A Sporting Life: In Search of Its Lost Elegance

Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue

 

Snow makes everything better, doesn’t it? Not just because snow somehow blocks out the rest of the world and you become aware of your own unique place in it, or because there is nothing quite like winter in nature in the snow, experiencing the inner peace and calm from being in the midst of the pine forests and pristine snow slopes combined with the equally fascinating and intimidating feeling of being up there, but because snow reveals quite like nothing else that childlike side that never fully leaves us as adults. Once again I find myself drawn to Jacques Henri Lartigue’s photography, this time his hiver collection, and the key words here are the ones used by Michael Hoppen when I talked to him last year about Lartigue’s photography: “the ultimate Peter Pan of photography”, he named him.

The world was Lartigue’s playground and he seemingly pointed his camera guilelessly around, but he absolutely knew what he was doing, because he could see things other people, and things other photographers as a matter of fact, passed unnoticed. Just like a child who still believes in magic. He never parted with this spirit of playfulness, lightness and spontaneity, with this penchant for movement and freedom, and this is what inherently defined his photographic eye. And to register the world go by in such a positive and instinctive way decade after decade is truly a very rare gift and validation of his enduring greatness as a photographer. “The world of alpine sports had a formative influence on his vision,” writes on Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue. “The skis, sleds, skates, curling, bobsleighs and even propeller-driven sleds flew past and provided a perfect pretext for his visual apology for movement. Even if snow also brought more intimate, contemplative moments.”

He didn’t just capture the moment, but reality. Because this is another quality all children have: they tell the truth. He was able to capture a whole story in a second or two, before trotting off, again daydreaming, again action in mind, in an unhurried pursuit of his art. Lartigue simply looked at the world prepared to take it all in. Just like children.
 

Robert Redford photographed by John Dominis, 1969.

 
True, there was a different kind of reality back then, before photographs, “instead of just recording reality”, as Susan Sontag wrote in her incredibly prescient 20th-century criticism that speaks a rampant, painful, disquieting truth, decades in advance, about the state of 21st-century culture, “have become the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality, and of realism.” That spontaneity from photography is largely lost because everyone is now so aware of being photographed, looked at, perceived in a certain way. If you want to have a memory to cherish a lifetime, take a photo of the one you want to photograph without their knowing you photograph them.

And when you are less self-conscious, elegance sits differently on you. Some people swoon over glamorous photos from the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50. I’m no stranger to that feeling either. But give me a photograph of someone in a wooly ski attire, let’s dub them winter style heroes, from a few decades ago and that would spark a ten times fold fascination in me. Skiers wore wool instead of moisture wicket techno fiber jackets and they looked great while doing it. And they looked like, well, individuals. I like celebrating individuals, whose personalities are rooted in authentic values and style, just as I like to celebrate the culture, stories and style that surround sports.

“Style can be so many things, but it’s very personal in the end,” Lisa Bergstrand, the founder of A New Sweden, a brand that makes its products locally only from Swedish wool, told me in our interview – their vision is to take ownership of their products, cradle to cradle, and to make clothes for longevity, both from an aesthetic and quality perspective. And they started with wool because it is a wonder material – naturally antibacterial, water-repellant, that helps regulate the body temperature.
 

Photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue

 
There is something incredibly enduring whenever sports and style come in play together. And Jean Claude Killy is one who exemplifies that to perfection. The man who dominated Alpine skiing in the mid-to-late ’60s and swept the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble (subsequently dubbed the Killympics) by winning the whole three alpine events, Downhill, Giant Slalom and Slalom, looked the part in form-fitting, geometrical patterned racing woollens, and he took a style rooted in function one step further and paved the terrain for après-ski and day-to-day wear, opting for rollneck cable-knit sweaters, shearling jackets and knitted beanies.
 

Jean Claude Killy. Photograph courtesy of Rolex.

