Before summer’s end, let us indulge in the most simple, democratic,
sincere, sexy and authentic piece of clothing, blue jeans,
and everything denim.
At first look, Little Fauss and Big Halsy is notably forgettable. Forget about plot and story arc. But just because a movie fails to shape an overall narrative, it doesn’t mean the actors are any less good in it. Robert Redford, as Halsy Knox (Michael J. Pollard plays Little Fauss), turns in a great performance and it’s a shame the film doesn’t live up to his commitment. Redford usually comes off as a likeable guy in his movies, even if his character is not exactly a nice guy. In Michael Feeney Callan’s 2011 biography, Robert Redford, there is a remark on Redford’s involvement in Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970). According to Callan, Redford expressively chose this project as his follow-up to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) because he wanted to undermine his likeable screen image. Indeed, Halsy Knox is a contemptible opportunistic, who swindles everyone he meets, but rarely thinks beyond his next meal or sexual conquest. There is nothing likeable about him, and that’s exactly why Redford’s performance has stuck with me.
Then there is a great soundtrack album sang by none other than Johnny Cash. And, of course, most importantly, there are Lauren Hutton and Robert Redford all cladded in double denim, white tees and sweatshirts, exemplifying American cool. Because, let’s face it, some movies are meant to be enjoyed for the costumes alone, and, as in the case of this movie, for the denim overload – Ted Parvin was the costume designer.
Whether regarded as a way of life, a cult object, or a piece of fashion that never goes out of style, jeans still retain the robust, original appeal and individual rebellion that they have always possessed. “Jeans were the garment not only of workers, but also of bikers, rockers and peaceniks, and, ultimately, everyman and -woman,” says Josh Sims in his book, Icons of Men’s Style. Everyone seems to own at least one pair of jeans. But while jeans are designated as the go-to utilitarian piece of clothing for just about everyone, Robert Redford and Lauren Hutton are not every man and every woman. Let’s elaborate on that.
Robert Redford’s perfectly-weathered, impeccably rugged leather cap and double denim look could very well be considered as predating the Ralph Lauren style and cinematic ad campaigns. It embodies the ease, freedom and sturdiness of the Western-inspired American look that Lauren has forever been influenced by in his designs. After all, Robert Redford is one of those very few who have turned the potentially disastuous double-denim option into a classic. Rarely anyone is cited as inspiration more than Robert Redford, be it in one of his roles, or on his own time, in his own home in the mountains in Utah. And I think that this enduring status, just as in the case of all cinema’s sartorial emblems, is due to the fact that Redford’s day-to-day style has always seemed to come through in his films just as much as his style when in character has transcended the screen.
Robert Redford seems to have worn a great pair of sunglasses in just about every movie he’s made, from Downhill Racer to Three Days of the Condor (although, in Pollack’s film, he only wore prescription eyeglasses; the much talked about mirrored Aviator sunglasses were only used for publicity stills), but the one I associate the most with the actor’s all-American look is the one from Little Fauss and Big Halsy. Unlike the film, only good things can be said about these Aviator shades, as much a part of being an American as blue jeans. The Aviators are a constant of Halsy’s look, and he wears every possible type of hat with them, too, from a leather aviator helmet and the vintage leather cap, to a cowboy hat and even a bowler hat.
In a 1973 profile, Harper’s Bazaar observed: “Lauren is anything but a classical beauty. Her nose flies west, her mouth flies north, she can cross her left eye at will. She made herself beautiful by learning, watching, willing – not by surgically altering her defects.” It’s Lauren Hutton I like to think of when I think of American beauty. Diana Vreeland proclaimed her “the best of America”. Genuine smile that’s infectious, undone elegance, a relaxed-yet-confident cool, and, as she has advanced in age, embracing her own individuality with grace and maturity. It’s what sets her apart from the overdone American woman that’s taken over the beauty standards of today.
Her radiant beauty, with her golden complexion and sun-bleached hair, and athletic body, are obvious in Little Fauss and Big Halsy, too. Her character, Rita Nebraska, a hippie, a drop-out from a wealthy background, doesn’t have much to say in the film, but, as far as her wardrobe goes, it’s like she’s playing herself when she carries so well her disheveled, windswept casual outfits – Lauren Hutton has always been a tomboy in real life, well known for her love for jeans, white tees, travel and the open road. Her story takes second seat to what Rita is wearing throughout the film: high-waisted, straight-legged blue jeans, one perfectly over-sized chambray shirt, a pair of denim shorts, a couple of white shirts, a white t-shirt and beige pants, and white sneakers. It can’t get any more simple and cool than that.
Perfectly weathered, the white t-shirt emblazoned with the Yamaha logo, is worn with beige jeans. This is not an immaculate white t-shirt that Rita is wearing. It’s not even hers. It’s probably borrowed from one of the boys. Which only works in its favour. Comfortable and informal, simple and practical, it serves a very real purpose: covering Rita when she arrives naked in Fauss and Halsy’s lives. The t-shirt, after all, is one of those understated garments that are meant for accompanying us throughout our lives; it’s made for living. It’s a pity though that every character in Little Fauss and Big Halsy seems to stride through life aimlessly. Most of the film was shot outdoors, and the bleak, desolate, sun-baked landscape becomes a visual signifier for the going-nowhere characters.
Note: Because I love denim every day, every season, this is part one of the new Style in Film sub-series, Denim on Film, that kicks off today on the blog.
photos: 2-6, 9, 13-15: film stills (captured by me) | Alfran Productions/Furie Productions/Paramount Pictures / 1,7,8,10-12: from the movie set (Lauren Hutton photographed by Steve Shapiro)