Mid-Autumn Culture Trip


 
As I was sitting by the window of a newly discovered café downtown where I can peacefully work from remotely, one early, quiet and misty autumn morning, the images from the beginning of Three Days of the Condor with Robert Redford, before he is thrown into a reality he didn’t believe was possible, came to my mind. I can easily transport myself. I don’t use virtual reality for that. I use films and books. Pedro Almodóvar was saying in his book that “to make a film is to improve life”. I use films to take the best part of life.

“Where do you find the time?,” one of my loyal readers was asking me when I posted the photo above on Instagram about my current reading situation. The answer came fast: I don’t watch tv. I spend almost zero time on social media. I prioritise. I organise myself. And I am a really fast reader. So it all adds up. But there’s another aspect of social media I also wanted to talk about. I don’t use it much and I only use it for my work and my website. Be that as it may, the stories I want to tell and write about are to be found on Classiq Journal. I write for a conscious audience, whose attention span I trust is of more than a few split seconds required to scroll down one’s Instagram feed. But my spending so little time on social media also means that I don’t get to share much other quality content than what I provide on my website, like for example, the latest podcast episode that I enjoyed, without transforming it into a full-length article. Or it may be the other way around. I sometimes talk about the latest film I have watched at the cinema on Instagram, but as I don’t write film reviews on my website (my film writing is about content that one hardly finds anywhere else, such as fashion in film or interviews with artists working in the field), some of my readers will miss out, because most of my readers don’t follow me on the social networks.

That’s where the Culture Trip comes in. A regular round-up, not weekly, maybe not even monthly but most likely seasonally, where I gather and recommend the latest talks, films, music, interviews, books and cultural news that have caught my attention and have myself experienced in one way or another (not just put on my to-do list).

 
Elise Loehnen interviews Esther Wojcicki for Goop Podcast. Esther is a journalist, the founder of the Media Arts programs at Palo Alto High School, California, and the author of the book How to Raise Successful People. I know, there are so many books about parenting (I have read none) and every parent can come with their own list of advice on the subject, but the way Wojcicki talks about raising well-adjusted, independent children has hit all the right notes with me (her opinions are so sound and come from such a friendly place – she is a mother of three and an educator and she has developed such a beautiful relationship with her children and students) and also made me aware of mistakes I myself somehow knew I was making but unwillingly make nonetheless in raising my son. I can’t wait to read her book.

Dolor y gloria. I try to avoid reading film reviews. For not being even slightly influenced in my own writing about a certain film, and because critics so many times seem to judge a film based more on certain algorithms that must be checked rather than on their own emotions. So what do I do when I really want to learn more about a film or another? I look for interviews with the actors, directors, screenwriters, composers, costume designers, etc. So my recommendation for Pain and Glory, Almodóvar’s incredibly intimate, enveloped in such a quiet and ravishing beauty and enlivened by Antonio Banderas’ exceptional, career-best performance, is this: listen to Terry Gross’ podcast with Antonio Banderas and this talk with Pedro Almodóvar himself (scroll down to the episode). That laundry washing scene by the river that the director is talking about keeps coming to my mind, especially that, even if I am from a different country and from a different generation than Pedro, there are many similitudes between our cultures (both Latin) and that sequence took me down the memory lane of my childhood and stirred up so many emotions.

Ad Astra. Brad Pitt in his most subtle, understated performance. I’ve never seen him in such a role and I wish I saw more of this minimalist acting on screen in general. The film itself is minimalist, a sci-fi that is not showy, but meditative and realistic. Why is it that this kind of performances are always overlooked to the benefit of physically and mentally challenging or over-the-top characters? I wonder if Brad will get any nomination for his role and how many Joaquin Phoenix will get for Joker.

A new Editors album will be out October 25th and they are touring again next year in Europe. If you haven’t experienced a live Editors concert yet, you should. Here are their touring dates.

Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars, by Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth. After attending a Q&A with Ethan Hawke during a film festival a couple of years ago, I have started to pay even more attention to his work in film and elsewhere. So when this book came my way, I was eager to embrace it. Not only did I love the format, a graphic novel, but the rich cultural journey itself.

For TIME magazine, Suyin Haynes talks to Jessica Lange about “Highway 61”, the actor-photographer’s new book of photographs taken along the historic scenic route that runs the length of the American Midwest connecting Minnesota with New Orleans. “The discipline of acting and the idea of being present has helped with the photography. The photography gives me a chance to be absolutely alone, and that’s been a wonderful kind of antidote to the confusion and the chaos of working on a movie or being in the theatre. One really informs the other,” Lange says in the interview. Highway 61 is out now.

Permanent Record, by Edward Snowden. I will soon write more about the book, but, for now, I am just so ravished by how we have let technology rule and ruin our lives that I have to take a step back to straighten out my thoughts after everything I’ve read. The discussion is endless, and complicated, and disturbing, and terrifying. And it is still very hard for me to accept that no one in this whole wide world is completely free anymore. And if you tell me that you don’t care about your privacy because you have nothing to hide, then you don’t value privacy or you don’t know the meaning of and the right to privacy, nor the meaning of and the right to freedom.

