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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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#52FilmsByWomen Quick Review: The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Gretechn Mol and tigers The Notorious Bettie Page still

Last night I watched The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) because it was her birthday. Gretchen Mol does a great job in embodying Bettie, which took guts. Mol had to know what scrutiny she’d be under to look like the famous model, replicate her ease and joy in posing, and radiate a personality that made much of her more extreme work seem like softer, campy fun, but still sexy. Mary Harron makes sure there’s a humor to the film, and she showcases many of her actresses’ work over the supporting male actors’. The soundtrack and visuals are of the era. The living magazine covers are a nice touch. For feminists the movie will have an empowering, sex positive appeal. Bettie is shown having agency to pose or to retire into her Christian faith without regretting her life or actions and without her beliefs being knocked. Her journey is respected. The movie ends early in her life with no hint of her later mental health struggles. A positive portrayal of a woman, whose later years I wish were as happy as many scenes in this film.

More about #52FilmsByWomen here.

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Happy International Women’s Day 2016!

Anita Louise Autographed Picture

For International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to remember a woman of words, Anita Loos.

She started screenwriting in the silent era, and she’s credited for elevating the intertitle beyond the functional into an art form. A wordsmith, wit, and satirist, her intertitles had zing. Yes, they had “It.” It’s likely her exposure to the family tabloid and her own newspaper writing made her value succinctness. Would it be even more of a stretch to suppose that this early education schooled her in the art of equivocal, particularly innuendo? She could write a line explaining a scene and poking fun at a star’s persona. When describing yet another one of Douglas Fairbanks‘ characters designed to show off his athletic prowess, she wrote he had “a vaulting ambition which is likely to o’erleap itself and fall on the other side.” She was getting meta before that became a thing!

She had an aversion to societal hypocrisy and the pitfalls of her sex, threads that run through her work, like in this line from Intolerance (1916): “When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice.” Instead she had a fondness for hustlers, loose women, and other characters usually viewed as disreputable undesirables. Exposure to San Francisco’s Barbary Coast and piers, when accompanying her father on drunken wanderings and fishing trips, gave her a glimpse of those types at a young age, and she never lost her fascination for them, and they populate her work.

The most famous example is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes‘ Lorelei Lee, a ditzy, gold digging flapper. Loos wrote the comic novel as an act of revenge. She was tired of seeing her male intellectual friends (and crushes like H.L. Mencken) fall for women with more “downstairs” than upstairs. Despite Loos’ upset over the inspirational situation, there’s an admiration for Lorelei’s wiles and ambition. Loos was a hard worker, and so was her creation, who through her kooky logic and machinations ultimately wins.

Despite a disastrous love life that included marriage to a controlling, abusive, narcissistic, spendthrift schizophrenic, she kept working and didn’t turn to drink or idleness unlike other contemporaries. She survived film’s transition into sound writing more screenplays and expanded her oeuvre to include additional novels, (likely fictionalized, but so much fun to read) memoirs, Hollywood biographies, and Broadway.

She even became a script doctor. My favorite example of this was her being called in to work on a property other male writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, couldn’t get right. They couldn’t relate to the source material. Fitzgerald thought it “a spiteful portrayal of femininity.” Loos loved the Clare Boothe Luce play. Loos was very familiar with its subject matter, an exposé of the cattiness, gossip, men-stealing, and gold digging of Park Avenues socialites and the wannabees. She delighted in dishing on what occurs behind the scenes in women’s spaces. She turned out a script in three weeks that remains a classic beloved for its zingers to this day–The Women (1937).

When she died in August of 1981, her drive resulted in a body of work spanning about 65 years. She remained a celebrity. The gamine, 4’11’ girl with the pixie cut had aged into a grande dame of the New York social scene, active and vibrant close to her end. She frequented the party, fashion, and arts circuits. She enjoyed being among the surviving few of the silent era able to share what ever stories she remembered or fabricated. Film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow interviewed her for his television documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980), and he must have had a fun time sorting fact from embellishment. “At the memorial service, friends Helen Hayes, Ruth Gordon, and Lillian Gish, regaled the mourners with humorous anecdotes and Jule Styne played songs from Loos’ musicals, including “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The storyteller would live on in others’ tales and through her work.

Anita Loos Reading

References

Anita Loos.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Anita Loos.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Anita Loos.” Women Film Pioneers Project. Women Film Pioneers Project, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Hutchinson, Pamela. “Anita Loos – Sharp, Shameless Humour of the ‘world’s Most Brilliant Woman‘” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Somerville, Kris, and Speer Morgan. “Anita Loos: The Soubrette of Satire.” TMR Content Archives. The Missouri Review, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.

Added to the Must Watch List: Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

What would you do if you stumbled upon the work of a talented artist, completely unrecognized in her lifetime?  John Maloof bought a lot of photographic negatives at an auction. He hoped they would help him research Chicago neighborhood history. Instead he became the keeper and promoter of their photographer’s legacy. He tracked down her other work split between auctions and buyers, and he bought the majority. He used the random receipts, notes, and other papers boxed with her prints and negatives to find out her name–Vivan Maier–and to find those who thought they knew her. His documentary Finding Vivian Maier explores this art world sensation, a private person who mastered street photography, shared it with no one, and never elicited curiosity.

Maier often is compared to Emily Dickinson, yet that comparison only partially works. While both woman found fame posthumously, Emily submitted her poetry for publication, and some of it appeared in print during her lifetime, albeit in edited versions that removed her literary idiosyncrasies. She began corresponding with critic T. W. Higginson for writing advice. Even at her most reclusive, she maintained close friendships through her letters. They are intimate, emotional, and not the least bit guarded. We can read them because they were preserved by their recipients. Emily did not do the same. Near the end of her life, she asked her sister Lavinia to burn her papers. That was a common practice of their time. Lavinia complied, but stopped at the poetry. She then pursued publication of her sister’s work, which she and others accomplished.

Vivian Maier was not a recluse like Emily. She worked as a nanny, and she roamed the streets amongst people to photograph them. Her subjects ranged from the wealthy to the homeless, so she navigated through the nicer and rougher city areas, sometimes with her charges. Maier chose when to be out in the world and when she would lock the door to her room to it. People knew Maier took photographs, but they seemed to assume they weren’t of any import. She made no effort to promote or publish or show her work, and she left a lot of her film undeveloped in rolls. She showed no planning in what was to be done with her art. She left it disorganized in lockers, and she lost it when she could no longer afford storage fees. Maloof’s hope of historical treasure saved her work from the obscurity she had chosen for herself. Perhaps she would have hated that.

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