Screen to Life: Nine Style Lessons from Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood in “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”, 1974 | The Malpaso Company

Clint Eastwood was in his mid-thirties when he had his breakthrough in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), taking the roles with Sergio Leone because no one in Hollywood would hire him, except in a television western series. In Sergio Leone’s The Dollar Trilogy, he became the ultimate antihero, with strengths, weaknesses and a lack of virtue, laconic, cool, coming from nowhere, going nowhere, without a past, without a future. It was anti-establishment. It was meant to become legendary, just as Clint’s powerful physical presence. In Dirty Harry, one of the most influential and controversial police movies ever made (on the background of a highly polarised political climate of 1971), Eastwood took on the role of a straight shooter, immoral moralist San Francisco cop: Harry Callahan. And in another Don Siegel film, the dark psychological thriller The Beguiled, Clint delivered one of his best performances, in one of his most atypical roles, as Union soldier John McBurney. It is however on his own as a director (Play Misty for Me, A Perfect World, Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino) that Clint Eastwood has been steering a remarkable course for five decades. Yet, he remains an outsider, steadfastly refusing to be absorbed into mere aesthetic style, steadily fighting for remaining independent. His films do not have a certain look, as they skillfully take a new direction depending on the story, structure and characters and on their maker’s approach.

Today, on Clint Eastwood’s 90th birthday, let’s have a look at nine style lessons from his films, with the biggest lesson being that every second of screen time and behind camera seems so carefully and gracefully etched in his face.

Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry”, 1971 | The Malpaso Company

The tweed jacket: Dirty Harry, 1971

“Harry Callahan never deliberately set out to go beyond the law; it was only under the pressure of time or when forced by the urgency of the situation,” Eastwood remarked in an interview with Michael Henry Wilson for Positif, from 1984. Dirty Harry was one of Clint’s defining films from a style perspective too. Equally parts charming and intimidating. Admitedly, if we have to compare San Francisco cop style in movies, Eastwood’s Callahan has quite some competition from Steve McQueen in Bullitt. But while Bullitt prefers a more casual style, Callahan smartens up his look by wearing his herringbone tweed jacket with a burgundy sweater vest and burgundy/navy Guards tie, slim cut charcoal flannel trousers and his Ray-Ban Baloramas. His prep school outfit looks new on him while remaining practical and comfortable. And that’s because Clint carries it with such confidence and all-American cool and his wear-and-tear clothes would seem right at home in the quintessential male wardrobe of today.

Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry”, 1971 | The Malpaso Company

The sunglasses: Dirty Harry, 1971

Eastwood takes the regular idea of “cop” glasses and reinvents it altogether. He is a street smart detective, and I like that his Ray-Ban Baloramas say the exact opposite, how reactionary this choice of shades is. They seem calm and collected. The attraction of the opposites surely works in this case. Steve McQueen may be a serious competitor as the best dressed lieutenant to have ever hit the streets of San Francisco, but Clint out-grades him in the shades department. Sorry, Steve.

Clint Eastwood in “Every Which Way but Loose”, 1978 | The Malpaso Company, Warner Brothers

The blue jeans: Every Which Way but Loose, 1978

Clint Eastwood wanted to make Every Which Way but Loose, a comedy featuring an orangutan named Clyde, even if everyone around him was skeptical about it. “They said it’s not you. I said it is me. Nothing on the screen yet has been me. It’s a left-handed compliment when people say “That’s him,” the filmmaker was explaining in an interview by Charles Champlain, from 1981, for the Los Angeles Times. The studio foresaw it as an instant flop, which it was, but not as far as the public was concerned. Clint Eastwood has always known his audience and his box office success has always allowed him to direct his “small films,” as he names them. So he went ahead and made his small film. Dressed in blue jeans, the perfect medium for self expression, he is a beacon of easy and free style, making a statement with such a simple garment, just as he did when he took on the project.

Clint Eastwood in “The Eiger Sanction”, 1975 | The Malpaso Company, Universal Pictures

The windbreaker: The Eiger Sanction, 1975

“Friendship is stronger than the corruption of the system, it’s the only thing that survives in a world of Machiavellian schemes and plots,” says Michael Henry Wilson in his interview with Clint about The Eiger Sanction. About the film, Clint said that “it was a good thing that our gadgets were limited in number; we were running the risk of heading in the direction of the James Bond movies.” Once again he went against genre conventions by using black humour, which he considered “inherent in the story”. Clint had to undergo intensive training in preparation for his role and he did all his stunts. His dr. Jonathan Hemlock is an art history professor with an adventurous side (mountain climbing) and a dangerous past (former assassin employed by a secret US government agency). His beige nylon blouson jacket serves his character well (and brings to mind his brown windbreaker from Dirty Harry). The derby jacket has its origins in the MA-1 nylon flight jacket, issued to all United States Air Force and United States Navy pilots in around 1950, and subsequently developed for the civilian market and issued in other colors than the standard Air Force green or army olive green. Its military origins, and appeal, have however never eluded it, just as Hemlock can not elude his past.

