Blowup is a film about the illusion of reality and the reality of illusion. It’s a film that circles on itself, spiraling towards a bull’s eye of life’s contradictions. It’s a maze whose walls are lined with mirrors – flashing scenes of beauty and gritty reality in equal proportions. Its central story is about a journey continually interrupted, an odyssey with the protagonist’s pursuits constantly distracted or detoured. There are no easy answers in Antonioni’s Blowup, it’s like the pursuit of life itself – the blown-up life of modern society.
This post was first written for the centennial of Antonioni’s birth in 2012. .
Blowup is a story that could only have been told on film. Perhaps it’s one of those “the medium is the message” phenomena, or it’s just that the story could only be told through the various arts combined in film. It was Michelangelo Antonioni’s creation, who wrote the screenplay, inspired by a short story from Julio Cortazar, and directed it in the swinging London of 1966. It portrays the flashy but empty life of a celebrity fashion photographer who views life through a lens and then follows the lens down a rabbit hole. Thomas, the photographer, is loosely based on photographers David Bailey and John Cowan, and who also has elements of Avedon in respect to that photographer’s later fascination with shooting gritty reality photos completely opposed to his beautiful fashion photography. The film opens with a scene depicting one of its several displays of contradiction, wherein the noisiest element in a modern urban setting is a jeep-load of mimes, carousing through London. A quick cut then shows Thomas exiting a doss-house (flophouse) along with a line of down-and-out men. He’s dressed in torn clothes and unshaven. He walks down a street and gets into his convertible Rolls-Royce. As he drives off he’s later stopped by the mimes, then drives away. Contradictory visual images confront us on the street: two black nuns in white habits, and a Royal Guardsman guarding nothing.
He then drives to his studio where the impatient model Verushka waits for him. They have a frenetic photo shoot which is a small masterpiece of cinema. The final shoot, where he straddles her, is like sex with a camera, the lens a phallic symbol of his power. He climaxes by getting all the shots he needs, quickly getting up and flopping on the couch, Verushka is left on the floor, unfulfilled and wanting more. It is apparent that in this sexually liberated film sex for Thomas has been sublimated. In the next scene he shoots five models in mod clothes, barking orders at them but clearly unengaged. One of the models is played by the iconic Peggy Moffitt. As he’s about to leave the studio two young aspiring models barge in wanting their photos taken. Thomas tells them he has no time for them. One is played by Jane Birkin, future wife of French singer Serge Gainsbourgh, the duo that recorded the scandalous erotic hit song, Je t’aime.
Thomas seems to have it all. He has piercing blue eyes and the profile of Michelangelo’s David. Women and beautiful models flock to him. He drives a Rolls Royce and comes and goes as he pleases. He’s handsome and cool. He listens to Herbie Hancock, whose soundtrack infuses the film.Yet he seems alienated from life, a searcher seeking something that he knows not what.
Thomas visits the flat next door, where his artist friend Billy is painting a canvas, and lives with his wife played by Sarah Miles. She and Thomas share an intimate past, but the nature of their relationship is not divulged. In one of the purest statements made about art in film, the artist says to Thomas, as they look at his painting, “They don’t mean anything when I do them. Afterwards, I find something to hang onto. Like that leg,” he points to his canvas, painted in a half-pointillist-half cubist style, the leg barely discernible. “Then it sorts itself out. It’s like finding a clue in a detective novel.” And thus said, the key to the whole movie is pointed out: art is a stand-in for life, yet life intrudes on the creation of art.
Thomas drives away from the studio to visit an antique shop he wants to buy. He drives through a part of London where old buildings are being demolished to make room for new condominiums, an alienating landscape. He calls the store a “junk shop” but he clearly likes antiques as objects of beauty. The grumpy old attendant at the antique store is unwilling to sell him anything, so Thomas will wait for the owner to arrive – another contradiction as she is a pretty 20-something in a short skirt. The park across the way looks inviting, an oasis of green that beckons him. He walks in and immediately his spirits lift. He snaps photos, frolics with birds, and skips up the stairs. The only sound is the rustling of tree leaves in the wind, a strong and recurrent element in the park scenes. He views a couple in tender play and embraces, she is young and beautiful, he is older and looks like a successful businessman or politician. Thomas begins photographing them. He hops over the fence to hide in the bushes so he can keep shooting unobserved. This “shooting” behind the bushes serves as a dual image for that of a gunman, who is also similarly hidden behind the bushes. Thomas continues photographing them from behind a tree.
Thomas is finally seen, and is chased down by the woman, played by Vanessa Redgrave. She is very upset and wants the film, hinting by her nervous behaviour the clandestine nature of the lovers’ meeting. “This is a public place and everyone has a right to be left in peace,” she tells him. “I’m a photographer,” he tells her (meaning he is an artist, creating art – this is not about life). “It’s not my fault if there’s no peace.” She gets nowhere with Thomas, who also wants the photos for a book he is doing. She goes back to find her lover, and not seeing him, quickly looks behind a tree, then runs off. Thomas goes back to the “junk shop,”, and impulsively buys an old wooden airplane propeller, perhaps a symbol of escape, that will later be delivered to his studio.
Then Thomas meets his publisher for lunch, and shows him his portfolio of doss-house inhabitants, along with other gritty realism shots of butchers and homeless people, all for his book. He’s excited about the photos he’s taken in the park. As additions to his book he says they are “peaceful” compared to the “violent” ones they are looking at. Thomas adds, “I wish I had tons of money, then I’d be free.” “Free like him,” his publisher says, looking at a photo of a homeless man.” Thomas rushes out when he sees someone snooping on him and his car. That character is never defined, although there was commentary, made years later, that this was the role of Vanessa Redgrave’s young lover who commits the murder, and some scenes that were edited out of the film. Thomas drives off, going through a peace rally. The protesters’ home-made placards carry typical slogans – though some are more interesting when you read them from their back-side.
Jane, played by Vanessa Redgrave, has tracked him to his studio. She asks for the negatives, while he invents stories about himself. He plays jazz, teaching her about the upbeat, and they share what is likely a marijuana cigarette. He gives her a fake roll of his film, and she takes off her top. Just as they are about to get intimate they are interrupted by deliverers arriving with the propeller, which Thomas now finds to be a nuisance. He then finds her standing beside the long rolls of suspended backdrop paper. When he spreads open one of these , she appears wedged between two sheets, an allusion to the work of photographer Irving Penn and his famous “corner” photographs. She leaves thinking she has the correct roll of film.
Aftertwo interruptions, Thomas now begins developing his film. He pins up one after the other to his wall. He then storyboards all his prints, as would a film director, to make sense of the story. Thomas here is trying to use a technique of art to explain life. While looking at them he follows the woman’s gaze to a spot in the bushes. These sequences are wordless and without music, yet tense from Thomas’s efforts of trying to uncover a mystery. He is more excited in this process than he has been in anything else he’s done. Antonioni’s technique of almost soundless action is very absorbing. We are so accustomed to a musical score telling us how to feel in a movie that here we are left to concentrate on the action directly in view, looking for absent cues and forced to draw our own impressions.
In the photos Thomas is shocked to see a hand holding a gun hidden in the bushes, and realizes he’s just saved a man’s life. He is lost in thought about what could have happened, but then his door bell rings.
Again Thomas is interrupted, this time by the same two “birds” that want to be models. The end result is a free-for-all, with tearing off clothes and carousing on the floor. Whether there was sex involved is left to the imagination, but the girls were nude. Near the end of this frolic, Thomas looks back at his park photos and gets re-absorbed, telling the girls to leave. He blows-up more photos and is shocked to see a body. He blows up the photo again until the body is just a pixilated image of light on dark, completely indecipherable. His intial use of art to explain what has happend in life has resulted in a blur.
But the image leaves little doubt in his mind that the man he saw with the woman has been shot and killed. He rushes back to the park to find out – to confirm in life what happened, only to find that life has been lost in this scene. It is night, but the body is still there behind a tree. He touches it to be completely sure it is not just his imagination. He tries phoning Jane to talk to her about what happened but she left him the wrong number. He realizes that he never saved the man. And the idyllic park, the “peaceful” park, is where a murder has just taken place. He realizes that this seeming oasis is as bad as the rest of the urban chaos. Thomas returns dejectedly to his studio, where all his belongings have been ransacked and his photos have disappeared. He finds just one photo left, the pixilated, indecipherable image of the “corpse,” which could just as well be a photo of anything. When Patricia, played by Sarah Miles, comes in, he tells her, “I saw a man killed this morning.’ She asks how it happened. Thomas says, “I don’t know, I didn’t see.” Indeed, he was photographing the event instead of experiencing it. When he shows her the remaining photo she says, “It looks like one of Bill’s paintings.” Reality and illusion have traded places.
Thomas drives off. He sees Jane in a line in front of a store window. When he looks again she has disappeared completely from the shot. He goes around the back alley looking for her and enters a night club. Here the Yardbirds, including Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, are playing the rockin’ Stroll On to an audience that appears comatose. This visual contradiction is another of Antonioni’s tricks – the contradiction of a lifeless audience during a blazing rock performance. Thomas searches for Jane. On stage, Jeff Beck destroys his guitar and throws the neck out to the audience, which only then goes wild and scrambles to get the guitar neck. Thomas grabs it and fights off the crowd to keep it. He runs out of the building, only to throw the guitar neck on the sidewalk as he leaves. He had been searching for the etheral Jane, and was only interested in the experience of claiming the guitar neck in a struggle, and latching on to something. He seems always able to possess material things while people and relationships evade him.
