Good Storytelling Needs Time: Interview with Photographer Susana Girón

Flamenco dancer María Moreno photographed by Susana Girón as part of the project “Yo bailo”

 
It is the photograph that people are moved to more than words. But it has to be a good photograph. And good storytelling needs time, Susana Girón tells me. And I can tell just by looking at her photographs. It is not about taking photos, it is about stories lived.

There is the intimate and poetic portrait of one of the last nomadic shepherds in Spain and Europe, the result of not just observing, but sharing an existence with them for a few weeks a year, throughout the entire duration of the transhumance, every year, for five years now. There are the surprisingly touching portraits of complete strangers, “People I never saw”, shot through the window of a train, but which somehow reflect a piercing emotion. There is the powerful portrait of an artist stripped to bare emotions during the transformative artistic act. But whether from deep close or further away, there is this inner life movement that Susana Girón’s photography always communicates… the feeling that she shares something big with her subject and the space around… the feeling of existence.

The ability to see that is not in the eye, but in the heart. The skill of being able to both see her subject as individual and allow the viewer to connect with someone of a different culture and background on a much deeper level. The care and consideration and patience that lead to each image to feel honest. Conveying truth without melodrama, empathy without pity, hope without spectacular. Reflecting not contriving reality. Taking time, not made in a state of flight. Making the world familiar and seducing the viewer in, slowly, subtly, yet assuredly and optimistically. That’s the photography of Susana Girón. Because she has faith in the humanizing power of photography. It is an invitation to reconnect with the world and with each other.

 

”People I never saw”, photograph by Susana Girón

 

What does it take to go there, to want to tell a story through your photographs?

To take photographs is a way of life, a way to relate with people. To look for stories and tell these stories in photographs, it is an inner necessity, a chance to be a better person, because in every new story I am learning, I have a meeting with new people in very different circumstances to me and this is a continuous discovery for me. The camera is a tool to enter the stories or people that interest me, a kind of license. The most powerful fact in photography for me is this meeting, the process of developing a story and the challenge of translating the emotions you have into photographs that evoke these emotions and feelings. So, when I see or discover a story that has all the elements that I am interested in, a mixture of passion, excitation and determination comes to me and moves me to work and photograph. I feel totally “alive” when I am immersed in a creative process of making a photographic story.

On the other hand, since I was a child I have loved storytelling, telling stories… and, for me, photography is the best medium to do so. For me, it is a daily challenge to invite all the people that look at my photographs or stories to recognise themselves in the same stories despite the fact that they don´t belong to these stories or environments. From the distance of different cultures, ages or backgrounds, there is a kind of universal feeling that connects all people, and I am really interested in looking for these feelings.

I believe that your photography, which chronicles such different places and people, has this ability to make the viewer, too, want to be a better human; it opens him up to the world, to being more understanding, more alert, more receptive to the world around, near and far.

Again, the most appreciated and valuable gift from photography is the continuous human learning which means the chance to be a better human. This is because I take photographs.
 

”90 varas”, photograph by Susana Girón

 
 
 

”A good photo has to move our emotions as well as ask
us questions, it invites to a second reading.”

 
 

When do you know you have taken a good photograph? And what makes a good photo?

Normally, I realise it because I feel something, a kind of magical connection with the person portrayed or with the scenery, or both. The energy flow, it is difficult to explain, because when I feel this kind of energy I photograph from instinct and I am in a kind of trance and I forget what is happening around me, I am isolated from the world in these moments. I try to work and photograph from instinct or from the unconscious. I see something a little before it happens, a kind of premonition. And then, sometimes it happens, and all the elements that you were looking for are suddenly in order in front of you, sometimes it is even better because something unexpected appears and makes the photograph grow. And then you press the obturator and you got it! The good photograph is the one that shows in the best way the idea that was previously in your head. The light, the composition and the emotions are there, together and well-ordered, in a sort of miracle.

For me, the most important thing that a good photo has is EMOTION. A good photo has to move our emotions as well as ask us questions, it doesn’t allow us to discover the entire scene in one second, it invites to a second reading, to look at the photo again and again searching for that answer. Emotion is the basics, to feel something when you see that photo.

Emotion is one of the things that define your photography. Do you also think that people are moved to act on issues when they see your photography?

I would like to think so, but, to be honest, I think this is really difficult. For me, if my work gets an emotion, a reflexion, an inspiration, a thought…. anything that makes them react… then my goal is completed. I would like to think that my work could be inspiring to people, because most of my work, the stories, are imbued with a positive point of view and they invite us to be part of the story, in some way they could be the main characters of the story as well. Then empathy makes the rest.
 

