This Summer We’re Channelling: Anne-Louise Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975. British Empire Films Australia

 

The story begins on the music of Gheorghe Zamfir. I could recognise his pan flute anywhere. And I couldn’t imagine Picnic at Hanging Rock without his music. And it truly is incredible how the music works so well, given that it was not composed specifically for the film, and how appropriating this music to the film, to a completely different context, connotes something so poetical and mysterious – it’s the uniqueness of Gheorghe Zamfir’s music that does that. Accompanying the voice-over opening, “What we see or what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream”, it is the transfixing music, as if humming from another dimension, that sets the tone for and will contribute tremendously to the magical and otherworldly experience of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. It is the story of a fictional mystery that took place in central Victoria at the turn of the twentieth century. During a school outing in the Australian countryside at Hanging Rock, three schoolgirls (including the pivotal character Miranda) and a chaperone from an all-female college go missing leaving behind no clues. Just one of the girls, Irma, is found, but she does not remember anything of what has occurred.

Much remains unsaid in Picnic at Hanging Rock, and it is this blurred sensuality and disquieting and provocative feeling of hidden truths that remain unlocked that give the film its tremendous and lasting power. But if we turn our attention to the costumes, created by Judith Dorsman, they reveal much more than the facts and the dialogue. Film costumes are never clothes, and costumes are not synonymous with fashion. They have the purpose of character development within the narrative, employing elements that make references to the psychology and motivations of the characters. It’s a shame that today the production companies and the marketing teams put such an importance on using brand name designers for the costumes, focusing on the relation between costumes and consumer behaviours rather than on costumes as a foundational element of a film.

In Picnic, so much attention is placed on the girls’ appearance when they get ready for the outing. It’s all about the idealisation of femininity. “What we see and what we seem”. Everyone is watching, looking at each other, helping each other dress in innocent complicity and conceal every bit of flesh with long sleeves and gloves (which, under the headmistress Miss Appleyard’s firm instructions, are to come off only after the carriage taking them to the picnic has passed through the nearby town and they have escaped the townspeople’s watchful glares). They are all dressed in pristine white, but not in identical dresses, each one carrying some kind of trait of the character wearing it. But it is the dressing-up itself – the girls read Valentine’s messages aloud (it all happens on Valentine’s Day, which in Australia falls in the harsh summer), they wash their faces with rose water, they lace each other into corsets, signaling both confinement and liberation – that gives way to something much more significant. It’s like a rite of passage into maturity, into womanhood.
 

Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975. British Empire Films Australia

 
There is a dark-edged innocence to these Victorian times broderie anglaise dresses. Clothes become symbols of innocence, repressed sexuality, desire, time for change, everything played out on the verge of the supernatural. Miranda’s belt, for example, stands out even for an untrained viewer’s eye. It has a butterfly-shaped buckle, a symbol of a beautiful and brief life, as Anne-Louise Lambert, who played Miranda, explained in an interview for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. “Miranda’s favourite flower, the daisy, symbolises purity, joy and innocence,” as described in a presentation of the aforementioned Archive. The recurring daisy motif appears on her machine-made cotton lace trim on her dress’s neck and sleeves. The restrained use of lace, frail, translucent and ethereal like a butterfly wings, and “the dress’s lightness and movement in relation to the actress’s body create an image of transitory beauty.” It was so light and airy, Lambert remembered, “it was like being naked”.

The girls are wearing black stockings and black pointed boots to their white dresses. When the three girls leave the group in their attempt to further explore the Rock, they take off their stockings and boots and wrap them around their waists. There is something freeing and mystical about their look walking like that, wrapped in the afternoon dizzying sunlight. After Irma is found, it is whispered that she was no longer wearing her corset. Then, when she comes to say goodbye to the other girls, because in the aftermath of what has happened she will not return to the college the following year, she is dressed in vibrant scarlet, in stark contrast to the virginal white blouses that the others are still wearing.

As she is heading for the Hanging Rock, Miranda looks back to wave goodbye to the French teacher, and the latter remarks: “Now I know that Miranda is a Botticelli angel,” her eyes hovering over her art history book, thus identifying her with an imaginary, idealised vision of beauty and becoming the film’s essence. “Miranda is not as much a character but a quality, an essence, an idea,” Anne-Louise Lambert referred to her character, “and that quality and essence talk about something otherworldly”. We do not wish Miranda to be explained, just as we do not wish the film, and what happened to the girls, to be explained. The film has endured by not answering our questions, and Miranda remains somewhere out there, this eternal youth to be dreamed about, by not being found. Gheorghe Zamfir’s haunting Miranda’s theme, “Doina: Sus pe Culmea Dealului”, takes us on this journey into the mystic, seducing us into this Neverland only accessible to those who truly believe, touching the depths of our human existence and of the mystery of life. As stated by director Peter Weir, according to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, the music’s pagan qualities tapped into the great unknown of the country at the time the story was set and provided a contrast to other themes in the film, such as European notions and concepts of time, culture, cultivation and civilisation.