His interrupted odyssey continues. He goes to his publisher’s house where a party full of young hipsters drink and smoke pot. His publisher Ron is high too, but Thomas tries to convince him to go to the park to see the corpse. “We have to go to the park and get a shot of it,” Thomas says. “I’m not a photographer,” Ron answers. ” I am,” Thomas says. They enter the room where the pot is being smoked. In the next shot Thomas wakes up in that room, but the house is completely deserted, everyone here too has disappeared. He leaves and gets his camera to return to the park. But the corpse has disappeared – both reality and illusion (and art) have escaped. The leaves rustling in the wind are the only sounds to be heard.
As Thomas walks through the park, the jeep-full of mimes roar back into view, coming full circle from the beginning of the film. Two of them begin playing a game of tennis, with make-believe rackets and an imaginary ball. They bring with them both their contradictory images and their illusory reality
When the imaginary ball goes over the fence they look over at him to fetch it. He buys into the illusory reality, and he runs through the grass to fetch the imaginary ball, which he then throws back. His smile slowly disappears and he looks forlornly at the grass, as if realizing the emptiness and illusory nature of his life and his own experiences. The shot of Thomas recedes into a wide-screen shot of grass, in the opposite process of a blow-up, but just like the corpse, he disappears from the screen. Was he too an illusion? Or was he just the creation of a film director that put him in the picture and just as easily cut him out. Perhaps it’s like the painting by Magritte,The Treachury of Images where the illusion has become the reality, but the reality is really an illusion.
I first saw Blowup in France during the summer of 1967 after graduating from high school. It left an indelible impression on me. Though the film has several sequences in which there were no words spoken, nor any music played, it’s the sounds of the movie that keep ringing in my head. I still hear the locomotive sounds of the Yardbirds playing Stroll On, and whenever I hear leaves rustling in the wind I think of Maryon park as filmed in Blowup. The film has been considered a masterpiece, or a complete enigma, and criticized for its affected artiness, or its obtuse plot. Alfred Hitchcock stated in 1978 that he thought Antonioni and Fellini , “…are a hundred years ahead of us,” and that Blow-up and 81/2 are bloody masterpieces.” To me it captured the era perfectly, much more so than many of the notable “outsider” films of the late 60s.
Antonioni did not believe in delivering a pat story with a happy ending in his films. And with Blowup, the movie is like an onion that you peel back its many layers of meaning. In an interview with Roger Ebert he said, “I never discuss the plots of my film.” “How could I? Until the film is edited, I have no idea myself what it will be about.” He also went on to say,”I depart from the script constantly, I may film scenes I had no intention of filming; things suggest themselves on location, and we improvise. I try not to think about it too much. Then, in the cutting room, I take the film and start to put it together, and only then do I begin to get an idea of what it is about.” This was indeed the process by which Thomas tried to make sense of the killing in the park. Regardless of his technique, Antonioni was an artist, and the statement made by the painter Billy in Blowup applies well to Antonioni. For his artistic elements he looks for color to use in his shots, whether natural or applied, and he painted entire buildings bright colors just for a certain look in his scenes. He also looked for angles and interesting composition elements to add to his frame. Contradictory visual cues infuse this film. In Blowup, Antonioni frequently used mirrors and reflective surfaces to add a multi-dimensionality (or etherealness) to his characters and their settings. Antonioni also stated that, “I think the theme of most of my characters is loneliness,” and that “…they find little to sustain them. They are looking for a home.” For all the external success of Thomas in Blowup, a good-looking guy in the swinging London of the 1960s,he was basically unhappy with his life and his surroundings. He was like Odysseus on his episodic journey home. The late David Hemmings said at that time that Antonioni got it right, “…that is the sort of life we live today in London. We are all available to whatever happens to come along. We do not exercise choice in our lives.”
The film is filled with the Mod clothes of mid-60s London. The models in the early scene wore exaggerated versions of Mod outfits, a common slant for runway or editorial purposes. It is especially interesting to compare the Mod clothes of the young people shown with that of the older Londoners that walk the streets. The line between Mod and not was very clear. David Hemmings’ garments were simple, and since the entire film took place over 24 hours, he only had two costume changes. Still his clothes were distinctive and showed him to be of the creative world vs. business: white denim pants, a wide black belt and black low-rise boots, a checked blue long sleeve shirt, which he wears without a t-shirt, and a dark forest green blazer. The model Verushka wears the most striking outfits: the opener in a sequined loose flowing but short gown open at the sides; and at the party a snakeskin and lozenge-patterned pants-suit with high suede boots. No costume design credit is given in the film, although Rebecca Breed is credited as wardrobe supervisor. As such it’s likely the clothes were off the rack, and with the Mod-look garments to be found in London in this early film, that was probably a good choice.
As an 18 year old, transitioning from high school to college, uncertain about life and what it would bring, seeing Blowup was revelatory, even for a self-styled hip kid like me from the swinging L.A. of the 60s. But if even a successful bloke like Thomas was lost, he who had everything I could have wanted, what chance did I have? And yet there was always the music ringing in my head, the music of the Yardbirds playing Stroll On.
Original costume design sketches provide a fascinating look into how fashion, whether from the Jazz Age or from the Renaissance, was molded into the the service of a film character. And more, the sketches themselves turn into a rabbit hole for entering into the bygone world of film production during the golden age of Hollywood. I’ve been collecting these relics from the old studio system for over 25 years. One hundred of the more interesting ones are on exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum & Galleries for theDesigning Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection.The exhibition will be open from June 11 through November 1, 2014. FIDM is located at 919 South Grand Avenue in Los Angeles. The costume sketches will be complemented by several of FIDM’s own Hollywood costumes, plus original studio wardrobe workbooks and muslin pattern pieces. And on special loan from the late costume designer Mary Wills’ daughter Marri Champie, her Oscar statuette from the Best Costume Design for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. One of her costume sketches from this film, and several of her other films, are represented in the exhibition. FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones has worked tirelessly along with the Museum staff to bring this exhibition to life.
Costume sketches may look beautiful, but they were the working tools of the studio. They were the product of the studio’s in-house designer, in the case above, from Irene Lentz Gibbons at MGM, designing for a model to wear while parading in Easter Parade in 1948. A sketch artist, Virginia Fisher, made the illustration. Sketches were done in watercolor, either on paper or on illustration board. They were made to look good because they had to impress the film’s producer and director, who would have to approve the sketch. For a lead actress, she would have approval rights also. Often their initials are on the sketch – so the sketch was passed around from sketch artist to designer to producer to director to star until everyone was happy. If they weren’t, the sketch was modified or started over. One sketch on exhibit, a beauty from designer Orry-Kelly, has fox fur trim at the shoulders boldly crossed out in pencil.
Once approved, a costume sketch has still more work to do. It now goes to the studio Wardrobe Department, where the costume on paper becomes a costume in 3-D. It now became the job of the cutter-fitter to translate the sketch into muslin patterns, these in turn would be used to cut the chosen fabric for the costume. Before the costume was sewn, however, muslin pieces were pinned for fit on a dress form made to the star’s size, which was then used to sew the costume by the seamstresses. A fitting was done on the star by both the Head Fitter and the Designer. Embroideries and other decorations were then added. The sketch above was designed by Orry-Kelly for Kay Francis for an unknown Warner Brothers film circa 1934. a very sporty golfing outfit.
The costume sketch above was designed by Edith Head for Betty Hutton in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, 1944, directed by Preston Sturges. It was illustrated by a sketch artist rather than Edith herself. There are several costume sketches from Edith Head in the exhibition, and yet many of them look very different one from another. This is because Edith used several sketch artists in her long career, and they had very different styles. Even for costume designers that were very good illustrators, the time pressures of the job did not usually allow them to do their own costume sketches (with a few notable exceptions).
The costume sketch above was a design by Mary Wills for Joan Collins as Beth Throgmorton, Sir Walter Raliegh’s love interest in The Virgin Queen, 1955. The star of the film was Bette Davis, who is also represented in the exhibition by a sketch from the same movie. The designers that did their own illustrations had very distinctive styles. Mary Wills, was one, and others included Adrian, Orry-Kelly, Kalloch, Irene Sharaff, Donfeld, and Theadora Van Runkle, all during the time of the old studio system.
Most every costume sketch is interesting, many are gorgeous, and a few are simply iconic. Gloria Swanson in Billy Wilder’sSunset Blvd., designed by Edith Head, in the costume where she goes back to visit the Paramount studio and meets with C.B. DeMille, that’s iconic. But even iconic images develop gradually. The costume sketch for Gloria Swanson is shown above, and it even has Billy Wilder’s approval initials. But before it was worn on the set, the skirt was modified, the muff became all white, and Gloria Swanson wore a hat with a feather stuck in it, an idea of Swanson’s that recalled the silent age of film. Of all the designers, Edith Head was always the most obliging about modifying her designs to accommodate an actress, and consequently, her costume sketches are frequently different than the costume’s on-screen appearance.
Here’s another sketch by Mary Wills, for Ann Blyth in Our Very Own, 1950, one of those fabulous films of the 1950s. This design if for a very unique bathing suit, both a striking costume sketch and an eye-catching and fetching piece for the beach.
Helen Rose became MGM’s top designer after Irene left to start her own line in 1948. This is one of her designs for Edie Adams in Made in Paris,1966, which is actually one of Rose’s last films. This film did continue the tradition, started in the 1920s, of having fashion shows as part of the film’s plot, designed by the film’s costume designer. This one of course designed by Helen Rose. By 1966, the studio system of having long-term contract designers was coming to a close. Helen Rose left MGM in 1966 to start her own fashion line.
