The Nest: In Conversation with Costume Designer Matthew Price

Carrie Coon and Jude Law in “The Nest”, 2020 | Element Pictures, BBC Films, Elevation Pictures

 

What remains if people let go of their illusions, or delusions? In one of the best films of last year, Sean Durkin’s The Nest, Jude Law is Rory, a high-risk investment specialist who moves back to his native England from New York with his American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon, in a wonderfully paced performance), and their two children. We are in the 1980s. On the two sides of the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are in power and money is king. Obsessed with the idea of ​​erasing his popular origins and using his looks and charisma to conceal the despair underneath and unfulfilled dreams, Rory dreams and breaths speculation, imposing his false ascent and exasperated desire for financial, social, and as ostentatious as possible, success on the rich and his narcissistic needs and bruised ego on his family.

The family is starting to crumble in the chilly and majestic English countryside, unearthing simmering tensions inside the marriage. The dark, unsettling atmosphere creeping in makes you pay attention to things beneath the surface. Allison sees beneath the surface, too. Even before their transatlantic departure, Allison confides in her mother that “something is wrong”. This shift from narrative dominance on Allison’s side (as Rory is gradually losing control, fidgeting in all directions, she finds herself seemingly motionless, in constant process of trying to balance everything that’s happening and ultimately having the ascension) is one of the elements that make the film stand apart. Allison’s discomfort only grows deeper, nested in the austere mansion where Rory has settled them. In their Gothic confinement (“It’s too big for us,” Allison tells Rory when she first steps foot on the property), it is not the tormented spirit of a previous occupant that looms over. The threat is something much more human, driven by much too human motives, and therefore much more disquieting.

What ensues is a seizing psychological and haunting marital drama that is as cinematically powerful and beautifully tailored as it is bitingly poignant for these times. Because what I particularly appreciated about The Nest and made me completely immerse into it was that director Sean Durkin not only created a film, but created an entire world on film, so elegantly controlled, so skillfully staged with a sense of space and symbolism. In fact, artists of so many crafts wove the threads of the story that came alive on screen, the result of a very close collaboration of co-craftsmen.

In my interview with costume designer Matthew Price, we discuss Carrie Coon’s character and the defining role her clothes have on this journey we are taken on, digging into the subtle, timeless elements of 1980s fashion, the Italian sartorial influence for Jude Law’s Rory, and going to the movies, that unique experience of being individually wrapped in a story that is meant to be shared with others in the dark confinement of the movie theater.
 

Carrie Coon and Jude Law in “The Nest”, 2020 | Element Pictures, BBC Films, Elevation Pictures

 
 
For the party scene at Rory’s boss’s house, Allison is wearing a tuxedo. In fact, both Allison and Rory are wearing tuxedos. How did you decide on her costume in this particular sequence?

Sean, Carrie and I had discussed a powerful silhouette for this scene. The other female guests are wearing more conventional 1980s evening dresses in a variety of deeper rich tones. We liked the idea of Allison standing apart somewhat in a monochrome dinner jacket trouser suit. It aligns Allison’s character with the other male figures in the room, sartorially speaking.

The story is set in the 1980s, a decade of excess and power dressing, and yet what I liked about your costume approach is that Carrie’s costumes are very subtle, they have a timeless appeal. What was the inspiration behind Allison’s wardrobe?

One of the first conversations Sean and I had was about how timeless and naturalistic the wardrobes should feel. So I took the subtler parts of the period and dug deep into those elements. Jane Birkin was an inspiration for Allison’s wardrobe. The ability to look effortlessly cool, practical, a bit tomboy yet graceful and when an occasion calls, confidently chic.

This is the perfect definition of the character, because what I thought when I saw her in a tuxedo was that, as it always is the case with women wearing le smoking, it makes her that much more appealing. She looks very attractive, not just because she is, but also because the occasion calls for a certain dress code and she chooses to do it on her own terms.

Exactly. In the same breath, she’s as comfortable mucking out the horses as she is at a more formal event.

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 “The Nest” involve?

It all starts with the scripts and research period which is such an exciting time. Usually when I read a script I’ll go directly to my reference photography books, as a character might remind me of an image or photographer’s work. I’ve always based my process in photography and a certain realism that I’m attracted too. The psychology of clothing has always fascinated me. Why people wear what they do. How they wear it, who are they trying to impress, the list goes on.

As far as The Nest is concerned, the research was again based in old photography. Quite often, archive pictures of real families from the period. This is just the start process though. Then it’s into collaborating with the director, actors, producers and other heads of departments. All of the formal wear for Rory and Allison was made and the rest was a mix of vintage buys and costume house hires here in the UK and Canada. The fitting process can sometimes change the direction from where you started. For this project, we ended up very near the initial costume boards. I wanted to create a large contrast between the lived-in everyday clothing v the crisper formal tailoring.

Do you always have a strong design base and costume boards to keep referring to and to keep the costumes true?

Yes, I like to go back to the boards to make sure it feels authentic. Of course the boards are just a starting point, but I think it’s important to be open and be surprised with discoveries along the way.

Allison is a horse trainer and her casual clothes are, first of all, a reflection of her profession and way of living. But she is also the one who keeps Rory grounded and I think her practical, lived-in clothes show that as well.

Yes, I’d agree with that. There’s an earthiness and warmth to her wardrobe that acts as a disparity to other themes in the film. Ultimately, I wanted Allison to feel real and truthful for her character. Her wardrobe has a chameleon element to it.
 

Jude Law in “The Nest”, 2020 | Element Pictures, BBC Films, Elevation Pictures

 
 
For Jude Law’s Rory, on the other hand, clothes are much more important, from a material point of view, because he wants to project a certain image. How did you approach this character?

I’ve always been a fan of the Soho tailor Mark Powell. He’d cut suits for the likes of Ronnie Cray and Bryan Ferry in the 80s, and I love what he made for Paul Bettany in Gangster no 1. I collaborated with Mark in creating Rory’s suits. I wanted a more Italian cut to contrast the Britishness of the office workers. Mark brings a wealth of experience and talent and knew people like Rory from that period. I wanted Rory’s suits to feel nostalgic but have a modern feel. They’re bang on for the period, but could be worn today without batting an eyelid.

