The All-Natural Look of Two Mythical Creatures: Thelma and Louise

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in “Thelma and Louise”, 1991 | Pathé Entertainment, Metro Goldwyn Mayer

 

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

N° 10: Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in “Thelma and Louise”

 
 
She rips the sleeve off of a denim shirt and makes herself two bandanas to wear around her neck. She’s dressed in washed-up blue jeans, white cowboy boots and white tank top. She then sits next to an old man with a beat-up white cowboy hat on. She takes off all her jewellery, her earrings, her rings, and watch, and gives it to him. A little later on, we see her with the hat. “Where did you get the hat?,” asks Thelma. “I stole it,” Louise replies. She had in fact traded all the possessions she had left, except for the car, for the hat.

Why the cowboy hat? Is it because the cowboy embodies the idea of a great adventure? Is it because it embodies a well defined character? Is it because he doesn’t dwell on the past because his kind of life only allows him to live in the present? Is it because his lifestyle, just as the road adventurer, just as the outlaw, alone on the road or in the vast Wild West, is reduced to the essentials of survival, stripped of possessions and committed to an elemental way of dressing, solely out of necessity, making the best of something and someone, himself, with limited resources? Whatever it is, the cowboy hat is the final piece that Louise chooses to define her look. Throughout the film, we see her and Thelma gradually contest and lose the adornments, and trappings we could say, of what is traditionally considered feminine, redefine it and form their own identities, making boyish silhouettes and emblems of the road and of the western their own, a new kind of femininity.

Thelma and Louise, directed by Ridley Scott and scripted by Callie Khouri, bends so many genres, having been predominantly acclaimed as female revenge movie or female liberation and empowerment film, but to not see it as what first and foremost is, a great film and groundbreaking road movie, would mean to subverge it in a sub-genre of feminist cinema meant to please academic film criticism, which would be an injustice. Moreover, this is a road movie in outlaw and buddy movie trappings, standing alongside the another great of the kind, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But by making both protagonists female, Thelma and Louise formed its own identity. Another pivotal element, more important than any feminist appeal, was that the film, just as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, depicted real bonding and real friendship of two memorable characters. Because despite common belief, that doesn’t come off that easily, neither in real life nor in film. In life, it’s rare to find people to take a journey with, let alone a life and self-defining journey. In film, it has rarely been depicted truthfully. Maybe that’s why the film has appealed so much to both men and women. Because every great film does not consider gender.

“Thelma and Louise”, 1991 | Pathé Entertainment, Metro Goldwyn Mayer

 
They took the road to escape their tedious lives, and then the law, and while on the road they are finally happy and free, freed from their past and from all the restraints that held them back. It is a journey, they can not remain the same. Their clothes – Elizabeth McBride was the costume designer – can not remain the same either. They lose or leave behind everything and everyone, and they trade or let go of many of their clothes, too. What is interesting to see is how denim, present from the very start in both Thelma and Louise’s wardrobes, this symbol of American fashion sensibility and universal modernity, function-grounding and gender-breaking, and which should stand for unapologetic American coolness, has its own arc in the film. Like the ugly truth and limitations that lie underneath the great American Dream and promising freedom, a piercing commentary made throughout the entire film by Ridley Scott by contrasting the American great outdoors (with all the patina, texture and hardness of light that is the stuff of myth and legend) with the run-down dwellings, crummy interiors and small-town harsh reality. All denim is not the same.

Louise, the older and wiser and more bitter of the two, is wearing her faded jeans, hardware leather belt and white cowboy boots when they hit the road, and pairs them with a white shirt. But it is not the kind that may be borrowed from the boys. It is embroidered on the collar, and Louise is wearing ladylike cat-eye sunglasses and a colourful feminine scarf wrapped around her head to keep her hair neat. Make-up is in place, too. Thelma, younger, reckless and more naïve, is wearing much more conventional feminine clothes, from her floral robe when she’s at home, to a long denim skirt, frilly white top and embroidered denim jacket, and oversized sunglasses in a pale lilac hue. She is also wearing heavy make-up.

As the story advances, their looks change. Taken out of societal norms, they are shown as individuals. Louise swaps her embroidered shirt for a plain white tank top, her headscarf for two denim bandanas, her jewellery for the old cowboy hat, and her cat-eye sunglasses for a policeman’s aviators. She also adds a hand-band made of some kind of patterned cloth. Thelma goes from her girly clothes to jeans and a sleeveless denim shirt, from her oversized sunglasses to timeless black Ray Ban wayfarers, leaves all her jewellery behind, from her wedding band, drop earrings and necklaces (she only keeps two simple golden bracelets) and ties her tousled braided hair with a denim strap (which probably came from the same ripped-off denim shirt as Louise’s bandanas), and finally, to a black graphic rock ‘n’ Roll tank top with the line “Driving My Life Away” written on it and the weathered baseball cap she takes from the truck driver during the car spin around him after they have blown up his truck. Thelma and Louise both give up wearing make-up.

