Actresses

The Power of Costuming: A Tale Told by Two Robes

Diane Evans and Agent Dale Cooper Robe Collage
Forgive my diversion into TV for a moment, but like a lot of you, I’ve gotten hooked on the new season of TWIN PEAKS. I coveted the silk robe Agent Cooper‘s former secretary Diane Evans wore in Part 7. Its colors and floral pattern look like something I’d wear because of my vintage sensibilities. When I went hunting for a good image of it, I stumbled across the photo of Cooper in his bathrobe in an earlier season. Again another red robe, but his looks like a Pendleton with abstract snow-capped mountains. Two red robes reflecting their wearer’s tastes and gender, but seemingly calling out to each other between seasons, symbolically marking each for the other half of the pair they once were. The more concrete print of her robe is a stronger image for a woman who wears bold clothes, maybe once simply for fashion, but perhaps now they buck her up and distract her from the bitterness and pain of her broken heart.

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Happy Birthday, John Waters!

John Waters as William Castle and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford on FX's FEUD

William Castle (John Waters) addressing the crowd at STRAIT-JACKET’s (1964) premiere as Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) listens on FEUD (2017) episode HAGSPLOITATION

I grew up in a John Waters household, so when I caught up with FEUD (2017), I was delighted to watch his cameo as shockmeister William Castle. My parents went to Waters’ movies, and my mom owns an ODODRAMA card gotten at a first run screening of POLYESTER (1981). Living in Massachusetts close enough to The Cape that Provincetown could be a day jaunt, she thinks she shopped in Dreamlander Divine‘s thrift shop, which he ran in his poor, pre-fame days. It was only a matter of time until we shared some of Waters’ movies together. I’ve now seen most of his films and read most of his books.

Which is how I know it was an honor for him to play Castle. Physically, the two men were very different. Waters has remained trim while Castle was heavier in comparison and thicker haired. FEUD show creator Ryan Murphy didn’t want Waters costumed to resemble Castle. No, fat suit as Waters said. Murphy was aware those in this know would delight in how meta it would be for Castle disciple Waters to appear as himself when portraying the other director.

If you haven’t read Castle’s memoir STEP RIGHT UP! I’M GOING TO SCARE THE PANTS OFF AMERICA, you need to. Waters wrote a loving and nostalgic introduction on how seeing Castle’s gimmicky movies as a kid inspired a love of cinema and the outrageous. There’s a joy in both directors’ works at defying convention to pursue their own visions. Keep on reading after the introduction, and you’ll learn a lot about B-movie making on shoestring budgets, including what it was like to work with Joan Crawford on STRAIT-JACKET (1964).

Happy birthday to John Waters, who doesn’t think he’s ever topped William Castle, but got to be him for a day! That must have been his best early birthday present.

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Happy Easter!

Ann Miller Easter Top Hat 1946

Easter greetings from Spellbound HQ! I hope yours was lovely. For a last moment of celebratory fun, here’s Easter Parade star Ann Miller wearing a truly unique variation of the Easter bonnet. Inside her floral, hinged top hat sits a real, living rabbit. Miller and rabbit look nonplussed, and the actress does her best to make the look chic.

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The Baby Vamp versus the Avenging Angel: The Headliners behind CHICAGO (1927)

In honor of the Toronto Silent Film Festival screening CHICAGO (1927) this afternoon, here are my notes on the film that appear in their program.

Fox Theatre's CHICAGO Advertisement Cropped

A newspaper photographer poses a pretty flapper with platinum curls wearing not much more than a peignoir over a man’s lifeless body. Don’t worry. He’s not really dead. He’s playing her real victim, who’s lying cold elsewhere. Welcome to CHICAGO where a girl gunner gets priority in print over her victim! She was the one who was going to sell papers, and she did. In the movie, her name is Roxie Hart, but in real life her name was Beulah Annan, and she would take her place on “Murderess Row” where she awaited trial and attempted to maximize her beauty and newfound fame into an acquittal. Reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins covered Annan’s case. If Annan was an angel of death, then Watkins wanted to be an avenging angel with her words as her weapon.

Watkins didn’t start out wanting to be a reporter. She intended to live a quiet academic life of language and religious studies, but she changed her mind after her short stories earned her a place in George Pierce Baker‘s prestigious playwriting workshop. Baker, a mentor of Eugene O’Neill, encouraged Watkins to go out and experience life for her work. Suddenly her purpose crystallized for her; she felt called to engage evil, and she’d do it through her writing. Like O’Neill, she became a reporter, and she chose to work in Chicago since she saw it as a hotbed of sin, and she applied to the CHICAGO TRIBUNE because it was “a real hanging paper—out for conviction always.”

