The Culture Trip: July Newsletter

I have recently discovered that the BFI booklets* make for the perfect summer reading. I have got myself covered with titles from The Birds (no summer without Hitchcock!) and Thelma & Louise to The Big Lebowski and Alien. Not too long and not too short either, with essays that cover different aspects of a movie in a wider context, and, not in the least, prompting you to re-watch some great films.

Summer also means tennis to me. From the summer holidays of my school years, when my brother and I used to make the round of the tennis courts in town, to the anticipation of Roland Garros every year, heralding the arrival of my favourite season, and to one of my fondest memories in recent years, when I took my son, then aged two, to a clay court for the first time in the early morning so that we could have the place all to ourselves, tennis has been a mainstay in my life and of my summers. I miss it this summer more than I was afraid I would.

Gerard Merzorati writes a beautiful piece in Racquet magazine about what he misses about playing tennis and how important are “the weak ties that bind”, those casual acquaintances, like the buddies we play tennis with, for our mental health. “I miss the shared and intimate loneliness that is a tennis match. I miss playing, and the exhilaration that provides us—midafternoon, when the rest of the city is feverishly working, as we once did—one of the few enhanced freedoms of being 67. (The other is a 3 p.m. show at a movie theater.) I miss the empathy and commiseration that accompany the adjustment of knee braces and the discussion of whether to pop Advil before or after you’re on court. I miss the sweaty hug at the net when a match is done, win or lose. We did it, one more time.”

“These low-stakes relations, strangers to us except when not—bookshop owners, farmers-market-stand operators, tennis opponents—provide us a sense of belonging, bind us more strongly to place. They aren’t nearly as important as the love we share with family members or intimate partners or lifelong friends. Still, studies show, they make us happier. And research shows too that weak ties are especially important as we age. Social interactions of the kind I have with my tennis buddies—infrequent, low-intensity, limited, verbally, to the exchange of a few words before and after a match—are nevertheless preserving my cognitive function and helping to keep depression at bay.”

People over 60, as in the case of Gerard Merzorati, have been the most affected during these last four months. And I am not talking about the ones who unfortunately or tragically got sick, but about those who didn’t but who nonetheless suffered physically and mentally enormously because going out and being active is so much part of their well being (as it is for everyone, of any age). But they stayed at home for their sake, and for the others, they socially distanced and followed the rules.

And that is why I can not begin to quantify Novak Djokovic’s inexcusable and irresponsible behaviour, his contrarianism before and his lack of collective responsibility during the Adria Tour, which, because he and other tennis players and the organizers did not respect any rules and discounted the advice of public-health experts, resulted in the players, Djokovic included, getting sick. A great sportsman, a champion should be a pillar of society, someone people and children look up to and follow by example. And so what happens when we, humans, who unfortunately have herd mentalities, follow someone like Djokovic? Being a great champion requires so much more than the number of titles you have won and more than being ranked number one tennis player in the world. I am afraid Djokovic lacks most of the qualities that would make him a great champion. He simply is not.

”Fair play” illustration, part of the Classiq Journal Editions, available in the shop
My Racquet magazine collection: time travel to tennis-filled past summers

In a time of instant, abbreviated and superficial messages and online “social” networks, and now in a time of social distancing, there is a real social network that truly connects people. Postcrossing is a project that allows you to send postcards and receive postcards from random people from around the world. Think about waiting with anticipation to receive snail mail, to receive a story in your mail box, something worthwhile to read, something only you and not everyone on social media can read, and then take your time and effort to write back.

I may be late to the scene, but a good film podcast never gets old. The Poster Boys are Brandon Schaefer and Sam Smith, two designers who get together and discuss all things graphic design, share their influences, and explore and celebrate the titans of poster design history. Schaefer and Smith both work as poster designers in today’s film industry, collaborating with the likes of The Criterion Collection, IFCFilms, Oscilloscope, Death Waltz Recording Company, and Janus Films. But the main thing is that just listening to them discuss the work of designing a film poster is fascinating.

With the release of his new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways*, Bob Dylan gives his first interview in years. “Great people follow their own path.”

Eight artists share their favourite summer movies.

When I was little, I was playing a game named Wireless telephone (also known under various names depending on country, such as Broken telephone in Greece, or Arabic telephone in France, or Chinese whispers). I had almost forgotten about it until my parents recently taught my five year old son how to play it. A few days later, I read that Finland, the country with one of the best education systems in the world, uses this same game to educate young children through play and even teach them how to handle fake news. Children as small as five can play the game. The players, in number of at least three, but the more the merrier, form a line and the first player comes up with a message and whispers it to the ear of the second player in the line. The second player repeats the message to the third, and so on. When the message reaches the last player in the chain, they announce it to the entire group. The final message usually arrives distorted because errors occur in the retelling. It results in rows of laughter, but this simple and fun game also teaches children how a message can change when it is passed from one person to another. It teaches them to ask questions, to discuss what they learn and hear, to think by themselves.

