dancers

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.

Leave or Read Comments.

The Silent Film Fanatic TCM Film Festival Preview!

TCMCFF 2015 Steamboat Bill Jr Poster

Classic film circles are abuzz about March’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. This year’s theme is History According to Hollywood, and many movie buffs are guessing what film favorites fitting that theme will screen. While the festival is only about a month away, its full schedule has not been announced yet. I’ve gone over what titles have been released to create a silent film fanatic preview.

The Grim Game Harry Houdini Fight Still

Harry Houdini in The Grim Game from the Kevin Connolly Collection

Rumored as lost, the Harry Houdini vehicle The Grim Game (1919) is another silent film with a strange-but-true rescue story. A retired juggler named Larry Weeks bought a complete print of the film back in 1947 from the Harry Houdini estate. He had shown it a few times, and he had been unwilling to sell it to any inquirers. In 2014 film scholar and preservationist Rick Schmidlin got a tip that Weeks owned the movie and successfully negotiated for TCM its purchase. Schmidlin oversaw the restoration, and it will make its world premiere at the festival.

The Grim Game is notable for being one of Houdini’s few feature films. Houdini stars as Harvey Hanford, who gets framed for murder. As if the stakes of clearing his name were not high enough, he must rescue his kidnapped fiancée, too. Like a number of Douglas Fairbanks‘s a films were designed to demonstrate his athleticism, Houdini’s movie offers him plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills as an illusionist, escape artist, and stuntman. There’s a dramatic airplane sequence that draws on his reputation as an aviator. The film sounds like a fun popcorn entertainment offering us a glimpse of a major 20th century performer at a career high.

Rick Schmidlin will be a special guest at the screening, and composer Brane Živković will conduct his score for the film live.

Lois Weber's Suspense Split Screen Still

One program gives the rare chance to watch films hand-cranked through a projector just like audiences of yesteryear. It’s The Return of the Dream Machine: Hand-Cranked Films from 1902-1913. Showing movies in this manner relies on the projectionist’s ability to match his hand-cranking rhythm to the action depicted onscreen. If he cranks too fast, a sad scene can become a comedy, and if he cranks too slowly, a comedic scene plays at a dirge tempo. Hand-cranking is a test of hand-eye coordination and endurance.

For this screening, shorts in 35mm prints will be presented. Titles include a color-tinted version of Georges MélièsA Trip to the Moon (1902), the Edison Company’s narrative leap forward The Great Train Robbery (1903), D.W. Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat (1909), and Lois Weber’s split-screen thriller Suspense (1913).

Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Randy Haberkamp will be a special guest at the screening.

Steamboat Bill Jr.

Buster Keaton‘s Steamboat Bill Jr. has two world premiere aspects. The comedy underwent a restoration that’s never been screened publicly before, and composer Carl Davis will conduct his brand-new score live. I see both of these as added bonuses of a film that would have pulled crowds even without them. Silent comedy is often a gateway to silent film for the non-fan, so this is a great film to introduce or sway a classic movie fan to silents, and Buster remains a strong name brand to current silent film fanatics.

In Steamboat Bill Jr., Buster plays William Canfield Jr., the newly returned from college son of  a paddle-steamer captain. He’s not the big strapping lad his father hoped would help him crush his competitor. Worse, Bill falls in love with the competitor’s daughter. This Romeo and Juliet tale contains one of Buster best known stunts that’s among his most dangerous. Look for an in-joke about his iconic pork pie hat. Between the stunts and laughs, if you’re not on Team Buster when you start this film, you’ll likely be at its end.

Charlie Chaplin's Limelight Mirror Still

Technically Limelight (1952) is a talkie, but it will interest silent film fanatics because Charlie Chaplin produced, wrote, directed, composed its music, and stars in the movie.  It has a Buster Keaton cameo as well. Limelight is historic because it’s the only feature film both performed in. During the silent era, they appeared in a First National promotional short, Seeing Stars (1922). They played themselves at a celebrity banquet.

Chaplin intended Limelight to be his last picture. Even if it is not an autobiography, it was a highly personal film. He set it in 1914, the year of his film debut, and a time of change since that was right before World War I. He used to perform in music halls early in his career, so the London music hall settings of Limelight were familiar to him. Some suspect his alcoholic, downwardly mobile clown was based on his father, but Chaplin claimed actor Frank Tierney inspired the role. Whatever the truth, the character was a theatrical archetype. Everything about the film shows a man looking back at the past.

The movie is more bittersweet and hopeful than it may sound. It mixes drama and comedy, as does the best of Chaplin’s work. His character Calvero rescues a ballet dancer played by Claire Bloom from a suicide attempt. His old man nurses the girl back to health, and each finds a friend and confidante. They encourage each other to attempt a comeback. They take to the stage again, and they embrace life again.

Actor, producer, and author, Norman Lloyd, who appears in Limelight, will be a special guest at the screening.

Leave or Read Comments.

Added to the Must Watch List: Pina (2011)

I haven’t seen Black Swan yet, but I want to. From the trailer, it looks like a blender mix of Persona, The Red Shoes, Single White Female, and Gypsy. Natalie Portman suffered for the role in the way that wins an actress awards; she studied dance for over a year, and she lost at least twenty pounds to conform to the standard ballerina body-type that more than hints of self-denial, discipline, and eating disorders. Nothing about the film looks subtle. As a psychological horror film, I bet it will entertain as well as some other Grand Guignol films, but I’m not sure it will have the lasting camp or star power of its over-the-top sisters like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. I’ve read that Black Swan does not have a lot of actual dancing in it.  I’ve seen Portman’s red carpet pics as she attends each award ceremony.  People are saying she’s a shoe-in to win the Oscar. There is so much hype about Black Swan, and I do not begrudge anyone involved their success or attention, but there’s another dance movie due to be released in the US soon that will get a soupçon of attention in comparison, and I don’t find that fair since it looks to be far more innovative and original than Black Swan. It’s Wim Wenders‘s Pina.

Here’s the trailer:

When I saw it, I thought about how so many times the movies do not get dance right. A film like The Red Shoes gets lauded because it works as a film and as a collaboration between media. Its filmmakers understood they were incorporating another art form, and they offered moviegoers and dance aficionados another way to view dance. The fantasy of film blended with the fantasy of dance, and where they met offered a new (sur)reality, and Moira Shearer‘s movements did not have to be hidden outside of the box of the screen because she could dance. Subject, casting, and forms were melded to create a masterpiece that inspires little girls to try ballet to this day. The cautionary tale they witness only echoes for the adults in the audience. Little girls see beauty and success on screen.

When I saw it, I was impressed by how Wim Wenders got it right. As a fan of choreographer Pina Bausch, he got to work with another artist that impressed him, and she got him thinking about new ways to show an older form. He frees her pieces from a stage or one setting and puts them places both simple and minimal (like their original stagings?) or in the midst of a bustling city or in the great outdoors. He takes advantage of the camera as a framing device to draw our eye to certain pieces of the performance or setting, but his camera isn’t static, and he pulls back to open up the scenes more and lets us see the full bodies of real dancers. In her choreography, she expresses different states of human emotion and the human condition. He gives her work a grander physical scale by blowing up her dancers and pieces to larger than life-size and by presenting everything in 3D. We may not be able to get to a city or country where we can watch a Bausch piece live, but Wenders’s format choice gets us closer to the experience of live theatre by freeing the dancers from his screen.

 
Pina Poster