Do you believe that costumes not only relate to the characters who wear them, but also to the modern audiences who watch them?

Absolutely, but as long as we’re been honest to the character and storytelling. I think with The Nest there’s a certain timeless feel as we’ve discussed, but I’d hope the clothes feel meaningful and thought-provoking. With the popularity of vintage clothing, there’s now also a market for modern brands to be influenced from shapes within high end tv & film.

Are the directors usually a big part of the costume process or is it more a conversation about characters and their evolution?

Huge. The best results are always a true collaboration with the director. Sean was very trusting of my approach and nothing went on screen without us both being on the same page. There was a fluidity to working with Sean. Dialogues were always open and we kept discussing ideas, combinations and even changing small things on the day.

Was there anything in particular you felt you needed to insist on because you felt it was important for defining a certain character?

I wouldn’t say insist as such, but I’d always imagined a backless dress for the Allison club scene. Something inspired by the liberation of the 1920s but with an 80s cut. Something strong that showed off-shoulder blades and vertebrae.
 

Carrie Coon in “The Nest”, 2020 | Element Pictures, BBC Films, Elevation Pictures

 
 
I found The Nest a very harmonious film, visually speaking. It’s one of those films that have a certain style, a mood, doing a great job at creating a certain world. Photography, costume, production design came together beautifully. How does that work?

It’s felt very much an alliance from the start. When I initially fitted Jude, Matyas Erdely (DOP) had set up his camera just outside the fitting space. So we literally tested looks and colours straight off the bat in camera. James Price (production designer) and Emma Scott (hair/make up designer) were always open and inclusive. I’d say we all had a natural regard for each other’s work and to simply do Sean’s script justice. It was honestly one of the most enjoyable processes I’ve been through. Also a lot of fun with good people! Can’t ask for much more.

The remark above is also a way of saying that I wish I saw The Nest on the big screen. What does the movie theater experience mean to you? Why do movies still need cinemas?

It’s a unique sensory experience. When I first came to study in London, in the mid 90s, I used to get up and go to the morning viewings. It was my favourite part of the day. I think they started around 11am and I’d be by myself and a smattering of others. I’ve never lost that buzz of being immersed in a cinema. I don’t think you can replicate that at home, and I’m sure once things open up, people will still crave that. Movies are designed to be seen on the larger screen for many reasons, that’s their Nest.
 
 

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Bonnie Lee and the leather jacket flying men in Only Angels Have Wings

Interview with photographer Laura Wilson

Jacques Demy in black and white & his quiet heroines

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

Identity as an Illusion: Alain Delon in Mr. Klein

Alain Delon in “Mr. Klein”, 1976. Lira Films, Adel Productions, Nova Films


 
Monsieur Klein is an art dealer living on the Left Bank in Paris, on Rue de Bac. Played by Alain Delon, with his good looks, refined clothes, stern haircut and minimal mimic, he looks at ease and undisturbed in his generous apartment, lavishly decorated in rich colours and trimmed with paintings. Dressed in a luxurious striped dressing gown, he remains cool and calculated as he casually makes deals with the Jewish people who are desperate to sell their valuables and cash in so that they can leave the Nazi-occupied country. He’s in it for the money. Emotions don’t belong here.

Alain Delon had already proven how good he could play the completely detached, hardly betraying an emotion, type of character almost ten years earlier, in his sublime portrayal of Pierre Melville’s killer-for-hire Jef Costello, in Le Samouraï, where Delon’s exceptional good looks and impeccable look met Melville’s idea of the gangster as an image. Clothes make the man in Le Samouraï. Jef Costello recedes in the safety of his trench coat. It’s his armour. Together with the tilted downward hat, the trench is also part of what has come to define the protagonist of films noir. But he’s a different kind of noir anti-hero. He’s Melville’s noir anti-hero. Like a samourai, Jef Costello abides by a code of conduct and leads a solitary existence. His dressing is like a ritual, systematically putting on his hat and coat before going out to get a job done. Delon is dressed with the finest precision, yet he seems completely unaware of his appearance. Everything is simple, stark, clean-cut, primordial to his lifestyle. His clothes are more than part of his image, they are part of his profession. He lives and kills alone.

There is something of Jef Costello in Robert Klein. In his sharp suits, double-breasted tailored coats, pristine fedoras, carefully slipped-on leather gloves and calculated mannerisms, there is not much the perfectly groomed and perfectly dressed Mr. Klein leaves to chance in Joseph Losey’s film. When asked about the character of Robert Klein and whether other actors could have played him, Samuel Blumenfeld, film critic at Le Figaro, said in Cinématographe magazine: “Yes, there may be other actors. But what is certain is that this profile of an art dealer under the Occupation buying at a low price the paintings of French Jews at bay – the anti-hero par excellence – fits perfectly with this atypical and unpredictable actor”.

Charles Dantzig concurred: “To embody this character, Losey chose the most flamboyant physique, the most singular of French post-war cinema, the only physique that is impossible to forget. (…) It is Alain Delon who plays Monsieur Klein, Delon was the only French actor to have the properties to embody this character…”
 

Alain Delon in “Mr. Klein”, 1976. Lira Films, Adel Productions, Nova Films


 
But what is different with this character, as compared to Pierre Melville’s anti-hero, is that he is fully aware of his appearance and he’s working hard, albeit immoral, to maintain it. He is a man very sure of himself. And yet the biggest difference is that, this time, we slowly get to see inside the armour. We get to see behind the appearance. What happens when you are not sure of your identity anymore, when confidence gives way to confusion, vulnerability and fear, none of which you can control?

