Flicks for Fabulous Fashionistas

For the fashionistas among us, here are four documentaries about fashion greats Halston, Diana Vreeland, Carine Roitfeld and Yves Saint Laurent to slurp up while indolently leafing through the latest Vogue and painting your toenails.

vreeThe first is Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel 2012 (746.92 DIA). Diana (pronounced dee-ahna) worked as editor-in-chief at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, singlehandedly bringing fashion into the modern world and out of the hands of a privileged, stuffy elite. She was known for her eccentric, but amusing, pronouncements, such as “Why don’t you wash your blond child’s hair in dead champagne, as they do in France?” and “Why don’t you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?” Really, why not? She discovered major models such as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and the fabulous Veruschka. She was also known for her tremendous sense of personal style—her lacquered hair, her rouge, even for polishing the bottoms of her high heels every day.

vree1Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston 2010 (746.92 ULT), was, for me, the most enjoyable of these documentaries. Halston began as a milliner and created the famous pill box hat worn by Jackie Kennedy. He went on to revolutionize women’s clothing, simplifying and bringing fashion into the future. His ultrasuede shirt dress became an instant classic. He had a coterie of women followers, including Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger and Liza Minnelli, and they often partied the night away at Studio 54.

The seventies, with its avocado refrigerators and shag carpets, is sometimes remembered as an era of nightmare design, but seeing Ultrasuede reminds us of that era’s elegance. By the early eighties, though, fashion times had changed, and his empire crumbled and then collapsed. The party was over.

madcMademoiselle C 2014 (746.92 MAD) is about Carine Roitfeld, the least known of this group, at least to me. Mademoiselle C is for the hard-core fashionista, as it’s a  detailed documentary about Carine as she starts up her fashion book/magazine, called CR Fashion Book, in 2012. She doesn’t come across as warm and fuzzy, but if you are interested in the creative process behind magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s, it’s enlightening, and she does hobnob with fashion luminaries such as Karl Lagerfeld. Her hair, though, remains a mystery (meow!).

lamourL’Amour Fou  2011 (746.92 AMO) details the life of Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner and lover Pierre Berge. There are wonderful vintage clips of fashion shows, along with glimpses into their fabulously decorated homes. After Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, these belongings were sold in an auction at Christie’s for $483.8 million.

In some ways, this documentary is a meditation on having it all–is it ever enough? Saint Laurent suffered from depression, and the ups and downs of the creative process in the hot house atmosphere of the Paris fashion world ultimately destroyed him.

You might also be interested in the documentary September Issue 2009 (746.92 SEP) which details the creation of a September issue of Vogue magazine, always the biggest of the year.

 

H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine

wells2Sometimes memories of movies emerge like bubbles oozing up from the murk at the back of my mind, and the movie demands to be seen again. Such a movie is The Time Machine, made in 1960, and based on a novel by writer H. G. Wells.

wellsAs well as being a writer (he is sometimes called the Father of Science Fiction),  Wells was a historian, a champion of social ideals, and a futurist, who peered into the coming years and made predictions, some of startling accuracy. (He foresaw two world wars, saying the second would start in 1940, the rise of fascist dictators, and the invention of atomic bombs.) Such was the power of his inventive mind that his writings are still of interest.

First edition of "The Time Machine"

First edition of “The Time Machine”

Wells wrote what he called “scientific romances,” and one of his earliest (1895) was The Time Machine, in which he looked far, far ahead—to 802,701 A.D., to be exact. In it, a scientist travels to the future in his invention, a time machine.

He returns to tell his friends that he did not find the Utopian society he had hoped for. Instead, the human race had divided into two races: the passive Eloi, who dwelt above ground, and the subterranean, bestial Morlocks. The Eloi seemed to live an idyllic life, but, in fact, were consumed by the Morlocks. It’s actually a pretty horrifying vision of the future, and Wells, a socialist, based it on the widening gulf he saw between the rich and the laboring class, and viewed his story as a grim allegory of evolution.

timemachineThe movie The Time Machine was the most popular work of director George Pal. The time machine itself is a Victorian-looking contraption with brass trim and a red velvet seat, and is apparently powered by a single light bulb. The scientist, played by square-jawed Rod Taylor, who had met a beautiful Eloi named Weena (played by Yvette Mimeux), had led the Eloi in a successful revolt against the Morlocks. Perhaps thinking of Weena, he returns to the future.

