That “films” will soon no longer be printed on film is is not really news, but that day is finally here. Paramount Pictures released its first major movie, The Wolf of Wall Street,entirely on digital in the U.S. Last December the release of Paramount’s Anchorman IIwas its last movie printed on 35mm film for distribution in the U.S. Paramount Pictures celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, and 35mm film has been the standard for all of that period. 20th Century-Fox and Disney will soon follow with all-digital distribution.
Movie theaters have been converting to 4k digital projectors for two or three years now, which cost from $60,000 to $150,000. The “films” arrive to them mailed as hard drives in cases, and in the near future will arrive over high-speed downloads. But according to the National Association of Theater Owners, some 4126 theater screens are still projecting film and most of these theaters probably can’t afford digital projectors.
With the studios using less and less film stock, film processors are hurting. The maker of unprocessed film, Eastman Kodak, has already filed for bankruptcy. Technicolor and Deluxe, rivals for decades in the processing of color film, finally decided to call a truce and divide up the remaining business between them. Recently Technicolor closed its processing lab in Glendale, California.
Digital filming has split many directors into two camps. James Cameron was a pioneer with Avatar. And films likeThe Hobbitt andLife of Pi relied on digital cameras. But film preservation advocate Martin Scorsese shot Hugodigitally. Christopher Nolan who directed The Dark Knight Rises, gathered many directors together to make a plea to save 35mm film. Quentin Tarantino says “…can’t stand digital. I hate that stuff.” And David O. Russell said, “Maybe I’m old fashioned, maybe I’m superstitious, maybe I’m romantic – I love film and it has a a magic quality, it has warmth.”
The benefits of digital to the studios are financial. A film print costs about $2000, a digital disk less than $100. Not to mention the difference in shipping costs. A 90 minute movie is usually over 8,000 feet of film. If you’ve ever looked through developed film stock, it’s amazing how many frames it takes to advance a scene. Modern reels of film come in 2000 ft. lengths, so that’s almost nine reels of film per movie, and many movies last longer than 90 minutes.
And on the shooting end of digital, you no longer have to stop “filming” to reload film magazines, you just keep on shooting. Only now the actors don’t get so many beaks.
Let’s look back in time at film and how it was handled.
In the old theater projection rooms, two projectors would be used so that when one projector ran out of its film the other carried on projecting the same movie. The rooms also had a place to splice films (at right) in case the film broke.
In the heyday of the studio system, where everything was done under the studio roof, film processing was an important part of the “factory.” In the 1930s when the photos below were taken at MGM, all the film was developed at the studio and shipped out across the country and across the world.
The industrial-looking machine above was used to develop film. The vats below contained developing and washing solutions, through which film looped continuously, going through one vat after the other until the film was developed. You can see the progression from left to right.
The technician below conduct quality control.
In the photo below taken at MGM in the 1930s, rows of men work in the automatic film printing room. Release prints for the movie theaters were made there at the rate of four million feet per week.
Film editing was not high-tech in the 1930s. Chester Schaefer at MGM edits and assembles a film prior to its screening and release.
Digitizing older film for preservation is one of the benefits of digital technology. In a recent study by the Library of Congress, it found that of the 11,000 silent films that were produced by the American movie industry between 1912 and 1929, only 14% (1,575) survive today in their original release condition, while another 11% survive in various imperfect formats.
The irony is that while digitizing film stock is a favored method used for the preservation of film, its long term life is an unknown. Film archivist David Pierce, who conducted the Library of Congress study, stated that, “Maintained under proper conditions – e.g.. cool, dry, vaults – film reels can last for hundreds of years. That kind of longevity has not been proven for digital copies yet.”
Digital format obsolescence is another issue, resulting in the continual need for digital content migration to new platforms and software. Digital creation is cheaper, but digital storage is, in the long run, more expensive.
As for those rural movie theaters. Many have started fund raising campaigns to buy digital projectors. For those that are unsuccessful, they will likely be playing Peter Bogdanovitch’s The Last Picture Showon their screens before long.
The vintage costumes from the immortal The Wizard of Ozhave, along with those of Marilyn Monroe, set records for Hollywood memorabilia at auction. Stored in MGM’s wardrobe Department warehouses for decades, then liberated, they quickly turned hands and escalated in price. As outlined in my previous post, the one exception was the pair of Ruby Slippers that had been awarded as a contest prize by MGM to high school student Roberta Jeffries in 1940. She had treasured her pair until 1988 when she sold them at auction for $165,000. Roberta was flabbergasted by the price, as was everyone. The buyer was Anthony Landini, who then loaned them to Disney World for permanent display. The amazing thing was that at this point it was well known that these were not the only pair of Ruby Slippers.
The inked #7 pair of Ruby Slippers originally found by Kent WarnerWhy were there more than one pair? It was common studio practice to have multiple pairs of costumes, and especially for plot-driving accessories like the Ruby Slippers. If they were damaged during filming, production would have to be halted, especially as Dorothy and the other key characters wore their costumes through virtually the entire movie.
There were also stand-ins or stunt-doubles that had the same costumes. And in the case of the TheWizard of Oz, Judy Garland also wore variant copies of the blue pinafore dress in test photos and in early scenes that were subsequently re-shot under the new but still temporary director George Cukor. While these were not the classic blue and white gingham pinafore used in the film, demand is so strong for anything OZ that values have escalated for these costumes as well.
Dorothy’s pinafore has reached very high prices, even when made in several copies and in variant colors. The same dress has also reappeared at auction several times. Kent Warner found several Dorothy pinafores in the MGM Wardrobe. The first one sold at the 1970 MGM auction for $1000. A few others he kept for himself. In 1981 he consigned to Christie’s East one of the classic blue and white gingham pinafores with an off-white blouse. It bore a label with Judy Garland’s name and the number 4461. It sold for an unknown amount. All of the variant Dorothy dresses were designed by Adrian. TheWizard of Oz was an international phenomenon in the Anglo-Saxon world. Bonham’s Knightsbridge in London sold at auction a Dorothy blue and white gingham pinafore without the blouse in 2005 for the equivalent of $270,000, setting the record at that time, the company announced.