They are right about wearing a damn mask: “For your family, your community, our economy and so kids can go back to school in the fall.” It applies to any country. So why don’t you? But please don’t be a kook. Don’t throw your disposable masks and gloves where you shouldn’t. Because this is what happens and we are about to be in a bigger mess than the one we are in now.

Photographic prints available in the shop

“I wanted to design a dress for a real woman, not a catwalk model. A dress that could be worn with a bra. I have no technical education and I never went to fashion school. In a way, I didn’t design the Galaxy dress – it decided to be designed through my hands. It exists because I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s a dress that allows women to be who they are, not what someone else tells them to be.” Roland Mouret selects the objects that inspire him.

Yes, everyone should take one day off a month to do just this.

Suitcase magazine have recently launched a podcast, The Upgrade, and in the latest episode, editor-in-chief India Dowley and her co-host, Fleur Rollet-Manus, talk about why it is that we are so obsessed with being in a constant state of travel. India also says something about the underestimated power of cooking during lockdown, as not just something we have to do but because “food and recipes are the primary way of travelling from home”. Books (not just on cooking) and places are recommended, and chef Tom Brown shares his favourite spots.

From Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones, Anthony Bourdain’s 25 favourite songs to cook to.

In a new episode of Team Deakins, cinematographer Roger Deakins and his collaborator, James Deakins, discuss film restoration, the immense research work that goes into finding rare films and the work that goes into restoring them, with Lee Kline, Criterion’s Technical Director of Restoration. Lee has overseen the restoration of hundreds of films during his tenure at Criterion and undoubtedly left an impact on the history of cinema, allowing both audiences and future filmmakers alike the ability to enjoy classic titles for years to come.

Have you ever watched a subtitled film and felt that the subtitles, especially if you speak the language spoken in the film, were just off? That’s because subtitling a movie is so much more than translating words. In a fascinating interview, Andrew Litvack, who has been subtitling films for Jean-Luc Godard, Claire Denis, Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Despechin and Jacques Audiard, talks with Film Comment about subtitling: “All subtitles are by nature synthetic. The idea is “traduire, c’est détruire” — to translate is to destroy. What makes me a good subtitler is that I do good damage control. I hate compromising on syntax (i.e. for me, it has to sound like good dialogue) so it’s usually a question of removing details. Choosing which ones to remove. […] I’d rather people watch the movie than read the subtitles. It’s cool to be respected for something that is almost not noticed.”

Why radio matters in a time when we need media we can trust (I do hope the social media is not the place where you get your news from) to reassure, inform and entertain us. If you don’t have a Monocle subscription, maybe it’s time you did. Let’s support the voices that matter.

* In these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookshops and record stores, therefore I will not link to global online retailers or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and record store and buying from or placing your order with them.
More stories: “Roland Garros Is Special”: Interview with Photographer Amélie Laurin / It’s Much More Than Food Writing: Two Classics / Interview with Illustrator Eliza Southwood

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

A Children’s Film for the Entire Family: Ernest & Celestine

“Ernest & Celestine”, 2012 | La Parti Productions, Les Armateurs, Maybe Movies

Ernest (voiced by Forest Whitaker) is a penniless bear who lives on the margins of the “World Above”. Though grumpy, he possesses a tender heart that once dreamt of becoming a poet or musician while his parents would have liked him to be a judge. Ever hungry, Ernest finds Celestine asleep in a garbage can and soon befriends the charming little mouse.

Celestine (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) is an orphan mouse. Preferring drawing over dentistry, she is pushed out of her home into a fateful encounter with Ernest. In “The World Below”, it is forbidden to befriend “The Big Bad Bear”. Nevertheless, Celestine is determined to become Ernest’s associate and accomplice.

We first met Ernest and Celestine through the series of children’s books by Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent. We love books in our family. My five year old son gets immersed so easily in a book he loves and after I read it three times to him, he is able to memorise it from start to finish and then he wants to tell the story to us as well. But the best part is that he takes it further and invents his own stories… The power of books, a child’s imagination. Can anything beat that?

