costume

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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The Road To TCMFF 2017: Los Angeles Area Classic Film Exhibitions

Kaire Bible and Beth Ann Gallagher in Club TCM TCMFF 2016

Karie Bible and I in Club TCM at TCMFF 2016

If you’re going to the TCM Classic Film Festival, and you’re searching for ways to make the most of your visit, this list is for you! Colleague and friend Karie Bible, founder of the long-respected site covering specialty film-going in Los Angeles Film Radar, and I have compiled selective lists of activities sure to help a film fanatic fill any extra time before and after the fest. Today’s list focuses on time-limited movie-related exhibitions.

Exotica FIDM Exhibit Dramatic Back Gown and Wrap.jpg-large

Image Courtesy of FIDM Museum

EXOTICA: FASHION & FILM COSTUME OF THE 1920s
This is my must-see on our list. Organized by FIDM, EXOTICA highlights international influences on early film costumes. As silent cinema portrayed foreign lands, the requisite wardrobe established characters and settings and off-the-screen inspired real world fashions. Soon sheiks were romancing senoritas, and ladies and gentlemen were lounging in chinoiserie pajamas. Two special pieces on display are Rudolph Valentino’s bolero from BLOOD AND SAND (1922) and a dress designed by his second wife Natacha Rambova. The exhibit runs now through April 22nd and is FREE and open to the public.

LA LA LAND AT FIDM ART OF MOTION PICTURE COSTUME DESIGN

Image Courtesy of FIDM Museum

25TH ANNUAL ART OF MOTION PICTURE COSTUME DESIGN
Also at the FIDM Museum, this exhibit gathers together “more than one hundred costumes from twenty-three films.” Represented films include FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, ALLIED, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, LA LA LAND, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, and FENCES. You’ll be able to see up close the craftsmanship that went into designing these costumes and how distinct the creations for each film are. Only one film nominated for a 2016 Academy Award for Best Costume Design is not represented by a display, JACKIE. Admission is FREE.

Jean Harlow Hollywood’s First Blonde Bombshell Exhibit

Image Courtesy of The Hollywood Museum

JEAN HARLOW: HOLLYWOOD’S FIRST BLONDE BOMBSHELL
This exhibit recently opened at the Hollywood Museum on Highland. That is within walking distance down the street from the TCMFF. The show features Harlow’s 1932 Packard, a costume from BOMBSHELL (1933), memorabilia, and other rare items. Adult admission is $15. Seniors, students, and children receive discounted entry. The exhibit will run for several months. Bonus: The museum is located in the Max Factor Building, designed by architect S. Charles Lee in the “Hollywood Regency Art Deco style.”

The Birth of Motion Pictures An Illustrated History of Silent Cinema 1910-1929 Exhibit

THE BIRTH OF THE MOTION PICTURES: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF SILENT CINEMA 1910-1929
This exhibit is further away and is open for limited hours Wednesdays through Sundays, so it requires extra time and planning to visit, but if you love silent film or the art of movie poster illustration, you should try to fit it into your schedule. The show is being held in the town of Brea, California, about one hour outside of Los Angeles. It features rare silent film posters and an actual Academy Award from the silent era! Much of the material on display is rare and shown on loan from a private collector. The limited edition catalog, sure to become a collectible, has been called “a masterpiece” by Silent Film Quarterly. Admission is $3, and the exhibit closes on April 14.

Stay tuned for the  next The Road To TCMFF 2017 featuring classic film-related events!

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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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Happy New Year!

In the United States we’ve been lucky to have two New Year’s Days this year–Sunday the actual day and Monday the legally recognized holiday. Before both have been departed too long, I’d like the glamour of the holiday to linger a little longer, at least on the pages of my blog. New Year’s Eve I had fun on Instagram sharing fantasy party outfits worn by actresses of the silver screen. Let’s step into 2017 together by reveling in their fabulous.

Cyd Charisse

Here’s Cyd Charisse in a gorgeous floral print gown that pops in black and white, but leaves me curious to see it in color. Love the unusual decision to place the bold print on opera length gloves to match them exactly to the dress! They elevate the look into something memorable and high impact. Cyd’s glowing. She knows she looks great.

Susan Hayward in I Can Get It for You Wholesale

Susan Hayward looks fiercely glam in a publicity still for I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (1951). She plays a ruthless fashion designer who claws her way up in the industry, from working for a copyist to her own haute couture label. Of course, her character’s wardrobe becomes more fashionable and breathtaking the higher she climbs.