Posted by classiq in Books, Film, Sounds & Crafts | | 2 Comments

He Wore Black

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, 1969 | Campanile Productions,
George Roy Hill-Paul Monash Production, Newman-Foreman Company, Twenties Century Fox

 
 
Henry Fonda gone bad, one of cinema’s most memorable endings with two of the greatest outlaws on screen fading into a photographic memory, and Montgomery Clift bringing in a new type of manly ideal and rivaling the man who was no less than the epitome of American manhood. These are the anti-heroes from three of the westerns that challenged the romantic notion of the West and brought in a new Western character archetype. They all wore black.
 

Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in “Once Upon a Time in the West”, 1968
Rafran Cinematografica, San Marco, Paramount Pictures

 
 
“Jesus Christ, that’s Henry Fonda!”

When Henry Fonda reveals his face in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), a big American movie cliché was capsized. Fonda had thus far been associated with the family man, with the good guy, with the classic hero, with Wyatt Earp, and that’s what the audiences were expecting to see. But there is nothing good about his stone-faced, piercing blue-eyed Frank in Sergio Leone’s film, and that was one of my most satisfying experiences as a cinephile. Fonda declared that Leone had chosen him specifically “to heighten the anticipation of his character’s entrance,” as Ennio Morricone tells Alessandro de Rosa in the book Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words. “The viewers were supposed to see a strange figure stooping over the little boy paralyzed by fear. At that point, the camera would pan around the actor’s back and with a circular movement it would reveal his face.” Only then would the audience realize that was Henry Fonda.

The distorted electric guitar that introduced the theme of the character was used to further heighten that suspense. Sergio Leone was painstakingly attentive to the balance between music, noises and effects, and he stretched out to the limit the long and cautious silence that opens the film into an operatic crescendo, by filling it gradually with a different sound (from the wind, to a creaking mill, or a buzzing fly), and then slashing it with the guitar sound that was “intended to wound the audience’s ears like a blade the first time” they hear it. It was as shocking as the kid seeing his family killed and being himself killed thereafter. And as shocking as Henry Fonda playing the villain. Clad in black, his presence not only portends bad things to come, but represents death itself.

Sergio Leone wanted Once Upon a Time in the West (from a story by Bernardo Bertolucci, Dario Argento and Leone) to be his last western, and there is a sense of melancholy in the film, a film that is as much about a world vanishing in the face of rapacious civilization as it is about the end of a film era. The times were over, for the Wild West and for the Western, and even Fonda’s cold-blooded killer knows his times are over.
 

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in “Red River”, 1948
Monterey Productions, Charles K. Feldman Group, United Artists

 
 
Based on the story “The Chisholm Trail”, by Borden Chase, Howard Hawks’ Red River is about the nation’s first major cattle drive. Tom Dunson (John Wayne) takes the road with the scope of setting up his ranch in Texas and after the Civil War he leads his ten thousand cattle out of an impoverished Texas to the richer markets of Missouri. Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift) is his foster son who rebels against the tyrannical Dunson and steers the herd West by a safer route. The screen story however suffered major changes, the biggest of all being that, to Chase’s disapproval, Hawks did not let Dunson die in the end, averting an epic finale. I was disappointed, too, when I rewatched the film recently, because it is forced, a disruptive note in the narrative and a wrong ending to an otherwise great film. In a departure from his 1930s films, Hawks had started to go for happy endings, keeping alive the characters he liked, a move that undoubtedly had its commercial reasons. Both Wayne and especially Clift objected to the ending in Red River. By not allowing that emotional climax, Hawks questions the entire careful build-up of the character of Matt Garth and of the psychological story.

Red River is a quintessential American film not only because it is a story of perseverance and of pioneers, and because it has a bad (meaning forced happy) ending, but because it describes America through two opposing characters and two contrasting masculine presentations. There is Wayne on the one hand, who represents the old views and an unbridled manliness, ruthless, solitary, imperious, for whom the only things that count are his work and the road to be travelled. He was also the product of the Old Hollywood system. And there is Clift on the other hand, who represents the new views, more sensitive, vulnerable and tolerant, who ushered in another kind of hero and man, introducing a new kind of masculine beauty on screen and signaling the manly neurosis that would start with the 1950s and would reach far higher levels in the following decades. Furthermore, Clift was among the first actors who questioned and changed the power balance between actors and studio chiefs, playing a major role in breaking up the major studio system. He can rightfully be called an antihero.