Jean Louis was another of the very talented costume designers working in Hollywood that began in couture. Above is his design for Shirley Jones in Bedtime Story, 1964. In the mid-sixties, Hollywood films, and film fashion, was in transition. The movies were caught during changing tastes and needing to appeal to different demographics. Fashions were changing too. Film fashion was no longer, with few exceptions, starting fashion trends. Film fashion would now have to look at the street. Hollywood’s designers would have to be younger, or at least design younger.
Sex was coming back into the movies, not seen this much since the pre-code Hollywood films of the early 1930s. The costume design above is for Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl, designed by Edith Head.
Donfeld was one of the young designers in the field. He had a deep respect for the veteran designers. Like many of them he used one name – combining Don and Feld, his real names, into his working name. He had a very active career in the 60s and 70s. Costume sketches sometimes never make it into the final film. The costume sketch above was designed by Donfeld for Ann-Margret as Melba in The Cincinnati Kid,1965. Sam Peckinpah was the film’s first director, but producer Martin Ransohoff didn’t like some of his overly sexy scenes and fired him. Norman Jewison was hired to take over. The costume designs were done over too and the costume sketch above along with several others didn’t make it into the film.
Donfeld also designed the costumes for for Prizzi’s Honorin 1985, for which he received a Best Costume nomination. The sketch above is for Angelica Huston. Donfeld was the right choice to blend the 1940s style film noir costume into the 1980s aesthetic.
The Designing Hollywood exhibition at FIDM is not arranged chronologically but rather thematically, into five categories. These are Studios, Film Genres, Designers, Wardrobe, and Stars. If you live in, near or can visit the Los Angeles area, please plan to view the exhibition. These costume sketches, or others, are rarely on view.
The sketch at the top is by Dolly Tree for Greta Nissen
In the happy world of 1950s movie musicals came one where the protagonist dies after a failed mugging, leaving his pregnant wife behind. This was Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. The movie was based on the Broadway musical from 1945, itself based on an older play Liliom, by Ferenc Molnar, and made into several films prior to Carousel. Molnar’s basic theme was kept but a few changes were made to the story, and notably setting it to music, which Molnar was only convinced to allow after Rogers and Hammerstein took him to see Oklahoma! The story’s setting was shifted to 1870s sea-coastal New England. The 1956 movie of Carousel, like its Broadway predecessor, is considered one of Rogers and Hammerstein’s most seriously themed musicals, and well it should. Like Sunset Blvd, its protagonist leads off the movie dead, having been killed attempting a robbery.
This blog post will feature original costume design sketches by Academy Award winner Mary Wills, who designed the costumes for Carousel.
Yes, Billy Bigelow played by Gordon MacRae is dead. But he inhabits the lowest rung of Heaven, where he has lingered for years. He is told that things are not going well for the family he left behind. The Starkeeper tells him everyone in his station can have one day on earth to redeem their wrongs, which prompts the re-telling/flashback of Billy’s life. The scene opens to the cheerful music of The Carousel Waltz. He was a carousel barker, a braggart and ne’er-do-well, but handsome, and a magnet for the young ladies wherever the travelling show would take him. One day he flirts too seriously with the pretty Julie Jordan, played by Shirley Jones. His lady boss gets jealous and she sends Julie and her girlfriend Carrie packing. He gets lippy with his boss and gets fired. Billy and Julie end up spending the evening together, even after she is questioned by her own boss, a Mill owner, and then by a police officer, for hanging around with a good-for-nothing like Billy, and missing her curfew for which she’ll be fired. Even Billy asks her why. In musicals, the strongest emotions can only be expressed in song, and so she sings one of the musical’s most moving songs, the heart rending “If I Loved You,” which leads a few minutes later into his own singing of the same song.
If I Loved You
But somehow I can see Just exactly how I’d be-
If I loved you, Time and again I would try to say All I’d want you to know. If I loved you, Words wouldn’t come in an easy way Round in circles I’d go! Longin’ to tell you, But afraid and shy, I’d let my golden chances pass me by! Soon you’d leave me, Off you would go in the mist of day, Never, never to know how I loved you If I loved you.
The song’s lyrics foretell the problem that Billy and Julie have throughout most of the film, and they never do tell each other “I love you.” during his lifetime.
But Billy and Julie marry, and Julie takes a job waiting tables at her cousin’s restaurant. Billy has no job, however, and he’s too much a smart-mouth to take the one that’s offered to him by Carrie’s fiance on his fishing boat. Instead his considers taking an offer by his old boss, Mrs. Mullins, to rejoin the Carousel. But he learns that Julie’s pregnant, and in a moment of joy, he decides he has to to stay and provide for her. On the beach he reflects about becoming a father, singing his “Soliloquy.” His vision is of a boy, but then he comes the ponder the thoughts of a girl. Either way he must provide for them, and he then decides to take up the offer of a sailor acquaintance, Jigger to rob the mill owner Mr. Bascombe.
All the town-folk and the local sailors are excited about preparations for the annual “clambake” at the nearby island, cause for celebratory singing and dancing to “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.” After the merriment everybody sets sail for the clambake.
After everybody is sated from eating, Jigger makes advances on the now engaged Carrie, and then he and Billy row back to the mainland unseen, while everone else has a treasure hunt. The two lay in wait for Brancombe, Billy with a knife that Jigger persuaded him to carry. When they finally confront Bascombe, he pulls a gun and fires. Jigger runs away. Policemen show up and Billy runs up some crates rather than get arrested. He falls back down and lands on his knife, which mortally wounds him. Then everybody comes parading back still in a festive mood, only to discover that it’s Billy lying on the ground dying. Julie runs over to him and cradles him, finally telling him that she loves him, only now its too late. Seeing this scene back with the Starkeeper, Billy is still unrepentant, until the Starkeeper shows him the next scene of his daughter, now 15, a loner that the other students tease because of her late father’s reputation as a thief.
He next sees his daughter Louise, played by Susan Luckey, as the Starlight Carnival comes to town, and a handsome dancer, played by Jacques d’Damboise, takes her in hand for for a dance. She is flattered by his attention, but Billy from above quickly recognizes his type (he should know), and the dancer leaves her just as quickly as he picked her up.
All this makes her again the butt of laughter from the other school girls and she runs home in tears. Billy makes himself visible to Louise and offers her a star to console her. Thinking him a stranger and frightened she turns away, Billy in frustration slaps her hand. Louise runs to her mother, who senses Billy’s presense, but all Louise can say is that the slap felt like a kiss. Billy now invisible again, sings to Julie, and she picks up the star.
The next scene is the high school graduation ceremony, where Louise and the other girls and boys are gathered. The school principal is played by Gene Lockheart, who played the Starkeeper. His speech to the graduating class is that they need to become their own persons, and not let the faults and failures of their parents haunt them. At this time Billy, invisible, stands beside Louise and whispers for her to listen to the principal. He then goes over to where Julie is seated. As Dr. Selden, the School Principal, leads them into the song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Louise puts her arm around a school mate, who does the same, and Billy tells Julie he loves her. Julie and the chorus all sing as Billy is seen walking to the horizon.
When you walk through a storm Keep your chin up high And don’t be afraid of the dark. At he end of the storm Is a golden sky And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind, Walk on through the rain, Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.Walk on, walk on With hope in your heart And you’ll never walk alone, You’ll never walk alone.
PRODUCTION: The title of of the film is Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel,which was produced by Henry Ephron and directed by Henry King. It was made at 20th Century-Fox and thus had excellent production values including art direction by Lyle Wheeler, Charles Clarke as cinematographer, and the wonderful costumes of Mary Wills. She had designed Hans Christian Andersen, The Virgin Queen, The Diary of Anne Frank, Cape Fear, and the Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, for which she won a costume design Oscar, among many other films she designed.
Carousel was filmed in CinemaScope55, a 55mm film stock. which gave high definition and relief to the screen image. Since this was the first use of this process, each scene was filmed twice, in both 35 mm and the 55mm film as a precaution. Frank Sinatra was first cast as Billy but he walked off the set saying he wasn’t being paid for making two movies. As it turned out, the double filming was soon abandoned. The filming was done on location in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine.
CRITIQUE: As a musical, Carouselis one of the masterpieces of the American theater. The film stays very close to the stage musical, although with one critical differance, in the stage version Billy kills himself rather than be arrested for robbery. The film has gotten less high critical praise, but it is still one of the great movie musicals, and certainly one of the fabulous films of the 1950s. With the singing duo of Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae, it could only be a winner. It was released only a few months after Oklahoma! and it suffered in critical esteem in its wake. And yet Carousel sags in the middle – during the clambake scene the actions seem forced and somewhat ponderous. Yet unlike, Oklahoma! its theme of redemption gives it an uplifting kick at the film’s end that was totally in keeping with the story, and must no doubt have pleased Mr. Molnar, the song and lyrics to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” helped propel that wonderful finale.
I first saw Carouselas a child, in the company of my parents, one of my early film-going experiences. My recollections of the movie were one of utter boredom. It was thus a revelation when I saw the movie as an adult, not so many years ago, at a TCM Classic Film Festival. Its music and scenes are now unforgetable to me. Perhaps others will discover or rediscover this classic film, this fabulous film of the 50s.
