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Archive for ‘Films’

Delight In The Toy Wife

By , 22 January, 2010, No Comment

The second Luise Rainer film I watched was such a fabulous film that I’m now devoted to collecting everything I can from or about it.

Luise Rainer in The Toy Wife, 1938

Luise Rainer in The Toy Wife, 1938

Since this film is a period piece, I posted my review of The Toy Wife (1938) elsewhere — but I did discover something fashion related to discuss…

On the back of the old MGM promotional film still photo by Clarence Bull, the following is typed:

Grey Faille with blue velvet ribbon detail and corded bow fastenings is charming in this costume designed by Adrian for Luise Rainer, in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production, “The Toy Wife.” Bonnet of grey straw with blue and grey feather frou-frou and blue velvet tie.

This reminds me that once upon a time, movie stars, especially the actresses, were noted for the fashions they wore in films — not just the red carpets. Seeing such information that was distributed by the studios proves that fashions and designers themselves were part of the film promotion.

Today, if such photos and captions are provided and/or used, the caption probably has more to do with who the actress slept with, some arrest information or other bit of notoriety to gossip about. I much prefer to gossip about the glamour of film and the fashion in film, don’t you?

Back Of Photo Still

Back Of Photo Still

Meeting Luise Rainer

By , 14 January, 2010, No Comment

I stayed up late Tuesday night, celebrating Luise Rainer‘s 100th birthday with TCM. This was my introduction to Rainer — and even though the three films I watched are neither her best known films nor those she won her two (back-to-back) Oscars for, I was smitten.

Luise Rainer

Luise Rainer

The first movie I watched was The Emperor’s Candlesticks (1937), which, frankly, is often dismissed as more eye-candy than substantive film. It’s easy to do, what with such opulent settings for two wealthy spies each on opposite ends of political intrigues who manage to fall for each other. But if you listen as well as watch, there’s a sophistication and elegance to the acting too. Especially the banter between Rainer and William Powell.

William Powell & Luise Rainer in Emperor's Candlesticks

William Powell & Luise Rainer in Emperor's Candlesticks

Enjoy the lush settings, but don’t forget to focus on the faces and the dialog — if you do pay attention, it’s rather like the delight of employing the secret compartments in the antique candlesticks.

Vintage Magazine Article On The Emperor's Candlesticks

Vintage Magazine Article On The Emperor's Candlesticks

It’s not my favorite of the three Rainer films I watched, but it was good enough for me to want to watch another…

My Small World Of Gigantic Film Epics

By , 28 December, 2009, No Comment

With all the bustle of holidays, my film friends and I have had a terrible time getting together for our usual movie watching. I myself have even had little time for solo sofa loafing and watching films; hence the lack of film posts recently. But hubby and I did manage to watch TCM’s A Night at the Movies: The Gigantic World of Epics.

The special discussed Hollywood’s “biggest screen spectaculars,” from the genre’s beginnings to how the genre fell out of favor in the ’70s and ’80s — and how epics were recently reborn with films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gladiator, Braveheart, etc. What I really learned was how few of the classic film epics I really have seen.

Of all the films covered, I’ve only seen Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments, and Samson & Delilah. Hubby fared far worse, having only seen exactly zero of the films mentioned, despite a college course on classic film history. (Maybe that’s because in ’93, epics were still out of vogue?) In any case, I decided my movie watching gal pals and I would have to select a few epics and schedule them for our Classic Schmassic film nights.

On my list are The Birth of a Nation, Doctor Zhivago, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and On the Waterfront (which has been on my list because of Brando in Street Car). But my first choice may just be Cleopatra.

Cleopatra: The Downfall Of Epic Films

Cleopatra: The Downfall Of Epic Films

Not just because it’s an epic, but because, like Let’s Make Love, I’ve preconceived notions — and wish to protect Marilyn. Simply put, I’ve avoided this last of the epic films because of the epic film history behind it: Cleopatra was sucking the studio dry, so studio execs (fearful that Elizabeth Taylor would walk off set, sending the film and studio further into the sinkhole) used Marilyn Monroe as the whipping girl for film and film star extravagance. Maybe now it’s time to finally watch Cleopatra and judge it as a film.