EloiMuch of the fun of the movie stems from its retro vibe and time-lapse photographic effects, which received an Oscar. It’s been criticized for its paring down of a thoughtful novel into a straightforward adventure film, and for the casting of brawny Rod Taylor who teaches the Eloi that there’s nothing a punch in the jaw won’t solve, but I enjoyed it for its silliness, its glowing Metrocolor coloring, and for the hapless Morlocks, who sometimes look more frightened of the Eloi than the other way around.

morlock

Morlocks

Speaking of the Morlocks, they are a fun bunch. After watching modern horror sci-fi such as Alien, in which the snake aliens really are frightening, the Morlocks look like big green teddy bears with long blond hair, kind of like what Pamela Anderson would wear, and you may find yourself smiling rather than shuddering at them. When a spindly Eloi, emboldened by the professor’s manly example, timidly raps a Morlock on the snout, the Morlock instantly falls dead, bleeding profusely. I found myself rooting for the adorable Morlocks.

The Time Machine is a bit of a cult film, and has its own Facebook page, and there are modern filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg who cite George Pal and his thoughtful science fiction movies as one of their inspirations. At any rate, from the moment the MGM’s moth-eaten lion roars in the opening frame, I think you will enjoy yourself. A lukewarm Tab and a bag of Doritos would be the preferred snack to eat while watching.

 

Babette’s Feast

babette1I have several favorite movies: one is The Big Lebowski, which never fails to make me laugh until I snort, and the other is Babette’s Feast, which usually makes me laugh and cry. Babette’s Feast (1987) was unavailable as a DVD for a long time, but was just re-released, packaged with documentary footage and interviews. Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves this movie. I’ve probably watched it ten times, and have often reflected on just what makes it so wonderful.

babette4Well, first, there’s the story. It’s based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, who was a master storyteller. In Babette’s Feast, she tells of a master chef who must escape Paris during a revolution. Her husband and son have been killed, and on the recommendation of a friend, she seeks refuge with a pair of spinsters living on a remote coast of Denmark. The sisters are the daughters of a charismatic Lutheran minister who founded his own Christian sect. Babette begs them to take her on as a cook and housekeeper, and soon they are enjoying her good food. They have no idea that she had been the chef of the renowned Cafe Anglais, in Paris.

The years roll by and  Babette wins a lottery. She asks the sisters if she might cook a special dinner for the villagers, who are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the father’s birth. Little do the sisters suspect that Babette plans to cook the most fabulous meal ever.

babette3So villagers used to eating dried fish and rye bread crust gruel find themselves partaking of Blini Demidoff au Caviar (buckwheat cakes with caviar and sour cream); Potage à la Tortue (turtle soup); Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine (quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce); La Salad (featuring Belgian endive and walnuts in a vinaigrette); and Les Fromages (blue cheese, papaya, figs, grapes and pineapple), with the grand finale dessert Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruits). Numerous rare wines and Champagnes complete the menu. The dinner scene gets funnier every time I watch it, because the straight-laced diners have taken a vow not to notice the food, no matter how delicious.

babette2Under the influence of the wonderful meal, the diners, who had been quarreling with one another, are reconciled. In a transcendent moment, recognizing the shortness of life and their love for one another, they dance together under the stars. The sisters are flabbergasted to learn that Babette had spent all of her lottery winnings on the meal. Sister Martine tearfully says, “Now you will be poor the rest of your life,” to which Babette replies, “An artist is never poor.”

Dinesen’s ability to show the deep sadness of life along with its joy and comedy make this a unique movie to me. Babette’s Feast,  which is in Danish, won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

As a side note, Pope Francis has identified Babette’s Feast as his favorite movie. (New Yorker, April 26, 2013). I am not at all surprised.

An Oldie, but a Goodie

poldark3Long ago and far away, before there were computer-aided graphics and other digital camera technologies, BBC made an entertaining TV series called “Poldark,” (available as Season One and Season Two),and I’m mentioning it in case you would just like to sit down, relax,  and enjoy a good swashbuckling romance that will carry you away. It was based on a series of novels by English author Winston Graham.