John Wayne’s Dunson is a man who has lost the woman he loved because of a mistake that he made and now, more than ever before, he would stop at nothing to go through with his plans, free from other men’s laws and free to make his own law. “Because a man who has made a great mistake to get somewhere is not going to stop at small things,” Hawks explained, as noted in Todd McCarthy’s book “Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood”. This kind of character that is also played by a physically imposing man like John Wayne is difficult to overpower, especially by a “compact, refined-looking, five-foot-ten” kid, as Wayne described Montgomery Clift. Because it was not his acting abilities, which, although at his first major film role, he soon enough proved, and so naturally too, that were questionable, but how believable he would appear on screen as the rival of John Wayne. So Hawks guided Clift in a new direction, going for a subtle, pensively cool approach. In was all in the attitude.

The costumes helped, too. Howard Hawks was a director who payed a great deal of attention to the clothes of his characters. He gave the Red River actors, men and women, “Red River D” belt buckles made by a silverman in Nogales and based on the design Tom Dunson draws in the ground. He also wanted distinctive hats (including derby and stovepipe in addition to the regular cowboy hats) for the characters, “because he believed that this was the easiest way for audiences to recognize otherwise undifferentiated characters, such as the cowboys”. Hawks was so impressed by Montgomery Clift’s dedication to getting into his cowboy character that he gave him a weather-beaten hat Gary Cooper had given him. He also dressed Monty mostly in black to allow him to cut a stronger profile and make him believable alongside Wayne. And he was. If only Hawks had let him be until the end.
 

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, 1969
Campanile Productions, George Roy Hill-Paul Monash Production, Newman-Foreman Company, Twenties Century Fox

 
 
With the arrival of the 1960s and of films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (at its 50th anniversary this autumn), American cinema left behind the sharp morality of Old Hollywood films and especially classic Westerns and dared to deal with people as individuals and their rebellion against society and against the norm and introduced more ambiguous characters and the outlaws as antiheroes: Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford’s Sundance the Kid robbed banks for fun and they won the audiences over with their charisma. The teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was so magical that this kind of buddy chemistry has been attempted to replicate in vain ever since (the recent pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood came closer than anything before).

Bathed in cinematographer Conrad Hall’s sepia hues, George Roy Hill’s comically elegiac Western offers more visual interest than the two handsome, well-defined, contrasting characters, and more narrative substance than the good humoured situations and damned-fool heroics of its characters. It has to do with the depiction of real bonding and real friendship. Because despite common belief, that doesn’t come off that easily on screen or in real life. It also has to do, as Paul Newman was saying in a 1994 commentary on the film, with the way he and Redford gave each other space on screen, the way they gave each other the stage in turn. Paul Newman was the one who wanted Redford as his co-star (and George Roy Hill fought for him with the producers) and screenwriter William Goldman was recalling in an interview how everyone who hadn’t wanted Redford in the picture in the first place told Newman not to allow Redford to have so many close-ups. But Paul had no problem with that, because he always wanted to play opposite good actors, because only that way he could better himself. They both let each other have their moments and that’s true friendship and that’s chemistry and that showed in the film.

Edith Head was the costume designer, but the costumes for Redford and Newman were pulled out of stock at Universal and Western Costume Company. And truth be told, you never knew how much credit Head was due on any given film, as she often had no real design responsibilities and her real job was to make sure everyone was satisfied with the costumes and to sell the film to the press, often by making up stories from behind the scenes. She supposedly made one up from the set of The Sting, the second and, surprisingly, last film that brought Redford and Newman back together, four years later. As noted in the book “Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer”, by Jay Jorgensen, the two supposedly both wanted a blue shirt and blue tie that would bring out their eyes and Head alternated blue between them in each scene. I doubt that either Redford or Newman showed the slightest interest in outshining the other or playing up their star personae card in the detriment of their characters. And the reality is that only Redford wears blue in The Sting.

He doesn’t wear anything blue as Sundance the Kid. He repeatedly wears black instead although not entirely in those respective outfits. One of them is head-to-toe black (shirt, trousers, belt and boots), except for a brown corduroy jacket with black leather shirt-style collar. His hat is also black, and his clothes are for sure used for hinting at his dark side. Unlike the reckless and daredevil Butch, the leader of the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, an enthusiastic bank robber with a vision, Sundance is the golden boy with darkness within, quiet, ironic and cool, and the voice of reason. Their adventure does not end well, after all, but it is an ending that carries their memory in romantic legend.
 

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | Leave a comment

For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond


 
Let’s get this out of the way first: I am a long-time fan of the James Bond films. I can enjoy watching a Bond movie, even a bad one, for the thrill of an action movie that falls safely away from a blockbuster. I am okay with certain Bond movie clichés and stereotypes. But I have to admit that, as a cinephile, whenever a great new Bond movie arrives or just an interesting element of surprise occurs in the narrative, I rejoice. It happened with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the first disruption in the narrative tradition in the series that allowed 007 to function as a human being with fragile emotions. It happened again with the darker, grittier, less fun and less far-fetched Licence to Kill (1989), introducing a Bond (Timothy Dalton) that is tougher but also more realistic and humane. It happened once more with Casino Royale (2006), which went on to become my all-time favourite, again a different type of Bond film, with a story anchored in reality, and with a Bond who would once again be darker, sharper and edgier, but also more humane than the earlier Bonds, except for Timothy Dalton. And it happened with every Bond girl that went against the type, that is every Bond girl with her own past, future and present agenda.