Kay Francis Column Dress Richee

Model tall, Kay Francis had the frame and poise to wear clothes well and earned a reputation as a clotheshorse because costume designers knew she could wear a variety of styles and looked divine in evening wear. The photo’s photographer, Eugene Robert Richee, plays a visual joke. Francis wears a column dress in front of a literal column.

Evelyn Brent in Interference Butterfly Hostess Gown

The final outfit earns its spot by being a showstopper! Actress Evelyn Brent wears a sapphire blue and silver butterfly hostess gown in INTERFERENCE (1928). The dress’s detailing must have been even more impressive in person. Brilliants and crystals were sewn onto its surface to reflect light back at the camera and make her glow like a goddess.

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Dress Up Friday: Carmen Miranda


For this installment of Dress Up Friday, here’s an image of Carmen Miranda that’s pure 1930s glamour. The performer was born in Portugal, but immigrated to Brazil as a child, and she considered herself Brazilian at heart despite maintaining her Portuguese citizenship. The woman, who would become famous for her Bahian costume featuring headwear adorned with fruit, was a successful milliner before her singing career took off.

The photograph is by Annemarie Heinrich, a European emigré to Argentina. Her family fled WWI Germany for safety in South America. Heinrich is best known for her portraits, often featuring stars of Argentinian cinema, and her nudes.

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The Valley of the Giants (1927) Bill

Saturday night I made a trip back in time to enjoy early cinema; I caught the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum‘s program. Judith Rosenberg, who’s well known in the Bay Area and beyond, she participated in the Master Class for silent film musicians at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, played piano scores for each film. Featured were two short comedies and the one full-length drama.

Jimmie Adams Doris Dawson in Swiss Movements

Swiss Movements (1927)
Directed by Robert P. Kerr
Written by Frank Roland Conklin
Starring Jimmie Adams, Doris Dawson, Billy Engle, William Irving, Cliff Lancaster, & Stella Adams
Production Company: Christie Film Company

This comedy short stars Jimmie Adams, sometimes called the poor man’s Charley Chase. The premise is very simple. Jimmie’s character Freddie wants to marry Doris Dawson’s character, but she’s thrown him over for a blowhard called Yodel. The two men compete for her hand in a mountain climbing contest. Scrawny Freddie looks like no match for his burly lederhosen-clad foe. Freddie’s tethered to his potential father-in-law, and even then two cannot compete against one, but their opponent isn’t content to rely on his athleticism to win. Yodel cheats multiple times mostly in telescopic view of their sweetheart, who refuses to cheer on someone who won’t play square. One of his tricks elevates this climbing comedy from purely being pedestrian. He enlists a friend to dress in a bear costume to scare off his opponents. The bear scenes and those of a mountain goat bring the greatest laughs in a picture that could use a few more.

Charley Chase & Buddy in Bath in Dog Shy

Dog Shy (1926)
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by H.M. Walker (titles)
Cinematography by Floyd Jackman
Starring Charley Chase, Stuart Holmes, Mildred June, Josephine Crowell, William Orlamond, & Buddy the Dog
Production Company: Hal Roach Studios

Mildred June’s The Girl has a problem. Her family wants to marry her off to a nobleman. The Duke’s an older, self-absorbed bore. Lucky for her Charley Chase intercepts a phone call and hatches a plan to help the honey sight unseen, but her mother hangs up before he can get an address, phone number, or even a name. As filmic luck will have it, Charley accidentally gets a job as a butler–in her house and finds the girl! Adding to his troubles, he’s been dog shy his whole life, and chief amongst his duties is taking care of the family dog, Duke. Charley the actor’s funniest scenes are the ones he shares with the dog. They work well together. The comedic potential of having The Duke in a house with Duke are further wrung out when Charley misunderstands the command to bathe the dog. A plot twist allows Charley to become the hero to his future in-laws. Before Charley saves the day, there’s a very silly, but fun scene of six adults pretending to be howling dogs.

Kenyon & Sills in Valley of the Giants

The Valley of the Giants (1927)
Directed by Charles Brabin
From a Novel by Peter B. Kyne
Written by Wid Gunning & Gordon Rigby
Cinematography by Ted D. McCord
Starring Milton Sills, Doris Kenyon, Arthur Stone, George Fawcett, Paul Hurst, Yola d’Avril, Phil Brady, & Charles Sellon
Production Company: First National Pictures

This was my second viewing of Valley of the Giants, and I remain baffled why its director Charles Brabin became a footnote in film history. He’s often referred to as Theda Bara‘s husband, but he was a director before and during their marriage. He worked in film for over three decades. Even if his other movies were lost or not as strong as Valley of the Giants, he deserves credit for making a film that plays well in any era.