Few movies grab you heart and soul as does The Red Shoes –Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s masterpiece. Indeed it seems like a hallucinatory vision, come from a magic potion distilled out of a simple but tragic tale conjured by Hans Christian Andersen. That such a masterwork could come from a simple fairy tale is a testament to the art of motion pictures, and to the creative genius of Powell and Pressberger, known as The Archers, along with their incredible production team.
This post was written by Christian Esquevin and previously issued as part of the Powell & Pressburger Movie Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film and TV Cafe in March of 2012.
The Red Shoeswas created in 1948, a blazing work of Technicolor in the black and white world of post World War II England. The film was written by Emeric Pressburger and directed by Michael Powell, but its artistic punch was the work of cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and especially that of art director Hein Heckroth. And as a film largely about ballet, it comes to life through the dancing of star Moira Shearer and of Leonide Massine. Director Michael Powell’s vision nonetheless permeates the film. He had grown up in the French Riviera town of Cap Ferrat, close to Monte Carlo where he had seen the work of the Ballets Russe. It was there that Powell had heard the story of how the great Vaslav Nijinsky and ballerina Romola de Pulszky married , only to be fired afterwards by Diaghilev.
Thus emerged a screenplay about a single-minded ballet impresario who launches the career of a young composer, while also molding the career of a beautiful young ballerina. Anton Walbrook plays to perfection the powerful impresario Boris Lermontov, a puppet-master whose marionettes take on a life of their own. Marius Goring plays composer Julian Craster, with the young ballerina Victoria Page played by Moira Shearer. Both characters are trying to make it big in ballet and the orchestra, and to replace existing leads. Lermontov recognizes their talent and believes he can harness their ambition. To Lermontov, ballet is a religion. To aspiring ballerina Victoria Page, she must dance in order to live.
Miss Page will soon have her chance to become prima ballerina. Lermontov is angered when his star ballerina, played by Ludmilla Tcherina, becomes engaged to marry. His view is simple, “You can not have it both ways”, he says. “The dancer that relies on the comfort of human love will never be a great dancer.” Lermontov knows what he wants – it is ART, and everybody working for him must be single-minded in its pursuit – and the pursuit of his vision. Lermontov thinks he has a replacement for her, Victoria Page is as dedicated to the ballet as he is.
Art permeates The Red Shoesfrom its first title card to its last. While the film is not primarily concerned with filming backstage scenes and ballet production, it nonetheless captures the excitement at the peak of this activity at Covent Garden, as the dancers rehearse, the set dressers move props, musicians practice, sweepers clean, costumed characters parade on stage, and all appears chaotic. In an earlier scene, excited young aficionados rush in to get the best of the cheap seats.
Lermontov himself is always impeccably dressed, often in dark double-breasted suits with crisp white shirts and pale ties. The non-ballet costumes for Moira Shearer were designed by the noted Parisian couturier Jacques Fath along with Malli of London, while Miss Tcherina’s costumes were designed by another Parisian couturier, Carven. When they move the production to Monte Carlo, Miss Page wears a beautiful dress of horizontal stripes in pink, yellow and purple on white. She also wears an elegant full gown of blue over magenta, with a pleated blue silk opera coat.
It is refreshing to see the men dressed in a variety of elegant and casual clothes with great flair. No men’s costume credit is given, but Michael Powell must have provided the direction for the French Riviera style that was needed. At a meeting where they plan a new ballet, Lermontov wears cream-colored slacks with a turquoise-blue short-sleeved silk shirt over a dark blue t-shirt and red scarf. He wears sandals over socks, as was the European fashion. Massine wears cream-colored slacks, a dark blue blazer over a white shirt, with a red scarf and white shoes. When Miss Page enters she wears a loose jacket in light violet-magenta tones over a striped blouse.
A new ballet is being planned, the Red Shoes. Julian Craster will be the composer, and Victoria Page will be the prima ballerina. Red now appears as an accent color in many of the scenes.
Hein Heckroth designed the wonderful sets for the ballet, painting the backdrops himself. He spent six months painting some 120 scenes. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff sent for powerful new spotlights to be shipped to England from the U.S. These he used to light the dancers – brighter spots were needed amidst a general flood of lighting required for the Technicolor film. The incredible painted backdrops were not enough for the fantastical scenes filmed during the ballet – matte paintings were also used. For the Red Shoes Ballet, a magnificent red curtain rises over the scene of a shoemaker, danced by Massine, in front of a beautiful gold and brown set-painting of shelves full of shoes. He holds a special pair of red ballet slippers.
The ballet sequence itself becomes a parable of the ballerina’s life. Massine as the cobbler is a stand-in for Lermontov, enticing Miss Page to dance in the red shoes. Choreographer and dancer Robert Helpmann plays the Lover, representing Craster. She dances happily with the Lover, but still the shoemaker pursues her. At a carnival scene other men forcibly separate the Lover from her, and they dance with her in turns. Soon she out-dances them all, as they drop to the floor and are represented by sheets of colored cellophane falling through the air like leaves from a tree.
The ballet scene leaps dimensions – it is no longer filmed from the point of view of an audience watching a ballet – it becomes the existential reality of Miss Page herself, its sets reflecting her emotions and her predicament. Since Miss Page, as in the original tale, can not stop dancing as long long as she wears the red shoes, she dances her way through a series of magnificently designed but symbolically charged set designs reflecting her inner turmoil.
Miss Page dances through the night. In the early morning twilight, she dances with a floating newspaper, which metamorphoses into the Lover. Still the shoemaker pursues her, and soon demons do too.
She dances back onto the stage, with only Lermontov in his box watching, and Craster conducting. The audience has become a raging sea, and Lermontov and Craster are now huge rocks.
She dances and dances, unable to stop. She dances to a church in a town square, where memorial services are being held. She is not let in – her Lover has now now morphed into a priest. “Take off my shoes”, she gestures. She is offered a knife to cut them off, only it morphs into some flowers. She dies of exhaustion on the steps of the church, where the Lover finally takes off her shoes – and the shoemaker retrieves them for another use. An audience re-emerges to give Miss Page and the ballet wild applause.
And now the film-story mirrors the ballet story. Victoria Page and Craster become lovers, Lermontov fires Craster and she quits. Much later, Lermontov takes on the role of the shoemaker, enticing her to put the red shoes back on. He has gotten over his artistic jealousy for the sake of creating better art. Craster has not, and roils her planned return to the stage. But she has put on the red shoes, and her fate now becomes one with the tale.
As was the case with several great films, the production of The Red Shoes was steeped in problems and animosities. Moira Shearer did not get along with Michael Powell, suffering through injuries and, like the other dancers, discomforted from dancing on concrete studio floors. The initial art director walked off the production when he found out Powell had hired Heckroth to do the ballet sets. The 80 year-old German actor Albert Basserman, who played Ratov the costume and set designer, was publicly dressed down by Powell, and this offended Anton Walbrook who had venerated the veteran actor. And finally, Rank Studios who financed the film was unhappy with the final production, not to mention the significant cost over-run.
Regardless, the film is now considered a masterpiece. Its 17 minute long ballet sequence became a big influence on Vicente Minnelli and Gene Kelly in the production of An American in Paris. And it was Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger that created this masterwork, mixing all the ingredients into the intoxicating stew that is The Red Shoes.
Johnny Apollo:this was the title that started all the other Johnny-somethings, and for Tyrone Power, the film he needed to break away from the other pretty-boy roles he played. The film itself and its poster seemed to recapitulate the same path: pretty-boy college man ( this during the Depression); rich banker’s son; but now turning into a mobster? Was this a hit or a miss for Power? The contemporary reviews were mixed, but a fresh look is needed. Read my take as part of the Power Mad Blogathon, Monday, May 5th for the 100th anniversary of Tyrone Power’s birth, and organized by They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used Toand Lady Eve’s Reel Life.
JohnnyApollowas a Daryl Zanuck production at 20th Century-Fox, with Henry Hathaway directing. As a mobster-themed movie, the first actor Zanuck wanted for the role was George Raft, who he hoped to borrow from Warner Brothers. This didn’t pan out and Tyrone Power asked to make the movie, eager to take on something other than his usual playboy and swashbuckling roles. The main plot-point was based on that of a rich Wall Street banker; Robert “Pop” Cain played by Edward Arnold, being sent to prison for embezzlement (sound familiar?) and losing everything, leaving his college-kid stranded. Bob Cain Jr. , played by Tyrone Power, feels betrayed and goes looking for a job everywhere, but his name is mud, and no one will hire him.
On the same day that his father was sentenced a real mobster was also sent up; Mickey Dwyer, played by Lloyd Nolan. But when Dwyer gets out of prison after only a year, Bob figures he should visit the hood’s lawyer and try to get his father out as well. It’s there that he meets Lucky Dubarry, played by Dorothy Lamour. Lucky is Dwyer’s girlfriend. The lawyer, the former Judge Brennan and current alcoholic, is played by Charley Grapewin. Brennan tells Bob that only money can get his father a parole, implying that this would be a bribe. This sinks in fast. Bob Jr’s answer is to change his name to Johnny Apollo. He needs to turn bad and make some money, and he’ll use Lucky to get to Dwyer. He can use his brains and some of his moneyed connections to offer to Dwyer. They can partner up and the money can roll in fast. Johnny’s charms are not lost on Lucky, and he likes her too.
Lucky has fallen hard for Johnny and wants to help him out. But now with a new reformed prison administration, money isn’t enough to get Pop out, who has over time become a well-loved model prisoner. Lucky convinces “Judge” Brennan to make a deal with the D.A: Pop goes free if Dwyer gets convicted. But before this can happen Dwyer finds out and kills Brennan. Soon after, both Dwyer and Johnny Apollo go to prison.