For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond, edited by Lisa Funnell, and published by Columbia University Press, is an anthology of essays that offers a scholarly look at the representation of women in the Bond universe. It is not the first scholarly work about the women of James Bond, having been predated by cultural historian Robert A. Caplen‘s “Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond”, released in 2010, and which I have yet to read. The Funnell book offers several essays by multiple authors, who are analysing the roles played by Bond girls, Judi Dench’s “M” and Moneypenny throughout the years and in the life of 007. The result is less objective than I would have expected from an academic study and somewhat redundant, repetitive and condescendant to serve as an open and constructive discussion about female representation, complexity and evolution in the Bond franchise.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for non-archetypal female characters in Bond movies. After all, I have repeatedly written about female characters who have challenged the portrayal of the Bond girl as a one-dimensional lust object and/or collateral damage. They are the ones who have made a lasting impression, distinguishing themselves through a lot more than skin and looks – although they had the looks, too, alright. They are in a league of their own, rather a real match for Bond instead of helpless side-kicks: Eva Green in Casino Royale, Carey Lowell in Licence to Kill, Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only or Naomie Harris and her alt Bond girl in Skyfall – she may be the only one who has proven that she can capture Bond’s attention (and hold it) regardless of any hierarchy or sexual politics, which is why it is somehow hard to comprehend Lisa Funnell’s criticism on the treatment of women in Skyfall.

But, mind you, being a Bond fan, this is not to say that I disregard by any means all the other Bond girls who have populated the 007 movies and their influence. And I understand why, for some, Ursula Andress will always remain the epitome of the Bond girl. Especially that the Bond girl formulaic drivel is churned out just as frequently as the seduction game appears as a two-way street, with Bond girls being the hunters and 007 the prey just as much as the other way around. And especially that, if you look closer, there’s much more than what meets the eye to even the most typical of Bond girls. And the best argument comes from this very book. In her essay, “Designing Character: Costume, Bond Girls, and Negotiating Representation”, Andrea J. Severson makes an in-depth analysis of costume design and character for the first Bond film, Dr. No, and Ursula Andress’ archetypal Bond girl, Honey Rider, and for Casino Royale and Eva Green’s Bond girl of a new era, Vesper Lynd. Although the great rhetorical effectiveness of Vesper Lynd’s costumes has often been documented, by myself included, the apt study of Honey Rider, in relation to her costumes, is not only about the first writing I have come across so far that brings into discussion the complexity and duality of her clothes (famed bikini included, as it turns out that its connotations go beyond the mere male gaze and that it was specifically designed to mitigate a different kind of effect, too), but a fair-minded opinion that the book otherwise often times lacks.

“For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond” should be more of a conversation starter and less of an interpretation as fact. If, as a culture, we’d make it a practice to censor character behaviour in movies, as I was writing in my piece, Women in the World of Film, in The Artbo magazine, by trying to accommodate every opinion, by trying to be as tolerant as possible, by trying not to get anybody offended, we would not have any artistic diversity and freedom of expression, and we wouldn’t have movies that make us think and that ask for long-due social change either.

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

La Gomera: In Conversation with Costume Designer Dana Păpăruz

Rodica Lazăr as Magda in “La Gomera”, 2019 | 42 km Film

 

On a little island in the Canaries with very rocky terrain that in times past made communication very difficult in the absence of modern day technology, the locals invented a whistling language, a whistled version of Spanish, “El Silbo”, that is still being used today. That was the idea where Corneliu Porumboiu’s latest film originated. The island is called La Gomera. The film La Gomera (The Whistlers) is a neo-noir thriller with inflictions of black humour and it is indeed woven around El Silbo. In the true vein of classic noir, the film portrays a post-crisis period, with morally ambiguous characters, especially the main male character, Cristi, played by Vlad Ivanov, a corrupt cop – alienated from society, on the edge of moral conduct and law, flawed yet human, charting a course through a disillusioned life and towards a doomed fate he seems to have no control over. Cristi is schooled in this whistled language on the island in order to get a crooked businessman out of prison and this initiation becomes a crucial part in his journey.

The time of day is appropriately night, because the day always seems to vanish rapidly like the cigarettes the characters are incessantly smoking, the idyllic island gradually turns into a dark and chilly place, the meandering scenario only thickens as the plot advances, everybody is making you doubt them. It is a life and death world. But Corneliu Porumboiu’s world is a highly stylized world, skillfully constructed, blending reality and imagination, a clear and intentional departure from the realism of the Romanian New Wave and taking a new and fresh direction. It is also an homage brought to cinema in general and to classic cinema in particular, with Hitchcock, Jean-Pierre Melville and western film references throughout the entire story. Ultimately, it is a beautiful piece of cinema and a visually complex film where every camera movement, every frame, every use of colour, every piece of clothing, every dim light counts.

