Monday, January 30, 2012

Wardrobes I Covet: Veronica Corningstone, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

It might not feel as great as writing or watching a movie, but putting together an outfit, especially one with a vintage leaning, is one of my favorite past times. I've always enjoyed expressing my personal style through clothing. I pattern mix, remix outfits, and thrift with the best of ‘em. If my life permitted it, I would play dress-up every damn day.

In an effort to combine my love of film and fashion, I’m going to start a series I’ve been thinking about since 2009: Wardrobes I Covet, where I attempt to analyze and possibly gush over movie fashion and how clothing pertains to a particular character or cinematic idea. I've never formally (is this formal?) written about fashion before, so this will be a new adventure.

My first entry is about a movie that's generally not taken very seriously because it's a comedy that stars Will Ferrell. American audiences adore his films (or at the very least, pay to see them) and critics are indifferent to him. I, frankly, find his work with Adam McKay to be fascinating and hilarious. I also have soft spots for Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro, but his work with McKay sticks to my ribs best because they're so oddly subversive and perverse.

Their first collaboration, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, is a perfect example of their zaniness. Like a contemporary Hepburn-Tracy flick (on acid and at a circus), it's a battle of the sexes comedy about a group of incompetent News Anchors in the '70s who are intimidated by a newly hired female Journalist. Ferrell stars as the titular character and Christina Applegate is Veronica Corningstone, an incredibly professional and able Journalist and aspiring Anchorwoman.

The film's classic comedy pedigree is illustrated in Veronica Corningstone's attire. Though it's set sometime in the '70s, her wardrobe and hair strongly recall the female reporter characters of '40s Hollywood, such as Hepburn in Woman of the Year and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Corningstone's trademark outfit is a solid colored skirt suit with either a fun yet tasteful patterned shirt and a large pointed collar (which is probably the only indication of her character existing in the '70s) or a simple dress paired with incredible high heels. Aside from one scene, her hair is always down and parted on the side with a swoop of Veronica Lake peekaboo curls, which adds to her vintage mystique.

Like Hepburn and Russell in their films, Corningstone wants to be taken seriously as a career woman and dresses the part. She also follows their suit by being stylish and sexy without losing an ounce of professionalism. This element of Corningstone's character adds a touch of class to the otherwise raunch-filled and insane McKay-Ferrell combo. While everyone else at Channel 4 News looks like they stepped out of That '70s Show, Corningstone throws the 2nd wave of feminism a bone by honoring her comedic foremothers through fashion in the fight for equality.

In addition to the likes of Hepburn and Russell, Corningstone's duds also evoke the style of one of the most fashionable ladies of the '70s, Faye Dunaway. The Bonnie & Clyde, Chinatown and Network star rocked the decade by incorporating both a vintage and contemporary feel into her amazing apparel. She's probably most famous for the Bonnie beret, but her costumes in Network are also spectacular and a bit old-fashioned feeling.

In the film, Dunaway strictly wears neutrals in the form of loose fitting slacks and pencil skirts paired with scarves and knotted blouses. Corningstone borrows both the beret and blouses from time to time, but as an onscreen Anchor Lady, she generally prefers the pop of brighter colors and patterns. Still, Dunaway is an obvious influence on Corningstone's style and I'd imagine her character looked up to her as both an ambitious peer and lady of the moment.

My personal favorite Corningstone outfit is probably the purple skirt suit she wears for the channel's commercial. It reminds me of something a refined lady would wear for traveling. I also really dig the pin stripes and the way the purple and white play off of one another. Color-blocking is one of my favorite elements of fashion and Veronica Corningstone blocks like a champ.

Announcer: You're watching Channel 4 News with five-time Emmy award-winning anchor Ron Burgundy and Tits McGee.
Veronica Corningstone: Good evening, San Diego. I'm Veronica Corningstone. Tits McGee is on vacation.
Ron Burgundy: And I'm Tits... I'm Ron Burgundy.
Though McKay and Ferrell will probably continue to go on as underrated cinematic satirists, I'll continue to appreciate their cuckoo commentary on pop culture. The character of Veronica Corningstone is one of the many highlights of their illustrious partnership thus far and I can't wait to see what other nut ball satire they cook up next, especially if their tales are as fashionable and considered as Corningstone's clothes.

Please see below for some other spiffy fashion photos!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Polishing the Poverty Line in Bridesmaids

Nail polish is a poor girl’s best friend. The good stuff is less than $10 a bottle and could potentially last for years. The poorest gals (those who work menial jobs like customer service and retail) have to work with and stare at their hands all day long and nail polish is always a pretty, colorful reminder of one’s femininity in the line of duty.

Annie, Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids, wears a lot of nail polish. She's failed at everything else in her life, but her nails always look fantastic. Comedy aside, this is what makes Bridesmaids such a terrific flick. It captures the depression and flat out embarrassment of being a poor person surrounded by the impressiveness of the rich and beautiful, a flaw which Annie is constantly punished for. From the opening scene, where she hilariously and humiliatingly rolls in the hay with Jon Hamm, we learn everything we need to know about Annie - she doesn't think enough of herself to find a partner who treats her like a wanted and worthwhile person. This carries over into every aspect of her life, including her increasingly tumultuous relationship with her best friend and confidante, Lillian (Maya Rudolph).