With their disheveled and dusty looks, weather-beaten tan, high waist faded jeans, white and black tank tops, their t-shirts becoming symbols of rediscovered sisterhood, cowboy boots, unisex sunglasses and men’s cap and hat, they “become more and more natural, but more and more beautiful as it goes on and by the end… just these mythical looking creatures”, as director Ridley Scott described them. Without make-up, colour, fashion and “things”, exposed to the natural elements, the dirt, the sun fade, the open road, the Grand Canyon, they are illuminated, and their jeans have gained even more character not through years of wear (as it happens with our most beloved pairs of jeans), but through a life-defining journey of wear.

That all being said, one of the greatest achievements of Ridley Scott’s is that he chose the right ending for the film. The only ending that made sense – the women making their decision with tears in their eyes, then kissing, clasping hands, Louise putting her foot on the gas and driving forward toward the cliff; we see the car in midair and the image fades to white – but one that should not demand an explanation because the film does not give one. Why does one keep looking for literal meanings in films? What fascinates us so much about movies? One thing for sure is that their characters live on into the mass conscious and unconscious, regardless of their fate. So Thelma and Louise live on – on screen, too.

“Let’s keep going. Go!”
 
 
More stories: This Summer We’re Channelling: Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde / When the Man Dresses the Character: Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief / He Wore Black: Challenging the Romantic Notion of the West

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

Drawing on the Quiet Moments of a Movie: Interview with Poster Designer Michael Boland

Film poster design by Michael Boland for “We the Animals”, 2018, directed by Jeremiah Zagar

 
 
Films have tremendous power. Film poster and cover art is a way to communicate that power. Good film poster and cover art is able to communicate that power in an honest way that honours the film as an extension of the film experience and not just as a sale tool. I like to believe that good film poster and cover art is designed more for the film than for the market.

My recent conversation with film poster designer Michael Boland reinforces my belief. Michael is a frequent collaborator of The Criterion Collection, and their passion for and knowledge of film, their well-established presence on the market and sophisticated audience allow them the freedom to be creative in their cover art designs and film packaging, and to easily depart from the “tell them the story in an image” approach and team up with the most talented designers who have the skill and liberty to reposition and bring a new sensibility to classic films which have seeped into the popular consciousness. Moreover, in a time of social distancing and when the future of the movie theaters, a vital experience for us as society, remains uncertain, the print designs and movie packaging play a tremendous new role: physical engagement with the audience. Beautiful cover art and packaging show commitment to the art of cinema, to the visual language or cinema, and to an audience for whom the experience of watching a film goes far beyond online streaming.

But it is probably the film posters for new releases, the one sheets as they are called in the poster design world, such as We the Animals (2018), The Painted Bird (2019) and The Tribe (2014), that bring an even bigger appreciation for Michael Boland’s work. Because they have the ability and power to help shape the visual identity of certain directors and contemporary worldwide cinema. His subtle yet arresting and cohesive designs build interest without revealing much. Their main source of inspiration is looking at the film and the director’s vision. They look into the quiet moments of the films to reveal their strength. In a time when everything is on display, this less is more approach shows faith in the audience’s rediscovering of what it is like to be curious, to ask questions the poster raises, to go beyond the surface, to get immersed into watching a film. That’s the beauty of good film poster design.

In our interview, Michael reveals why he doesn’t work with too rigid of an original idea or concept, which is the film poster that has impacted him the most and why he hopes we never lose the privilege of going to the movies.
 

Film poster design by Michael Boland for “These Birds Walk”, 2013, directed by Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq
Cover art by Michael Boland for the Janus Films release of “Blood Simple”, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, 1985

 
 
We the Animals is a film I haven’t yet had the chance to watch, but ever since I saw your film poster I have wanted to see it. Do you remember when it was the first time that a film poster made you want to watch a film you had’t yet viewed?

Make it a point to see We the Animals. It is a remarkable movie and one that I had to constantly remind myself was fictional. Sometimes you see documentaries that feel like scripted movies, but this is the other way around. Great film, and that always makes it more exciting to work on the poster.