Set in late 18th century Cornwall, the story is long and convoluted, but the appeal stems from the romance of darkly handsome Ross Poldark (played by Robin Ellis–Oh, my beating heart be still!) with Demelza (played by Angharad Reese), the guttersnipe servant. Complications arise because Ross thinks he is really in love with the well-bred beauty Elizabeth (Jill Townshend). Ross had been a British Army officer fighting in the American Revolutionary War, and had been taken prisoner. Thinking Ross was dead, Elizabeth had married his cousin, Francis Poldark. Of course, viewers knows that Ross really loves Demelza, but this series would go nowhere if he knew this, too. So there are plenty of ingredients to keep the pot boiling.

The above plot might seem to indicate Poldark is a “chick flick,” but what with shipwrecks, smuggling, and Ross’s efforts to revive his family’s tin mine, there is plenty here of interest to guys, as well. The time period of the saga, 1783 to 1799, was one of social turmoil, as England recovered from losing its American colonies, entered the Industrial Revolution, and waged war with France.

There were 29 episodes broadcast over two seasons, from October 1975 through December 1977. Poldark is one of the most successful British television adaptations of all time. At one point, during its original broadcasts, church services in Britain were postponed so that everyone could watch it.

First Edition of "Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall."

First Edition of “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall.”

Winston Graham wrote twelve Poldark novels, including Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, and Demelza: a Novel of Cornwall.  The titles are available in our LINC system and can be placed on hold.

 

 

 

 

 

Tous les Matins du Monde

tous2Tous les Matins du Monde (All the Mornings of the World), made in 1991, is set in seventeenth-century France  (1640-1670) and is the story of a virtuoso musician named Monsieur de St. Columbe and his fraught relationship with Marin Marais, his sometimes pupil. St. Colombe was a master on the viola da gamba, which was a precursor to the cello.

As the movie opens, St. Colombe is returning from playing for a friend who was dying, only to find that in his absence, his beautiful young wife has died suddenly. He is shattered, and retreats from the world to lose himself in his music. A young musician named Marin Marais (played by Guillaume  Depardieu, the son of Gerard Depardieu) comes to him to ask for lessons, but St. Colombe brusquely rejects him, saying that while Marais can play well, his soul is not in his music. Marais is able to learn from St. Colombe’s daughter, who also plays, and who falls in love with him.

The composer Lully.

Jean-Baptiste Lully.

Marais goes to the court of King Louis XIV, where he rises to fame among the court musicians, and where the famed composer Lully is preeminent. (Note: The adult Marais is played by Gerard Depardieu.) I have to say, it’s worth watching the movie just to see Gerard Depardieu, dressed in full court regalia, including an amazing wig, and painted with rouge, powder and lipstick, leading the court orchestra, as they play March pour la Ceremone des Turcs, by Lully. Meanwhile, as St. Colombe continues to practice and compose, the ghost of his wife appears to him, and he finds consolation.

Gerard Depardieu as Marin Marais

Gerard Depardieu as Marin Marais

The movie is told as a flashback, as the older Marin Marais, himself melancholy to find that fame and fortune are hollow, talks to his young students about music. Through the vicissitudes of life, he finally understands what St. Colombe was trying to teach him. As he plays the haunting “Dreaming Girl,” (La Reveuse) the ghost of St. Colombe appears, and finally gives his blessing.

Bass viola da gamba. Image from www.orpheon.org

Bass viola da gamba. Image from www.orpheon.org

This is a gorgeous movie, set in the French countryside, and in an ancient French manor house, and in Versailles itself. The music caught me by surprise, being hauntingly beautiful, melodic and accessible. I am not the only one to love the soundtrack–it has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The viola da gamba is played by virtuoso Jordi Savall, the modern master of the instrument. The viola da gamba and related strings, which were suited to being played in small venues, were eventually replaced by the  violins, whose piercing tones which were better suited to large concert halls.

Lubin_Baugin_001

“Still Life with Wafers,” by Lubin Baugin, a friend of Sainte Colombe.

The movie’s title comes from a French proverb: “Tous les matins du monde sont sans retour,” means literally “All the mornings of the world [leave] without [ever] returning.”

This movie is in French, with English subtitles.