In my interview costume designer Dana Păpăruz, we talk colour, costume and visual storytelling. Dana reveals the collaborative visual work for the film, how she used colour to establish the character of the femme fatale, the Greta Garbo influence and what part Picasso’s blue period played in the movie.
 

Catrinel Marlon (Gilda) and Vlad Ivanov (Cristi) in “La Gomera”, 2019 | 42 km Film

 

We first see Gilda, Catrinel Marlon’s character, in the present day, on the island of La Gomera, but we are properly introduced to her in a flashback, immediately following. In both sequences she is wearing a red dress. In the flashback, when she is in Bucharest, she is wearing a blue/grey trench coat first, blending in with the grey surroundings of the cold city, but then she takes it off and appears in the red dress (different than the one she wears on the island). Was the colour of the dress important to establish her as a femme fatale?

I will start by trying to explain what this project was based on, not just what I, as costume designer, wanted to achieve in this film. First, I would like to say that the entire film was well thought out and tightly controlled from a visual point of view. All the persons in charge of the different visual departments met, talked, made suggestions and eventually came to conclusions. And I am not only talking about Corneliu Porumboiu, the director, and about Mircea Tudor, the cinematographer, but also about the production designer, the costume designer, the light engineer, the make-up artist. Arantxa Etcheverria, the artistic director, was the one who came up with the idea of dividing the film in chapters, with each chapter revolving around one of the colours of the rainbow. So, apart from the fact that each chapter is introduced through one colour, that same colour is used in the respective chapter in different subtle ways to build up the plot, to attract the attention to certain things. La Gomera was one of the few projects in the present day (a complete surprise for me as well, this kind of approach for a Romanian film) where the crew had this desire to work together in order to create a unitary product, stylistically and chromatically.

We all met in the first part of pre-production, we made camera, lighting, filter tests and every other possible test that could influence the image of the film, all sorts of camera movements along with changes in lighting setting or the actors’ placement. We came with suggestions regarding materials, textures and colour combinations… in short, we thought just about every scenario that could occur during filming in different situations or locations, that is to say our future space for play and creation.

So the first chapter, named Gilda, is red, representing the first colour from ROYGBIV (or ROY G. BIV). And what colour would have been better for Gilda than red, a colour loved by a femme fatale, a character played so naturally by Catrinel, if I may say so? Of course, red is used in other ways, too, not just in Gilda’s dresses. The sofa in Cristi’s living room where Gilda takes a seat is also red, as a coincidence filled with humour, irony and as a confirmation of the fact that what is supposed to happen, will happen. Nothing looks pleonastic in the sequence where the two splashes of red meet, but rather slightly surreal, otherworldly, just like the feeling I had on the island. The grey of the city and its ugly parts were faded out by these chromatic ideas which were able to create a new reality where the spectator is transported to for one hour and a half. The time of day for filming was also important, that’s why a lot of the exteriors were filmed at night, so that the lights could play their own part.

I am glad you mentioned the grey city, because there is indeed something different that I noticed about the Bucharest depicted in this film. In many contemporary Romanian movies, Bucharest seems to be a character in itself, and it’s somehow become a repetitive image. What I loved about La Gomera, is that the world it depicts is a fabricated, highly-stylized world, a world that skillfully blends reality and imagination, leaving behind the realism of the Romanian New Wave and taking a new direction. What was the general feeling working on the project?

Trying to steer away from the harsh reality, the sadness, the depression, the ugliness that surrounds us in this grey city does not mean you can not create emotions; it’s just that these emotions are an intentional departure from this realistic new wave. Therefore, I had specific discussions with Corneliu Porumboiu on the subject, as he expressed this clear intention of trying to avoid the depiction of this crude reality by choosing to film at night most of the time and by making use of different types of lighting and thus creating a more plastic and optimistic setting and atmosphere of the movie.

So the general feeling was one of freshness and new, without challenging the principles of style too much just for the sake of showing off or of being different. Everything makes sense from the visual point of view and I believe this should be the guide line with every project. And I don’t think this costs more money, at least not as far as the costumes are concerned. Bad costumes can cost just as much as well made/chosen costumes.

So we have chapters and specific colours – I actually realised this halfway through the film when I watched it the first time and then paid proper attention when I watched it again. The colour is sometimes used to define the character through costume, like in the case of Gilda, or to advance the plot in some other way, like the yellow bag in the third chapter (the colour yellow also appears in the motel), or the violet tulips in the Magda chapter (Magda’s shirt is also violet). And, from what I understand, not everything was in the script, it was a work in progress.

The colour was definitely not meant just to shape the characters. Part of what we initially thought out didn’t make it in the editing room, but a big part of the concept is still in the film and it helps guide the viewer through the narrative… The yellow bag with money from Zolt, the Chinese woman’s yellow bag, the tulips and the shirt, Magda’s top at the end, but others, too, like the violet medical uniforms worn by the Spaniards in the hospital, as well as the shirts worn on La Gomera by Paco, Cristi or Kiko. Some of the chromatic elements I think of right now unfortunately don’t appear in the final cut, so their mentioning would only cause confusion. I somehow find it hard to straighten out the sequences at the moment, more than one year since the filming ended, because each detail was treated with the same importance, the ones that made the cut and the ones that didn’t. I think I should watch the film again at least once.
 

