Iconic Film Styles: Shampoo (1975)

Costume Designer: Anthea Sylbert

Such outrageous style, somehow most of this could never fly in 2010, even as part of some retro-vintage throw-back. I wish I could pull off Julie Christie’s hair, especially before Beatty takes the shears to it, though either way… I feel so much more in tune with Goldie Hawn’s style though, more feminine, more hippie, more delicate. Unfortunately, I don’t have the figure to pull them off so wonderfully waif-ishly as she does. For me Shampoo is a film that reflects so completely the style of an era. The film plays out like a strange period piece, especially as the characters seem so incredibly self-aware of their physicality and sexuality. Warren Beatty’s character in particular is perceived by most men as being a “poof”, despite the fact that he is balls deep in most of the women he meets. In many ways, Beatty’s style and persona is more revolutionary and exciting than that of the women because he redefines masculinity in a chic and ironic way. Even beyond fashion, Shampoo is one of the most underrated films of the 1970s, I heartily recommend it.

Iconic Film Styles: Ann-Margaret in Bye Bye Birdie

Luckily we have shows like Mad Men to show an intimate look into a bygone era, so us plebs who don’t have the time or resources to research the cultural impact of certain films and performers. In Season three (Love Among Ruins 3.2), a diet cola company asks creative to recreate the opening with Ann-Margret in order to sell their product. The reaction of the executives in the room only suggests a fraction of the sensation that her performance caused. George Sidney has the foresight to see the effect that Ann-Margret would have on the audience, and at his own expense filmed the iconic book-ends, even having a song specially written for the occasion. I am hardly a fan of the film, but I can’t deny absolutely loving those two scenes. Ann-Margaret’s style in the film is reflective of a new breed of adolescent, it is cute but sexy. There is a palpable difference between her clothing and that of the more mature women, but it still seems to fit into the adult world.

Costume Designer: Marjorie Wahl

Iconic Film Costumes: Brigitte Bardot in Shalako

Costume Designer: Cynthia Tingey

Bardot’s style remains in the 21st century was enduringly modern, unique and sexy. Her trade-mark became less the clothes she wore, but her teased blonde hair, and dark eye-make up. It was also very much about the attitude she took to whats she was wearing. In a large portion  of her movies, clothes were not a given, as often as possible she was paraded around nearly naked, her body more likely draped in a sheet then a fitted outfit. When she does wear costumes, her self-awareness makes them shine. She seems to know all the angles to make them look just right, and is always able to make them her own. Shalako transplants her to the old west, but Bardot does not fit the mold of the helpless woman in distress. Even her costuming suggests power, the presence of pants and hats throughout. Even her dresses suggest a matriarchal power, and though Bardot is anything but matronly, the suggestion remains.

Five Best Films I saw in May

I had a really strong start in terms of viewings in May. Things tapered off around mid-way and I got addicted to tv. Still managed to see about 34 films. I am cheating with this list, posting a trilogy as a single entry… all of these are first time viewings. Alphabetical order.

Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978)

The Civil War Trilogy (Robert Enrico, 1962-63)

Exit through the Gift Shop (Bansky, 2010)

Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)

Une robe d’ete (Francois Ozon, 1996)

Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)

The musical sequences in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collaborations have always been expressions of uncontrollable emotion. While logic tells Dale Tremont (Rogers) that an affair with a married man is wrong, her heart beats a different tune and suddenly she’s gliding across a deco dance floor with such beauty and grace that one forgets all the silly circumstances of the plot. The plot remains very silly; almost too much so… then again, that is my complaint for all Rogers & Astaire collaborations. Though this is often lauded as their best film, and I’d have to agree from what I’ve seen, it unfortunately still does not come together as completely as other musicals of its era. I’ve heard many complaints against the storylines of 42nd Street and The Gold Diggers of 1933 but I have always thought they were clever, relevant and engaging: the same can’t be said for Top Hat’s plot. Though the story is largely inconsequential because even musical sequences aside, it is the design of the sets and costumes that take precedence, I still mourn the idea of what could have been.

