27
Jul
2013
Posted by Nicole in Calendar, Circa event, Exhibitions, Film, Talk

Hi all,

I’ve loved Marilyn since I was a child and now – for the first time – I have an opportunity to present a talk on her costumes and why they’re so fabulous and special. ACMI have invited me to speak as part of their Hollywood Costume exhibition in a one off event.

“The Golden Age of Hollywood” will be hosted by Clementine Ford and include Cinema Fiasco (Geoff & Janet) who will “humorously dissect some film trailers”, plus someone from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery will be discussing costuming the ’20s in modern times.

Singer Ilana Charnelle will also be performing songs from the Golden Age (incl a Marilyn song hopefully) and there will be sewing demonstrations by Thread Den and an exhibition bar.

Hope you can make it!

What: Hollywood Costume up late: The Golden Age of Hollywood
When: Thursday 1st August 2013, 6.00 pm – 9.00pm (my talk is at 7.00pm)
Where: Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, Melbourne
Cost: National free. Entry cost applies for the exhibition.
More information: at the ACMI website

Miss Monroe in the gown that was too raunchy for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” so you only see it – briefly – from behind.


4
Jun
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1920s, Film 3 Comments

I’ll admit it – I was worried. Baz Luhrmann. F. Scott Fitzgerald. 3D.

There’s a lot going on with Baz’s version of Fitzgerald’s most popular novel “The Great Gatsby” so before I stepped foot in the cinema (graciously screened at ACMI, thank you for the tickets) I gave myself a pep talk: Luhrmann was an artist, not an historian. He was also not a fan of literature – to him, the source material would be just that: a starting point for his creative vision.

We need more artists – Luhrmann is one of the few directors working in the mainstream who appears relatively unimpeded by commercial constraints. He surrounds himself with other creatives and brings us a project of his choosing. It is kind of him to share it with us, because it’s always amazing even if it’s not high art.


Interestingly, this poster misspells the leading lady’s name. Tsk.

On the way into the cinema, I suffered a small set back – a display of costumes from the film, part of the Hollywood Costume exhibition. Daisy wore gold ballet flats. “Fear not” I said “Perhaps there is a good reason for why she’s wearing modern shoes (at best, a popular style decades after the film is set)? And really, what does it really matter when you have art?

I knew of course, that gold ballet flats would be a small artistic licence, one of many. Creative. Passion. Vision. Not history. Not literature. Sit back, strap yourself in and enjoy the wonderful spectacular ride that will be your trip to Luhrmannland.

Quite a ride it is, too – especially if you see it in 3D. Once I set aside my qualms I discovered new questions: had Baz succeeded in bringing his vision successfully to the screen? Yes, I believe he has – there is all the expected glitter and movement and excitement, frenetic energy interspersed with (the best bits) the slow, dramatic scenes when his fine cast get to show their worth.

Do Catherine Martin’s costumes do a good job of portraying the characters? Yes, I do believe they do. The costumes are an interesting mix of product placement with contributions by Prada and Brooks Brothers adding a dimension of film as fashion catalogue – you too, can have Nick Carraways’s shawl collar cardigan. Great for those Gatsby parties.

I can’t say that I mind this because despite the plentiful updating to appeal to a modern eye, the costumes are gorgeous and very wearable.

Which is not to say that I didn’t have issues with the costumes – I did, especially with the liberties taken with Myrtle/Isla Fisher and her very un-flapperish push up bra and gladiator stilettos – but more that the film will be much more enjoyable if you suspend disbelief, and embrace the sparkly fabulousness of it all. Consider it a visit to a strange land, where everything is new and exciting.

For those who would like to see Fitzgerald’s story come to life, you will probably be disappointed. An essential aspect of Jordan Baker’s character (her prolific untruthfulness) was forgotten, and the enduring mystery of Gatsby and his origins was swept away. The glamour, for all of Luhrmann’s efforts is a saccharine one, sweet but unsatisfying. This was not my Gatsby.


Mr DiCaprio looking like a grumpy but tasty sweet treat.

This is just the latest in a long line of interpretations of Mr Fitzgerald’s novelette and will surely not be the last. The book – like his other works – conjours up an extravagant lifestyle in a crazy era of decadence and social change and it is this aspect that appeals so much to film-makers, along with the universal themes of obsession and redemption.

I felt little for this Gatsby as he can have what he wants, if only he will compromise but his dream is a rigid one doomed for failure. Even the object of his desire can not sway him from it. He is not so much the “great” Gatsby, as the “flawed” Gatsby and his character comes out of it all no better that that of Daisy, whose choices seem understandable in the context of who she is and the times she lives in.