Catrinel Marlon in “La Gomera”, 2019 | 42 km Film

 

Did you come up with the idea of the yellow bag? I have to admit that sometimes I tend to read too much into details and costumes, which is maybe why it made me think of Hitchcock’s Marnie and Tippi Hedren’s yellow bag as she walks on the platform in the train station (the sequence in La Gomera also takes place at the station). Was this, by any chance, another cinematic reference from the part of Corneliu Porumboiu, as in the case of the motel?

The idea of the yellow bag belonged to the set designer, but I came up with the idea of the yellow bag and of the yellow details in the Chinese woman’s scarf. Anyway, I don’t think it would be fair to say a certain idea belonged to someone in particular, because it really was a collaborative effort to bring subtle contributions to each chapter and its chromatic.

And, yes, Hitchcock was one of Corneliu’s influences, not necessary a film in particular, but rather the atmosphere, a feeling, the suspense. There were nonetheless certain characters who were built with Hitchcock’s characters in mind. For example, Istvan Teglas’ character (the manager of the motel), who had as inspiration Anthony Perkins in Psycho; or the character who is monitoring the recording cameras in Cristi’s home – this is a Hitchcock reference too. Even from a stylistic point of view, Corneliu wanted the characters to transcend time, he wanted to go back to the classic style and streamlined aesthetic of the 1950s. Along with Hitchcock’s films, classic westerns were another reference; it is a western that is playing at the cinema where Cristi meets Magda, and the place where Zolt and the Spanish gang are caught and killed is also a western set.

The sequences with Istvan Teglas and with the policeman who is watching the recording cameras from Cristi’s home (and it’s incredible how those scenes, confined to that little space and with only this character in close-up keep your attention up) are so well thought out and I love it that there’s a trait of humour in them, just as it was in all Hitchcock’s films. But the film’s unified, visually distinctive look (a clear collaborative work of all the artistic directors, as you said) also reminded me of the films of Tarantino and Almodóvar. You also mention the westerns, and I wanted to bring this into discussion, too. Cristi invites Magda to the cinema to try to cut a deal with her and there is a John Wayne movie playing. And it’s not just any cinema, but Eforie, about the only remaining cinema in Bucharest that still projects classic films and world cinema movies. Did Corneliu want to tell us something by that? The film is like a love letter to cinema from the director.

That’s right, with the two western scenes inserted in our film (the western with John Wayne, but also the Sergiu Nicolaescu film they watch at the Ana Aslan sanatorium), Corneliu pays homage to both the classic western and the Romanian classic cinema. There is a trait of humour in that, too, and subtle irony. For the sake of these films and for all those who love film, I hope the closed cinema theaters will be reopened.

Corneliu Porumboiu is undoubtedly a director who pays great attention to every detail. Do you usually talk about the costumes with a director or is it more a conversation about characters and their evolution?

As I have tried to stress out, my collaboration with Corneliu was not merely a presentation of his ideas and my execution of those ideas, but a collaborative work in the true sense of the word, the way it should be on every film, no matter how small, or regardless of budget. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen every time, it also depends on each director’s sensibility, on his/her visual training, but also on their willingness to devote time, attention and energy to every single detail that goes into the making of a film. For some directors, it’s only the relationship with the actors and their working on the script that matters, for others, as was in our happy case, everything mattered. After all, any screenplay is just a pretext for creating an imaginary world in the viewer’s mind. Everything that surrounds this text, this script, makes the film whole, because what looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily translate well on screen. Maybe I am too exigent, but that’s what I think. Working in cinema is hard enough and I wouldn’t want to belittle it by making do with creating a few costumes, doing a little shopping and a couple of fittings. Only when the spectator notices these elements which you have also observed and starts asking questions, only then the film becomes a creation. La Gomera was a great gift for me form this point of view and I would repeat the experience any time.
 

Rodica Lazăr in “La Gomera”, 2019 | 42 km Film

 

Magda (Rodica Lazăr) is a prosecutor. Her clothes are sharp, buttoned up, menswear inspired, she is always impeccably dressed, fit for the job. There seems to be no double-talk about her character. Is that what her clothes suggest?

Even Magda was inspired by an iconic figure of classic cinema. The character, but also Rodica Lazăr‘s presence, reminds of Greta Garbo, and by that I am referring to Garbo’s characters or the moments when she wore her well known avandgarde 1930s looks, menswear inspired, but very feminine nonetheless, and elegant, she seemed unattainable somehow, and that was due to both her acting and her costumes. So the wide-legged and high-waisted trousers, the short-waisted and body-hugging blazers and the buttoned-up shirts, the trench coats and classic coats fit Magda like a glove. Not only style-wise, but revealing a clear trait of the “incorruptible prosecutor” character who can not be fooled by appearances. Everything is straight about her look, serving its purpose, but never affecting her femininity.

