Category Archives: Movies

A 1950s Christmas Carol

Carol 2Yesterday I was at a press screening of the most gorgeous-looking film I’ve seen this year. Carol is its title, and it was directed by Todd Haynes – who also directed the similarly ravishing-looking Far From Heaven back in 2002. To be honest, I wasn’t really convinced by the characters or gripped by the plot but I was utterly seduced by the autumnal palette, slightly grainy film and – most of all – the  way the two central characters, socialite Carol (Cate Blanchett) and young department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara), looked. (Scroll to the end of this post for more images plus trailer.) Anyone who loves and appreciates 1950s style and beauty, as I do, will not be able to take their eyes off the screen!

The plot centred on the love affair between these two women – and it was a bit like watching Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn (in Sabrina – pre-Paris transformation) getting together. They both look amazing in clothes designed by costume designing legend Sandy Powell: Blanchett sports chic suits or fitted dresses with silk scarves and elegant jewellery, tidy little hats and a ubiquitous mink, while Mara wears simpler, gamine gear. (Indeed, the pinafore-turtle neck combo she sports for Christmas in the country is a direct lift from Sabrina.)

In an interview earlier this year, Blanchett said: “The mink was old and it kept falling apart. Between takes, Sandy Powell  the costume designer, would sew it back together by hand. I considered changing coats, but when you find the right thing, you know immediately. That coat was the one to tell Carol’s story. It was perfect.”Carol 6

Just as perfect and every bit as striking was the make-up look created for Blanchett by her regular movie make-up artist Morag Ross, who told the MakeUp411 website: “The character of Carol Aird was a sophisticated, wealthy woman, so the make-up and hair had to reflect that. As was the norm of the period, she was always made-up and lipsticked, always put-together and elegant when in public. When the two women go on their road trip the look became more relaxed and free.

“Cate’s look really came together with the immaculate and stunning hairdressing by Kay Georgiou. We took our inspiration from period photos of Grace Kelly who, of course, always seemed effortlessly elegant and beautiful, and we made our aim to channel that kind of look and feeling.” Carol’s coral-red lips, says Ross, were painted with Chanel’s Rouge Allure Lipsticks in Coromandel and Incandescente (used on the middle of the lower lip), while her nails, throughout the film, sport the Lilis shade of Chanel Le Vernis.

And Blanchett’s verdict on her make-up also referred back to Chanel. She said: “I had to pluck my eyebrows nearly every day to achieve that very stern look. I just hated it. I much prefer a natural approach to beauty. You know, Coco Chanel always said to take one thing off before you leave the house, and I think that also applies to makeup.”

Carol is in cinemas from November 27Carol 4

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Style on Film: The Seven Year Itch

MM - spotty halterneckThe Seven Year Itch (1955), which is playing at the BFI this week as part of its month-long Marilyn Monroe retrospective, is not one of my favourite Marilyn films but it is a very summery movie – and it features some of my favourite MM summer outfits, in particular the dotty, backless, halter neck dress (above) worn by “The Girl” when she makes her rather chaotic entrance in the brownstone where literary agent Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is living alone, having waved his wife and kids off on their vacation, during a sweltering Manhattan summer.MM - strappy halterneckAs with six of her previous films – notably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire – Marilyn was dressed by costume designer (William) Travilla for The Seven Year Itch, which was set during a blistering heatwave. Trying to stay cool and slipping in and out of comfortable/uncomfortable clothing and is a recurring theme in the film and the pastel pink shirt and capri pants ensemble below (which always reminds me of one of Audrey Hepburn’s outfits in the fashion shoot sequence of Funny Face) was what The Girl changed into from her tight sundress. MM - trouser ensembleOf course, the most iconic dress of Marilyn’s film career is the “subway” dress, the white halter neck with pleated full skirt which The Girl wears for a wander round New York after dark. Pausing over a subway grill, she is blasted with a gust of air which makes her skirt billow and provides some welcome relief from the oppressive heat – as well as a prolonged flash of the Monroe thighs (and big pants!) for passers-by to ogle.MM Seven Year Itch subway dress use

What you can’t see in the many stills that feature the Subway Dress is the fact that there is more to Travilla’s most famous frock than the bust-emphasising, drapy halter neck and the light, floaty pleated full skirt. There is a beautiful mid section which highlights the fact that this is a Grecian-style dress, with a distinctly 1950s twist. This photograph from a wardrobe test shows off the full effect. MM Seven year Itch subway dress test shotAnd although The Girl doesn’t go to any formal events in The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe for the film did include a striking evening gown which is almost as memorable as such previous Travilla designs as the hot pink Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The “Tiger” dress appears in a fantasy sequence, when she visits Richard’s apartment and falls under his spell when he plays Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto for her.MM Tiger dress colour* The Seven Year Itch is showing at the BFI on Friday June 19 and Sunday 21. For more on the BFI’s Marilyn season, which runs till the end of June, click here

 

 

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Mad About Marilyn’s Movies

A glamorous Marilyn Monroe in a red dress.