Our screen time is still very limited, but we have been introducing him to a few animated features (less Disney, more European and international, some inspired by the films our favourite independent local movie theatre has been showing – I do miss the cinema) and some have become fast favourites. Ernest & Celestine (2012), the animated film based on Gabrielle Vincent’s books and directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, is one of them. And I am so glad he loves so much a film based on a story he first discovered in books.

The minimalist and expressive hand-drawn watercolour brushstrokes and the blank space left in the frames leave the impression that this is a classic illustrated children’s book brought to life on screen (just have a look at these behind-the-scene storyboards). And that’s what’s so special about the film. Is is a film made for children, like a beautiful transition from books, the first imaginary worlds they familiarise with, to movies, with its simple drawings yet fluid animation. The transition is gentle, as it should be, but no less fascinating. It is not an animated film for adults, like so many Hollywood productions are, which may seem that they are made for children but clearly aimed at adults (with pretentious messages and triumphant endings), it is an animated film with children at heart, in which children and adults alike find joy and meaning.

It is a simple story about a friendship between a mouse and a bear who should not be friends, because they live in different worlds and societies and they are raised to live in fear or disapproval of the other, but they befriend nonetheless. It is a beautiful and moving message, and one which children of this age fully comprehend, and it is so beautifully and humbly rendered. This is a film confident in its ability to convince with kind gestures, not with big words and big action scenes.
More stories: Making Art and Creating Awareness: Interview with Alex Beard / The Wolves of Currumpaw / Editorial: The Children Are Alright

Posted by classiq in Film | | Leave a comment

This Summer We’re Channelling: Jane Fonda in “Les félins”

Jane Fonda and Alain Delon in the set of “Les félins”, 1964
Cité Films, Compagnie Internationale de Productions Cinématographiques


This Summer We’re Channelling: a recurring seasonal series
in the journal that celebrates both style in film and summertime.

At the 4th of July party that Jane Fonda threw in 1965 at her Malibu home that she had recently rented with her future husband, Roger Vadim, the old Hollywood and the new Hollywood came face to face for the very first time. Or at least it was one of the first occasions when the old guard (the guest list included names such as William Wyler, Gene Kelly, Darryl Zanuck, Lauren Bacall, Sam Spiegel, Henry Fonda) met with the will-be protagonists of the American New Wave (Warren Beatty, Tuesday Weld, Jean Seberg, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda), as both groups were barely starting to realise that things in Hollywood were about to change.

In the book Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, Mark Harris notes that “few people were better suited to broker a summer meeting between the Hollywood establishment and its upstarts than Jane Fonda, who even in 1965 had a foot in both worlds.” That may be true, but that probably had less to do with the fact that she was cinema royalty and more to do with the fact that she wanted to establish her own identity and to establish herself as an actor on her own terms, cinema royalty or not. “My father was a loner. He was not a Hollywood insider and he never talked about the business with us, so I never learned or understood that this business is built on relationships,” she was explaining in a Hollywood Reporter interview.

At that time in 1965, she had not yet become involved in political activism, but her views had already started to spread beyond her second-generation Hollywood movie actor status, as she had taken up work in France and life in Paris was exposing her to a different kind of filmmaking, at the height of the nouvelle vague. Moreover, she became friends with Simone Signoret and Yves Montand, which awakened her political consciousness about the war in Vietnam. Fonda was about to become increasingly radical and to start to perceive her role in Hollywood differently.

When François Truffaut was approached by Robert Benton and David Newman with their script for Bonnie and Clyde and he was considering directing the film, he said: “Now there would be an interesting part for Jane Fonda…Maybe…” When Truffaut dropped out, Fonda was still one of the names considered for the part, by Warren Beatty, who got the rights to produce it, included. The film however took years to get funding and a director and when Arthur Penn finally accepted the job, he said: “We talked about Jane Fonda, but she seemed too sophisticated.” After Penn and Brando and Fonda did The Chase together, her fame had started to take off, which worked against her regarding Bonnie and Clyde. “I didn’t want a movie star.” The part of Bonnie, as we all know, went to Faye Dunaway and the rest is movie history.

Jane Fonda in “Les félins”, 1964 | Cité Films, Compagnie Internationale de Productions Cinématographiques

Jane Fonda however would be more than a movie star and she would be a human rights crusader when very few were and when being an activist wasn’t a “thing” or self-congratulatory. In 1978, Jane Fonda came to the Cannes Film Festival to champion Hal Ashby’s Coming Home. She was photographed by the Traverso family, the famous family of photographers who have documented the festival for decades, and whose work was published in the book Cannes Cinema: A visual history of the world’s greatest film festival. The book also captures one of the most apt descriptions of Jane: “Her unequivocal opinions against the war and in favour of the feminist movement were well known. But her appeal lay above all in her elegance and her smile. She had the authenticity of an actress completely in control of her art.”

