RIFIFI: THE GREAT NOIR CAPER

 

RIFIFI has been called the best French crime drama ever made, and  the best French film noir. When Francois Truffaut was still a film critic, he said Rififi was the best film noir he had ever seen. And although its director’s name sounds French, Jules Dassin was an American, blacklisted and forced to work in France and Europe.

This blog post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Banned and Blacklisted Blogathon.

After leaving MGM, Dassin worked with Mark Hellinger on the noir classic Brute Force, (1947) starring Burt Lancaster, Ann Blyth, Hume Cronyn, and Yvonne De Carlo. By 1949 the House Un-American Activities Committee was looking for communists in the movie business. Daryl Zanuck at Universal purposefully sent Dassin to London to work on his noir masterpiece Night and the City in 1950, where he missed being called to testify to the Committee. Nonetheless, he was named by two others as a former communist and was blacklisted. Unable to find work, he moved to France, although he could not speak French. He was set to direct a movie starring the French comedian Fernandel, titled Public Enemy No. 1, but was fired after his blacklisting caught up to him. This caused a furor in France, with French director Jacques Becker (Touchez Pas le Grisbi) leading the protest. After a rough few years, he was hired by producer Henri Berard to direct a low-budget crime drama based on the book, Du Rififi chez les Hommes (Some Wrangling Among Men), by Auguste le Breton. The story involves a jewelry heist in Paris,  the dialogue heavy with French slang and underworld lingo. Dassin immediately began a script rewrite of the story, but still using le Bretton’s dialogue. Dassin made a big change, the jewelry heist caper involving a gang of professional criminals became the central scene in the movie. The heist lasted a fuIl 30 minutes, a quarter of the film’s length. If you’re thinking this sounds like the plot of Asphalt Jungle, you’re right, though Dassin said this was accidental as he hadn’t seen the film at that pont. There are several similarities, but in Rififi Dassin extracts every bit of tension and friction out of the characters and their endeavors, and in this low-budget film, he made every detail count in furthering the plot. Fortunately, he also had a superb crew, with Philippe Agostini as cinmatographer, Alexandre Trauner as Production Designer, and music by Georges Auric. The Paris setting was also key, especially with Dassin’s insistence on filming during cloudy days. He used the atmosphere of Paris as he had London in Night and the City, and New York in The Naked City, this becoming a stylistic hallmark of film noir.  “I remember walking the streets of Paris and dictating to a secretary,” Dassin said. “We’ll do this scene here and this scene there. Just really improvising as we walked. When you make a picture, and you do locations, you gotta walk.”

The lead character, played by Jean Servais,  is Tony le Stephanois (many characters have such monikers) who just got out of prison and is mad at his old flame “Mado.” She has taken up with gangster and nightclub owner Louis Grutter. Tony meets his two old pals, Jo le Suedois (the Swede) and Mario Ferrati at a cafe. They look over at a Jewelry store, where the two friends propose a quick window heist. Tony wants nothing to do with it or the chance of going back to prison. But he can’t resist checking on Mado at the “L’Age D’Or” nightclub. He sees her and emphatically asks her to his room. After some comparison of their lives over the last 5 years when he was in prison and she sold their flat and took up with Grutter, he takes her jewelry and fur coat. He gives her some pretty rough treatment and throws her out of his ratty apartment, then throws out her coat and jewelry. He doesn’t feel any better about himself, though he’s changed his mind about the jewelry heist. Servais as Tony le Stephanois is the picture of a hang-dog criminal with nothing left to lose. His only moment of joy is playing with Jo’s young son Tonio, for whom “Uncle Tony” makes sure Jo buys the toy the kid had wanted.

The idea of getting into the safe through the back like using a “can opener” was Dassin’s. His technician came up with the exact method. From L to R characters Jo le Suedois, Mario Ferrati, Tony le Stephanois, and Cesar le Milanais (played by Jules Dassin)

Tony now tells his two pals he’s in – only this should be for the whole store inventory that’s in the safe – not just a window job. It should be planned to the minute, but now a safe-cracker will be needed. Mario has an Italian compatriot and pro who could do the job – Cesar le Milanais (the Milanese), played by no other than Jules Dassin himself. Their plan is to break through the roof on a Sunday night. A couple lives there, but they’ll be gagged and tied. The large portable safe will be moved and lowered – to drill through the back. The entire operation is shown in a tight wordless choreography with no music. Each slight noise of tool or bump only amplifies the tension of the scene. Cesar the safecracker wears ballet slippers during the job. The 30 minutes of screen time represents several hours, until finally the job is done.

This is film noir, however, and things can’t continue to run smoothly. The men in this caper may be professionals, but flaws in character are always prone to interfere, as does fate. (Some spoilers follow) Cesar’s weakness is his desire to impress women. As he escapes the jewelry store he can’t resist stealing one expensive ring that he does not combine with the shared loot. This ring, that he gives his mistress, will lead to him being pegged for the heist by Louis Grutter, after news of the robbery hits the streets. And when he is captured by Grutter and his men, he rats out the others in his group, which leads to disaster.  Jules Dassin wanted to make a statement about his being ratted and blacklisted with the character he played. Tony catches up to him in a later scene and tells Cesar, “You broke the rules,” this before he shoots him.

Jules Dassin as Cesar, who rats and pays the price – a symbolic death for those who ratted him out in Hollywood

A downward spiral of events follow, as dramatic as the heist. The last long scene is itself a masterpiece, a “lyrical documentary,” as Truffaut called it. Watching little Tonio wearing Tony’s trenchcoat and a fedora hat, waiving a toy gun as Tony drives madly through the streets of Paris, the life ebbing out of him, racing for safety.  This last redemptive effort is a movie scene not soon forgotten.

Marie Sabouret and Jean Servais as Mado and Tony. Courtesy: Rialto Pictures / Gaumont

Dassin won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. At the festival, Gene Kelly was the only American who would be seen publicly with Dassin. United Artist wanted to distribute the film in the U.S., but only if he would remove his name from the credits as director and writer. He refused. So UA set up a dummy corporation and distributed the film in 1956, with Dassin’s credits preserved. As such, he became the first of the blacklisted to be publicly credited in the U.S.

Yet it was rarely seen in the U.S., and not until it was licensed by Rialto and re-released in 2000 did it have public screenings. But even so, before and since, it influenced many heist movies, including: Ocean’s Eleven; The Italian Job, Reservoir Dogs, and The Town. 

I saw Rififi on the big screen at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2015. Eddie Muller introduced the film, congratulating the audience for having picked the best movie of the whole festival to attend. He stated that Rififi was ,”as perfect a movie as you can get.” I agree.

FRED ASTAIRE: HIS DANCE PARTNERS AND THEIR COSTUMES Part II

 

Fred Astaire’s amazing career and his talented dance partners as dressed by the great Hollywood costume designers  is reviewed in this post, continued from Part I. We left off with the movie You Were Never Lovelier with Rita Hayworth in 1942.  One of his next big films was done at his new studio: MGM. The studio was still pumping life into the Ziegfeld legend by making a third movie about Florence Ziegfeld, this time with Ziegfeld looking down from on high to the creation of a new revue.  In Ziegfeld Follies, a great cast was assembled including: Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Kathryn Grayson,  Esther Williams, Fanny Brice, Red Skelton and William Powell. Fred Astaire had two dance partners, Lucille Bremer, and for the first time, the great Gene Kelly himself. The movie is worth watching if only for Gene Kelly/ Fred Astaire number. Fred dances  with Lucille Bremer, a good dancer but not in the league of Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell or Cyd Charisse. Their two numbers were a Chinese inspired “Limehouse Blues,” and “This Heart of Mine,” In the latter he plays a jewel thief trying to seduce Bremer to get her jewels, but gets seduced himself. Irene Lentz Gibbons designed the beautiful white embroidered gown she wore. Irene Sharaff designed the Chinese-themed costume for the other number, but Lucille Bremer did not get along with her.

 

 

The next two movies Fred made were not very successfull. He partnered again with Lucille Bremer in Vincente Minnelli’s Yolanda and the Thief, in 1945, and in Stuart Heisler’s Blue Skies, in 1946 along with Bing Crosby and Joan Caulfield, a sort of Holiday Inn take-off. In the later movie Fred dances mostly solo. At this point in his career Fred was preparing for his retirement.

In 1948 MGM was making the big musical Easter Parade when Gene Kelly broke his ankle. Kelly suggested that Fred Astaire replace him. Fred was surprised but accepted. The movie was directed by Charles Walters and co-starred Judy Garland, Ann Miller, and Peter Lawford. Ann Miller was herself replacing Cyd Charisse, who had pulled a tendon. The movie’s plot complications are that Fred went from his regular stage and dance partner (and flame) played by Ann Miller to a new one played by Judy Garland (and back and forth). The movie was a huge costume production. The principals, cast, and extras in their 1912 finery was a big designing  job for Irene Lentz Gibbons. Some 700 extras were used. The long hobble-skirts and big picture hats cast a distinctive silhouette that was the big attraction for the “Easter Parade” scene on New York’s “5th Avenue.” Below is a costume sketch designed by Irene for one of the walkers on 5th Avenue.

Irving Berlin provided the compositions, many from decades earlier, but some written just for the movie. The musical numbers incuded some of Fred’s finest work, especially with Judy Garland. The Vaudeville number, “A couple of Swells” is pure joy in watching how much fun Judy Garland is having in this silly routine. “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” is the most beatiful song, sung by Fred to Judy, and the “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” number by Fred has to be seen. Easter Parade was MGM’s highest grossing film of 1948.

 

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were teamed – for the last time – in The Barkleys of Broadway in 1949. The movie was supposed to star Judy Garland, but she suffered a nervous breakdown and was replaced. The story is about a husband and wife musical comedy team. A French playright convinces Ginger’s character that she should be doing serious theater roles, and accordingly she starts rehearsing – to Fred the husband’s irritation and jealousy. Things siral downward until she takes to the stage separately, and we wonder if their team will ever re-unite. The working title of the film had been, You Made me Love You.

Irene Lentz Gibbons designed the costumes. Below is a costume sketch for Ginger Rogers

 

Ginger’s gold lame gown below had plenty of fabric at the skirt to swirl as she danced with Fred in their opening number in the film.

While Royal Wedding (1951) is not as well known and is lightweight as far as story goes, it contains some of Fred’s most well-known solo dance numbers – and some nice ones with partner Jane Powell too. It was also historic in other ways. The movie rode on the popularity of the  earlier royal wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Judy Garland was supposed to star along with Fred Astaire, but after missing three rehearsals she was suspended for her third and final time from MGM, her studio for 14 years and where she had grown up.  The end of an era had come.

The story is about brother and sister Broadway stars taking a ship to England, played by Fred Astaire and Jane Powell. They are to play in the Mayfair theater during the feativites around the royal wedding. But of course they each meet and fall for a Londoner – she with an English  lord played by Peter Lawford, he to  an auditioner played by Sarah Churchill (Winston’s daughter). The movie is filled with clever dance acts, starting off with the Fred and Jane dancing on a rocking ship deck.

This is also the movie where Fred dances with a coat rack because his sister is not available at a reahearsal, and late in his bedroom imagines himself dancing on his walls and ceiling after staring at a photo of Anne (Sarah Churchill).

No costume design credit is given for the film. Normally Helen Rose would have been assigned the costume design, but with the troubles Judy Garland was having at the studio, Rose had made the mistake of siding with Judy. The studio bosses didn’t appreciate that and took her off the movie, and significantly, Band Wagon that followed was assigned to another designer.

Many fans consider Band Wagon to be Astaire’s best film. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and it pairs Astaire with the great Cyd Charisse. The plot parallels and was partially inspired by his own career. At that stage Astaire and the protagonist are facing a waning audience and with their best days behind him. Fred plays Tony Hunter, talked into making a stage musical by his friends as a comeback, the duo played by Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant (passing as Comden and Green). The director Jeffrey Cordoba, played by Jack Buchanan turns the play into a dark modern hot mess, complicated by adding ballerina Gabrielle Gerard, played by Cyd Charisse into the cast. Tony and Gabrielle get off on the wrong foot from the beginning. Rehearsals are a shambles and it’s only after Tony and Gabrielle get to talking and later take an evening buggy ride to Central Park that the chemistry ignites. The musical number and dance, “Dancing in the Dark,” takes place as one of the highlights of the film, From there, one entertaining musical number after another takes place. Astaire and Cyd Charisse’s “Girl Hunt Ballet,” is particularly noteworthy.

 

The costumes were designed by Mary Ann Nyberg. She had few film costume design credits to her name, though A Star is Born with Judy Garland was one of them. She served as a sketch artist for Jean Louis and later a fashion designer. The costume sketch above is for Cyd Charisse in the wonderful “Dancing in the Dark” number. It is a simple but beautiful dancing outfit, its pleated skirt flowing to her every move with Fred.

The “Girl Hunt Ballet” scene with Cyd Charisse begins with Fred entering a bar where she sits, wearing a dark green coat. A quick removal of the coat reveals her bright red sequined dress – showing lots of leg through a 3/4 surround skirt and narrow front panel. This makes for a stunning dance number with Fred shown below.

 

 

Mary Ann Nyberg’s costume sketch above was for a Cyd Charisse costume in the “Girl Hunt Ballet” scene. For whatever reason, it was never used in the film.

Fred Astaire’s last full musical dance movie was Finian’s Rainbow, based on the 1947 stage play and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It was released in 1968 and co-starred Petula Clark playing Fred’s daughter Sharon. The costumes were designed by Dorothy Jeakins.

 

The movie has a fanciful plot, where Fred and his daughter travel to a fictional Southern state and burying stolen leprechaun gold believing it will multiply. But then a bigoted local senator, Billboard Rawkins, tries to foreclose on the young and popular Woody Mahoney’s tobacco land. So Finian pays the balance of Woody’s debt and he and Sharon become loved by the sharecroppers of the valley. Things are not settled however and Rawkins is not finished with his schemes before Finian’s work is done and he can leave the valley to seek his fortunes elsewhere.

 

Finian’s Rainbow is a movie that as a whole is not s good as its parts. No matter, as Fred Astaire’s last full musical role, it is worth seeing. Thereafter, he could be seen in various bit roles and TV parts. And of course, was re-discovered in That’s Entertainment! in 1974. We are fortunate to Have Turner Classic Movies where so many of the movies of his prime are shown regularly, along with his marvelous dancing partners and the wonderful costumes they wore.

VERTIGO: ITS OWN SPELL-BINDING CONFERENCE

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO was the subject of a one day conference in Dublin, Ireland on September 14. The event was organized by Trinity college professor Donal “Dee” Martin and a dedicated team of assistants and held at the Central Hotel. Dee had spent many months planning and organizing this event and it was quite successful. A distinguished group of scholars spoke and gave visual presentations on Hitchcock and Vertigo, on a  fascinating range of subjects. I was fortunate to be among them, talking about the costume designs by Edith Head and the role costumes play in character and plot.

Organizer Dee Martin at right with speaker Christian Esquevin

After an opening by U.S Embassy Charge d’Affaires Reece Smyth, Sidney Gottlieb started the talks. Sidney is professor of Communications & Media Studies at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. He co-edits the Hitchcock Annual. He opened with Why Vertigo?in terms of its cinematic distinction as a recent phenomenon. David Schroeder  followed with “Vertigo as Opera,”  David is Professor Emeritus of the Fountain School of the Performing Arts at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His talk focused on the film score of Bernard Herrmann and its musical associations. Kevin Donnelly followed with a different angle on Vertigo’s music score, “Disagreeing with Hitchcock?: The Counterpoint in Vertigo’s Music.” His point here is that Herrmann actually encouraged different emotional responses in his music than what was going on in some of the scenes. Kevin is reader in Film at the University of Southhampton, and has written about Hitchcock and Herrmann. I followed with “Vertigo: Costuming a Masterpiece,” which I will provide the text for at the bottom of this post.  The music of Vertigo continued to be a topic of interest as Jack Sullivan gave his fascinating talk on “Relentless Destiny: The Score for Vertigo and its Background.” Jack is Professor of  English at Rider University and the author of “Hitchcock’s Music.”