Watkins was sure Annan was guilty. She had shot her lover in the back after drinking two quarts of wine with him, so her defense of preventing dishonor didn’t seem believable. Watkins wrote biting and acerbic pieces mocking Annan and the attitudes that might free her. Annan would be audacious enough to claim to be pregnant, but cynical Watkins feared Annan’s being a woman was enough to avoid conviction. Juries were only composed of men, who held Victorian views of women. As a youthful and beautiful woman, Annan might walk away from her crime. The prosecutor entreated the jury not “to let another pretty woman go out and say ‘I got away with it!’” Since Annan and Hart received the same verdict, you’ll have to watch them film to find out what it was!

Watkins covered crime for six months. Her last case was the Bobby Franks murder. She interviewed Leopold and Loeb and provided pre-trial coverage of the pair. She suddenly switched to movie reviews. She may have burnt out on covering murders, but she definitely was biding time until she could reunite with Baker to work on a play she had started, one ultimately called CHICAGO. Watkins distanced herself from her newspaper work, and no mention of it was made to promote her play. Her play was a hit, and when the offer came in to adapt it for the screen, her services were declined. She wrote other plays and eventually screenplays, including LIBELED LADY (1936).

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Special Screening Alert: JAMAICA INN (1939)

Maureen O'Hara in JAMAICA INN (1939)

Sharing a black and white picture of Maureen O’Hara after and not on St. Patrick’s day might seem like a mistake. The Irish-born actress’s trademark was her flame red hair crowning her head in glory in technicolor pictures, so sharing a color photo of her to celebrate the holiday would’ve been festive, but that’s not what I’m celebrating today.

Tonight I’m in Los Angeles to watch JAMAICA INN (1939) for the first time. I’ve been invited as press to cover a special screening organized by KCETLink, the Cohen Media Group, and BAFTA LA. It celebrates KCET and Link TV’s broadcast premiere of the movie, the last one Alfred Hitchcock shot in the United Kingdom.

As part of the festivities, there’ll be a red carpet, which I’ve been credentialed for, so that marks a first for this film writer and her blog. Celebrity guests include Norman Lloyd (SABOTUERSPELLBOUND, and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS) and Fred Willard (BEST IN SHOW and A Mighty Wind). There’ll be an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photographs of Hitchcock organized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and SciencesMargaret Herrick Library. All three of the director’s granddaughters will be in attendance, and they’ll participate in a panel discussion moderated by host of the COHEN FILM CLASSICS series Charles S. Cohen.

When I heard that last fact, I had to rearrange my schedule to attend. I’m not sure how often his granddaughters (Tere Carrubba, Katie Fiala and Mary Stone) are in one place, and I can’t wait to hear what they share about their grandfather. I’ll be sure to share what live experiences I can on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, and you’ll definitely find more in-depth coverage here at a later date.

For now enjoy this picture of O’Hara as JAMAICA INN’s Mary Yellen. Even after a sub-par screen test, its male lead and producer Charles Laughton insisted she be cast as his co-star. He was bewitched by her eyes, and it’s easy to see why.

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FEUD & the Costuming of Bette Davis, What I’ll be Watching for

Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis in FEUD Smoking

FEUD premieres tonight on FX, and like many classic film fans, I’m watching to see how legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are portrayed, and I’ll be paying particular attention to one area of costuming.

Susan Sarandon plays Davis. The latter actress, while capable of glamour and being beautiful onscreen, always favored her performances over the strictures of the star machine that led more wary or canny actresses to compromise on characterization in favor of not lowering beauty standards too far. Davis felt no restriction. She wanted her Mildred Rogers in OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934) to look as sickly as possible when the script called for that, and she pushed for her WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) costume to be more extreme than as originally designed.

Sarandon has shown a willingness to deglam onscreen for the right roles, but offscreen she’s been a poster girl for not looking her age or letting it determine whether she should be sexy on the red carpet and how. A favorite outfit of hers to wear to movie launches, so much so it’s almost a uniform, is a suit with no shirt worn underneath its jacket, often leaving a pretty bra visible for all to see. If her bra isn’t in view, its push-up effects leave no doubt of its presence.

I’m finding it ironic that an actress sartorially famous for her bras and gravity defying chest is playing one who eschewed underwire bras, despite being as generously endowed. As the recent Orry-Kelly documentary, WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED (2015) revealed Davis was convinced wearing underwire caused breast cancer. The costume designer was left having to camouflage that the leading lady was undersupported or braless by “using foulards, pockets, buttons, and other visual tricks.”

So while I’m watching FEUD, I’m going to be looking at Sarandon’s silhouette to see if series costume supervisor Katie Saunders incorporated this particular quirk when approving designs. Like Davis knew, it’s paying attention to the little details that help a performer build and inhabit a character.

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Before They Were Stars: Audrey Hepburn’s Revue Days

Audrey Hepburn London Revue Costume
In Audrey Hepburn‘s third film, the British comedy LAUGHTER IN PARADISE (1951), she played the part of “Cigarette Girl” She was cute and memorable in a role that gave her more than one scene and multiple lines. Costuming treated her body as something to be made more stereotypically sexy, so they padded and pointed her chest.