Her roles in Coming Home (1978) and in arguably her greatest achievement, Klute (1971), would prove her acting virtuosity and her ability to register so many ranges and contradictions on camera. Klute was an important film on another level as well. It was a film that portrayed uncomfortably well the post-Vietnam/Watergate sensibilities of the 1970s and an oppressive atmosphere, as the viewers were made aware that everything and everyone was under surveillance. Interestingly enough, Fonda recalls how she told Pakula that maybe Faye Dunaway might be more appropriate for the role: “After spending a week with prostitutes, I asked Alan Pakula to let me out of my contract. I said, ‘I can’t do it, hire Faye Dunaway. I can’t do it.’ And then I figured out a way to get into it – but I didn’t think I could do it.”

“Jane Fonda dominates the film from her first to her last appearance. In a brilliant performance that almost bursts the confines of the character she plays, she combines subtle expressiveness with intelligence and feminine self-assurance. Yet she also shows the suffering and uncertainty of a lonely human being,” wrote Stuttgarter Zeitung.

But before Klute and other politically-charged American productions, Fonda lived for six years in France, after she accepted the role in René Clément’s film Les félins (1964), starring opposite Alain Delon. In her autobiography, My Life So Far, Fonda recalls how “France seemed to be in the cards. French director René Clément flew to Los Angeles to pitch me a film idea that would co-star Alain Delon… I agreed. I liked the idea of putting an ocean between me, Hollywood and my father’s long shadow.”

René Clément’s classic thriller finds Alain Delon, as Marc, trapped in the toils of a wealthy widow, Barbara (Lola Albright), and her niece, Melinda (Jane Fonda), after he finds shelter in their lavish home as he was trying to escape his pursuers after he had made the mistake of seducing the wife of an American gangster. Once in their chateau, Marc realises he is the pawn in another plot, driven by two women this time, and there is little but one thing that he can do about it. Alain Delon was at the height of his sullen beauty and sartorial elegance in the 1960s, and in this film, René Clément uses Delon’s magnetic, unattainable and untamable screen presence a little differently than in Plein soleil. The first, and best, adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (Highsmith described the film as “very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect”) is a psychological thriller that explores the darkness of the human soul and this exploration is all the more gripping as Delon’s Ripley is cool, unruffled and elegant, conscious of his superiority and seductive power, the opposite of Matt Damon’s insecure and plain Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s film.

At a retrospective on Alain Delon’s films in the 1990s at the Cinémathèque française, Jack Lang introduced Delon: “Young wolf, feline, thoroughbred … At barely twenty, Delon burst into the screen untamed, with neither stage nor screen training, only his amazing actor’s instinct, which from the very first take ushered him into his natural environment.” It emphasised two of his qualities, the natural and the untamable, both as actor and as character, is concluded in the book The Trouble with Men: Masculinity in European and Hollywood Cinema, likening Delon’s movement and acting style to an untrained naturalism based on intuition, animal grace and power. That is one more time evident in Les félins (so appropriately named).

Jane Fonda and Alain Delon in the set of “Les félins”, 1964
Cité Films, Compagnie Internationale de Productions Cinématographiques

Only in this one, as opposed to Plein soleil, where the female character, Marge, is so pale and weak, Delon has two strong female characters besides him, the enigmatic Barbara and especially Fonda’s Melinda, radiating a very individualistic onscreen presence herself, dominant, unabashedly attractive and cool, perfectly at ease with playing and being played – Delon’s character even compares her to a cat at one point. The themes of narcissism, deceit, envy and sheer immorality are resumed in Les félins to some extent, on the backdrop of beautiful locals and beautiful protagonists, but Clément doesn’t use the location again to decontextualise one of the conventions of the crime genre. The wide open, gold tinted Mediterranean settings that invite the viewer in in Plein soleil are replaced by a confined, claustrophobic place: grand, sumptuous, but a trap nonetheless, a labyrinth of secret passageways, slide panels and mirrored walls. Yes, the mirror again (only differently used than in Plein soleil), because Clément concentrates on the sensual and deceptive allure of beautiful objects (people included). But Delon doesn’t have the superior hand anymore. He is already entrapped and isolated and only has his sexual power to buy him time.