The horses that the Alarcon family uses during the migration days, on an early morning next to the base camp of the shepherds. Horses are a valuable tool during the transhumance, helping the herders in the most difficult areas and abrupt terrain in the long journey days, which can reach 25 km per day.


 
 
 

”Good things need time. Good storytelling needs time.
I don’t know any other way to tell a story well.”

 
 
“90 varas” is one of your stories that I react in a very emotional way to. It’s not just photojournalism, you coming in and capturing what’s happening, it’s about telling a story in a very transformative and elegiac way, about evoking a certain way of living and transporting the viewer there. Can you tell me a little more about this project?

I am really happy in the way you describe your feelings about “90 varas”, because this is exactly what I was looking for when I was developing this project. I was very interested in the story of the transhumant, the last nomad shepherds in Spain, but I didn´t want to tell this story is a descriptive way. I was looking for a more evocative photographic language, inviting the viewers to the self-discovering of emotions and sensations. For that reason, I tried to avoid the descriptive images, I was not looking for an anthropological study of the shepherds. For me, the story was an invitation to travel with the Alarcon family and try to capture their life through the photographs while living similar experiences to the family during their migrations: Feel the cool, the fatigue, the insecurity of an uncertain future… all these feelings that I was feeling as well.

I started this project in 2015, and I am still photographing this story. I wanted to tell the story of the transhumance in Spain, visiting several places and families that still work in these ancient traditions. But when I discovered the Alarcon family, I felt that their story was the story to tell. Moreover, they come from a place (Fatima, Castril, Granada) very close to the village where all my family comes from. My village, Huéscar (Granada), is only 12 kilometres from the place where they live, and for me that was an extra value in telling this story, of people who are so close to me.

I have been sharing the migrations with this family since 2015, twice a year. During this time, which takes 200 km by foot and almost 10 days living in the forest and mountains, I share with the family all the duties. I live exactly in the same way they do. I am one more person in the family. This is very important, because they appreciate my effort and give me the chance to be seen as an ordinary person rather than a photojournalist, so life simply happens in front of me and somehow I am part of that reality with a photographic camera in my hands. Moreover, the most important thing is that I have a real appreciation for these people and we have a real friendship.
 

Maria Franco, wife of Antonio Alarcon, sleeps every night inside the car they carry like support during the migration. The low temperatures of the night in winter, which frequently fall below the -5º, force María to wrap herself tightly with several blankets to defend herself from the intense cold. Her sons and husband prefer to sleep in the tents that they ride with every day.


 
I think there is a lot to learn for all of us from this story and this way of living. I often feel, and in these times of crisis more than ever before, that people like the Alarcon family are the ones who have real power, the way they live without distractions, how they know how to slow life down, to focus on just one important thing, and allow you to be part of their family because they know that only the truly worthy can tell their story. How big a place does storytelling still have in this fast world we are living?

The world goes too fast. Thousands of images around us every moment. I don´t know how big that place is for storytelling, but what I know is that I need time to tell my stories. Perhaps for many people it is too slow and they don´t enjoy the discovery of every picture when you look at it with attention. It takes time and effort, but the feedback, the kind of feeling that comes back to you is more powerful as well. I need to belong to the places and the people who live in my stories, understand them, share the life with them… I don´t know any other way to tell a story well. Good things need time. Good storytelling needs time.

 
 

”Approach photography in an honest way,
with coherency and especially TRUTH.”

 
 

Your photography ranges from documentary to editorial. Where do you see the power of photography? As document or art?

I really don´t like labels. Why do we need to put labels on our work all the time? What I love to do is to tell stories that are important to me, that move me and that perhaps move others. That’s it. I feel comfortable and I like to mix the languages, even more so, I like to approach each new project in a different way. What I do is photography. Yes, this is a document, but, depending on the story, or on the project, I am most interested in looking for a less descriptive photographic language and for a more sensitive language. It is like an open image, where different interpretations are right, but you have to interact with the image, and take your time to feel the story. I normally don´t look for very evident images, where you can see all the answers about what is happening at first look. Both of them are documentary styles, and document and perhaps art. The power is to approach photography in an honest way, with coherency and especially TRUTH: in the way that you see and you feel and to be able to translate that in the way that you want to tell this story…. And if you find the way and it has honesty… then the power comes. It’s difficult to explain.
 