 

 

 

Sherlock Holmes

holmes

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

I’ve been hunkered down in a cozy armchair for days now, up to my chin in a wooly afghan, and have been watching Sherlock Holmes DVDs. Maybe it was the frequent bone-chilling temperatures of the past weeks, but some impulse prodded me to watch something cozy, and there’s nothing cozier than the world of Sherlock Holmes, what with the snug study at 221B Baker Street, the clip-clop of horses hooves on cobblestone streets, and Mrs. Hudson serving tea and scones.

holmes5I’ve been watching the version starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes. In my opinion, he’s the best Holmes of all time, though I’m aware those might be fighting words. An amazing number of actors have taken a stab at Holmes, but I think only Brett captures the nervous sensibility of the character, with his mercurial moods, both those of the black depression when there is no intellectual stimulation at hand, and the elation when a new case,worthy of his intellect, appears.

holmes3 As I watch, I ponder why Sherlock Holmes remains so incredibly popular—there are many theories. My own is as follows: The modern world is prone to hysteria, but Holmes is singularly free of it—no flights of fancy, no wild conjectures. How reassuring that in the Holmesian universe, reason reigns, and that his formidable intellect is on the side of good, not evil.

holmes4The series, produced by Granada Television (a British company), ran for 41 episodes as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984–1985), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1986–1988), The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1991–1993) and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994); 36 ran for 50 minutes, and five were feature-length specials.

holmes6The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (available at Batavia)

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Five full-length Sherlock Holmes movies with Jeremy Brett can be accessed through Hoopla as e-Videos. They include: The Sign of Four; The Hound of the Baskervilles; The Master Blackmailer; The Last Vampyre; and The Eligible Bachelor.

“So, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

Renoir

renoir5May I suggest a film antidote to these rather cold, dreary days of mid-winter? The movie is the biopic Renoir (2012), the story of the 74-year-old painter as he meets his last muse, the radiantly beautiful Andree, in 1915. She was recommended to him by Henri Matisse. Andree is vibrantly alive, and was to inspire Renoir to continue painting. He noted that “Her skin drinks in the light.”

 

renoir6

Blonde à la rose, Andrée, 1915-1917 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Meanwhile, Renoir’s son, Jean, has come back home to convalesce after being injured in battle in the war. He, too, falls under the spell of Andree, and they were later married. Jean went on to become a great filmmaker, filming La Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game.

As one critic has said, “Renoir doesn’t get much beneath the surface–but, good God, what a surface.”  The mellow golden sun of the Cote d’Azur in late summer, the sparkling olive and citrus groves, the cerulean blue of the nearby Mediterranean, the soft hillside grasses: Renoir lived in a Mediterranean Eden.

renoir3

Renoir lived in this house near the village of Cagnes-sur-Mer, from 1907-1919.

Critics who have complained that Renoir is static seem to not notice the dynamo humming at the center of the film: Renoir himself. Yes, he is wheelchair bound, and is so arthritic that a brush must be strapped to his hand every morning, but he still thirsts for life and to create beauty. His body is withering away, but his spirit is vibrantly alive.

renoir4

Be aware that there is nudity in the film, as Andree poses for Renoir—though such is the light and ambiance that she could be a bowl of peaches, so I wouldn’t say the nudity is gratuitous or offensive.

renoir7To learn more about Renoir and his son, consider reading Renoir, my Father, by Jean Renoir. Art historian John Golding said it “remains the best account of Renoir, and, furthermore, among the most beautiful and moving biographies we have.”

Renoir has been chosen as France’s entry into the 2014 Oscar race. It is in French, with English subtitles.

Brazil

brazilIt’s a bit hard to know where to begin in describing Brazil, the 1985 Terry Gilliam satire of a world in which bureaucracy has run amok. You could say it’s a feverish, surrealistic, colorful, funny, horrible version of 1984, by George Orwell, though there’s no Big Brother, just a smothering mediocrity and mindless technology that infests every aspect of life. In fact, the original title of Brazil was 1984-½.

brazil2

Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry

Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a low-level government technocrat who dreams of a life where he can fly away and spend eternity with the woman of his dreams. One day he is assigned the task of trying to rectify an error caused by a fly getting jammed in a printer, resulting in the death during interrogation of Mr. Archibald Buttle instead of the suspected “terrorist,” Archibald “Harry” Tuttle. Sam comes in contact with the real Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a renegade air conditioning specialist. Tuttle helps Sam deal with two Central Services workers who later return to demolish Sam’s ducts and seize his apartment under the guise of fixing the air conditioning. And so on.