From L to R Christian Esquevin, Sidney Gottlieb, Jack Sullivan, and Kevin Donnelly

 

Sidney Gottlieb addresses the audience on “Why Vertigo?”

 

I talk about the role of costumes in Vertigo – designed by Edith Head and the all-important gray suit that Kim Novak did not want to wear at the beginning.

After the lunch break William Rothman talked about Jimmy Stewart’s most complete performance in “I Look Up, I Look Down: James Stewart’s Performance in Vertigo.” Bill Rothman is currently Professor of Cinema and Interactive Media at the University of Miami. He is the author of “Must We Kill the Thing We Love: Emersonian Perfectionism and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock.” This talk was followed by Murray Pomerance who presented “A Cicerone’s Conjecture: Gallery 6 and Vertigo’s Foreshadows”  This was an interesting look at the art on exhibit (and installed especially for Hitchcock) at the gallery of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. Sidney Gottlieb wrapped up the conference with his presentation on, “The Variety of Gazes in Vertigo,” addressing the issue of “the male gaze” in modern cinema and media.

This was a most fascinating conference held in  great city. It is hoped that next year the 2nd conference will be held on the occasion of Vertigo’s 60th anniversary in San Francisco, again to be planned by Dee Martin.

My piece on Vertigo is based on an earlier blog post I had submitted to Patricia Schneider’s blog Lady’s Eve’s Reel Life.   This had been for the occasion of a blogathon on Vertigo in 2012. My post, slightly modified, follows:

 

Edith Head at left with Alfred Hitchcock & Ingrid Bergman in Notorious

 

                        VERTIGO: COSTUMING A MASTERPIECE

 

Alfred Hitchcock had already worked with noted costume designer Edith Head on five films. Now he had chosen her again to costume Vertigo. Hitchcock had wanted Vera Miles to play the role of Madeleine, but she became pregnant. He thought about Lana Turner, another beautiful blond, but she was too expensive. So he secured Kim Novak from Columbia Pictures. As a loan-out, her studio was making a lot of money from her. She started off resentful, but she soon asked for and got a higher salary.  She was tough, but insecure.

Kim Novak made it crystal clear what she wanted in her first meeting with Edith Head. “I don’t wear suits, and I don’t wear gray. And another thing, I don’t wear black pumps,” Novak told Miss Head.

When Miss Head reported this to Hitchcock, he said, “I don’t care what she wears as long as it’s a gray suit.”

Thus began the creative tension over the costuming of Vertigo. But in a clash of opinion over the visual aspects of a Hitchcock film, Hitch always won. Indeed, he already had the colors and the costume types selected before pre-production for Vertigo began. Kim Novak wore the gray suit with the black pumps. And this became her iconic look in Vertigo.

 “I had never had a director who was particular about the costumes, the way they were designed, the specific colors,” Novak later said about Hitchcock.

Edith Head’s gray suit design for Kim Novak

The story theme within Vertigo is based on obsession, and the costume looks for the Madeleine/Judy character are a key symbol of that dysfunction. The “clash” that Kim Novak had with Hitch and Edith Head over her costumes was nothing new for an actress in Hollywood, but Alfred Hitchcock’s very specific clothing demands in type and color speaks volumes about Vertigo being for him a very personal film. Deeply embedded in Hitchcock’s psychology was this mix of the mysterious blond in a gray suit, the obsession with repossessing a lost past, and the madness caused by the futility of this effort. As far as the costume choices being good fashion, it didn’t matter that Kim Novak’s pumps were black. Yes, they would have looked better in gray or brown, or tan to match her nude-toned hose. This was a trick she had learned from Marlene Dietrich, a device to make one’s legs look longer.

The gray suit was in a neutral and sedate color. Hitchcock believed it revealed how the Madeleine character felt about herself. Edith Head also frequently designed gray suits for her film costumes, and wore them regularly herself, believing that it gave her a non-competitive look when working with the stars. But Marlene Dietrich had worn a gray suit for Hitch in Stage Fright, as had Doris Day in The Man Who Knew too Much, and as Tippi Hedren would wear in The Birds. So the gray suit touched something within Hitchcock, and along with the blonde hair of his leading actresses, denoted for Hitchcock the “woman of mystery,” the cool and subtle beauty with the blazing insides. And as for the black pumps, they can often be fetishistic objects, and Hitchcock’s insistence on them here gives them that significance.

The colors of the costumes and the sets had a symbolic meaning as well as a visual style for Hitchcock. Gray represented modesty when worn in a gray suit. Perhaps its dove gray color denoted a uniform to Hitchcock, perhaps even linking it to the color of a nun’s habit. And perhaps it was that modesty contradicted by the figure-hugging cut of the suit that added spice to the costume.  When Jimmy Stewart as Scottie first sees Kim Novak playing Madeleine, she wears a black gown but it is covered in a green-trimmed opera coat at Ernie’s Restaurant. The wallpaper of the restaurant forms a red background that vibrates with the green in these color opposites. Her face in profile against the red wallpaper fixes his gaze, and that  of the camera.

Green represented death for Hitchcock. This was a holdover from his youth going to the theater and seeing ghostly representations depicted in lime green. Madeleine’s car is also green. It’s in the following scene where Scottie begins tailing Madeleine that she first wears the gray suit.  His fascination with her was peaked at Ernie’s, but seeing her in the gray suit is when he becomes obsessed. Her connection to mystery and reincarnated lives is reinforced with scenes at the Dolores Mission and graveyard and the Palace of the Legion of Honor Art Gallery.

As for Scottie’s former love interest Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, she is dressed in warm colors of yellow and beige and soft fabrics – symbols of her nurturing and loving proclivities towards Scottie.

After Scottie saves Madeleine from drowning and takes her to his apartment, she is dressed, albeit in his robe, in a vibrant red. Here the color evokes life and full-bloodedness. And indeed, a prior scene of intimacy is implied. Then in a later scene when Scottie and Madeleine drive to the shore, she is dressed in black and white – a black dress with black gloves and a white coat. The black and white in this costume denotes not the unambiguous nature of her character, but rather the duality of her persona. As an added twist, her black chiffon scarf blows freely with the ocean wind, perhaps a symbol of mystery, or one of doom.

 

As the character Judy, Kim Novak is costumed by Edith Head to appear dowdy. She wears the “deathly” green color – in a green sweater made bulky by being worn over a blouse. The blouse is green with white polka-dots and with a peter-pan collar turned over the sweater. The whole is accentuated by an unflattering hair style. The total look is purposefully unappealing. This look has several purposes: to define the common character of Judy in contrast to Madeleine’s higher class; to appear that she is “hiding” her identity; and to provide a stark difference with Madeleine in order to dramatize her coming make-over.

“Judy” in green, with braless top.

When they go on a date and later go shopping for her clothes, she is dressed better but still very simply. She wears lavender, a color of mystery and transition. But Scottie will not be satisfied until he makes her over in the very image and dress of Madeleine. The make-over itself is a key dramatic moment in the film – Judy’s reluctance, Scottie’s obsession in turning her visually into Madeleine, complete with gray suit and blonde hair in the characteristic twirled bun.

The nature of the costumes, and the make-over, reverberated not only with the character’s roles, but with the actor’s and the director’s deep psychology. Hitchcock exercised his darker side in molding an actress into his own obsession, while directing Jimmy Stewart to do the same. Kim Novak as Judy wondered why Scottie couldn’t love her as she was, just as Kim Novak really felt the same about Hollywood in general. The entire film reverberates not just from vertigo but due to mirroring techniques and doubling of the images of the main characters. We are challenged to keep our footing while viewing this Hitchcock masterwork. But the gray suit worn with the black pumps served their purpose, and they allowed Kim Novak to not only be in character, but by taking her out of her comfort zone in dress, Hitchcock enabled her to more effectively be an actress that plays a part of a character that is pretending to be someone else. The simplicity and neutrality of the gray suit belies the fact that when Kim Novak wears it as Judy she is a woman pretending to be another woman who was herself a fiction. This may create a blurred vision, But Scottie knows he has been tricked.

“Judy” finally transformed back into Madeleine

Hitchcock must have recognized his own dilemma in creating Vertigo. At the climactic end, Scottie demonstrated his tragic disappointment with Judy, and his own foolish endeavor. “He made you over just like I made you over,” he says accusingly to Judy. Only Elster had made her over first, and thus Scottie had been pursuing the hollow goal of recreating another man’s fantasy. And perhaps worse, he accused her of being “an apt pupil,” for Elster, which he repeats twice – something she hadn’t been for him. That demonstrated to Scottie, and served as the film’s underlying theme, that the pursuit of an empty ideal is futile. For Hitchcock, it was a deeply ingrained motif, one that would keep repeating itself as he tried to mold one Hitchcock blonde after another into his fantasy, only to have her leave him for one reason or another. With the character Scottie, this creation and possession fantasy was played out not as a means of domination, but rather one where we could believe that once his fantasy woman was created, he could surrender and succumb to her. She could have been his Madeleine/Midge.  But alas we know that that too would have been another fantasy – another beguiling but untrustworthy image, a reflection in a mirror, or another swirling and spiraling movement creating a feeling of vertigo.

Many viewers over the years have also been tricked by Vertigo. They came to view it as a Hitchcock mystery, but in reality it is cinema’s greatest tragedy.

Vertigo received several Oscar nominations, including Best Art Direction. Edith Head was not nominated for Best Costume Design, which was won by Cecil Beaton’s Gigi. And she had also just been snubbed for her outstanding costumes for Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. It seems that a fabulous gray suit as character-delineating costume was just too subtle to pick up awards. No matter, she had already won five of her ultimate eight Oscar wins by then. Worse, Hitchcock wasn’t nominated either for this iconic classic.

It didn’t do well at the box-office and Hitchcock took it out of circulation for many years. It became a bit of a cult class and after his death it was finally seen more broadly. The 2012 Sight and Sound poll listed it as the best film ever made, displacing Citizen Kane. For a deeper review of its symbolic and historical background, see my post:  http://silverscreenmodes.com/vertigo-spiraling-into-myth-madness-movie-history/

 

 

FABULOUS FLAPPERS OF THE SILVER SCREEN

 

The fabulous fashions of the Jazz Age seem always to come back in style, their sheer energy jumping off the page or screen.. The 1920s flapper style has become a fashion icon, and Hollywood movies played a big part in spreading the look. The young flapper woman was herself a novelty. As a reaction to the end of World War I in 1918 and the massive loss of young men, women’s styles became liberated, and favored the look of young men or boys. The short haircuts started earlier by Irene Castle became even shorter with stars Colleen Moore, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, and Norma Shearer. The fashions of Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel that had eliminated corsets had now changed to straight-sided, flat-chested, short-skirted and sleeveless dresses. This provocative look was matched by a lifestyle that favored fast cars, jazz clubs, and wild dancing. Smoking and drinking was taken for granted. And sex was always on the flapper’s mind.  

Colleen Moore above started in the movies in 1917 and was considered the perfect flapper in the movie Flaming Youth in 1923.  By 1927 she was a top box-office star and fashion icon.

 

Photo courtesy PhotoFest

Louise Brooks is shown above circa 1929. Louise was a free spirit that was the flapper ideal. She made several films for Paramount but quit the studio in a disagreement. She then went to Germany to star in the films Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl for G.W. Pabst in 1929. Both films were censored. Late in life she wrote an autobiography, Lulu in Hollywood. Her photos have a mesmerizing quality that make them prized collector items.

Joan Crawford, shown above, was considered by F.Scott Fitzgerald to be the perfect embodiment of the Jazz Age woman. She began her career at MGM in 1925, and is shown above in Our Modern Maidens, 1929. Adrian designed the costumes for this movie, as he did for most of her early films. and all of her subsequent MGM films’ “I don’t remember any fashion before Adrian.” she said.

The photo above shows Joan Crawford and Josephine Dunn in Our Modern Maidens. Joan wears a sequined coat over the flapper dress that is shown in her first photo. Josephine Dunn wears a coat over her silver-fringed flapper dress. Joan is also shown below in total flapper mode for Our Dancing Daughters, 1928. This dress was also an Adrian design.


Evelyn Brent was another silver screen flapper. She was a big star in the silent era but never made a successful transition to sound. She is often photographed with a wide silk headband and had a striking profile. She is pictured above for an unknown publicity shot, circa 1930. The dress “pajamas” she is wearing were very fashionable as boudoir or beachwear in Europe. Adrian popularized pajamas for evening wear in 1929-1930 by having Greta Garbo wear them on screen, and predicting the popularity of pants for women.

 

Evelyn Brent at left is shown above with Constance Cummings in Travelling Husbands, 1931. Constance wears a cloche hat, the trademark flapper head piece. When Adrian, the son of milliners, put Greta Garbo in a slanted Empress Eugenie hat in Romance in 1930, the cloche went out of style.

Julia Faye is shown above in a silver-fringed dress designed by Adrian for Dynamite, 1929. Ms. Faye must hold a record for the most uncredited roles on film. She first appeared in movies in 1915 and ended her career on TV in 1963. She was in many C.B. DeMille films, including The Squaw Man in 1918 and the first The Ten Commandments in 1923.

 

 

Joan is seen again in Our Blushing Brides in 1930, the final film in the “trilogy” with Our Dancing Daughters and Our Modern Maidens. Adrian designed the dress with a great jazz age symbol of a zig-zag pattern on the bodice.

The jazz age flapper style was at its end by 1931. The stock market crash of 1929 took the wind out of the sails of the free-spirited lifestyle that the flapper signified. And the long dresses introduced in Paris by Jean Patou changed the hemline for decades to come. This also caused a problem for Hollywood movies that were suddenly caught out of style – prompting a search for costume designers with couture backgrounds. But Hollywood films and movie stars had helped spread the flapper style’s popularity. Now the style making its debut on the silver screen was one of sex appeal and glamour – still created by costume designers Adrian and Travis Banton. Fluctuations in style would no longer matter. The “Hollywood line” emphasized timeless glamour and the figure-hugging silhouette that plainly put sex appeal in clothing. The Hollywood styles would now be influencing the European couturiers.

 

Costume wild Evelyn Brent_ Slightly Scarlet_gray shades_001

Travis Banton designed the wild costume pictured above for Evelyn Brent in SLIGHTLY SCARLET, 1930. Evelyn Brent plays the unwilling accomplice of a jewel thief in Paris and the French Riviera in this caper. She looks like a jewel herself in this Travis Banton “hostess gown.”  The fabric was a sapphire blue chiffon, encrusted with crystal bugle beads. She wears no brassiere, definitely pre-code.

Regardless of passing styles amd passing decades – flappers and their dress are and endless source of inspiration, and in these often cheerles times, an echo of the troubled times that created the flappers and their jazz age.

 

 

 

BARBARA STANWYCK’S BEST MOVIES

Barbara Stanwyck is celebrated this year in TCM’s SUMMER UNDER THE STARS which is showing some of the best movies of her career on Sunday August 13 starting at 6:00 a.m. Eastern S.T. With that career spanning 57 years it would be impossible to show them all in one day, plus the  themes, tastes and quality do vary.  Here are my favorites of Miss Stanwyck’s films, but first, some background information about her.

This post is part of The Summer Under the Stars Blogathonhosted by Kristen Lopez of Journeys in Classic Film.