This was the second adaptation of the novel by Peter B. Kyne. The first was made in 1919 and starred Wallace Reid. A train accident during that filming led to his morphine addiction. At least two other adaptations followed. One was made in 1938 and starred Wayne Morris, and the other was made in 1952 and featured Kirk Douglas.

In this adaptation, Bryce Cardigan (Milton Sills) returns from Europe to his hometown Sequoia in Northern California. His father John Cardigan (George Fawcett) is a lumber baron of Humboldt county. Bryce returns to problems. His father has gone blind, and even worse an unscrupulous competitor named Seth Pennington (Charles Sellon) wants to destroy the Cardigans and monopolize northern lumber. Romantic complications are added in the form of Pennington’s niece, Shirley (Doris Kenyon). Bryce and Shirley fall in love during and despite the business battle between their families.

One of my main pleasures in watching this film is the location shooting. This outdoors film was shot in Humboldt county amongst the redwoods. Scenes of the trees, the coast, and the lumber industry give the movie an authenticity of place that’s also enticing to the eye. There’s a certain privilege in seeing a landscape before it changed more over time due to the logging industry and development. Today’s vantage point makes the in film threat of felling the Valley of the Giants particularly anxiety provoking.

Real-life husband and wife Milton Sills and Doris Kenyon have screen chemistry. Playing romantic foils doesn’t often work for spouses. Some actors hold back, afraid to exploit intimacies, preferring to keep the personal personal. Other pairings are so awkward onscreen they give off the whiff of contract relationships arranged to bolster careers. Not so here. There’s a sweet moment after Bryce saves Shirley’s life during a train accident. As they wait for rescue, she looks down. He leans toward her to sniff her hair a moment, but changes his mind and tries to kiss the top of her head. She looks up and ruins that moment, but when she realizes what was about to happen, Kenyon radiates happiness, which in response is reflected back at her by Sill’s Bryce. They seem like two people falling in love and connecting.

Kenyon makes an impression. Her part is essentially a supporting one. She doesn’t have the same amount of screen time as Sills, and her part is not as fleshed out. She looks beautiful and is believable as the romantic interest, but also she makes her character a presence even during her quiet moments. There’s a scene when Shirley thinks Bryce won’t like her anymore because of her uncle. She sits, and her body language shows dejection. The tilt of her head and shoulders combined with stillness conveys her upset.

Sills takes advantage of his big role as the loyal son driven to save the family business. He’s likable and believable playing the All American good guy. He’s a Romeo to his Juliet. He’s a fighter for the cause in some brutal and well choreographed fight scenes. Any viewer will want him to win the fight and the girl.

The supporting casting is great. Arthur Stone’s Buck Ogilvy, Bryce’s friend, is convincing as a city playboy who grows up and becomes dependable as he aids his friend. Paul Hurst’s Jules Randeau oozes despicability and brings menace. Phil Brady’s Half Pint adds some comic relief as does the corrupt city council won over by spiked lemonade. Even George Fawcett whose role’s actions are limited by his character’s blindness makes his presence felt. He’s a combination of determination, saintliness, and paternal love.

Briefly there’s a sense that foreigners of different sorts are the causes of problems in Sequoia. Seth Pennington is an Easterner. Jules Randeau is likely French Canadian. Even a member of the city council is suspicious of Buck as a “furrignor.” Buck and Shirley disprove that “outsiders” are the problem, and the council demonstrates that many insiders are.

What’s really being examined are two kinds of capitalism. John Cardigan started his business from scratch with only the love of his wife to support him. He remembers and honors his wife and how he started. He has made his fortune but he shares his profits with the men who work hard for him. He thinks of them, their families, and homes when his business is threatened. He’s an ideal model of compassionate capitalism.

Seth Pennington is the model of an out of control, dehumanizing capitalism. He implies that John is a fool that overpays his workers. It’s not enough for Seth to do well. He has to maximize his profits even to the detriment of his men, and he attracts a motley, violent crew. He doesn’t want to continually expand his business and his market share. He wants to drive any competitor out of business. It’s not enough for him to do well. He has to make others do poorly in comparison, and he plays dirty.

Besides business dealings, romance, and scenic shots, there’s a great deal of action in this film. A runaway train scene is made even more impressive by not resorting to models. There are multiple fight scenes. During the first scrap between Bryce and Randeau, there’s a moment when he tries to jump on Bryce’s head. The camera cuts to the metal cleats coming toward the audience giving an almost 3D effect. During their last fight, extreme close-ups of their sweaty and bloody faces are intercut with fuller body action shots, making their battle personal and its outcome determined by drive and will. You’ll want to see who wins these smaller battles and the bigger one.

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