The Syrian artist Iman Hasbani is surrounded by fog in the mountains of Aley. The town host the Art residence Aley, a space where Syrian refugee artists fleeing from the Syrian war find a safe place for a month.


 
Can you tell me a little more about your recent book, Yo bailo?

This is a very special project, an experimental photobook that I have co-authorshipped with María Moreno, one of the best flamenco dancers in the world. The project started by chance, without any idea about what was coming. At the beginning of 2018, María was looking for a photographer to document her creative work while she was working on her new show for an important flamenco festival. There are a lot of photographers specialised in flamenco, but she was looking for someone with a fresh view, an outsider, who was not impregnated with these stereotypes the way flamenco photographers normally are. Her manager knows my work and that I had never taken a single photograph linked to flamenco music or dance, and they made a proposal to me. I was excited about this because I have always wanted to document the creative process of an artist. At first, the pictures were to be used on social nets or as a making-of, but after a year of work, of taking pictures in the intimacy of María (while she was training and dancing alone, during big shows, resting at home or travelling during her shows), we discovered that there was a powerful story behind.

Then we thought about telling the story of the hidden side of a creative process, what the public doesn’t normally see. Behind the big curtain of a big theatre, there are big efforts and, moreover… emotions: fear, passion, determination, doubt. The images were there, but the essence of this project was to tell this story based on the images and adding María’s own voice. Through brief and intense texts, she put the emotional words to what is really inside the person in every photographic moment. The power is binomial: the dialogue between text and image, flamenco and photography. The result is a book, where an artist, in first person, tells and shows the intimacy of her creative process, humanizing the view of an artist by using the power of photography and text.

 
 

”Writing is a very important part of my creative process.”

 
 

It is a singular and intimate collaboration, a communion might be the better word, between artist and photographer, especially that we have the images narrated by the artist herself. When you are working on other projects, do you ever feel the need to add words to your photographs?

Writing is always an important part of my personal projects. When I start a project, I get a new notebook where I am writing all the ideas and emotions that the story inspires me. Normally, these notes and texts are private, just for me, but at the same time, they are a very important part of my creative process, because when I try to write, more feelings come to me and writing inspires me with more ideas. Normally, I write a list of emotions that are related to the story and then take the challenge to translate that list of written emotions into images. Every project has its own notebook full of reflections and things that come to me while I am immersed in that project. It is very inspiring, but even later, when the time passes, it is amazing to discover and be able to come back to what was there when I was absorbed in the story. It is important to write because everything you don´t write is forgotten. In the book YO BAILO (I DANCE), the text belongs to another artist, but the very impressive thing is that every creator or artist can be recognised in these texts.
 

María Moreno exhausted looking at herself in the mirror of her dressing room after finishing her performance “De la Concepcion” at Alhambra Theatre in Granada city. Spanish Flamenco dancer María Moreno (33), known as one of the best flamenco dancer of the new generation of this art, was awarded in 2018 the prize for Best Emerging Artist during the Flamenco Biennal in Sevilla, the most important Flamenco event in the world.


 

Website: susanagiron.es | Instagram: @susana_giron_photo
The book “Yo bailo” is available here.

 
 

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Le Paris de Claude Sautet: Romy, Michel, Yves et les autres…


 
I have always wanted a book with Romy Schneider on the cover. After all, we carry not one, but two Romy portraits exclusively in our Classiq Journal Editions. Not a book about her life (there are a few German publications on the subject), which would certainly veer away from her prolific career of talented actor and towards her tragic personal life, but one which honours her work, her films, the filmmakers and actors she worked with. Finally, that book has arrived (it came out this September). It’s a book about the cinema of Claude Sautet, Le Paris de Claude Sautet: Romy, Michel, Yves et les autres…*, written by Hélène Rochette, and on the cover there is a shot of Romy from Max et les Ferrailleurs, the film Sautet considered his best.

Max et les Ferrailleurs is a bleak, dark detective story that taps into noir while drawing two fine character studies: Michel Piccoli’s Max, a former judge converted into a cop, and Romy Schneider’s Lily, a prostitute linked to a gang of hard-luck, two-time crooks whom he wants to catch in order to restore his recently tarnished reputation in the department. Sautet inverts in fact the moral dilemma of the crime film and makes the criminals more sympathetic than the lawman. Nothing can disturb Max’s icy exterior, nothing distracts his attention, not even Lily. She is no ordinary prostitute either. She is the brain behind the gang of small-time criminals and it is her ambition that will get them all into trouble.