Barbara Stanwyck was born July 16, 1906 in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. She was the youngest of five children born to Byron and Catherine Stevens. She was named Ruby. Her mother was likely Scotch-Irish but died after a drunk accidentally knocked her off a moving streetcar and Catherine subsequently miscarried. Ruby was 3 years old. Her father then abandoned the children, the two eldest went off on their own and the middle child, by then a young-adult, raised Malcolm Byron and Ruby until they were passed off to one family and then another, as many as ten or twelve in succession, as orphans. Ruby grew up as a wild child with a tough exterior, with the primal understanding that only she could look our for herself.  Yet she was perpetually insecure. She hardly ever made friends and was always in trouble at school. She dropped out by age 14, ready to work for a living. She first worked wrapping packages at a department store, then for more money she took a job filing cards at the telephone company. She became a rep for Vogue garment patterns but was fired for bungling an order. But after her sister Millie began working as a chorine (chorus girl) on Broadway, Ruby began tagging along. She began imitating every dance step she saw, and it wasn’t long before she auditioned and got a job as a Ziegfeld chorus dancer in 1922’s Follies. She was 15 years old. Ruby also got a dancing job with the flamboyant Mary Louise “Texas” Guinan at the “El Fay” club, where Ruby Keeler and George Raft also made up the dancing talent. She made the transition to acting when Willard Mack hired her for a part as a chorine (“Why not cast a real one?), her friend had asked him. She got the part, and Noose, a prison  melodrama, lasted 9 months on Broadway.  It was for the play that she got her name Barbara Stanwyck. at the suggestion of the producer David Belasco.  He was looking through old playbills with Mack and concocted the name from a mix of former actresses. 

 

Ruby Stevens before she went to Hollywood

 

Writer and producer Arthur Hopkins picked Barbara Stanwyck to play the lead role in his new play Burlesque. The play became a hit. Movie moguls were scouring Broadway at the time looking for talent with good voices just as the movies were transitioning to sound. Famous Players-Lasky bought the rights to Burlesque, but for another lead actress. Joseph Schenck of United Artist offered Stanwyck the lead in The Locked Door in 1929. By then Barbara had married Frank Fay, a big vaudeville star with a big personality and plans of his own to make it big in Hollywood. They married and moved to Hollywood. Her next movie was with the “poverty-row” studio of Columbia – Mexicali Rose. Both of these movies are forgettable and even Barbara had doubts about continuing her career in the movies. But she got a non-exclusive contract at Columbia, and her next movie; Ladies of Leisure, would pair her up  with director Frank Capra. They would go on to make a string of successful and classuc films. He said of her that, “Her dedication made her beloved by all directors, actors, crews, and extras.” The first of these movies that got her critical praise was The Bitter Tea of General Yen, set in China and co-starring Nils Asther. But her next movie got her a lot of praise, and with her non-exclusive contract, it was made at Warner Brothers. It’s also one of the first to show on TCM that I would note for viewing on August 13 (spoilers will be included in all below).

Ladies They Talk About

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT: (9:00 a.m EST)   Directed by Howard Bretherton and William Keighley, this is a drama set in a woman’s prison. Barbara’s character is sent up for serving as a decoy in a bank robbery. Prison life in the movie is not depicted as particularly harsh, but watching Barbara display her full sass, piss and vinegar to some of her prison mates is the highlight of the film.  She can’t wait to get out to extract some revenge on the one she thinks double-crossed her in the bank job. The movie stars Lillian Roth, Lyle Talbot and Preston Foster. Costume design by Orry-Kelly. 1933

 

After a couple of movies at Warner Brothers, Frank Fay’s short Hollywood career came to an end. Although he hung around, drinking and making a nuisance of himself and worse. He finally went back to Broadway and the couple divorced. After Barbara made His Brother’s Wife with Robert Taylor, the two became involved and eventually married in 1939. They lived in a large horse Ranch in the then undeveloped San Fernando Valley, neighbors to Janet Gaynor and Adrian.

Barbara Stanwyck in Mad Miss Manton

 

MAD MISS MANTON:  (10:30 a.m. EST)  This film was made at RKO in 1938, directed by Leigh Jason and co-starring Henry Fonda, the first of three films Barbara made with Fonda (The Lady Eve, You Belong to Me).  In the story, Barbara plays a young heiress and leader of the “Park Avenue Pranksters.” This was quite a role change for her and the first time she was given the glamour treatment for her part. The plot involves a murder, a corpse, and some missing jewels, some criminals, and charity balls, and the involvement of the newspaper – which is where Henry Fonda’s character comes in. It all gets sorted out in the end. The costume designer was Edward Stevenson, who used some clever design techniques to overcome her low rear. My great-aunt Marie Ree was the Head Cutter-Fitter in the Wardrobe Dept. at RKO.  She fitted Barbara for her costumes for this movie – see photos above and below.

 

Barbara Stanwyck in Mad Miss Manton

 

 

The Lady Eve

THE LADY EVE:  (12:00 noon)  An all-time Barbara Stanwyck classic co-starring Henry Fonda, written and directed by Preston Sturges at Paramount Pictures. The story is classic romantic comedy. A rich heir and zoology fancier (Fonda) on a ship returning home finds himself the mark for a beautiful card sharp (Stanwyck) and her father (Charles Coburn). Fonda’s buddy (William Demerest) smells a rat, but Fonda is hooked (almost literally). But before you know it she’s falling for him too. Only several changes of identity throughout the movie by Stanwyck and falling in and out and back in love by Fonda in the usually zany but totally entertaining manner of a Preston Sturges movie will get you to the happy conclusion of this tale. And for Barbara Stanwyck fans, a jewel of a film. Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard were both  considered for the lead until falling out for one reason or another. Edith Head designed the smashing outfits for Barbara. 1941.

 

Ball of Fire

 

BALL OF FIRE: (2:00 p.m.)  This could be Barbara Stanwyck’s nickname. This classic screwball romantic comedy was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett with additional dialogue and slang terms added by Thomas Monroe.  Billy Wilder’s story is a take off on a basic fairy tale, where the eight wise men know everything about everything except about sex. The movie was directed by Howard Hawks. Barbara plays a burlesque entertainer, mixed in with a group of college professors writing an encyclopedia. Gary Cooper is the leader and a linguist, needing to update the slang section. That’s how Barbara, AKA “Sugerpuss” gets involved. She’s running from the law and some gangsters, and decides to hang out with the eight wise men and help them with their research. This is helped along since Professor Bertram Potts “Pottsie” is a looker. But soon things gets mixed up with the gangsters, and the professors have to get out of their study and get physical.  Costumes by Edith Head. 1941

 

All I Desire

 

ALL I DESIRE (8:00 p.m.) Directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Richard Carlson and Maureen O’Sullivan. In this powerful story set in 1910 Wyoming, Barbara as Naomi Murdoch returns to her small hometown as a famous Shakespearean actress – a town she left behind along with her husband , son and two daughters. Her daughter Lily had written her and is now acting in the school play. She finds her old emotional attachments returning. But her arrival stirs controversy, including the attention from an old lover. Her reputation and this renewed attention roils her family and the town. Can things ever be normal again? 1953.

 

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

 

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS   (9:30 p.m.) Strange things happen behind closed doors and this movie has them in spades. The alternate title was Love Lies Bleeding and that was was an apt title. Directed by Lewis Milestone, its cast includes Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, and in his first film role, Kirk Douglas.  Barbara (Martha) as a child kills her rich aunt in a fit of rage. Van Heflin (Sam) her friend is a witness. They were going to run away together but now he goes away alone to join the circus. Her tutor and his son Walter say it was an intruder that did it. Later Martha marries Walter, who has become a prosecutor. But then Sam returns to town, forming a love triangle – with nasty consequences. 1946.

 

Baby Face

 

BABY FACE (1:30 a.m.)  This is a real Pre-Code gem, where there is no mistaking the aims of Barbara as the protagonist. Starring George Brent, Margaret Lindsay, Donald Cook, and a young John Wayne. She is the daughter of a steel town speakeasy operator. She gets used to handling men early in life – which her father always seems to be foisting on her. She decides she’s had enough after a cobbler and friend tells her she’s beautiful and she could have power over men. So she moves to the city and applies for a job at a bank. The first man she meets in an office is about to give her the brush-off before she asks sweetly. He looks her up and down and asks, “Do you have any experience?” “Plenny,” she responds rolling her eyes. “I’d rather wait in there,” she nods towards a door to another room. “I hate crowds,” leaning close to him, “Don’t you.” As she gets one job promotion after the other through affairs with bigger and bigger bosses, with more careers ruined. The pans of the exterior of the bank building show the floors going higher and higher. The a big marriage lands her in the penthouse but will she ever be satisfied? The censors had problems with the movie upon its release, wanting the film pulled from distribution. Apparently changes were made to the ending for Barbara’s Lily Flowers character to make it acceptable.

 

But of course all of Barbara Stanwyck’s films can not be shown on one day and night at TCM’s Summer Under the Stars, especially as her career went through the 1960s, and on television well into the 1980s. There is one movie that should be pointed out as one of her all-time classics, however, and a favorite of mine: Double Indemnity. For a thorough review of this classic film noir, see my blog post here.

Anoyher one of Barbara’s films and one of my favorites is Meet John Doe, directed by Frank Capra (1941). This is also one of Capra’s all-time classics. It co-starred Gary Cooper, with Walter Brennan, Edward Arnold, Spring Byington, and James Gleason.  In this story Barbara as Ann Mitchell plays a newspaper columnist who writes a phony letter to the newspaper to keep her job. This was after hard-nosed business man D.B. Cooper buys the paper. In hard times the letter by “John Doe” states the sad state of affairs and says he will jump off the city hall roof at midnight on Christmas eve. This results in a mass of letters to the paper in sympathy and soon D.B. has Ann staying on the job and kept writing about John Doe. But now she needs to find him. And the public has formed John Doe clubs, wanting to stop him and in sympathy with his message. Only Ann has to find a real “John Doe,” and makes do with an out of work baseball player and his hobo companion. But this plan soon goes haywire as the puppet get ideas of his own – and D.B. resents his new political success – and Ann starts falling for him – and there’s that promise to jump off the city hall roof to keep. This movie is pure Capra, and the contrast between Cooper and Stanwyck works even better for the story than in Ball of Fire.

Barbara Stanwyck was one of the great stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Her films like her life are endlessly fascinating and this TCM line-up a fitting tribute.

 

 

 

FRED ASTAIRE’S DANCE PARTNERS AND THEIR COSTUMES

 

Fred Astaire danced with the best dancing stars of classic Hollywood. And while they danced with him they were dressed by some of the best studio costume designers. His dance partners have included Ginger Rogers, who he danced  with in several movies: Rita Hayworth;  Eleanor Powell; Judy Garland; Vera-Ellen; Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron; and Audrey Hepburn, and he even partnered with Gene Kelly in Ziegfeld Follies. 

Fred & Adele Astaire in Smiles (Broadway) 1930-1931 Photo courtesy Photofest

Fred Astaire was born to entertain. He and his older sister Adele began a Vaudeville act when he was 7. Fred met George Gershwin in 1916 and they remained friends for the rest of George’s short life. The Astaires were on Broadway by 1917. They performed in several musicals that took them to London. There, Adele was wooed and wed by Lord Charles Cavendish. Along with his natural grace Fred picked up the impeccable style of the British upper class. But now he was without a partner and his act fell apart.  He managed to find himself in another successful Broadway musical, Gay Divorce (1932-1933)with dancing partner Clare Luce, with Cole Porter’s music including the catchy number, Night and Day. After closing the show he went to Hollywood with a contract at RKO Pictures.

David O. Selznick was the head of production at the time, with Pandro Berman a leading producer. Fred’s first screen test for the studio didn’t bring down the house. According to Fred Astaire’s later memory, it summarized him as, “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Also dances.” But all Fred needed was a dance partner. Yet RKO’s first role for him wasn’t ready so he was loaned out to MGM for a role starring as himself with a dance partner not quite up to the task: Joan Crawford, in Dancing Lady (1933).  But lightning sparked when Fred was paired with Ginger Rogers in RKO’s Flying Down to Rio. Ironically, the future dancing dynamos were not even top-billed. The stars of the movie were Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond. Fred and Ginger had smaller parts, especially Ginger, but they smoked the floor when they danced to “The Carioca.” They stole the show, as they say in show business.  Dolores Del Rio was a big star at the time and used her favorite designer Irene (Lentz Gibbins) to design her wardrobe for the film. Walter Plunkett was RKO’s costume designer and he designed Ginger Rogers’ costumes and those of the chorines.

Flying Down to Rio. Photo courtesy Photofest

RKO realized they had something special with Fred and Ginger, and when Broadway’s Gay Divorce was turned into RKO’s 1935 film The Gay Divorcee (a gay divorce could not possibly happen according to the censor), the studio realized they had gold. This movie musical launched something different: Fred insisted on the cameras shooting Ginger and him dancing full bodied cross the studio floor. No jump cuts or edits of close-up foot-work or head shots would be used until they were finished. Plus they smiled as they danced, looking like they were having the greatest time.  Deep in the Depression, this was a winning combination for the audience. Fred’s early screen test meant nothing now, especially with his chemistry with Ginger Rogers. As someone said about the duo, “He gave her class and she gave him sex.”

Their dancing was infectious to look at, a symbol of the romance that was always bubbling as part of the plot. And a plot that became a standard with RKO’s Fred and Ginger movies. They meet seemingly by accident, and while there’s attraction, things go wrong and keep going wrong until they finally unite at the very end.

Walter Plunkett designed Gay Divorcee, and with his first two RKO movies he set the pattern for her dance dresses: a tight fit at the waist and bodice that showed off her gorgeous figure, and a flowing skirt that twirled as she danced with Fred.

Walter Plunkett’s costume sketch below shows the  costume worn by the chorines (the white version, there was also a black). The ruffles at the elbows were brought up to the shoulders.

By the time  Fred and Ginger’s third film Top Hat (1935was being made, Walter Plunkett had left RKO due to a salary dispute. New York fashion designer Bernard Newman had been brought on and was given the choice assignments and that didn’t please Walter. But Newman’s designs for Ginger became more eye-popping, and she became more involved in the designs. Newman’s famous light blue “Feathers” gown for Top Hat  was a good example. It was made of silk satin with ostrich feathers at the skirt and shoulders. It became a bit of a battle between the Astaire camp and the Rogers camp as to whether it would remain in the movie. The issue, unresolved to the end, was how to keep the feathers from coming loose when Ginger danced with Fred. Even after some hand-re-sewing of individual ostrich plumes, they can still be seen flying about in the “Dancing Cheek-to-Cheek” number, which irritated Fred to no end. But what a magnificent scene. My great-aunt was irritated too. As the head cutter-fitter at RKO wardrobe, she didn’t have to do the sewing, but she had to supervise the process. Fred made light of the whole matter afterwards. He made a present to Ginger of a gold feather for her charm bracelet.

 

Top Hat (1935) Courtesy Photofest

Follow the Fleet followed Top Hat, and Bernard Newman followed his knock-out gown for Ginger with another one. The stellar gown in this movie was made entirely of silver bugle beads, trimmed with a fox collar. The gown weighed about 50 lbs. The bugle beaded skirt was translucent so you could see her figure against the light. But once again, Fred was not happy. The bell-shaped sleeves were heavy too, and when she twirled around in early takes her sleeves would slap up against his cheeks.  But again, the resulting “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” Irving Berlin number has to be their most beautiful (below). It was shot in in one take.

 

Swing Time followed, which many consider the best of the Fred and Ginger movies (though closely matched by Top Hat).  Bernard Newman again designed Ginger’s wardrobe although there were no over the top gowns. At this point she didn’t need them to get noticed in a movie, as all eyes were  frequently on her. The usual plot-line of the rough meeting, sudden attraction, then roller coaster road to a relationship is layed out again. And there are the dances – always sublime.

 

Swing Time (1936) Photo courtesy Photofest

When they first meet, Ginger is a dance instructor and Fred pretends not to know how to dance (at first). For the scene she wears a simple black dress with white pleated Peter Pan collar with bow. The full pleated skirt is designed to flow as she dances.