Did you watch any Greta Garbo films to prepare for this character? Or any other films as research? I have read that Corneliu Porumboiu watched and re-watched many classic noir films when he was working on the script.

Yes, I had a long list of noir films I had to watch for research; I partially managed to watch them in the short period of time that I had, or at least parts of these films or archive footage. Regarding Magda’s look inspired by Greta Garbo, I think that was my idea, as a result of constantly looking for proper references for this character, the beautiful prosecutor. She too is a character enveloped in mystery, difficult to be placed in time.

We come to the third female character in Cristi’s life, his mother. Julieta Szönyi, who is known for the classic Romanian films Toate pânzele sus (All Sails Up) and Felix and Otilia, plays her. She is a woman of a certain social status and her clothes and poise show it. What exactly did you want to reveal about her past through her look?

The character Mama, played by Julieta Szönyi, for sure is a character with a past. She doesn’t give the impression of having been either poor in her youth, or without a well established status before the revolution, and she certainly was a very beautiful woman, she still is. She is elegant, she is wearing discrete but valuable jewellery, I would even say she looked a little eccentric in some sequences which unfortunately were left out, so I won’t get into these details. This is a character that required a lot of stylistic research through references and different fittings in order to be shaped the way she appears in the film.
 

Vlad Ivanov in “La Gomera”, 2019 | 42 km Film

 

Let’s talk a little about Cristi. He dresses inconspicuously, in simple, classic clothes, but they are fine clothes nonetheless, they are not a faithful representation of real-life policemen (there is an obvious difference between his clothes and his colleague’s, Alin’s, clothes). Yes, he may be higher in rank and towards the end of his career, but his look also alludes to improper ways of earning more money. His expressions are very subtle, too, his movement is minimal, his character evokes feelings of both escape and imprisonment from/in certain rules, system, society. He doesn’t seem to belong to either world, he is very detached, he seems resigned, and I see his clothes as an important sign in regard to this character attribute. How would you describe him?

Cristi also draws from these classic characters. Two sources of inspiration for him were Yul Brynner and the characters from Le cercle rouge. The same stylistic simplification was applied to his character. I have to admit that at the beginning of the project I found it difficult to resist the temptation of being too showy or of revealing too much with some details or characters, but I came to realise that sometimes less is more. And it was a joint effort, a team work, always searching, negotiating even, and eventually reaching the best decisions. I am not saying I wouldn’t change anything right now, I am saying that at that moment, in the little time we had, each one of us gave their best.

Yes, Cristi is clearly a different personality than Alin, a different age, a different generation, mentally and as to how liable he is of being corrupted, but he is also after all a man pushed to his limits. I think your description is very correct and that is also what we wanted to transmit through his costumes. But Vlad Ivanov was also asked to lose some weight for the role, so I tried to elongate his silhouette by using ton-sur-ton looks. Throughout the film, Cristi always wears navy shades, with very little exceptions, like his clothes on the island, where the overall look of some frames was asking for something different. You don’t really know what to make of this character, it is as if time has stood still for him, he is consciously detached from his clothes, as opposed to other characters.

Zolt, on the other hand, looks like a guy who pays attention to his clothes. That is the impression I got from his character. He wears muted, natural colours, too, but the image he projects is different (I recall the cardigan with a rich fabric), and he seems to have worked hard at his overall look in order to project a certain image. Am I wrong?
Zolt was another character that required much research, especially that his scenes didn’t require a large variety of clothes. He practically comes disguised when he first meets Cristi, then the next outfit (including the cardigan you mention) is the one he is wearing when he is caught and then taken to interrogation, then the clothes he wears when he is taken out of the hospital could have very well been given to him by those who kidnap him.

I have to admit I was very happy with the choice we made for Zolt’s arrest sequence, because, if you are paying close attention (and for those who have the knowledge), those frames, chromatically speaking, seem depicted from Picasso’s blue period paintings. All this preparation and work we did were also supported by the post-production colouring. We tried to solve most of the chromatic part during filming, everything was thought out as a whole, everything had to be in relation with the surroundings (characters, decor, plus lighting, filters, etc.), then the wonderful team in charge of colouring made the necessary improvements.
 

Julieta Szönyi as Mama in “La Gomera”, 2019 | 42 km Film

 

A costume designer’s job is to reinforce the story and help the actor form an identity of his/her character. But what exactly goes into the work of a costume designer today? How much ready-made shopping, how much vintage and how much making did the costumes in La Gomera involve? Did you also talk to the actors about their clothes?