In the above picture from her London revue days, she was starting to make a name for herself, but the costuming plan was corrective as well. The long legs are shown off, but her hips are made to look fuller by tacking on a partial skirt which in turn makes her waist look more nipped. Her bust line is obscured by an asymmetric neckline and shoulder, and her elegant “swan neck” is shortened by a ruffled collar.

Her gamine figure was not yet receiving the tailored looks best suited to it. Audrey’s impact on style and acceptable body types would come after better roles.

 

Thanks to Terence Pepper for allowing me to reblog his photo and the thoughts it inspired!

 

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Things You Find When You Live in a Former Movie Theatre

Living in a former movie theatre, it was the architecture of the place that connected my home to its former function–until this week. This week I went up into my attic, the former projection booth, to see how its roof has been holding up under the recent barrage of rain. My landlord was too good at clearing away the materials associated with movie exhibition. Most of the items in my attic were from recent tenants who used it as a dumping ground. I happened to notice a plastic shopping bag that hadn’t caught my eye before, and I picked it up to see what was inside. I found film!

As you can see above, the film isn’t in great shape. I stuck my nose in the bag to sniff. I was looking for a vinegar odor. That’s what decaying nitrate film stinks like. No such luck or peril! Touching the film, it felt like plastic. It must be safety stock. You can see the pieces vary in length, but all are short, and some have masking tape notations, which state the names of the movies they were once attached to. I had found mostly film leaders, the heads and ends of film used to thread movies into projectors.

I sorted through all the pieces to see if any contained images of interest. Most did not. I found some pieces with their titles imprinted on their frames, and I found three fragments of one theatre-specific film. I’ve included pictures of the ones that caught my attention the most in this post.

Two things I love about the above film leader–my home started as a silent movie theatre, so it’s fun to find a piece labelled sound, and the stencil font used is striking and vintage.

A lot of the film leaders are from sixties films, like this one for DEVIL’S ANGELS (1967), a Roger Corman production that starred actor and film director John Cassavetes.

NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1969) was a low budget horror movie that revisited the mad man populating his wax museum with stolen bodies plot.

Long-term readers of this blog know I am a Judy Holliday fan. I was smiling almost as big as Gladys Glover when she sees her first billboard when I found part of THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC (1956) in my hands!

The above is my favorite! I’m guessing it is the oldest I found since it touts a Wednesday prize night, and it sports an Art Deco motif under the text. I’m going to take a closer look at it for dating. A visit to my town’s museum might help me find out what years the theatre ran their promotion. I’ve been meaning to go anyway!

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Evolution of a Look: THE RED SHOES (1948) vs LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (1982)

Red Shoes Moira Shearer'S Eye Make-up

Diane Lane's Eye Make-up in The Fabulous Stains

THE JAPAN TIMES published a good article on how mainstream cinema virtually ignored punk. Those kind of pieces always prompt someone to name films missed. This time that someone was I! I noticed a lack of female-centric films on the list.

I would’ve added proto-riot grrrl flicks TIMES SQUARE (1980) and LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (1982). They’re important works in the punk screen canon for females, even if written and directed by men. Perhaps being overlooked gives them greater cult status by keeping them films you have to be in the know to seek out. They’re treasured by those who find them when needed.

Picturing teenaged Diane Lane‘s makeup in THE FABULOUS STAINS–the bleached streaks in her hair giving her a “skunk” look and the dramatic eye make-up, I thought how arty punk looks evolve from other influences, sometimes surprising. In this specific case, I focused on the make-up of a classic film, THE RED SHOES (1948).

I don’t have printed proof Lane’s makeup artists were inspired by Moira Shearer’s, but when you juxtapose the two images together like above, similarities become apparent. The angled slash of eyeliner beneath both women’s eyes. Eyelashes that curl dramatically upward despite being thick and heavy with mascara. Lips painted red and in shades and shapes of each woman’s era.

There’s one major difference. The small flashes of red painted near each corner of Shearer’s eyes to increase the drama of a look designed for the stage become flames or wings on Lane. I like to think of them as wings. While Shearer’s dancer, torn between love or her career, loses everything, Lane’s musician dumps her lothario to ultimately triumph on her own talent.

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Quote: The Importance of Women Writing Their Own Stories

“I did this show called TRAILBLAZING WOMEN, and the biggest thing I’ve learned in two years of doing the show is that men write their history and that’s why they’re remembered more than women. Cecil B. DeMille made sure to write everything down, but all the other women that were working at the same time as Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith–there were women directors, they didn’t write their stories down, so they weren’t included in the history books. I think it’s really important for women to mention the things that they were a part of.”

–Illeana Douglas, co-host of the I BLAME DENNIS HOPPER podcast, episode 12/20/16

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