A test pinafore of all-blue with gingham trim and off-white blouseThe market started heating up again when Debbie Reynolds held the first of her two auctions run by Profiles in History on June 18, 2011. She was selling off her collection to pay off the debts of her bankrupt foundation, and the auction had been getting national publicity for months. Additionally, many of the costumes had been on exhibit long in advance of the auction and thousands took advantage of viewing the collection at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. Among the many treasures from Debbie’s amazing collection was the solid blue pinafore and off-white blouse shown above. This was one of the test dresses not used in the film. Amazingly, it sold for $920,000. This got people’s attention, as did the prices for all the other notable costumes from Debbie’s costume and Hollywood artifact collection. Debbie’s pair of the rather beat-up test pair of the “Arabian” slippers” went for $510,000, reportedly destined for the Middle-East. There is nothing like very high prices to shake the collectibles tree.
The next Dorothy dress to appear at auction was the blue and white gingham pinafore dress actually worn by Judy Garland in the movie. It came up for sale at the Julien’s auction of November 10, 2012. It also has the original blouse and was in fact the same costume consigned by Kent Warner to Christie’s in 1981, bearing the label with Judy Garland’s name and the number 4461. This dress sold for $400,000. Considering the $920,000 price minus the fees and taxes paid for the Debbie Reynolds dress, this iconic dress was a bargain. Although the dress is a bit faded from time, and it was purposefully dyed in muted whites, the photo below does not do the costume justice.
Judy Garland’s movie-worn Dorothy dressSo the next Dorothy dress to hit auction came quickly. Long-time Hollywood memorabilia collector and Judy Garland fan Barry Barsamian had another all-blue Dorothy dress, only this one had actually been used in the first two weeks of filming. This filming had been done under OZ‘s first director, Richard Thorpe, before he was replaced. Barry Barsamian had gotten the dress from Wayne Martin, who in turn had gotten it from Kent Warner. This dress had been loaned as part of the Smithsonian’s “Freedom Train” celebrating the American Bicentennial. This dress is shown below. It sold at Profiles in History on July 28, 2013 for $300,000.
Also a beloved character from the movie was the Cowardly Lion, played by Bert Lahr. As mentioned in the last post, this costume was made from real lion pelts. It too was sold at the MGM auction in 1970. At that time the costume was missing its two front paws and its mane and ears. It sold nonetheless for $2,400, more than twice what Dorothy’s pinafore originally sold for.
TheCowardlyLion costume had been owned for many years by James Commisar, who had it restored. He had the face molded on that of Bert Lahr’s son; John Lahr. The mane was remade. Comisar is a collector of television history artifacts and he is planning a museum of television history. It is to this end that putting up for sale the Cowardly Lion costume would help his fund raising drive. He had the costume consigned to Profiles in History in 2011 but it failed to sell at its high reserve price of $2 million. Profiles in History subsequently sold it for $805,000 on Ebay.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Herrick Library owns the Cowardly Lion mane and ears that may have been the match to the costume above, but in any event are original to the 1939 Wizard of Oz production. They are shown above.
And miracle of miracles, that most fragile of costumes, the Scarecrow’s has survived. As mentioned in the last post, Ray Bolger saved his costume, including the raffia that served as hay, after production wrapped. His wife Gwendolyn donated the costume to the Smithsonian in 1987, along with a bag of raffia.
But other significant pairs of Ruby Slippers were out in the world. One pair went around the country on the exhibit tour, owned by noted Hollywood costume collector Michael Shaw, who had of course gotten his pair from Kent Warner. He had loaned his pair to the Judy Garland Museum In Grand Rapids Minnesota. In a bizarre and still unsolved case, the pair were stolen from the museum, and their whereabouts are still unknown. It was thought to be an “inside job” since the security system was disabled at the time.
Profiles in History managed to land another pair of the Holy Grail of Hollywood collectibles: the Ruby Slippers with the provenance of Kent Warner, a subsequent auction purchaser, then Philip Samuels. These were the pair in the best condition and the most likely to have been the pair used in the close up shot, where Judy Garland taps her heels three times and wishes she could go back home. The pair of Ruby Slippers went up for auction on December 15, 2011 with a reserve price of $2 million dollars. Despite their high price, there was another chance for Hollywood history to vanish from these shores.
These most famous of Ruby Slippers and the most treasured Hollywood icon did not sell. After the auction Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg purchased the slippers for donation to the future Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. How fitting an end that they should not only stay in the U.S but stay very near to Hollywood. Bravo to Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Spielberg.
And now in April 2017, Moments in Time dealer Gary Zimet,on behalf of the owners, is putting up for auction the original Roberta Jeffries Bauman pair, the promotional Ruby Slippers from 1940. The bidding starts at $6 million. Good luck, to both sides of the bidding.
Their magic must be very powerful, or they wouldn’t want them so badly.
All things Oz are perennially popular, but the surviving costumes from the 1939 classic film are also worth riches. Film costumes come closest to the skin of the actors, and these iconic costumes from one of the most beloved movies of all times have turned into gold. They are such treasures as the Ruby Slippers, Judy Garland’s gingham pinafore, the Cowardly Lion suit of Bert Lahr, and the vestiges of costumes from the Wicked Witch, the Winkies and the Munchkins. What happened to these costumes after the film wrapped? And what has been their own path down the yellow brick road? Their story is just as fascinating as the movie itself. Fasten your seat-belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.This is a re-posting from my previous blog the: Silver Screen Modiste.
The costumes for The Wizard of Ozwere designed by Adrian and fabricated at the MGM Studio Wardrobe Department, as will be covered in a future post. The fate of the Oz costumes, as with all the other MGM costumes post-production, was to go into storage in the three-story wardrobe building at the MGM studio lot in Culver City. The intention for virtually all studio costumes was that they could be re-used in another production. Even with very unique costumes like those from Oz, they might be used again in a sequel. The book the film was based on:The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, itself went through several sequels. Occasionally, costumes could be used for publicity, and indeed in 1939 the Ruby Slippers went on a publicity tour, and MGM decided to contribute the pair as a prize for the girl winner of a high school “10 Best Movies of 1939” writing contest. One boy in that contest won the gavel from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and one girl, Roberta Jeffries from Memphis Tennessee won the Ruby Slippers. But the rest of the costumes: Dorothy’s pinafore, the Wicked Witch costume, the Cowardly Lion lion-skin, and others, were hung on Wardrobe’s costume-racks that stretched for hundreds of feet. Some didn’t survive. The Tin-Man costume was just a bunch of made-up parts that were likely just thrown away. The Scarecrow costume, deemed unusable for anything else, was saved by Ray Bolger. And in the end, there were no Ozsequels, thus the costumes languished and were largely forgotten.