Model prisoner Pop already knew about his wayward son Johnny Apollo and now wants nothing to do with him. Nobody else knew they were related. Johnny no longer has a way to get his father out of prison, so when Dwyer plans a prison break Johnny is in on it too. Only Lucky hears of it and tips off Pop, and Pop tries to stop his son as he and Dwyer are making their escape. In a struggle Dwyer shoots Pop and knocks out Johnny, then tries his escape before getting killed by the prison guards. After, Johnny gets the wrap for shooting Pop, and a possible trip to the electric chair faces him.
No one believes that Pop is his father, and only after a long wait for his recovery Does Pop verify the story and Johnny is exonerated. Soon both are free men, reconciled. He was Johnny, but now he’s Bob Cain once again, and reunited with Lucky.
Critics and commentators have not been kind to Tyrone Power in Johnny Apollo.Like other overly handsome and beautiful actors, he had problems being taken seriously in the full bloom of youth. For Tyrone to play the heavy in a gangster movie was more a suspension of disbelief than all but his fans were willing to provide. His performance is contrasted with that of the grantedly excellent performance of Edward Arnold as Pop and Lloyd Nolan as Mickey Dwyer, and even the top performance of Charley Grapewin (the somewhat wooden Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz), as Judge Emmett Brennan .
The plot of Johnny Apollo has also been criticized for its several improbable turns, especially to arrive at a such a happy ending. The problem with Johnny Apollo is it’s a film made out of its time. In 1940, before World War II and still in the Depression, the audience wanted a happy ending in their movies. If it had been made three years later it would have had the kind of bad ending and other elements that would have made it a true film-noir. At an hour and a half running time, it didn’t have the kind of slow character development that say, Breaking Bad does in showing a good man turn to crime. Tyrone Powers’ easy manner of portraying the criminal is, in my opinion, more natural to a young man of his on-screen biography than would be the case with say, Richard Widmark, or the performances by the later-day kings of noir cool Alan Ladd or Dana Andrews.
Dorothy Lamour was borrowed from Paramount Pictures, where she had become famous wearing sarongs and would star in an endless series of “Road” pictures with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. But she started out a singer, and here she gives two great performances singing: “This is the Beginning of the End,” and “Your Kiss.” She and Tyrone Power make a good screen couple, believable as the rich kid turned bad and the bad woman turned good. She could have had a future as a femme fatale.
Henry Hathaway did a fine job of directing, getting great performances from the actors and moving the plot at a clip. To use the Breaking Bad analogy further, had this been a much longer movie (or in sequels heaven forbid) the plot improbabilities may have been taken for granted, as surly they are in the TV serial. As it is, Johnny Apollois a three-star movie and a definite film to see in the Tyrone Power repertoire. He was hoping this would launch him on a new cycle of heavier roles. Instead his good looks would typecast him for most of his career, with few exceptions, to playing swashbucklers and adventurers. This until his youthful good looks finally escaped him, near the end of his short life, which ended at age 44 in 1958. Yet even then he died just hours after having a sword in hand, from a heart attack filming a dueling scene during the production of Soloman and Sheba.
Acting was in Tyrone Power’s blood. Who but he could argue with the success he had in Hollywood? Had he lived today, the public would indulge him changing his looks in the service of his roles, a way around his beauty. As it was, he came too close to the myth of Adonis, fought over perhaps by Greek goddesses that had fallen in love with him, with one or the other casting their spells over his career, alternating their protection with their malice. He belongs to the acting pantheon now.
The TCM Classic FIlm Festival held its 5th Annual event in Hollywood April 10-13, 2014, this along with the 20th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies. Amidst the various themes that the festival held for itself, it was its sounds that kept reverberating in my head throuout the three days and one night, and even now several days later.
My pass level didn’t get me into the Premiere of Oklahoma! on Thursday nightbut as I drove up to LA I couldn’thelp but hearing Gordon MacRae singing:
Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day I’ve got a beautiful feeling, Everything’s going my way.
Instead of the Premiere I sat poolside at the Roosevelt with Kimberly Truhler of GlamAmor. The night before we had dinner along with fellow blogger Kay Noske of Movie Star Makeover. Now we watched American Grafitti, while I reminisced that it was only three years after this film was to have taken place that I was cruising in my own ’56 Chevy up and down the next street over, Sunset Blvd, then a more intense cruising strip for high school kids than was Modesto. But here too, the sounds of Wolf Man Jack, broadcasting from the original “border blaster” radio station and the soundtrack of earlier top 40 hits like Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the Day,” The Diamonds’ “The Stroll,” and the Clovers’ “Love Potion No. 9,” kept me hopping through most of the night.
The next day I was still humming, pumped up and cruisin but now in bumper to bumper traffic, tho in time to see Zuluon the big screen at the Egyptian. I’d seen it several times on TV but I wanted to see this spectacular, Michael Caine’s first film, in itsTechnorama glory. Alex Trebek gave a great introduction. It wasn’t long before the Zulu warrior war chants and whoops were the sounds that filled my head. I was able to briefly meet with Patty from The Lady Eve’s Reel Life before the next show. Quickly on to the next movie, the always fun tho nostalgia- twinged Meet Me in St Louis,starring Judy Garland – and I bet you can’t think of it without hearing Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, Meet me at the fair, Don’t tell me the lights are shining, Any place but there. Or there’s the Trolley Song, or the nostalgic, Have Yourself a Happy Little Christmas. This screening was made very special by the appearance of Margaret O’Brien, who nearly stole the show as littleTootie. She not only still looks young but can apparently still can fit in the coat she wore in the film as a 7 year old. My technicolors changed to film noir and pre-code as I watched Double Indemnity along with a nightime wrap-up of Employees’ Entrance. Even then, as with Walter Neff, my drive through LA was filled with the sounds of Miklos Rozsa’s evocative score , his repetitive tremolos bringing on flashbacks, not of anklets and murders, but of brilliant classic movies, and their songs.
The next morning’s highlight was Mary Poppinsat the El Capitan. The line for the movie, like with many at the TCM Festival, was jaw-dropping. But over the five years that I have attended, line management has improved dramatically since the first couple of years. But before long I was humming along to Chim-Chim-Cheree. And if you saw Saving Mr. Banks, you could sing along knowingly of the day-saving A Spoonful of Suger (makes the medicine go down). But my favorite song and the one that keeps poping into my head is the joyous Let’s Go Fly a Kite ( up to the highest hights ). On hand for the screening and talking with Donald Bogle was Richard Sherman, who with his late older brother composed the songs and wrote the lyrics to Mary Poppins and other Disney films.
I was soon no longer flying kites as I entered the line at the Chinese Multiplex where 45 minutes later Stormy Weatherstarted. There I was stomping my feet to this 20th Centurt-Fox musical with its all-black cast starring Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Fats Waller, Dooley Wilson, and the Nicholas Brothers. Lena Horne was dressed in some fabulous Helen Rose glamour gowns and sang, “Stormy Weather,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love (Baby),” while the one-of-a-kind band-leader, scat-singing, King of Jive, Hi-De-Ho-Man Cab Calloway sang and gyrated through “Geechy Joe” and “The Jumpin’ Jive,” while the Nicholas Brothers tapped and danced through their amazing staircase number. There’s no way you couln’t be skipping and jivin’ out of this theater.
The Jive beat got me hopping up the stairs for a couple of slices of pizza – eaten while in another line (this is what passes for dinner at the film festival).
This line was for a completely different sound – the British Invasion and the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night, playing at the Chinese at 6:30pm Saturday night. It was a great movie to watch on the big screen and to recapture the youth of the Beatles (and my own), in this film from 1964. The songs that kept ringing in my head for the next several days were And I Love Her, and those beautiful harmonies by John and Paul in If I Fell (in love with you). Alec Baldwin provided a spirited introduction and interview with music producer Don Was. My night time viewing was unmusical, other than the sometimes hilarious repartee between Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Norma Shearer, and all the other women in The Women. But then again the fashions of Adrian positively sang throughout the movie. This was a restored version, and the fashion show sequence in Technicolor leaped off the screen, while the rest is in black and white, tho some of the fights between the women cast almost lept of the screen too. The next morning I was in the mood to see more cat fights so I went to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.The whole family was fighting with each other in this classic, with ne’er a cheerful tune in the whole movie. But seeing Elizabeth Taylor dressed in the famous Helen Rose “Cat dress” was worth sitting through the entire film, and Paul Newman looked good too when he finally redeemed himself. I was ready for more music and here it was witha Sunday afternoon screening of Easter Parade. On hand were Leonard Maltin interviewing Judy Garland expert John Fricke about the making of the movie, shown below.
Soon after I was humming to It only Happens When I Dance With You, and wishing I could tap dance to Steppin’ Out with My Baby. The TCM staff was gracious and professional throughout the Festival, and provided interesting programs like the history of TCM programming and its branding as shown below, with Scott McGee, Pola Shagnon, and Tim Riley.
By Sunday night I was singing another song, that classic of the late Depression that was the song of hope for so many:
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby Somewhere over the rainbow, Skies are blue, And the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true
Music and lyrics by E.Y “Skip” Harburg and Harold Arlen
Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy – together they made film fashion history, and more, were devoted friends from 1953 when she was about to make her movie Sabrina, until her death in 1993. As Audrey said of Givenchy, “His are the only clothes in which I feel myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality.”
