Thursday, October 1, 2009


Louise Brooks“Forgotten Man.” This term in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey seems such a moving name for homeless people. When you consider that the idea was for those at a soignée party to go on a scavenger hunt and one of the items to bring back was “a forgotten man.” Pretty cruel. This is a very good film and is a romantic comedy—really. And Lombard and Powell are wonderful. But it is also has some poignant moments.

Then there were those trailers for The Gold Diggers of 1933, with Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, and others highlighting a "Forgotten Men” musical number. My Man Godfrey2.jpgMy Man Godfrey.jpg

So the term, “Forgotten Man.” There is a book titled The Forgotten Man written by Amity Shlaes, a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations and a syndicated columnist at Bloomberg. This book states it is a new history of the Great Depression and looks like an interesting read.

Here is an intriguing webite which states that “Forgotten Men is the first site in a series dedicated to exploring and preserving the facts, truth and memories of the history, culture and humanities of the United States of America. This project is called American History Central…”

The site also says that….”the term "Forgotten Man" was coined by William Graham Sumner, Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at Yale. The term was later redefined and used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during a campaign speech he delivered on April 7, 1932.”

There is also a 1925 film, The Street of Forgotten Men, with Louise Brooks in an uncredited role.

Forgotten Men. The Great Depression. People and events not to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. Of course, to some extent, they already have.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Edith Head, Costume Designer

Here’s a remake I won’t complain about. Eight time Academy award winner Edith Head, costume designer extraordinaire, had some lively observations about some of her famous clients. The title of her 1959 autobiography was fitting (no pun intended) The Dress Doctor because that is how she was perceived. She could come up with the perfect designs for a film and everyone—from screen stars to regular folks interested in how they looked-sought her advice on how to dress. Now an adaptation of that classic has been published by Collins/Design. This version—The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style, from A to Z, has lovely illustrations by noted fashion illustrator Bil Donovan and is a delightful read—not just for the style but for the stars and a look at why some of the designs were chosen—that beautiful, tailored gray suit Kin Novak wears in Vertigo, for instance.

I thought of putting this together after reading in Marie Claire how (yet again—I know) accessories inspired by those worn by Ingrid Bergman and other stars of that time as well as Art Deco designs are making an appearance.

Edith Head’s work first at Paramount and then at Universal meant that she understandably got to know some film legends through designing and fitting and the book presents some of her recollections. Below are some of her quotes taken directly from the book. I think her experience fits with what you might expect from each individual star.

Bette Davis: “thinks likes a businessman. Hers is a truly organized point of view and working with her I felt like I was in conference with a bank president. You can see the authority on screen in her walk, her voice, her action; there’s not a trace of indecision—she’s the same onscreen and off; and she’s only one of the most sensational experiences I’ve ever had.”

Gloria Swanson: “is the example of what she preaches, that clothes are supremely important; that a woman must never be caught at any time or any place looking less than she should.”

Grace Kelly: “What Grace has is an elegance all her own: the white gloves are a trademark, so is the smooth hair…There is no pretense in her make-up or her clothes; she never dressed to attract attention; she never dressed like an actress; she dressed like Grace Kelly.”

Mae West: “I designed thirty of forty pounds of jewelry for Mae to wear as Diamond Lil in She Done Him Wrong. I first found pictures of period jewelry to show her. ‘Fine, honey,’ she said. ‘Just make the stones bigger.’ ”

“ ‘I like ‘em tight, girls’ she said, and tight they were; there wasn’t a costume in which she could lie, bend or sit and I was sure tat she could breathe only when I saw her survive the picture. To afford her some small relaxation, we improvised a reclining board: it had armrests and was tilted at an angle and there she’d lean between scenes in glittering splendor, the jewels winking from her hourglass gown and dazzling from her throat. Ears wrists, and every finger.”