No matter how hard she tries, Annie always feels inadequate because of her social status and inability to compete with Lillian's new country club life and friendships. The deepest and most tragic laughs in the movie stem from these feelings of inadequacy and punishment. All of the big comedy set-pieces, from the shitting and vomiting in expensive dresses to getting drunk and drugged in coach class on the way to Vegas ("Help me, I'm poor!"), drive this idea home and provide little positive reinforcement for Annie's character. Despite the constant chuckles and giggles, the film often feels like an exercise in misery and futility.

It's true that Bridesmaids is a hilarious movie, but it's also a sad look into what life is like for the gals who happen to fall in-between Carrie Bradshaw and Ma Joad. The movie tries to end Annie's tale on a positive note (she meets a guy who treats her pretty well and fixes her friendship with Lillian), but it does little to reassure her place in the world. She's still the unemployed, bankrupt thirty-something living at home with her mom. I've thought about Annie a lot since I initially watched the movie last May and, as if she were one of my oldest friends, worry about her and wonder how she's doing.

I guess we'll find out when (and if) Bridesmaids 2 debuts in a couple of years, but I have a terrible gut feeling Annie is still wearing a lot of nail polish.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011: The Movies and the Miseries

I felt a lot like Dick Powell’s character in Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful this year. His sarcastic, funny mantra through his section of the film is “I started to work” and I know exactly how he feels. He has this cute, charming Southern belle wife (played by the ever so glorious Gloria Grahame) who constantly interrupts his writing and thinking process. While most gentlemen would be honored to be interrupted by Gloria Grahame, she does become a bit of a nuisance because she limits his capacity for concentration and thorough thinking. He eventually finishes his novels and screenplays, but not without significant frustration and angst.

I don’t have Gloria Grahame to blame for my troubles, but I still know what Dick Powell was going through. Between 2008-2010, I was both writing and discovering great cinema frequently. Those were hellish years for many reasons and yet I was still able to write and think clearly. I felt as though I was becoming something better than I was because I was writing, thinking and watching so much.

This year, though, something changed - I became more depressed than ever before and I found myself unable to write or concentrate on much of anything, let alone great cinema. I work in customer service and that’s always got me down, but this year I failed to rise above my daily frustrations and lose myself in any of my passions or delights. I was also accepted into graduate school at SUNY Buffalo and decided to defer/not go there because I’m not in a good place to and don’t have the means to start fresh right now. I was turned down for a job I really wanted in the middle of the year and that also knocked me on my ass. I’m still a poor, moderately educated woman who genuinely thinks of nothing else except bettering myself and my mind and just can’t do it. And don't get me started on the Brewers...

I tried to start numerous essays and projects (I have a good 2/3 of a Mildred Pierce essay completed that is probably the best thing I’ve ever written and I can’t finish it) and, just like Dick Powell, was interrupted by either my own self doubt or depression and only managed to finish two things: my paper about Claudette Colbert for GeekGirlCon (which is around 5,000 words) and my introduction to the Edgar G. Ulmer films at the awesome Shock Theater from the Cinema Dementia Collection.

At (all the wrong) times, my mind is so clear and focused that I feel like I can take on the world. However, when I finally get a moment to sit down and say “I started to work...” the brain fairies have whisked everything away and I feel horrible about myself. How could I have gone from almost constantly writing and watching to this? I sometimes feel so depressed and stunted that I can barely move, speak or function. What is wrong with me? I’m seriously asking because I have no ideas on how to fix it.

Alas, I am not the giving up type. I still want to achieve my dreams and better myself despite the hopeless cynicism I now feel. On that happy note, here’s my top ten of the year. I don’t feel inclined to see most contemporary films because I don't really want to. Instead, here’s a short top ten of new-to-me flicks that got me through the endless days and nights.

In no particular order and with no particular agenda:

The Heroic Trio (1993, Johnnie To): I think Johnnie To’s more recent films are better, but this bad-ass women’s picture starring Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui is cunts-to-the-wall awesome. These ladies all possess amazing super powers and fashion sense and To uses his skillful cinematic humanity to blend the talents of their shared feminine verve to great avail. If To is our eras Howard Hawks, then this would be his Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Both filmmakers have an unspoken moral and professional code in their films that is often male-centric, but their femme flicks follow it too, which is why both filmmakers create such great roles for women.

La Ceremonie (1995, Claude Chabrol): I went on a Chabrol kick earlier this year and this one was my favorite. There’s this strange, unsettling, almost palpable current flowing through the film that’s really unique and unnerving. It’s not a ghost story in the traditional sense, but it still makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Sandrine Bonnaire and Isabelle Huppert are disguised as gal pals who romp around town having oodles of fun when, in reality, underneath that feminine veneer are the spirits of killers like Hannibal Lecter and Charles Manson. Bonnaire, in particular, is creepy as hell because she’s so inhuman - we find out halfway through the film that she’s illiterate and watching her try to relate to and understand society is absolutely bizarre and mesmerizing.