Marilyn Monroe in a publicity shot for How To Marry a Millionaire (courtesy of BFI)

This month, the BFI is treating London film-goers to a terrific retrospective of the ultimate movie star: Marilyn Monroe. It’s more than 50 years since her premature death  – and it’s certainly time to honour her in the way she would have wanted: as an actress and performer. After a half century of speculation about the myths that swirl around her suicide, we need to move on – and look past the legend, to the legacy on film. The riddles of Monroe’s mixed-up mind and the hushed-up circumstances of her death will never be fully understood – and the obsession with her personal life, her sex appeal and her status as a cultural icon overshadow one important thing: her work.

Marilyn Monroe’s was a dazzlingly impressive if spectacularly short career. Not only was she a phenomenally talented comedienne who created the definitive “dumb blonde” persona, but she was also an exceptionally gifted and affecting actress – some of whose performances are so raw that they make for uncomfortable viewing – and a wonderful singer whose recordings of even established pop tunes became iconic, if not definitive, versions. Like other geniuses who died young, she left a small body of work packed with moments of greatness and at least one bona fide masterpiece, in the form of Some Like It Hot.

Indeed, it’s astounding to realise that a star whose name has been known in every corner of the globe for half a century only had leading roles in 11 films spread out over the last decade of her 36-year-old life. Such was the impact of her unique brand of irresistible sex appeal –  vulnerability combined with voluptuousness, sensuality plus serenity, child-like naivete fused with a very wholesome and womanly guile – that her presence transcends much of the material she worked with. She was born to be a movie actress: the camera loved her. Billy Wilder, the only director who worked with her twice during herSome Like it Hot 4 leading lady phase, described her appeal on camera as “the flesh impact .. Some girls have flesh that photographs like flesh. You feel you can reach out and touch it.” He made great use of this when he filmed her in Some Like It Hot.

It was, of course, her physical appeal which first landed her a screen test – but it was immediately apparent to no less a figure than 20th Century Fox’s production chief Darryl Zanuck that she was more than a particularly sexy starlet. “It’s a damn good test,” he said when he saw the rushes. But that didn’t stop his studio, or others – like Groucho Marx who cast her in Love Happy (1949) on the strength of the fact that she had “the prettiest ass” – from casting her purely in decorative roles. This soon instilled in her the resolve to become an actress and win respect.

She won some especially valuable respect early on – from John Huston who directed her when she played a crooked lawyer’s naive young mistress in his superb heist movie The Asphalt Jungle (1950). She may only have been in two short scenes, and her name may have been omitted from the titles when the film was previewed, but Monroe caught the audience’s eye then – and again that year when she stole a scene from right under Bette Davis’s over-powdered nose in All About Eve. Those films got the public talking but Monroe’s launch into the bigtime was still a couple of years away. And she used that time to get professional help with her acting.

The breakthrough came in 1953. Monroe had the opportunity to get her teeth into a juicy dramatic role (and her bottom into a particularly tight skirt – essential for the scene in which the famous Monroe walk was first captured on camera) when she played the treacherous, man-eating Rose in Niagara. And, that same year, she created the definitive dumb blonde in the lavish comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. She may not have been the first dumb blonde but, with her combination of big-eyed innocence, dopeyness and a hapless way of always landing on her feet, she was the most lovable and the most enduring.

In those two career-making films, she revealed herself to be a great comedienne, up there with Mae West in the comic timing stakes (and in her own, offscreen, gift for one-liners) and willing to send herself up a la Carole Lombard or any of the screwball comedy era stars. This aspect made her particularly appealing to both sexes.

Director Nunnally Johnson later said: “I believe that the first time anyone genuinely liked Marilyn for herself, in a picture, was in Millionaire. She herself diagnosed the reason for that very shrewdly. She said that this was the only picture she’d been in in which she had a measure of modesty about her own Prince and the Showgirl 4attractiveness. She didn’t think men would look at her twice, because she wore glasses … . In her other pictures they’ve cast her as a somewhat arrogant sex trap, but when Millionaire was released, I heard people say ‘Why, I really like her!’ in surprised tones.”