 

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RÉUNI, Redefining Fashion: Interview with Adrien Garcia


 

Photos: RÉUNI

 
 
It takes time for good things to happen, it takes time to create something beautiful and lasting, it takes time to create beautiful and well made clothes, and everything requires care, patience and passion to make it last. It’s part of the art of living. Reflecting a passion for fashion yet a refusal to follow the rules others have set out, going back to basics and redefining the notion of making fashion, RÉUNI is breaking new grounds and renewing our need for things to feel real and authentic, for our clothes to feel our own, for ourselves to trust our instincts and find the right balance, to feel free and inspired.

More is not better, more is just more. So RÉUNI chooses to create together with the customer what they need, what they want, in limited editions. It chooses to battle the push of fast fashion and pursues a slow pace of creating and living. It chooses to put common sense and human values back into fashion. Clothes and jewellery in pure forms and perfect proportions, with organic and clean lines, meant to liberate and celebrate femininity, inspired by the beauty of life itself. A wardrobe, just like a space, should sit there quietly until the right thing comes along. To feel comfortable enough in your clothes is to be patient. To be patient is to have the freedom to afford yourself time to enjoy life.

In our interview, Adrien Garcia, the co-founder of RÉUNI, and I are talking about the brand’s design philosophy, why the modern customer is ready for a new way of making fashion and why we are our own limits.
 


 
Your approach to building a collection is unique: you work on pre-orders and limited editions available only for a few days for each piece you create gradually. Not only that, but you invite the customer to co-create each new item, asking people to share their desires as starting point of the production process. You create only what is useful; you design with purpose. Is Réuni the new model of making fashion?

We hope we are creating a new model of making fashion, and we hope that this way of doing fashion will become mainstream soon. This is actually a lot of common sense. What we are doing is asking our community what is wrong with their garment and what they want to make sure they will love and want what we design. We add a lot of creativity and know-how to make fantastic and robust products made in Europe, made to last, products that do not damage the planet and humans. This idea of réédition and continuous improvement of best sellers is actually not that far from the traditional model in the fashion industry right now. The biggest change is the pre-order model. People are buying a product that is not produced yet. This model works if the value for money ratio is outstanding, and this is the case at RÉUNI. And again this is not new, Hermès does pre-order, too, with its famous bags.

Yes, but you are doing it differently. In the case of the reissued pieces, you are improving on previous designs, you don’t launch hundreds of “new” products every year as it largely happens in the fashion industry, you are taking the noise out of the consumer shopping experience and instead you are making them part of the conversation, you are making slow fashion. And in contrast to Hermès, the price value proposition is different, you are offering more affordable luxury. And I think that’s why the people are responsive to RÉUNI.

Indeed you are selling our concept much better than me, we are definitely making slow fashion improving each pieces year after year, we want to create only iconic products so when peope want to buy a Cardigan or a Big Winter Sweater they think of us like they think of Lacoste for a polo or Max Mara for a coat. Indeed we are making true luxury at the right price because we are applying a decent margin to our product to grow sustainably, but also we do not have the cost of flagship boutique, no over marketing, no huge headquarter. Lastly, I think people are sensitive to what we do because of our values and imagery that promote a new French way of living, a slow way of leaving. At the end, I like to say that RÉUNI is mindfulness luxury.
 


 
With each piece launched, it seems you have set out to create an elaborated version of the classic wardrobe. Will Réuni be complete with the creation and its own reinterpretation of the classic wardrobe?

We aspire to present a whole classic wardrobe, but not only. We see ourselves as a lifestyle brand like Hermès or Ralph Lauren proposing different territories such as home, perfume, and hospitality. For us, RÉUNI is a cross-generational project. This is not a short-term project. Also keep in mind that we are coming from the biggest fashion house, creativity is unlimited, proposition of design is unlimited.
 
 

”The RÉUNI woman is first and foremost natural, simple,
confident, kind. She is not a girl, she is a woman and she
has a masculine side, too, in the way she is dressing.
She knows who she is and is very true to herself.”

 
 
Do you think your creativity is better served with starting your own company? What made you leave the big luxury fashion business?

Of course it is better served while starting your own company, and that is the biggest reason why we started our own company. When you are a designer in a fashion house your job is to be at the disposal of the creative vision of the Creative Director. We decided to implement our vision, for more freedom and rejection of the conventional fashion model that pushes everybody in the industry to overproduce garments and accessories that nobody needs.
 

 
Is the 21st century customer prepared to wait for months for a product?

Oh yes, more than ever. We are entering a new era where people want to consume differently fantastic products, full of know-how and history, products that are charged with feeling and which they will be able to transmit to their children.