But I’ll have to see how the other girls in my group feel.

TCM’s own page for the documentary is sans input and your’s truly feels too sheepish to write a synopsis (let alone a review) of documentary of classic films — especially as she’s seen so few of the films under discussion. But Mike Hale at The New York Times has posted what I think is a good review of The Gigantic World of Epics.

I could be biased though, because Hale starts his article off naming Turner Classic Movies as his favorite television channel and ends his article with what I call the proper sentiments regarding acknowledging TCM’s value:

They probably would have also been amused at the notion that within half a century, work like theirs would need preserving — that a television channel would be devoted to it, like an around-the-clock museum. We should all take a moment to look up from our cellphone screens and give thanks.

I do thank TCM. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to try before I buy movies, nor would I know about a majority of films to put on my ‘to watch’ lists. Including epics.

Gifts For Vintage Film & Fashion Fans

By , 2 December, 2009, No Comment

Remembering The 1980s Fashions In Valley Girl

By , 19 November, 2009, No Comment

I had spotted this fashion shopping spread in that Elle‘s Women In Hollywood Issue, and the minute I saw it I was confused.

elle-valley-girl

“Break out the jelly platforms, biker shorts, neon bouclé and juicy bangles for a totally rad ensemble,” it says — for Valley Girl?! That’s not the way I remembered the fashions in the film. So, jumping the que in our NetFlix account, I got Valley Girl (1983) to refresh my memory.

Valley Girl stars Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman in the ultimate 80’s Romeo and Juliet story — with a much better ending, as no one dies. *wink* It has sat in my memory all these years as a great film in terms of capturing and expressing the look and feel of the times presented — not just the decade, but those teen years — projecting it all onto a screen then, and preserving it for us now. (I’m not the only one who feels this way either.)

To be honest, Kleph has an excellent review of the film; I found it while Googling for photos and insist that you read it because I probably couldn’t say it better or add anything, really. Plus, this post is about other things about the film: the fashions in the film. So let’s get to it.

Like I said, I could have been wrong recalling the fashions in the film, so I watched it again to be sure… But I wasn’t wrong. Valley Girl is not full of jelly & neon.

Valley Girls Mall Shopping

Valley Girls Mall Shopping

This was a period of bright colors, but not neon; think hot pink, turquoise, and yellow, not day-glo colors. The 80’s also had a strong punk influence — black, red, and more black.

Teen House Party In Valley Girl

Teen House Party In Valley Girl

Overall, bright solids, stripes and blocks of color were predominant. Collars were ‘up’. Patterns and stripes were bold, clear & crisp, not the colorful cluttered-on-black zippered things Elle shows.

valley-girl-stripes-and-patterns

Julie and Randy in the Mall Food Court

And Julie also wore quite a bit of the that romantic lacy look that I can best describe as Gunne Sax — not just in her prom dress (or the prom dresses of others), but lacy tops with long sleeves with plenty of buttons.

Lace Blouse In Valley Girl

Lace Blouse In Valley Girl

Julie doesn’t just wear these clothes for the cinematic conveyance of her difference, her ties to her hippie parents, her romantic side, or her nervousness dressing for a party (when her friend has to help her button those buttons on her sleeves); these fashions were strong in the 80’s. I owned and wore several of these sorts of blouses — and my prom dresses were all Gunne Sax.

Posing For Prom Pictures In Valley Girl

Posing For Prom Pictures In Valley Girl

I didn’t live in Southern California, but my friends and I dressed a lot like this (the ‘trickle to the heartland’ theory of fashion); one of the reasons that this movie spoke to us all then — and is fondly remembered now.