 

Swing Time (1936) Photo courtesy Photofest

The climactic dance is the “Never Gonna Dance” number, Jerome Kern and Dorothy Field’s song written for the movie. Bernard Newman’s design for Ginger was a beautiful flowing backless  decollete gown with criss-cross straps decorated with rhinestones. This gown too is translucent, as was the detachable cape. The dance number was the highlight of their partnership.

 

Fred and Ginger made Shall We Dance in 1937 and Carefree in 1938 but their movies weren’t as popular as before. America was slowly coming out of the Depression and movie audience expectations were changing. A theater magazine had just listed several actors as “Box office poison,” and among them were big stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and Fred Astaire. Bernard Newman had just left RKO. While his designs were stunning, he couldn’t keep up with the pace of work at a Hollywood studio. Howard Greer, formerly of Paramount Pictures filled in to design Ginger’s wardrobe for Carefree. He had opened his own fashion business in Beverly Hills and was doing rather well. After he finished this film Edward Stevenson, with years of experience going back to First National, assumed most of the design duties at RKO. A Howard Greer costume sketch for Ginger in Carefree is shown below. Fred and Ginger’s final movie at RKO was The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. As the studio wanted, this would be a departure from their usual boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back story. It was based on the real story of the once very famous dance team of the Castles.  But problems began early. Vernon had already died and Irene wanted the movie to be very exact in its portrayal of them – down to story line, dance steps, costumes, and their likeness. It’s still a mystery who designed the costumes. Walter Plunkett, who had come back to RKO, stated he bowed out when Irene Castle became so rigid in her demands. The costume sketches themselves are unlike any done by the regular sketch artists at RKO. In any event, the movie was not a success and while Ginger stayed on at RKO to win an Oscar for Kitty Foyle, Fred’s contract was up and he moved on.

 

Howard Greer costume sketch for Ginger Rogers in Carefree

Fred was not quite the box office poison the article made him out to be. MGM, Paramount, and Columbia all wanted him to do movies for them. MGM came in first with Broadway Melody of 1940, made in 1939, which was followed later by a long term contract. In this movie he more than met his match in tap -dancing: the incredible Eleanor Powell. When the two danced in the Begin the Beguine number, it was introduced years later by Frank Sinatra for That’s Entertainment!  He stated,  “You can wait around and hope, but you’ll never see the likes of this again.” But In the photo below, they dance in Eleanor’s favorite, the “Jukebox” tap dance number. They are both having fun with this one.

The costume designer for this film was Adrian, and while all Eleanor’s costumes move well while she dances ( and they don’t bother Fred) he adds whimsy with the Cossack accents.

Fred moved to Paramount Pictures where in 1942 he made what would become a classic,  Holiday Inn (along with it’s sequel)or as it was fully titled: Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn. Here he was joined by Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds. And while Fred dances Marjorie Reynolds around the floor (at one point on the floor when he plays drunk), it’s when Bing sings “White Christmas” to Marjorie, and then they sing in duo, that music history is made.

Edith Head designed Marjorie Reynolds’ costumes. Allthough the movie was black and white one of the costumes was made of gold beads. The costume sketch below (shown with Fred as the dance partner) was modified somewhat in the film as an embroidered silk gown. The signature on the sketch is that of director Mark Sandrich.

 

The photo below shows Marjorie in her gold beaded gown.

 

Fred made a couple of movies at Columbia Pictures after talking to producer Gene Markey. He would star with the daughter of an old dancing Vaudeville friend of his, Eduardo Cansino. His daughter was Rita Cansino, now known as Rita Hayworth. Their first movie together was successful: You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) but their second movie You Were Never Lovelier (1942) was a hit.  The music was by Jerome Kern and Johnnie Mercer. Here Fred courts Rita, but her Argentine father disapproves.

 

The two photos above and below show Fred and Rita dancing in You Were Never Lovelier promotional photos. Rita’s beautiful wardrobe was designed by Irene (Lentz Gibbons), who was designing for Bulluck’s Wilshire at the time. Irene frequently freelanced for studio work for stars that demanded her services, as she had for Dolores Del Rio.  This gown had embrodered sequins at the bodice and skirt, with an illusion top. It flowed beautifully as can be seen in the bottom photo. Unfortunately, while Fred sang the “You Were Never Lovelier” song to Rita, the dance scene was cut from the final film.

 

Fred Astaire had achieved an enviable career in his first decade in Hollywood. But much more was yet to come. More of his films, dance partners, and their costumes will be covered in Part II of this blog.

 

 

 

 

THE COSTUMES OF WONDER WOMAN

 

Wonder Woman the movie has been a winner at the box office, a long planned-for super heroine  movie finally brought to life by Warner Brothers as directed by Patty Jenkins. One wonders what took so long, given the pent-up demand for such a feminist story with a strong female cast. As it turned out, just the right female director for finally got the job. One may remember the TV show starring Lynda Carter that aired in the 1970s. The role is now played by the Israeli actress Gal Gadot, former model and veteran of the Israeli Army. The new movie traces Wonder Woman’s origin story as Princess of Themiscyra of the protected island of the Amazons, an ageless utopia from ancient Greece. There she was also known as Princess Diana, and later known as Wonder Woman, the daughter of  Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). The Queen was over-protective of the Princess, the only child on the island. But  her aunt the warrior General Antiope (Robin Wright) wants to train her in the arts of combat, believing that Ares, the god of war, will find them even on their protected island. As Princess Diana grows into womanhood she has learned these arts through rugged training, and even discovers that her powers are more than mortal.  And when a biplane shatters their airspace and crashes into the sea, Diana saves the pilot (Chris Pine) from drowning. She has never seen a man, and he tells her of his important mission he is on to save lives during the final phase of World War I. Thus is Diana quickly turned into Wonder Woman, persuaded to enter World War I on the side of the Allies. This will be her effort to save lives from the hand of Ares and his henchmen who have taken over the German Army.  

 

Lindy Hemming designed the costumes, having previously designed a variety of popular films including The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Clash of the Titans, Batman Begins  two of the Lara Croft movies, several James Bond movies including Casino Royale and  Die Another Day, Paddington, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Ms. Hemming began her career designing costumes for the English Theater. She transitioned to film with movie director Mike Leigh. Like all costume designers, her job is to help develop the character of the actor she dresses.. In this capacity she works very closely with the director at first, getting their vision. Director Patty Jenkins had definite ideas, she said, “As a woman, I want Wonder Woman to fight and look great at the same time. In my opinion, this means she has really long legs.”  Hemming knew how to make both factors work through her costumes. This stage was followed by working with the art director and with the specialized trades that fabricate various parts of the costumes. And of course working with the actors themselves, including the all-important “fittings” for the custom work that is done for many of the costumes for the principal cast members. Nowadays these are mostly done on mannequins made from body scans of the actors, each perfectly proportioned.

 

Gal Gadot is shown at left with Connie Nielsen who plays her mother Queen Hippolyta. The Queen’s costume is regal, showing gold and fur. Diana’s costume has more the look of gilt armor, with the strapped skirt that, minus the  asymmetrical cut for sexiness,    even Ancient Greek soldiers wore.   Since the Wonder Woman costume had already been worn by Gal Gadot in Batman v Superman, and that costume had been designed by Michael Wilkinson, Ms. Hemming had to coordinate with that look and work backwards to its origin. In designing all of the Amazonian costumes she researched ancient armor, warriors, and female-centered societies. The costumes she designed also had to be functional for the strenuous scenes including horseback riding. The warrior armor was fabricated from handcrafted leather by Patrick Whitaker and Keir Malem. They had been making formed leather bustiers for 30 years and worked with Alexander McQueen on his first Givenchy couture show. To attain the glossy appearance the leather was either dyed, gilded or leafed with metallic-looking finishes. The leather was then steamed so it could be molded onto the custom-sized mannequins.

 

In the photo above Princess Diana grasps the God Killer sword, with her shield and Lasso of Truth, she will now embark on the path to great battles. But first she has a costume change, removing her training outfit to donn her Wonder Woman costume, complete with the Wonder Woman tiara her mother gives her. She wears a black Mohair and lamb’s wool cape over all, concealing her sword and shield. With pilot Steve Trevor, they sail a boat to London.

 

While Princess Diana, now re-named Diana Prince to better fit in, may feel comfortable in her attire, it becomes quickly apparent that she draws stares from everyone. Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) takes her shopping at Cleridge’s for a wardrobe. Diana is attracted immediately to a corset, asking if this is what their version of armor is like. She next tries on a variety of period outfits – in which she attempts her kicks and sword thrusts – splitting the hobble skirt of one.

 

She finally settles on a boxy Woman’s military-inspired tailleur (suit), accurately designed from the period (shown below). This will carry her into the trenches of the front. She will later trade it for her Wonder Woman costume, when we know she means business.

 

 

Steve Trevor fails to convince the English military hierarchy of his discovery of the German* plot to use a new horrific poison gas on the front. Thus he gathers a rag-tag bunch to follow him and Diana: his friend Sameer (Said Taghmaoui); Charlie (Ewen Bremner) a Scotsman that wears the cap badge of the Gordon Highlanders; and The Chief, an American Indian ( Eugene Brave Rock).

 

Chris Pine and Said Taghmaoui are shown below on the set. Their costumes show the period detail that gives realism to the movie and help develop their character. Said wear a fez in the photo above.

 

When things are jammed in the trenches and no advances can be made due to the withering  machine-gun fire (and a village with lives to save lies just ahead) , Wonder Woman takes it in herself to charge the enemy lines. This rallies the Allies and the village will be saved. This was one of the emotional high points of the movie.

 

 

But there is more to do, and finding and stopping Ares, who Wonder Woman believes is Ludendorff, is next. She and Trevor cleverly enter the castle where a ball is being held for the Germans. Their crew lurks outside. Wonder Woman has “borrowed” the gown shown below from another guest. The gown will surely get her noticed. The cerulean blue goddess gown is now a timeless style, yet it was not so in 1918. This was Lindy Hemming’s favorite costume.

 

 

The gown’s sword accessory at the back was also somewhat unique.  Ludendorff made his retreat before she could use it on him.

 

 

The photo above shows the backless gown and God Killer sword. Wonder Woman will have to use all her powers to overcome Ludendorff and Ares.

 

Photo courtesy Hollywood Movie Costumes & Props

 

One of Wonder Woman’s costumes was on display at the ArcLight Hollywood Cinema, shown above. One can see the added coloration of the blue, red and gold to give it a hint of the original comic book and Lynda Carter suit.

Wonder Woman is a powerful movie, Lindy Hemming’s costumes added tremendously to the actor’s characterization and comfort in their functionality in battle scenes and and elsewhere. They are memorable yet serve the story. What more can we ask for?

 

 

FASHIONS FROM THE SUMMER OF LOVE – 1967

 

 

The year 1967 delivered a rainbow of innovative music, movies , art and fashion. leading  to the huge “Summer of Love” gathering in San Francisco and other cities. Music fueled much of the spirit of the times (although some might say marijuana and hallucinogens did as much). But the creativity and dynamism of 1967 music is unmistakable. Many are celebrating this event as it reaches its 50th anniversary, along with the musical milestones that seemed all part of it.

A youth could always link directly to a song or a group, whether on a transistor radio or on the new underground FM station that more and more moved away from the top 40 format. It was through the latter that many were first introduced in 1967 to Jimi Hendrix, and his unique renditions of Hey Joe and The Wind Cries Mary.  And then his album Are You Experienced, was released, with its wild, psychedelic cut of Purple Haze.  When he played at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, at Paul McCartney’s insistence, he blew everyone away.  And then the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album came out in June.  Pink Floyd’s first album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn came out in August. And then another band and singer crushed everyone at Monterey; Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Their album would also come out in August. Then  another British group  made its second influential album: Disraeli Gears released by the Cream in November.

 

The youth that crowded Haight-Ashbury, or L.A., the so-called hippies, were already recognized by their dress. Or those in New York or London for that matter. They had begun inventing their own dress code. It had begun in London with the “Mods,” short for modernists, who listened to jazz and dressed cool. After the “British Invasion” of the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Kinks and others, many American kids started dressing differently as a symbol of youth and independence. The uniqueness of the dress was largely born in these urban centers since that is where the small boutiques, independent clothing stores, or in the U.S., army-navy surplus stores where off-beat garments and stylish creations could be found or created. In the mid 1960s, large manufacturers or retailers had not yet begun marketing to this segment of youth. And consequently, the young were always  on the prowl for places that would cater to their clothing and stylistic interests.

Along with the British invasion of music, another breath of fresh air came into fashion with the miniskirt. Mary Quant of London is usually credited with having started the style, although Andre Courreges of France claims to have invented it. He certainly started another style of the period, the “Go-Go” boot. But another English designer is most likely the real originator of the miniskirt, and that’s John Bates. He designed under the label Jean Varon, and among other short-skirt creations of his, he designed for Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers (1963-67). One of his designs for Diana Rigg is shown below.

 

The miniskirts on display below are from the historic Andre Courreges spring 1964 collection. His theme for the collection was “Space-Age,” and it featured goggles, helmets, and plastics, and the geometric patterns on the miniskirts.

 

 

The Spanish-Basque designer who worked in France, Paco Rabanne, also designed stylish miniskirts. His innovative “12 Unwearable Dresses” collection in 1966 used metal disks or plaques, fastened with links. He gave women a “suit of armor.” They made their appearance in a couple of movies in 1967. Audrey Hepburn wears one in Two for the Road, shown below.

The James Bond spoof starring David Niven as Bond, and Orson Welles as Le Chiffre, features a bevy of beautiful Bond girls (as guards) clad in Rabanne’s metallic minis, as shown below.

 

 

Another movie from 1967 was the English Smashing Time. Michael York plays the photographer Tom Wabe, and Lynn Redgrave also co-stars, as shown below.

 

The British Mod influence on male fashion was considerable. The first thing that came across the Atlantic was the slim look of pants and jackets in the early 1960s. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones was always a natty dresser. He is shown below, wearing stovepipe pants and a seersucker jacket.

Photo By O’NEILL / REX FEATURES
1964

A bit later male fashions trended more colorful and even peacock. Stripes had become fashionable in the U.K. for pants and jackets, and with flared, bell-bottom pants in the U.S.  When I first wore bell-bottoms in 1965 I had to find them in the army-navy surplus store – as sailor bell-bottoms – the usual stores didn’t carry flared pants yet.

Jimi Hendrix wore military with a lot more flare, picking a fur-lined Hussar’s jacket with its rows of brass buttons and gold braiding (called bullion and frogging). Hendrix always had the complete peacock look in his public appearances, and didn’t dress much differently for his private outings.

 

Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones are together below.

 

Nehru jackets, named after the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, became popular in the the U.K. and the U.S. after the Beatles wore them in 1965. Many other rock musicians sported them in the 1960s. While usually in white or a solid color, the paisley model shown below was made by Sy Amber of Hollywood in 1967 where I bought it, accessorized with cheap Indian necklaces from the Akron,  and worn to nightclubs like the Whisky-a-Go-Go. Paisley itself was a fabric decoration from India, and the two fit perfectly in a 60s environment increasingly influenced by Indian meditation and the music of Ravi Shankar.

Bonnie and Clyde had its costumes designed by Theadora Van Runkle. It made a fashion splash, and brought back the popularity of the beret. The movie was released in August 1967 in the U.S., but not until early 1968 in France. By then Brigitte Bardot was already sporting her French beret in this photo arriving at London’s Heathrow airport in November 1967.

 

 

The search for non-traditional fabrics to incorporate into fashion latched onto materials and techniques such as macrame, fringe, tie-dye, beading, and metal-work.