When a Jewish newspaper addressed to him by name lands outside his door, Robert Klein starts to investigate the circumstances that could have led to this mistake. At first, he does it out of curiosity. It’s a curiosity coming from instinct but also from a place of privilege – he is so sure of himself and of his good life that this identity chasing is more of a game for him. “What strikes me after seeing the film again,” Charles Dantzig continued, “is Delon’s hairstyle, we made him a little boy’s lock, first communion with a parting on the side. It accentuates the fact that Robert Klein is curious as a child. He is a child. He seeks to know things, not for a question of identity or a question of danger, but really out of curiosity.” But curiosity is soon taken over by obsession, an obsession of figuring out why this has happened. The more he investigates, the more suspicious he himself becomes. Suddenly, he becomes fully aware of the world outside, which is a completely different world than the comfortable yet disillusioned reality he has been living. His reality becomes a desperate world, too, a world where he can not be sure of anything anymore, where everything can turn out to be an illusion, where he doubts his own identity.

This psychological deconstruction is not reflected in his exterior appearance. His clothes remain intact, and that’s the unnerving part. It’s the look on his face and the look in his eyes – there are only glimpses of it, but his self-assured and dry smile first turns into confusion then into desperation and the change is so sudden that it cuts through his expression like a sword – that give away his frail identity, followed by his descending into hell.
 

Alain Delon in “Mr. Klein”, 1976. Lira Films, Adel Productions, Nova Films

Alain Delon in “Mr. Klein”, 1976. Lira Films, Adel Productions, Nova Films

Alain Delon in “Mr. Klein”, 1976. Lira Films, Adel Productions, Nova Films

Alain Delon in “Mr. Klein”, 1976. Lira Films, Adel Productions, Nova Films


 

editorial sources: franceculture.fr / “Melville on Melville”, by Rui Nogueira / interviews with Rui Nogueira and Ginette Vincendeau, author of “Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris” featuring on the Le samouraï Blu-ray edition released by The Criterion Collection

 
 

MORE STORIES

Clothes and Characters in the Films of Jean-Pierre Melville

“Victor Victoria” and Women in Tuxedo on Film

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

 

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

The Culture Trip: January Newsletter

Left: “The silence between the years”, Classiq Journal Editions, photographic print available in original landscape size in the shop
Right: “A motion-picture Star was the most important commodity any studio could claim.”
(Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake)

 
 
I tried to inhale a good number of books and films towards the end of the year. I struggled with the films more than with the books. And, as it happens, in the absence of cinemas, the number of films I have watched online has gone considerably down. On top of that, after I tried to watch a few 2020 films that everyone was telling me I should see and didn’t like them, I just gave up. I returned to my archive shelves and plunged into watching movies nobody talks about on social media. What a great feeling.

I have been searching for a coverage from the beginning of the Sundance Film Festival, which has been held in January since 1979 and which this year will be a virtual event, because I feel I have to go that far back to recapture the movie experience as it should be. I settled on Roger Ebert’s piece from 1981, Declarations of Independence: Before Sundance Was Sundance. “What I came away with, after the week, was a genuine sense of challenge and exhilaration. I’d just finished plowing through the commercial Hollywood movies of 1980­ – the dreariest year in recent history for big movies. I’d survived the routine of the year-end “Best 10” lists, with all of their re­minders of how few good films there had been all year long. But now, in the darkness of a cozy little three-screen theater in Park City’s only shopping center, I was remembering how much fun the movies could be, and how easily they could open me up to new experiences and insights. There hadn’t been a week since the Cannes film Festival of… no, not 1980, but 1979… when I’d seen so many interesting movies.”

I was reading in Ian Buruma’s Tokyo Romance (his autobiographical book recounting his formative years spent in Tokyo between 1975 and 1981) that “Mishima once wrote, in an introduction to a book of photographs” that “late nineteenth century Japan had become ashamed of its popular culture, afraid that Westerners would be shocked by its earthiness”. This mention comes after Buruma writes that when he was a film student at the Nichidai art school (before deciding that his cinema education was not best served there and therefore he went on spending much of his time in the cinema, at the National Film Center in Kyobashi, which became his film school), Japan was a photographer’s dream. “Before photography entered the artistic mainstream everywhere, photographers were celebrated figures in Japan whose shows at major galleries were mobbed by crowds of enthusiasts.”

I often get the feeling that the abundance of images, as good and as profound as some of these may be, we see every day washes away any trace of earthiness from photography. It’s become hard to even imagine that feeling of seeing something special, seeing it in a designated space, the result of a truly intentional action not just because it happens to come up completely randomly, or worse, based on algorithms, on your Instagram feed. Arresting, this is a word that should be carefully considered nowadays. I still believe that sound visual knowledge comes from movies, magazines, exhibitions, books, from seeing with your own eyes, from searching your own truths. I still believe that, even today, restraint is something an artist should practice more. It’s about the abundance of less. Being sparing with sharing photos, for example, that’s what I would like to see, each one curated as a visual story, as if it’s being prepared to be part of an exhibition. This of course doesn’t mean it must fall into certain parameters, to be perfectly composed or aesthetically pleasing to conform with a certain style. It just means that you have to be present, to sit with your feelings, to take your time, to reach this way of seeing that often implies being alone, immersed in the act of seeing, of observing, it’s something very personal, of discovering or understanding something about the world or yourself, or just paying attention, without distractions. And, with that, comes the feeling of a real world that is still happening out there.

Do you still have friends who are not on social media at all? I do. They always offer the freshest perspective on every possible topic. They are not on social media, but they are the most read, most knowledgeable, most visually receptive, most travelled, sharpest observers, most authentic and exuberant people. They take their time and take good care their thoughts. How about that for feeling liberated?

In his “critical appreciation of the world’s finest actor”, The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, Robert Schnakenberg reaffirms something everyone who loves Lost in Translation knows, that Bill Murray’s portrayal of Bob Harris has only grown in stature in time, and one of the reasons for that is the enduring mystery of the ending. Everyone has been asking what he whispers into the ear of Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte, but nobody really wants to know. I would be devastated if they ever decided to divulge those last lines. “Kurosawa hated being asked about the meaning of his films,” Ian Buruma writes in his recollection of his meetings with the director.
 

Left: Photo by Classiq Journal | Right: Robert Redford by John Dominis for Life magazine, at his home in Utah, 1969

 
 
The Classiq Journal newsletter goes out every month. It’s a culture trip.