Still more on Ms.West:

“For Mae West, I made a skin-tight black nightgown and over it, a chiffon-and-diamonds negligee that gave the effect of a spidery web. On the shoulder I perched a huge diamond spider, anchored by adhesive tape. When Mae wore this on the set, the whistles and screams sounded as if the Queen Mary were docking in New York harbor. Mae had switched the diamond spider—to a more strategic spot. It took half and hour to quiet the hilarity and get Cary Grant, Gilbert Roland, and the crew back to work.”

Kim Novak: “…is due for a fitting for Vertigo…This girl must look as if she’s just drifted out of the San Francisco fog. She is walking, driving a car, and walking in San Francisco, so it can’t be a gay chiffon peignoir. In this city, everyone wears suits, and this girl is a rather withdrawn, self-contained tailored type. Mr. Hitchcock had already shot the location; he wants the girl to seem a very part of the fog; his script calls for, very specifically, a gray tailored suit.

Audrey Hepburn: “Audrey was the perfect figure model: very slim and tall (5’6 ¾”). Audrey Hepburn knows more about fashion than any actress save Dietrich. Her fittings are the ten-hour, not the ten-minute variety. To sketches for Roman Holiday, she added a few of her own preferences: simpler necklines, wider belts. Audrey and I went shopping in San Francisco; she wanted me as confrere and audience. Shopping is her idea of fun, and no wonder—no matter what she tried on (size eight or nine) she looked simply delicious. ‘And now let’s celebrate,’ she’d say when we were exhausted, and that meant heading for the nearest confectionery to devour two of the biggest, fattest, most chocolatey French pastries.(When she lived ..during the war, food was scare and she developed a passion for chocolate.)”

Danny Kaye: Danny Kaye was notorious for eating on the set and during fittings. The most fun we ever have at the Clinic [ie the fitting rooms ] is when Danny Kaye arrives and completely disrupts the place. ‘Where’s my sketches? Where’s food…?’ He loved huge sandwiches, cookies, Cokes; these necessities appear immediately because everyone on staff loves Danny; he can do no wrong. ‘Food!’ he yells. ‘Food, food, food!’ A few minutes later, beaming happily, he’s sitting cross-legged on the floor eating.”

Bing Crosby: “Bing Crosby was notorious for being the world’s fastest fitter…He doesn’t like dressing up; he’d never dream of it unless the script demanded it. His famous first words are always, “Why don’t we wear a sports coat?”

Ingrid Bergman: “ Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, 1946...Notorious called for high style and…Ingrid is not a small woman; she was the tallest patient [clients ] I’d ever had but she has such bearing and carriage it doesn’t matter that she isn’t the skinny model of the magazine. ..She makes what she wears come to life. …The simpler Bergman’s lines, the less ornamentation, the better. Simplification is the best medicine for making a beautiful woman more beautiful.”

Cecil B. DeMille: “Cecil B. DeMille was notorious for not giving compliments…He never shows enthusiasm. No ‘wonderful.’ No ‘beautiful.’ No ‘good, Edith.’ Once I said to him, ‘Mr. DeMille, in all these years we’ve worked together, you’ve never told me a costume was good. The most you say is, ‘That will do.’ He almost smiled. ‘If I say it will do, it’s good!’ ”

Barbara Stanwyck: “Barbara Stanwyck was notorious for standing up for what she felt was right...If she feels something is right, no one can change her mind. She’ll stand up against director, producer, and writer come hell or high pressure.”

Katharine Hepburn: “A person wears clothes to express personality. No one has achieved this better than Miss Katharine Hepburn. She knows how clothes will work for her; she doesn’t change with every change of fashion, but she looks fashionable, and you wouldn’t dare to say she isn’t well dressed. She is. She’s developed a technique for being herself and she never makes the mistake of trying to be anyone else.”