Romy is wearing Yves Saint Laurent in Max et les Ferrailleurs and in this particular shot depicted on the cover of the book she is wearing the black patent trench coat – the revival of the vinyl trench five years after Catherine Deneuve wore hers for another prostitute role, that of Severine in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de jour. Yves Saint Laurent had an “immediate and astounding sense of costume”, in the words of Roland Petit, and he chose a very sexy, character-appropriate wardrobe for Romy in this film – violet or red low-cut dresses, form-fitting black dress with plunging neckline, ribbon tied around the neck – but it is that trench in particular that stands apart, both shielding her away and marking her off.

The fact that the book is in French has both a positive and a negative side. It is written with the cinema knowledge and passion the French are capable of (it is much less often the case with American books about film), which always takes your own knowledge and passion for cinema one level up, but if it were to be translated to English it would certainly benefit of a much wider appreciation, as it deserves.

Organized in six chapters that analyse not each film in particular, and this is what I loved so much about it, but the elements that are defining for Sautet’s cinema (from that special portrayal of Paris, the image of the eternal capital, with its urban vitality depicted not through geographic landmarks but subtly, by slipping into the dark little streets and the boisterous yet intimate atmosphere of its cafes, bistros and bars, to the use of the car as modern instruments of destiny, to the free and audacious Parisienne, especially the characters of Romy Schneider, to the influence that the American culture had on the most Parisian of cineasts – westerns, the films of Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, John Ford, jazz music, as “he was capable of conducting certain cinematographic sequences like a jazz solo”, were a great inspiration for the French filmmaker), the book truly seizes the essence and uniqueness of Claude Sautet’s universe. “Sautet invented his own reality, and that’s why his films endure,” film analyst Jacques Fieschi is cited. And the marvelous thing about that reality is that, “in contrast with François Truffaut, who believed that cinema surpassed and amplified life, to the point of wanting to perpetuate the artistic excitement of the shoots,” notes Hélène Rochette, Claude Sautet’s films “cherished all life’s simple pleasures”.

It is the little details the book focuses on, in the true spirit of Sautet himself, who “always liked to scrutinize these little things, these constant trials and errors that anchor an individual in his singularity”. He was sincerely interested in life as it was, in its every moment, in the smallest gesture, in the simplest joy, to be lived in the moment, one of the reasons he liked open endings to his films. “Sautet never intellectualized his approach to filmmaking, that’s why he is considered a craftsman, a good maker,” Olivier Péray, assistant director on Mado, concurred. Claude Sautet reminds me of another great favourite of mine, John Cassavetes, who loved life just as it was and made his films about it, films that are raw, unfiltered, unpredictable, complex, overwhelming, just like real life is – “In Faces I wanted to show the inability of people to communicate; what small things do to people, how people can’t handle certain things that they hear and read in newspapers, see in films; and how, when they are not prepared to think with their own minds and to feel, how all this can become tragic circumstances,” the American filmmaker would confess. The emotions, the reflections on human behavior, the complexity of sentiments, we encounter them in Sautet’s work and we encounter them in Cassavetes’. And Cassavetes is rightfully mentioned in the book, too.

The interviews included in Le Paris de Claude Sautet, all of them recently conducted, in the spring of 2019, with Jean-Claude Carrière, Brigitte Fossey, Myriam Boyer, Arlette Bonnard, Sandrine Bonnairde, further add a new, intimate dimension to Sautet’s cinema and characters: “Claude Sautet did not just capture the authenticity and the truth in a shot, he also achieved this extraordinary balance that does not often exist in cinema, this rare musicality, and you sense that even today, when you hear a scene by Sautet, even on the radio, there is this rhythm in the dialogues which is always right,” Brigitte Fossey confesses.

And, finally, Romy. Romy, who became the impersonation of “the perfect French seduction”, Romy whose “photogenic power and beauty represented at least for a decade the image of femininity on the big screen”, Romy who taught Sautet that “women were courageous, vivacious”, because before he met her, “he didn’t know how to direct actresses and female characters didn’t interest him so much, except as objects,” Graziella Sautet, his wife, recalled. Incandescent, implacable, imperious, ferociously humorous, fiercely independent, Romy, the actor who was the new icon of freedom and modernity.