Reading

Books

Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake* had been out-of-print, rare and sought-after for many decades, and was reissued this year by Dean Street Press. It is a good memoir. Veronica Lake was a star, “professionally conceived through Hollywood’s search for box office”, but she didn’t play the Hollywood game very much, she said what she thought and she certainly resented that her box office climbing came with her giving up “something in return. I had obliterated any inroads I’d made as an actress in Sullivan’s Travels. I was right back in the low-cut gowns and wearing the sexy hair.” Her book is not pretentious. It gives you a little taste of fame, more bitter than sweet, and a lot more taste of real life, with spurs to success, sour disappointments, limelight moments, gritty reality checks. It’s less of a pretty sight of Hollywood and more of a slice of hard-earned and hard-lived life. She doesn’t pretend to be someone she’s not and I wish all the adepts of the celebrity culture that’s riding so high right now could see behind the glitter. Veronica Lake tells her life simply, with no flourishes and no lingering over her successful Hollywood years, but her satirical touch enriches it beautifully. “They gave me a job wrapping packages, a dull routine except for the little bell I had at my disposal. I could ring it – ding-ding – and a teenage runner would appear to run errands for me. He would get me more wrapping paper or twine or Christmas stickers and the like. I was drunk with power.” I thought of Sullivan’s Travels when I read this, how good a comedienne she was.

Virginie Mouzat’s book, Ça va, cher Karl?, that she wrote for and with Sebastian Jondeau, the personal assistant to Karl Lagerfeld for 20 years, comes out this January. One of the best fashion journalists (she was fashion editor at Le Figaro and fashion and lifestyle editor at French Vanity Fair), Virginie Mouzat is also a writer, having written Une femme sans qualités (2009), La vie adulte (2010), Et devant moi la liberté: Journal imaginaire de Charlotte Perriand (2019). After her first two books, she said in an interview that “people in fashion don’t read my books, because people in fashion don’t read… Instead of becoming some sort of outcast because of the novels, I tried to turn them into tool for more freedom and richness. I tried to give my job more width.” About her new book, she wrote on her Instagram: “A rough and magic ride, from the 95 suburbs to the super luxurious Quai Voltaire, a story of fight, love, admiration and resilience.”
 
 

”He didn’t stay long. When he left, I wanted to run after him,
hold on to him and let him take me back to those days when
I truly meant something to someone. The whole thing, as brief
as it was, touched me deeply. But it was also frightening, that
momentarily slip backwards, too dangerous to dwell on.”

Veronica Lake in Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake

 
 
I have mentioned Ian Buruma’s A Tokyo Romance earlier. My fascination with the Japanese culture was kindled and fueled by the films of Kurosawa (my Toshiro Mifune 100 by Tony Stella is waiting to be framed as I am writing this), Ozu and Mizoguchi. Reading Ian Buruma’s book added to my knowledge about Japan in a very sensible way, especially that, or precisely because, he was an outsider living there, but one fully immersed in the Japanese culture and counterculture of the times. I have the same feeling when I read Craig Mod’s writings about Japan. And I couldn’t help rooting even deeper when he wrote: “What the movies made by Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Naruse, and many other lesser known directors had in common was an emotional realism. They approached the darker human impulses, sexual, social, spiritual, with a rare honesty less often seen in European or American films, this was not just the result of a lucky confluence of cinematic geniuses. Japanese audiences played an important role too. They were receptive to emotional realism.”

Online

One of my favourite things to read over the holidays was Harper Lee’s short story. How faith in someone can change their life.

I equally enjoyed Geoff Dyer’s essay. It’s about our relationship with books and a Christmas miracle. I had previously read But Beautiful, a book about jazz that has truly stayed with me. Geoff Dyer writes beautifully in such a way that you can not tell where the reality ends and where the fiction begins. Because he takes real facts, and quotes, and photos (how uniquely he reads jazz photos), and, most importantly, the way he hears the music, and he composes his own images and dialogue of scenes from the lives of the jazz musicians he writes about. They appear not as they were, but as he saw them, as the author himself reveals. That’s the beauty of his creative non-fiction.

Remembering Pierre Cardin, who passed away at the end of December, and his beautiful contribution to film costume design. He dressed Jeanne Moreau in Jacques Demy’s sublime Bay of Angels 1963 (he also dressed her in Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black): “But her personality isn’t laid bare, she is an enigma, she has an electric unpredictability, there is something not quite real about her. Her appearance, from her Marilyn Monroe hair and make-up and gestures, to the impeccable elegance, is clearly a creation of her artist’s imagination. But the beauty of this character is that she believes in who she is, she believes in walking on sand in high heels, and we believe it too.”

“For me, entering into a movie theatre is an unconscious experience. It’s about abandoning yourself to the vastness of the place in community with other people. What makes it special is a mixture of the individual feeling of immersion but also the beautiful sense of sharing. It’s really something unmatched. […] We need a Marshall plan for cinemas. I urge whoever has that power to do that. It is not banal. It is a huge worldwide industry that has to come back and become stronger. Also, help us filmmakers to make great films – not just bankable films – to be seen on the big screen. I am worried about the future of cinemas in Italy and everywhere. We need to become a united group and fight and make every kind of possible positive lobbying to make sure that help can be given to the system of the moviegoing experience. Luca Guadagnino, talking for Sight & Sound, as part of their #MyDreamPalace campaign, where filmmakers talk about what going to the movies means to them. Six months ago I was talking to filmmakers why movies still need cinemas right here in the journal.

The interview
After collaborating on the launch of Visioni: A Lens on Italian Cinema on MUBI, Issimo sat down with MUBI’s founder, Efe Cakarel, and talked movies and an epic night in (I will take that double-bill choice any time). “The thing that makes MUBI different, and keeps it special – is that we hand-pick every single film. We always have. (And always will.) […] Because our film choices are so human-driven – (no robots or algorithms) – we aren’t led by popularity or trends, or anything else. We just find the films that truly speak to us, whatever they may be, and bring them to more people. Some will be iconic films, classics and masterpieces. But many will be great movies, that you never knew existed.”

