Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Where Night's Black Bird Her Sad Infamy Sings

Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their last fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.

Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.

From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.

Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world's despite.

- John Dowland, Flow My Tears

 Some Came Running/The Shootist/Futurama: Jurassic Bark/Romancing in Thin Air

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tea with James Whale

I just finished watching Bride of Frankenstein for the millionth time. I love that movie and I love James Whale. The last time I watched it was at the Music Box Horror Movie Massacre in 2006 on 35mm. It's hard to beat the 35mm experience, but watching it in Europe while living in my '30s apartment at the foot of a castle was an equally fantastic encounter. One I hope to replicate soon with the first Frankenstein movie.

James Whale has been on my mind a lot lately. I've been working on a project that involves him in a small but significant way and I can't stop thinking about his movies. It occurred to me the other day how James Whale-ish my apartment really is - it has a perfect view of a really spooky castle (that was actually a former prison), there are tombstones in the yard next door, oodles of cats prowling around constantly and a certain elegance and je ne se qua that screams classic Universal horror movie. I wish I could invite James Whale for tea so we could sit in my office sun room and shoot the shit about literature and movies while eating delicious vegan shortbread cookies. I would wear my black lace dress with red tights and my wide-brimmed black hat and sunglasses. I'd imagine he would wear a white linen suit with matching brown shoes, gloves and a cane. Wouldn't it be loverly?

P.S. Wasn't Elsa Lanchester gloriously beautiful? She might be the most gorgeous actress of all time in my book.

My office back in December. It's cleaner now.

Špilberk Castle covered in snow.

Špilberk Castle not covered in snow.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I Want To Be Deborah Kerr When I Grow Up

Out of all the actresses in all the world, I aspire to be like Deborah Kerr. Sure, I'd love to sashay like Marilyn Monroe, hang loose like Ava Gardner or let 'em have it like Barbara Stanwyck, but Deborah Kerr inspires me to be a better woman, wife and person. I want to be Deborah Kerr when I grow up.

Kerr possesses an understanding of human frailty and weakness that no other actress, save Lillian Gish, could ever muster. From Hannah Jelkes coaxing the mental demons out of Richard Burton's tarnished Priest in Night of the Iguana to Terry McKay's noble disappearance from Cary Grant's life in An Affair to Remember, Kerr's characters always know how to handle life's uncertainties, imbalances, distraught relationships and lovers.

In my heart I know that I possess a similar understanding of human frailty and weakness, but I am a verbal clam. I am a feeler and not much of a thinker. If a friend pours their heart out to me, I will sit there silently, listening to every word, feeling so deeply for their problems, wishing I could help, but I never have anything helpful to say. I can't articulate my feelings verbally or apply them to their problems in any meaningful way. It is the greatest struggle of my life, one that makes me shake with rage and disappointment in myself, especially considering how often I am in the midst of such situations.

Deborah Kerr never has that problem. She is always in the middle of the deepest emotions, the most sincere melodrama, and she always has an answer for everything. Kerr makes it look easy. Even if someone flies off the handle and acts like a cruel bastard, such as Burton's character in Night of the Iguana or her husband, Bill, in Tea and Sympathy, she never takes it personally and always finds a way to reason and relate to the troubled souls. If her husband violently punched walls or consistently waxed poetic on his inevitable suicide, she would know exactly what to say and how to help. Deborah Kerr is not only noble and eloquent, she is also flat out incapable of apathy and viciousness. It's another reason I admire her so much.

However, we all have our limits. Instead of emotionally exploding, going into hysterics or even having a tizzy, Kerr's characters simply walk away when the time is right or she's had enough. After David Niven says possibly the cruelest thing a man can ever say to a woman at the end of Bonjour Tristesse, she doesn't confront him. Kerr gets in her car and has an “accident” that doesn't even occur onscreen. No muss, no fuss. No tears, no tissues. It takes a lot of strength to walk away, even more to have an “accident,” which makes the fact that she is almost always leaving or has already left the narrative at the end of her films all the more commendable.    

I doubt that I'll ever reach Deborah Kerr's level of dignity and verbal distinction, but she makes me want to keep trying. I'll always be grateful for that.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wardrobes I Covet: Taking of Power by Louis XIV

“...The repression and ritual of costume. Louis seizes on this – his second order as King is to tell everyone what to wear: “I order the court to observe mourning in black.” Immediately he is opposed. But Louis replies with insolence. Timid underneath and weak, but, lo, everyone's in black. So he tells Colbert: “I want you to summon the master tailor.” Here's the result. Hilarious. Absurd. But historically true. This is the film's point – the clothes. Louis domesticates the nobility by turning them into mummies under the weight and cost of court costume. He creates a totalitarian state out of whole cloth.” - Tag Gallagher, TAKING POWER 
“Louis uses the vanity of the people, nothing more. Vanity is something that exists and is very solid. Louis had an absolutely empirical understanding of people.” - Rossellini quoted in TAKING POWER
“...Louis was able to tame a rebellious aristocracy partly by imposing on them fashions in food, clothing and architecture that were expensive enough to keep them in permanent debt.” - Dave Kehr, Review of Roberto Rossellini's History Films for the NY Times
I've been making friends with some old enemies lately, namely Rossellini's absolutely exquisite history films. Tonight I revisited Taking of Power by Louis XIV and was struck by its use of costume for the reasons quoted above. It just might be the greatest fashion film of all-time and it inspired me to pickup my old Wardrobes I Covet series.