A while ago I wrote about Romy’s character in César et Rosalie, how I believed that Rosalie came very close to Romy’s own personality. The book draws an incredibly conclusive portrait of Rosalie, Sautet’s heroine who “is never afraid to claim her tastes, her desires and her insatiable quest for freedom”. She is the image of the determined, confident woman driven by her inalterable will to live, because the woman alone guides her destiny and her male alter egos must resolve to accommodate themselves to her decisions. Romy’s presence on screen was unequalled and she came alive in Claude Sautet’s films.
 
 
*Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the book, I have linked to the publishing house (and to their credit, Parigramme has an incredible selection of book, some of which in English). However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore I will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.
 
 

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Editorial: She’s Earned Those Stripes

Jean Arthur in “The Talk of the Town”, 1942 | Columbia Pictures

 

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


 
Nora Shelley is wearing a men’s striped oversized pajamas when the entire town barges into the house she had rented to Michael Lightcap, a law professor who has come here in search of a quiet place to write a book: her mother who is trying to understand what she hadn’t come home, the furniture moving men who are bringing in a few finishing-up pieces for the guest, the policemen who are looking for Leopold Dilg, a troublemaker who has been wrongfully accused of burning down a mill and killing the foreman and who has escaped jail, believing he has no chance of escaping jail, the lawyer who is trying to help him. The fugitive, played by Cary Grant, happens to be in the attic, with an injured foot, and Jean Arthur’s Nora Shelley is helping him hide, and she had to make up an excuse the stay the night to watch him so that he is not discovered.

“Listen, I can’t hang around here even if I wanted to. Lightcap’s ordered me out 50 times since last night. I’m here now only by the grace of being in his pajamas. One minute I’m out of these and I’m out on my ear!”, Nora says to Dilg in The Talk of the Town.

Isn’t Jean Arthur one of the best comedic actors? And she’s at her best in this quick-witted comedy directed by George Stevens. I rewatched it last night. And I just love watching Jean Arthur in it. She is so naturally funny. Comical yet not silly ridiculous. So gracefully yet confidently making her way among all the men. And I love how the romantic story remains in the background and the film does not lose sight of the main plot, of acquitting a wrongfully accused man. And it’s wonderful how Jean manages to strike such a balance between humour and never losing sight of the bigger picture, of what’s right and wrong.

And so she is wearing Lightcap’s pajamas, a wardrobe piece that here plays first and foremost a comedic role (as opposed to Adrian’s costumes on Greta Garbo in The Single Standard), but not quite just. The next morning, before the town barges in, she does an impersonation in front of the mirror, dressed in the pajamas and playing with her hair pretending she has a mustache and changing her voice: “lovely, lovely, really lovely…” She is being watched, naturally, by Lightcap (Ronald Colman), which makes the scene even more hilarious. And, yes, it makes her charming and attractive, in a way only menswear clothes worn by a woman in full confidence of her seductive power can.
 

“The Talk of the Town”, 1942 | Columbia Pictures

 

There is another piece of clothing that makes a great point, too. This time, it’s one of the wardrobe items Irene designed for the character, the pinafore dress, a piece that’s menswear inspired but made for a woman. Nora is wearing it when Leopold arrives in search of a hideout. At one moment, between trying to keep Dilg out of sight and trying to accommodate her tenant who has arrived one day early, she has to run up the stairs. I have always found this sequence so naturally hilarious and unforced, because she does run alright… as if she was wearing trousers. Only she’s not and that’s the best part. She does not sacrifice one drop of femininity while being adventurous, quick and active and, well, physically funny in ways few female actors have been.

Jean Arthur had already demonstrated her humour, fearlessness and appeal in menswear inspired clothes three years earlier, also alongside Cary Grant and interacting with another bunch of men, pilots in that case, in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (more about that, in a future article). But it’s the attitude and body language, the verbal wit and physical humour, that distinctive voice that could be low and husky or going into a high pitch, simply put, so much more than what meets the eye that completes the picture here. She knows how to be romantic, smart and grown-up without forgetting to be a tomboy and free-spirited and funny. She’s right up there, next to another trailblazer of thought and action style and screwball comedy, Katharine Hepburn (Katharine wore a pinafore dress, too, in Woman of the Year, directed by George Stevens and costumed by Adrian, an ahead-of-his-time designer who put an ahead-of-her-time movie star in a tuxedo in the same movie). She was her own person and had a unique screen presence. She was good at what she did. She owned the craft of acting. That’s the brilliance of Jean Arthur.
 