 

Left: Photo by Classiq Journal | Right: “Timeless Saint Émilion” by David C. Phillips, photographic print available in original landscape size in the shop

 
 
Viewing

To paraphrase my husband (my film buff companion), Vanishing Point (1971) is everything Easy Rider never succeeded to be. It was the 1970s and this is one of the films that defied conventions of mainstream American cinema. A countercultural, existential road movie that speaks on many levels, but what I ultimately liked so much about it was that it is a movie that grabs your attention with seemingly very little going on. It’s one of those films which, as it proceeds, allows your own movie to develop in your head. You may very well be riding that car yourself. And it’s a great car.

After having watched Druk (Another Round), which I included in my round-up of the best movies of 2020, I had to see Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012), where Mads Mikkelsen gives another great performance (if you have only seen Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale, then you have missed out enormously). If I were to describe the atmosphere in Thomas Vinterberg’s films, I would resume to the words the director himself used when he talked about his Danish films as opposed to his English language movies: “It seems that when I dip my hands into my own backyard, it becomes universal. When I reach out for the universal, the opposite happens.” In The Hunt, Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a teacher by training but who now works as a daycare employee after he lost his job. He is professionally decent, caring, kind, and he is falsely accused by a kid of inappropriate behaviour. He suddenly finds himself standing alone in a hostile world. It shows how easily we judge, how easily we toss out friends. It’s heartbreaking and it shook me to the core. The only one who shows unconditional faith in him, besides his son, is his only true friend, his son’s godfather, and those scenes between them had a great effect on me, because they showed that it doesn’t take much, just a single word or gesture, to assure someone of your trust or shatter his confidence and make his world crumble. And the most harrowing thing about this remarkable film is that Lucas transmits what it must feel like to feel guilty about a crime he didn’t commit. Because when you are wrongly accused of something, even if you are proved innocent, there is an irremediable harm done, and everyone, except that one true friend, might still consider you guilty. That’s our society.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) depicts the 1969 Chicago Seven trial, in which President Nixon’s federal government charged seven anti-Vietnam war activists with inciting to riots at the previous year’s national democratic convention. The film keeps your interest up at all times, through the nature of the story, great performances (Mark Rylance stands out), and, what I always appreciate in a film no matter how good the narrative, the cinematography. This is a film where I couldn’t wait for the next shot (it was a film still that got my attention to watch the movie in the first place). Because even in a movie that is intensively focused on dialogue (this is a courtroom drama after all) and rhythm and performances, I like to trust the image to drive my emotions when watching a film. Phedon Papamichael (he is responsible for the crisp black and white cinematography of Nebraska – “On Nebraska it was made very clear from the beginning that no colour images were to be released – and I was so excited for that rare opportunity!,” unit still photographer Merie Weismiller Wallace told me in our interview – and the realistically-shot Ford v Ferrari which conveyed that sense of race, danger and passion that go into the sport, never losing sight of the human aspect) does that beautifully, elegantly allowing space for the performances.

I would watch Pietro Germi’s Un maledetto imbroglio (The Facts of Murder, 1959) again if only for the character of inspector Ingravallo, played by the director himself. It’s a distinctive movie character, that can distinctively be placed in that time and the Italy of those times.

A few films I am looking forward to this year: Ruben Östlund’s satire Triangle of Sadness, starring Woody Harrelson. A new Thomas Paul Anderson film is on the way and Bradley Cooper is among the cast. On a Half Clear Morning, starring Léa Seydoux, is a French film directed by Bruno Dumont about a journalist whose life is turned upside down after a car accident (it was again a movie still that got my attention).

Listening

Music
Vanishing Point movie soundtrack, No Love Lost by The Rifles, Bruce Springsteen’s first and latest albums, Greetings from Ansbury Park and Letter to You, respectively, on vinyl on repeat.

Podcast
Life on the Edge is the interview series from Shackleton that tackles the questions of what makes people push their limits, featuring today’s most inspiring adventurers, explorers and pioneers. One of my favourite travel writers, Sophy Roberts, is the host.

Making

Each month I highlight one lifestyle/design brand I believe in 100%. How about this time instead of products we celebrate a wordsmith, Betty Soldi, her calligraphic style and her imaginatively inspired projects?

The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good.

Craig Mod’s newsletters, Roden and Ridgeline.
Wes Del Val’s book-ish interviews.
Edith Bowman’s podcast Soundtracking. It remains my favourite podcast by far.
Monocle magazine, in print.
 
 

Mads Mikkelsen and Annika Wedderkopp in “The Hunt”, 2012
Danmarks Radio, Det Danske Filminstitut, Eurimages

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

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter | | 4 Comments

“Another Round” and Other Good Films from a Year of Movies Without Cinemas

“Druk” (Another Round), 2020 | Zentropa Entertainments, Film i Väst

 
 

”Oh, a film is never the same on a small screen
as it was when you lived it in a theater.”

Merie Weismiller Wallace

 
 
Druk (Another Round)

Four male friends, all high school teachers, are embarking on exploring the obscure scientific theory that a steady blood alcohol level can enhance human performance. But there is a profound character study that hides behind this equally appalling and comedic premise. Martin, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is the history teacher, one of the four friends (all actors so good, so natural) and the one mostly stricken by a mid-life crisis. He appears as someone often lost within himself, simply not present in his own life anymore, and who, in a surprising emotional moment, while celebrating one of his friend’s 40th anniversary, finally admits he doesn’t know how he has ended up like that. Thomas Vinterberg’s film does not judge its characters, nor justifies their actions, not portrays them as interested in reclaiming lost youth. It humanely, openly, earnestly portrays them as they are in this point in their lives’ journey, showing resilience in times of hardship, comedic relief in moments of darkness. A beautiful life-affirming dark comedy. And one more thing: you realise how good this film is just by thinking what an American remake would look like. Something that would come very close to Ruben Östlund‘s Force Majeure and the American remake Downhill – the American version will probably be one more obviously comedic, with appeal to the larger public, painfully losing the subtlety of an incisive portrayal of the modern human condition. Not only is Another Round one of the best films of the year, but it has the best ending, too. The film only gets better with that bittersweet closing.