I have talked in detail about their characters with some actors, with others unfortunately hardly at all, but that doesn’t mean the supporting characters were not invested in properly. I don’t think there is a rule, each project is different when it comes to making or finding the costumes. Yes, it is a combination of making, shopping, thousands of alterings and sourcing vintage objects. For Gilda, for example, half of her wardrobe was specifically created for the film, there were also a few other outfits that didn’t make it to the final cut, but which were necessary so that we had a larger variety we could choose from on the day of filming, to have freedom of choice. Practically, there is always a stock of costume, even if each costume is usually decided in advance when discussing each sequence. We are always on the lookout, always prepared to face unpredictable situations. And that is because sometimes changes occur to the script to the very last minute, or because of the weather, or even as a result of the on-going discussions we are having during filming.

Which were the costumes you specifically made for Gilda?

Most of the dresses were made: the two red dresses from the first chapter, but also the grey-blue coat, the green skirt and the yellow shirt dress she wears on the island in the sequence after the beach (the one with the red car), her navy dress from the end of the film, in Singapore – we also had an ivory version for this one, but decided not to use it because of the weather (it was raining, so the dress would have been too revealing). And there were a couple of other dresses which didn’t find their place eventually, but I don’t regret it, I think we made the right choice for every Gilda moment.

Often contemporary costume design does not get the attention it deserves and it is the historical, period or fantasy films that are considered more fascinating in a visual way and more challenging for a costume designer. You have done both. How do you feel about that?

If I were to choose what challenges me more, I wouldn’t know what to answer. If I were to say what I prefer, I would say period costume. But indeed I have done and will always do both. Because in this way you can be challenged in different ways and if I succeed to get the public’s attention with a contemporary project, then I find that even more valuable. In other words, both La Gomera and the HBO tv series Umbre (Shadows) have a special place in my heart.

Posted by classiq in Interviews, Style in film | | Leave a comment

Northern Light

Lessons in style and good living from Stockholm

Stockholm | photo: Classiq Journal

 

It was the end of March. Winter was casting its last streaks of biting cold and wind over Stockholm. It was probably not the best time of the year to make your acquaintance with the Swedish capital, especially if you were coming out of a few grueling dark months of winter in your own homeland. But it definitely was the best time to learn a thing or two about style and the quality of lifestyle – because, let’s face it, in summer, when the sun stays beaming in the sky well throughout the night, it’s easier to be absorbed by the Swedes’ effervescent celebration of summer and life and see only the best parts of it all. But if you want to get a real feel of the city and its people, bundle up and face the cold. You will be served a lesson in genuine style and good living. Just in time for the cold season we are entering.
 

Jantelagen. The law of Jante. It is a Swedish unwritten law of conduct that is carved in stone in the public awareness. It basically says “You are not better than anyone else”. Don’t brag, don’t show off, don’t pretend to something you are not. But don’t complain either. Just get to work and do it well. Understatement.

People don’t walk around looking at their phones all day long.

They have good reason to look up, too. There is beautiful and well-preserved architecture everywhere and there is a palpable sense of value, history and design.

People don’t look at their phones all the time when they are indoors either. They socialize, talk and take in the beautiful design they are surrounded with. And get creative about it. Many restaurants are redecorated from season to season. The Swedes breath design.

Children are treated respectfully as they should, as little people. They are encouraged to explore their surroundings with little interference from their parents, they are involved in their parents’ activities, whether it’s running in the park together, biking to school/work, setting out the table, or going out for fika.

Children spend a major part of their day, even in winter, outside – many parents put their babies to nap in the stroller outside even when the temperatures are below zero degrees Celsius. In the parks, you see moose, deer and wild rabbits. The playgrounds are very creative and many are themed around nature and are stocked with tricycles, balls, buckets and shovels.

One of the most beautiful children’s museum in the world, created around books, and numerous themed play centers around the city. The reading culture is amazing. Here is what a day at Junibacken looks like. And this reminds me of how important it is for children to see books around them from an early age and see you read even when you are not reading to them. When your child is playing by himself/herself, resist the urge to leave the room and resume your work or house chores. Don’t be lazy either, and, for God’s sake, don’t take out your phone (I trust your better judgement that you are even leaving the phone outside the room your child is in). Pick up a book and read. You are sending them a message and it will stick.

Men and women are equally involved in raising their children. They split everything, from child care, to running the household. They are a team.

There is no bad weather, just bad clothing. Consequently, there’s no need for you to be gloomy when it’s freezing cold outside. Embrace it!

Black, white, grey, beige, brown, blue. Just keep it simple, classic and timeless. Everyone dresses well in Stockholm. There are no people more stylish than the Swedes. Period.

People are fit. Exercise is something they are raised with. It’s in their genes. Everybody walks, bikes or takes the metro everywhere. Even in winter.

Mysig. It is rather hard to define in English, but it technically means “smiling from comfort,” or being cosy. Swedes even have a word for curling up indoors on a Friday night, fredagsmys, which literally means “Friday cosiness”. You light candles, cuddle under a blanket on the sofa and watch a movie. Making the best of a long dark Swedish winter evening spent indoors. It’s a tradition.

 

Djurgården, Stockholm | photos: Classiq Journal

 

Posted by classiq in Travel | | 4 Comments