​I love movies and get excited by new films for the same reasons that we all do. It is a favourite actor, telling a great story or bringing a beloved piece of literature to life, or merely a unique visual experience. If there is a movie that interests me, I will probably go no matter what the poster looks like. Since I was young and art became the path I knew I would follow, I have wanted to create art for film. I intended to become an illustrator, and so I enjoyed looking at the technique of someone like C. Michael Dudash on Bill Gold’s Pale Rider poster or the great Richard Amsel.

​So I would like to change your question around a little bit and tell you the poster that impacted me the most, two actually. They were the companion images of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins for Silence of the Lambs. It is credited today to BLT Communications, but I believe at that time that they were Frankfurt Gips and Balkind.

​That poster seemed to me to be a watershed moment. It revealed that movie promotion could be so much more than recreating a moment from a film or only showing the actors side by side, prominently and clearly. That poster had an attitude. It made a statement and had such a strong point of view and sense of style that I recall very clearly being stopped in my tracks by it, and I loved that there were two of them, quid quo pro. I don’t think I had ever seen anything quite like it, and looking back at it, I think it continues to influence me.
 
 

”If you are going to see a Spike Lee joint or a Tarrantino film,
they are so established that you have a pretty good idea
of the types of worlds you are going to visit. When they first
started, those posters helped sell what their visions were.”

 
 
What makes a good movie poster?

The answer to that is so subjective! I also think it is hard to qualify beyond, something engaging, true to the film, smart, and with a clear point of view and message. All very abstract terms, but I think they all lead to art that engages the viewer and converses with them on some level.

When does the work of the film poster designer come into play, especially in the case of a new film? How important is it for you to watch the film first? And how challenging is it if you don’t?

I HAVE to watch the film first. In some instances, I can get away with just watching a trailer, but if I am doing a full exploration leading to key art for a cover or a one sheet, I find it almost impossible to adequately explore appropriate concepts and ideas without being able to contextualize characters, plot and locations. I also use the time spent watching a film to make grabs that I can either use in the art or reference later on.

I think that with a new film, the key art is essential in establishing its footing. In the case of a new or young director, I think it can help define multiple aspects of what the experience is going to be. If you are going to see a Spike Lee joint or a Tarrantino film, they are so established that you have a pretty good idea of the types of worlds you are going to visit. When they first started, those posters helped sell what their visions were.

More and more often, I work directly with directors who head into festivals with a poster as well as their films because it is an important element in the sale of their film. It helps distributors visualize more quickly the potential audience and what type of niche it might fill.
 

Film poster design by Michael Boland for “The Painted Bird”, 2019, directed by Václav Marhoul

 
 
How big a role do existing photographs of actors or screen grabs play in creating a new image? What is the design process like, from the jumping off point of inspiration and then the creative direction it takes from there?

Everyone almost always wants the presence of the actors, and the marquee value of those actors and how the film is to be marketed will affect how recognizable they need to be. After some initial conversations regarding the film and the audience the art is targeting, I will create a range of ideas, and within that range, those considerations will be explored. Sometimes a simple graphic solution is so powerful that likenesses can be less important than the resulting overall impact.

There are a couple of factors involved when it comes to the raw images used to create a piece of art. The biggest hurdle is the sheer size of a theatrical one sheet. Those dimensions require a very high resolution, and that ideally means good on set photography or perhaps a photoshoot of some kind. For me, it is rare to have either of those. Therefore, grabs are another resource and work very well for the smaller proportions of a package or cover art. 4k resolution has been a game-changer when it comes to poster design, but even then, sometimes grabs work beautifully, and sometimes they don’t, and I never know until I start.

Another consideration is that if I have access to a good photoshoot, the emotion present in a scene in a movie can be missing in that staged environment. You have to pick therefore and choose your priorities and how you intend to use your images, specifically those of the actors.

​Given all of that, I don’t work with too rigid of an original idea or concept. I like to let the images, grabs, photos help dictate where things lead and what you can ask of them so that the art feels organic and not composited or worked in a way that lacks emotion or feels alien to the film itself. As I mentioned earlier, I make grabs as I watch a film and those can be used in the design as an actor’s image, setting a location, or as a textural element. Regardless, the grabs help me revisit that world as I work to make sure I communicate the tone, colours, and overall vibe of the film.
 
 

”I think that subtleness of pose was unexpected and created the need
to know more. That is the fundamental purpose of good key art.”

 
 
Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry is an upcoming Criterion Collection release. Kiarostami was a filmmaker who didn’t make up extraordinary stories and extraordinary worlds in his movies, but he looked for ordinary lives in exceptional moments. He liked making movies that showed by not showing, that left questions unanswered, that did not explain, that worked up the viewer’s imagination, and was against the kind of cinema that didn’t ask the audience to think. Taste of Cherry, too, entrusts much of its meaning to the audience, yet there is a sense of isolation that lies at the heart of the film. What is it that you felt you needed to convey with your cover art?