It is Jane Fonda who steals the scene in this film. Her performance veers between diffident behaviour and unrepressed provocation, as she jumps from Pierre Balmain elegant dresses into swimsuits and men’s oversized shirts. In the presence of Fonda, Delon’s persona is much more quietly felt, just like his one suit quietly compliments the more extensive wardrobe that Jane has at her disposal. She looks incredibly good in the timeless Balmain sheath dresses or in the stunning white waist-cinching full-skirted dress, but so perfectly at ease in the more casual clothes, jeans, t-shirts, capri pants, summer shirts and strappy sandals. But a polished surface can conceal darker things, hidden thoughts, social goals. And simple clothes, fresh and uninhibited, certainly makes sense for the time and setting.

Les félins didn’t get much acclaim when it was released and its reputation has not gained much in time and I believe that is a disservice brought to it by those film critics who are afraid to give in the joy of watching a film because they might lose their credentials of “serious” critics, those critics who appear interested only in the intellectual side of films. Here is what Michael Atkinson of Village Voice and Sight & Sound, one of the few advocates of the film, said: “There’s not much that’s earth-shaking about Joy House” (ed. note: the uninspired English title of the film), “except perhaps Lalo Schifrin’s pre-Jerry Goldsmith score. But it’s a movie in a way movies haven’t been in a long time: graceful, relaxed, fun-loving, unpretentious. What you get is Alain Delon in his best persona — a ne’er-do-well playboy flitting around the Mediterranean looking for cash and ass, not unlike his Tom Ripley in Clement’s Purple Noon four years earlier… It’s the kind of American pulp French filmmakers have always loved: the kind in which not one character has an iota of honesty or morality to them. This is my idea of escapism, hanging in an absurd vacation-France inhabited by nuns and sex kittens, digging the redoubtable chemistry between Fonda and Delon (honestly, Fonda’s so game and sexy here she’d muster chemistry with Fernandel), enjoying the stars’ indulgent wallow in the Riviera as I’m also casually and effortlessly following the not-too-fast narrative without the benefit of a single optical effect or a single moment where the film insists on “making” me “feel” the action.”

That just seems like the right kind of mood for the summer.

Editorial sources: Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris / My Life So Far by Jane Fonda / The Trouble with Men: Masculinity in European and Hollywood Cinema, by Phil Powrie, Ann Davies, Bruce Babington / Cannes Cinema: A visual history of the world’s greatest film festival

More stories: This Summer We’re Channelling: Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde” / This Summer We’re Channelling: Juliette Binoche in “Certified Copy” / This Summer We’re Channelling: Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig in “Spectre”

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film, This summer we’re channelling | Leave a comment


In a sea of streaming, there has been a return to analog music. And that makes me happy. The renaissance of vinyl records and turntables has brought back a tangible and human quality to music that has been lost in these digital decades. “In the age of digital, when you can manipulate anything, how do we retain a human element? How do we keep music to sound like …people? The feeling that I had when I was young?,” Dave Grohl was asking in his documentary, Sound City, his tribute to the San Fernando Valley studio that turned recording music into craftsmanship, music that had the human touch at its core, something that can not be recreated digitally.

When I was watching the documentary, one of the feelings I had was that I was watching people at work, people doing real work, people doing what they love, what they are passionate about, whether musicians, sound engineers, music producers or studio managers, people who love music, not the business of music, and who inspire other people to love and/or do music. That’s true about a vinyl, too. When you play it, there is something visceral about it, you can hear all the work that’s been put on it. What’s on it is real and there’s a palpable connection you form with the musician. But it’s not just about bringing back the sound of the youth of some of us, it’s also about discovering or rediscovering music ourselves or with our children.

It’s the ritual of it. Pull the album out of your library, examine and read the art notes and stories written on the beautiful cover. Carefully slide the record out of its sleeve, put on the album, hook up the needle and listen to the entire record. You first hear the crackle sound, which makes you even more aware of the fragility of this format, which only makes the vinyl that much more valuable, and the experience that much more special. In a world and society that have taught us that we can toss anything more and more quickly because there’s more to buy more and more often, a vinyl makes you value the things you already have and that are truly important, and that’s a lesson to teach your children, too, so that they know that hardly anything, and certainly anything with true meaning, is at the tips of their fingers.

Listening to an album on vinyl is a much more immersive, intentional, therapeutic experience than streaming it online. It is beyond comparison. It’s not just about how we listen to music, it’s also about the way we discover it. And seeing your child so carefully observing the whole operation of putting the disc on and then holding the sleeve of the record that’s playing in his hands while he’s listening to the music, that’s an incredible feeling. It makes you present. And it makes so much more sense right now to put on a record that easily sets up a mood and place and lets you just ride on the sound. Music helps us hold it together. Sound helps us find quietude in the chaos.