“The Talk of the Town”, 1942 | Columbia Pictures

 
 

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The Culture Trip: October Newsletter

Photographic print to the left available in the shop

 
 

“I had to contend with boredom. Meaning,
when I was bored, I had to be bored and keep
walking. As opposed to: sling up the ‘ole smartphone
and walk-n-suck on another list of headlines. ”

Craig Mod

 
 
It is a narrow, winding road through the hills. It is nestled by the bowing hardwood trees that line it on both sides, and as the well-tuned engine pours on the road, the fallen golden leaves fly off, a brisk sign of more blustery times ahead. The car window is down, just enough to feel the crisp autumn air. It is a pleasant feeling, one of the best. The rush of summer is finally over and nature seems to breath a new life and start to slow down and get cosy at the same time, until it enters the deep silence of winter. The road is almost empty. You watch. And listen. A Mazda MX5 sports car picks up speed – you can’t blame it, the road is inviting – but finally agrees that the ride is best enjoyed when shifting the gear down. By taking any turn left, the road goes up, still meandering, and the view is clearing up as the forests fall sideways, turning into an idyllic countryside scenery of meadows guarded by wooden fences and bushes of rosehip, sea buckthorn, cranberries and blackberries. You can leave the car on the side of the road and pick up a hiking trail, the leaves turning rusty on the ground starting to ruffle under your feet. Four boys with their bikes have stopped by the side of the road, gathered around and plotting away. It looks like a scene from The Goonies. Back in the car after you’ve put in some good effort and taken the steepest path up to the hilltop that offers a panoramic view of the surroundings, you return to the main road. The hour is still early. The road is stretching ahead. On and on it goes. You follow it. How can you not? There’s still plenty of gas in the tank.

 

Nadya Zim photographic print to the left available in the shop

 
 
The Classiq Journal newsletter goes out the first Sunday of each month. It’s a culture trip.

Reading

Books
The Lost Pianos of Siberia* is a book you have to take your time with. Because the book itself is slow-paced and revealing such depth of history and thoughts and feelings that it reminds you that not every book, as good as it may be, should be read in a one-go. In her literary non-fiction book, Sophy Roberts takes us on a thoroughly researched and deeply experienced journey “into music, exile and landscape,” as noted by Edmund de Waal. A land generally known for its harshness, terrifying, unimaginable exile stories and primitive life conditions, is shown another face, of poetry, humanity, survival and unique beauty, as Sophy Roberts sets out to track down a piano for a piano player friend of hers, and then to find out how music entered and was cultivated in Siberia throughout its troubled and dark past. And I am glad it is a westerner who brings this view up in the open. This kind of writing and this kind of book could only be possible by the deep understating and deep bond the author, though her repeated trips there and relentless passion and honest interest, had of and formed with this outlandish part of the world and its people, the people’s people. And there is no other time when I would recommend this book more than at the moment: art and culture have this subtlety in revealing some truths in an impactful way that can change thoughts and minds. In this case, it’s this: there were other moments in history when people were forced, most of the times unjustifiably, to immobility for years or maybe a lifetime and yet found beauty or created beauty out of misery and hardship. The world at large is formed of ordinary people. Cold hands, warm hearts. To hear or read their story is a privilege. It makes you question your perspective.

When she left her Hollywood career behind, Louise Brooks re-emerged as a serious film historian and critic. Lulu in Hollywood, her compilation of film journal essays from the 1960s, was considered by Roger Ebert “one of the few film books that can be called indispensable”. Her Thirteen Women on Film, her book of essays on Hollywood icons such as Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo and Clara Bow reveals Brooks as a pioneer of Hollywood star and celebrity studies.

Magazine
Each issue of Légende magazine focuses on an iconic figure, personalities who embodied and defined the times they lived or have lived in. The first issue, launched this summer, was dedicated to Zinédine Zidane. The second issue, just out, is about Angela Davis. Each story is told by historians, journalists, illustrators and photographers. “It is conceived as a collector’s item. Only on paper can we produce this effect,” says editor-in-chief François Vey.

Online
I have to mention once again Craig Mod’s weekly newsletter Ridgeline. This week’s letter in particular rang extremely close to home.

The interview
The Pretenders have released a new album, Hate for Sale, and Chrissie Hynde talks to The Rolling Stones about it and about life lately. Lockdown has not kept her down and she doesn’t see the point of socially-distanced shows either: “Why do artists think that they’re going to heal everybody, and their music is so important? It’s a little bit pompous.” I love her way of thinking. You just have to wait. It doesn’t apply just to music. And it is true, music can not be played just anywhere and anyhow.