The deYoung Museum in San Francisco is currently commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the “Summer of Love with a major exhibition. According to their website: 

“The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll will be an exhilarating exhibition of iconic rock posters, photographs, interactive music and light shows, costumes and textiles, ephemera, and avant-garde films. A 50th anniversary celebration of the adventurous and colorful counterculture that blossomed in the years surrounding the legendary San Francisco summer of 1967, the exhibition will present more than 300  significant cultural artifacts of the time, including almost 150 objects from the Fine Arts Museums’ extensive permanent holdings, supplemented by key, iconic loans.” The exhibition runs through August 20, 2017.

 

Two of their displays are shown below.

 

 

Separate events are sure to be held commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and some of the other noteworthy albums, as well as perhaps the fashion collections.

As the 1967 Scott McKenzie song said ” Summertime will be a love-in there.”

FIVE FAVORITE STARS FOR THE FIVE STAR BLOGATHON

 

The Five Star Blogathon is hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe, celebrating National Classic Movie Day on this day May 16, 2017. In keeping with the objective of the blogathon, I have selected five of my “favorite” movie stars. Even among classic era stars, this was an almost impossible task. After going around and around, eliminating one and then another, I decided I would make my choices based on a favorite performance. Even that was difficult. Five is just too small a number among too many great actors and so many memorable performances. But here they are.

AUDREY HEPBURN  This choice  is  probably not a surprise as Audrey Hepburn is one of the most popular and respected actors ever. She is both classic and perennially contemporary in her movie roles and personal style. As dressed by Givenchy she was a fashion icon almost from the beginning of her career. She was selected by French novelist Colette to play Gigi on stage and her career was immediately launched.  While she is great in everything she stars in, my favorite is Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon. She is co-starred with two veteran classic stars, Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier. While Cooper was too old to play her love interest ( and he personally acknowledged as much), this May-December, slowly-developing romance emphasized her character’s innocence. Her performance perfectly balanced the character’s enthusiastic pursuit of this rich playboy while depicting a restraint based on naivete and a humble background. The father she lived with, Maurice Chevalier, is a private investigator. Indeed, he is investigating some of the affairs Cooper’s character is having. The film is a delight. It is the very definition of romantic-comedy as humor and wit infuse the story, yet romantic tragedy lurks in the balance.  The “Gypsy Band” adds to both humorous moments as well as playing the classic tune, “Fascination.”  But Audrey’s performance will melt your heart. I also love her in Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and How to Steal a Million. Her status as a fashion icon is well known. I blogged about her relationship with Givenchy  in Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy.

 

1939 publicity photo for the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”

JEAN ARTHUR  Jean Arthur started her film career in silent movies in 1923. She appeared in many low-budget movies and was eventually signed by Paramount, but never seemed to make headway. She was released by Paramount and went back to New New  for work on Broadway. After some success there she returned and was signed to Columbia, where she made a hit in John Ford’s The Whole Town’s Talking, with Edward G. Robinson.  She was then 34 years old.  Jean Arthur had a style all her own. Her voice was very distinctive, described as “squeaky” but sometimes “throaty.” Her manner consistently came off as thoroughly genuine and earnest. She was perfect for Frank Capra, and indeed starred in three of his best films: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town;  You Can’t Take it with You; and Mr Smith Goes to Washington. I loved her in Frank Borzage’s History is Made at Night, a sublime romantic drama, where she played opposite Charles Boyer. They have a strong screen chemistry but their very opposite actor personas adds spice to this gem of a movie. Her performance that I selected, however, is in Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, another of those great films from 1939. This is the story of the irrepressible homeboy turned Congressman played by Jimmy Stewart, trying to do good in the face of corruption and the reach of the rich and powerful (has nothing changed?). Jean Arthur plays Clarissa Saunders his assistant. At first she is jaded, but becomes enthusiastic as she works with Stewart as Jefferson Smith on a piece of legislation to build a boys camp in his state – only the intended location stands in the way of a bigger pork-barrel project. First his “mentor”and fellow senator turns against him – played excellently by Claude Rains – then the “bought for” newspaper and every other corrupt interest does. Only Jean Arthur stands behind him to give him strength, and a bunch of kids. The only thing left for him to do is a filibuster.  Time, and a surprisingly sage and sympathetic President of the Senate played by Harry Carey will also help. This film is one of the jewels of American cinema, and should be seen by everyone. Granted, Jimmy Stewart is the star, but the cast is outstanding and Jean Arthur played that ever-changing but ever-present supporting role to perfection.

 

JIMMY STEWART  Jimmy Stewart was as well-loved and as thoroughly trusted an actor as there is ever likely to be. He embodied the all-American ideal, and in his long film career seemed to play the gamut of the American biographical canon. His own contradictions and occasional dark roles were all the more accepted because of this trust. As the American “Everyman,” people could see in him their own faults and shortcomings, yet not feel disturbed or find therein anything sinister. He was “the incorruptible American patriot,” a persona created and cemented by two Frank Capra films: Mr. Smith Goes to Town; and It’s a Wonderful Life. These two films are jewels of American Cinema. And it’s Jimmy Stewart’s amazing acting abilities and his naturalistic style of playing film roles that makes it impossible to imagine anyone else playing these roles so well. 

One imagines that Jimmy Stewart was born and raised in a small town in Indiana, or on a ranch in Montana – basically a country boy arrived wide-eyed in the city. But he was actually born in the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and was a graduate of Princeton University like his father before him, a prosperous merchant. This should not detract from Jimmy’s screen persona, though he acted on stage at the university and in New York, his acting style and sentiments seemed always to be naturalistic and genuine. He had joined the Ivy-League University Players acting troupe, where his friends (and roommates) included Josh Logan and Henry Fonda. They were also close to Margaret Sullavan, another member. Henry Fonda was married to Sullavan briefly – Jimmy Stewart carried a torch for her a long time. It was Hedda Hopper who got Jimmy a screen-test at MGM, where he landed a bit-part in The Murder Man, then moving up to play Jeanette MacDonald’s wayward brother in Rose Marie. Henry Fonda by this time was already well established in Hollywood, and Jimmy once again roomed with him. One would have liked to be a fly on the wall when they double-dated with Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball, two of the RKO gals.

With all of his great roles, whether in westerns or contemporary films, my favorite film of his (of many actually) is Vertigo. Although his guilt and lost-love obssessed character is largely unsympathetic, this Hitchcock masterpiece is endlessly fascinating to watch. I blogged about it at some length in my post Vertigo: Spiraling into Myth, Madness, and Movie History.  

 

GLORIA SWANSON  What more can be said about a film legend that started work at Essanay in 1914 when she was just 15, and was working with Charlie Chaplin by 1915?  She signed with Paramount in 1919 and worked with C.B DeMille on some of his biggest films of the silent era. She became famous internationally and was known for her wardrobe on screen and off. Long before the feuds of Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer or Joan Crawford and Betty Davis, Gloria Swanson and Pola Negri were famous rivals on the Paramount lot. She spent $10,000 a year on lingerie. She was friends with Rudolph Valentino, married a French Marquis, and had affairs with Joseph Kennedy and several of her directors. When she returned from her European trip school children threw flowers along her return path to the studio lot.  She was treated like royalty and led a fascinating life, but made mistakes with her career that led to failures and the loss of fortunes. Always indefatigable, her period of little film work in the late 1930s and 1940s led to activity with her own fashion business and the  promotion of vegetarianism. Her role in Sunset Blvd. is one of my all time favorites, the very definition of the tole of time and Hollywood madness on a  declining icon of the silver screen.

Gloria Swanson was not Billy Wilder’s first choice for the starring role of a former silent film star in seclusion while in delusion about the possiblities about a comeback. Others from Greta Garbo to Mae West had been considered, and even Gloria’s old rival Pola Negri. But it’s hard to fathom anyone but Gloria Swanson in the role, and indeed, nothing jelled or even came close with the others. And her performance defines the genre of the delusional but still proud star ,exclaiming to her old director as they are about to take her away, “Just us, and the camers, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!” I still get goosebumps watching this scene. At a premiere screening for Paramount’s stars, it was said that Barbara Stanwyck wept as she kissed in reverence the hem of Gloria Swanson’s silver lame gown. I blogged at more length about this classic film at The Sun Never Sets on Sunset Blvd.

 

TYRONE POWER  Tyrone Power I’ve selected not for a single performance – not because I don’t have a favorite but out of respect for his constant battle to avoid being typecast. An actor with his “matinee idol” looks was always expected to be the lover and the good guy. In the days of the swashbuckler film he and Errol Flynn cornered the market. In fact, as a former fencer, I’ve never seen a better sword fight than between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone in The Mark of Zorro. In the 1930s he was seamlessly playing historical figures in movies like Lloyds of London, Marie Antoinette, and Suez, with contemporary dashing roles in movies like Love is News and Cafe Metropole. 

But Tyrone Power came from four generations of actors and he didn’t want a role based on his good looks or his ability to leap over tables with a sword. By 1940 his studio 20th Century-Fox finally let him take on the role of a compromised character (discounting Jesse James from the previous year), in Johnny Apollo. Here, Tyrone plays a privileged son turned racketeer, in a proto-film noir well worth watching and with a three-star performance by Tyrone Power. (See my blog post at: Johnny Apollo: The Tyrone Power Centennial Blogathon).

Not long after World War II started, in which Ty participated, he made some war movies  He played a more complicated and serious character in Razor’s Edge in 1946, but then starred in that darkest of films noir, Nightmare Alley.  That role was so much against type and so disliked by his hard-core fans that Daryl Zanuck immediately put him in another swashbuckler: Captain from Castile. Today Nightmare Alley is considered a classic of film noir and Ty’s role is praised. It would be another ten years before he had a serious role as a complex character, that in Witness for the Prosecution in 1957. But then he was back shooting Soloman and Sheba, where after a sword-fighting scene he died of a heart attack.  While his film legacy is diverse and notable, it was never fully realized.

These five actors are all favorites, and yet five more could easily have taken their place. I had thought of Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn, and Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. James Cagney is always fascinating and Cary Grant and Clark Gable can  fix my attention. I could watch Buster Keaton for hours and the same for Cyd Charisse and . But that’s classic movies for you.

 

 

ADRIAN AFTER MGM

 

 

After Greta Garbo left MGM,  Adrian did too. It was 1941 and he could see that glamour was over at his old studio. It wasn’t long before Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer, once bitter rivals on the lot, were gone as well. He had dressed them all – created their very image. He had created the movie costumes and styles that had been copied around the world, even by Paris couturiers. But now he wanted to start his own fashion line. But the times were getting tough.

Adrian launched his line in January 1942, with the U.S. then officially in World War II. Not having been in the garment business, he hired business manger Woody Feurt.  Woody travelled to the leading department stores around the country, and offered them exclusive rights to carry Adrian Ltd. Adrian’s name was already legend and this was not a hard sell.  Women  would want the chance to dress like the stars they’d followed on the silver screen. At the time, it was these department stores that sold both custom and the high end ready-to-wear apparel, stores like Neiman-Marcus, Marshall Field, Dayton’s , Bonwit-Teller, Goldwater’s, Filene’s and Garfinfinckel’s, among many others. Adrian also opened his own fashion salon in Beverly Hills at 233 North Beverly Drive.

Adrian, however, did not design gowns in his line for women to think they could look like Garbo. But he put every bit of style, wit, and panache at his disposal. And deep in WW II, with fabrics under rationioning, he gave something to women that they could feel good about. Amidst all the blacks, grays and browns of wartime women’s garments, Adrian stated he wanted to “shock the American women into color consciousnesses.” His spring 1943 collection was full of magenta, purple, blue, green and yellow. One example is his “Crackling Flame” design shown below. In true Adrian asymmetrical fashion, only one sleeve is adorned with gold embroidery.

Adrian combined his love of prints and asymetry with a print design of his own in “Roan Stallion,” shown below, also from 1943. It was so bold that few women dared wear it. And it was not cheap, at the ready to wear price it was marked at $365 (in 1943!).

Adrian’s two-piece outfit from 1944 shown  below, had a print of pink flowers on black, its fabric made at Bianchini of Enka rayon. It has the 3/4 length “bracelet’ sleeve. It was worn by the kind of stylish woman that wanted to make a splash amidst all the wartime monotones.

 

Adrian, along with Irene,  was a master of suit design. He always had several in his collections and no two were alike. Wearing them gave women added confidence in the wartime workplace, and they were always stylish. From afar you first noticed Adrian’s striking and characteristic V-line silhouette. But up-close there were always amazing details; buttons were unique, and some were placed just for decoration; pockets too were placed asymetrically; tailoring was lean, to meet rationing limits, and lapels were eliminated. and he often used invisible hooks and eyes for closures. He emphasized the figure with curving jacket insets or V-lines and seams at the back to emphasize the shoulders. He sometimes used flaps on the sleeves or bodice to give a sense of movement to the suit.

Adrian’s V-Line suit shown below from 1944, had been drawing critical praise since 1942.

 

This checked wool suit by Adrian uses a pocket flap device as decoration, matched on the sleeve but with a real pocket lower on the jacket.

Below is the jacket for a suit made of a Pola Stout woven woolen.

Adrian so admired Pola’s textiles that he named one of his suit designs, Woven Joy. He named the suit above, Symphonic Traveler. Adrian said of her woolens, “Often the complexity of the material is a challenge and I try to simplify my approach as well as retain as interesting a use as I can possibly make of the fabric.” He would usually cut and miter the fabric into interesting angles.

Pola began designing for Botony Mills in 1940, where she designed the “Botony Perennials” collection each season. She would also design limited edition textiles for several fashion designers, those that she worked closely with through Botany Mills. Thus, the designers could have their own custom look and color palette designed by Pola. 

 

Pola would begin her design process by drawing lines on paper with color crayons. The vertical warp yarns would be in two or more colors and the horizontal weft yarns would often be woven in the same color sequence. But with all her color variations, Pola always had in mind the functionality, durability, and timeless appeal of her textile designs. She stated, “In developing Botany Perennials I visualize all kinds of American women interested in building a sound wardrobe, and I try to make that wardrobe something basic in style and wearability, something they can depend on.” And indeed the idea of the “Perennials” was that you could match skirts, jackets and coats in the same five-color harmonies, and from one season to the next.


Pola subsequently started her own company in 1946 with a mill in Philadelphia. She would design her own textiles for these looms, where she would have multicolored wool yarns woven into “blankets” that would be sold to the various designers and exclusively to certain   department stores. The textile workers were very devoted to her and her artistic vision. Adrian and Irene both regularly used Pola Stout woolens in their suits, jackets and capes.

 

Adrian also loved printed fabrics, some of the prints he painted himself. Florals were always popular, but with Adrian, he had to make his own mark on these too. The beautiful dress advertized below is striking, even more so when one notices the peek-a-boo leaf poking out of the sleeve,

 

This bodice of an Adrian dress is also characteristic, a beautiful if bold and asymetrical design.

 

Adrian had been fascinated with Africa and its wildlife since childhood. The tunic below from 1946 shows a leopard skin on a zebra ground .

 

From his spring 1947 line he used a North African inspiration for his “One thinks of Algerian Streets” shown below.

In 1947 Adrian commissioned surrealist artist Salvador Dali to paint scenes for two fabrics to be used on Adrian outfits. The print below is on a ground of turquoise with rocks in rose and green, the rocks have faces on them.

Adrian’s second “Dali” gown below has a short cape. Adrian added to the face motif by including a separate black face outlined and appliqued at the wearer’s left shoulder (not shown).

The striking silhouette shown below is an Adrian design from 1949. The black velvet suit had a cape embroidered at the shoulder that could also be shaped into different looks.