I agree, people want something distinctive, an experience or a compelling story, and that’s where ethical brands can make a difference. Do you find it an exciting time for any fashion brand or fashion creative who is ready to embrace the change?

At RÉUNI, we are in an optimistic mindset and we believe we are living at the best time ever, full of challenges, of course, but full of opportunities to reinvent ourselves and the industry we are in. Having said that, starting a brand is a difficult exercise that needs a lot of commitment, passion and stamina.

Your first set of jewellery was inspired by the pure forms and perfect proportions of the sculptures of Constantin Brâncusi and Isamu Noguchi. Does art play an important role in your creations?

Alice, our Creative Director, and I met during our fashion school (le Studio Berçot in Paris). We came to fashion because of our love for art, architecture and design. Art has always been the starting point of every piece we made and this will always be the case at RÉUNI.

How difficult is to make a fashion business partnership work? What is the secret to a good partnership? Is it something that came naturally or was it something you had to work towards?

We are actually 3 co-founders at RÉUNI, Alice, my wife, Julien, my brother, and I. I would say the key is trust, respect and communication. I think it is working so far because we are really clear in what we want to achieve, what everyone’s role is and what each one of us wants to realise in his/her lifetime. We are very attentive that each one of us is aligned with her/his own aspirations, that what she/he is doing today puts her/him on the right track to accomplish her/his vision. This is not something natural, but our willingness to find a balance and a good way of working all together is part of our essence to the three of us.
 


 
Your jewellery pieces are so simple, yet they stand out, as the rest of your collection. And I believe pure simplicity, in art and in fashion, is the hardest to achieve. How do you do that?

First, thank you, it is a huge compliment for us. And indeed, yes, it is sometimes quite difficult to find the right balance. We believe it is a mix of several things that “makes the magic happen”. First, we know from all the answers to our surveys what is timeless in the mind of our customer. Then, there is a lot of instinct. As we are looking at the first sketches or inspiration pictures or vintage pieces we find, we kind of know if this is what we dream about. It is really coming from the heart. Even ourselves, we dream about having timeless, simple and beautiful pieces around us, in our closet or at home, so we try to do our best to create them.

What are your go-to places for the inspiring images and pieces you mention? Because your products are so classically streamlined that they seem to come from a deep visual knowledge, the kind that is clearly not pulled from the internet, but from books and magazines and films.

Thank you so much for you kindness. We are lucky to have found a way of working that gives us the tremendous advantage to compare to any other brands, to take the time to develop each product. It gives us the luxury to push every garment quite far. Throughout our previous experiences at school and in fashion houses we learnt to look for inspiration everywhere: vintage, museums, books, magazines, the street, friends’ wardrobes, absolutely everywhere. Each time we come across something that inspires us we classify them in boxes by thematic and future projet. When we decide to go for a specific archetype, we open the box and start to work on it.

Your entire co-founding team’s commitment to your work and your lifestyle is something to be deeply appreciated, and it effortlessly comes through in your brand. In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?

If we talk about fashion, I would say less is more. Quantity doesn’t mean more happiness. In terms of human values, I am a firm defender of kindness and generosity.
 

 
RÉUNI is a women’s collection, a collection that looks so liberating and free from what’s going on in the fashion world. Who is the REUNI woman? Who are the women who inspire you?

The RÉUNI woman is first and foremost natural, simple, confident, kind. She is the kind of person who loves receiving, cooking for her friends and family, spending time with the people she loves. She is very active and curious, she loves craftsmanship, nature and art. She is not a girl, she is a woman and she has a masculine side, too, in the way she is dressing. She knows who she is and is very true to herself. We have some examples, some ideas of what she could look like in terms of style or outside perception. She is a woman like Caroline Besset Kennedy, Sofia Coppola, Gaïa Repossi, Jean Shrimpton, Lee Radziwill, Diana Vreeland, Linda McCartney.
 
 

”Never forget that we are our own limits.
Whether you think you can or can’t, in both cases you are right.”

 
 


 
You are an inspiration for design with purpose. But is there someone in particular who has inspired you down your creative path? On your podcast, for example, you have met many creatives, entrepreneurs, incredibly talented and inspirational people. Is there anyone in particular who has marked you?

On my podcast, if I had to choose one, it would be Ramdane Touhami, co-founder of L’Officine Universelle Buly, because he is a genius in his ability to push things to the paroxysm. The second one would be Marie-France Cohen for her entire career, she is the co-founder of Bonpoint and Merci. For people I haven’t interviewed yet, I would say Ralph Lauren for his ability to create an entire coherent world. I am also very inspired by Jonny Johansson from Acne Studios. All those people are both entrepreneurs and creative minds and this is actually what I love about RÉUNI: this is both a creative and entrepreneurial adventure.