Bob Dylan’s Desire* is one of the few albums I can listen to endlessly, and always from start to finish. Each song takes you on a journey and yet the album as a whole seems to inhabit its own world and that’s why I love it so much. You get lost in there. Only recently have I read about the politically and personally charged stories behind some of the songs, but what grabs your attention, and I am not talking about Bob Dylan’s lyrical strengths, is the sound. Because music is not just about the lyrics or about what sounds right, but about what hits the ear. Dylan’s strong and powerful voice in One More Cup of Coffee; the guitar that starts Mozambique and Dylan singing together with Emmylou Harris; Scarlet Rivera’s beautiful violin; the way Dylan can build a story through his voice; and Sara, probably the most personal Dylan has gotten with his songs. But whatever it is, the music on this album is beyond words. And the way it makes you feel? Like a hurricane and at peace at the same time.

“Sara, Sara,
Wherever we travel we’re never apart.
Sara, oh Sara,
Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart.

How did I meet you? I don’t know.
A messenger sent me in a tropical storm.
You were there in the winter, moonlight on the snow
And on Lily Pond Lane when the weather was warm.

Sara, oh Sara,
Scorpio Sphinx in a calico dress,
Sara, Sara,
You must forgive me my unworthiness.

Now the beach is deserted except for some kelp
And a piece of an old ship that lies on the shore.
You always responded when I needed your help,
You gimme a map and a key to your door.”

Bob Dylan’s new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first album in 8 years
of original material, is out now. Six decades into his career, Bob Dylan
delivers a gorgeous and meticulous record”
, Pitchfork magazine says.

* You can listen to the album above now, but do yourself a favour and buy it on vinyl to hold and to cherish and to experience and live it as you should. In these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookshops and record stores, therefore I will not link to global online retailers or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent record store and buying from or placing your order with them.
More stories: Sound to Screen / It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But I Like It / Sound City

Posted by classiq in Sounds & Tracks | | 1 Comment

This Summer We’re Channelling: Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig in “Spectre”

Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig. Jonathan Olley/ SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq,
LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.


This Summer We’re Channelling: a recurring seasonal series
in the journal that celebrates both style in film and summertime.

There is a distinctly touristic element to the action in Spectre. The far-flung worldwide locations have always been part of the public’s fascination with the Bond films, and one of the strengths of the movie franchise, but in this one in particular that exotic undertone is even more deeply felt. The sun-drenched, warm and lively scenes from Mexico (that beautiful five minute one shot that opens the film) and especially North Africa, filled with sounds and colours, are a world apart from the grey, numb, cold and unpopulated city scapes of London. Spectre, tying together legend and narrative development, is both a return to form, but also firmly planted in our 21st century dim reality that is taking more and more hold of us.

“Skyfall was a very dark picture because of the locations – a lot of it was shot at night or underground – and because of what Bond was going through as a character. I wanted a more proactive Bond, with more locations, and a greater variety of tone,” director Sam Mendes remarks in the book The James Bond Archives.

The film clearly portrays a post-Snowden world, a world under mass surveillance due to the proliferation of digital data collection. The story is centered on Bond’s setting out to dismantle Spectre, the global criminal organisation behind the villainy of many Bond films. But Spectre also refers to a ghost from Bond’s past. The sub-plot however has to do with a very contemporary and one of the biggest present-day concerns: the unification of global surveillance and the rapid growth of drone warfare, with agent C (Andrew Scott) planning to merge all espionage agencies and shutting down the double-0 program. Both the program and James Bond are considered “old world”. So they must go… but not so fast.

This “new era” scenario also describes the direction of the Daniel Craig Bond films, in view of the latest years’ revisionist changes brought to characters and story. And, despite my repeatedly stated appreciation of both new type of Bond and multi-dimensional Bond girl, it was the less pronounced psychological realism and the nostalgic feel of Spectre, anchored in those dreamy locations, that felt like a breath of fresh air this time.

Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig. Jonathan Olley/ SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq,
LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.

And it all begins with the costumes and with the fact that there is much less explicit product placement, at least as far as the women’s wardrobes are concerned, in Spectre than in the previous four Daniel Craig films. Because as much as I appreciated Eva Green’s designer dresses in Casino Royale and their effective role in the plot, I still prefer proper costume design to off-the-rack shopping for a film.