In many ways, she’s an old fashioned girl, a pretty doll to pose and admire “a pretty little fool” – in contrast to the refreshing modernity of her friend Jordan.

Please Jordan…just kiss him. He needs kissing.


I love this shot because Elizabeth Debicki looks like Kristin Scott Thomas, that most elegant of actresses. I foresee great things for Elizabeth.

I recommend that you see the film, and see it on the big screen to enjoy it as Baz intended – be overwhelmed by it, but don’t think too much, or expect too much.

It’s like a visit to the dessert buffet, a soothing balm for a unkind world where even the violence is easy on the eye, and afterwards you find yourself wishing for something a little saltier next time.


21
Mar
2013
Posted by Nicole in 1960s, Film, How to 4 Comments

It’s been movie stars all over the place at Circa lately – and Natalie Wood holds a special place in my heart.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to purchase some costumes from the film “The Mystery of Natalie Wood” – I still have some, but most went off to happy homes including a Kimbra film clip for her song “Settle Down” and Candice DeVille’s personal wardrobe.

A costume from a film about Miss Wood is one thing, but an actual costume she wore in one of her major roles is another thing entirely.

Then Peter walked in the door with a box full of sparkles – the costume that Miss Wood wore as Gypsy Rose Lee for the finale in “Gypsy (1962)”. Here she is:

And here she is strutting her stuff and singing “Let Me Entertain You”.


If you’re reading this via email, click here to see the video.

The costumes were designed by Orry-Kelly, the Australian who had previously won three Academy Awards including one for Marilyn Monroe’s beaded dresses in “Some Like it Hot”.


Any excuse for a MM pic.

I wish I’d known about Orry-Kelly when I was a costume student: he would have been my idol. Plus he lived with Cary Grant for a decade! He received a fourth Academy Award nomination for “Gypsy” and according to Wikipedia, when he died two years later “His pallbearers included Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Billy Wilder and George Cukor and his eulogy was read by Jack Warner.” That’s one heck of a supporting cast to see you into the next world.

Back to Miss Wood – I can tell you that there are four pieces to the Gypsy costume: essential for a strip tease… to undress in stages – and here is the order that Miss Wood removed them – the skirt, the jacket, the high waisted knicker and the strapless bra. The set was split – the undergarments were sold last year.


An example of what they would have looked like on, if you weren’t as petite as Miss Wood: the bra and knicker should meet, so that it looks like a one piece garment. It’s a pity the set was split up but so it goes. The best pieces are still the jacket and skirt.

The jacket is tiny: it has a hook and eye at the dazzling rhinestone encrusted collar and a pair of big press studs to secure at the base – Natalie wore it crossed over about three inches, but the modern size 8 mannequin is too enormous for her costume. There are half-sleeves, and a big train that hangs down almost to the floor, with a beaded tassle and more rhinestones.

Then the skirt – it wraps around, secured with a large hook and eye, producing a draped effect over her hips. There are more hooks that perhaps attached to her undergarments – she must have been quite curvy for her tiny frame, because the skirt fell down when I put it on my vintage mannequins.

The skirt also has a tail, capped with a beaded tassle and rhinestones – plus several weights to keep it down, and a loop so she could pick it up and play with it. She must have done this a bit, because the skirt “tail” had the most damage.

Are you wondering why the mannequin is standing on a yellow sheet? This was so I could pick up all the beads and rhinestones as they fell off. It was my task to secure the beadwork, mend the holes and generally restore the costume so it could be displayed without endangering the condition. Everything I did was on the sheet, to capture all of the beads.

Tell me more?
The ensemble is made of silver bugle beads machine sewn onto silk jersey in feathered lines and partially lined in fine nylon. Then additional bugle beads were hand sewn in areas that needed to be more heavily ornamented (like the bust), or perhaps they were repairs? Then thousands of rhinestones of various sizes were glued onto the fabric. Additional glass crystals set in prongs were hand stitched on too.

I was thrilled to see pencil marks under the bugle beads indicating that they had a beading machine to apply a specific design but then realised – this is Hollywood! Of course they had a beading machine, they wouldn’t just pop down to Clegs and buy it by the metre like us plebs.

Working with two sizes of needles (a sharps and a thin beading needle) I moved my hands gently over a section at a time, searching for loose beads, loose threads and loose rhinestones – the latter fell off and were collected. The first two were secured with the required needle on the underside. I used pure cotton thread, like the one that was used on the original costume (even though polyester thread is stronger, I prefer authenticity if I can get it).