That is a good summation of Taste of Cherry, and I would add that it was also an examination of self and destruction of self. Badii is pursuing people who will help bury his body following his suicide (I don’t recall the reason for his despondence, which is not the reason for the film’s journey; as you say, it is the director’s unanswered question.) In addition to his request, the film is built upon resulting conversations between three passengers and Badii. They discuss right and wrong, and what it is to exist. That is where we found our inspiration for the cover.

​There is a scene in the film where the lead character, Mr. Badii, sits at a construction site surrounded and enveloped by the dust in the air. Criterion art director Eric Skillman and I loved how much distance and melancholy that dusty haze conveyed, but we did not want him seated. It was simple enough to recreate that texture and colour through stock art. Then, into that environment, I placed instead Badii standing with his hand extended as he talks with one of his passengers. That detail felt as if it could be interpreted as his asking to be saved, and it became another unanswered question open to interpretation to the viewer and similar to how the director worked. I think that subtleness of pose was unexpected and created the need to know more. That is the fundamental purpose of good key art.
 

Cover art by Michael Boland for the Criterion Collection release of “Taste of Cherry”, directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Film poster design by Michael Boland for “These Birds Walk”, 2013, directed by Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq

 
 
That is good key art. One of my favourite artworks of yours is Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin). The film happens to be one of my all-time favourites. Where do you start when working on such a film, a visual metaphor? What was the biggest challenge?

I also love Wings of Desire, and it is just as beautiful and poignant a film today as on its theatrical release. I also just love black and white cinematography. The challenge with that film, as with many Criterion or other classic titles, is how to be true to the film while bringing a modern sensibility to familiar images.

​We explored numerous ideas and depictions of Bruno Ganz’s Damiel, but ultimately settled on that image of him overlooking Berlin for its powerful conveyance of his love and loneliness. The expression of his pose just speaks to the themes of the film so strongly. It was among a handful of original photography stills that I received upon beginning the process. It is one that you often see in its original form and has been used in other iterations. I made a few aesthetic choices that I thought would enhance its impact; I introduced clouds and increased the sense of distance between the angel and his city as well as softening the tone in the sky. Both of those things I felt increased his isolation and repeated the great shift in scale that I recall in the film. It was present in the original poster design where Damiel sits upon the shoulder of the statue at the top of the Berlin Victory Column. I can’t take credit for creating the typography as it comes from the title card of the film itself, but I felt that it was a personal element that was missing in some other uses. The overall effect was to make Damiel more iconic and seems to be a shift that has created a connection with people.

I suppose this was an example where the design lived in the choices made and the sensitivities to how it all related and less to a unique and new vision.
 
 

”I do very much like the drama and power that
can be found in the quiet moments of a movie.
I think I do seek those out. To me, they are like the
downbeats in music, or the negative spaces in painting
and offer the opportunity for conversation with the viewer.”

 
 
That dusty haze image you used for Taste of Cherry reminds me to some extent of your cover design for Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece, Ugetsu, with its misty cinematography being part of the film’s ethereal beauty. But your work on Ugetsu also reminds me of Wings of Desire, as another example of a film where you drew on certain sensitivities of a visually powerful film.

Years ago I was surprised when a friend told me that he could always tell my work. I never thought I had a very identifiable stylistic approach, but perhaps it is on display in your examples and in something like my work on the films Risk or Beauty and the Dogs. I do very much like the drama and power that can be found in the quiet moments of a movie. I think I do seek those out. To me, they are like the downbeats in music, or the negative spaces in painting and offer the opportunity for conversation with the viewer that I spoke of.
 

Cover art by Michael Boland for the Criterion Collection release of “Wings of Desire”, 1987, directed by Wim Wenders

 
 
You are a frequent collaborator of The Criterion Collection and you have worked on such classics as the aforementioned Ugetsu (1953), or Sansho the Bailiff (1954), again by Mizoguchi, or Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp (1056). Do you believe that the wonderful work of the likes of Criterion, of restoring and releasing these films and building momentums with the help of talented artists who do the cover art, will also bridge this gap between today’s public and online streaming? And how does the design process differ when you are working on an film poster than when you are doing cover art?