Madeleine Swann (Bond’s love interest played by Léa Seydoux) wears almost exclusively custom made clothes, from the suit in Austria, to the incredibly simple and sexy sea foam gown on the train in North Africa, according to costume designer Jany Temime in a press conference after the North American film premiere in Mexico City.

We first see Madeleine at work, at her desk in the Hoffler Klinik on Gaislachkogl Mountain. She is a psychologist in an important clinic, but she is also the daughter of one of Bond’s former enemies, a Mr. White. She wears black trousers, an elegant black silk top and a charcoal grey blazer. She has a formal, rigid demeanor, very businesslike. She is smart and independent, and because of her father, her relationship with Bond is complicated from the very beginning, elements that qualify her from the start as a non-typical Bond girl. Then we see her travelling through Africa, on the way to Tangier. Naturally, her look is different. For start, a knee-length lightweight crème dress, white sandals and, one of the few recognizable brand products in the film, a brown Chloé saddle bag. And, as a matter of fact, it is a bag that makes perfect sense, not just because it is a type of bag suitable for travelling, but because of the location and of the brand itself. All the crème/white outfits Madeleine wears in Africa could very well be Chloé.

Gaby Aghion, the founder of Chloé, borrowed the name of a friend for the brand’s name and coloured it in the beige of the silk-like desert sand in her native Egypt. She had a visionary mind and took a revolutionary road, dreaming and shaping up a world of fashion for the woman of the present. The femininity Chloé clothes project is the only kind of femininity that makes sense, yesterday, today, tomorrow. It’s chic, practical, delicate, romantic, free, and beautiful on the outside, but also strong, believable, independent and confident, and even more beautiful on the inside. It’s also a femininity that isn’t afraid of being vulnerable, because that’s only human. It projects a woman that is perfectly at ease in her own skin, but who isn’t afraid of being seduced.

Bond matches Madeleine’s crème dress with a tan suede jacket, tan cotton gabardine chinos, navy polo t-shirt and suede boots. His look recalls the beige bomber jacket, navy polo shirt and pleated khakis that Timothy Dalton wears in Tangier in The Living Daylights, 1987. Dalton’s Bond was the most far-off from the gentlemanly spy and the first tougher, darker, edgier and more realistic, but more human Bond character, too. Craig’s suede jacket also brings to mind the suede jackets Roger Moore sported during his tenure as 007. Bond is a sensible man, after all, he dresses the part, but that doesn’t mean he can’t look sharp in casual clothes. Even in the heat of Morocco, he needs a jacket to conceal his gun and the choice he makes certainly serves the purpose much better than his signature fitted suits.

There is a new take on the polo t-shirt, too, which seems to be made of a lighter and more breathable fabric than 100% cotton. Timothy Dalton was the one who reintroduced the polo shirt to the Bond series in The Living Daylights after a more than 20-year hiatus – it was seen in the very first Bond film, Dr. No and had last been seen sported by Sean Connery in Thunderball. Daniel Craig wore his first polo t-shirt as Bond in Casino Royale – also short on the arms and featuring a cleaner fit, suitable for Craig’s more muscular and more action-prone Bond.

The suede jacket will be worn later on again, on the train when they talk about the gun, this time paired with a light blue shirt. Madeleine is wearing a green sleeveless shirt (presumably, or it could be a shirt dress) with pockets, thus carrying on the African adventure theme.

Léa Seydoux. Jonathan Olley/ SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq,
LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Léa Seydoux’s Bond girl isn’t just desirable, but she loves being desirable. What woman doesn’t? “You shouldn’t stare,” Madeleine tells Bond on the train when she appears in the sea foam evening dress for dinner. “Well, you shouldn’t look like that,” Bond replies. The seduction game is a two-way street. That’s the way it is, that’t the way it’s always been. In Bond movies, too. In an interview for British Vogue, Léa Seydoux said her character was different than a typical Bond girl, but that she didn’t mind the cliché of the Bond girl. Most women in their own mind love a Bond girl, too, stereotype or not (and if we had really taken the time to properly analyse the ultimate typical Bond girl, Honey Rider, we would have noticed that there is more than what meets the eye to even the famous feminine bikini), and don’t care about gender politics. Who says differently is lying.

Madeleine is certainly depicted as a woman with her own life and her own past and with her own inner conflicts, with something to fight for and against, but she is not the first one nor the strongest Bond girl. Carole Bouquet was one. Eva Green was another one. They both saved Bond’s life after all, in two completely plausible scenes. But that is not to say that it’s either good or bad that Madeleine Swann is not as tough as them. It’s a character trait, she’s different, and that’s a good thing.