A parting quote from Edith Head: “Good clothes are not a matter of good luck.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hannah and Her Sisters...and the Director

When watching this film, released in 1986 and one of Woody Allen's best, it is tempting to try to figure which character--beyond Mickey-- really personifies the director. Perhaps it is several -- Elliot, of course--consider the timing of this film--but also Frederick and to some extent, Lee. It can be somewhat painful to watch Mia Farrow's Hannah's inner turmoil -- a turbulence that would soon not be so inner. This is all just a backward glace and idle speculation.

The film is brilliant and also vastly enjoyable as a slice of the 1980's Manhattan it offers: An independent bookstore, now defunct; SoHo before it became glitzified; Movie houses that screened movies from the past; a fledging warehouse clothing store.

On the whole Hannah and Her Sisters is a nourishingly satisfying compact loaf of life sandwiched between two Thanksgivings. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for showing it twice this week.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Brief Psycho Analysis

Psycho is so much more than the infamous shower scene. The real terror of the film takes place even before Janet Leigh’s character’s dies.

This Hitchcock black and white tapestry unfolds with a man [Sam] and a woman [Marion] near the end f a clandestine rendezvous in a cheap hotel. She wants respectability. He can take or leave respectability but is willing to put up with it to see her again. He needs a couple of years to pay off his debts, including alimony to his ex-wife. She doesn’t want to wait. So they both need money and now.

Back at the office where she works, Marion, sweating in the un-air-conditioned outer space where she and a colleague work, finds herself seriously tempted by a large stash of cash that needs to be parked for the weekend. $40,000. A wheeler dealer is buying a house for his daughter. Marion’s boss asks her to take the money to the bank, as he and the client go into the boss’s air conditioned office. Marion matter-of-factly says she is leaving early and going to the bank to make the deposit and then home to sleep it off. The envelope of cash is there tempting her to the still understated haunting strains of Herrmann’s soundtrack. You can feel it pulling her in towards a downward spiral from which she won’t be able to easily return.

She grabs her coat and leaves. The next scene has her in her car and the creepiness really begins. Is that her boss she sees crossing the street in front of her and giving her a perplexed look? Or is it guilt? She is obviously running away and finds herself trapped by the persistence of a patrolman who absolutely is not going to leave her alone. Her responses to his questioning about why she was sleeping in her car on the side of the road sound false and rehearsed. The cop is like a leg-hold trap that won’t let her go. The music gets faster and more tense. Poor Marion. She stops in a used car lot and too quickly buys another car, making all the wrong moves, saying all the wrong things, all while that officer is watching her.

Marion continues her way on her journey, driving at night in the rain, blinded by oncoming headlights. She ends up at that hotel, and is told by Norman she could have easily reached her destination if she had just kept on driving for a few more miles. In the course of a civil and stiff evening with Norman, Marion makes up her mind to go back and return the money. This is, when you have the film many times before and know what is coming next, is the true horror of the film. Not only has Marion just missed getting to where she was headed, and chosen the wrong hotel and the wrong room at that hotel, she has just missed her last chance at redemption. And now she is going to die.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mis-Adventures in Remakes

Some movies we hope they never remake:

Adventures In Babysitting
1987 directed by Chris Columbus
Is it true that a remake is in the works? Why? Elisabeth Shue and the rest of the cast are perfect. What can be improved? Special Effects? Why?

1987 directed by Michael Gottlieb
An extremely weird film that can leave you speechless with its genuine goofiness but it should stay just as it is. Kim Catrall and the rest are just right for the time period and the weird story. Please.

Pretty in Pink
1986 John Hughes

16 Candles
1984 John Hughes

Can we just leave these films intact as some kind of time capsules of the 1980s? The story lines, premises, characters and actors are all representative of a specific time period. Don’t muck around with it.

And one they already remade:

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The question is….why? Will the use of computer graphics and green screens make this version a better film? Does every film have to have a potential video-gaming side? The premise of the original TDTESS is more cerebral, and, okay, a little preachy like films of that time period tended to be. But understated and even a bit underdone is more effective than overblown.