This post is reprinted from my previous blog the Silver Screen Modiste from 12/15/2013
Audrey had been a smash in Roman Holiday, not only winning a Best Actress Oscar, but launching the new look of the gamine. Vogue magazine called her at the time, “today’s wonder girl…This slim little person with the winged eyebrows and Nefertiti head and throat is the world’s darling.”
Audrey’s first meeting with Givenchy is often retold. She went to his Paris salon looking for a stylish wardrobe for her starring role in Sabrina in 1953. She was announced as movie actress Miss Hepburn. Givenchy met her, somewhat shocked that this was clearly not Katharine Hepburn, but smitten by her charm and impish beauty, highlighted by her capri pants, flat shoes, tee-shirt tied at the waist and wearing a gondolier’s hat. He was also impressed that she spoke to him in French. She asked him to make her wardrobe for Sabrina. Givenchy had worked for Lucien Lelong and Schiaparelli, but had just started his own line and was working on his second collection.. He had a small staff, he explained to Audrey, and there was no way he could take on the job of designing and producing a movie wardrobe. He did tell her, however, that she could look at the finished models, and she could have whichever ones she wanted. Audrey was very pleased and excited by what she saw. Several outfits were exactly what she wanted for her role. According to Givenchy she took the black satin dress with the “bateau’ neckline (which Givenchy would henceforth call the “decollete Sabrina”) shown above; the charcoal gray suit with fitted waist that she wears at the train station on her trip back to the U.S.; and the white strapless silk organza gown embroidered with floral decorations and with the detachable train, Audrey wears this Cinderella gown to stunning effect at the Larabee party.
Sabrina went on to be another hit for Audrey Hepburn. She had invited Givenchy to the Premiere, but they were both disappointed that his name appeared nowhere in the film credits.There were reasons of course, guild rules, of which Givenchy was not a member, and contractual obligations that, as Paramount Head Designer Edith Head’s name always appeared as the costume designer. Audrey told Givenchy that his name would never be left out again.
There are various versions of why Audrey went to Givenchy in the first place instead of having all her wardrobe designed by Edith Head. The two had gotten along well during the design phase of Roman Holiday. But Audrey had her own ideas about her look. While Edith Head was usually very accommodating to the taste of her star actresses, she had started off on the wrong foot with Audrey. Audrey’s thin, tall, flat-chested physique and long neck led Edith to either hide or compensate for these features. Audrey by contrast wanted to emphasize them. Billy Wilder claims credit for sending Audrey to Paris to find her wardrobe at a couturier’s. But I would bet that it was Audrey that asked for this. She had kept up with fashion news in Paris and had heard of Givenchy while filming Monte Carlo Baby in France. No doubt she wanted to go to a young couturier who used simple lines and had modern ideas compatible to her own, and therefore picked the young Givenchy.
There is an alternate version of what happened with the Givenchy Sabrinacostumes. Billy Wilder claims that Audrey returned from Paris with only sketches of the Givenchy creations, and that they were fabricated under Edith Head’s supervision at Paramount. French costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorleac, who had worked with Edith Head, has also stated that Head had modified the Givenchy sketch for the black dress and its neckline by adding the bows (the ties) at the shoulders. In either case, numerous “Edith Head” costume sketches have subsequently appeared, purporting to be from Sabrina. Many of these are of costumes that never appear in the movie, and others were those that Edith Head had created years after Sabrina came out and Head had retired, done solely for her fashion shows, and even for those that had been designed by Givenchy. Some of the fault here lies with over-zealous sketch owners that attribute unknown sketches to famous movies, and auction sites that believe them. As for Edith and Sabrina, she stated in her book The Dress Doctor that, “The director broke my heart by suggesting that while the ‘chauffeur’s daughter’ was in Paris she actually buy a Paris suit designed by a French designer.”
The murkiness of the design credit for Audrey’s wardrobe disappears starting with Funny Face in 1957. While Edith Head is still credited as the Costume Designer, Givenchy is given credit for the first time, thus, “Wardrobe: Miss Hepburn, Paris:” Hubert de Givenchy.Roman Holiday won Audrey an Oscar, Sabrina, showed us her beauty, Funny Face turned her into afashion model. It was in this movie that she is transformed from a New York bookstore clerk into a Parisian fashion model for the Avedon character played by Fred Astaire. Givenchy designed a series of couture gowns and outfits for her to wear in a variety of Parisian scenes. Above she descends the stairs at the Louvre, resembling the classic statue of the Victory of Samothrace. And not only is she a fashion model, but in this movie she shows us that Audrey can dance, alone or with Fred Astaire. Another highlight of this film is the irrepressible Kay Thompson, singer, dancer, vocal director, actress, and children’s book author.
And then there was Breakfast at Tiffany’s, providing,next to Marilyn Monroe in the subway dress, the most iconic movie star/fashion image in history. Givenchy’s long black gown with the demi-lune cut-out at the back, accessorized by the over-the top huge costume pearls, is a touch of genius. The whole scene works, Tiffany’s window, the croissant and coffee, and of course Audrey’s long neck and articulated shoulders, a look which would be spoiled had she been wearing her coat. And Moon River. Believe it or not Paramount’s Head of Production said Henry Mancini’s song would have to go. “Over my dead body,” replied Audrey. Now, years later, Audrey and the song, the cat and the gown, come as a package. A gift to us, all wrapped up in a bow.
Hubert de Givenchy was born 1927 in Beuavais, France, born to titled parents whose family owned the Gobelins and Beauvais tapestry factories. This association with tapestry must have given him an affinity with fabric, which he always considered of primary importance in couture. He attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and then apprenticed under couturier Jacques Fath before working for both Lucien LeLong and Schiaparelli. But it was Balenciaga that influenced his style the most, and the two became close friends. Givenchy opened his own house in 1952. Givenchy designed for Audrey’s personal wardrobe as well as for her movie costumes. He stated that her measurements changed little throughout her life: 32-20-35. Givenchy would also design for Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy.
The photos above and below show Audrey in the murder mystery Charade, where she co-starred with Cary Grant. The film was directed by Stanley Donen and was released in December 1963, only two weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy and just over 50 years ago. It was very popular at the time and seemed like a diversion from the sadness of the newscasts.
Givenchy’s designs were very classic but in the modern straight lines of the early 1960s. Like other costume designers, he liked to emphasize the face of the star, and with Audrey, he also showed off her neck – as she liked. Coats, smart suits, and trenches were also popular – simple of course, but always worn with a hat or scarf. Audrey always made her leading men look better (although that formula didn’t seem to help Bogey in Sabrina). Cary and Audrey really clicked.
Another movie where Audrey darts around Paris is How to Steal a Million, directed by William Wyler and co-starring Peter O’Toole. Although uncredited in this film, Givenchy again designed Audrey’s wardrobe. This led O’Toole to quip, in character, during a scene when Audrey is disguised as a cleaning lady,”it gives Givenchy the night off”. This fun romantic comedy is based on art forgeries and mixed-up museum heists. Released in 1966, it showed the height of the well-dressed 60s woman – chic, modern and sexy, as shown below.
Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million (1966), above and below. In the Givenchy outfit shown here she is dressed all in white: white hat, white suit, white hose, white shoes, and even sunglasses. But she drives around in a red car.
The white collar is always a great way to frame a face, especially when accessorized with a white hat. The contrasting black only adds to that emphasis. The short pixie hairstyle fit her personality and the styling of the clothes.
Audrey is shown below with Peter O’Toole on the set of How to Steal a Million. William Wyler had directed Audrey in her first major film Roman Holiday, and was happy to direct her again late in his career. The pairing with Peter O’Toole had very good chemistry and the movie never loses its charm.
As Audrey aged and film roles no longer occupied her time, she turned her attention to various charitable causes. She proved that her inner beauty was equal to her physical beauty. She launched an international appeal for ill-treated and suffering children around the world, and served as Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.
She remained close to Hubert de Givenchy for the rest of her life. Late in her life, when Audrey had terminal cancer, the paparazzi circled her residence awaiting news. Givenchy spoke to his client and their mutual friend Bunny Mellon to see if she could lend her personal jet to transport her to Switzerland where Audrey wanted to be in peace.. Mrs. Mellon came through and her jet flew Audrey and her two sons to Audrey’s Swiss home. She died there a month later on January 20, 1993.
An Honorary Academy Award was given to Piero Tosi on November 16, 2013 after a career of fifty years as a costume designer, and with five Best Costume design nominations. He has worked on major international films and with stellar film directors, yet few people know his name. He is now 87 years old and fears flying, so he did not attend the Academy’s Governors Awards ceremony, where fellow winners included Steve Martin and Angela Lansbury, with Angelina Jolie receiving the Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Claudia Cardinale accepted on his behalf. The Governors Awards are presented in advance of the regular Oscars.
Piero Tosi’s career spans back to the 1950s. His first significant period film was Senso,directed by Luchino Visconti, with whom Tosi would work on many films. It co-starred Alida Valli and Farley Granger. She plays an Italian countess, he plays Austrian lieutenant Franz Mahler. Tosi was born in Florence amid art, and studied at Florence’s Accademia di Belle Arti. Both his appreciation for art and his knowledge of art’s history as a living and breathing heritage is evident in the design of his costumes.