 
In Downhill Racer (1969), one of the best movies about sports, about winning and the mystique of sport, Robert Redford is David Chappellet, member of the US skiing team. “What does winning really mean?” was what Robert Redford, one of the producers and the one who brought director Michael Ritchie and screenwriter James Salter together, wanted the movie to be about. Skiing and winning are all that matter to Chappellet, a character that is presented unidimensional, from the angle of a driven, self-centered professional sportsman, without insisting on any personal drama or feelings. “I’ll be famous, I’ll be a champion”, Chappellet tells his father, that’s all he is interested in, dismissing any interest even in the financial side.

But there is also Redford’s sweater trim silhouette, namely the black pullover with a chest-crossing black and white stripe, that any discerning sportsman, and any man and woman for that matter, should channel today. It’s minimalist, modern, so classically sporty. It was the time of Jean Claude Killy, when the best downhill racers wore sweaters of pure wool. If it was good back then, why wouldn’t it be good today? My grandfather, an active man his entire life who always lived (and could only have lived) in the countryside, where the winters used to be much harsher than they are now, never wore a jacket. His winter outerwear was a thick hand-made woolen pullover, worn with a proper base layer, and a sheep shearling vest on top of it. I believe in family traditions and that rich experiences involve people and nature and not much material stuff, and I also believe in simple, timeless sports traditions. Reclaiming natural fibers should go hand in hand with our newly-refound reconnection with nature, steeped in an elegant practicality.

“It was the ’70s and skiing was the scene. Everyone wanted to be outdoors with each other, bold and beautiful and kissed by the sun. It was like nature was a game. The air got you high, the sky, and there was the feeling of something wondrous and once in a lifetime.” – The God of Skiing, by Peter Kray.
 

Robert Redford in “Downhill Racer”, 1969. Wildwood Enterprises, Paramount Pictures.

Robert Redford and cast on the set of “Downhill Racer”, 1969. Wildwood Enterprises, Paramount Pictures.

 

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Looking at the World from a Place of Respect, with Photographer Frederique Peckelsen

Western Mongolia, 2018. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen.

 
The best travel photography is simple, rough and honest.

“I have travelled a good deal, though I don’t really know how to travel,” remarked Henri Cartier Bresson. “I like to take my time about it, leaving between one country and the next an interval in which to digest what I’ve seen. Once I had arrived in a new country, I feel almost like settling down there, so as to live on proper terms with the country. I could never be a globetrotter.”

If not now, then when? Truly wanting to see and live in a place, trying and being present with the people, trying and experiencing their way of life as authentically as possible, trying and understanding their symbiotic relationship with nature, trying and understanding their past, experiencing their present, imagining their future, getting out and looking at the world with curiosity, wonder and respect. You have to move softly and instead of burdening yourself with useless visual recordings, take time, feel the space, observe its people and cut to the very essence of what you see so that what your photograph radiates outward is a whole story in itself.

Frederique Peckelsen’s photography possesses that quiet beauty and vigorous readiness that come from both a sense of respect for its subject matter and from an ever-attentive eye, one that does not intrude but is intuitive and honest about what one sees and feels and lets oneself surprised. In capturing the moment, Frederique’s photography can evoke a whole story, and a whole world with barren skies, but one that will only reveal itself to those who truly want to discover it. With a slow step, an open mind and always looking with a new eye.

In our conversation, I have talked to Frederique about photography, people, nature and what travels means today.
 

Western Mongolia, 2018. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen.

Western Mongolia, 2018. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen.

 
Frederique, what do you make of this moment in history when tourism was put on a halt? Will people travel more with purpose?

There are two sides to this story for me. On the one hand, I am very much aware of the fact that traveling by plane to see far off places, doesn’t do the environment any good. It saddens me to see how the earth is changing because people can’t have ‘no’ for an answer. We want the things we want, and we feel like we are entitled to do whatever it is we long for. Sometimes you may want something, but you know very well that you shouldn’t do it, because it is irresponsible. I’m not sure if we are able to change this as humans. The powerful we as a race become, the more entitled we feel. As if the earth owes us something. But somewhere deep down, I think we all know it is the other way around – we owe our lives to our planet. Or maybe, it is only the people who live closer to nature, and those who still feel connected to mother earth, who realise that earth will always win in the end and we might not live to see it. I wish I was more optimistic on this topic, but I’m afraid not even this crisis will teach all of us the importance of change.