And what would be your own piece of advice for someone who is thinking of forging his/her own creative path?

While interviewing people on my podcast, I realised that there is no one path to success but there are a few common threads: very hard work, stamina, determination, no compromise and huge ambition. Ambition is not a bad word but a tool to help you accomplish your dreams. Never forget that we are our own limits. Whether you think you can or can’t, in both cases you are right.
 
 

reuni.co | Instagram: @reuni.co

 
 

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August Newsletter: On River… and Radio Silence


 

Photos: Classiq Journal

 
 
I still haven’t watched all River Phoenix’s movies. I like the feeling that there are still movies of his I am yet to discover, that I have to wait to watch another film of his. But I have recently watched Dogfight. And I rediscovered the really good actor that he was and also the River Phoenix I would have loved to see evolve and succeed in Hollywood. He was too sensitive for it all. There was something mysterious and impenetrable about him, something quiet yet powerful that easily caught your attention and often held the screen. And he could outshine just about everyone, but really he didn’t, everyone just seemed to act better around him. A reader once wrote to me, “I know it’s easy to assume that his whole life would have been an inspiration, but with extremely talented people like him the chances of him falling to pieces were just as big.” But the thing is he did fall, and we didn’t wait a lifetime to see him fall. That is not the reason why we become so obsessed with people who die young, the reason is the realisation of how much they achieved in their short life. So I think they deserve us to celebrate their life and career they did have, without questions and assumptions and without making their death the defining moment of their life, and without imagining a future that never was.

I keep thinking about how everyone nowadays has an opinion about everything. Since when have we become such experts, especially on someone else’s life? Since everyone wants to consume everything too fast, wants to know, without really “knowing”, everything as soon as it happens. I don’t think I have appreciated quarterly, bi-annual or even yearly publications more than I do now. I seek them out (and I am recommending one further down this newsletter). I remember how photo-journalist Susana Gíron was telling me in our interview about her “90 varas” project, which she started in 2015, and she is still photographing the story. “The world goes too fast. Thousands of images around us every moment. I don´t know how big that place is for storytelling, but what I know is that I need time to tell my stories. Perhaps for many people it is too slow and they don´t enjoy the discovery of every picture when you look at it with attention. It takes time and effort, but the feedback, the kind of feeling that comes back to you is more powerful as well. I need to belong to the places and the people who live in my stories, understand them, share the life with them… I don´t know any other way to tell a story well. Good things need time. Good storytelling needs time.”

During Cannes Film Festival this year, Sebastian Meise’s film Great Freedom played in Un Certain Regard, accompanied by the official film poster, by one of my favourite film poster designers, Vasilis Marmatakis. I had talked to Vasilis before on a couple of different occasions and I reached out again to him to discuss his latest work. His answer took me by surprise, in a revelatory way. He told me that he had just given a lecture at the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin and he thought best to take some time off from elaborating for now, suggesting we would postpone our conversation for later this year, when he will have new work ready. How I wish others picked their conversations and let the audience breathe and also made us make an effort and dig deeper and appreciate the waiting for something new, to wait for a new film in theaters, to wait for a new interview with a favourite artist, to really wait for the good things.

Adventures in living your life just for yourself. A little radio silence would do us all good.
 

“Well, that the style today – pipe things – can things –
freeze things – computerize things. Have to be careful
about that. You can’t develop a mind full of beauty or
tender imagination and independence of spirit tearing
along in a box without a lot of space and air.”

Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life

 

 
 
Viewing
 
The African Queen, 1951

This week, of August 5th, marks 115 years since the birth of John Huston, one of the true storytellers in cinema. The African Queen is at its 70th anniversary this year. The inspiring pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart resulted in one of the great film classics and one we are still talking about today. And I wonder, will people still be talking about any of the movies made today, 70 years from now? Neither Bogart nor Hepburn were the first choices for their roles, but they turned out to be perfect, worked so naturally together, “they complemented each other and became the film,” is how John Huston described it. “They weren’t sure whom they were going to have for the man,” Katharine Hepburn recalled in her autobiography. “First, John felt it should be an authentic cockney. But when they began to think of Bogie, there was no one who could compete with him in personality or looks. They had him be a Canadian. Can you imagine anyone else in that part? He was perfection.” Bogie’s part was indeed different than what he had done before. Huston often said he never wrote a script with Bogie in mind but he somehow always found a way into his films. That’s what a great actor does, isn’t it? “I was sure this was actually one part of Bogart, and it took him a little time getting into it – but he found it,” Huston told Urs Egger in 1977.

