Brenda Sciberras chats cinema and celebrity in this Quatrain Questions interview.
Let’s talk about celebrity for a moment. Why dedicate an entire book to exploring this theme?
There's No Business like Show Business is a classic movie (staring Marilyn Monroe) that really sums it all up. The celebrity part of course extends to musicians, visual artists, dancers, and authors, creators who put themselves out in the public eye. 'Stars,' celebrity or other wise is the theme through out the book, was borne out of a personal love for celebrity. Celebrity has been a big part of my life and I think most of my generation might say the same. Growing up in the 60’s, in the country no less, there wasn’t a lot of choice when it came to entertainment. We had three channels on the small black and white television in the corner of the room with rabbit ears on top. I still remember the day my Dad brought home the big wooden console television with a colour picture. Even though it now a colour picture, the old black and white movies like Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds) and Orson Wells (Citizen Kane) and my all time favorite What ever Happened to Baby Jane? staring Bette Davis continued to run, and they fascinated me. When I was about eight, going into town, to the movies on Saturday afternoon’s, with my Dad, became a real treat. In the seats of the Starland theatre on Main Street, in Winnipeg, I fell in love with King Kong and Fay Wray, Godzilla, Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein, not to mention all those stars from the old westerns. It was a fabulous time in my life and I felt I had to honour it. So, the poem “Starland” was the beginning of the collection and I expanded it to included other artists, as they are all celebrities.
There’s a lovely vintage feel to the collection—an homage to cinema of yore. Yet with today’s various streaming channels, wifi networks and start-ups, the nature of cinema is changing. How do you reconcile the two?
Good question…. Yes, the nature of cinema is changing, just one more sign of the times. However, these days, vintage is in (clothing, furniture, retro etc.,) and I think the two can coincide quite nicely. We now have the opportunity to watch some lovely old movies on Turner Classic, Encore, and Netflix, which probably would have gone by the wayside without such channels or streaming services, in essence they are keeping those old classics alive. Guy Madden has paid homage to vintage cinema beautifully with “The Saddest Music in the World” (2003) and “My Winnipeg” (2007). Looking back on vintage movies and television shows in general, from a past era, knowing what we know now about the injustices in the film industry in relation to pay equity for women, stereotypes, sexism and racism, I feel the cinema of old, is a great teaching tool and there are lessons to be learned from the craft of the times. It is history, we can’t change it, but we can learn from it. Today, “Stars” come and go rather quickly, famous on YouTube one day and gone the next or in a relatively short time. I’m not sure if there is a staying power for “Stars” any more, that may very well be a thing of the past.
I love quotes and I felt a one or two-word title was limiting. The quotes also set the stage for the poems that follow in each section. Let’s start with the first quote, I chose it from the Bible, because it was the beginning and it celebrates our vast universe and the diversity within it. The poems in this section reflect the stars of the musical stage and pays homage to their differences and how each is unique and beautiful and has left a legacy of music for future generations to enjoy. The Shakespeare quote leads into the life of actors in cinema and their struggles in the spot light. The Over the Rainbow quote, gives the actor/actress hope that someday their struggles will be over. The Vincent van Gogh quote paints a rather bleak picture, yet with colour and contrast exploring each artist’s dream of stardom. This section also includes ekphrastic poems pertaining to specific artists or paintings that I love. I felt compelled to end the collection with an uplifting quote from one of my favourite books, The Little Prince. Whether the reader believes in heaven or a creator or life after death or none of those, I think that quote, creates a sense of peace for all the departed “stars” in our lives.
This book must have been a lot of fun to put together. What were some of the joys? What were some of the challenges?
Yes, I did have fun putting this collection together, as it all fell into place quite easily. I grouped the poems into general themes… Musicians, artists, actors/actresses and cinema, my Stella poems (my Mom’s name, which means “star” in Latin) and then I scattered in some astronomy and astrology for good measure. The biggest challenge I have to say was figuring out which poems and quotes I needed permission to use and who held the rights for those pieces. It took a fair bit of time and snooping on the internet to find that information. Luckily, I had the foresight to keep all the newspaper articles and a running bibliography of all the books and biographies I had read or used in writing some of the poems. So, glad I did that, as this made the notes and permissions page so much easier, otherwise it would have been a nightmare.