Adrian’s wit was always appearing in his designs, letting the air out of the pomposity of much of the couture monde. He named every one of his fashion creations, and one can almost see him smiling as he came up with names for his designs: Dinner with a Dash of Gold; Drama in the Tropics; Doctor I See Spots; Fish and Chips: To be Talked About; Complications Set In; Cat Nip.  And nobody but Adrian could be inspired by nuclear bombs to create fashion looks. One of two is shown below, using “blasts” of tulle and taffeta  to form a pannier. The other was called “Atom Smashed” it was a full dress and cape decorated with large gold and black polka dots.

Adrian loved stripes. From one of his earliest striped costumes for Greta Garbo in The Single Standard in 1929, he had used stripes in his creations. The outfit below shows a masterful use of stripes in an exotic creation he called “Smallest Pleasures.” Its colors were brick and gold and it featured a sleeved “harem” stole. It was from his fall 1951 collection.

 

Adrian never ran out of ideas. He drew inspiration from nature and from all around him and from his foreign travels. His health could not keep up, however. He suffered a heart attack on May 1, 1952 while working on his fall 1952 collection. The collection was mostly finished and production continued, but Adrian LTD. would close its business. Adrian had always designed everything alone, and never even used a sketch artist, so he would not take on another designer. Nor would he sell his name to become a coprparate trademark. It is for this reason that Adrian, a name that almost every Western woman recognized, is so little known today.

But for those with a discerning eye, and those who love classic film, “gowns by Adrian” still resonates.

 

The Adrian collection’s last program for fall 1952, cover designed by Tony Duquette.

Significan collections of Adrian LTD. garments are held at the Museum at FIT in New York and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

An Adrian exhibition was recently held at the Museum at FIT. More information, see their website: http://exhibitions.fitnyc.edu/adrian-hollywood-and-beyond/#grid-page

IMPRESSIONS OF THE 2017 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL

 

The eighth annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival and the eighth one I’ve attended was held April 6-9 2017 in Hollywood. Each year has been different, but with the consistency of great classic films shown in the same venues, and with as much of the talent as TCM can gather together, each year is very much the same. True, we have missed the great Robert Osborne as MC the last couple of years. And this year TCM officially paid homage to him after his death just the month prior on March 6. Without irony, and perhaps as Robert would have wanted it, the theme this year was Make em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies.

With only the Classic Pass this year, I missed the Feature Premiere of In the Heat of the Night with Sidney Poitier, Lee Grant, Quincy, Jones and director Norman Jewison in attendance. After spending some time at the Academy’s Mary Pickford Center with Anne Coco I dropped in to the Roosevelt Hotel and the “Club TCM” where  Bruce Goldstein was hosting “So You Think You Know Movies” quiz and team competition. This annual event is fun. On hand to pay homage to Robert Osborne was Diane Baker. his dear friend and Hollywood star. Clips were shown of her co-starring with Joan Crawford in Strait- Jacket. 

Diane Baker with Bruce Goldstein

Diane Baker with Robert Osborne

 

My choice for the Thursday night movie was the romantic-comedy Love Crazy (1941) with Myrna Loy and William Powell, their tenth and zaniest film made together. With co-stars Gail Patrick and Jack Carson it’s a fast-clipped and wacky movie where love and marriage is tested but eventually wins out. As a student of film costume, although this film’s costumes were uncredited, I would bet they were designed by Adrian. The film screened at the wonderful Egyptian Theater.  Beautiful interior and lots of seating so you can always get in. I ran into fellow blogger Kellee Pratt of Outspoken and Freckled and her husband Gary waiting in line. We talked more about dogs than movies, however.

The next morning started with the TCMFF’s theme  of Make ’em Laugh on the big screen with the biggest assemblage of comedians ever cast for a single production: Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad Mad, Mad Mad World . It was screened at the fabulous Cinerama Dome, built in 1963.  This crazy comedy of a film was beyond analysis, so instead the discussion was about the technical aspects of filming the climactic last scene of a supposed public square with lots of  traffic  and a tall building and a ladder fire truck rescuing people. All of this was actually shot on a studio back lot. Craig Barron and Ben Burtt were on hand to talk about the making of the film. Ben Burtt is a legendary movie sound designer, having created the voice of R2-D2 and Darth Vader, among many others.  They talked about another legend: Linwood Dunn, the special effects designer of the Mad Mad World  that made the above possible. He started at RKO way back with King Kong.

I met fellow blogger Patty Schneider of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life for lunch before we headed to a French film noir: Panique. This little known film gem is based on a Georges Simenon novel and stars the great French actor Michel Simon in the title role (the French title is Les Fiancailles de M. Hire). This is a very dark noir with an unblinking depiction of the cruelty of  mob mentality.

After the darkness of Panique, a comedy with W.C.Fields was welcome. He was featured in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. This was a film from near the end of his career. The plot is a satire on Hollywood movies, with its best part being a car chase through Hollywood, Downtown L.A., and the current area where the Pasadena freeway merges into the I 5 north. This was in 1941 and looked much different. The movie was preceded by a hilarious short, The Barber Shop, from much earlier in his film career. I always enjoyed his satiric barbs, one-liners, and double-takes. Nothing like the tough training of Vaudeville to sharpen your skills.

After this was I was on to a pre-code classic starring Jean Harlow: Red-Headed Woman (1932), back at the Egyptian Theater. Cari Beauchamp introduced this as one of her favorite movies, even though it’s one of the least feminist movies you’ll ever see. Similar to Barbara Stanwyck’s Baby Face, Jean Harlow starts at the bottom of society and sleeps her way up. Not without a few rough patches. but she always comes out ahead. Directed by Jack Morris, and co-starring Chester Morris. Harlow’s slinky costumes were designed by Adrian.

 

Photo by Christian Esquevin

One of of the films I didn’t want to miss, a favorite of mine, is The Last Picture Show.  Director Peter Bogdanovitch was on hand to talk and answer Illeana Douglas’ questions about the 1971 film. It starred Timothy Bottoms, Cybil Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn, and Jeff Bridges among others and was a multi-Oscar nominee including Best Picture and Director. It won Best Supporting Actor Awards for Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman. Bogdanovitch related how he had wanted to make the the film using deep-focus cinematography, like Citizen Kane. Orson Wells told him not to film it in color. And besides, he added. “All the best performances are in black and white.”  So Bogdanovitch asked the producer and was told he could. Bogdanovitch was also a fan of the John Ford westerns, and wanted Ben Johnson to play the role of Sam the Lion. But Johnson turned him down. “Too many words,” he said about his part in the script. So Bogdanovitch turned to Ford for help. Ford said Johnson always said that about a script. But after Ford called him, Johnson accepted and called to tell Bogdanovitch he would accept – in what would become the most iconic role of his career. The director’s cut was screened.

Another trot to the Egyptian to see a little known film noir, The Underworld Story (1950)Starring Dan Duryea and Gale Storm (the star of TV’s My Little Margie). This film came out a year before Ace in the Hole and scooped that film’s theme of a big-city journalist moving to the hicks and using scheming ways to drive up business to make a name for himself. This was a very good film and worth seeing. Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation introduced the film, and  a newly struck 35mm print  courtesy of the Film Noir Foundation Collection at UCLA Film & Television Archive was shown.

 

Another film I didn’t want to miss was The King of Hearts (Le Roi de Coeur) 1966. Directed by Philippe de Broca and starring Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold along with a strong supporting cast. I hadn’t seen the movie since the late 60’s and I remembered it as a gem of social satire. During World War I the Germans occupy a small French town and leave munitions timed to blow it up as they leave. The locals get wind of this and leave town. Only those left in an insane asylum are left. When a lone Scots Black Watch “bomb disposal expert” is sent in he manages to escape the Germans by entering the asylum. After they leave, the inmates get out and find costumes to wear and assume roles they always wanted in life – from the mayor and firefighters, to whores and hairdressers. I was again enchanted by the wit and alternate world view of this film – where, in the end,  the inmates, and at least one of the soldiers,  prefer to live in the asylum than in the real world beyond the gates – where men continue to kill each other in warfare. Genevieve Bujold was interviewed before the film was screened.

 

The next film screening was a special event even by TCM standards. Sharing the experience with fellow blogger Patty Schneider of The Lady Eve’s Reel Life, was the screening at the Egyptian Theater of The Black Narcissus. The fuss was about the projection of this Powell & Pressberger classic on nitrate film stock – a great early Technicolor copy owned by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. In order to show it, the projection room at the Egyptian had to be retrofitted, courtesy of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, TCM, the American Cinematheque, Academy Film Archive and George Eastman Museum. This work included having the room meet fire codes and installing a panic button in case of fire that would stop the projectors and drop metal louvers to encase them. The film itself was magnificent. It’s a gripping story of a group of nuns sent to the other-worldly Himalayas to open a convent. They are challenged on all-fronts, including by the sensual lure of the Englishman who is the estate manager. Conflicts and jealousies also arise among the nuns themselves. The cinematography by Jack Cardiff is outstanding and the special effects by matte painters and other process work fill in the backgrounds for this outstanding film..

 

Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth

On Sunday I started off with Lured, a little known film noir/murder mystery/romantic melodrama /directed by Douglas Sirk starring Lucille Ball,  George Sanders, Charles Coburn, and  Boris Karloff, among others. Its a very well made and entertaining movie, with Lucille Ball playing a beautiful and alluring dance-hall girl turned Scotland Yard officer serving as bait for a serial killer. Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara Karloff was present at the screening to talk about what a perfect English gentleman her father was.

I finished out the festival, before a long drive home, with one of the best screwball comedies, The Palm Beach Story by Preston Sturges. Although I had seen it multiple times, its showing on the big screen at the Chinese Theater was too hard to resist. I was not disappointed. With outstanding ensemble acting by Claudette Colbert, Joel McRae,  Mary Astor, Rudy Vallee, and character actors like William Demarest, Robert Dudley and Robert Warwick. not to mention the hilarious Sig Arno, the film is a jewel. The costumes for Claudette Colbert by Irene are worth the price of admission, and are some of the best contemporary fashions on film. And ending the TCMFF on this high note was definitely the way to go, especially missing out on the Closing Night Party. So until next year, so long and remember:

“Just us, and the cameras, and all those wonderful people out there in the dark.”              Norma Desmond

 

 

 

 

 

 

VERTIGO: SPIRALING INTO MYTH, MADNESS & MOVIE HISTORY

 

 

Suspense is time that bleeds, wrote Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, co-authors of the book D’Entre les Morts, upon which Vertigo is based. The movie’s story neither starts nor ends with its status as a thriller, but rather spirals ever onwards and downwards through myth and mystery, sucking in suggestive viewers like a cyclone.

The late filmmaker Chris Marker was fixated  with Vertigo. In his documentary film Sans Soleil (ranked the 3rd best documentary of all-time)  he takes the persona of the fictitious Sandor Krasna, whose letter is read by the narrator, “In San Francisco I made the pilgrimage for a film I had seen 19 times.”  In the documentary the narrator explains how Sandor  (Chris Marker) had retraced the steps and the route of Jimmy Stewart in his pursuit of Madeleine. He continues, “Only one film had been capable of portraying impossible memory – insane memory – Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo….It seems to be a question of trailing of enigma, of murder, but in truth it’s a question of power and freedom, of melancholy and dazzlement, so confidently coded within the spiral that you could miss it, and not discover immediately that this vertigo of space in reality stands for the vertigo of time.” Marker makes much of  “power and freedom,” in his writings, a  phrase used three times in the film. Yet the phrase may be used mainly to contrast with and entice Stewart’s character Scottie, suffering from vertigo, racked with guilt, and weakened in the early scene where he wears a corset and walks with a cane. His meagre attempt to overcome vertigo has him fainting in his friend Midge’s arms. Marker’s concept of the vertigo of time is a brilliant symbol for the film – a thread that runs throughout.  But the film’s dominating and haunting theme is its transcendent message of the impossibility of attaining the ideal, this in a story of love and death amidst a landscape of illusion and reality.

Spoiler Alert 

The plot is well known. A retired detective falls hopelessly in love with a friend’s wife who he was supposed to protect from her own psychological and mysterious self-destructive urges.. These erupt through the reincarnation and possession of her by an equally mysterious ancestor. Scottie had saved her once from drowning, but subsequently her plunging death leads him to severe depression and hospitalization. He meets and forms an obsession with her double, Judy, who he remakes into Madeleine’s image. His bliss in having brought back Madeleine “from the dead” is short-lived. He discovers from a piece of her jewelry that Judy really was Madeleine, duping him with his friend on the murder of the man’s real wife. Scottie had been a stooge, his ideal was a mirage, created by another man. But now he only let’s Judy know he has caught on as they drive to the site of Madeleine’s first “death,” where, arguing and climbing the bell tower, Judy is spooked and falls to her death.

In the movie and the novel it is based on, much lies below the surface, or even on the other side of the mirror. Boileau and Narcejac wrote the French  novel D’Entre les Morts with Hithcock in mind. Author Dan Auiler stated in his book, Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic that this was not the case, based on his interview with Thomas Narcejac . But several modern French sources maintain the Hitchcock connection, including in the authors’ own website and in the English book translation. And of course Francois Truffaut had started this version of the story in his famous interview with Hitchcock in 1962 (published in 1967 in the U.S.). Boileau and Narcejac had previously written a book that had been turned into the very successful French film,  Diaboliques, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. and Hitchcock had been the underbidder for the rights. This time Paramount secured the rights for the novel for Hitchcock, and a succession of screenwriters began on the story, including Maxwell Anderson and Alec Coppel, before Samuel Taylor finished it. The original novel, however, has much that remains in the movie. There, in spite of its setting during and after World War II in Paris and Marseille, we have a Mr. Gevigne, a shipbuilder, with a wife Madeleine wandering to a cemetary to visit her great-grand-mother who she is obsessed with. She spends time in an old hotel, then jumps in the river after throwing in her bouquet, only to be saved by a former detective with vertigo, who lost his police partner who fell from a roof. The detective was charged to follow her by his old school friend the husband.  The tracker now is hopelessly in love with her, and one day she leads him to an old church, where she leaps to her death from the tower. Years later he sees her likeness in another city, tracks her, courts her, but becomes insane with jealousy and doubt. He attempts to turn her into Madeleine in a cheap hotel room with flashing green lights from the electric trolley. He finally gets her to confess she was playing the role to dupe him so the wife could be murdered, but then he strangles her, and they take him away to the mad house. But in the novel there is also an  interesting element, not fully-realized in the film, that those bizarre things in Madeleine: the fascination with the past; the belief in the possession by her great-grand-mother; the mental wanderings and the need of understanding and protection, were those very things that made the protagonist fall in love with her.

But ever deeper the spiral swirls. This original French novel that Vertigo is based on is itself based on an older symbolist novel, Bruges-la-Morte, by Georges Rodenbach.  Here a widower overcome by grief eeks out his life amidst relics of his dead wife. One day he sees a double of her, Jane Scott, who he discovers is playing a dancer in an opera.  He courts her, this courser version of his wife, making her over in the wife’s very image. But now the perfect symbol has become imperfect reality, and he strangles her. It is quite possible that Hitchcock new of this novel in England, or at least its story, since In 1920 the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold used the novel as the basis for his opera Die tote Stadt. In 1935, Korngold became the composer for Warner Brothers.

Turning deeper inevitably leads to the fundamental myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the cradle of works of literature, film, drama, music, ballet, and opera. Orpheus is the son of the god Apollo, and plays the lyre so beautifully that all are drawn to him. He falls in love with the beautiful Eurydice, and they marry. But Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus is stricken and can only play his lyre in sorrow, and all pity him and Apollo sends him to the underworld to see Hades. Even the god Hades is softened by his music, and agrees to let Eurydice follow Orpheus out of the underworld, but only if doesn’t look at her until they reach daylight. After they trek along and he hears nothing, he doubts that she is behind him, believing he has been tricked. After he looks back, Eurydice again becomes a shadow as she disappears among the dead. All of these tales, recent or primordial, seem to lead to the inevitable theme of love’s connection to death.