Despite her success and the fact that she had proved that she was more than window dressing, Monroe was still trapped in what she described as “sex roles” – even River of No Return (1954), a western drama by no less serious a director than Otto Preminger, offered her little opportunity to show her worth as an actress. Announcing the formation of her own production company (and act which ensured that Fox renewed her contract and met her terms), she told the press : “I want to broaden my scope. I want to do dramatic parts. It’s no temptation to me to do the same thing over and over. I want to keep growing as a person and as an actress … in Hollywood they never ask me my opinion. They just tell me what time to come to work.”

Her next four films marked the peak of her short career. She gave a nuanced comic turn as “The Girl Upstairs” in Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955) and a superb dramatic performanceas the flighty, southern “chantoosie” Cherie in Bus Stop (1956); a performance which prompted the film’s director, Joshua Logan, to later describe her as “as near genius as any actress I ever knew”. By this time, Monroe was studying with the Actors Studio in New York, and her un-starry, “courageous”, willingness to sacrifice her looks for the sake of her character was one aspect of her work on the film which impressed Logan. She may not have had a rapport with Laurence Olivier on The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) but this period drama garnered her more rave reviews. The pinnacle of her success came in 1959 with her gloriously endearing portrayal of the uber-naive Sugar Kane in the uproarious Billy Wilder comedy Some Like it Hot.The Misfits 5

Monroe was never better than as the gullible Sugar and her performance was the perfect blend of comedy and tragedy. Sadly, though, she was descending into her own personal hell – a troubled personal life that was so thoroughly and intrusively documented in the press that it became increasingly difficult to appreciate where reality ended and performance began. And which makes her final complete film, The Misfits (1961) – in which she played a damaged, child-like woman in search of direction and in need of protection – all the more poignant.

* The Marilyn Monroe season runs from June 1-June 30. For a full list of films and times, click here

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The Beauty of Bergman

IngridIs there a more radiant screen smile than Ingrid Bergman’s? It lit up the scenes she appeared in, and it is infectious even now when you watch her movies. And what a diverse bunch of films she made – something that’s obvious from the retrospective that the Glasgow Film Festival has put together for this, her centenary year.

Bergman was like a breath of fresh air when she arrived in Hollywood, already a successful actress back home in Sweden. Her natural beauty and the air of vitality and wholesomeness she exuded were in contrast to the heavily made-up glamour pusses who populated Hollywood studios in the early 1940s when Ingrid as Mariaher career took off. Audiences loved her in such hits as Casablanca (1942), Gaslight (1944), The Bells of St Mary’s (1945) and Notorious (1946). Her short cropped, curly hair in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) launched a trend, and her androgynous appearance in that film was ahead of its time.

She was also somewhat ahead of her time in her determination to be the master of her own career path, rather than relying on others or waiting to be offered parts. When, in the late 1940s, she saw Rome, Open City she decided to write to its director, Roberto Rossellini, in Italy and tell him that she would like to be considered for a role in one of his films. He offered her a part and she went to Italy to work with him.

They fell in love and, not yet divorced from her husband back in America, Bergman bore him a son – and went on to have more children with him (among them the future model/actress Isabella Rossellini). They were married
by then but the relationship had been an international scandal, with Hollywood horrified by Bergman’s behaviour and the press outraged by it. Even Congress weighed in; she was denounced there as “Hollywood’s apostle of degradation”.

But she went on to win her second Best Actress Oscar (the first was for her brilliant portrayal of a young woman Ingrid in Notoriousbeing driven to the brink of madness in Gaslight) for her “come-back” performance in the title role of Anastasia
(1956), an Oscar that was widely interpreted as evidence of Hollywood forgiving her for her “sins”. In 1974, she won her final Oscar, the Best Supporting Actress statuette, for her turn as the apparently simple Swedish nanny in Murder On the Orient Express. By that time she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which would kill her eight years – and several more acclaimed performances – later.

* The Glasgow Film Festival runs until March 1

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Katharine the Great

Katharine HepburnKatharine Hepburn (1907-2003) is the subject of a major retrospective through February and March at the BFI in London. Much as I admire her, I find a little of her goes a long way – but she did appear in some wonderful films during her six-decade career, including several of my all-time favourites. Here’s a list of my top five Katharine Hepburn films from the vast collection screening at the BFI.

1. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Philadelphia Story poster 2Who could forget Hepburn as the haughty, ice maiden who has a meltdown on the eve of her society wedding when Spy magazine sends an attractive young reporter (and his photographer girlfriend) to cover her big day, her still-smitten first husband turns up, and she discovers that the high moral standards she imposes on others are occasionally hard to adhere to herself. An Oscar-winning James Stewart (for my money he could have won the award for his drunk scene alone) and an especially charismatic Cary Grant also star in this glorious, sophisticated and very funny classic from director George Cukor.

2. Woman of the Year (1942)Woman of the Year poster

Hepburn plays a famous political newspaper columnist who first spars with then falls in love with her newspaper’s sports editor in this utterly delightful George Stevens romantic comedy which features one of the all-time great comedy sequences, when Hepburn’s gal-about-town character tries to prove that the domestic stuff is as easy as pie, and comes a memorable cropper in the kitchen. Like The Philadelphia Story, this is a particular delight for wardrobe-watchers as Hepburn’s clothes were designed by the great Adrian. And it’s also the first of the nine films that she made with her real-life long-term love, Spencer Tracy.

3. Summertime (1955)

Summertime posterWhile other middle-aged female stars were forced to play bitter and twisted women clinging on to their youth (and their men) – All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard etc – Hepburn gave a wonderful, appealingly vulnerable performance as a “spinster” falling in love for the first time during a holiday in Venice in this beautiful and sensitive film by director David Lean. Neither the 40-something Hepburn nor Venice ever looked lovelier.

4. The African Queen (1951)The African Queen posterJohn Huston’s exciting First World War-set adventure/romance stars Hepburn as a buttoned-up missionary who finds herself (in more ways than one) when she and boozy steamboat captain Humphrey Bogart (who won his only Oscar for his performance) undertake an increasingly dangerous journey downriver, taking on the elements, the river currents and even the Germans at various points.

5. Alice Adams (1935) Alice Adams poster

Despite what the poster says, Hepburn was in fact in her later twenties when she played the awkward young social climber whose compulsive need to put on airs and graces (and force her slightly screwy family to do the same) is her undoing in this gentle comedy from George Stevens. It also starred a young Fred MacMurray, and Hepburn counted it as one of her favourite of her own films.

* Visit www.whatson.bfi.org.uk for the full programme

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Style on Film @ Christmas

The Bishop's WifeChristmas movie time comes but once a year – and it seems to me that some of my favourite Christmas movies boast some very stylish characters, some of whom have influenced me over the, ahem, decades.. In The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Loretta Young (above) is not really a fashionplate, but I have always covetted her black ankle boots and, one year, my Christmas wish came true when I stumbled across a pair in the Office sale – immediately after seeing that lovely Christmas movie on the big screen at the Glasgow Film Theatre. Another festive favourite is The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942) which is not only gloriously funny, but also boasts some covetable ensembles sported by Ann Sheridan (below) who played a Hollywood movie star. I’ll be looking at her – and Bette Davis’s – wardrobe from that film in another post but here’s a publicity shot of one of her Orry-Kelly outfits.Xmas - Ann Sheridan, TMWCTD, publicity shotA movie which is often forgotten about in the festive film roll call is the deliciously stylish Bell, Book and Candle (1958) which shows off a modern day Manhattan witch’s simple, sexy and elegant wardrobe to delightful effect. Kim Novak slinks around memorably in a selection of Jean Louis clothes, while working her magic on unsuspecting James Stewart. Xmas - Bell Book and Candle publicity shotLike Bell, Book and Candle, The Thin Man (1934) isn’t usually included in festive movie round-ups – its status as an influential screwball comedy, and as the first in one of the most successful series of Hollywood films of the 1930s, tends to take precedence – but it is set around the Christmas holidays. Myrna Loy appears in a number of wonderfully chic outfits by the British costume designer Dolly Tree. Her jaunty tartan get-up is immortalised in this lovely sketch. The Thin Man - sketch of tartan outfit

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Mirror, Mirror

I’m currently reading a biography of movie star Barbara Stanwyck. She was not the most beautiful of stars but she certainly exuded sex appeal and knew how to get a guy – a trait she shared with one of her most memorable characters, the eponymous heroine in the glorious 1941 comedy The Lady Eve. I’ll be writing a Style on Film soon about this movie, the first in which Stanwyck wore high fashion, but in the meantime, here’s a wonderful clip which shows why a single gal should never be without a mini mirror … 

 

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