Clint Eastwood in “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”, 1974 | The Malpaso Company

The white t-shirt: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, 1974

It was Clint who gave Michael Cimino the chance to direct his first feature film, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The film, featuring a heady cast (Eastwood himself, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis), was produced by his Malpaso Company and released by United Artists. While stealing a car, free-spirited drifter, wanna-be criminal Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) crosses paths with legendary thief Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) in the midst of his own escape and they assemble Thunderbolt’s old gang back together to plan a repeat if their biggest heist. In it, Clint’s steely, tough guy character makes a great case for the most fundamental garment of the American style canon: the highly adaptable, much more than utilitarian, simplest yet one of the most potent garments in the male wardrobe: the white t-shirt.

Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino”, 2008 | Matten Productions, Double Nickel Entertainment, Gerber Pictures

Any other plain t-shirt: Gran Torino, 2008

“I would like to grow up to be like Clint Eastwood. Eastwood the director, Eastwood the actor, Eastwood the invincible, Eastwood the old man. What other figure in the history of the cinema has been an actor for 53 years, a director for 37, won two Oscars for direction, two more for best picture, plus the Thalberg Award, and at 78 can direct himself in his own film and look meaner than hell? None, that’s how many,” wrote Roger Ebert in 2008 after the premiere of Gran Torino.

When they were preparing to release Gran Torino, Eastwood hoped people drawn to the film by its promise of a return to Dirty Harry-style law enforcement would realise that there was more to the movie than what met the eye (namely the image of Clint’s character, Walt Kowalski, a white male with a rifle in his hand, on the poster of the film). “I wonder if those people will be disappointed – the ones who just want the hard-ass stuff, the rifle in the face and the guns and stuff like that. You hope if that’s what attracts an audience in, it isn’t what they’re left with. You hope the undercurrent will get to them as well,” Eastwood said in an interview with Scott Foundas for LA Weekly, in 2008. The film is not a liberal fable, there is no grand transformation of the American conscience at the end of the film, it’s a story about a man’s discovery of his better nature. His clothes may picture him as conventional (like his short-sleeved shirt unfastened at the collar button and tucked in his pleated trousers), but the humbleness of a plain t-shirt is capable of revealing something deeper beneath the surface – change. Simplicity is profound.

Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby”, 2004 | Malpaso Productions, Warner Brothers

The denim jacket: Million Dollar Baby, 2004

Clint Eastwood at his most tender, vulnerable and heartbroken. That’s his Frankie Dunn in Million Dollar Baby, which is also one of his finest directorial works. His performance is what gives the film its emotional power. It’s a beautiful work of a director directing the actor, or better said, of the director giving the actor freedom to explore his character. Clint Eastwood became Frankie Dunn, a man wrecked by disappointments and emotional feelings, a veteran boxing trainer who now owns a run-down gym and occasionally manages a boxer. When Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) comes along as an as an aspiring boxer who sees boxing as her way out of poverty, Frankie is persuaded to come out of his own misery. There is no other look than his impeccably rugged, perfectly weathered, functional, familiar, visceral and dependable denim jacket that better shows Frankie as the father figure that he becomes to Maggie.

Clint Eastwood in “The Mule”, 2018 | Warner Brothers, Imperative Entertainment, Bron Creative

The polo t-shirt: The Mule, 2018

The camera still loves Clint Eastwood’s face, finding unchanging beauty beneath the wrinkled skin. I find solace when I see Clint on the screen in a new role, as he effortlessly fits in with yet another one of his different fictional characters and stories. He belongs, whatever the times, whatever the decade, whatever his age. What I appreciated so much about The Mule, the story of a horticulturist, Earl Stone (Eastwood), who, due to financial issues, becomes a courier for a drug cartel, was that, in it, the filmmaker continues to explore modern masculinity, the good and the bad, in equal parts, of another one of his characters. It’s a different story, it’s a different character, but the style remains. Him, in a classic polo t-shirt (the formal alternative to the t-shirt, but which, in time, has crossed social boundaries, becoming universal), cap and derby jacket. Because here is a universal truth about Clint’s films: his style when in character continues to transcended the screen.

Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, 1966 | Produzioni Europee Associate (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film

The look, the attitude: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966

The hat, with a high crown and pulled down low, not the usual cowboy hat. The fringed buckskins and leather waistcoats, not anywhere in sight. The poncho, not like anything seen on an American horseman. The neckerchief, no pristine accessory, but gathering dust. The jeans, black, not the essential all-American blue jeans. The duster coat, olive green and long-waisted, rarely featured in westerns by then. The character, “The Good”, but not entirely good, nor entirely bad either, just a different type of scoundrel than the other two. Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) subverted the conservative cowboy type and reinvented him as a righteously ambiguous drifter. He didn’t want to be the hero, he wanted to wrangle the hero, and not just any hero, but the American hero, the western cowboy.