Among the numerous films made using the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was Jean Cocteau’s brilliant Orpheus (1950). Here, Orpheus, played by Jean Marais, enters the underworld through a mirror. Mirrors play vital roles in Hitchcok’s Vertigo. From Scottie’s first view of Madeleine at Ernie’s restaurant, and then when she and Gavin are leaving, their duplicity is emphasized by their double images in the mirror. And At Podesta Baldocchi’s flower shop, Scottie sees Madeline best by her image in a mirror. And later, with Judy, we see her often in the mirror, “putting on her face.”

For that first penetration of “insane memory” and perhaps even that archetypal memory of a lost world of idyllic bliss, we have this scene of Scottie and Judy strolling across a landscape momentarily devoid of any markers of modern life (except a street curb). In the near distance, the classic buildings  of the Palace of Fine Arts, reverberating that fabled lost world Arcadia. It is only a bit further that we see other people, but here too, they are couples lying on the grass and others enjoying an idyllic day. For Scottie and Judy, however, they are not yet at a point of lying on the grass together.

 

 

Vertigo is full of symbols. In the scene where Judy emerges as Madeleine, we see the bed as she approaches Scottie, which is barely seen before. Scottie’s own apartment window has a clear view  of the phallic Coit Tower. Even the seemingly  innocuous “cantilever bra” in Midge’s loft is a design for an off-balance bra as sexual enticement. The Mission Dolores, as it was commonly known, plays an important role, an old and historic building, named after the nearby Creek of Sorrows.  Then there is the double itself, always a bad sign in mythology, and the basis of so much of Vertigo. The movie is structured as two halves, or a doubling of Scottie obtaining and then losing his love by “death.”  And should we even bring up the spiral, that swirling vortex that sucks in our main characters and serves as the graphic symbol of the movie’s opening title sequence? Then there is the symbol of re-birth. That miraculous final transformation takes place when Judy emerges, seemingly from the haze of time, as the very image of Madeleine, gray suit, blond hair in spiral bun. Scottie is transfixed, his eyes dazzling, and as they embrace and kiss the camera captures a rotating scene of them at San Juan Bautista Mission. Seemingly spinning through time and memory, a “vertigo of time” as Chris Marker stated.

We know we are in for a chilling, haunting, romantic, and twisting experience in that first minute of the opening title sequence. This because of its unforgettable musical composition by Bernard Herrmann. And then throughout the movie he sets the mood in such an elevated and perfect way you soon realize that this is the apotheosis of film music. The opening title sequence has deep brass undertones with high string staccato and piercing brass warning notes.. You find yourself careening in the police pursuit through the high wind instruments and crashing low brass and drums. Subsequently each of the rhythmic patterns is composed for a motif:  the Feeling of vertigo; Madeleine; Carlotta (based on Bizet’s Habanera); and Obsession. The Madeleine theme is used when Madeleine appears in her scenes, but then sparingly as Madeleine begins to re-emerge out of Judy in the second half of the movie. The music from the “Scene d’Amour” where Judy fully transforms into Madeleine helps make this scene unforgettable. It must be said, however, that the music was influenced by Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. Herrmann was well aware of his own vital contributions to  Vertigo and other Hitchcock films. “Hitchcock only finishes a picture 60%,” he stated years later. “I have to finish it for him.”

In spite of all the symbols and deep undercurrents in Vertigo, it also had its earthy qualities. In Hitchcock’s famous interview with Francois Truffaut, he gave an explanation for what was going on in the “Scene d’Amour” scene between Scottie and “Madeleine.” Judy was wearing the gray suit that Scottie had bought for her at Ransohoff’s in the embarassing scene with the vendeuse. Then she had her hair dyed blond as he had begged her to. She came out of her bathroom with this appearance, but Scottie was still not satisfied. As Hitchcock described it, “She had stripped but she still had on her knickers.” Only when she made up her hair with the bun and the spiral could Scottie get the full Madeleine transcendent image. Now he could fully enter a state of carnal as well as spiritual bliss.

 

But Vertigo is no more about getting into a woman’s knickers than it is about solving a murder mystery. That’s why in 2012 the once-a-decade Sight & Sound poll of 846 film critics, academics, and film distributors ranked Veritgo as the best film of all time. It had displaced Citizen Kane, which had held that position for 50 years. To many film aficionados that was a shock. And for Hitchcock fans, some thought other films of his superior.  For some film critics and fans, its plot seemed implausible.  Then there was the manipulation of the character of Judy that seemed thoroughly objectifying. Even in its day, it’s surprising that the twice repeated, “It can’t matter to you,” got past Alma Hitchcock and Hitch’s assistant Peggy Robertson. This was the explanation to Judy when Scottie was insisting on her changing her look? Even if Judy knew the real reason, that bit of dialogue was weak. Kim Novak later stated about her role that she identified so much with it because Hollywood had always tried to change her look. “Can’t you just love me for who I am?” Judy asks Scottie. And for Kim Novak, that’s how she felt too in giving this riveting performance.

The part that didn’t ring true about Vertigo is its ending scene. Scottie was responsible for taking Judy up the tower, and just like in the original story, he was responsible for her death. But in the original this was explicit, and it should have been shown more dynamically in Vertigo, rather than the spooked accidental fall of Judy.  Scottie’s life thereafter was going to be one of sorrow and madness no matter. Perhaps Jimmy Stewart didn’t want his character to be more responsible for her death.

Vertigo is nonetheless like life, a beautiful if at times scary landscape that contains pockets of barren ground. It shows that chasing an ideal in the form of bringing the past back to life can destroy the present. Hitchcock, who started making films during the days of silent film, used in Vertigo long wordless scenes with Herrmann’s haunting music burning  themselves into our psyche, along with those unforgettable  images of  the haunted, craving eyes of Jimmy Stewart and the beguiling, hungry look of Kim Novak. That’s why Vertigo was ranked #1.

 

 

 

 

OSCAR 2017: RED CARPET GOWNS MOST GLAMOROUS

 

 

Silver Screen Modes’ Most Glamorous Gown Award for the 2017 Oscars stars and their most glamorous red carpet gowns is designated again. I started this award in 2010  for my previous blog The Silver Screen Modiste  and have been awarding it annually ever since.This award celebrates the glamour of old Hollywood  and the best new (and vintage) designs.

The gowns this year have been a combination of classic glamour and creative flights of fashion fancy, with beautiful results. We see more and more gowns from couture designers and from the runway, with occasional vintage examples. There were many beautiful dresses and fashions at the Academy Awards. Some were very elaborate and  even overpowering. Among the beauties, here are my selections.

The Most Glamorous Gown Award goes to:

To Emma Stone  in a bare-shouldered gold fringed and beaded Givenchy Haute Couture gown. This was a beautifully fitted and visually stimulating gown, with the fringe providing movement and the silver bugle-beads adding sparkle. While I’m not usually a fan of pale coloration that matches flesh-tones, this gold-silver combination worked perfectly.    

 

As notable mentions, Jessica Biel wore a stunning gold sequin and crystal Kaufman Franco form-fitting gown. It is accented by slits throughout, accessorized with a serious necklace.

 

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

 

 

 

Taraji P. Henson also looked beautiful and classy in a deep décolleté  black velvet by Alberta Ferretti.

 

And the beautiful Brie Larson was also in black velvet décolleté, this gown by Oscar de la Renta, including  a ruffled train.

 

Fashion trends have their place on the red carpet, although the bigger trend over the last several years has been the interplay between actor, stylist, and fashion designer. As stylists have taken on more influence, there have been fewer “what was she thinking” moments on the red carpet. The result has been an over-all improvement in the beauty (and glamour)of the gowns. But as some stars become more daring in their fashion choices in  a sort of revolt, we see gowns and outfits that don’t quite work.

The Golden Globes have also become more formal in recent years, increasingly competitive with the Academy Awards for the glamour of the red carpet gowns.  The January event showed the perennial glamour favorite looks of  the plunging bust line, backless gowns, or exposed leg exposing daring views and ample skin. This can be worn on a gown of satin, chiffon, or most popular of all, sequins of various colors and especially in gold or silver. Silver and gray in metallic finishes was popular this year, followed flashes of color in yellows,  reds and scarlet colored gowns. And there’s still nothing like sparkle. These trends continued at the Academy Awards of 2017.

 

The Oscar for Best Costume Design was awarded to Colleen Atwood for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This is the movie I had predicted would win, but my predictions are 50-50, so this doesn’t mean that much. I couldn’t have predicted however, the debacle at the end of the Awards ceremony. To be honest. I had favored La La Land.

DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY: TV MOVIE OF THE WEEK BLOGATHON

 

Death Takes a Holiday was a classic film made in 1934 before it was remade in 1971 as a TV movie. The original starred Fredric March and Evelyn Veneble, based on an Italian play of the same title by Alberto Casella. Our TV Movie of the Week Blogathon selection is the 1971 version, the ABC Movie of the Week also titled Death Takes  a Holiday. It features an excellent cast starring Yvette Mimieux as Peggy Chapman, Monte Markham as “David Smith,” Melvyn Douglas as Judge Earl Chapman, and Myrna Loy as his wife Selena Chapman As in the classic film, death makes his usual reaping visit, and ends up  falling in love with his victim. And who could blame him?

As the movie opens, Yvette Mimieux walks alone along the beach, a vision of beauty. The solo guitar score of Laurindo Almeida moves from peaceful sunny chords to darker airs as she swims underwater amidst kelp beds, where we finally see her still and lifeless body.

Yet in the next scene she is back on the beach, saved by a “David Smith.” After they introduce each other she kisses him, he surprised, she says, “I always kiss men that save my life.” She invites him to stay the weekend at her house, since his boat wrecked on her family’s island.

 

Over the course of a couple of days he learns about her family and its members. He talks with mother Selena about how she copes with the long-ago loss of her young daughter. He falls more deeply in love with Peggy, curious about her fascination with death. She explains her family’s history of misfortune. In pointing to a tree that is like a totem to her, she said that the ancient tribes believed that for every glorious victory there was a terrible defeat. She relates how during her ski-jumps she thinks about cheating death each time she reaches bottom.

 

The Judge her father is curious about David, and presses him about his background and family, sensing a growing closeness between his daughter and him. David avoids the subject. The Judge goes further and asks his attorney for research on him. The attorney tries to tell him some real news, that no one has died in 12 hours. And Peggy has a suitor that is also at the family retreat, growing increasingly jealous of David. He makes bold and tells David to leave, which has no effect

 

And now there is more news. In the depth of the Viet Nam war, through typhoons, building fires. and on the country’s highways,  around the world it seems, there have been no reported deaths in 24 hours. But amidst this news, remote on their island for a family retreat, It is now time for more family games, which include inflatable sport boat races between the brothers. As the judge, David and Selma watch from a beach lifeguard tower, they panic when one of the brothers falls off and his boat heads straight towards two of the children. But David reassures them, “They will be safe.” When the boat veers off at last, Judge Earl says, “I remember you now. You were there at my last three strokes.” And yes, death almost took him, but not quite. And so David asks him what keeps him hanging on so tenaciously to life. And Earl answers him, “Everything that matters to me, everything I love is here…I love people, what they can achieve, how they touch each other’s lives, what they can give one another…”

 

 

When Earl finds out Death is here for his daughter and not him, he begs him to take him instead. He is old and he suffers, despite what he has said about how he clings to life, his daughter has everything to live for. Death admits he has fallen in love with her, but he is powerless to change things. And later when Earl and Selena talk about what has happened, and Peggy joins in to find out that Earl has asked for David to take him instead, she leaves, saying she loves him and is ready to leave with him. Selena admonishes Earl that Peggy should love who she wants – even Death, and how should they judge who would be the happiest. (spoiler alert)

And while Peggy is walking among the trees she finds out that her own totem tree is about to be felled, caused by prior storm damage. Then she decides to jump off a cliff. But David runs and stops her in time, and tells her ecstatically that he has decided to stay on earth with her. She is happy he loves her but tells him he can’t stay because too many people will keep on living. She has decided to go with him, if they can go together, which he agrees to, and so ends the movie.

The movie was beautifully filmed. The principal actors made this magical realism movie believable and moving. It has no great dramatic moments but leads directly to the point of the story. Its use of the great actors of the classic era: Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas add depth, while prompting questions of why Yvette Mimieux didn’t became a bigger star, and even a bigger career for Monte Markham. It is certainly worth watching, better than many current movies seen on TV today, premium TV included. It was also remade in 1998 as Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt as Death visiting Anthony Hopkins and his daughter played by Claire Forlani.

 

This post is part of The Movie of the Week Blogathon, hosted by The Classic Film and TV Café.

OSCAR BEST COSTUME DESIGN CONTENDERS 2017

 

The Best Costume Design Oscar nominees for the movies of 2016 offers a diverse and talented mix of designers and their creations. The five costume designers nominated and the movies they designed for were: Joanna Johnston for Allied; Madeline Fontaine for Jackie; Colleen Atwood for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Mary Zophres for La La Land; and Consolata Boyle for Florence Foster Jenkins. Here’s a look at the movies and the background brief on the designers’ work.

 

Allied stars Marion Cottilard and Brad Pitt in a World War II spy thriller where he is a Canadian spy and she is a French Resistance fighter. They fall in love but not all is what it seems.

Many of the scenes are set in Casablanca. Joanna Johnston was inspired by the looks of Ingrid Bergman in the film of that title, and also of Bette Davis in Now Voyager, both films designed by Orry-Kelly. But she also liked the costumes of Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, and Barbara Stanwyck. Below is a costume sketch for the outfit seen in the photo above. The skirt’s fabric was custom-printed and then box-pleated to line up the patterns perfectly.

Ms. Johnston believed the movie had the classic Hollywood feel, from the “gowns by Adrian” era. She called it the “Hollywood lift,” in its look, and an old-fashioned quality. For Brad Pitt, the tailor Michael Sloan from The Curious Case of Benjamin Bunny was hired, and Johnston also contracted with a military uniform expert for his uniforms.

Below, Marion Cotillard steps out in one of her stunning satin gowns.

This is the second Academy Award nomination for Joanna Johnston. She was previously nominated for Lincoln.

 

Jackie is a time-travel back to the sad days following the assassination of her husband President John F. Kennedy. The costume designer is Madeline Fontaine. The movie stars Natalie Portman as Jackie. The photo below shows Portman as Jackie, wearing a costume recreation of the pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat she wore the day of the assassination.

Ms. Fontaine and her team made the suit themselves, although Chanel sent the buttons used on the jacket.

An original design by Madeline Fontaine is this chic black dress with a buttoned strap shaping the neckline and décolletage.

 

 

Jackie is shown at left in a red suit she wore while giving a televised tour of the White House on Valentine’s Day 1962. The costume version is in a different shade of red is worn at right by Natalie Portman.

This is Madeline Fontaine’s first Academy Award nomination.

 

 

Based on the book by J.K Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place in 1926. A British wizard Newt Scamander arrives in New York City with his collection of unusual magical beasts. There the relationship between magical and non-magical people in America is hostile., Newt gets involved in a war between factions seeking either to destroy magic or to make it the law of the land.

Colleen Atwood designed the costumes for the cast starring Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, and Carmen Ejogo. “I love the nineteen-twenties in New York,” said Ms. Atwood about the setting of the movie. “It was a major time in America. It was before the Depression, so it was a crazy time of excess in all ways,” she added. All the costumes for the lead actors were custom made, “..adding layers of psychological insights and wit that help define exactly who theses people are – or might be.”

 

Alison Sudol stars as Queenie Goldstein, a Legilimens who can extract memories and feelings from someone’s mind. She does look mesmerizing in several of Colleen Atwood’s outfits.

Below is the costume for the character Seraphina Piquery, played by Carmen Ejogo. Seraphina is the President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America.

Below is a costume sketch for Colin Farrell’s character of Percival Graves. He is an Auror, a principal investigator of a group of magicians who work as special agents in New York.