Viewing

Watching a good film noir I hadn’t yet discovered can still make my day. The Good Die Young (1954) features John Ireland, Gloria Grahame, Richard Basehart, and the great Laurence Harvey, whom I especially loved in Room at the Top (1959) alongside Simone Signoret. It was directed by Lewis Gilbert, who also made three Bond films (You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker), which could be a good idea to revisit in the run-up to the release of No Time to Die. This conversation may also inspire you to do just that.

I have finally caught up with watching the last three seasons of Homeland and it is as good as ever (episode 5 of season 6, and the entire season 6 altogether, is one of the best – Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin and Rupert Friend, what a team!). I rarely watch tv series (the interesting thing is that not even in the last six months of sheltering in place and socially distancing have I watched any), but give me something like 24, Breaking Bad and Homeland and I may easily get caught up in this bindge-watching thing.
 

Right: Illustration part of the Angela Davis issue of Légende magazine

 

Listening

Music
The music of David Broza. The playlists he creates are so incredibly beautiful, too, and his latest one is Autumn: The year’s last, loveliest smile.

Podcast
On margins is a podcast about making books (this is as good as it gets), hosted by none other than Craig Mod. Among his guests have been book cover designer Jon Gray, photographer, author and backpacker Kevin Kelly, and designer, letterer and children’s book best-selling author Jessica Hische.

Audio book
Anthony Bourdain took the profession of cook as an adventure, just as he did life. For him, it was a calling, a reason to live. Cooking was for him “the last meritocracy – where what we do is all that matters”. He wrote Kitchen Confidential while he was still working the line, giving you the feel and beat of the buzz of the kitchen, a real taste of that frantic world – the life of a rock ‘n’ roller, but also the life of a craftsman. I loved the honesty, the humour, the verve, and how he threw movies into his stories about food: “Please treat your garlic with respect. Sliver it for pasta, like you saw in Goodfellas”. To listen to his follow-up to Kitchen Confidential audio book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People who Cook, narrated by Bourdain himself, should be nothing less than a real treat.

Style

Each month I highlight one fashion and/or lifestyle brand I believe in 100%. This October, it’s & Daughter. Slow knitwear brand, English sensibility, timeless appeal. And it’s even more worth exploring this time of year.

Exploring

The concept of “friluftsliv”, or open-air living, encourages outdoor adventures for all ages in all weather. How a Norwegian idea of outdoor living could help us all this winter.

On an end note

Give up Google: don’t hit “accept all”. In her book, Privacy Is Power, professor Carissa Vériz wants to shake us out of our complacency and fight for our privacy. There have been many online publications and websites I used to visit and which I don’t anymore, because the multitude of ads they had was disorienting, annoying and just too much, but, most importantly, because of their harassing cookies pop-ups. No piece of news or film review is worth an invasion of my privacy. There are plenty of independent publications, just like this online cultural journal, that are worth reading, not just because of their high quality content, but because they respect their readers’ privacy and value their time. Or better yet, read more paper books, magazines and newspapers, and check in with real life more often than you check in on your Instagram.
 
 

 
 

“Sometimes you just have to wait. That’s what
I’ve learned. You just have to wait, but that
doesn’t mean you stop doing what you do.”

Chrissie Hynde

 
 
*Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the books recommended here, I have linked to the respective publishing house or author. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore I will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter | | Leave a comment

Ruggedly Masculine: Rod Taylor in “The Birds”

Rod Taylor in “The Birds”, 1963 | Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

 
Who else believes Rod Taylor and his style in The Birds are underrated? Because this is what I think. He is just as underrated as Tippi Hedren and her place among Alfred Hitchcock’s heroines are.

Rod Taylor is not the first leading man one has in mind when thinking of Hitchcock’s films, especially in terms of style. It goes without saying that it is Cary Grant that occupies that place, and there is no denying that it’s with good reason. “He somehow managed to make the plain grey banker’s suit seem impossibly glamorous, sexy, elegant, even daring. The shirt, flawless white, the tie, knotted with surgical precision, completed the look. And that was it. That was enough. His suit spoke for him, sang for him,” as noted here.

Furthermore, in To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant made the perfect case for casual wear, a little less his trademark than the suit, but one which he excelled at again. But that’s why I appreciate even more Rod Taylor’s understated look in The Birds. Somehow, it was expected of Cary to rise up to his image on screen, although without ever failing to benefit the plot. Rod Taylor, on the other hand, lets the character lead the way – he makes him real – and his style is just as subtle yet strong as his performance. I believe he is the most modern of all Hitchcock’s main male characters.
 