Sensowas an early preparation to tackle Italy’s own Gone with the Wind:IlGattopardo or The Leopard,based on the masterpiece novel by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. The film version was also directed by Luchino Visconti. The story is set in Sicily in the early 1860s during the Risorgimento, a time of political upheaval. The story centers on the patriarch of an aristocratic Italian family played by Burt Lancaster, who sees the arrival of the passing of his way of life. Lancaster’s voice was dubbed in Italian. His role was questioned at the time, but it helped get financing from 20th Century-Fox. And to his credit, his gravity and maturity, matched by his still evident masculinity, were perfect for the role. The director, Visconti was himself of noble Italian birth, even though he had become a communist, thus making a movie of this novel was one where his artistic eye and understanding of the old aristocracy added the needed depth. Martin Scorsese called the film, “One of the greatest visual experiences in cinema.”
The time period when the story opens is 1860, a period that is generally known as the Victorian era, and that would shortly lead to the Civil War in the U.S. Italy had its own political and military upheavals in efforts to unify the country, which had been divided into territories ruled by separate monarchs and invading countries. The full Victorian style of dress we know from Gone With the Wind and other period movies is fully developed in The Leopard,only with more vivid color and detail. At the time of GWTW‘s filming, many restrictions were placed on the colors of the costumes because of the demands of Technicolor. This is well documented in the frustrated memos from David Selznick and costume designer Walter Plunkett.
Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon in “Il Gatopardo” or “The Leopard,” 1963.
Claudia Cardinale plays Angelica Sedara, the beautiful Mayor’s daughter, though she was still a commoner. Alain Delon plays Tancredi Falconeri, Prince Don Fabrizio Salina’s (Burt Lancaster’s) handsome and dashing nephew.
Piero Tosi designed 300 costumes for the Ball scene alone. The Tirelli costume workshop in Italy fabricated all of the costumes for the film. We usually think of dark colors when picturing the 1860s, which is mostly based on all the mourning dress worn during the Civil War in the U.S. and the fashion set by Victoria after the death of her husband in 1861. But on the continent the styles where vivid and full of lively patterns and textures. The women’s costumes designed by Tosi are magnificent.
The entire Ball scene was filmed in Sicily, during August in full summer heat. “Everything was melting under my eyes,” said Tossi when interviewed for the Hollywood Reporter.
While the film has many incredible scenes including battles, the Ball scene is a spectacle, lasting 45 minutes and a joy to watch. It is actually a party and has its own tempo, from arrivals, through group conversations, to dances and a crescendo including the dance of the Prince and Angelica. These two are made to appear as a perfect pair, yet so much divides them – age, class, and more. The theme of the entire movie is reflected in this ballroom scene, indeed as it is in the contrasting bravura and sense of mortality shown on Burt Lancaster’s face.
Piero Tossi received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design for The Leopard.
The same year Tosi got to work on a very different picture, a contemporary movie directed by Vittorio De Sica starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni; Yesterday, Today ,and Tomorrow.This made for a very sexy film pairing Sophia and Marcello, and it won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.
The following year Tosi got to work on another contemporary movie directed by Vittorio De Sica and also starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni; Marriage Italian Style. Sophia Loren would become one of his favorite leading ladies, along with Claudia Cardinale, Silvana Mangano, and Anna Magnani.
And then for something completely different, there was working with the great Federico Fellini, only this was for Fellini Satyricon –that 1969 episodic movie of the absurd set in the Roman Empire.
Tossi paired again with Visconti in The Dammed(1969). The movie was a beautifully filmed and very well acted but haunting and decadent depiction of the rise of Naziism in pre-war Germany. It starred Ingrid Thulin, Charlotte Rampling (shown below), Dirk Bogarde, and Helmut Berger.
Charlotte Rampling in The Dammed
Piero Tosi was paired again with Luchino Visconti in Death in Venice,the film based on Thomas Mann’s novella but with the protagonist changed from a writer to that of a character based on composer Gustav Mahler, whose symphonies form the movie’s soundtrack. The lead actor is Dirk Bogarde, who travels to Venice and the Lido with his wife, played by Marisa Berenson, after the death of their son. Thus the film has an air of melancholy. Bogarde enters into a fascination with the young son of another hotel guest, played by Bjorn Andresen, whose mother is played by Sylvana Mangano. It is a very slow-paced but beautiful film that people either love or can’t bear to sit through.
Below is a costume sketch by Tosi for Sylvana Mangano’s character in the film from 1971.
In the photo below, Piero Tosi adjusts the costume for Sylvana Mangano near the beach at the Lido during filming of Death in Venice.
Sylvana Mangano at left below is shown with Bjorn Andresen who plays her son. Tosi received his second Oscar nomination for this film.
Piero Tosi’s technique for sketching costumes is displayed again below in a design for the film L‘Innocente, in 1976. Tosi believed in capturing the essential features of the costume in the design sketch without laboring over it in trying to impress directors or stars. The sketches nonetheless convey style, beauty and an air of mystery that remains for the film to fully develop.
Piero Tosi’s range and talent was further put on view in the Franco-Italian film La Cage aux Folles (1978 ), which was the forerunner of the American film Birdcage.The costume designs were not only for Michel Serrault at left and Ugo Tognazzi, the “Cage aux Folles” Cabaret owner and his partner, but for all the entertainers and straight characters too. Tosi received his fourth Oscar nomination for this very funny but heart-warming film.
In 1982, Tosi designed the costumes for Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata,a film-based opera production starring Placido Domingo and Teresa Strata. For this film he received his fifth and last Oscar nomination for Best Costume design. He has designed costumes for nearly 70 films, most recently for a short in 2009. He teaches his craft in Rome at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.
Piero Tossi has been most deserving of an Academy Award for his several nominations, most especially for The Leopard. That he received an Honorary Award this year is his due. But for the first year the Costume Designers have their own branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. And thus for the first time the Costume Designers Branch are represented by three members on the Board of Governors of the Academy (all branches have three representatives). One Board Member, costume designer and Chair of UCLA’s Copley Center for Costume Design, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, has in particular lead the effort to recognize Tossi’s work. The other two Costume Designers Branch representatives are Jeffrey Kurland and Judianna Makovsky. When Piero Tossi won his award it was a great day for all costume designers.
In the 32 years since its release in 1982, Blade Runner has set the standard of excellence for science fiction films. Its penetrating stylishness and perpetual freshness are qualities that make it almost unique in the genre, and it has influenced not only other science fiction films and music videos but also video-games, architecture, set design, fashion, products, and advertising. Like many of the greatest films, Blade Runner’s production was a long and torturous process that nearly derailed on more than one occasion. Its filming and director Ridley Scott’s single-minded pursuit caused strife among the crew and exhaustion among the cast. It went over-budget and was nearly shut down – in fact at the end of principal photography the financial backers laid everybody off including Scott. Harrison Ford stated it was the worst experience of his career. Yet it is often listed among the greatest films ever made, and was voted first place among 100 science-fiction movies by readers of SFX Magazine. It remains a compelling and obsessive vision that is never forgotten by those that have seen it, and a film that enriches the experience with each new viewing. Blade Runner carries deep themes within its story. What is life? Who created us? What does it mean to be alive, and the search for one’s maker. And it shows what might happen to earth through recklessness and ecological devastation. The look of Blade Runner can tell the story in itself, a contradiction of fascinating imagery within a world of decay, the gloomy vision of baroque futurism.
This post is reprinted from my earlier blog Silver Screen Modiste from June 2012.
Blade Runner is a futuristic film noir, envisioned as such by Philip K. Dick in his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and by its first screenwriter and film-option holder Hampton Fancher. It carries the film noir tropes of seemingly futile endeavors set in a bleak world, where a “detective” or blade runner is charged with hunting and “retiring” a small group of android “replicants” that have escaped far-off space colonies, where these near-perfect human clones are used as servants and workers, but who now come back to earth to beseech their maker to extend their short programmed life. The lead character Rick Deckard is played by Harrison Ford, a depressed blade runner who seems to care as little about other’s lives as the empathy-less replicants themselves. From the beginning Deckard was envisioned by Fancher as played by Robert Mitchum, complete with trench coat and fedora. Harrison Ford was then cast as Deckard, but his just-completed filming of Indiana Jones in the trademark wide fedora turned Ridley Scott away from any such resemblance. The look and costumes of Sean Young as the replicant Rachael was pointedly borrowed from Joan Crawford as dressed by Gilbert Adrian, wearing wide-shouldered, waist-tapered suits and jackets with pencil skirts. The costume designers Charles Knode and Michael Kaplan, in keeping with the total production design, created inventive costumes that seemed influenced by the past, yet very contemporary and wearable in the future, the same qualities found in the timeless fashions of Adrian. There would be no cliche science-fiction costumes inBlade Runner,no zippered jumpsuits or latex body-suits, but rather a unique melange of 1940s styling, Japanese-inspired fashion, and punk-rock flash.
Photo courtesy Photofest
In the scene above San Young wears a long fur coat of chevron patterns over her suit. The rarity of fur in the brave new world of 2019 signifies her stature as the assistant to Dr. Eldon Tyrell. She is possibly a different order of replicant and her costumes denote her ability to pass as human.
There has been a perceived phenomenon in Hollywood called the “Ridley Scott Exception.” Its premise is that whereas virtually every science-fiction movie is betrayed in time by the limitations of its filmed technology, Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner are as fresh as ever, and when viewed by teenagers are invariably loved by them. The visual aesthetics of the Ridley Scott films are timeless. Every scene in Blade Runner is of a piece, its world is total in itself. It is “layered,” from its sweeping aerial shots to its multi-faceted street scenes. The multitude of objects carries forward the totality of its world, from the very covers of the magazines and newspapers (still around in 2019) that people carry, to the flashing neon signs and the bombarding, sky -scrapper-tall, electronic advertisements.