That Elle might get the fashions wrong is sad… It’s not just that I want the staff to be old enough to remember Valley Girl (though that would be nice!), fashion was a huge part of the film. As Kleph wrote:

That’s partly because Coolidge understood the distinction was a fallacy to begin with. The valley kids define themselves through what they buy while the Hollywood kids do it by what they don’t – but they still show their allegiances via what they wear. And it’s important that, in Valley Girl, when Julie and Randy first see each other – first become interested in each other – it’s at the beach when they are not in the usual garb of their tribes. It’s also no accident the film starts inside a mall but ends outside it.

Valley Girl is an iconic film which preserves fashions of the time as much as it uses them for a point, yet in pushing the return of such retro 80s fashions, Elle gets it all wrong. For the fashion mag to get the fashions so wrong isn’t ironic; it’s a tragedy.

Josie Cotton Performing In Valley Girl

Josie Cotton Performing In Valley Girl

Personal Drama In A Street Car Named Desire

By , 9 November, 2009, No Comment

I’ve been meaning to talk about A Street Car Named Desire (1951) for quite some time… I’ve put it off because it’s a heady film, connected to some pretty personal things for me and I’ve never been quite sure how to separate those things from a ‘film review.’ Or end up with a post too long for anyone to bother to read. *wink* But since this week’s Monday Movie Meme is about movies that have changed your life or your behaviors/beliefs, I thought now’s the time to try…

Though I am speaking personally, about changes, and not giving a real review of the movie, I will clarify and say that I’m speaking of Elia Kazan’s film version, starring, among others, Vivien Leigh (as Blanche DuBois), Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski), Kim Hunter (Stella Kowalski, Stanley’s wife and Blanche’s sister), and Karl Malden (Harold ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, a suitor of Blanche’s). It’s the only version I’ve seen, and the only one I wish to — because it is perfection.

Also, if you have not seen the film and do not wish to have my story color your viewing of it, please, stop reading now!

There are three points that must be made and understood before I can tell you about the effects of the film. One is that I’m a survivor of abusive relationships, including date rape and physical violence; the second is that my husband is, among other things, a kind, sensitive, and intelligent man who became my husband after I survived such horrible things; and the third, as I’ve mentioned, hubby was a theatre major.

These things matter; they are all tangled-up in this mess.

It was only a few years into our being married. I had previously seen the film, when I spotted it on TCM’s lineup and asked hubby to watch it with me. He resisted, for, as it turns out, he had some sort of college class discussion on the play and felt he’d floundered through it — he’d felt there was ambiguity between reality & fantasy in this film, and wasn’t able to defend his position on such plays of the ‘modern theatre genre’ which seem to force audiences to conjure questions and evolve, rather than watch story and its characters evolve.

This discomfort of his would surprise me greatly for I found nothing ambiguous in the film. And when our discussion fell to the subject of hubby using the rape scene as an example of fantasy, of not having occurred but a figment or excuse of Blanche’s, I was stupefied.

Street Car Names Desire

Street Car Names Desire

Naturally, as a survivor of acquaintance rape, I would find no ambiguity in that scene — nor anything but pain in those which followed, when Blanche is not believed.

Finding my husband questioning even a fictional film victim was difficult. Yet defending or debating my stance that I was ‘right’ didn’t feel right when hubby seemed so vulnerable to those past fears and failings of his own… Should I remain silent, out of deference to his feelings, or give voice to my own feelings and needs?

I opted to remain silent and watch the film, hoping that he would see something in this film version which would remove any doubt that Blanche’s rape was film-reel real.

But it didn’t.

One one hand, my silence had worked; post viewing, hubby felt comfortable enough to assert his beliefs that Blanche had imagined, if not fantasized, the rape and used its cry in an attempt to manipulate her sister.

On the other hand, silence didn’t work for me; it rarely does for victims.

I felt the heat of anger rise and knew I’d need to confront the issue for myself. But I didn’t want to be confrontational with my husband. Plus, didn’t he, the theatre major know more than I? I’m a simple movie lover — who admittedly watches a lot of film purely for the fashions and vintage style, yet; what do I know? …Maybe I’ve got Street Car all wrong?