Mangrove

Steve McQueen’s first release from his Small Axe series focuses on a black people-owned restaurant in London in the 1960s which becomes the target of police harassment. It resulted in a historic court battle and a mass movement. But it’s not the socially relevant theme that impresses the most, but the vivid storytelling (watching it you feel you are right there in the action), the cultural background of the black community that powerfully and beautifully comes to light (through colour, music, texture), the intensity of the actors’ performances.

Lovers Rock

Mangrove and Lovers Rock are both among my favourite films of the year. But what I appreciated about Lovers Rock even more is that this is the kind of film that makes you appreciate the medium of film more, rather than the story or the content. These days, cinema seems to lack experimenting with elements that are only specific to film, like McQueen does here. People tend to get caught up in telling a good story. From film I want more visually, too. Lovers Rock is centered on a house party in 1970s London, people setting up the place, getting ready, kindling relationships. The black community is again at the forefront, just as in Mangrove (and all Mcqueen’s Small Axe films), but the framing of the story and style of filming are different here. Dance and music and the unique, innermost, electrifying emotions that result from that can only be experienced when lived, and Steve McQueen’s intimate filming approach get you very close to that.

The Nest

In Sean Durkin’s The Nest, Jude Law is Rory, an investment banker who moves back to his native England from New York with his American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and their two children. He is a good salesman, even great at using his looks and charm to sell things, but unfortunately what he is trying to sell the most is a fantasy. The family is starting to crumble in the chilly and majestic English countryside. The dark atmosphere creeping in makes you pay attention to things beneath the surface. That surface is something that Rory cares about. Greed is gradually creeping in, too. Allison comes from a hardscrabble background and although she had already been rather suspicious of their good suburban life, and despite of her having something of Rory’s materialistic tendencies, her discomfort grows deeper with their move into a dramatic English mansion – I particularly liked how her costumes have a defining role in getting us on this journey with her. What ensues is a wrenching psychological and haunting marital drama that is as cinematically powerful and beautifully tailored as it is bitingly poignant for these times. What remains if people let go of their illusions, or delusions?

The Roads Not Taken

Sally Potter’s film follows 24 hours in the life of father and daughter Leo (Javier Bardem) and Molly (Elle Fanning) around New York City as she is learning to cope with his deteriorating mental state caused by dementia. It is a very humane film that deals with this subject very realistically, and I tremendously loved the depiction of their father-daughter relationship. In the face of illness, people so often seem to forget the way people used to be and sentiments that should not be there, like pity and desperation and ignorance, take over. This film teaches us how important it is not to dehumanize the ones we love when life changes them, how important it is to be there for them and act with the same care, love, humour as we always have. Javier delivers a wonderfully contained performance (paired with a finely attuned performance from Elle Fanning) as his consciousness flows in and out of two parallel lives, an emotional exploration of the choices he has made in life.
 

“Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You”, 2020

 

A Life on Our Planet

David Attenborough’s documentaries should be viewed in schools. Period. There are few people who can get everyone’s attention on the matter of how our planet has deteriorated, a man-made disaster, the way David Attenborough does.

Vilas: Serás lo que debas ser o no serás nada (Guillermo Vilas: Settling the Score)

The Argentinian journalist Eduardo Puppo sets out to prove, with the help of the Romanian mathematician Marian Ciulpan, who re-made all the world men’s tennis rankings between 1973 and 1978, that Guillermo Vilas, one of the best tennis players in history, was wrongly denied the No.1 world raking in the 1970s. It is a remarkable documentary: because of the remarkable work of a journalist who made Vilas’ fight his own without even telling Vilas only after years of having worked on it on his own; because it succeeds in completing the image of a remarkable tennis player. There is such humbleness in these two people and such dedication to their respective works and such friendship and such humanity. It’s rewarding and grounding.

Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You

I haven’t yet watched a music documentary I didn’t like (but yet again, I do pick them well, and I have already been waiting for a year for Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground – the film poster is a great preview). And when it comes to Bruce Springsteen, well, I don’t expect anything less. His documentary film, Letter to You, accompanies his new album by the same name that has reunited Bruce with The E Street Band for the first time since 2014 (and comes just one year after he released his single album Western Stars). The film, following the recording of the album in Springsteen’s home studio in his native, snow-covered New Jersey, is simple and honest, it has great music, obviously, a melancholic side, hope, and the passion and desire to give it all to music and just keep going. It just touches all the right notes for the end of the year.
 
 

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“Victor Victoria” & Women in Tuxedo on Film

Julie Andrews in “Victor Victoria”, 1982 | MGM

 
In Victor Victoria, Julie Andrews plays “a woman who pretends to be a man who pretends to be a woman”. Victoria is an unemployed performer who cross-dresses as a last resort to make money. Clothes are explicitly performative here, as Victoria Grant becomes the most famous female impersonator in 1930s Paris.

She initially puts on a man’s suit out of a different kind of necessity: after treating herself to the biggest, and about the only, meal she has had in days and pulling a trick so that she doesn’t pay for it, she exits the restaurant together with a newly made friend, Carole “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston), and they are caught in the rain. They go to his hotel room to dry up, but when she is about to leave, she realises her clothes have shrunk and she has nothing to wear. So she puts on a man’s suit, belonging to Toddy’s ex-lover. She knocks off the said lover when he returns to the room for his clothes and treats Toddy badly. And that’s when Toddy has the idea of the female impersonator by a man who is in fact a woman. She keeps the suit.

Blake Edwards directed the film, based on a German movie from 1933, Viktor/Viktoria, and Patricia Norris (The Candidate, Scarface, Days of Heaven, 12 Years a Slave) was the costume designer. Victor Victoria is not only an extraordinarily funny film where romantic complications ensue because of mistaken sexual identity, but one that affords its characters more than that, subtly yet openly navigating a tightrope of uncertain sexual identity. The place of good comedy in cinema is simply not rightfully acknowledged. It should be.

