Brigitte Lin in Chungking Express: A Tribute to John Cassavetes’ Gloria

At once hyperkinetic and hazily romantic, Chungking Express is the quintessential film about loneliness in the postmodern metropolis, in contemporary Hong Kong, as characters brush against one another throughout the daily rush but struggle to connect. Even the voiceovers are used not for narrative purposes, but in order to express the loneliness. “All the characters are basically lonely people,” the director says in the book WKW: The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, “but being alone doesn’t necessarily mean they are sad. I would say the characters are more living in their own world than being isolated. And they are having fun with themselves.” The film has indeed an optimistic tone while managing to portray a very relatable story and show the real struggle of our modern-day society: communicating and connecting with one another.
 
Style in Film-Brigitte Lin-Chungking Express 
Wong Kar Wai went out in the streets to shoot and he and cinematographer Christopher Doyle shot without permits around Lan Kwai Fong and Kowloon. There is a sense of improvisation and spontaneity throughout the entire film, which became hugely influential after its release, and the camera work not only underlines the fleeting nature of human relationships, but creates a trendsetting vision of the city in motion on the eve of the 1997 handover, with Hong Kong and its inhabitants hurtling towards an uncertain future.

The film took off when they shot the first scene with Brigitte Lin putting on the blonde wig on Nathan Road. Chungking Express comprises two separate but loosely interconnected stories – “We got the days and nights of 1994 Hong Kong on celluloid”, the director described it. Brigitte Lin appears in the first story, a neon-lit world of convenience stores, nightclubs and food stands, a world entangled in the tropes of gangster dramas. Brigitte, her generation’s biggest star, plays “a retired actress, à la Sunset Boulevard“, only the viewer does not know it. And that was the exact idea.
 
Style in Film-Brigitte Lin-Chungking Express 
Brigitte was getting married and it was going to be her last film, so Kar Wai imagined her going out at night and playing different roles. “One night it’s A Streetcar Named Desire. The next night will be Gloria.” Brigitte Lin’s role in the film is that of a smuggler who is trying to escape the fallout of a bad deal and take revenge on the man who set her up. But that was in fact her character’s own fantasy, pretending to be somebody else.

And that somebody else is more likely to be Gena Rowlands in Gloria. Lin’s mysterious, unnamed character, dressed in a raincoat (not the only element referencing film noir iconography), a blonde wig, red sunglasses and Manolo Blahnik shoes, is definitely Wong Kar Wai’s tribute to John Cassavetes’ Gloria. Even the way she deals with all the Indian extras with no acting experience reminded me of Gloria’s toughness. Gloria means business, too, and she is not afraid to show it. Gloria also loves clothes. She cares about them. They are perhaps about the only thing she cares about. She suddenly finds herself on the run, but she takes her clothes and heels along. She doesn’t seem out of place in them running from the mob on the gritty streets of 1980s New York, those non-glamorized, non-touristy parts of the city deliberately picked by John Cassavetes to avoid the “Woody Allen movie” feeling. In one scene, Brigitte had to run, with all those extras chasing her around. And she wanted to wear sneakers. But William Chang, the costume designer, said, “You have to run in your Manolo Blahniks – it looks different.” So she did it. And it looks right. She’s in character.
 

“Somehow I’ve become very cautious.
When I put on a raincoat, I put on sunglasses too.
Who knows when it will rain, or when it will turn out sunny?”

 
Style in Film-Chungking Express

Style in Film-Chungking Express

photos: movie stills from Chungking Express | Jet Tone Production

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One Day That Summer: Torres Del Paine, Chile

I love the mountain. My father is a passionate mountaineer and our family trips climbing the mountains remain some of my best vacations and most cherished memories. The feeling you have when you are on the top of the mountain has no comparison. For me, there is nothing that can beat that. Without much effort, you empty your thoughts and what you experience is absolute freedom. I understand why, for some people, the mountain is their life. All these emotions came back to me when I saw this photograph of Nadya Zim and especially after I read the story behind it. Here it is below, in the words of Nadya herself, a born storyteller.
 
One Day That Summer-Torres del Paine Chile-Nadya Zim
 

Exclusive photographer stories from behind the lens.
One Day That Summer is an invitation to discovery,
to open your mind and eyes, to live life like you stole it.