“It’s about, like, how to find your own freedom,” Jany Temime asserted. And that is something different for each one of us. For a Bond girl, too. There is something mysterious about Madeleine Swann, in a very classic way. This romantic feeling is reflected by the clothes she is wearing, especially in Africa (and especially if we observe the contrast between her feminine wardrobe and the blue lace dress that Oberhauser chooses for her, a clear sign of his controlling and powerful character, not Madeleine’s). “Her style’s a little bit nostalgic; I wanted to keep that sort of feeling about it because they are travelling in Morocco, looking for things that happened in the past,” Jany Temime told Style Caster. Madeleine reveals to Bond how every year her parents used to return to the hotel where they had spent their honeymoon, and where Bond and Swann have arrived in search of the clue “L’Americain”. It is a place, not a name.

We then see them in the middle of nowhere, on the train, and Madeleine has “this crazy, sexy dusty green evening dress, a moment beautifully built up, in a suspenseful kind of way,” the costume designer explained. “I didn’t want a red carpet dress but something that could be rolled up in a suitcase, dressed up or dressed down. Something sexy and simple.” It evokes the history and glamour of the Bond films and creates a timeless effect, too. But the dress is also practical enough to allow for movement during the fight scenes. It’s classic and modern, the standout of her wardrobe, in Temime’s words. “This is the first time that she catches Bond’s attention, so I wanted the dress to be more like second skin for her and also as simple as possible because of the situation.”

Bond is wearing a white tuxedo for the occasion. “She had that dress. He had that white tuxedo. They are in Morocco, in a train, which is an incredible look. Together they are like a dream couple.” The untraditional ivory Windsor tuxedo jacket (by Tom Ford, who also provided several other outfits for Craig’s character), rather than calling to mind Bond’s past white tuxedos (Sean Connery in Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever, Roger Moore in The Man with the Golden Gun, A View to a Kill and Octopussy), sets our imagination on Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Again classic, again romantic, again Morocco. Daniel Craig’s Bond turns out to be very classic indeed. Confident and sure of himself and with the exactly right clothes for the situation.

Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig. Jonathan Olley/ SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq,
LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Next we see them in a wrecked train station out in the desert, from where they will be soon taken to a desert compound where the villain, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), is waiting for them and where, he explains, is controlling information and manipulating the world. She is dressed in white wide legged trousers and a dainty white blouse, carrying her Chloé bag (again, the whole look could be Chloé). He is wearing a light brown jacket and the same gabardine trousers from before, both by Brunello Cucinelli, white shirt and rust brown knitted silk tie. Brunello Cucinelli is reportedly a personal favourite of Craig’s in real life and a brand he has brought to the franchise. As I was saying earlier, I am not the biggest proponent of product placement in movies. But I am an admirer of Brunello Cucinelli, the man and the designer, and of his way of making fashion. This is one of the few fashion companies with handcrafting and humanity at its soul, a brand that is rarely present on social media, because it is aimed at people who do not buy only what the internet tells them to buy, at people who appreciate the fine things in life. That’s the fashion brand that makes perfect sense today. And it makes sense on this James Bond, too, with firm, well-rooted values, but who is willing to bring a modern-day sensibility to them.

This is the first time since Pierce Brosnan’s navy blazer in GoldenEye that James Bond has worn an odd jacket that’s not part of a suit, as it was noted on The colour is appropriate, too, and a return to brown suiting, albeit a very casual take on that. The look also seems to pay homage to the “brown barleycorn hacking jacket and fawn cavalry twill trousers that Sean Connery wore in Goldfinger“, as Matt Spaiser of Bond Suits further observes. Another return to form. A classic look made modern, without the self-awareness and pretentiousness that so often characterise contemporary men’s looks, and sometimes Daniel Craig’s Bond wardrobe, too.

“Is this really what you want?,” Madeleine asks Bond. “Living in the shadows. Hunting. Being hunted. Always looking behind you. Always alone.” For the first time since and before Vesper Lynd, Bond seems to have found his match. But that doesn’t mean that the ending isn’t very un-like Bond. And that’s exactly why it sets up intriguing starting ground for No Time to Die.

Editorial sources: For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond, edited by Lisa Funnell / Revisioning 007: James Bond and Casino Royale, edited by Christoph Lindner / The James Bond Archives, edited by Paul Duncan / / BAMF Style / Katie Davidson interview with Jany Temime for Style Caster, 2015 / Léa Seydoux interview for British Vogue, November 2015

More stories: Bond Girl Style: Eva Green in Casino Royale / For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond / Bond Girl Style: Carey Lowell in Licence to Kill

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