It was a painstaking process and I limited myself to 45 minutes at a time, because my eyes would start to go funny after a while. I’m surprised I wasn’t dreaming of rhinestones!

Here’s a close up of the fabulousness – you can see the different types of beads and rhinestones, the prong set ones sit up higher than the glued ones, which sit flat. The dark misshapen bits are the remnants of silvered backing from absent rhinestones.

I tried gluing the dropped rhinestones back on but it didn’t work of course, they needed their intact backing and it had crumbled away. This is why sewing will always last better than glue, but back when Orry-Kelly inspected the finished costume, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking of the people who would still be admiring his work more than fifty years later.

The costume will be going on display in a couple of weeks in Brisbane – you can see it (if you’re over 18) at Club X, 160 Brisbane Road, Booval, Queensland.


24
Oct
2012
Posted by Nicole in Film, Style icon 2 Comments

In many ways I feel that fashion in the 20th century can be split into two portions: until the 1960s fashion was received from up above, the glamourous world of Haute Couture, when a lady needed to be grown up and over thirty to be elegant and then, from the ’60s when most style influence comes not from top designers but from streetwear: what young and creative people are wearing, what boundaries they’re pushing.

In turn that can inspire a great designer to introduce a new style, but they’re unlikely to be the originator, more someone who is sensing the mood and commercialising it. An example is Mary Quant with mini skirts. She might be credited with “inventing” them, but hems were already rising and would have continued to do so regardless.

I mentioned recently that we went and saw a talk on Leigh Bowery – a great example of style coming from ordinary people who are doing something different, who then inspired artists like Boy George and Alexander McQueen. Perhaps it’s only fitting that we went then saw a film on the Haute Couture and one of fashion’s great personalities.

Diana Vreeland lived an enviable life: as a child she watched Nijinsky leap across a Parisian stage in the Ballet Russes, married a man with matinee idol looks, had two beautiful children and counted some of the most fascinating people of the last century as friends. She had money, style, intelligence and culture – and lived in interesting places at interesting times. Most of all, she loved the fresh and exciting.

I’m not sure that a career in the fashion magazine industry was really what she would have chosen: she would have excelled at many things, this self-described “lazy” woman who worked tirelessly and exhausted those around her. It is to our benefit that she did though – transforming the industry with her ideas and energy.


Diana in the ’30s.

Her career started in 1937 writing a column for “Harper’s Bazaar” and soon she was fashion editor – a role that saw her directing some of the major fashion photographers of the day including Louise Dahl-Wolfe who said:

“Fashion editors are of great importance before the photographing begins. If they have an eye for color, style, form, taste and individuality, they can pull together a ready-made dress in no time at all. Very few of them have the outstanding creativity of Diana Vreeland.”

Photograph of Diana Vreeland and husband Reed Vreeland, by Irving Cantor 1930s

Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, 1942


Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe 1953

Diana really hit her stride in 1962 when she became fashion editor at Vogue – and the ’60s had arrived. She recognised the spirit of rebellion and freedom having seen it as a young woman in the ’20s and relished the opportunity to stretch her imagination with fresh and wild fashion editorials that created the lush look we now recognise in “Mad Men” and other jetsetting adventures of the modern age.


Photo by Mark Shaw, mid 1960s.

“Going to meet her was like going to meet the Queen. She was over the top, and would go on about how she ‘adored’ me. I know I probably owe most of what happened in New York to her.” Twiggy, photographed by Richard Avedon in 1967.

Diana in the late ’60s, Photograph by: Jonathan Becker

“Red is the great clarifier – bright, cleansing, revealing. It makes all colors beautiful. I can’t imagine being bored with it – it would be like becoming tired of the person you love. I wanted this apartment to be a garden – but it had to be a garden in hell.”

Diana Vreeland in her living room, Photograph: Horst P. Horst, 1979

I loved this film: Diana makes for an enthralling subject, so full of life and wit. She was one of those people who gained momentum through her life, a whirlwind of enthusiasm and passion. We have so much to thank her for.

“Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” opens soon in general release. All images and quote shameless borrowed from dianavreeland.com.

EDITED TO ADD: Here’s the Australian poster, with thanks to Michelle from Madman.


2
Oct
2012
Posted by Nicole in 1940s, Film 1 Comment

Last night we went and saw the new film “On the Road”.