 

“This is my first sunrise in Torres Del Paine, Chile. This is the moment when I understood I would never fully come back from Chile. I will be forever gone with the wind of the mountains of Torres Del Paine. Forever. When I was there at sunrise with the 70 mile an hour wind in my hair, in front of the lake that like an ocean covered me with the blue cold waves, it was so freezing, I was mesmerized by the mountains, the light slicing through the clouds, and the rainbows, and the moon. It all was rolled out before me like a celestial parade. Can all of it exist in one minute, in one second? Yes, it can! It’s indescribable… I felt so small in front of all of it. I felt like suddenly I am a galaxy myself. And there were tears on my cheeks non stop. The whole world was mine. It’s a strange feeling. But it was there. For me. For us. Alone. Together. And I stayed on the edge of the cliff while wind was pushing me all around. And there was nothing to protect me from falling far into the icy lake and, honestly, I wish I was brave enough to jump. No fence, for once. Pure freedom. I was melting in every drop of water, in every beam of light, in every breath of wind. Time was surreal.”
 
 

@nadyazim | nadyazim.com

 
 
More photographer interviews: One Day That Summer: Camel Safari, Kenya / My San Francisco/ One Day That Summer: Rome

One Day That Summer interviews - Classiq

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Editorial: Just A Girl

Editorial - Just A Girl - Laurence Olivier Marilyn Monroe - Joe Eula 

The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema


 
Joe Eula is a bit of an unsung hero of the 20th century fashion illustration. He had a sharp eye in capturing the essence of whatever he was drawing in simple and spare lines, without going into great detail. Considering his remarkable output, he is barely acknowledged in surveys alongside Eric, René Bouché, Tom Keogh, and Antonio Lopez. I tend to pay special attention to this kind of artists, because there are not few times when this demonstrates their devotion to an uncompromising vision, regardless of any kind of pressure or influence they may be subjected to, and we have become a little short of these values these days. He showed the same integrity and no-nonsense approach to all his famous friends and people, from artists, to musicians and actors, he worked with his entire life.

He did not give much importance to his encounter with Marilyn Monroe either. “To the best of my knowledge, no [other] fashion illustrator ever sat and drew Marilyn Monroe. It’s on a really torn piece of paper. It’s her and Olivier,” says David Downton in the book Joe Eula: Master of the Twentieth Century Fashion Illustration, by Cathy Horyn. Eula drew the actress in 1957, during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl in England. I think Marilyn liked being treated just like the girl next door for a change. Remember her in jeans?

photo: Joe Eula illustration of Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier

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When Noir Meets Colour

I should start by saying that I will always prefer black and white movies and that black and white cinematography is one of the most beautiful forms of art. This is especially true with noir films – films that are characterised by sharply delineated chiaroscuro photography, but which are not that easily definable as they appear. I do believe that plot, attitude and characters are the most essential noir features, which is why as soon as you watch Leave Her to Heaven or Chinatown, you automatically define them as noir films. Today I am revisiting four favourite noirs shot in colour. There is much more than what meets the eye behind voluptuous colours or the sparkling blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
 
Leave Her to Heaven 
Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

Despite the dark plot, there is much luscious beauty in Leave Her to Heaven, the quintessential noir in colour. Cinematographer Leon Shamroy’s masterful use of colour, brightly lit and edged with somber hues and shadows, makes each image pure pleasure for the eye and has the same impact as the black and white that defines Hollywood film noir. The photography mirrors tempestuous Ellen (Gene Tierney), whose extreme beauty highlights her psychotic streaks and changes. Tierney’s angelic beauty and unblinking cruelty are a daunting combination. Tierney dominates every scene she is in, both physically and emotionally. The boat scene is one of the most perturbing sequences in the history of Hollywood. Gene Tierney’s face is like a perfect composure, reinforced by the beautiful, peaceful setting. At her darkest, she seems at peace, and this makes her character one of the most cold-blooded femmes fatales in the history of cinema, and provokes a disquieting feeling in the viewer, one that is impossible to forget.
 
Dial M for Murder 
Dial M for Murder (1954)

In his first film featuring Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock used all the tricks he had mastered over the years to get the public’s undivided attention, starting with the striking use of colour (this was only his third colour movie). He uses it in an interesting way in terms of costumes: you see Grace in a skirt and cardigan in the palest shade of pink, almost white, in the first scene, having breakfast with her husband, and then in bright red, a few seconds later, with her lover, Mark (Robert Cummings), and the contrast of those two moments, with the two men in her life, is very strong.

The set design is beautiful, every frame is perfect, and the film is altogether beautifully filmed by Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s cinematographer on no less than twelve movies, who masters some of the trickiest shots in Hitchcock’s filmography (the action is mostly confined to one room). But, coloristically speaking, the experiment with Grace Kelly’s costumes is the most striking. Her clothes go from bright to somber as the plot thickens and her innocence starts to be questioned. As opposed to the colour palette of her previous clothes, which brought out the blue in her eyes, the faded colours she wears later on are intelligently used to make her eyes look grey, too, in tune with the grey days coming. Hitch always knew how to guide his audience through the story, and the dialogue played the smallest part in it.
 