Carlo Simi was the costume designer, but Clint’s look is not attributed to anyone in particular. Eastwood reported that he had bought his costume from a Santa Monica wardrobe store, borrowed the leather gun belt, pistol and suede boots from Rawhide, the tv series he played in the 1960s, before starring in A Fistful of Dollars. Yet Sergio Leone had told Christopher Frayling that the transformation of Rowdy Yates (Eastwood’s character in Rawhide) into The Man With No Name had been mostly his idea. Wherever the truth may lie, Clint Eastwood’s character’s sense of visual style placed him in the collective memory in a way not many film costumes do and has stood the test of time to this very day. It was more about intuitive expression of character and the way it triggered a seismic shift in the public’s consciousness, capturing the zeitgeist of the time and of the spaghetti western.

Because it was about more than clothes, it was this blend of attitude and personality and laid-back approach to both character and rough devil-may-care look from the part of Clint himself that made The Man with No Name iconic, and Clint Eastwood himself summed it up well in his interview with Christopher Frayling published in the book “Clint Eastwood”, from 1992: “It was mostly the people who were in the clothes. Gian Maria Volonté had a good face, and all those Spanish, gypsy faces – that was just general… everything kind of tied together and made an interesting-looking film. You ask most people what the films were about and they can’t tell you. But they tell you “the look” [he mimes throwing the poncho over his shoulder] and the “da-da-da-da-dum’ [he hums the opening bars of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme], and the cigar and the gun and those little flash images that hit you.” It’s always about the people wearing the clothes. Hats off to you, Mr. Eastwood.
More stories: An American Original: Steve McQueen in Bullitt / Billy Drago’s Armani White Suit in The Untouchables / He Wore Black

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Jacques Henri Lartigue, the Ultimate Peter Pan of Photography: Interview with Michael Hoppen

Renée, Cannes, Juillet, 1932. Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture – France / A.A.J.H.L.

Deceptively simple, stripped of any artifice, capturing the fleeting moment and holding it forever. Through the eye and in the hands of Jacques Henri Lartigue, the common snapshot got to the heart of photography as an art form.

Jacques Henri Lartigue is such a name in photography and hailed as one of the founders of modern photography that it is hard to imagine that fame arrived late for him. He was almost 70 when he was “discovered” by John Szarkowski, curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, who decided to exhibit a selection of his images in 1963. Lartigue had been taking photos for decades – photos of his family and friends, of sports, planes and car races and la Belle Époque – and it sure seemed he had been taking all these photographs for himself. Who else but a passionate man about what he is doing can have this kind of drive without a trace of recognition and success? A true artist who never loses that childish enthusiasm, that childlike optimism that is so essential in art.

The world was Lartigue’s playground and he seemingly pointed his camera guilelessly around, but he absolutely knew what he was doing, because he could see things other people, and things other photographers as a matter of fact, passed unnoticed. Just like a child who still believes in magic. He never parted with this spirit of playfulness, lightness and spontaneity, with this penchant for movement and freedom, and this is what inherently defined his photographic eye. And to register the world go by in such a positive and instinctive way decade after decade is truly a very rare gift and validation of his enduring greatness as a photographer.

He didn’t just capture the moment, but reality. Because this is another quality all children have: they tell the truth. He didn’t just snapshot the passing joys of everyday life, but recorded life itself and the specifics of the times, including a poignant portrait of turn-of-the-century France. He was able to capture a whole story in a second or two, before trotting off, again daydreaming, again action in mind, in an unhurried pursuit of his art. Lartigue simply looked at the world prepared to take it all in.

“The ultimate Peter Pan of photography”, is how Michael Hoppen, the owner of the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London, describes Jacques Henri Lartigue in our interview, providing a fascinating incursion into Lartigue’s universe, and that is the most beautiful and penetrating description of this truly singular photographer. The Michael Hoppen Gallery is one of Europe’s foremost art galleries. Opened in 1992, it was founded out of a passion for photography and they are renowned for curating the works of new and interesting artists alongside acknowledged nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century photographic masters. Jacques Henri Lartigue has a place all of his own among them.

John F Kennedy, Florette and a friend at André Dubonnet’s, Cap d’Antibes, August 1953.
Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture – France / A.A.J.H.L.


There is a Lartigue photograph of John F. Kennedy at the house of André Dubonnet, Cape d’Antibes, August 1953. Do you happen to know the story behind that photo?

The photograph by Lartigue of JFK and mystery woman has always intrigued me. Since finding the image in an album at the archive many years ago, I have often tried to find out who the blonde woman was. The woman with the dark hair was Lartigue’s third wife, Florette, and they were at a lunch party at André Dubonnet’s Cap d’Antibes home on the 12 August 1953. But her name has eluded many and although the picture has been now shown on many occasions, it has not thrown up any further details, which is strange, and he made no reference to her name in the notes on the page in his 1953 album. These were diaries and many pages include names, places and events – but not her name.