On the other hand, I also know how much travel can enlighten a person. We can be more open, more tolerant, more understanding and very much inspired by seeing different ways of life. We learn to reflect on our own cultures and the way we act. How lucky or how unfortunate we or others sometimes are. Travel, and the change it evokes as a little spark, can be the beginning of a person doing better. So however contradictory it may be, travel can be both the reason for the planet’s negative climate change, and it can also be the reason for people wanting to change their own ways for the better, which may lead to a better planet in the end.
 
 

”I’m not there to judge or disturb.
I always try to build a connection with people
in my photographs, however short that may be.”

 
 
Where do you think lies the responsibility of the travel photographer nowadays, as we all know that there is the downside to travel photography of encouraging more and more people to go to the same locations?

I think we are all very much responsible for what we do, and to some extent what we might evoke in others. You can’t always control it, but you have to take your choices and their consequences into consideration. I feel that a travel photographer should take into consideration that whenever they take the time to show a place in all its glory, that others will probably want to follow. There are so many places on earth, but a lot of people seem to want to go to the same places, because those are the places with the most glamorous photos online. But there are so many places that are mind-blowing, but you have to find the path that brings you there yourself. And I think that this is what might keep people away from places less travelled – the fear of figuring it out alone. We know that certain places will be harder to get to. That those places might not have the luxurious hotels, not have the fastest internet – or none at all. I would not want to go to places that are overcrowded, or overpopulated, because it won’t give me that connection to earth I’m looking for. I think there are many overwhelming places on earth, and I do hope that editors and travel photographers all think of places less visited when they choose what to share with the world.
 

Omalo, Georgia, 2016. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen.

 

I was reading something Wim Wenders wrote in his book of photographic research for his film Paris Texas. He says: “There’s a distinct kind of satisfaction that you get from looking and travelling alone, and it’s connected with this relation of solitude to photography. […] If you’re not alone you take different photos. I rarely feel the urge to take pictures if I’m not on my own.” I think this also comes from that place of travelling and figuring it out alone that you mention. It’s the difference between travelling and tourism. Travelling forces you connect with the world. “Tourism is sin and travelling on foot virtue,” Werner Herzog said, a dictum that his friend Bruce Chatwin also liked.

This resonates so much with me. Without wanting to play down the positive effects of the tourism industry, I do agree that there is a big difference between travelling a place and flooding it with tourism. To me, mass tourism seems to turn culture into a profitable and commercialised product, in which culture loses in value. Hotels can, for example, claim land and sea where generations of indigieous fisherman had lived and fished and forbid these people to keep living there. It is a paradox in that way: we go to a place because we are moved by its nature, their people and culture, but by doing so, we destroy little parts of it so that we can comfortably stay amongst them for a short period of time. Mass tourism in this way tramples or artificalises culture. If you truly want to experience a place, a way of life, you have to take the time, and undergo that life without exhausting or claiming a land’s richness of culture. You shouldn’t leave a footprint at least, and have an equal exchange at most. 
 
 

”I think it is the place that makes the people.
People are an expression of the landscapes they grew up in.”

 
 
You have documented different cultures in your work, yet your photographs never seem to intrude, regardless of how up-close you may capture your subject matter. How difficult is it for you to keep the distance while getting close?

I wouldn’t say I’m shy, but I’m not one that would physically get too close to people, or demand people see me. It is not about me, not even just about them. It’s about the nature they move in and that they are part of. I very much like my own space, so always respect other people’s spaces.