When working on cover art, specifically art for a Criterion release, you have the luxury of their reputation as skilled curators of great films, as well as the value of their restorations and added features. Those two things elevate the home video experience and make Criterion’s releases their own new entities and not derivative of the original films. I think that with that came the willingness, maybe even the need, to take chances and depart from simply reworking existing key art, because in some ways, these are new versions of beloved films.

Having that core audience then allows you to take some risks and explore some of the more subtle emotional connections to films without the same regard for marketing needed for a broad general audience. From the top-down, Criterion is less committed to marketing a movie than they are with presenting art that is a true and fresh representation of the film. Eric Skillman and Sarah Habibi (ed. note: Criterion’s head art director) have assembled an incredible stable of artists that I am proud to be part of.

The fresh take that we work to present for these films does, I think, translate to a general audience and helps to seduce new audiences to take a chance on a classic. I believe that this brings me back to my thoughts on the poster for The Silence of The Lambs in that the Criterion covers as a whole show us what design for film can be. I think they have influenced the way theatrical one sheets and imagery for online streaming are evolving.

How important is it for you, as an artist, that your imagery stands as artwork in its own right?

I hope I am understanding the meaning of your question here.

I think there are, broadly, two schools of thought in designing a piece of key art. One would be recreating or depicting an important scene or moment from a film. And the other would be creating something which taps into the themes or tone of the film and presents them in a new iconic form.

​Regardless of which one you choose, I believe that the hand of the artist should always be present. It should not overwhelm and become just personal expression, but without the designer’s personal perspective, it is just a pretty picture that is probably without any real depth or significance.
 

Film poster design by Michael Boland for “The Great Beauty”, 2013, directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Film poster design by Michael Boland for “24 Exposures”, 2013, directed by Joe Swanson

 
 
How big a part does hand-work and digital, respectively, play in your designs?

Ten years ago, I would have said it was 25% hand-work to 75% digital, but those percentages have slowly all gone over to the digital side. Even as little as a year ago, I would still paint things and scan or photograph them. Now, between stock and programs like Procreate, it is all digital all the time. It is rare for anything to happen “by hand,” which is weird to acknowledge.

Do you miss drawing by hand? Are the tight deadlines one of the reasons for this complete shift to digital?

I can’t say I miss drawing by hand. I don’t think I was doing that much of it anyway. Most of my work is photo manipulation on one degree or another.

​I think the transition to digital was really just because of ease and fluidity. There is no break in the thought process anymore. You are just reaching for the next tool to create what you imagine. Plus the ability to do, undo, and redo work when working digitally is an incomparable advantage over traditional means.

Was there any hand-drawing on We the Animals? It seems that way.

We the Animals was one of the last traditionally hand-done pieces, the title and scribbled burst.

If you could choose one classic film to make the official poster art for back in the day, which one would it be?

Well, it can’t be something with existing exceptional art like Rosemary’s Baby or a film for which Saul Bass created the art, because that would be way too much pressure…

​I would love to do an action movie, a big budget extravaganza. But for lack of a better answer, I will stick with my first choice whenever I get a call from Criterion about a new project and go with Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980).
 

Poster design by Michael Boland for “The Tribe”, 2014, directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi

 
 
 

”That giant screen, totally immersive, people cheering or crying
in shared emotions… It just can’t be duplicated and seems
like exactly the type of connection that is missing in our lives.”

 
 
Do you ever watch a film just for relaxation?

I have to admit that after watching two or three a week at times, I do tend to choose shorter episodic television experience to unwind. It is hard to invest the time sometimes.
​That being said, I absolutely love the experience of going to a theater, and I go as often as is possible. I hope we never lose that privilege.

I think that’s been on everyone’s mind lately. Because movies still need cinemas and our fascination with the big screen lingers. Would you care to share a memorable experience from going to the movies?

I had to think quite a while about which would be my favorite memory. I realised that they all speak to the powerful connection movies make with us and between us.

Waiting in the rain or cold was necessary before you were able to reserve tickets in advance, but you were with your friends, maybe you made a few new ones while on line, and the anticipation of would you get in was all part of the moment. The doors open and you walk in, stopping at the concession stand before finding your seat. The lights finally dim and the film begins. It was all a ritual that can’t be duplicated and it is a commitment that you all made together to the movie you are about to see.

That giant screen, totally immersive, people cheering or crying in shared emotions… It just can’t be duplicated and seems like exactly the type of connection that is missing in our lives.
 
 

Website: thebolanddesignco.com / Instagram: @thebolanddesignco

 
 
More stories: Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words / Why Movies Still Need Cinemas: In Conversation with Film Industry Insiders / Interview with Photographer Laura Wilson

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

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 and Vertigo (no summer without Hitchcock!) 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