The androgynous look has had famous exponents in cinema, starting with Greta Garbo breaking ground in “The Single Standard”, 1929, and Marlene Dietrich. In fact, Carole Todd, who comes up with the idea of the Victor/Victoria act, has two photos of Garbo and Dietrich glued to his hotel room walls. The story takes place in the 1930s, a time when cross-dressing was an intriguing game for actresses, and the first ones who took on the game were Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. This clash of the feminine and of the masculine, especially in those times, not only did it have to do with the real life unconventionality of Garbo and Dietrich, but also with a darkly and powerful seductive side, especially on the screen, of a female body hidden beneath clothes stolen from a man’s closet (which is literally the case in Victor Victoria).
 

Julie Andrews in “Victor Victoria”, 1982 | MGM

 
But as we will see when we get to Marlene Dietrich’s Amy Jolly in Morocco, her character is different from Julie Andrews’ Victoria. It’s only Victoria who pretends to be a man – Julie Andrews makes another great role here. But in the case of Victoria, too, that androgynous look, despite being an act, becomes more seductive than the obviously all-female attractiveness – once King Marchand (James Garner), a gangster who pretends to be a businessman doing business with gangsters (“it seems we are both pretenders,” Victoria tells him), hiding in the bathroom, “sees the female impersonator is in fact a woman, this permits him to unproblematically look at and desire her as such,” Stella Bruzzi remarks in the book Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies, arguing that such an image is attractive precisely because, “on a visual level, it destabilizes gender identity and sexual difference”. When he eventually kisses her, she is wearing a tuxedo.

The man’s suit and power dressing would become a uniform for the successful woman in the 1980s, allowing her to demonstrate she was equal to men by literally wearing their clothes. There is a line in the film (filmed in 1982, but with a story placed in the 1930s) when Victoria tells Carole Todd that she likes the feeling of impersonating a man, remarking that she feels emancipated, and that she has access to things she would otherwise not have as a woman, a remark relevant both for the 1930s, when Garbo and Dietrich were starting to revolutionise gender perception, defying social norms while proving the seductive power of a woman in trousers, and for the 1980s, when the rules of seduction between the sexes had definitely changed.
 

Marlene Dietrich in “Morocco”, 1930 | Paramount Pictures

 
Morocco was Marlene Dietrich’s first American film. For her role as cabaret singer Amy Jolly, dressed by Travis Banton, the exotic and unknown woman with a mysterious past, she was nominated to the Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The top hat, tuxedo and white bow-tie she wears for her first performance in the film became her signature look. To say that her opening number, when she is dressed up as a man and kisses a woman in the audience, was a provocative scene for 1930, would be an understatement. But that sexual scene was tolerated on screen and passed regulations precisely because it was regarded as part of the heroine’s performance. Women wearing trousers in 1930 was a controversial thing, too, but in a nightclub in an exotic country like Morocco, it was acceptable. Moreover, the foreign, the unknown and the unexpected have always fascinated the audiences, especially in those times, and the film’s producers knew that the public would be seduced by the exotic location and Marlene’s outlandish look and connotations of adventure, shady past and independent sexuality.

She wears trousers only in that sequence, but it is Dietrich in that tux that stays with you and this has remained the look most often associated with the image of Marlene Dietrich. There is one unforgettable moment with Marlene during her opening number when she leans back onto the railing separating herself from the tables in the audience. She barely yields any body weight to the rail before swinging one leg over, lightly bringing it to the ground and then swinging the other leg over too. She couldn’t have personified the mystery, sex appeal, detachment and confidence she eludes, had she worn a dress. Her slightly crooked smile acknowledges that she loves playing the role of a sexually controversial person. Because she is performing, too, just as Victoria in Victor Victoria, but the performer does no impersonation here, she has just changed the tools of attraction. “Gender roles are reversed,” remark Gerd Gemünden and Mary R. Desjardins in Dietrich Icon, “as she apprises with her gaze a man in the audience”, Tom Brown (Gary Cooper), a young private in the Foreign Legion. “There is a foreign legion for women, too”, she says, and that whole performance of hers in a tuxedo illustrates that.

“I’m sincere in my preference for men’s clothes – I do not wear them to be sensational”, Dietrich said. “I think I am much more alluring in these clothes.” By deciding to put her in trousers in the first important act, Josef von Sternberg not only built up the anticipation for the audiences, who were anxious to see Marlene’s legs revealed as they had been made famous in The Blue Angel (1930), also directed by von Sternberg, but this smart move would always link her image to that of an enigmatic person, who, unlike many other stars, would use subtext to enhance the femme fatale perception of her. The director had seen her wearing a man’s suit and a top hat at a party in Berlin, and it inspired him to use it as a dramatic look for her first musical number in an American film. The result still tantalizes the viewers, nine decades later.
 

Katharine Hepburn in “Woman of the Year”, 1942 | MGM

 
With Woman of The Year (1942) Katharine Hepburn emerged as the archetype of the strong yet feminine woman, whose battle of the sexes was not really a threat to the status quo, but merely a search for love. The movie, directed by George Stevens, was a success when it was released and it reinvented Hepburn. Katharine’s independent nature comes through in her character, but the film did something else, too, sexualising her in a way no other film had succeeded before, not even The Philadelphia Story. In her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life, Katharine recalled that Spencer Tracy reportedly said, before making their first film together: “How can I do a picture with a woman who has dirt under her fingernails and who is of ambiguous sexuality and always wears pants?”. He then saw The Philadelphia Story and changed his mind, she continued.

