses I know (unfortunately it’s always women who come up with pseudo-healthy stuff), convinced sugar and wheat are really bad for you, have started carrying rice cakes instead. “Oh, they’re soooo nice, do you want to try one?” Sure, very nice, if you like the taste of polythene… Usually, the same actresses, after 6 hours rehearsals, throw themselves onto chocolate cookies and Jaffa cakes, swallowing twentyfive of them in a row wihout even chewing.
– Book. This was a really “great touch”. What a coincidence that on the day the photographer decided to take the picture of “an actress’ bag”, I had Katharine Hepburn’s biography with me…
I very rarely read bios. I prefer novels. And I usually choose writers’ bios – as I explained in a previous post I have the tendency to get obsessed with an author and want to discover everything about her/him. But a few months ‘ago, while browsing on Ebay, I saw a Hepburn and Tracy film collection on sale for about five pounds. Four movies, including Adam’s rib and State of the Union… I bought it. I always loved old Hollywood movies, they’re so classy and Hepburn and Tracy were absolutely amazing. It’s so strange that for all the talking about their incredible screen chemistry, in all those films they actually never kiss once. It’s all implied. I also realised she portrayed women incredibly modern for those times. Independent, free, women who wanted a career and who didn’t depend on men for their happiness. Wow. And she wasn’t even that beautiful, I mean, she was very interesting but quite tomboy-like, skinny and flat chested, definetly not the kind of curvy type that was so popular back then.
I went back on Ebay to see if I could find Philadelphia Story (I never actually saw it, shame on me). Instead, I found a biography. It’s great fun. She was so clever. She used the press and the star system to her own advantage, creating an image for herself that the masses would adore, an “icon” that bore not that much resemblance to her real self. I find this quite fascinating. She managed to become a Hollywood star – and Hollywood was a terribly conservative and old fashioned community back then – despite being quite openly bisexual. How about that? And the New York Village back then was such a vibrant place, full of artists, writers, musicians, new ideas. A bit like Paris at the turn of the 19th century. Such places can be so nurturing. I wonder whether it can still be possible, in our society, to have places – cities, neighbourhoods – where artists and intellectual gather to try and create new things. Or whether now anything new is bound to happen online, virtually, in cyberspace. How sad. And one can’t really wear nice clothes and bohemian hats in cyberspace.. I still havent reached the point when Katherine starts her affair with Spencer Tracy (while still seeing a woman, apparently), but I’m sure it’ll be fun… She was so strong willed, which is something I always admired, maybe because I’m such a softie, I’m so bad at concentrating my energies on one thing only, even when I want it really badly… I’m so easily distracted. But the more I go on, the more I’m convinced people who make it are the ones who manage to keep their attention focussed on their goal. One thing at the time to walk your way to the top. I’ll never manage…
Talking of which, I’d better stop because I have mountains of other things to do, including going out to by a new vacuum cleaner. Of course I doubt Katharine Hepburn had ever had to deal with such trivial stuff, first of all vacuum cleaners didnt exist in the 30s… Or did they? Anyway, what’s in your bag? It’d be interesting to find out! I’ll leave you with a selection of Katharine Hepburn’s quotations I found. Enjoy!
Selected Katharine Hepburn Quotations
• I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.
* WORK HAS NEVER HURT ANYONE. IT’S THE LACK OF IT HAT DESTROYS PEOPLE (one of my favourites)
* You’re expected to do your own work, take matters into your own hands and use plain old common sense as your guide
• Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around wondering about yourself.
• Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living.. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four.
And she ends the beautiful autobiographical documentary “ALL ABOUT ME” with this simple one: LISTEN TO THE SONG OF LIFE