When Television became popular, the search for content led quickly to the broadcast of old movies. The first showing of The Wizard of Oz on TV occurred on November 3, 1956. Even in black and white, it produced a tidal wave of viewers, and it has been shown yearly ever since. This eventually resulted in Oz being the most-watched movie in history. But the very popularity of television-viewing, and other factors, led to the demise of the old studio-system. By the late 1960s having gone through several owners and at an all-time low, the assets of MGM were viewed as just properties to be sold off, or if valueless, to be discarded. Thus Ted Turner bought MGM and kept the pre-1970 film library, Kirk Kirkorian bought the name rights of MGM to be used for Las Vegas hotels, and several of the back lots were sold off for future housing developments. The MGM management at the time didn’t think the costumes were worth enough even to sell, but maybe there was some value in the props. David Weisz of the eponymous auction company, knew that Kirkorian was interested in selling off assets, and made MGM an offer of $1.5 million for all the props and costumes, which was accepted, and Weisz held the auction on the MGM lot. It was the biggest bazaar in L.A.’s history. One should bear in mind the context for the rest of the story: the David Weicz company bought all of MGM’s costumes for something like $1 apiece, and originally thought of a bazaar sale direct to the public for prices just above that.
MGM David Weisz Wardrobe catalog
Along the way the Weisz Company got some advise to auction the notable costumes separately. The MGM Wardrobe inventory consisted of an estimated 350,000 costumes. How to go about deciding which ones to find and catalog, and which ones to sell as cheap odd lots? One costumer stepped forward to take on the job: Kent Warner. He had worked in wardrobe at several studios and was apparently working for MGM at the time. He was passionate about saving Hollywood’s heritage. Whether MGM delegated him for this job or the auctioneer David Weisz did, nobody seems to know. But Warner set about with diligence to scour MGM’s wardrobe storage and to find the most important costumes in its inventory. In a later newspaper article, Kent Warner was quoted as saying, “I’m the only person in the world that knows the story of the Ruby Slippers…. I discovered the Ruby Slippers.” And so he did, as well as the gingham pinafore that Judy Garland wore as Dorothy. Various stories were born on where and how he found them, all well documented in Rhys Thomas’s book, The Ruby Slippers of Oz. Some of the stories made the search sound like the expedition to find King Tut’s tomb. Nonetheless, the pair of slippers and the Dorothy pinafore were dutifully cataloged among 1000 other costumes (400 others were subsequently added), and went up for sale at the MGM auction in 1970. Also in the auction was the hat from the Wicked Witch, and the lion costume worn by Bert Lahr. Kent Warner himself designed the pre-sale display of many of these classic costumes. When the auction was held, the Ruby Slippers set the modern record for a piece of Hollywood memorabilia: $15,000. This made national news.
Roberta Jeffries Bauman of Memphis read the papers, shocked that her treasured pair of Ruby Slippers were not the only ones. She had been placing them on exhibit at various schools for decades, and was locally famous as their owner. The purchaser of the MGM $15K pair was less than pleased when Roberta’s story made national news as well. He thought his was the only pair. In 1979 he donated his pair to the Smithsonian, where they have been a stellar attraction ever since. But unknown at the time of the MGM auction, Kent Warner had found at least three other pairs of Ruby Slippers, and at least two other Dorothy dresses. These treasures he kept for himself.
MGM ladies wardrobe in the 1930s.
The MGM auction opened the public’s eye to the nascent field of Hollywood collectibles. The $15,000 spent on the Ruby Slippers made headlines. Previously, there had virtually been no Hollywood memorabilia collectors because there had been no supply of Hollywood collectibles. But in fact at the low tide of Hollywood studio interest in their material legacy (though it seems that tide was always low), Kent Warner and a few of his collecting colleagues had been running a sort of underground railroad for iconic but nonetheless absconded costumes. As often happens with desired objects hitting high prices, the supply pipeline opened up, and soon other studios like Paramount Pictures started selling their props and costumes. Kent Warner had been selling costumes for several years, and he later decided to sell his treasured Ruby Slippers. These were the pair used for close-ups, the ones the Wicked Witch of the East wore when Dorothy’s house fell on her, which then became Dorothy’s. These had dyed red soles, while others had felt applied to the sole to muffle sound. They were also in better condition than the other two. Warner placed this pair at auction but they never reached his reserve price. In ill health from AIDS, he then consigned them with Christie’s East in 1981, where they only fetched $12,000. Kent Warner thought they were worth as much as $75,000. He never lived long enough to see such prices.
So which Oz costumes had Kent Warner discovered while doing inventory at MGM, costumes that he kept? No one now knows or has publicly stated how many Ruby Slippers had been made for The Wizard of Oz. Roberta had her pair. The anonymous purchaser at the MGM auction had his pair. And Kent Warner had the prize pair that he displayed in his home for years. Plus there was an “Arabian test pair” that Judy Garland modeled but had never worn in the movie. This pair was purchased by Debbie Reynolds, but not at the MGM auction. Collector Michael Shaw had also purchased a pair directly from Kent Warner. There may have been two other pairs found but that were never accounted for. Judy Garland also had several pinafores made for her. Two of these dresses were “test” dresses made of solid blue cotton with polka dot trim, one with a blue blouse, and each one varied by the darkness of the blue. One of these was worn in early shooting but after director Richard Thorpe was fired, George Cukor took over and changed Judy’s hair and used a different Adrian-designed blue and white gingham pinafore with a white blouse. Judy also had a stand-in, and she presumably had her own pinafore.
For the sepia-toned opening of the film, a gingham pinafore without any color was used. This one was gray and white. The only Dorothy dress sold at the MGM auction was the blue and white gingham pinafore, the one everyone remembers. It sold for $1000. The Cowardly Lion costume sold for $2,400. It was missing its front paw mittens and it’s mane wig. The Wicked Witch’s hat sold for $450, and her dress for $350. Frank Morgan’s Wizard suit sold for $650. The main wardrobe auction was held on May 3, 1970 in Stage 27, where much of The Wizard of Oz was filmed. Judy Garland had died the previous June. Several years after Kent Warner died, Roberta Bauman decided to sell her Ruby Slippers at auction. She had treasured them since her youth but then thought they could become someone else’s responsibility. Their sale would also become her retirement money. They sold in October 1988 at Christie’s East for $165,000. Roberta was amazed. Since then, three of the above-mentioned pairs have also come up for auction. One pair was purchased for a major museum soon to be launched, and another pair was stolen from another museum. The Cowardly Lion costume and the Witch’s hat have also been re-sold. Prices for some of these pieces are a million dollars or more. I will continue with these amazing stories in the next post of the Silver Screen Modes.Kent Warner’s own words in a Los Angeles Times interview in 1977 best expresses the magic of the Ruby Slippers: ” I think the film The Wizard of Oz released in 1939 was the ultimate representation of home, family, solidarity, well-being, security – at the same time there was the madness and the fantasy of Oz. All I can think of is the heels clicking and Judy saying, ‘There’s no place like home.’ “Or as Glinda the Good Witch of the North said to Dorothy, “Keep tight inside of them – their magic must be very powerful, or she wouldn’t want them so badly!”