When William Boyd and I curated a show about Lartigue, the image intrigued us both and we had many conversations about the relaxed and affable manner that Lartigue was always able to capture. That was his secret – he was there but invisible – but always with a smile!

There is such a sense of intimacy and childish curiosity in Jacques Henri Lartigue’s photographs. Photographers are such personalities now and I think this is one element that so distinctively differentiates him from so many photographers. What was it that helped him retain this quality of his photography style throughout his work?

Jacques Henri Lartigue was the ultimate Peter Pan of photography and I have never tired of looking at the 70 years of albums he left. He lived in a gilded cage up until the outbreak of the war, and it was his perfect childhood and an adoring father and family who ignited this child prodigy. His father gave his young son a camera at the age of 8. It fell into his hands and fitted like a glove.

Of course, no one quite realised what he was doing when he was young and thought he was just playing – and playing he was – but with an acute and mature eye and one that captured an extraordinary time in an age when very few carried a camera. His earliest pictures of family, friends and the beautiful creatures he would snap in the Bois de Boulounge have become photographic lore.

Lartigue found a way to capture that fleeting moment when someone reveals himself or herself. He did this again and again and again. It may have been easier as people were still somewhat more relaxed in front of a camera – but then very few have ever been able to do it with such consistency and perfection – and also with surprising technological acumen. Lartigue had this talent rarely seen since.

Florette, Talloirs, Eté, 1943. Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue © Ministère de la Culture – France / A.A.J.H.L

Is it make or take a photo? I always ask this question to photographers and their answers vary. Lartigue had this incredible ability to capture the moment, the energy and feel of the moment, to register the times, but he was clearly more than a witness. Was it take or make a photo for Lartigue?

Lartigue took photographs, as he never really got involved in the making of the photograph in the darkroom. Print quality was not Lartigue’s ‘thing’ and one would never say his prints were amazing, rich, perfect prints. They are often scratched, unretouched, often slightly out of focus, but ALWAYS perfect for some reason. He broke all the basic rules and somehow the camera became an extension of his eye in ways that have rarely been achieved.

”He felt just as comfortable taking colour pictures as
black and white. However, Lartigue’s black and white
images have so much emotional colour in them
that sometimes the distinction seems redundant.”

Lartigue’s portfolio is very vast, ranging from his iconic Belle Époque frames to his sports photography to his private life snapshots to fashion, which is a less explored part of his work, but which retained some of that carefree quality that defined his entire body of work. How did he make the transition to fashion photography?

Lartigue never really changed his spots. It was fashion that changed. In 1931, Martin Munkacsi took a picture of an American model, Lucile Brokaw, for Carmel Snow at Harper’s Bazaar magazine – it’s what one would call fashion/lifestyle today. And that’s what Lartigue also excelled at. His work was not fashion per se. What he was drawn to and focused on was beautiful people doing beautiful things in beautiful places – it was real and not artificially created or conceived. All the people in his pictures were real. Towards the end of his life, he was commissioned to make commercial fashion pictures. Most of them don’t look like Lartigue photographs. Yes, they are elegant, but contrivance was not part of his talent – he was a natural and it is his work that is copied or emulated by the fashion photographers of today. That’s why Avedon was drawn to him and also Munkacsi – he sees them both as his key influence, as Avedon understood and yearned for that carefree movement and style that Lartigue so eloquently captured.

Florette, Côte d’Azur, 31 Juillet-25 Septembre, 1953. Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue
© Ministère de la Culture – France / A.A.J.H.L

It was his black and white photography that brought him to the attention of the public, and I believe it is the simplicity and visual power of black and white that best radiates the intimacy and sheer exuberance he brought to his art. But he also filmed in colour and he immediately seized the opportunity to use the colour technology that the Lumière factory released in 1907. Did he prefer black and white or colour?

Lartigue is the exception to the rule. He felt just as comfortable taking colour pictures as black and white. However, Lartigue’s black and white images have so much emotional colour in them that sometimes the distinction seems redundant. Whilst technology in colour films was in its infancy, and therefore the film was much slower, Lartigue still found wonderful subject matter to focus on – most of all towards the latter part of his life. His American photographs in colour from his trip to the USA are wonderful as are his images of Florette, his third wife, in the South of France at their small home in Biot. He loved to experiment and I’m sure if he could have, he would have used Polaroid endlessly, and who knows what he would have done with Instagram in colour – certainly he would have had millions of followers, or should I say disciples! He instinctively knew how to use colour film and changed his style to suit observing rather than capturing. They are calmer images with much less movement but still quite sublime.

What do you think was his most important trait?