Battle of the Sexes (1928, D.W. Griffith): People who think of Griffith as this old fuddy-duddy Victorian clearly haven’t seen this film (or more than a ten minute clip from Birth of a Nation, for that matter). Griffith often played with society’s preconceived notions of femininity and morality (see Way Down East for a great example) and Battle of the Sexes is his boldest, most modern and hilarious film examining these themes. Phyllis Haver (the original Roxie Hart) oozes sass and smiles as the frizzy blonde gold digger, Marie Skinner. Many women have played gold diggers in films over the years, but none live up to the cheeky manipulations of Haver and her champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

The Strawberry Blonde (1941, Raoul Walsh): This movie is a fucking perfect example of classical Hollywood filmmaking and storytelling. It should be as widely seen and honored (if not more so) as Casablanca or Gone with the Wind. James Cagney stars as Biff Grimes (I love that name) and Walsh used his special brand of wisenheimer-gangster-dance skills better than anyone else in the biz. Though Cagney was certainly a man of his time, there’s something very comforting about watching his marshmallow-y bulldog self take “nothin’ from no one” and try to thrive in the industrial 1890’s.

Big Bad Mama (1974, Steve Carver): I’ve been trying to write a capsule about this one for ages. Set during the depression, Angie Dickinson starts bootlegging and bank robbing to provide for her teenage daughters. It’s a violent, sexy and wonderful movie that doesn‘t run very deep, but watching Dickinson wheel and deal with a gun in ‘30s clothes is just delightful. The film also stars William Shatner who Kirks his way into Dickinson’s “heart,” Tom Skerritt, and Robbie Lee who was the lead in one of my favorite movies, Jack Hill’s Switchblade Sisters.

It Should Happen to You (1954, George Cukor): Despite being shortchanged on films because of a cancerous death, Judy Holliday is a national treasure and her best work was arguably with George Cukor. Their most acclaimed collaboration was Born Yesterday, but I prefer It Should Happen to You because it’s so idiosyncratic and zany. Cukor also shot on location in NYC and doesn’t shy away from depicting the bustling life of the city and its many citizens, which adds a really strange dimension to this sorta-kinda screwball comedy.

Father was a Fullback (1949, John M. Stahl): This flick would make an excellent candidate for a Masculinity in Cinema class. Fred MacMurray (or MacAttack as he is called in my home) plays a college football coach who is far more concerned with his depressed teenage daughter’s vivid gloominess than he is with his lousy football team. Stahl, like Sirk and Minnelli, was a master with melodrama and depicting cinematic human emotion. He saw straight through to the souls of his characters and empathized with their struggles and, most importantly, their ambitions. In this film, he showcases the desperation of depression and how it affects an entire family, which also consists of the always amazing Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood who is so adorable and precocious that she almost makes me want to have children. Almost.

Driftwood (1947, Allan Dwan): Speaking of young Natalie Wood, she plays an orphaned rapscallion in this wonderful flick by Allan Dwan. Wood befriends an abandoned Collie dog who turns out to be the carrier of a spotted fever vaccine. While Wood is making everyone in town feel uncomfortable with her constant judgmental quotations from the Old Testament, she contracts the fever and the Collie, now named Driftwood, saves the day. Despite having seen a significant amount of Dwan’s films and appreciating his greatness as a filmmaker, I still don’t quite know what to say about his technique or how to feel about his filmmaking vibe. Driftwood is the first Dwan I’ve really connected with and loved.

I Married a Witch (1942, Rene Clair): “Don’t you like blondes?” This is an odd duck of a film that’s stuck with me over the past couple of months. Veronica Lake and Fredric March are sexy and fun as the wedded witch and human in question and I can only imagine how much more fun it would have been if it were made ten years earlier! Still, it gets away with a lot for being made during the war years and an occult romance was never more charming.

Skidoo (1968, Otto Preminger): I’m still not even sure whether I like this movie or not, but it’s simply unlike anything else I’ve seen. Like a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s films made by classic Hollywood directors (Seven Women, Rio Lobo, The Most Dangerous Man Alive), Skidoo has a strange energy that I imagines comes from mixing the "old school" with the "new school." It’s bat shit insane and yet such a loving and tender adieu for some of Hollywood’s finest ladies and gents, including Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, etc. It might not have been their last film, but the entire movie feels like a slow exit from the most wonderful party you’ll never be able to remember, one that’s full of warm hugs, inappropriate groping, acid, and the desperate insecurities that come with middle class morality. That last image will stick with you, though. It's just all so lovely and horrible.

So, there’s my top ten. It felt good to write it and I hope you’ll seek out some of these films. Please let me know when you do! I hope to be happier and write more this year. If you have any helpful suggestions on how to accomplish either of those things, I am Gable’s ears. Thank you for reading!