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds”, 1963 | Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

 
When Mitch Brenner first meets Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) in the bird shop in San Francisco, his look is impeccably executed. In his charcoal grey suit, in a fit cut, slim tie and white shirt, an urban careerist in San Francisco (he is a defense lawyer), he is equally brash and charming, arrogant and worldly. The suit sits well on him, and actually, it is much more modern than the ones Cary Grant wore in Hitchcock’s films, more tailored to the body, a suit that would make very much sense today. Mitch and Melanie are both sharply dressed, both very much in control, both provoking each other under false pretense – so wonderfully concealing-not-revealing Hitchcock.

On the weekend however, we find him, and so does Melanie Daniels, at his family home in Bodega Bay, a few hours up the coast. With its boat-dotted harbour, winding roads through green meadows, and sturdy trucks, it is a tranquil fishermen’s village, where one meets a slower pace of life – it all sounds a little too familiar for what many of us have been gravitating to during these times, doesn’t it? The Brenners’ front lawn, with the bay and mountains behind, is particularly comforting… until it is not – all that open space will provide the ideal place for hundreds of birds to gather and attack.

Mitch is much more practically dressed around the house. Naturally, one may say at first sight. But the fact is there wasn’t often a clear delineation between office and off-duty wear in the classic films before the 1960s. When shown at home, the man would usually be depicted with his office shirt still on, only slightly unbuttoned to loosen the tie and with the sleeves rolled up to suggest he is during his down-time. I like how Rod Taylor’s character is so distinctly different out of town. It is here where he seems to come into his own, in the bucolic setting of Bodega Bay. That may also be a subtle analogy to Melanie’s transformation who gradually becomes “more natural and humane,” as François Truffaut described her character to Hitchcock, after she arrives in Bodega Bay, a clear departure from her sophisticate, cool and collected look when she first meets Mitch in San Francisco. Everyone is irrevocably changed after the birds start attacking for no apparent reason. Man does change, gains a new perspective on things in the face of unforeseen adversity.
 

Rod Taylor and Jessica Tandy in “The Birds”, 1963 | Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

 
In his off-white fisherman’s sweater and blue neckerchief, Mitch Brenner gives a nod to the British heritage of both style pieces, and also to the working fishermen of Bodega Bay. What better garment with a storied past than the fisherman’s sweater, born out of utility, symbolising the importance of clan and unity within, something that Hitchcock’s character indeed seems to denote, with all the women in his life flocking around him?

His rugged masculinity does inspire strength and firm convictions and stability, so far-off from the combative flirtation and arrogance displayed when wearing a suit in the big city, and that’s why the tender moments and inner conflicts that occur after the birds start to attack and his vulnerability in the face of danger make him very relatable. And that’s exactly what Hitchcock counts on when the audience sees Mitch Brenner on screen.

Dressed in green side-pocket cargo trousers and white shirt, he starts to nail up the windows to the house. He has just taken off his tweed jacket. Previously, at his sister’s birthday celebration, he had sported the tweed jacket with the white shirt, slim tie and tweed trousers. The tweed jacket, with structured shoulders, flapped side pockets and short vents and worn with military pants, is a perfect blend of traditional English sports tailoring and American modern sensibility. Mitch Brenner ushers in the modern man, one who appreciates the classics but rejuvenates them to bring them up to the times. He also shows that he is not just a substitute for his late father, as his possessive mother considers him, but someone who strikes the right balance between the old and new world. Practical and rugged looking, he knows he must take everything in his hands.

Only you can not control what you don’t understand and what seems to have no logical explanation. And this “ambiguity makes the threat operate at every level of audience consciousness,” as observed in Ian Cameron and Richard Jeffrey’s interview with Hitchcock, from 1963. It operates on Mitch’s consciousness too. You feel the danger and sense the fear just by observing Mitch Brenner in the most suspenseful moments: his concern when he comes to Melanie’s aid after she is hit by the seagull in the boat, his reaction to the birds coming down the chimney, his repeated attempt to get away from the birds that keep packing his hand as he tries to close the shutter, the excruciating care with which he passes by the burbling birds lining the fences, trees and roof as he aims for the garage. By choosing Rod Taylor as his leading man, Hitchcock gets his message through in the most effective way: there is “too much complacency in the world, that people are unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all”.

 

“The Birds”, 1963 | Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

 
 

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Posted by classiq in Style in film | | 1 Comment