As we see on reality TV and read about in blogs and magazines, there are collectors of just about everything these days. The remnants of everyday life seem to find a place in some collector’s storage shed, as seen in the American Pickers. Yet the treasures from the dream factories of Hollywood’s Golden Age, those material things seen on the silver screen by millions around the world, and by generations after generation, have been the most fragile collectible of all. These things are the costumes, the “second skin of the actors.” They were often re-used or modified. They hung in studio warehouses for years until they were in tatters. When the racks were too full they were sometimes dumped as trash. When the studios were in financial straits in the 60s and 70s, the better costumes were often auctioned, while others were sold in bulk. Paradoxically, it was during this time in the 1960s that classic film was being rediscovered, and for many, it had been the staple of their youthful daytime TV viewing. A younger generation was attracted to Hollywood with ideals. Many had artistic skills and some got jobs working in the studio wardrobe departments. It didn’t take long to see that the old studio system was unraveling, and the wardrobe department, along with several of the other “crafts” was an early casualty. Within this environment, several young men began in earnest to collect the movie costumes that the studios considered surplus. To these idealists, the costumes represented the essence of the characters: the actors; and the movies themselves. Debbie Reynolds had also begun collecting, but she had the deep pockets and the connections that made it easier for her. The others, with a young costumer named Kent Warner priming the pump, entered a feeding frenzy. The idealism that had started the group’s quest to save Hollywood’s costume heritage eventually turned into a realization that the costumes represented a source of quick cash, when those with easy access to the costumes could sell them to those that didn’t. And from there, things entered a downward spiral.
Several years later, Hollywood costume collecting entered a new phase. Larry McQueen, then and now, represents the very best of what a collector, without great financial means, can accomplish. Larry has, with great dedication, dogged perseverance, skilled research, a wealth of knowledge, the highest ethical standards, and along with the guidance and help of his late mentor Bill Thomas, developed an outstanding collection of classic Hollywood costumes.
I am very gratified to be able to offer herewith my interview with Larry McQueen.
What got you interested in film costume? Was there someone who particularly influenced you?
That is a simple question. Bill Thomas (not the costume designer of the same name). I met him when he was around eighteen or nineteen and he had this – what I thought was a very exotic hobby – working with and collecting film costumes. We would see each other from time to time and he would tell me the stories of working with Debbie Reynolds and the original band of “Robin Hoods.” I wanted to get involved and to meet them, but Bill always kept me at a distance. At first, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want me to get involved, but later I realized that it was probably the best thing he ever did because I wasn’t involved with the negative aspect of what they did. The band of collectors was turning on each other and was forgetting their original mission for collecting these things. Bill told me that “his greed for these things was destroying his love for them.” In 1984, Bill sold the majority of his collection. It wasn’t until 1989 that Bill and I agreed to start “The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design.”
Do you recall your first acquisition? Your first major acquisition?
My very first acquisition was purchased from Kent Warner through Bill. It was a helmet and chain mail worn by Ingrid Bergman in “Joan of Arc.” It was probably in the late 70’s and I thought it was the most incredible thing until my apartment was broken into and it was taken. It was a fairly standard break-in and I’m sure that whoever took the item had no idea what it was.
In 1989, Bill and I agreed to go into business together and start a collection. It was because of the gown worn by Greta Garbo in “Queen Christina” (this is the royal gown with all the heavy beading and rhinestones shown in the V&A exhibition). The gown went for a substantial amount of money at the time and far more than either of us could afford separately. Since we had no intention of ever selling it, The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design was created.
As youth we are first stimulated visually by film, but do you recall if your first attraction to costume was tactile or visual?
My first recall of costumes was when I was in fifth grade. The class went to see a theatre production of “The King & I” and I was fascinated with the theatricality and fantasy world it created. From that moment on, I knew I would be involved with theatre and I went on to get a degree in it. Life sometimes changes the directions of your plans, but I’m still involved with the theatre of costume exhibitions.
Do you have favorite designers or perhaps favorite stars or films? How do you approach your collecting strategy?
I don’t have a favorite designer, but I do have a designer that I very much respect and who does not get the attention that I think he deserves. Travis Banton. Perhaps it is because of his lack of a couture line and perhaps it was because of his alcoholism but, his creations were extremely beautiful and perfectly expressed the high glamour of the 1930’s and 40’s.
My fascination with collecting costume is the art of costume design. I do not have an affinity for a particular star or film. I, of course, have my favorite actors and films. But, when I collect, I choose pieces that tells my particular story- that I have decided to tell- of costume design while taking into account the value associated with the stars and films. I try to tell that story from the pieces that come available to me and not obsess on the pieces that I can’t afford or may not still exist.
Continual price increases are a trend in Hollywood costume collecting, and Hollywood memorabilia values in general. Are there other notable trends you see?
The trend I most notice, especially as a collector myself, is the shift from private collectors to corporate collectors. I noticed this happening first with Planet Hollywood who was trying to amass an immense collection of movie memorabilia for the restaurants and Hotel. As the years continued, the prices continued to rise. With the Debbie Reynolds auction, prices again took a giant leap forward. I still continue to collect well-chosen pieces, but certainly not at the pace that I used to.
Fabric and paper are the most fragile of collectibles. How do you preserve your costumes?
I take the care of the costumes as much as a responsibility to me as acquiring them. Any expense associated with the care of the costumes comes out of my own pocket so, I often find myself forgoing acquiring a costume so that I can afford to take care of the costumes that I already have. I try to follow museum standards for their care by boxing the costumes to avoid the stress of hanging, using acid free boxes and tissue and/or unbleached muslin and keeping them in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. It’s a never ending process and I certainly take more time in the organization and the care of the items than I do in the collecting of them.
You have generously loaned some of your costumes to exhibitions in the past. Can you tell us about some of these items and exhibitions for us?