Whilst he lived through extraordinary times, as did many, he found a joy in life that was at odds with the temperature of the world. He found the beauty and good in everything he saw and recorded it in a way that was quite definitely his own. The cameras he used, whilst top of the range at the time, had serious limitations, which never seemed to hold him up. In fact, there are articles that claim that the many of his early motion studies (his nanny flying down the stairs) should not have been possible with the technology available, but like with many geniuses, he overcame these limitations with flair and an uncanny ability, why, because Lartigue was a genius!

Chou Valton à la plage de la Garoupe, Cap d’Antibes, août, 1932. Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue
© Ministère de la Culture – France / A.A.J.H.L


The Jacques Henri Lartigue works shown here
are available from the Michael Hoppen Gallery

More stories: Interview with Photographer Laura Wilson / Interview with Photographer Christophe Jacrot / One Day That Summer: Shirley MacLaine on the Set of Can Can

Posted by classiq in Interviews, Photography | | Leave a comment

Sound to Screen

Do you ever wonder how filmmakers work with musicians to compile our favourite movie soundtracks? That’s what I did yesterday when I gave up the thought of making a list with some of the best films that have been released in Cannes and where to stream them right now, in sight of the festival being cancelled this year. It didn’t feel right. We can binge-watch all the films available online, but nothing will replace the experience from inside a theatre, especially a movie premiere, especially at a festival. It sets you up to pay attention, it resets your emotions. And the days following the premiere, there’s something special about them, too, with all the thoughts and talks focused on what you have just witnessed, arming yourself with opinions to discuss, praise or defend a film that may stay with you forever. It’s not just about watching movies, it’s about film culture. And people who care about culture want to keep it alive.

Film music is part of our fascination with cinema and the big screen. So here is how film and music intersect in three of my favourite films that have opened in Cannes over the years.


Drive, 2011

With uncanny skill, in league with cameraman Newton Thomas Sigel and composer Cliff Martinez, director Nicolas Winding Refn blends tough and tender, violence and beauty. Drive is wild and damn good. Even the scorpion sign on Ryan Gosling’s cult jacket has a musical reference. The director and his lead actor both had their say in choosing the scorpion logo, too, a nod to one of the first music videos ever, Scorpio Rising, made by Kenneth Anger. A tribute to a time of avant garde filmmaking. Drive is indeed a film that, in every aspect of its making, shows respect to craft.

Refn told NPR in 2011 that before he filmed Drive, he hadn’t spent much time in Los Angeles, but he and Gosling developed the film while driving around the city, listening to songs on the car radio, and the songs on the soundtrack “were chosen to mimic and enhance both the isolation and the emotion of sitting behind the wheel of a car, closed off from the world passing by outside”. Key for establishing the sound of the movie was the song “A Real Hero” by College, Refn explained, “because that, just by [coincidence], had a lyric that also described my idea for the movie. To me it was the story about a character, the protagonist, who lived in two worlds. By day he was a human being and by night he was a hero.”

Ryan Gosling is Driver in Drive. Driver drives for hire. He is a part-time mechanic and Hollywood stunt racer who moonlights as a getaway wheel man. Gosling is silent, stoic, mysterious, a loner. He drives through the streets of Los Angeles on the soundtrack of melodic electronic songs and Cliff Martinez’s shimmering score, and music becomes a way “to express his emotions, like almost a way for him to cry,” said Refn, confessing that music is the most important tool a director has to work with because music enhances emotion.

“One thing that was unique for me about this project was having songs exert such a strong influence on the score,” Cliff Martinez, the composer, told Invada Records. “That helped to create a unified, one-size-fits-all, style of soundtrack… the 80s electronic pop style made a lot of sense to me. I knew that Nicolas was in love with that sound and I saw a way to acknowledge it with vintage synth sounds and cover most of the dramatic food groups while referencing that style.”

The Drive soundtrack features original music by Cliff Martinez (Traffic) with songs by Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx (“Nightcall”), The Chromatics (“Tick of the Clock”), Desire (“Under Your Spell”), College featuring Electric Youth (“A Real Hero”), and Riziero Ortolani featuring Katyna Ranieri (“Oh My Love”).

Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013

I remember when I was watching Only Lovers Left Alive and the sequence with Yasmine Hamdan performing “Hal” occurred, towards the end of the movie. I’m not sure I can even describe that feeling in words, but it was like hitting that point when you sensed you were finally completely being drawn into the world of the two characters, dark and timeless and otherworldly and overwhelming. I sometimes listen to that song, but the effect is not even closely the same. For me, that song lives in that film. The two forms of art form a common language. The song was not composed for Jarmusch’s film, and that makes its effect all the more striking. When Tilda Swinton’s character, Eve, suggests that Hamdan should be better known, Tom Hiddleston’s character, Adam, says she shouldn’t, because “she’s too good”. Maybe the song is only meant to come alive in the film, in that story, because I am not sure an appropriate moment exists in real life. Maybe only in Tangier, “a place where, unlike Marrakech, the old world and new world are not separated by a gulf as though looking at each other. It’s all mixed,” as the director described the atmosphere and location for his film for Vice magazine.