As for Katharine, John Huston would fondly recount their experience working together in a Playboy interview with Lawrence Globel, from 1985: “Katie was born suspicious, and she had great reservations regarding me that she was in no pains to conceal. She knew that both Bogart and I were wastrels, but Katie has a weakness for wastrels. Spencer Tracy was also one. But we put it on for her. We pretended to be even bigger wastrels than we were.” Discussing the film with Bertrand Tavernier, Huston confessed that he had a particular tenderness for The African Queen, which he considered one of the happiest experiences – its shooting having allowed for a certain amount of improvisation and working with the most dedicated people – he had ever had, “although it is a work that feels external to me. I don’t feel like it’s one of my movies. It’s from another vein.”

Watching The African Queen, you sense that feeling of adventure that came so naturally to John Huston. Making a film was an adventure back then, especially with him, who, in contrast to Howard Hawks, for example, who was a storyteller, too, but made much more stylised films, kept everything realistic. This film is so simple, yet it feels like the greatest adventure, with these two characters who so naturally discover each other.

Dogfight, 1991

The rules of the dogfight were simple: everybody puts in fifty bucks. And the guy with the ugliest “date” wins. River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. Dogfight. A love story.
 
Kiss of Death, 1947

Richard Widmark, at his debut role, as one of the most spectacular characters of villains in film history. I love how uncompromising Henry Hathaway, so comfortable in creating an underworld where violence and crooks reign, is in showing Widmark act as he does, psychotic punk that he is, no explanations, no apologies. Watching him I couldn’t help imagining him in the role of Joker, the Heath Ledger kind.
 
The Report, 1977

This was Abbas Kiarostami’s first film. His films emerged from the simplest of things, from the smallest of moments. He didn’t make up extraordinary stories and extraordinary worlds in his movies, but he looked for ordinary lives in exceptional moments, which also happens in The Report, where a tax collector is accused of taking bribe and he also has to deal with problems at home. In the simplicity of the people and in the simplicity of the dialogue, there is a deep understanding of life, that would permeate all Kiarostami’s films.
 
Key Largo, 1948, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981, because this summer we are channelling their characters. When John Huston watched Key Largo for the first time years after its release, he told Barbara Thomas in 1978, “I liked the whole picture.” There is something to this film that I really love. I think it just feels very entertaining despite or maybe because of the contained, claustrophobic setting of a small hotel in Florida, and all the actors do such a fantastic job playing out their fates during a compressed period of time, during a hurricane, as contrasting characters brought together by circumstance. Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, at its 40th anniversary this year, remains for many the quintessential adventure movie, is an exercise in pure cinematic style, and has every bit of action held together by an irresistible mixture of boyish spirit and a romance with classic cinema. Drawn from forgotten Saturday matinee serials of the 30s, comics, and Howard Hawks films, Steven Spielberg created the kind of adventure he would have loved as a kid. Throughout his career, Hawks, too, had wanted “to merge his fictional ideals with his real life, a boy’s fantasy being played out every day“.
 
Jaws, 1975

A summer tradition. It never gets old. And after costume designer Justine Seymour told me how Quint’s cap inspired the wardrobe for Justin Theroux’s Ally Fox in the new adaptation of The Mosquito Coast, I was even more eager to watch it again this summer.
 

 
 
Reading

A Mano/By Hand is a beautiful short essay written during quarantine last year, where poet and publisher Nicole Cecilia Delgado (with translation by Carina del Valle Schorske) wonders how to live a life of poetry, live independently out of poetry and publishing books by hand, while living in and moving from New York City, to Mexico and then Puerto Rico. “This is what my daily quest is about. I’m calling up the stereotypical specter meant to scare young poets: you’re going to die of hunger. The challenge – the project – is to live with dignity, to achieve real quality of life, to create community in the process and find joy doing so. The project is to live with/in poetry: poetry is the project’s basic unity.”

In my July newsletter I wrote why Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is the film I wish I could watch for the first time in cinemas this particular summer. But because I can’t have that, the recently released novel is the next best thing.

The rest of my reading has been comprised of research material, for the most part: an amalgamation of John Huston interviews, Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies, Alicia Drake’s The Beautiful Fall, but the one that tops it all is Bertrand Tavernier’s marvelous Amis Américains: Entretiens avec les grands auteurs d’Hollywood. This book, a beauty of a book, makes me shout with joy. It’s hands down my favourite book about film at the moment. I do believe that the French write the best books about film and their passion for cinema can hardly be equaled. And, further more, this one is the most exclusively and expressively illustrated (why so many specialty books lack proper photography, I will never understand). And because I have just mentioned Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, here are some of Bertrand Tavernier’s impressions after its release, as related in the book: “Tarantino always elicits endearing reactions, a sometimes excessive idolatry that ends up masking the depth of his work. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is an anthem to cinema, to the power of cinema. It’s a touching, warm, childish and funny tribute. Tarantino makes no distinction between the cinemas he shows: he moves away from the mainstream cinema of the time to take a loving look at the filming of a series western in a completely cheap setting. He takes his time, takes detours through dialogue, through a camera that lingers, through a cinematography that creates nuances that have become rare in today’s American cinema, à la Jackie Brown, of which Once Upon a Time often makes me think.”