Colleen Atwood has been nominated for twelve Academy Awards including this one, and the winner of three. She was previously nominated for: Into The Woods, Snow White and The Hunstman, Alice in Wonderland (Winner), Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetMemoirs Of A Geisha, (Winner), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Chicago (Winner), and Beloved.

 

 

Mia is an aspiring actress. Sebastian a jazz pianist. They both struggle to realize their dreams in Los Angeles despite the often soul-crushing commercial nature of show business. After frequent rejection they forge unexpected paths to stardom, but now the young couple strives to sustain the love they found.

Mary Zophres designed the costumes for stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend and pricipal cast.

 

 

Mary Zophres designed the canary yellow dress above for Emma Stone. its bright color picked after the designer reviewed past gowns the star had worn at red-carpet appearances. The color matched a particularly flattering Atelier-Versace gown she had worn in 2014. The basic style of the dress, perfect for the dance scene, is enhanced by hand-painted floral designs.

 

Ms. Zophres had particular film looks in mind. She cited Funny Face and Audrey Hepburn’s black dance pants as inspiration for the black pants that Mia wears walking through the lot. Similarly, the color of Mia’s emerald green dress worn at the Griffith Park Observatory is inspired by that of Judy Garland’s in A Star is Born.  Mary Zophres also remarked that Mia’s dresses get fuller as the movie goes on. Ryan’s clothing were all made for him. He was meant to look jazz-inspired, but his pants were a bit shorter to show off his two-tone shoes and his dancing. The shoes were purchased at a dance-shoe store in Los Angeles.

At the end, her dance dress is white, no doubt inspired by Cyd Charisse’s dress from the “Dancing in the Dark” scene in Band Wagon.

This is the second Academy Award nomination for Mary Zophres. She was previously nominated for True Grit.

 

Heiress Florence Foster Jenkins had been a champion of music her entire life.  Her own enthusiastic singing was awful. When she decides to give a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, her devoted husband doesn’t discourage her.  In contrast, he and a befuddled pianist work tirelessly to ensure that the event is well attended and taken seriously.

Consolata Boyle designed the costumes for Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant and principal cast. Since the movie was based on an actual character, research was used to base some of her stage costumes on actual costumes of Mrs. Foster’s own design. These were as unique and flighty as her own character

 

Consolata Boyle was challenged by the job but enthusiastic, ” …the whole idea of the project is so intriguing and so magical, the idea that somebody who lives  totally in their imagination like Florence did allow freedom for us to fly, and the fact that somebody as wonderful as Meryl was playing that central role was wonderful for me.” said Ms. Boyle. In the photo above Meryl Streep wears a Spanish-influenced costume similar to one Mrs Jenkins wore in her performance.

 

Ms. Boyle and her team sourced fabrics that were original to the late 1940s when the story took place. Luckily many were still available. Mrs. Jenkins devised her own stage costumes and “tableau vivant” outfits for her society circle gatherings. Boyle had to pad these for Meryl Streep. The most difficult costume to make was the white “Brunhilde” costume with wings that Meryl Streep wear as she is lowered onto the stage on cables.

This is Consolata Boyle’s second Academy Award nomination. She was previously nominated for The Queen.

 

The candidates are all worthy of their nominations and a possible Oscar. While the nominations are made by the Costume Designers branch of the Academy, all members get to vote on the winner. Historically, it’s the period films that succed, or fantasies failing a big historical movie. Contemporary films (like La La Land) rarely win. The historical movies nominated take place in the fairly recent past, 1920s for Fantastic Beasts, 1940s for both Allied and Florence Foster Jenkins, and 1960s for Jackie.  Out of these five films, the only one that has any big steam behind it is La La Land, which mitigates somwwhat the contemporary costume jinx. Yet it doesn’t have any big costumes or outfits to grab attention, either. It does succeed at defining character as it should, and a barista in today’s world doesn’t dress out of Saks 5th Avenue. Jackie was very fashionable, but its most stellar outfits were recreations of 1960s originals. I found Allied and Fantastic Beasts to have the most visually stimulating costumes. I must admit I’m a sucker for the 1940s look and occasional glamour of Allied, but Fantastic Beasts is a piece of costuming art. Florence Floster Jenkins is also very worthy yet such outfits are as off-puting as her voice. The Academy may very well go with the ground-swell for La La Land. I would pick Fantastic Beasts.

 

PHOTOGRAPHING SILVER SCREEN COUPLES

 

During Hollywood’s Golden Age the movies were marketed through the stars and their fashions. The visual presentation of these alluring features came in colorful posters and glossy photographs, all reproduced in magazines and newspapers. And before the stars’ romance could light up the screen (often continued off-screen), whether in romantic comedies or murder mysteries, they were photographed together in dual portraits.

Tyrone Power and Loretta Young in” Café Metropole,” 1937

 

Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten in “The Farmer’s Daughter,” 1947

 

In those days each studio had its own portrait gallery, where photographers were busy shooting the stars. “Stills” as they were called, were shot of each movie star. These photos were issued to fans and used for publicity and for fashion articles. The portrait photo was the most carefully handled of all stills, an art form crafted by photographers such as George Hurrell, Ernest Bachrach, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Eugene Robert Richee and others. Such portraits not only helped sell the picture, but also sold the star. And when romance was part of the movie, the dual portrait had to convey a strong chemical attraction. The intimacy portrayed in the photo was a signpost to audiences signifying that whatever troubles the plot threw at them, the couple would always share their love.

 

Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer in “History is Made at Night,” 1937,

 

Anne Dvorak and Lyle Talbot in “Three on a Match,” 1933.

 

The dual portrait was tricky business. Each star needed to be prominently shown, with the all-important lighting  capturing each of them individually – while displaying their mutual attraction. The best of these photographs are sublime. Like the film itself, the photo can give the illusion that we are peering into a very private and personal moment, with the photo freezing that image in time. In real life, then as now, the two stars may not have gotten along at all. Getting each of them in for a photo setting, where one or both may have agreements to approve the results before they are issued, added to the complexity of the job. But like the costume designers, the portrait photographers learned to work with each star. And the stars knew the results were important to their careers. Sometimes very opposite personalities worked unexpectedly well, like the light-natured, all-American Jean Arthur with the French romantic, but always serious, lead Charles Boyer, in History is Made at Night. In film plots opposites can often lead to trouble. In the dark pre-code Three on a Match, Ann Dvorak’s well-married character takes up with a small-time hood played by Lyle Talbot. She also turns to drugs and comes to a bad end.

 

Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde in “Leave Her to Heaven,” 1945

 

In Leave Her to Heaven, a film noir in blazing Technicolor, Cornel Wild falls hard for the siren call and alluring beauty of Gene Tierney. Little does he know that she will become morbidly jealous.

 

Hedy Lamarr and Walter Pidgeon in “White Cargo,” 1942.

 

“My name is Tondelayo” is all Hedy Lamarr had to say in White Cargo to knock adventurer Walter Pidgeon off his feet. Billed by MGM as the most beautiful woman in the world, she didn’t need to do much acting, but don’t underestimate her intelligence.

Since the set-up for the portrait shot was complicated, and the cameras used were bulky, the screen lovers rarely peer into each other’s eyes. Often they seem to stare into the distance – firmly connected – yet dreaming their own dream. The photographer’s art was to capture that moment on photographic film – the double-visioned dream.

 

Alida Valli and Gregory Peck in “The Paradine Case.” 1947

 

Gregory Peck and the Italian actress Valli starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s little known The Paradine Case. Peck’s aquiline features and Valli’s prominent cheekbones give a beautiful symmetry to this photo.

With the classic photo of Bogart and Bergman below we can relive the entire Casablanca film. Here they look off, he seemingly backwards at their time in Paris, she, apprehensive, worried about Laszlo getting caught, or perhaps who it is she will leave with?

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca,” 1942

 

When the screen lovers do stare into each other’s eyes, we can feel the intensity of the moment. It’s the moment before the kiss. These photos were usually taken on the set rather than in the portrait gallery. The set had more room for action, and a drama might soon unfold.

 

Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in “Dancing Lady,” 1933

Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight movies together, in addition to having been actual lovers. Their early dual portraits usually display real heat. Although they were extras together in The Merry Widow (1925), Dancing Lady is their first starring movie together.

 

Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck in “Ball of Fire,” 1941. Photo by Hurrell

Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck are another example of opposites attracting, at least in the film. In Ball of Fire, he was a straight-laced professor. She was a burlesque dancer. In real life he was 6ft 3. She was 5ft 4.

The classic The Thomas Crown Affair, starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. The cat and mouse story leads to the two on opposite sides falling in love. Its a classic story that will not doubt lead to another re-make.

 

Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in “The Thomas Crown Affair,” 1968.

 

The art and practice of the dual portrait is now largely lost. These images have a haunting beauty that was artfully captured on film. Love is eternal, and these actors in their youthful beauty and the photographers they worked with captured that essential truth.

 

Madeleine Stowe and Daniel Day-Lewis in “The Last of the Mohicans,” 1992

 

Although movie posters still advertise new movies, the genre of romantic comedies and romances are largely gone. Some photos are still being taken on the set for advertising purposes but the idea of getting two actors to pose for a series of romantic photos is also unthinkable these days. Even in 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, the captivating moment on screen was not captured in the photo above, where each actor seems already preparing for their movie trials and tribulations. And in that tribute to classic musicals, La La Land, the romantic couple is shown in set stills or screen grabs, dancing or holding hands. We could be more convinced of the romance with a photo like those that led off this post.

LA LA LAND & COSTUMING CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD MUSICALS

The verve and magic of La La Land echoes and pays tribute to the classical Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. It was in those Depression years of the 1930s that audiences flocked to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance, and look like they were having fun. La La Land’s director Damien Chazelle was inspired by those musicals, as well as the ones that followed. He was especially aware of how uniquely song and dance could transform a moment into a visible expression of pure emotion. And how a wordless dance could do that perfectly. As with every movie, costume helps the actors define their role and sets them appropriately in a scene.  For movie musicals, the costumes usually have dual roles: they need to be worn as street clothes but must also work for dancing.  Chazelle turned to veteran costume designer Mary Zophres for the designing job ( Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Catch Me If You Can, True Grit, Interstellar, Hail Caesar).

la-la-land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance in the Hollywood Hills

As with the Fred and Ginger movies, Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are two ordinary people pursuing their lives when they meet by accident, and not on friendly terms. He a struggling jazz musician, she an aspiring actress. After some frustrating meetings and even worse career blocks they fall for each other. Breaking into dance is an exuberant display of their growing attraction. In the long  tradition of Hollywood musicals (versus the Broadway musical), it’s the long-form couple’s dance that is the pure display of love. And also the metaphor for love-making itself. Damien Chazelle knew well the repertoire of Hollywood musicals, as well as such classic French musicals as  Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort that influenced himHe was also thinking about the importance of the setting. “… why hasn’t L.A. been used as a romantic playground since those Old Hollywood musicals about Hollywood like Singin’ in the Rain?” he asked rhetorically in an interview with Vogue magazine. And with that setting in mind and the actors and costume designer chosen, he could see the scenes and costumes from those old musical classics. ” I loved reveling in the Technicolor possibility of Emma like she was Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes,” he stated in that same interview for Vogue. Mary Zophres designed the canary yellow dress above for Emma Stone. its bright color picked after the designer reviewed past gowns the star had worn at red-carpet appearances. The color matched a particularly flattering Atelier-Versace gown she had worn in 2014. The basic style of the dress, perfect for the dance scene, is enhanced by hand-painted floral designs.

la-la-land-emma-stone

Mia is a striving actress working as a barista on the Warner Brothers Studio lot, In the photo above she walks past a mural of old movie stars in Hollywood.  Zophres had particular film looks in mind. She cited Funny Face and Audrey Hepburn’s black dance pants as inspiration for the black pants that Mia wears walking through the lot. Similarly, the color of Mia’s emerald green dress worn at the Griffith Park Observatory is inspired by that of Judy Garland’s in A Star is Born.  Mary Zophres also remarked that Mia’s dresses get fuller as the movie goes on. Ryan’s clothing were all made for him. He was meant to look jazz-inspired, but his pants were a bit shorter to show off his two-tone shoes and his dancing. The shoes were purchased at a dance-shoe store in Los Angeles.

La La Land (2016) Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

Photo by Dale Robinette

At the end, her dance dress is white, no doubt inspired by Cyd Charisse’s dress from the “Dancing in the Dark” scene in Band Wagon.

la-la-land-7

And while the fantasy dancing amidst the stars scene after the walk along the Seine has been compared to a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance, the backdrop is reminiscent of The Broadway Melody of 1940 with Fred and Eleanor Powell.

In these times of stress and turbulence, the musicals of the 1930s-1950s with their notes of hope and escape may end up providing a relevant model for some of today’s movies. Certainly our dystopian movies of the last ten years have run their course. And the Golden Globe voters agree, having lavished the movie with a record seven awards.

Below are some of the original costume design sketches from some of those  Golden Age Hollywood Musicals.

mary-ann-nyberg-cyd-charisse-in-band-wagon

Shown above is Mary Ann Nyberg’s original costume design sketch for Cyd Charisse in Band Wagon, 1953.  Charisse plays the younger ballet trained dancer to Astaire’s older (now somewhat tarnished) star. But sparks fly as they walk and then Dance in the Dark in Central Park. The costume sketch design has been somewhat modified for the film as the top has the front décolleté. Remaining is the free-flowing pleated skirt shown below.

musicals-the-band-wagon

 

The late great Debbie Reynolds had her first starring role in Singing in the Rain, considered by many to be the greatest movie musical.

 

walter-plunkett-debbie-reynolds-in-singing-in-the-rain

 

This  vivaceous outfit above  could only seem normal worn while popping out of a cake – and so it was for Debbie Reynolds in Singing in the Rain. Walter Plunkett designed it for her  and some chorines to do a number after she emerged from a giant cake at the Monumental Pictures party, tossing out candy from her hip pocket.

musicals-debbie

 

 

singing-in-the-rain-2b

 

Another Walter Plunkett costume sketch is shown above, this one for Cyd Charisse in the “Broadway Melody Ballet” number with Gene Kelly.  She has been Kelly’s femme fatale in the previous scene and now she comes out dressed as a bride. As the scene morphs into a fantasy the bridal outfit gets stripped of the skirt and she is bare-legged in their dance.

 

musicals-broadway-melody

 

Helen Rose began her career designing costumes for showgirls . So she knew how to infuse flash and movability in her movie designs. She also specialized in using chiffon and had a great sense of color. Below is her costume design for Marge Chapmpion who danced frquently with her husband Gower Champion in movie musicals at MGM.  The design was for Give a Girl a Break, 1953. It’s a perfect dance gown – an eye-catching red color with decollete top and full swinging chiffon skirt with sequins.

 

helen-rose-for-marge-champion-in-give-a-girl-a-break

 

Helen Rose designed the costume below for the dancer Carol Haney in On the Town. The movie was a vehicle for some of MGM’s stars, including Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Ann Miller and Vera Ellen.

 

helen-rose-forcarol-haney-in-on-the-town

Below is Frank Sinatra’s stand-in dancer and Carol Haney dancing , with Gene Kelly waiting his turn.

musicals-haney

 

One of the more unique musical numbers was that of Maureen O’Hara’s in Dance Girl, Dance, directed by Dorothy Arzner in      Edward Stevenson designed the costumes including the costume sketch below. Maureen O’Hara plays a ballerina forced to work in burlesque, where she gives a feminist lecture to an audience of leering men.

 

edward-stevenson-maureen-ohara-in-dance-girl-dance-2

 

Musicals, like all movies, have been both great and trivial. At their best they combine the power of music, dance, story and the other arts to elevate our emotions to, as Dick Van Dyke sang, “Up to the highest hight!.”

 

A blog about classic movie costume design and fashion

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