In the end, I was brave. I forced myself to voice my opinions, thus not cowering as the silenced victim nor playing the ‘intimidated ‘girl’ to his ‘educated man.’ But I also didn’t need to be right. For this is a movie; named as much, in my opinion for it’s ability to move emotions and project passions as for the moving images projected on the screen. And that means no two viewers will — or even need to — be moved the same way.

A Street Car Named Desire remains one of my favorite films. I don’t think he particularly shares my sentiments; but our relationship has more than survived — it thrives because we can share our feelings, our individual vulnerabilities, even when we disagree.

Elle’s “Women In Hollywood Issue” (Vintage Film Fashions!)

By , 9 November, 2009, No Comment

The November issue of Elle magazine (along with it’s ever-increasing holiday push) is focused on women in Hollywood, including a list of “the 63 most loved and feared in the biz.”

Elle's The Women In Hollywood Issue, November 2009

Elle's The Women In Hollywood Issue, November 2009

If you’re a modern movie maven, you’ll love this issue (even if you take issue with some of the selections — I know I always do with lists, as you’ll soon see!).

And if you’re a classic film fan or a vintage glamour fashionista, you’re sure to love this issue’s Elle Shops, a Fashion In Film Countdown of “monochromatic stunners inspired by our favorite black-and-white films.” Even if only giving it an ‘A’ for effort.

(Remember, you can click the images to see much larger scans!)

In at #10, From Here To Eternity, focused on vintage-styled beach & resort wear.

Elle: From Here To Eternity

Elle: From Here To Eternity

Number 9 is Paper Moon; I’m not much of a ‘tomboy,’ but I’m completely smitten with the sweet Chloé by Hannah MacGibbon silk linen jacket.

Elle: Paper Moon

Elle: Paper Moon

At #8, Swing Time, featuring a few little white ruffled blouses in the tuxedo-inspired pieces.

Elle: Swing Time

Elle: Swing Time

Raging Bull is in at #7. Again, it’s not my style — and I haven’t seen the film.

Elle: Raging Bull

Elle: Raging Bull

At # 6, Shanghai Express; the Dolce & Gabbana goat-fur coat is just one of those pieces I’d have to try on to see if it would be fab or fug… Plus, I’m more than a bit ambivalent about fur; I only own vintage fur pieces.

Elle: Shanghai Express

Elle: Shanghai Express

Some Like It Hot is in at #5. I hate-hate-hate it when folks say you get the look of a film by wearing clothing with the star’s image printed onto the fabric of a dress or t-shirt or whatever. That’s not the look or style of the film; it’s crass celebrity commercialism. And the white cotton Phillip Lim dress covered in golden sequins is so not that film.

Elle: Some Like It Hot

Elle: Some Like It Hot

For Philadelphia Story (number 4 on the list), the Elle staff seems to have missed the entire fashion story here… Katharine Hepburn’s look wasn’t, as they say, about “demure dresses and menswear-inspired shapes.” It was about refined femininity and very fine tailoring. I don’t think a single piece shown here (save for, perhaps, the Paule Ka dress) would please either actress Hepburn or costumer Adrian.

Elle: Philadelphia Story

Elle: Philadelphia Story

In at #3, is A Hard Day’s Night. I would have thought there’s be more truly mod looks here, but…

Elle: A Hard Day's Night

Elle: A Hard Day's Night

Casablanca is in at #2, and I am under-whelmed.

Elle: Casablanca

Elle: Casablanca

Elle Shops #1 fashion film story is The Wizard Of Oz. I don’t know where to begin here… I think they’ve taken great liberties with the look & feel of the film. And what on earth is up with all the unappealing tie-dye-esque stuff on the far right?

Elle: The Wizard Of Oz

Elle: The Wizard Of Oz

Now it’s your turn — do you agree with me, or with Elle?

Jaynie Went Missing — But Not Like Bunny Lake

By , 6 November, 2009, No Comment

I’ve been sick; that explains both the little blogging this week and the number of magazine posts coming up *wink*

It also explains the absence of any discussion of films.