I love how Dustin O’Halloran talks about his favourite films, revolving around the soundtracks and musical scores.

 

 
 
Listening

Revisiting a Fresh Air interview with Anthony Bourdain, as the new Bourdain documentary, Roadrunner, has been released. For impressions about the film, Alicia Kennedy’s opinion piece is my choice.

Entreprendre dans la mode, le podcast des industries créative et de l’art de vivre, where Adrien Garcia talks to fashion designers, entrepreneurs and the most creative people, their inspiring conversations having led to Adrien’s co-founding of his own fashion brand, RÉUNI. A good reminder of the power that comes with asking.
 
The playlist
 

 
 
Exploring

Toc Toc Toc Editions, the bi-annual independent magazine created by Sophie Denux. Born from the desire to share a certain vision of creation, of contemporary craftsmanship and its various players, TOC takes the form of an invitation to discover their world, their living spaces, their workshops, their journeys…
 
The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good. Craig Mod’s all three newsletters: Roden, Ridgeline, and Huh. Wes Del Val’s book-ish interviews. Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman. Here’s the Thing, with Alec Baldwin. Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. Sophy Robert’s The Art of Travel. Monocle magazine, in print.

 

 

“Silence, slowness and space are the new luxury.
We go where the crowds don’t,
we explore what others won’t.”

Travel writer Debbie Pappyn and photographer David De Vleeschauwer

 

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter | | Comments Off on August Newsletter: On River… and Radio Silence

This Summer We’re Channelling: Lauren Bacall in Key Largo

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in “Key Largo”, 1948. Warner Brothers.

 
 
When John Huston watched Key Largo for the first time years after its release, he told Barbara Thomas in 1978, “I liked the whole picture.” There is something to this film that I really love. I think it just feels very entertaining despite or maybe because of the contained, claustrophobic setting of a small hotel in Florida, and all the actors do such a fantastic job playing out their fates during a compressed period of time, during a hurricane, as contrasting characters brought together by circumstance.

Humphrey Bogart, as Frank McCloud, is an embittered army major, who visits a hotel in Key Largo, Florida, to meet Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) and James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), the widow and father of his friend war buddy killed on the front. Edward G. Robinson plays fugitive gangster Johnny Rocco, who takes over the hotel together with his entourage and holds everybody hostage as the hurricane strikes. He is introduced sitting naked in a bathtub, chewing a cigar. “I wanted the look of a crustacean with its shell off,” said Huston in an interview with Dan Ford, in 1972. “Robinson is immediately established as obscene and dangerous, like an animal caught out in the open.”

Lionel Barrymore’s character was in a wheelchair. The actor had been confined to a wheelchair for some years. In one scene, he had to draw himself from his wheelchair defending Franklin Roosevelt. In reality, he hated Roosevelt and Huston told the rest of the crew “to watch how he greeted his teeth when he had to praise him – John loved stuff like that,” Lauren Bacall remembered in her book.

“Bogart was extraordinary in that,” Huston would say about his experience of working with Bogie on the film. “We were friends, but it was the image Bogart projected on screen that made him right for my movies. I never wrote a scenario with Bogie in mind. After the screenplay was written, however, I would say, “Only Bogie can play this role.””

Bacall and Bogart were at their forth (it would also be their final) film together. In the book Bogie: A Celebration of the Life and Films of Humphrey Bogart, Richard Schickel describes Bogart’s scenes with Lauren Bacall as having an “unguarded quality”, something Bogart had never done when playing opposite other women. That is very true. They were made for each other, and had a very special rapport, on and off screen.

They, of course, had the most intense chemistry when they first appeared together in Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, where “a very knowing, yet actually not widely experienced young woman meets an older man, knows at once what she wants, and proceeds to tempt, tease, and taunt him into an instinctive, erotically charged rapport,” as Todd McCarthy described their love story in Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood.

In The Big Sleep, Bacall and Bogart’s second film together, the same Howard Hawks wanted to recapture the provocative groove of their previous film, aiming at creating another vehicle for the Bogart-Bacall magic, and worked out the script with the intuitive view of the two characters’ relationship and dialogue in mind. Key Largo was different. Not only was it in the hands of a different director, but the director was John Huston. “Key Largo was one of my happiest movie experiences,” Bacall would recall. “I thought how happy a medium the movies were, to enable someone to meet, befriend and work with such people. What a great time of life that was – the best people at their best. With all those supposed actors’ egos, there was not a moment of discomfort or vying for position. That’s because they were all actors, not just ‘stars’”.