The goal, from the conception of “The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design” was to exhibit the costumes and share them with the public. Our very first international exhibition was negotiated on the evening after Bill passed away. Regardless of what was going to happen, Bill wanted that meeting to occur and knew that our dream was entering the next phase of exhibition.
We made the decision a long time ago that the pieces deserved to be shown in museums, because we felt they were artwork. So, for the most part, I only allow the pieces to be shown in museums with the proper facilities and care. There was one photo session when I did allow a piece to be worn, but it was for a prominent photographer, magazine and actress and I was there to control every aspect. When I first met Bill, he himself did fashion shows with people wearing the costumes. But during one such exhibition, one of the models stepped on the train of the costume and tore it off at the waist. Even though I do enjoy seeing the pieces “move” as they were originally designed to do, it is not worth the damage that can occur.
I have been honored to have shown many of the costumes in museums around the world, the most recent being at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. I have worked with museums in Japan, Germany, Italy and Australia. I am often amazed that “foreign” markets often respond far more enthusiastically than American audiences. It is probably because that is how they learned about our culture, by watching films. I am often amazed that they know films- especially some of the classic films and actors far better than American audiences. I am so pleased that the pieces are now being recognized as artwork.
Costumes were sometimes altered at the studios for later productions, or may have seriously deteriorated. Do you believe in restoring a costume to its original look?
This has always been a major consideration. When purchasing a costume, I try to collect pieces that are still in good condition, retain the original “magic” and will withstand the rigors of exhibition. If they are to be considered artifacts, they should be treated as such. I am always having discussions with museum experts concerning conservation vs. restoration. I have changed over the years and made decisions to restore costumes that could not otherwise be shown. I have no problem with accessorizing the costumes with articles such as shirts, ties or shoes that are missing so that they will better reflect their original appearance. But, I do take issue with replacing the majority of the fabric and basically re-making the costume. It then becomes a copy of the original. And most importantly, it comes down to documentation and disclosure. I see so many pieces on display or on the market that are not real and I feel they diminish the pieces that are.
Do you have any preferences for historical (period) or contemporary costumes?
My personal preference is certainly period costumes because of the drama and theatricality of them. But, I also appreciate the representation of the styles that have occurred during the various time periods. I often purchase a costume because it fits into a particular time period and better tells the story of fashion trend in history and in film. So many things have changed in fashion and the films often reflect those changes, even though it may not have always reflected it accurately.
With the loss of much of Debbie Reynolds’ collection through sales on one hand, but with plans for the Academy’s Museum on the other, do you see a place for an institutional collection of Hollywood costume?
The demise of the Debbie Reynolds collection was one of the most unfortunate things that has happened in the world of collecting film costumes. My answer is so short because I could actually go on for hours about it. It was definitely an end of an era and a missed opportunity. I only hope that the museum world will understand and appreciate this “art form.”
Is there a question I neglected to ask you that you’d like to answer?
I was very fortunate to have gotten involved with this field when I did. When I started, only a small handful of people understood or appreciated what these pieces were. I have often stated that “I was at the right place, at the right time.” Not only in the ability to acquire pieces, but to have the opportunity to do my part in creating the field. Bill always told me that this industry that we were helping to develop would someday “turn around and ‘bite’ us.”
Also, even though it was a financial stretch to acquire the pieces that we did back then, and even though there was “deception” or misrepresentation in the market, it is nowhere near the market of today. It is certainly a market where the buyer needs to be informed and aware.
Can you watch a film without analyzing the wardrobe, or if it’s a classic film and you missed the credits, identify the costume designer?
The way that I watch films has certainly changed. When watching a film I do notice when there is a costume that is extremely beautiful or one that I realize is extremely important to the action of the film and secretly desiring that I had that costume. But, since I do so much research on film costumes for a living, I usually can turn it off and switch modes and just enjoy the film itself.
Thank you Larry for sharing your time and knowledge with us.
Larry is active as a consultant in the field of Hollywood costume – in identification, valuation, exhibition, preservation, and related fields. He has worked with several major auction houses as a consultant in appraising and cataloging film costumes. He has also worked with Paramount Pictures on their auction in 1992 and with MGM/UA studios consulting on their costumes. Similarly, he has worked with Debbie Reynolds and the Western Costume Company. He has lent items from his important collection, and served as consultant to several museums around the country and around the world. His last museum involvement was with the major exhibition at the V&A in London: Hollywood Costume, now on tour. Larry loaned several major pieces for this exhibition, including the Greta Garbo Queen Christina gown mentioned above. Larry related to me how he had traveled to London for the Grand Opening. Between the jet lag and the nervousness, he couldn’t sleep, and instead entered into a long conversation in his mind with Bill Thomas about Larry’s long road to to get there, and to have Hollywood costumes be featured at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. I think Bill would have been very proud.
Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndonhas been judged by many to be either a masterpiece or a monstrous bore. For years after its release in 1975, the common opinion was shared with that of the noted late film critic Pauline Kael, who called it “an ice-pack of a movie.”
I am a big fan of the Baroque era’s arts, crafts, and architecture, as well as being a fan of Kubrick’s films, and thus have admired the film ever since its first release. Admiring this particular Kubrick film is a bit of a guilty pleasure, bearing no judgment on the quality of the film, but rather on my own guilt in admiring it so for its baroque aesthetics and overwhelming beauty, while downplaying its devastating depiction of human vanity, aggressiveness, and greed.
The first scene could be a metaphor for the entire movie: a beautifully composed view of a bucolic countryside, in the distance two men fight a duel, and one of them will die. It will be the protagonist Redmond Barry’s father, as it happens, and so begins this picaresque story based on the novel by William Thackeray.
In my opinion, Barry Lyndon has few equals in harnessing the arts to the service of film making. Kubrick poured over and drew inspiration from the oil paintings and watercolors depicting 18th century European pastoral and courtly life, especially those of Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, and Francois Boucher. Many of his scenes are purposefully composed as would a period landscape painter. Kubrick also listened to all of the European 18th century classical music he could find, and the soundtrack is so perfectly blended with the film that it is hard to listen separately to one of the pieces without envisioning the unfolding scene, perfectly in sync with its soundtrack. In this sense, Barry Lyndon is primarily a visual and auditory experience. Its dialogue is brief, and we depend on the excellent voice- over narration given by Michael Hordern, spoken as Thackeray had written it, or in a very similar style.
Kubrick insisted on capturing nature’s full beauty as the backdrop for man’s schemes and wars. His cinematographer was John Alcott, who used an Arriflex 35BL with a large aperture control to capture as much of the ever-changing lighting as possible.