There is a musical undercurrent in all of Jim Jarmusch’s films. And all the more so in Only Lovers. Adam and Eve are vampires, Adam is also a musician, which makes him a century-old musician whose music is catching on in the underground nightclubs of a ghostly Detroit, the other location of the film. Music is so much part of Jarmusch’s movies, it is woven into the celluloid. It is, reportedly, what kickstarts his ideas and imagination when he is writing a script.

The music for Only Lovers Left Alive was composed by Jarmusch’s own band SQÜRL and he also brought in his frequent collaborator, Dutch lute player Jozef Van Wissem, to compose some of the film’s incidental music. This compilation of sounds resulted in an entrancing blend between past and present, between minimal orchestration and haunting vocals (the score features guest appearances from Zola Jesus, Yasmine Hamdan and Madeline Follin of Cults), a perfect analogy for Adam and Eve’s vampire characters. Jim Jarmusch’s soundtracks give voice to his drifters and dreamers, and, in turn, the characters come alive through the music and enter our own imagination.

Pulp Fiction, 1994

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is my favourite Tarantino movie. There is so much I love about it, and the music is part of it, because the film is not only a feast for your eyes, but for your ears, too. Every time a car starts, the music starts blasting from the radio. It was the 1960s. Music was very much part of the culture, and there was a car-based culture, and music was mainly listened to on the radio in the car. Tarantino brilliantly captured that feeling, that mood. We don’t get to listen only to the music from that time, but to radio shows, too, that’s how far the director went to portray the atmosphere from back in the day.

But before Quentin Tarantino gave us Once Upon a Time…, he gave us Pulp Fiction, his Palme d’Or winner. And one of the greatest mixtape soundtracks ever made. When he executive produced the soundtrack album, Tarantino rearranged the sequence of the songs on the track list the same way he played with chronology in the film. “Having Misirlou’ as your opening credit, it’s just so intense,” Tarantino said in 1994 about Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ song. “It just says you’re watching an epic, you’re watching a big ol’ movie. It just throws down a gauntlet that the movie now has to live up to it.”

The song dates back to 1927 and Dale surf-rocked it up in the 1960s. It’s what Tarantino does so well with all the songs he uses in his films. He compiles preexisting music and makes it sound new in his films. He revives it, he gives it new life, he brings it to or back to the public’s attention, and it’s not just because the songs are good, but because of the way each song is paired with each scene. Sound and vision form a union. From this very reason, Ennio Morricone was hesitant working with him when Tarantino approached the composer to write the music for The Hateful Eight. “Tarantino often appropriated my music to dislocate it in a completely different context from the one it was meant for. Part of my reluctance to work with him derived from the fact that I was somewhat afraid to come up with new music for him, as I feared he might be too conditioned by his own musical habits…,” the composer said in his book.

Tarantino is a director who uses music in a very singular way. More than that, one of the biggest accomplishments of Tarantino’s films is that “so many people, such a wide and diversified audience, watch his films, and it appears that young people especially get in touch with my music primarily through his cinema,” Morricone further concluded. There’s really nothing much to add to that. Except that, in Ennio Morricone’s words again, “music is mysterious, it doesn’t offer many answers. Film music, on the other hand, is even more mysterious at times, both because of its bond with images and because of its way of bonding with the audience.”
More stories: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: Everything I hoped It Would Be and More / Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words / Ryan Gosling and His Otherworldly Jacket in Drive

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Beyond Character: Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider in “Max et les Ferrailleurs”

Romy Schneider in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

A bleak, dark detective story that taps into noir, Claude Sautet’s Max et les ferrailleurs (1971) is more than a “policier” film. It draws 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.

But he is “no ordinary policeman”, as his superior says. Independently wealthy, he renounced being an examining judge because he wanted to be in the midst of the action. His job is more than a job. He is a solitary, no-family man, a dedicated, methodical police detective, even amoral in his willingness to catch the criminals at all costs, even if this means planning the crime himself. Catching them red-handed becomes an obsession and his job is more like a rite to him, nothing deters him from his mission, and this monastic feeling that seems driven by an inner calling rather than policeman duty and righteousness, is evident in the way he dresses, too. His pin-striped black suit, white shirt, black tie and fedora are like a uniform (he is always buttoned-up, even when at home, playing cards), very much in the vein of Alain Delon’s Le Samouraï, or, as a matter of fact, a few others of Jean-Pierre Melville’s anti-heroes. The look in Max’s eyes, when filmed in close-up, is so blank and unflinching that he may very well be carrying a gun in his hands (you are almost surprised that he doesn’t when the camera moves away), that, indeed, he may very well be one of the criminals. 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.

