Tag Archives: BFI

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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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-o-Meter: June 13, 2013



The voluptuous 1940s star with the voluminous, flame-coloured hair is the subject of a major retrospective at the BFI this month – a rare chance to celebrate her best movies, among them the musicals Cover Girl and Pal Joey and the influential film noirs Gilda and The Lady From Shanghai. They’re not all great movies but Rita_Hayworth_2013those last two films in particular have many inspiring style moments – notably the famous redhead’s brief stint as a short-haired platinum blonde (The Lady From Shanghai) and her entire Gilda wardrobe (notably the way she works her satin evening gloves .. ). Look and learn. Full details of the Rita Hayworth season are at www.bfi.org.uk .

get-the-gloss-festival-beauty-benefit-new-stay-flawless-primerBENEFIT STAY FLAWLESS 15-HOUR PRIMER (£24.50; www.benefitcosmetics.co.uk, from June 13)

Once you’ve developed a routine with this new primer, it will become indispensable.. A stick formula which rolls on to the skin, it sets very very quickly so speed is of the essence for the foundation-applying stage. The reason it’s so fab? It keeps your foundation in place for hours and hours. It saw me through an evening which included a photo shoot, and several glasses of wine – ’nuff said.

CHANEL UV ESSENTIELS (£41 each; 0207-493 3836)

Now that the sun is finally putting his hat on, Chanel’s new handy, handbag-friendly, tubes of sun protection are making a timely debut. Available in SPFs of 20, 30 and (for those of us of a Scottish inclination) 50, they not only protect the skin, but are also great bases for make-up – just don’t use them at the same time as the Benefit primer!


CLINIQUE A DIFFERENT NAIL ENAMEL (£12; www.clinique.co.uk)

I wanted to love this new range of reasonably priced, gloriously colourful nail varnishes but, frankly, their drippiness is a pain in the ass (and a stain on the floorboards!).


Put them away! Nobody suits the natural nail colour of their toes – that’s why God invented Chanel nail polishes .. The only excuse for an unpainted toenail is if it’s attached to a male foot.


Which grown woman wants to wear a dress that reminds her of something she wore to a party when she was six years old?! Hello – Monsoon? Save your Holly Hobby dresses for your girlswear department.

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Truly Madly Tati

One of the greatest cinematic love affairs of the past half-century has been between British film fans and an angular, accident-prone beanpole of a Frenchman named Monsieur Hulot. The iconic comedy character created by the mime-turned-star and writer-director Jacques Tati has been tickling the funny bones of filmgoers since the release of the movie which introduced him – M. Hulot’s Holiday – in 1953. And it’s a love affair which is being celebrated at this year’s French Film Festival, with a retrospective of all of Jacques Tati’s screen work.

Tati may only have made a handful of films, but they have made a lasting impression on generations of viewers – and it’s not just the popular vote which they’ve earned. His admirers have included Orson Welles, David Lynch, Steven Spielberg and Belleville Rendez-Vous creator Sylvain Chomet who is currently transforming a previously unfilmed Tati script into an animated film.

Tati’s brilliance as a comedy actor has influenced at least two generations of comedians: John Cleese, Paul Merton and Rowan Atkinson, who described seeing M Hulot’s Holiday as “a defining moment in my life” (and paid homage to it in his 2007 film Mr Bean’s Holiday), are just some of the British comics who owe a clear debt to Tati and his very physical comedy style.

But what is it about Tati that makes him so well-loved – even by viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily go to see a foreign film? The main reason has to be his “everyman” appeal. Tati created easily identifiable types who everyone can recognise from their own experience – the postman who takes himself and his work too seriously in his 1949 film Jour de Fete (could he have been the inspiration for Cliff Clavin, the super-officious mailman in the sitcom Cheers?) and the eager-to-please social misfit M Hulot, who creates chaos out of order and is baffled by the technological trappings of modern life.

M Hulot’s fellow holidaymakers are also brilliantly drawn and would fit in to Fawlty Towers as comfortably as they do the Hotel de la Plage. There’s the veteran soldier who drones on about his wartime experiences, the meek, middle-aged sweety-wifey of a husband who is always several steps behind his banality-spouting spouse (“Oh, there’s another boat … and another … oh!”) during their saunters around the beach, and the workaholic businessman whose holiday is punctuated by frequent trips to the telephone (rather like the Tony Roberts character in Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam).

The humour in Tati’s films is very physical – and therefore universal. Tati said that the way a comic actor used his legs was paramount, and he used his to maximum comedy effect, mixing loping strides with hesitant little shuffles as he tries to ingratiate himself into new people’s company. Physically, M Hulot is every bit as recognisable – even in silhouette – as Charlie Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp.

The characteristic Hulot pose is of him tilting forward, with his head at a quizzical angle, his hat tipped over his eyes, his ubiquitous pipe at a right angle to his long nose, his arms bent behind him with his hands resting on his hips. Like Chaplin’s alter ego, he always wears the same kit – trousers that aren’t quite long enough, his Tyrolean-esque hat and stripy socks. He nearly always has his umbrella handy. He walks with a lolling gait, on well-sprung tiptoes and is undoubtedly a French cousin d’un certain Basil Fawlty.

Tati’s background as a mime meant that he was most at home devising visual gags, rather than writing and delivering one-liners or trading witter banter with another actor. Terry Gilliam, the Monty Python team member who became a director, has said: “One of Tati’s great qualities is that his films contain almost no dialogue. I find this particularly brilliant – these divinely French films that create no problem when it comes to subtitling. In terms of dialogue, Monty Python learnt everything from Tati. We owe everything to him.”

Tati’s films feature soundtracks of exaggerated, cartoon-like noises which heighten the effect of the visual comedy – the putt, putt, putt of M Hulot’s old jalopy as it chugs along the road, the be-doing of the restaurant door as the motley crew of hotel guests assembles for lunch, the crashing noise made by our hero’s racquet as he serves in the funniest tennis match in movie history.

The gags which Tati created for his films worked on a number of levels. Many of today’s Tati fans have grown up with M Hulot’s Holiday and have found that their appreciation of it has only increased with time, as they find more and more humour in it.

There’s the obvious, laugh-out-loud slapstick sequences, which appeal enormously to children, but most of the humour lies in the beautifully observed, often whimsical, details which are not flagged up, but are quietly unfolding in a corner of the screen. It pays to see Tati’s films in the cinema as so much happens in the background – and he actively avoided filming close-ups. Orson Welles once said: “There are performers who are only good in full figure. Move in on Tati and he literally disappears.”

Of course, the films also appeal to anyone with a fondness for France and the French way of life. They celebrate the quaint, the eccentric and a lifestyle which Tati saw being replaced by a faster, more consumer and technology-driven one. Jour de Fete and M Hulot’s Holiday are lovely to look at, since they are set in unspoilt rural France, and they move at such a leisurely pace that you can soak up the detail of both the comedy and the setting.

Terry Jones, another Monty Python graduate, has said of Tati: “He was a visual genius. His films, without being silent, all have the qualities, the beauty and the richness of silent film.”

Even by the time he made his third film, Mon Oncle (1958), Tati was beginning to show signs of self-indulgence in his work. His subsequent films – PlayTime (1967),  Trafic (1971) and Parade (1973) – are reviled and revered in equal measure. But Jour de Fete and M Hulot’s Holiday are perfect comedies that showcase Tati’s comedy at its most pure – and most appealing.

* The Totally Tati retrospective is on at the Glasgow Film Theatre and the Edinburgh Filmhouse now. The BFI’s new box set of five Tati films is out now.

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