I am just honestly blown away by some place, cultures or people. But always from a place of respect. Never from a superior standpoint, or from a purely voyeuristic standpoint. Maybe it is because it is equal. They find me different and interesting, and I feel the same about them. I always try to read a situation, and while doing that, keeping their culture in mind. Before I go to a certain place I will read up on their history, their religion, symbolism, folk stories and social rules as much as I can, because that gives much more context to a certain place. I love to have my camera with me at all times, but I’m careful with pointing it at someone. Some cultures might not like an outsider just shoving a camera in their face. Or some cultures won’t like it when I, as a woman, will come in and confidently click around. I’m not there to judge or disturb. I always try to build a connection with people in my photographs, however short that may be. Just to know whether it is ok to shortly look at them through my lens.
 

The Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum desert, Jordan. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen.

 

Do people make the place?

Ha! I honestly think it’s the other way around. I think it is the place that makes the people. I know that might not exactly be your question, but I think people are shaped by their environment. And I do not just mean the way their parents raise them, but more how nature is at the start of everything.

People are an expression of their landscape.

You can learn to understand people when you look at the nature around them. I am fascinated by the influence of landscape and environment on people, and how their culture and religion are partly formed from this. People find explanations and solutions in the form of gods, rituals, decorations and clothing that fit the obstacles that life and nature throw up for them. People are an expression of the landscapes they grew up in.

Has there been any place where you have experienced this deep connection, communion, of people with the nature surrounding them, more than anywhere else?

I would say some countries in Central Asia I visited and Iceland. Both parts of the world have weather conditions that can be so harsh, that nature is always in charge. Your plans aren’t set in stone, but nature dictates whether what you wanted to do will happen today, tomorrow, or in half a year. I’m from the Netherlands, where we have battled the sea many times, and ultimately won. We always try to predict the weather, try to dam the water or claim land that belonged to the sea and succeed in it. I thought it was interesting to see how another European country with a somewhat similar culture and history is not trying to go to battle with nature, but just accepts its hardships (and beauties). And of course places like Mongolia and the countries around the Pamir Mountains like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan where nomads move whenever the seasons change. Instead of overcoming nature, they live in harmony with it and have learned to read its signs. I do not want to put one way of living above the other, as it is not about good or bad, but it is because I was brought up in one that the other intrigues me.

Your photography does this, it seems to communicate that you are not only observing, but always learning from nature, you are listening to it. Visual poetry: that’s one way I would describe your photography, visual stories with many depths. Do you ever feel the need to explain your photographs?

What a beautiful compliment. As a child, I believed that trees could communicate with each other through the wind, in a language we humans forgot how to speak. So I would listen carefully, and see if I could intuitively relearn their signs. Of course I never really succeeded, but this might be how I still view nature – as a force we can’t quite understand because we don’t speak its language anymore.

So to me it is very important to not only look through my lens, but really sense a place. I am always looking for the invisible magic of the earth. Places that are overwhelming or very quiet and mystical. Only when I sense something, when a place triggers my emotions or when my mind starts to wander off and think about what folktales might have been told here, do I capture a place.

Because of this approach, it is sometimes hard to explain my photographs in a rational manner. So I never really feel the need to explain them, but rather talk about what I felt or how nature behaved whenever people ask about them.
 

Western Mongolia, 2018. Photograph by Frederique Peckelsen.

 
 

Website: frederiquepeckelsen.com | Instagram: @frederiquepeckelsen

 

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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 narrative shift on Allison’s side (as Rory is gradually losing control, fidgeting in all directions, she finds herself seemingly motionless, but in fact in constant process of trying to balance everything that’s happening and she is ultimately the one who could be capable of seeing past the ruin) 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 very much 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.
 
 

”There’s an earthiness and warmth to her wardrobe
that acts as a disparity to other themes in the film.”

 
 
A costume designer’s job is to reinforce the story and help the actor form an identity of his/her character. But what exactly goes into the work of a costume designer today? How much ready-made shopping, how much vintage and how much making did the costumes in “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.
 
 

”Movies are designed to be seen on the larger screen
for many reasons, that’s their Nest.”

 
 
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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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. Losey manages what few other filmmakers have with Delon, balancing out a subtle narcissism with a gloomy fatality. 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 Edit: 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