Redmond Barry is played by Ryan O’Neal, whose plain good looks made a good stand-in for the plucky character inadvertently set off on a life of adventure. As narrated, his attractive cousin Nora Brady was “the cause of all his early troubles.” After seducing him to a soundtrack of the Chieftain’s “Women of Ireland,” she promptly takes up with an English officer of means. The duel that ensues between the jealous rivals (one of many duels fought in the film), forces him to take to the road with a pouch of money his mother gave him. Though he was mightily impressed with the cut of a soldier’s scarlet uniform, it was only a highway robbery that left him penniless and forced him to enlist in the army. After many adventures and mis-adventures in various armies in various countries he vowed that, “never again would he fall from the ranks of a gentleman.” But this was not before his experience among the dregs of the Prussian army had ensured that he was “far advanced in the science of every kind of misconduct.”
Redmond Barry gambles, but meets the beautiful Lady Lyndon
The life of a gentleman rake was close enough for our intrepid hero. He had fallen in with a fellow Irish libertine who called himself the Chevalier di BaliBari, and thus did he meet the Lady Honoria Lyndon, “a woman of vast wealth and great beauty,” played by Marisa Berenson. His slow seduction of her at the gambling table and on the palace terrace is a masterpiece of film-making. No greater contrast exists to the current methods of filming scenes of seduction. The scene on the terrace is wordless, and indeed, nearly motionless. It develops through the beautiful, inexorable beat of Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2. The gestures of the actors are slow, with each slight movement invested with meaning. When Lady Lyndon stands outside on the terrace, only a slight sideways glance conveys the understanding that she awaits him. After he advances to her, their hands show their anticipation, reaching out slowly and deliberately, grasping just before they kiss.
The role of the Countess Lyndon is played stylishly but with dignified restraint by Marisa Berenson. Her beauty is magnified by impressive period-styled wigs. The costumes throughout are authentically and beautifully designed and add to the richness of the scenes and the characterization of the actors. The fabrics and laces used blend perfectly with the rich tapestries, linens, and upholsteries in the film. The make-up too provides the white-powdered, beauty-spotted, 18th century style adopted by both men and women. And these personal adornments and the great palace interiors, are richly bathed in light – the strafing of natural light through open windows during the day and the incredible glow provided by candle-light and chandeliers at night. For the candle-lit scenes, no artificial lighting was used, and such was Kubrick’s obsessive compulsion in replicating the look of the era that when no camera lens was found capable of filming such scenes, he used a lens built by the Carl Zeiss company for NASA: the Zeiss 50mm lens with the largest aperture of any ever built for a movie (f/0.7). Thus are we provided with that candle-lit chiaroscuro so beautifully used by painters such as Caravaggio and de La Tour. The chandeliers even had metallic reflectors added on the ceilings for adding light.
The fortunes of Redmond Barry are looking up as he courts Lady Lyndon, the wife of a moribund Lord. Their quick marriage after the Lord’s death soon turns Barry into the lord of the manor, especially in his own mind and demeanor. He is now known by the name of Barry Lyndon.
Before long a son is born to them, which Barry loves above all else and dotes on. Such behavior is in contrast to the treatment he gives Lady Lyndon’s first son by her late husband, and the pair develop a mutual animosity.
Aside from doting on his son, Barry Lyndon reverts to his womanizing. His attempts to aggrandize his name and to secure a title of his own leads him deeper and deeper into debt. Barry’s luck has changed again, and his bad behavior compounds his difficulties.
The artfully composed picture above of Barry and his son foretells the isolation that Barry will soon endure. The inexorable beat of Handel or Schubert still plays, in ever more mournful tempo, as one disaster after another befalls Barry Lyndon. Even the panoramic landscapes are now shown devoid of people that formerly had decorated these scenes.
A climactic duel between Barry and his step-son was fastidiously filmed, shot in such slow and deliberate actions that it paralleled the earlier seduction scene, this time to the music of Handel’s Sarabande, the movie’s theme music and itself of measured tempo. The scene is filmed in a barn, not in the pastoral settings used earlier. It is here that Barry Lyndon finally displays true gentlemanly behavior, but alas it is all for naught.
In the scene below and other interior scenes, extra lighting was provided by lights outside the windows, with many of the the windows covered in gels or tracing paper for special effecrs.
Stanley Kubrick has set the last scene with Lady Lyndon, her son and their attendants,signing documents that will place their world back in order. The date that she signs the documents is 1789. This perfectly composed tableau shows the English aristocracy in their element. Kubrick has again presented a beautiful scene which belies reality and the events taking place across the English channel, where the French Revolution has begun. Soon such palaces as these will be looted there, and many of their aristocrat inhabitants will be sent to the guillotine.
Kubrick’s film-making techniques were unified throughout Barry Lyndon. His use of deep-focus was prevalent, which was used along with zoom-in and zoom-out shots that either clarified an action or gave a very different perspective on the events. His devotion to the authentic bordered on an obsession.The gathered packets of paper documents on a desk for example were held together with nearly imperceptible straight-pins, as they would have been before staples or clips came along. Over eight minutes of screen time and weeks of filming and editing were devoted to the climactic duel scene, in which moments pass ponderously as men face off with pistols, their seconds standing by and following every protocol.
Costume design for the film was recognized by an Academy Award given to Milena Canonero and Ulla-Brit Soderlund. This was the second film designed by the distinguished costume designer Canonero, whose first had been for Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. Barry Lyndon also won awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Music. Stanley Kubrick, although nominated, has never won an Academy Award for Best Director.
Marlene Dietrich’s image jumps off the screen or the page with that look. Beginning with her first Paramount film in 1930, she was dressed by Travis Banton. He was the right designer to give her the “Marlene look” that she would carry throughout her career. What was it that made her image so unique? Whether dressed as a man or dressed as a woman, Marlene’s image remains iconic.
Marlene’s name is a combination of her first and middle name – Marie Magdelene Dietrich, born in Berlin on December 21, 1901. She was raised in an upper bourgeois family with a military heritage, where obedience, suppression of emotion, and discipline were ingrained in the two daughters. Her father died when she was six. After being raised in this proper bourgeois setting, she was released into the chaos and madness of post World War I Berlin, once described as the “Babylon of the World.” While then too plump to be considered attractive, she used her early musical training, her drive steeled by her discipline, her flair for getting noticed, and her already shapely legs, to get roles on stage and film, leading to the starring film role in UFA’s The Blue Angel, 1930, directed by Josef von Sternberg. Sternberg had seen Marlene on stage where she played the lead in Zwei Kravatten (The Two Neckties). Herdetached disdainful stage manner seemed to match his own, and he cast her in the film and got her a contract with Paramount in Hollywood.