Blade Runner’s characteristic visual feature is its pervasive night and everlasting rain, with smoke permeating virtually every scene, indoors or out, to give not only a moody atmosphere but to show a world overcome by pollution. The streets are packed with people in a very multi-cultural world, and though set in Los Angeles, an Asian influence is strong. Many artists and designers participated in creating the look, most notably Ridley Scott himself. But the visual genesis of Blade Runner began with the graphic novels or “bandes dessines” of Jean Giraud, working under the pseudonym of Moebius.
Production Design for Blade Runner was accomplished by Lawrence Paull and the Art Direction was handled by David Snyder. Ridley Scott himself drew many of the concept drawings for the film. But one of the most far-reaching steps that Scott took was to hire Syd Mead as the “visual futurist” for Blade Runner. Syd’s job was primarily to design the “spinner” vehicles and other technical gadgets for the film. But Syd started producing background drawings for his vehicles to help visualize the context. This impressed Scott and so resulted in the innovative look being used for many of the sets in the film. Syd also worked on the neon building advertising signs, many in a distinctive cartouche shape.
The street scenes were created at the back lot of Warner Brothers. The New York street standing set was the foundation for a huge makeover into the fantastic visual world of Blade Runner. The construction of the sets was an enormous endeavor. Accomplishing the incredible detail of this project was helped greatly by the actor’s strike of 1980 that gave the designers and crews several extra months of work before shooting began. Ridley Scott admired Stanley Kubrick, and in both their cases attention to every set detail resulted in the heavily textured look of their films.
Ridley Scott believed in “layering” in the design and construction of the sets as well as the set dressing. Each object was endowed with its own back story and its purpose in furthering the story. The interior sets were also smoky, and filmed with flashes of light that served no particular purpose other than giving the visual stimulation that Scott desired. While the sets were very physical, the look of the film was also accomplished through expert model-making, used in the Tyrell building for example, and in the matte paintings used for the aerial views. The construction of the cars and spinners was a huge job in itself, Three shops were used that worked 18 hours a day for their manufacture, with 50 people working on the project for 5 months. $100,000 was spent on neon signs alone (huge in 1980 dollars).
Some notable Los Angeles landmarks were used as filming sets. Downtown LA’s 2nd Street tunnel, similarly built as the Pasadena freeway’s glazed white brick tunnels was used with some exciting lighting results. Especially significant was the Bradbury Building with its open atrium and wrought iron grill work and stairs. It was used as a hotel where character J.F. Sebastian lives. The interior of Deckard’s apartment was fully realized as a live in space. The Frank Loyd Wright designed concrete textile blocks, used for his Ennis House were copied for the cave-like interior. Filming was done inside the Bradbury Building, which was occupied as office space at the time. Thus filming had to be done at night, notably between 6:00 pm and 5:00 am just before clean-up and office day use. began. The building also had to be dressed with litter, and eventually cork was used as depicting debris, which notonly looked good but absorbed all the water that flooded the building as rain. After each shoot the building had to be cleaned in time for its occupants. LA’s beautiful Union Train Station was also used, although it served as the Police Station in the film.
The interior of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, as it looks today above and was below as the Blade Runner set. Ironically, the Bradbury Building’s design, built in 1893, was influenced by a science fiction novel, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, published in 1887.
Make-up was also a important contributor to the film’s look, as it usually does for every film, although often over-looked. Marvin Westmore was the principal make-up artist, he of the famed Westmore Hollywood make-up family. Below is Joanna Cassidy who plays the sexy replicant Zhora. Joanna Cassidy actually owned the snake as a pet.
Zhora was the first replicant that Deckard hunts in Blade Runner. She is trying to make her escape in the scene below before Deckard shoots her in a later dramatic scene. Her see-through plastic jacket was very novel and eye-catching. Adrian had also used a similar plastic for some show-girl costumes in the 1930s. Charles Knode also designed the black “dominatrix” undergarments and boots of Cassidy’s costume.
Daryl Hannah plays the replicant Pris, described as a “basic pleasure model,” in her police file. Daryl came up with the blacked-out “raccoon”eye make-up herself. Her costume, shown below, was designed by Michael Kaplan as a revealing sexy black outfit, with a dog collar, and high boots over torn hose . The costume set a fashion trend for the sexy punk look. She wears the outfit to draw the attention of Sebastian and to have him reveal the whereabouts of replicant-maker Dr. Tyrell.
One of the eery scenes in the film is that off Pris sitting among the mannequins and marionettes in Sebastian’s apartment. She poses as one of the mannequins as Deckard enters looking for her. The image makes its own statement about the reality of a replicant. It took a few years for the fashion of torn hose to morph into torn jeans, but this fashion influence has had legs.
The continual shooting of Blade Runner, from night through early morning, often with simulated rain, exhausted the cast and crew. Twice as many costumes had to be made since the simulated rain soaked the ones worn by the actors. Friction began early when an unflattering remark made by Ridley Scott about the crew, comparing them negatively to what he was used to in the U.K., was leaked, creating animosity among the crew. Harrison Ford never got along with Scott and was usually irritated. And Ford never had any good chemistry with Sean Young either, as she was new to film acting. Meanwhile the financiers of the movie were threatening Scott, while meddling with the production.
The film was greatly enhancedby the moody synthesized music of Vangelis. The score achieved an other-worldly but totally appropriate sound track. Production artist Tom Southwell actually listened to Vangelis music as he painted set designs for the film.
Therehas also been controversy over the various versions of Blade Runner. Thelatest version is the Final Cut from 2007. The voice over narration is eliminated. Harrison Ford had to provide the narration as stipulated in his contract, but to which he objected, finding it unnecessary and even dumb. Some people still enjoy the voice-over, however. The film’s original “happy ending” was also eliminated, it having been forced on Scott by the financial backers.
One crucial scene remains in all versions, the end of life scene for replicant Roy Batty played by Rutger Hauer. He fights Deckard and in a chase sequence ends up saving Deckard’s life. Batty’s final scene was written as a long monologue about the nature of his existence. But Hauer provided his own shortened lines:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
The Final Cut also reinserted a beautiful Deckard Dream sequence involving a unicorn. Not reinserted was a sex scene between Deckard and Rachael, a shame because it seems to add emotional depth to their relationship, while also emphasizing the likely transition of Rachael to a human. It was always a question mark in the movie whether he would “retire” her as a replicant, or whether some other blade runner would. At the end of the Final Cut they escape the Bradbury Building together, facing an uncertain future.
The future of a Blade Runner IIis a little less uncertain. Ridley Scott had confirmed in the fall of 2013 that he is working on this project, although its release is definitely set for the future.
Silver Screen Modes isagain awarding the Most Glamorous Gown Awardfor the Oscars red carpet in 2014. This award was started for my previous blog The Silver Screen Modiste in 2009. Last year the award went to Jessica Chastain in an Armani Prive metallic gown.
Fashion trends have had their place on the red carpet, although the bigger trend lately 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. While the result has been an over-all improvement in the beauty of the gowns, their homogeneity has taken away the surprise factor in recent years. This started changing last year as fashion designers began working on custom designs for their favored clients. The more typical procedure in the past had several designs being submitted by a leading fashion house, or one where the stars and their stylists selected a runway design that was fitted for the star. Of course moody stars could always upset the plan and wear whoever they wanted, but nobody particulary likes being pictured on the Fashion Police as the “Worst Dressed.”
Fashion commentators are usually looking for trends, including color trends, on the red carpet. Color is always an individual taste, including, I’m afraid, being afraid to wear bright colors. Black, white, silver and gold, nonetheless, are always striking Hollywood glamour colors and will always have a place on the award show red carpet, especially at the Academy Awards. Jewel colors can look amazing on the right complexion and hair color, and red is always a glamorous color. And surprisingly, a bright spring color works wonders on a cloudy day.
THE AWARD FOR MOST GLAMOROUS GOWN GOES TO:
Charlize Theron in a Dior Haute Couture gown with a plunging neckline accessorized perfectly with a Harry Winston necklace. The straps are a bit unusual but serve to draw the eyes to the curve of her bustline, and are finished with nude fabric over the shoulder. The train is magnificent, carried with a see-through tulle, and giving her the glamorous mermaid silhouette.
There were many fabulous gowns at the Oscars, some of which did not appear on the red carpet. Two other gowns deserve special notice.
Lupita Nyang’o in a custom Prada pale blue gown with a plunging neckline and very full pleated skirt doted with sequins.. The gown was custom made for her by Prada. She accessorized it with a simple white headband. Lupita won Best Supporting Actress. This was one of the the two most most beautiful gowns of the evening.
Amy Adams in Gucci Couture navy blue strapless gown with bust-line flaps complemented by faux pocket flaps. Amy was inspired by the 1950s and Vertigo (Kim Novak was a presenter). and wore her hair in the Madeleine bun.
Robyn Beck photo
Cate Blanchett in Armani Prive is the other most beautiful gown of the evening. The gold-colored tulle and sequined gown was described by Cate as “It’s heavy but I love it.” One reason it was heavy is that it was studded with Swarovsky crystals. Cate won the Best Actress Award.
The Best Costume Award was given to The Great Gatsby.I had early predicted this award for 12 Years a Slave. Gatsywas a dazzling costume movie. Since all Academy members vote for the awards, it oviously impressed many voters. The 86th Academy Awardsimpressed me by the quality of the gowns. Bravo to all.
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 Warner. Why 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