Clothes not only make the (wo)man, but also the movie. Fashion can express more about a character than dialogue ever could. Fashion, if used correctly, can be one of cinema's most powerful tools.

In Taking of Power by Louis XIV, Louis takes control of his kingdom and the future of France by trendsetting. If you are in the court of the King, it is your duty to copy the King's fashions, no matter how much they may cost. His elegant, almost garish costumes changed France's economy and forced the nobility to depend on the crown more than ever before:
"Louis would stage elaborate ball after exquisite party after expensive festival and require luxurious attire at each one. The nobility wanted to remain within the higher circles, which were quickly congealing at the court of Versailles, because it was “believed that mere physical proximity to the monarch…would elevate them to a higher social level” and the king spent almost all of his time at court.[4] It was thus necessary to attend all the fashionable balls and festivities and spend outrageous amounts of money on new clothing. Eventually it was almost certain the courtier would fall into debt and should they want to remain within the court they would be required to ask for a loan from the king. The king would only grant them said loan or even hear their request for the loan if they had been spending the proper amount of time at court.[5] This endless cycle kept the nobles trapped in Versailles and focused on the wearing the proper and most fashionable clothing, which led them to be both too poor and too preoccupied to revolt against the monarch.[6]"
Rossellini infuses the movie with the sensual potency of such refined accoutrement. From the Cardinal's simple red silk frock lying delicately in the arms of a beautiful woman to Louis' crimson and later black and white high dollar getup's, every single piece of clothing in the movie moves with emotion and beams with personality. Think of Louis' mother and the way her lovely blue dress swishes behind her as she turns away from Louis in the middle of the film. She is always turning away from him and that swish acts like the final closing of a door. Think of the lack of movement in the Cardinal's clothes. You can practically smell the powdery perfumes and stinky, infected piss on his night gown as he applies rouge to his deathly white cheeks for his last visit with the King. Think of Louis' starchy, bulky royal garments. Jean-Marie Patte wasn't a great actor, but he had the advantage of working with Rossellin who used his body as if he were simply a model. He accentuated Patte's good points and masked his bad ones: His stiff physique and monotone speech patterns became reserved emotion, as if reigning over France weighed down so heavily on his shoulders that he could barely move.   

In the beginning of the movie, Louis is struggling to rise to power. His mentor and only friend, the Cardinal, has just died and he doesn't know who to trust or how to lead. His pudgy faced, short and stout body is generally covered with inane finery comprised of simple lines and cuts with few frills and usually creamy beige or muted green in color, which only adds to his wallflower mystique. Slowly, his sense of fashion and confidence as a King develops. It starts small with ordering everyone to wear black after the Cardinal's death. Soon it's majestic gold slippers and bigger feathers and ornate sashes.

Finally it's his grand entrance in the crimson caparison. Not since Bette Davis' equally jaw-dropping appearance in both the harlot red and feminine white dresses in Jezebel or Jim Carrey's/Jeff Daniels' tuxedos in Dumb and Dumber has an outfit made such an impact on me. Like Davis' gowns, the sheer power and garish vastness of Louis' costume overwhelms the frame and almost stuns you into forgetting to breathe – it's just too much to take in. By putting on this ensemble, Louis has finally become the person he was born to be, at least on the outside, and must continue playing the part until the end of his life.

Much has been said of watching Scarlett O'Hara get fitted and squeezed into her corset in Gone with the Wind to try and achieve the near-impossible eighteen and a half inch waist. Nothing sums up her character better – she can reign terror over Atlanta as long as she looks like a Southern Belle. Louis will always look like a King. However, few fashion scenes elicit such emotion and understanding as seeing a graying Louis strip his royal fashion trappings during the final moments of Taking of Power by Louis XIV. It's a moment of peace and personal reflection – he lifts the burden he created for himself, throws it on his office chair and sits on the edge of his desk to read a book in a robe, not even bothering to remove the scattered clothes to sit more comfortably. But he is alone, so very alone.   

The two films I've compared Taking of Power by Louis XIV are women's pictures. It's true that fashion films usually tend to be female-oriented and rightfully so. Fashion is one of the only tried and true pieces of arsenal in the women's picture artillery. Try thinking of Audrey Hepburn without picturing her in the black Givenchy dress from Breakfast at Tiffany's or Faye Dunaway without her beret and chic gangster clothes in Bonnie and Clyde – it's damn near impossible. Fashion is used in a similar way in Taking of Power by Louis XIV, but the clothes do more than accentuate and articulate the emotions of the King and his peers, they, in both actual form and discussion, establish the profundity of Rossellini's version of history and examine the roles these characters have played in it. Clothes not only make the man and the movie, they also make history.    

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Imitation of Mice

My name is Sara and this is my video. 

I'm not really sure how to explain it. I have always felt more comfortable in my body when I'm pretending to be someone else. Nothing thrills me more than wearing a costume and taking on that character's personality.

I've admired Andy Kaufman since I saw Man on the Moon in junior high school. It's not a very good movie, but it did make me aware of Andy Kaufman. I've been practicing this Mighty Mouse skit since I was fourteen years old and a part of me has always strongly desired to capture it on video. It's not perfect, but I hope you'll enjoy it anyway.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ardent Ardour

"Be ardent in your work and you will find God in your cooking pots." - Séraphine de Senlis/St. Teresa of Avila