After some poorly received films at RKO, Hepburn had returned to the stage, playing in Philip Barry’s The Philadelphia Story in 1939. She sold the movie rights of the successful play to MGM, where she had a fresh start with The Philadelphia Story, the movie, in 1940. Adrian was the studio’s costume designer and wanted to dress her in clothes that would let her personality shine through. He did this with simple, elegant, smart costumes and gowns that flattered her small waist and long legs. “Hepburn’s physique was the type Adrian liked – tall, broad-shouldered, athletic, similar to Garbo’s but with even thinner hips,” notes Christian Esquevin in Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label. From the very beginning of their collaboration, The Philadelphia Story, Adrian put Hepburn in clothes that made her emerge as a classic movies star for the first time in her career (prompting even Spencer Tracy to change his perception about her), but he also put her in trousers. According to the aforementioned book, Adrian, one of the designer’s sketches for a pants suit for Hepburn had producer Joe Mankiewicz note to Hepburn: “Are you sure these too should be slacks? Fine by me if fine by you.” Naturally, it was, and what it impresses the most is the progressive thinking of everyone involved, both men and woman.

In Woman of the Year, Hepburn’s Tess Harding, the brash, polyglot, internationally inclined political affairs newswoman, falls in love with Sam Craig (played by Spencer Tracy), the crusty sportswriter. Katharine Hepburn fearlessly and uncompromisingly set out to become a star in an industry that wanted greatness on its own terms, an industry that often tried to destroy the original few. Katharine wanted greatness on her own terms, she wanted to be an unconventional movie star, she wanted everything to be about her. “Hepburn’s presence is always more radical than her films” and “this suggests why she is so important: her presence forces her films to go in directions they cannot possibly follow, adopt strategies they cannot fully sustain, raise issues they cannot adequately resolve,” says Andrew Britton. But I believe that when Hepburn emerges in trousers and a velvet smoking jacket (20 years before the historic collection in which Yves Saint Laurent “invented” the women’s tuxedo), with embroidery adorned fastening system, she is more Hepburn than Tess Harding. Adrian was ahead of the times, and Katharine was too. They were a perfect fit.
 

Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett in “The Comfort of Strangers”, 1990 | Erre Produzioni, Reteitalia, Sovereign Pictures

 
When I wrote about Armani and Paul Schrader’s The Comfort of Strangers, I wasn’t sure about Natasha Richardson’s “unstructured” jacket, the signature Armani design and his own favourite piece from all his creations, whether she was wearing it with a dress or with a skirt. And I have decided that I would rather not know. Because wouldn’t it make so much more sense if she wore her buttoned up suit jacket with trousers?

The Comfort of Strangers, a rich, stylish piece with a sleek, threatical approach, is good to look at. Colin (Rupert Everett) and Mary (Natasha Richardson), the English lovers who return to Venice, the site of their rendezvous a couple of years prior, to rekindle their passion, are good to look at. They must be, because not only is this quality the obvious reason for their mutual attraction, but it’s also what makes them the objects of desire for the other two protagonists, Robert (Christopher Walken) and Caroline (Helen Mirren). Rupert Everett, in the prime of his youth, dressed in his casual Armani clothes. Natasha Richardson, a wholesome beauty with golden locks, all clad in Armani’s best.

That particular sequence when she is wearing the jacket has Mary and Colin having dinner on the terrace of their hotel and at one point Mary realises that the people at the next table are admiringly talking about Colin and his looks and she approvingly tells him that. Colin thinks, in turn, that it is Mary who must be the center of their attention. It’s universally accepted that they both are good-looking. And that their Armani clothes suit them. And it is in that particular look that she is the most attractive. Wouldn’t it make sense that she is the most attractive when she is dressed in menswear inspired clothes? Giorgio Armani is a great modernist and his tailoring traded stiff formality for assured relaxation, suggesting new, natural, minimalist, effortless attitudes, a less mannered style of the female figure, while preserving elegance, sensuality and distinction. “I imagined women in new roles, women who no longer have to pull their skirts down over their knees when they sat down or unbutton their tight jackets as soon as they took their places at the table for a business meeting. The elegance of the gesture, for me, has always been of essential importance, it is an integral part of style and one’s way of dressing.”
 

Carrie Coon and Jude Law in “The Nest”, 2020 | Element Pictures, BBC Films, Elevation Pictures

 
In Sean Durkin’s The Nest, one of the best films of this year (a wrenching, precisely directed, beautifully done film), Jude Law is Rory, an investment banker who moves back to his native England from New York with his American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and their two children. He is a good salesman, even great at using his looks and charm to sell things, but unfortunately what he is trying to sell the most is a fantasy. The family is starting to crumble in the chilly and majestic English countryside. There is a dark atmosphere lurking which makes you pay attention to things beneath the surface. That surface is something that Rory cares about. He is working hard at projecting a certain image.

Allison is the one who is trying to keep him grounded. She raises horses and teaches riding, and her casual, practical, lived-in clothes (riding attire, cosy, oversized sweaters) are not only a reflection of her profession, but also of her rooted yet vulnerable character. She comes from a hardscrabble background and even when they were living the American suburban life, she was rather distrustful of it and not fully comfortable with the good life. Her discomfort grows deeper when they move to England in a sumptuous albeit gloomy mansion. But Allison gets the chance to show her alluring side on a couple of occasions, one of which at a party at Rory’s boss’s house, where she is wearing a tuxedo (Matthew Price was the costume designer). In fact, Allison and Rory are both wearing tuxedos, which makes her that much more appealing. It’s like she is saying that she is putting on a show, too, for Rory’s sake, but she’s doing it on her own terms.

The best part of her dress-up however comes a little later, at another dinner where she was compelled by Rory to come, as he and a co-worker are trying to bring in new business for their company. She is wearing an exquisite backless black dress, and when, after Rory is trying too hard to appear someone he is not, she is asked by the others what she does for a living, she answers that she is cleaning stables, a job she has taken recently (“It feels good to do some real work,” she had told her neighbour who gave her the job, after her first day of work). Everyone thinks she is joking at first, but when they realise she is not, the joke’s on Rory. Allison won’t put up with a fake image anymore, and the intensity of her performance says it all (especially that she realises that maybe she has something from Rory’s materialistic tendencies in her and she finds it hard to admit it, and therefore she gives away her fur coat to the coat check girl in the restaurant when she leaves the place before the dinner is over), and it’s only because she has her feet deeply earthed that they, as a family, could see past the ruin.
 
 

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