You’d think, being sick & sofa-bound, that I’d have seen quite a few of them; but the truth is, whatever once I began watching, I fell asleep during. I cannot express how confusing it is to fall asleep watching one movie on TCM and waking up with another on! My addled cough syrup infused brain then desperately tries to find the connections between the two — or more? movies… But without Robert Osborne there to guide me, I struggle until I pass-out again — waking to do it all again.

Bunny Lake Is Missing Film Poster

Bunny Lake Is Missing Film Poster

The only film I did manage to see all the way through was Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965). And it scared the crap cough syrup out of me.

I’m no fan of horror films; but I do love a good thriller that scares me to my bones and makes me want my mommy. And I not did Bunny Lake do that, but I hadn’t guessed the plot.

It may not be fair, given my problems with lucidity, to declare Otto Preminger a genius. But I’m going to anyway. At least for now. I’m going to watch it again when I’m more ‘normal’ just to be sure… Even though I’ll now know the plot, I’ll see if it still holds up.

Our Collective 80’s Flashbacks

By , 16 October, 2009, No Comment

It’s impossible to avoid the return of 1980’s fashions. From the latest shots of Kim Cattrall & Sarah Jessica Parker 80’s re-do in the filming of the next Sex And The City film

Kim Cattrall's 1980's Flashback For Next Sex In The City Film

Kim Cattrall's 1980's Flashback For Next Sex In The City Film

Sarah Jessica Parker On Set For Latest Sex In The City Movie

Sarah Jessica Parker On Set For Latest Sex In The City Movie

To the coverage of retro English punk in the November issue of Marie Claire

Marie Claire English Punk Re-Do

Marie Claire English Punk Re-Do

(It’s interesting to note that as American’s jumped into the punk scene, they dropped the more dramatic graphic of the English flag — I say it’s a better fashion graphic and offer the fact that it was not replaced with the US flag as proof of my statement — and the term “Punk” was replaced with New Wave.)

As the spread of retro 80’s fashions comes ever-closer, I now will get off my arse and look to see what few items I saved from the 80’s have survived the various downsizings with each household move. (You know how you desperately dry to lighten and compact those boxes!) If I find anything worth noting, I will share it here. Threat or promise? *wink*

Fall In Love With The Goddess

By , 9 October, 2009, 2 Comments

The Goddess (1934) is a black & white silent film made in Shanghai, China, under the original Chinese title Shennü — and it stars one of my favorite actresses of all-time: the incredible Ruan Lingyu. That alone should be enough to convince you to see the film, to own it, but I suspect that even should my word carry that much weight with you, you still want to know more. *wink*

The word shennü has two meanings; literally, it means “divine woman,” and figuratively, it’s a colloquial euphemism for street prostitute. But even if we didn’t know this, the opening of the restored film tells us this is a story of a prostitute — a prostitute and a mother.

Opening Of The Goddess

Opening Of The Goddess

In a way it’s rather unfortunate that the film begins this way, the text used to tell the story rather than just trusting the images, trusting the artistry of Ruan… But the more modern restoration can hardly be blamed or seen as slighting Ruan’s performance; the original Chinese film used intertitles, seemingly having felt the need to spoon-feed an audience too:

The prostitute struggles in the whirlpool of life. In the streets of the night, she is a lowly prostitute. When she holds her child up, she is a saintly mother. Between these two lives, she has shown her formidable character.

I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s obvious when she waits on the dirty neon-lit street for a man, disappears into a building with him while we are left to watch the sunrise, then see our exhausted heroine head home, that our divine woman sells herself to men on the streets of Shanghai.

Don’t believe me? Watch and see:

One night, in an attempt to avoid a police raid on that section of town, The Goddess ducks into the wrong doorway and finds herself face to face with the local crime boss. He offers her protection from the police, at a price, of course. It is an undesirable situation, but better than being busted and losing her son.

The Goddess and The Crime Boss

The Goddess and The Crime Boss

Now the crime boss is her pimp, expecting physical pleasures along with his cut of the cash. He and his cronies drop by her home whenever they wish. She tries to hide money from him, to better her son’s life, but the crime boss finds it — and she knows the price she’ll pay in the future if she tries again.