Harry Tuttle Robert DeNiro Brazil

Robert De Niro as Archibald “Harry” Tuttle

What’s striking and dismaying about Brazil is how spot-on current it is. The terrorists, the swat teams, the obsession with youth, the technology that is both hi-tech and half-a#%@, continue to resonate.

Brazil is the second in Terry Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination.” The first was Time Bandits (1981), and the third was The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). All three films are about escapes from ordered society.

The theme song of Brazil is “Aquarela do Brasil” (Watercolor of Brazil), known in the English-speaking world simply as “Brazil.” What does it have to do with this movie? Nothing, actually, but just as a dream can make perfect sense when you are dreaming it, the song is part-and-parcel of the feverish hallucination that is Brazil.

 

Peter O’Toole

peter2The passing of actor Peter O’Toole has been a great loss to the acting world, because as clichéd as it may sound, they really don’t make stars like him anymore. O’Toole burst like a supernova on the movie scene in 1962, starring as T. E. Lawrence, in Lawrence of Arabia. His blazing blue eyes and command of the screen made him an instant international star. He seemed to cast a spell on his audience.

I had just re-watched and enjoyed Lawrence of Arabia a few weeks ago, remembering that when it first came out, it was a big event. The movie had an overture and an intermission and a sweeping score. They don’t make movies like that anymore, either!

O’Toole went on to play King Henry II in film twice, first in Becket, with Richard Burton, and then in The Lion in Winter, with Katherine Hepburn. These were blazing spectacles, a bit “stage-y” to our eyes and ears, but thrilling to see the power of great actors.

I mentioned that he could cast a spell, and some of his powers lay in his superbly trained, mesmerizing voice. Hear him read Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet: “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day.”

Holiday Movies–Off the Beaten Track

So you’ve already watched It’s a Wonderful Life this season, and while you love Miracle on 34th Street, you’ve watched it countless times, and you’re getting restless for something new. So I’ve baked up a list, as full of goodies as a fruitcake, of holiday movies. Some are serious, some are silly, but they are all off the beaten track.

For starters, here is one of the first Christmas movies ever. Made in 1898, it’s a silent movie classic. If you enjoyed it, here are some more!

joyeuxJoyeux Noel relates events that took place in France during World War I (1914) when French, German and Scottish soldiers came together on Christmas Eve and agreed on a cease fire to observe Christmas. It was nominated for the 2005 Best Foreign Film Academy Award.

connecticutChristmas in Connecticut is a romantic comedy in which a food writer (Barbara Stanwyck) who has lied about being the perfect housewife must try to cover her deception when her boss (Sydney Greenstreet) and a returning war hero (Dennis Morgan) invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. It’s funny, a bit frenetic, and like all Barbara Stanwyck movies, has a touch of class.

badsantaBad Santa. Not for everyone, as it’s full of profanity and Billy Bob Thornton, but it’s a holiday black comedy that pops up on a lot of favorite Christmas movie lists. I am one of its defenders, having laughed from start to finish.

thinThe Thin Man (1934) features the classic line from Myrna Loy: “The next person that says ‘Merry Christmas’ to me, I’ll kill ‘em.” In it, Nick (William Powell) and Loy’s Myrna try to solve a murder while hosting a Christmas party at their hotel. The scene in which members of the police department go undercover as waiters at the Christmas dinner is a classic.

 

bishopThe Bishop’s Wife is a bit bland and actually quite odd, when you think of Cary Grant playing a voyeuristic Christmas angel who could pop up anytime in your life, possibly at the most awkward moments. But if you turn off your inner critic, this is a nice Christmas film, with Loretta Young playing the bishop’s wife. If you enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life, I think you will like it.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, is part of a DVD package called Holiday Family Classics: 39 Features and Shorts. This low-budget 60s flick has been called one of the worst films ever made, which is saying something. The plot involves men in green face paint, aka Martians, who kidnap Santa Claus in order to cheer up their depressed Martian children. It can’t possibly go anywhere but down with a plot like that, but after drinking a glass or two of eggnog, it could be fun.

santa

 

A Child’s Christmas in Wales. To go from the ridiculous to the sublime, this is based on Dylan Thomas’ 1955 poem of the same name. The story, the acting, the settings–all simply wonderful. As one reviewer has noted, “The spirit is entirely one of nostalgia, love and reflection–surely those are the best emotions of all.”

Childs_Christmas