Michel Piccoli in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

I would like to return for a moment to this association with Jean-Pierre Melville. Melville’s films are his own, an individualistic genre, infused by understatement and a sense of cool, an idealised world of mobsters and thugs, living and dying by a certain code of honour – ”Mellvilian” is part of the dictionary of cinema just as much as “Fellinian” and “Hitchcockian” are.

Claude Sautet however, with films such as his sublime first feature, Classe tous risques, from 1960, and Max et les ferrailleurs (“an unavoidable detour through the crime movies”, Truffaut named them), had much to bring on his own to the genre. Melville created a universe completely stylized, a world of men stripped by emotions, families, wives and lovers, and in his films it is undeniably this imaginary world that takes hold of you. Sautet’s stories, on the other hand, even those of cops and crooks, do not lose the human grip, as elusive as it may be (just as his other films, even the most lighthearted, have a dark vein running trough them). In Classe tous risques, Lino Ventura, terrific in his role, is a doomed man on the run, he has a sad, liven-in face. His clothes look lived-in , too. His trousers and jacket reflect his turmoil and disrupted life. Only when he goes off to settle matters with his former partners he puts on a trench coat. He has to look like he means business, because he does, and his children are his only drive. He can not escape his fate, but he must do right by his children. You may not condone his criminal past, but you understand the actions that drive him now. In the same sense, you may not understand or approve of the life of characters such as Max or Lily, but Sautet has the ability to create these moments when you root for them, and which seem anchored in everyday reality.

Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

There is a scene when Lily takes a bath in Max’s apartment. He throws her his hat and takes pictures of her naked and wearing his hat. It is Max who is playing her, paying her not for sex but for spending time with him, toying with her body and her emotions to scheme his plan. But using her for criminal thought inception won’t leave him unscathed. He does have a breaking point but it remains unseen right until the end. And the end will take you completely by surprise. This impenetrable character is all the more surprising, brilliantly conceived and played, as he is playing opposite one of the most beautiful women in the history of cinema, Romy Schneider.

“She was not only a magnificent actress, she was a star,” is how Michel Piccoli spoke of Romy in an interview for L’Express in 2000. They were friends and had a wonderful rapport on the screen, and worked together on a few Claude Sautet films – Piccoli was in fact reticent to accept the role of Max because he considered Sautet shouldn’t have brought him and Romy back together on screen so soon (they had made Les choses de la vie a year earlier). “I called her ‘la schleu’. I said to her, ‘You are ugly today, badly made up.’ It reassured her that I spoke to her like that. People are so suspicious of these exceptional people. It is terrible to be a star. All the more so when one is a woman. Of course, there are more painful things, but it is a permanent aggression. Sometimes people ask me if I suspected this tragic fate that Romy was going to have. I had no doubt about it. Since I met her, her life had been a tragedy … On the one hand, she represented this splendid and happy woman. On the other hand, she always had this terrible pain that she carried with her.”

Romy Schneider in Yves Saint Laurent in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

She is again wearing Yves Saint Laurent in Max et les ferrailleurs. But this in no way distracts us from the plot. Because Yves Saint Laurent had an “immediate and astounding sense of costume”, in the words of Roland Petit. The designer chose a very sexy wardrobe for Romy in this film. Violet or red low-cut dresses, form-fitting black dress with plunging neckline, ribbon tied around the neck, and 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.

Saint Laurent’s spring-summer collection from 1971, dubbed “The Forties” or “Liberation” collection, was surrounded by controversy as the square shoulders, bouffant sleeves, platform shoes, shortened dresses, seductive make-up alluded to “the women of easy virtue” in Paris during the occupation. “This collection, which everyone is calling kitsch, was a reaction to the absurd direction fashion was taking… So I conceived my collection as a humorous protest which everyone took seriously,” Saint Laurent remarked. He was already thinking of giving up haute couture, because his real public were “young, working women” and he wanted to make garments to reflect them and the women he personally liked. “I don’t see the point of changing garments from one season to the next if they are right, whether it’s a pea jacket or jeans, a tuxedo or a trench coat. This was so true that I would up making the same things for couture and for ready-to-wear. The more perfect the garment, the simpler it is.” Yves Saint Laurent not only changed fashion, but he left a particular mark in cinema, too. He had this great ability to understand a personality and an era, therefore a movie character, too, and translate them into clothes that were an expression of the women beneath them. That’s why so many directors, from Truffaut to Buñuel and Sautet wanted to work with him.

Lily is wearing jeans, a plain t-shirt and a bomber jacket in the last sequence. It’s a completely different look than what she wears until that moment. Finally, this is she, her real self, the woman behind the clothes, that we see, because, as a prostitute, she’s only playing a role. How more eloquently than through clothes can this separation be made?

Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli in “Max et les ferrailleurs”, 1971 | Lira Films, Sonocam, Fida Cinematografica

Editorial sources: The Films in My Life, by François Truffaut / Yves Saint Laurent, published by Foundation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint / interview with Michel Piccoli, “Michel Piccoli, l’intransigeant”, L’Express, 30 September, 2000

More stories: Dressing the Classes: from The Rules of the Game to Gosford Park / Jacques Demy in Black & White and His Quiet Heroines / This Summer We’re Channelling: Carole Bouquet in His Eyes Only

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A Denim Story

A new reality, a newly found lifestyle. And yet, some things never change. Quite the contrary. You experience a new, deeper appreciation for the simplest of things. And the words “style is a reflection of your lifestyle” (more country living, less city walks, social gatherings or conventional office work for the foreseeable future) ring truer than ever before.

For someone who has always found inspiration in books, magazines and movies, the book A Denim Story*, by Emily Current, Meritt Elliott and Hilary Walsh, makes for one of the best style references, especially these days. More than anything else, it reveals how jeans, and denim, used to stand for more than a fashion item, taking the role of a symbol – of a lifestyle, of moral convictions, of individual expression, of adventurous dispositions. But, most of all, that of an active participant to one’s work and life. They were made for working, for living, carrying a nostalgic sensibility to things well made and still retaining the robust, authentic appeal and individual rebellion that they have always possessed. The book insists on an aesthetic inspired by boyish silhouettes, on simplicity over polish, creating visual stories that seem depicted from real-life, not fashion editorial-ready. A farmer on the field, a child at play, an actor on the set, an artist at work, in their jeans – therein lies the endless fascination with denim. It is part of life, of the everyday man, woman and child.

And if you have a look at my style conversations with my guests here on the site, as shown in the following paragraphs, whenever jeans come into discussion, they are not taken out of the context of their lives and works and worldviews – these are real people leading real lives, having more interesting stories to tell than the clothes they put on in the morning. And that’s why those same clothes, namely jeans, so viscerally familiar, so youthful and practical and relevant, end up being part of the story.

Note: The photographs below are all independently chosen, different than those in the book A Denim Story.

Taylor Foster photographed by

“Most days I’m in the studio just wearing a tee and jean shorts in the summer or a tee and jeans in the winter. I think personal style is a lot like a fingerprint, it’s different for every person. As we become more accepting of who we are, we know what works for our bodies and lifestyle and what doesn’t. I’ve always loved looking at old photos of stylish people, especially writers, musicians and artists. Indigenous cultures, ancient sculpture, recurring symbols throughout time and the concept of ancestral lineage are also my inspiration. And nature. Nobody does color better than Mother Nature.” Mary Jo Matsumoto, sculptor and painter

“When I’m not in a tunic or a caftan, you can find me in boyfriend jeans and tee. I only buy pieces I know I will really wear. I also find a simple wardrobe frees up my creative energy to channel into my passions like ocean + main.” Mary Price, founder and designer ocean + main


James Dean in the set of “Giant” (1956), George Stevens Productions
James Dean on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), Warner Brothers

“I do love classic pieces with some special detail or little twist, even if it’s hidden. I’m also a big fan of mixing masculine and feminine, like wearing a pair of slouchy TOMBOY jeans with lipstick and heels.” Kelly Urban, co-founder AMO Denim

“I can not live without a white shirt, jeans, and blazers. I am lucky because I never had to change my style too much for work. I don’t have a “professional style”. Of course, I adopt a different attitude depending on the circumstances but, as a writer, and particularly a travel writer, I can wear what I want. It’s a question of common sense and education, I suppose. In fact, my style matches the kind of people I work with, and we work together because we have the same attitude towards life (and that includes style).” Francisca Mattéoli, travel writer


Jane Birkin photographed by Mike Daines, Rex/Shutterstock | Katharine Hepburn on the set

“As I live in a country with six months of winter, am a mother of three young boys, as well as an illustrator that works in a messy, drippy way, I wear a lot of jeans with second hand tops and blouses and boots.” Stina Persson, illustrator

“My go-to daily outfit is a pair of AMO’s, a shrunken white tee, flats, and vintage jewelry. Style is an expression of your individuality and feeling comfortable in your own skin no matter what you are wearing.” Misty Zollars, co-founder AMO Denim

Margaux Hemingway photographed by Jean Claude Deutsch in France, 1980 | Getty Images

“Jeans, boring, I know. David would so much prefer it if I woke up each morning and dressed as Grace Kelly. Style is about being yourself and no one else.” India Hicks, designer, author, entrepreneur

Photographer Hilary Walsh in her Echo Park studio

* For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the book, I have linked to the publishing house. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore we 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.
More stories: On Craftsmanship and the Modern Woman, with Sue Stemp of St. Roche / Denim on Film: Little Fauss and Big Halsy / Interview with Fashion Designer and Humanitarian Treana Peake

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