Dressed in a full, pleated wool skirt with generous side pockets and white dress shirt, pieced together with a wide buckle belt and espadrilles (the iconic flat shoes became popular in the United States when they were seen on Lauren Bacall in this movie), she channels the same restrained elegance and distinction that Bogart’s look – in matching pleated tweed trousers, white shirt and belt – does. She was “one of the boys”. Indeed, she was the honorary female member of the Rat Pack. She was the real deal, one of a kind. Just as Bogart. She may have seemed sultry, tough and unattainable from afar, but she defied all these stereotypes about herself, as it so clearly comes off in her book. It was her independent spirit, grace, statuesque beauty, strength of character and sharp wit that were so unattainable about her. He stood tall in everything he did and was – “Bogart in real life was what he was in movies,” were John Huston’s words. “We were good friends, we would drink together, we liked to tell nonsensical jokes and laugh together. He was a wonderful companion. He did not know what being serious meant, and if he noticed that other people were being pretentious, he would attack them in the most direct way.” Together, Bacall and Bogart became their best selves.

The practical 1940s suited Lauren Bacall, style-wise, and she would carry on her utilitarian, razor-sharp outfits into the 50s, her enigmatic femininity and feisty and unconventional nature in glorious contrast to the feminine excess of the next decade. Bacall and Bogart both had well established individual styles and together they became even more iconic. I like how coordinated to the smallest detail their costumes in Key Largo are, they even have the sleeves of their white shirts turned up and the top shirt buttons unfastened. She could carry off mannish tweeds and a white shirt as well as any of the guys. Nobody could straddle both tomboyish and feminine playfulness better than Lauren Bacall. Audrey Hepburn would wear a very similar ensemble five years later, in Roman Holiday, but we appreciate Lauren’s look – created by Leah Rhodes, who also dressed Bacall in The Big Sleep – in a different way. Audrey’s, just as her character, has a gentle innocence and a sweet, unabashed girlish quality to it, while Lauren wears it with boldness, bravery and a grown-up femininity, the kind of maturity she had reached in real life early, through a natural sense of independence, but especially through life itself and love, her life with Bogart the greatest educator in the realities of life (she was 19 when they met, he was 25 years her senior). “No one has ever written a romance better than we lived it.”
 

editorial sources: John Huston interview with Dan Ford, 1972; John Huston interview with Barbara Thomas, 1978; John Ford interview with Michel Ciment, 1984 (all interviews part of the book John Huston Interviews, edited by Robert Emmet Long). By Myself and Then Some, by Lauren Bacall. Bogie: A Celebration of the Life and Films of Humphrey Bogart, by Richard Schickel. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, by Todd McCarthy

 

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This Summer We’re Channelling: Indiana Jones and The Raiders of The Lost Ark at 40

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Paramount Pictures

 
Forty years ago this summer Indiana Jones took the world on his first and greatest adventure on screen in Raiders of the Lost Ark. To this day, the film imagined by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas has remained, for many, the quintessential adventure movie. An exercise in pure cinematic style, Raiders of the Lost Ark has every bit of action held together by an irresistible mixture of boyish spirit and a romance with classic cinema. Drawn from forgotten Saturday matinee serials of the 30s, comics, and Howard Hawks films, Steven Spielberg created the kind of adventure he would have loved as a kid. Throughout his career, Hawks, too, had wanted “to merge his fictional ideals with his real life, a boy’s fantasy being played out every day”, as Todd McCarthy analyses in his book, Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, something he always sought for in his adventure films, from Only Angels Have Wings to Hatari!.
 

Harrison Ford and Paul Freeman in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, 1981. Paramount Pictures

 
“I never wanted to get away from the B-movie, pulp feeling of the entire cliff-hanger era of the 40s and 50s, the old Republic serials”, Spielberg told Vanity Fair in February 2008. “I think one of the things we brought to the genre – and we didn’t coin the genre, it’s been around a lot longer than we’ve been around – but what we brought to the genre was our willingness to let our leading man to get hurt, and to express his pain and to get his mad out and to take pratfalls and sometimes be the but of his own jokes.”

When he is not a tweed-wearing archeology professor, Harrison Ford is a leather-jacketed temple raider, scouring the globe for treasures and artifacts, like the Lost Ark of the Covenant, the gold chest in which Moses supposedly stored the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Fearless and flawed, with a caustic spirit and dry humor and dressed in his trademark fedora, bullwhip and rumpled clothes, he is the less-than-perfect, unconventional hero with an Achilles heel for snakes, who can throw a punch but gets beaten up plenty in return, too, and who walks the fine line between the good side and the bad side. In fact, Indiana and his duplicitous French rival archeologist, Belloq (Paul Freeman), are rather “very much alike,” as the latter states. “Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the purer faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.”