Chinatown 1974 
Chinatown (1974)

Roman Polanski said that, in Chinatown, he tried to create that Philip Marlowe atmosphere, which he’d never seen in the movies the way he got it in the books of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. Indeed, Chinatown is not only a one of a kind film noir (because this is the feeling you get, that it’s an original noir, not neo-noir, and that’s why it’s included here), but a complete film and one of the best movies of all time. The style of the 1930s, when the story is placed, is conveyed by a “scrupulously reconstruction of decor, costumes, and idiom, not by a deliberate imitation, in 1973, of thirties film techniques”. This is exactly what makes Chinatown fascinating: it evokes the Golden Age of 1930s-1940s Hollywood, without losing itself in nostalgia or turning into another overly stylised version of that era. The look of the film is nothing less than a work of art. I never get tired of those golden tones of the film and that bright, desert light of Los Angeles – John Alonzo’s creative, beautiful cinematography made it look like a classic black and white movie magically transposed to colour. It’s like Los Angeles is a character in itself and is trying to tell the viewer that it will continue to exist, in that punishing light, despite the desert, despite the dark secrets, despite its bleak reality.
 
Plein soleil Alain Delon 
Plein soleil (1960)

Plein soleil is a visually beautiful film – Patricia Highsmith described it as “very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect” – and its style reminds me of Hitchcock’s works. Clément himself was a technician, too, who had trained as an architect and made his debut in cinema as a cameraman, and if you watch the film, you’ll be able to observe all these influences on each frame. In fact, he was named the French Alfred Hitchcock after he made this film. The cinematography, by Henri Decaë, is exquisite and the sun-drenched mise-en-scène (the picture was shot entirely on location, in Rome, Naples and the vicinity islands) sharply contrasts the themes of envy, deceit and murder. What is so fascinating about it is that it is an unusual noir: all is bright and in the open, inviting the viewer in its aesthetic rapture… and into a story of crime and masquerade. In this same regard, I will always prefer the French title: Plein soleil. The English translation, Purple Noon, is misfortunate, because it fails to capture that very inescapable feeling of sun-drenched Mediterranean savoir-vivre, despite the intense dark plot.

Of course, part of the film’s dazzlingly beautiful quality is Alain Delon in the role of Tom Ripley. One memorable sequence is when Delon is strolling through the fish market in Naples. I think he’s at his most charming then, a display of subtlety in portraying the darkness of the character – he embodies a cool, elegant and handsome anti-hero (so different from the other Tom Ripley embodied on screen by Matt Damon, who is driven by complexes and dark instincts), and you almost get to identify with him. Almost. His aimless stroll, linen jacket slung over his shoulder, face basking in the afternoon sun, is extremely revealing of Ripley’s ambiguity. The essence of the entire film and of the character seems to be captured in that seemingly purposeless scene for the plot – that mixture of ravishing beauty and inhumanity.

photos: 1-Leave Her to Heaven (Twentieth Century Fox) / 2-Dial M for Murder (Warner Brothers) / 3-Chinatown (Paramount Pictures) / 4-Plein soleil (Robert et Raymond Hakim, Paris Film, Paritalia)

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Editorial: The Streets of San Francisco

Editorial-Vertigo-The streets of San Francisco 

The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema


 
Sixty years ago this week (on May 9th), Vertigo was released. It is often hailed as the best movie of all time. I may not be of the same opinion, nor is it my favourite Hitchcock film, but I can not deny its grandness and beauty. Vertigo was shot in San Francisco – Northern California is where Alfred Hitchcock found much comfort and an irresistible backdrop for some of his finest films, including Shadow of A Doubt (1943) and The Birds (1963) . With its vertiginous hills, high-reaching buildings and panoramic views, San Francisco is the perfect setting for Vertigo, the city being used to dizzying effect for a story of romantic obsession with the image of a woman.

The film’s use of actual urban locations was still rather rare for that time for a studio movie – as a side note, Vertigo was definitely no studio commercial success. There is no shortage of atmospheric Bay Area locations in Vertigo, but the silent sequences of Scottie’s extended tailing of Madeleine (Kim Novak) in her green car on the streets of San Francisco is where both the beauty of choosing that location and the mastermind of Hitchcock lie. So subtle yet revealing and involving. The camera floats, immersing Scottie (James Stewart), and the viewer along with him, into his chase of wild ghosts and down the road to doomed love. Hitchcock certainly does not rely just on the real geography to make Vertigo‘s San Francisco wholly cinematic. Mr. Hitchcock, after countless viewings, your films hold the same spellbinding effect on me.

photo: movie still | Alfred J Hitchcock Productions

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