Once in Hollywood, von Sternberg controlled her steps through the studio system. He is commonly considered to have both created and dominated Marlene and her image. Their story in this phase of her career seems to bear resemblance to the myth of Galatea and Pygmalion, and if anyone was under a spell it was von Sternberg. His particular manner of fixation to the star and her appearance would not be seen again in Hollywood until Hitchcock..
Their first American film would be Morocco in 1930. In addition to wardrobe, an important part of the studio system was the portrait and stills photography process, used heavily for film publicity. Here too von Sternberg directed the photo sittings. Paramount portrait and set photographers Eugene Richee, Don English, and William Walling shot dozens of stills, this at the time when single-negative cartridges were hand-loaded. The lighting used for Dietrich was a high spot, creating shadows under her cheekbones, with others to accentuate her forehead, this to create a shadow under her nostrils and thus emphasizing the triangle of eyes and nostrils, perched above her beautiful lips. With Marlene Dietrich more than with any other actress, she looks directly at the lens, and thus straight at the viewer. You are brought into her world – whether to join her in the role – or as viewed in today’s more cynical world – just to play along with her tease.
Travis Bantonwould find out immediately that Marlene Dietrich was no prima donna. Her ingrained discipline and suppression of emotion or of any complaint steeled her for every hardship. The production of Moroccowas rushed before some of her costumes could be completed. With Sternberg’s late filming habits, Banton was forced to take costume fittings late in the evenings. Nevertheless, Dietrich would come into wardrobe late after her shooting schedule, and she would stand stiffly upright while Banton, the seamstresses and fitters would work, exhausted, until the early hours of the morning. Dietrich’s costume fittings became legendary as to the lengths she would go to have everything perfect. Dietrich’s role in Morocco as a cabaret singer gave Banton liberty with a variety of provocative costumes. The top-hat of Blue Angel is changed to Dietrich dressed in white tie and tails basedonan idea of Dietrich’s. In this famous scene, shocking at the time (in the U.S.) for a woman dressed as a man, Dietrich sings and entertains while strolling into the audience up to the table of a pretty woman, takes a flower from her hair, hesitates, then kisses the woman on the mouth.
Marlene playing the role of Amy Jolly quickly falls for the Foreign Legionnaire Tom Brown, played by Gary Cooper. Travis Banton discovered that Marlene’s style of cool, almost disdainful style of acting, a product of her upbringing and suppression of emotions, was best served by costumes that were hot and punchy, even over the top and more than most actresses could wear. Feathers and fur, sequins and beads were immediately put into his inventory for her. The last scene in the movie is memorable, as Marlene walks into the desert sands in heels, which she quickly discards, as she trails the camp-followers that follow Tom Brown and the rest of the the legionnaires into the horizon.
Gary Cooper would become one of the leading men with whom Marlene had affairs. Others included John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maurice Chevalier, John Wayne, Yul Brynner, Jean Gabin, as well as Joe Kennedy and General Gavin, and those were just the men.
Marlene’s next film was Dishonored, 1931, written and directed by von Sternberg. Here she plays a WWI era Viennese prostitute that is turned into a spy against the Russians. Only she falls in love with the Russian agent she is supposed to be working against and is tried for treason. The costumes designed by Banton go from the cheap and tawdry look of a poor prostitute to those sure to grab the attention of any man (see below). The studio and Banton had been working with Marlene to lose weight. In Dishonored, she appears as the slim sex goddess that she would forever be remembered as.
Blonde Venusfollowed in 1932, and is notable for several things. For one, Marlene co-starred with Cary Grant, the only film they made together. Another is the musical scene where Marlene comes out of a gorilla suit that she was dancing in with a revue – the whole number is amazing and is indelible as a film memory. The plot involves a wife and former night club singer played by Marlene that returns to the stage in order to pay for treatment for her sick husband. She later takes up with the rich Cary Grant character with whom she falls in love and that supports her. But she has a son and goes on the run when her husband wants to take him. Although this was a pre-code film, the censors still had the final say in the film’s ending.
Travis Banton again used beads and sequins to give Marlene plenty of flash in her night club act. The blonde afro wig is worn during her gorilla suit Hot Voodoo number.The extravagant feathered hat and trim shown below is pure Banton/Dietrich.
Then came Shanghai Express,and Marlene knocked our eyes out. Banton had already proved that he could go over the top with Marlene – and it worked. Here she plays another exotic role: Shanghai Lily. Banton dresses Marlene in a black dress exploding at the sleeves, shoulders, and collar in black coq feathers. Her scull cap is veiled to add to her aura of mystery. Her accessories of deco black and white gloves and purse are by Hermes. The long string of pearls provide another white accent on the black. Her look is devastating.
Much of the action in the movie takes place in the Shanghai Express train, or in train stations in China. The confined spaces of the train cabins magnify the appearance of Marlene and her co-stars. Von Sternberg uses many close-ups of Marlene with the same expressive chiaroscuro lighting he favored in their photo sessions. One can’t help but being mesmerized by her, and the camera as directed by von Sternberg clearly is. The film is also notable for the beautiful Anna May Wong as co-star.
Marlene’s next movie was The Scarlet Empress, whose original working title was Her Regiment of Lovers. Here she plays a German Princess selected by Queen Elizabeth of Russia to marry her son “the royal halfwit” Peter, become Catherine II, and to produce an heir. Things don’t go well between the married royals but rather better between Catherine and various regimental officers. For her first historical film, Travis Banton dresses her in 18th century court dress. To play on Marlene’s masculine/feminine polarity, he designed a particularly fetching Hussar’s uniform in white, with white fur trim on the pelisse and shako headpiece. Marlene’s daughter Maria played her as a child in the movie.
The last film that von Sternberg and Dietrich did together was The Devil is a Woman,a story of a femme fatale and her two lovers. The story’s early scene is of a baroque carnaval, a visually intoxicating street scene set in 1890s Spain. Marlene considered this her favorite film, and the “the most beautiful film ever made.” It is based on the book The Woman and the Puppet by Pierre Louys, the title an indication of its subject matter, and a title used in some if its later European film remakes. The costumes by Travis Banton were as over the top as the rest of the film, but here he used the Spanish costume accents and rich textures of lace, fringe, mantilla combs, and shawls, as well as embroidery, flowers, large sequins, and over-sized veiled hats.He used mostly black or white for her costumes.