I think that’s one of the reasons why the film has continued to bond with viewers, making Indiana highly identifiable, reaching so many people, such a wide and diversified audience, crossing generational boundaries. “The fact that it just keeps on giving is wonderful”, actor Paul Freeman recently told Variety this June, the month of the film’s 40th anniversary. Dressed in tweed, Indiana Jones is certainly the personification of the good guy, but in his adventurer outfit, he is the tough guy who could very well be thief or law, in the true vein of the film noir’s great anti-heros, who walked that grey zone and were defined by the same dress – the fedora an intrinsic part of their image – and dialogue and varying degrees of vulnerability, regardless of whether they played detective or criminal.

The heroine, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), isn’t the archetypal girl-in-distress either. Strong-headed, high-spirited and capable of taking care of herself, as well as the custodian of a jewel essential for locating the ark, she is the kind of feisty leading lady action heroine Spielberg liked when he was watching movies growing up, especially the movies of the 30s, “when women held their own against men, when they could win the day, like Irene Dunn, Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyk”, Spielberg explained. “And writers knew how to write for women in the 30s and 40s.” And if they were Howard Hawks, they refused to yield to the expected Hollywood sentimentality and mawkishness, too. There is a frisky chemistry between Marion and Indy, the kind we see in Hawks’ films – because he liked his characters, men and women, “to be ready to spark when the fuse was lit” and he liked to depict how “a new couple sparked until they clicked”, that incipient attraction, insouciant confidence, youthful desire. We don’t know much about Indiana Jones’ and Marion’s past romance, but it is clear it was not a long-term one, which allows it to spark and surprise and fuses the audience’s interest and anticipation.
 

Karen Allen in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, 1981. Paramount Pictures

 
All that being said, what is the one thing that comes to the collective mind when we think of the character Indiana Jones? His look. Because nothing can make a character feel more like himself or herself than the clothes they are wearing. And that’s how we first meet Indy. We see his silhouette from behind, shaped by the leather jacket and fedora hat on the backdrop of the blue sky and the great unknown of the South American jungle. It’s this look, and especially the hat, that we identify Indy with. In an interview for The Fedora Lounge, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis encountered the research that went into the creation of Indiana’s costume. “Steven and I sat and watched a couple of movies together. We watched China, which is an Alan Ladd picture from the 1940s; we watched The Lost Treasure of the Incas, starring Charlton Heston as Harry Steele. It was made in 1952, and he [Heston] really wears the costume, more or less, of Indiana Jones. Then I watched The Greatest Show on Earth, in which Charlton Heston wears a brown leather jacket and a brown fedora, pretty much the costume of Indiana Jones. And if that wasn’t enough, Steven used to run Saturday morning adventure serials, where a lot of these guys, because it was just post-war, were wearing flight jackets and brown fedoras.”

Those flight jackets and fedoras bring to mind a favourite Howard Hawks film of mine, Only Angels Have Wings, having as characters men who are staring down death as they are flying dangerous missions over treacherous mountain terrain, come rain, shine or fog. The short landing strips are no less hazardous. It was a pioneering time, a time when the rules of aviation were just being learned. They have poor navigational equipment and makeshift planes, but they are hard-shelled and have an unconquerable spirit. It’s an electrifying, fast-paced, past-the-edge-of-yourself world, one of Howard Hawks’ fantasy worlds, a place for world-weary romanticism, borderline cynicism and crazy courage. They are united by their trust in each other, professionalism and a code of dressing. They all wear leather flight jackets. An aviator himself, Hawks sought to give his characters credibility, as tough guys and pilots, so he naturally turned to the flyer’s jacket, steeped in utility and far-from-perfect, hard-won heroism. Actually, I see a lot of Indiana Jones in Richard Barthelmess’ look in Only Angels, as seen in this piece I wrote about the film. He is wearing the perfect clothes for his mission. Perfect because he looks like himself and he looks real in his leather jacket and fedora. It’s like he’s always existed somewhere, not just on the written page of a script, and now he has made the acquaintance of the audience who has been long waiting for him.

Further elaborating on the costumes creation process, Nadoolman explained how Indy’s jacket, made of soft leather which she aged herself with sandpaper and a suede brush, had to be tight around the waist yet allow Harrison freedom of movement and of handling the whip, to have an athletic, masculine silhouette. As for the fedora, she had Harrison try on hundreds of grey, brown and black fedoras from Berman’s and Nathan’s in London (now Angel’s Costumiers), and she took the right crown height from one hat and the right brim width from another and made a bespoke fedora, one that has a life of its own.

“But we don’t create the icons, the audience creates the icons”, the costume designer concluded. “When you fell in love with Indiana Jones, I may have had a part in it, and Steven helped, but it’s the public that creates the image, it was the public that made him a hero.” But what they did do was to hold the visual reins and create a world that the audience did not know or only dreamed of and thrust them into it and into a feeling of adventure and fantasy.

 

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