I first tackled the book by Jack Kerouac in 1987 in an effort to understand my brother who had spent six months hitch-hiking around Australia after he read it. Books that change your life are rare and deserving of respect – I was envious of his freedom. Is there a country where women can set off for a life on the road alone and not expect grief? I still envy that freedom – as women, we’re always women first and people second (so unfair).

The book frustrated me: every line I was waiting for something to happen and it never did. I put the book away.

Fast forward to 2011 and Matt Dillon is reading the book to me via my new favourite thing, the audiobook. Here’s an excerpt, so you’ll know what I mean. Is there is a better choice? I downloaded it to my ipod and started listening during – appropriately – a road trip. I love road trips, there are few things that will make me happier than a road to wherever, music (and now audiobook) and a full tank of petrol.

Sadly I neglected to turn off the shuffle function so the first hour was all over the place. That’s right – I listened to an hour of random chapters without realising the order was all wrong. As my poet-husband pointed out, Burroughs would have been impressed. It says a lot about OtR and the structure.

I listened over and over, occasionally referring to Wikipedia and the cast list of who really was who. It made it more real to visualise the real people behind the characterisations. Audiobooks bring a new dimension to books, they’re also a great way to catch up on your reading when you’re not actually able to read.

When I heard about the upcoming film I felt trepidation: here was a story that many people hold close to their hearts. Few films do credit to their literary sources. The trailers looked promising – what I was hoping for was something that would capture a mood, supply the be-bop music and give us great American vistas. Show us poverty and grit, decadence and poetry.

So – last night – did they pull it off? It’s not a perfect film but mostly I think they’ve succeeded. I have small quibbles: don’t expect much of the women characters, their roles have been reduced and the one conversation between three women is predictably about pleasing your man – but they’ve found post-War America and haven’t shirked from the seedier side. Actually, they’ve spiced up the sex and drugs significantly but we know that Kerouac wasn’t always honest with those aspects (the joy of a fictionalised autobiography).

The cast is great – every one is universally strong. The core is Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty – his hypnotic charismatic energy almost vibrates. Everyone else is like a moth to his flame. His behaviour is appalling of course, but you miss him when he’s not on screen.

The last scene between Dean and Sal/Kerouac is one of the few that isn’t faithful to the book and the reality of lives well documented – a conceit for modern audiences? Endings are important and they’re not always happy ones.

It’s been a long time coming but if you loved the book, the film should satisfy. See it on the big screen to appreciate the fabulous cross-country scenery. Here’s Kristen Stewart as Marylou. Her best scene is a poignant one, easily missed as she reflects on the nature of her relationship with Dean.


12
Nov
2010
Posted by Nicole in 1960s, Film 3 Comments

The other night we went and saw the new French film Gainsbourg, about one of my favourite popular singers, Serge Gainsbourg.

It’s an interesting film – I don’t think it really did justice to the great man, but it’s a big task for one so talented, so revered, so complex. The film focused on the women in his life: Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, and the actresses all do a good job portraying them (especially Laetitia Casta as Bardot, she gave me shivers in her opening scene) but at the end of it, I felt as if his magnetism hadn’t really come across. Eric Elmosnino portrayed Gainsbourg at all ages from young man to old(er).

I feel as I’m making excuses for them, but it’s hard to portray real characters.

After seeing it, I planned a post about La Bardot, the eternal Bardot who style never seems to fade but since then it’s Birkin who has been uppermost in my mind.

Coming after Bardot (no easy feat), she stole his heart, married him, gave birth to Charlotte and after thirteen crazy years, left him. There are many photos of the two of them, and they testify to the strong bond between them. Here’s a nice shot of the two of them, walking down the street in the early ’70s – that’s probably Charlotte in the bassinette.

Click on it to see a larger version: they look so happy! I love how Jane wears Mary Janes with her hot pants and stockings.

A few years ago Tim and I visited Gainsbourg’s grave in Paris – it surprised me to see that he was buried with his parents, and speaks a lot about his life and his values. The grave was covered in fan mementos: love letters, artworks, flowers and vegetables. My memory tells me that they were pumpkins but after seeing the film I’m confident that I’m wrong – they must have been cabbages.

It didn’t make a lot of sense to me until I saw this film (yes, I’ve listened to quite a bit of Gainsbourg but my French isn’t good enough to discern the requisite composition). I can’t see any cabbages (or pumpkins) but here is the photo I took in early February, 2005.

We went to see Jane Birkin sing when she performed in Melbourne a few years ago: she’s still so beautiful and vibrant. In many ways the ’60s seems like a long time ago but seeing Jane dance wearing a red 1930s style silk dress, it feels like it never went away.


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