Top Hat is a classic tale of classic misunderstandings as Dale Tremont falls for a man, only to find out he is married. Unfortunately for him, she has mistaken him for someone else, and though similarly love-struck, she knows rejects all his advances. Maybe I would be more receptive to this storyline if it wasn’t the same one in every one of their films. And even though this one does it better, the misunderstandings only wear thin as the film goes on, instead of reaching new levels of zaniness. There doesn’t seem to be any logical escalation in the comedy, which is unfortunate, as I think it would have been a great counter-balance to the film’s romance.
What I find exceptional about this film though, is that it does manage to sell Astaire as a romantic lead. Though he is incredibly awkward, not very good looking and has questionable acting skills, somehow when you let him dance he becomes desirable. That’s probably where the success of this film rests, since him and Rogers dance more in this film than any other. It seems every second scene has them on the dance floor, probably the best idea that scriptwriter ever had.

The film’s best scene (a dancing one believe it or not) is easily the “dancing cheek to cheek” sequence. The first sequence, which is Astaire singing to Rogers, is shot in almost exclusive close-up, but begins to expand as they move towards the dance floor, when it opens up to a long-shot. Long takes are used divinely, something that is sorely missed in the contemporary musical (how much better would Hairspray have been if there wasn’t a cut every 5 seconds during every dance scene!). Despite the obvious chemistry between the leads, what makes the sequence so exceptional for me is Roger’s dress. Both the director and Astaire both complained how absolutely impractical it would be, and actually got the costume department to change it. Rogers’ would have nothing of it though, insisting that she wear the feathery dress. Even in the final product, at any given moment you see feathers floating in front of the lens and all over the scene. If Astaire was in heaven dancing cheek to cheek, Rogers’ was an angel and had just sprouted wings. The whole sequence takes on a kind of ethereal quality, and the accident of the feathers only contributes to the spontaneity of their affections and passion.
I don’t see myself ever being an Astaire/Rogers convert, but I can still enjoy their films. They are well worth seeing for choice sequences, and are luckily often short and sweet.

Podcasts and an Impossible to find movies: The Clone Returns Home

One of those movies that are pretty impossible to find, unless you catch them at a festival (unfortunately I missed this at Fantasia), so I can only hope this shout in the darkness of Internet space will make it somehow reachable in the near future so I can watch it. In the mean-time, watch the trailer (click the image).

It’s been compared to Tarkovsky, perhaps unsurprisingly if you consider just the comparisons between the image above and Stalker.

Oh, and for the Podcasts, been listening to various episodes from the Montreal-based podcasts at Sound on Sight. They have well over 100 episodes that go back several years, so you’re bound to find something that interests you. Great stuff.

The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929)

As with most transitory phases in film history, the beginning of the talking era has its fair share of firsts. The Love Parade is the first sound film for legendary director Ernst Lubitsch, as well as the film debut for Broadway star, Jeannette Macdonald. It is also the first screen pairing of Macdonald and Chevalier, who would go on to make three more films together. It is often considered one of the best early sound films, due to Lubitsch’s creative use of music and sound. As often as he employs sound and dialogue as a means of conveying romance and comedy, he uses the absence of it to the same effect. Many of the pivotal scenes take place behind closed doors (or windows), where the audience in and out of the film is left wanting, in the best way possible.

With The Love Parade, Lubitsch is very much exploring familiar ground; it is a sophisticated “European” comedy that plays with class and gender. More so than his other films though, he does seem to be more self-aware with his comedy than usual. Most of the best scenes and lines are extremely self-reflexive, poking fun at the form and expectations of his brand of gendered misunderstandings. In spite of one periphery character commenting that a man is a man and a woman is a woman, and to change that is to ask for trouble, Lubitsch’s gender reversal goes far deeper than that. The comedy generally is not centered on the absurdity of a woman in a position of power or authority, but the absurdity of the role of the “wife”. Chevalier marries for love, accepting the subservient position that comes with being married to a Queen without him becoming a king. After just a month though, he is bored and confined. He has no personal freedom or opportunity to express himself, and despite his military experience his opinions and suggestions are immediately dismissed due solely to his second class status in his marriage.

Unfortunately, few of the musical sequences are particularly interesting in The Love Parade. Two stand out though, an early sequence about leaving Paris that utilizes windows as the center-piece, and my personal favourite, a slapstick routine between two supporting characters. In reality, the two “common” servants really steal the show. They are far more compelling and entertaining than the leads, then again, I am not a huge fan of either Macdonald or Chevalier. The film has some great moments, but very few stand out in Lubitsch’s oeuvre. Though it is a strong example of an early sound film, The Love Parade remains only a bottom/middle-tier Lubitsch.