A variety of factors led to the professional separation of von Sternberg and Dietrich. He faced problems at Paramount, but she certainly felt the separation difficult. In her memoirs she stated that she considered von Sternberg both a master and a genius.
Marlene’s first American movie without the direction of von Sternberg was Desire, where she was reunited with Gary Cooper, the film directed by Frank Borzage. In it she plays a jewel thief and Cooper plays an unsuspecting co-conspirator. It’s no surprise that they both fall in love.
Banton’s styling for Dietrich provided the usual glamour but also varied her look. Shown above is her typical bombshell look in a fur-trimmed negligee. She also wears a stunning decollete black gown with fanned out coq feathers at the shoulders, but Banton also dressed her in a very sporty but chic double-breasted black jacket over a white skirt with black & white pumps.
Travis Banton is shown above with Marlene, viewing costume sketches for Desire. Banton had been the brilliant costume designer at Paramount Pictures since 1925, and head designer since 1929. He also dressed Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, and many others, and where he also served as mentor to Edith Head.
Marlene’s next film was Angel, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and released in 1937. It would be her last film under contract for Paramount. This was a romantic comedy, co-starring Melvyn Douglas and Herbert Marshall. It received mixed reviews at its opening and remains a little seen classic considering the talent used in its production. One of the jewels of its production, and indeed of the entire Hollywood studio system, is the gown Marlene wore in the film and shown above. It was made from chiffon and laced with thousands of hand-sewn sequins and beads, and encrusted with semi-precious jewels. The stole is trimmed in Russian sable. Marlene wanted very badly to keep this gown as a souvenir as she left Paramount, but this was refused her by the studio. Amazingly, the gown survived the decades. It was restored by Larry McQueen and has been part of the Hollywood Costume Exhibitionoriginating at the V&A Museum in London. Travis Banton did not last much longer at Paramount either, and Angel would be the last film he designed for Marlene Dietrich. Alcohol had been the way that Banton tried to cope with the pressures of his job, and eventually this made things worse. His contract was not renewed in 1938, and he was gone shortly after Marlene, replaced by Edith Head. Marlene went on to star in many other movies. After Banton she chose her costume designers very carefully so as to preserve her “a la Dietrich” image. For several years this would by Irene (Lentz Gibbons), and later when Marlene went on stage, her wardrobe was designed by Jean Louis. So what was so unique about the look of Marlene Dietrich? Her upbringing had given that air of Nordic cool, yet her direct gaze invited you into her world. She displayed abundant sexuality yet could appeal to masculine or feminine tastes. She was bold in her dress, a model for later generations of film stars and stage performers, and she always owned her looks. She knew the best costume and fashion designers to use, and likewise, she used the best make-up artists, lighting technicians, and photographers there were. And she always worked as hard or harder than they did. During World War II, Marlene entertained the U.S troops on the European front. Marlene Dietrich died in Paris on May 6, 1992. Her films will live forever.
In the dual portraits of film noir couples, the tension is not just sexual but existential. Fate was in command, and the film titles said it all: Detour; Kiss of Death; Cornered; Criss-Cross; D.O.A; Fallen Angel: Out of the Past; Possessed. In film noir, the games were played for keeps. This photographic essay of film noir lovers tries to convey that brooding quality, that moment of tenderness or passion, that brief moment before fate comes calling.
Film noir twisted the normal expectations of movie plots. A happy ending was not in the cards, and everyone had an angle. The couples danced around each other’s schemes, or lost themselves in an obsession with the other. In Leave Her to Heaven, a film noir in Technicolor, the beautiful and bewitching Gene Tierney smothers her love of Cornel Wilde with jealousy.
In The Killers, Burt Lancaster’s past comes calling, and there is no escape. Whereas cars and trains previously represented escape and freedom in the movies, in film noir they became metaphors for confined spaces and one-way tracks to destiny. As the character Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) says to Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in Double Indemnity,“They’re stuck with each other and they’ve got to ride all the way to the end of the line.”
Susan Hayward and Bill Williams star in “Deadline at Dawn,” 1946. Photo courtesy Photofest.
During and after WWII, soldiers, marines, and sailors from all over the country passed through big cities like New York and Los Angeles. After the war ended, tens of thousands returned and were cast adrift there, looking for an illusive normalcy. These veterans had developed a sense of fatalism, a reality born of the seemingly random and instantaneous death that so many saw all around them. Film Noir’s perspective matched their own, while women’s views were born from making it on their own.
The black and white film and still photograhy, perfected in the 1930s, was ideal for the film noir atmospherics. Deep shadows and strong contrasts of light and dark became film noir trademarks. These settings were perfectly represented by light streaming through venetian blinds and the patterns of prison bars and stair case rails casting long shadows. These patterns were also mimiked in the criss-crossing of rail-road tracks, a name itself carried into film titles. The haunting settings were mostly of urban nightscapes, and the cinematography emphasized claustrophobic rooms, adding to the pressure-cooker effects of whatever plot-points were at play.
Noir films often start at the end, their story played out in flashbacks. There is no mistake that destiny rules over the protagonists. The only question is, what road will get them there. And whatever the road, the main characters are always looking back over their shoulders or in the rear-view mirror. In Out of the Past,even returning to normal life in a small town provides Robert Mitchum no escape from the clutches of his big city past. And a similar fate traps Burt Lancaster in its spider-web in The Killers.
In Night and the City, even London provides the setting for film noir, and the hard-to-explain love of the beautiful Gene Tierney for a professional schemer like Richard Widmark. But even he draws our pity at the end, due to his tour-de-force acting in the role of Harry Fabian.
Film noir combined great acting talent with great stories and screenplays. Outstanding film directors were also responsible for the classics of film noir. It seemed that the European directors working in the U.S. appear to have best captured the film noir aesthetic. They seemed to have understood the malaise of the post-war years. They included Robert Siodmak, Jules Dassin, Jacques Tourneur, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, and Otto Preminger. But film noir lives on, not only in these classics, but in more modern but stylish hits such as Chinatown, Body HeatandL.A. Confidential. We could hope for some more – but bad endings are never very popular. This much is certain – there was no bad ending for Film Noir itself – it lives on in its masterly films and in its influence on filmmaking through today. And that moment, that special moment of movie love was captured forever in those movie stills.
A blog about classic movie costume design and fashion