Desperate, she & her son escape in the middle of the night to a new city, only to end up with the same old problems — including the crime boss. He’s tracked her down, taken the boy, and waits for her return. To get her son back, she must go along with the crime boss.

She’s back in his clutches & control.

As the boy grows, we see him teased and ostracized, both for his mother’s work and his status as an illegitimate child. Realizing her son’s best future lies in an education, The Goddess squirrels away money for his tuition. This time she finds a better hiding place, but the crime boss is suspicious and misses his money. He is violent and abusive but she is unwavering, suffering the abuse and the prostitution for the sake of her son.

It would seem a miserable life, but much like real life, there are little moments of brightness which pierce the gloom. For a mother, it is the joy of her child.

Ruan As The Goddess Adoring Her Son

Ruan As The Goddess Adoring Her Son

She revels in his studies — and Ruan radiates just looking at the boy. When the school has a talent show and her son performs, Ruan glows with a happiness which transcends even her physical beauty. But such a bright light is shut off when the gossipy mothers in the audience begin whispering about her profession and pointing out her son to one another.

The gossip spreads, and eventually the school receives letters of complaint that a boy of such a mother should attend there. The principal, who seems impressed with the boy’s diligence & behavior, investigates, making a trip to the boy’s home.

Unhappy to learn that the mother is a prostitute, he tells her that under the circumstances he’ll have to expel the child. The Goddess pleads her case, admitting her shame, she says, “Even though I am a degenerate woman, don’t I have the right as a mother to raise him as a good boy?”

Scene From 1934's The Goddess

Scene From 1934's The Goddess

It is heartbreaking. Neither the audience nor the principal can remain unmoved by the depth of her love, her willingness to sacrifice for the sake of her son.

Knowing that education is the key to this child’s future, the principal says he will spare the boy. (But he does encourage her to leave prostitution, of course — as if she hasn’t been trying!) At the school, he argues the case before the school board. His argument, even seen on an old silent movie, is the stuff that will get a progressive up on her feet. It is both a passionate and intelligent speech where we see the filmmakers’ views on poverty, class struggle, and Shanghai society.

However, the school board members fear action by concerned & upset parents and so want the boy expelled. The principal responds that if they expel the boy, they will not have only failed the child but failed as educators in general — and he will not remain at the school if they do. But they do expel the boy and the principal leaves his job at the school.

Not knowing the strong stand the principal took, The Goddess feels betrayed yet again. In fight-or-flight mode, she readies to flee with her son yet again. But when she goes to get her hidden savings she discovers that the crime boss has already found her stash and taken it. The flight option removed, The Goddess now heads off to fight — the crime boss.

To tell you what happens next would be a disservice to you and the film. Enigmatically, I will say that in the battle between The Goddess and the crime boss, the victor is not victorious. She may have won the fight but she loses the war and pays the price — a steep price. For even though he is a low-life criminal, a man is still worth more than a woman. And a whore? Even less so.

Women, especially whorish women, must be punished (in films and in real life).

True, China didn’t need to adhere to the Hollywood Code but the operating feudal system morality in 1930’s China was akin to such thinking, so while the story dared to be told via film, in the end, our heroine must pay the price.

Or maybe the price is simply more of the film’s statement on the unfairness of poverty and class.

In any case, Ruan’s goddess pays the kind of price that leaves you crying — tears of sorrow, tears of rage.

The Goddess could be called, simplistically, just another Madonna-Whore film; but given that worldwide the schism still exists, who can argue against such such a timeless, even if vintage, exploration of it?

And Ruan Lingyu’s poignant performance is worth watching for its own sake.

You can watch & download the entire film for free at The Internet Archive as The Goddess is now in the public domain, and watch it on TCM, as I did — but do yourself a favor and buy a DVD; your sale will be support for the restoration and distribution of great old films. Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai, the actress’ biography, also contains a DVD of The Goddess.

Chinese Film Poster For The Goddess

Chinese Film Poster For The Goddess