Bob Willoughby: The Photographer Who Was as Great as the Stars He Shot

Audrey Hepburn and George Cukor on the Covent Garden set of “My Fair Lady”, 1963
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
It could capture the essence of an entire movie in a shot. And the emotions and thoughts of an actor during the making of his art. It could also sell a film. Bob Willoughby’s photography did all that. He was Hollywood’s first behind the scenes photographer, hired specifically by movie studios to take on-set promotional “stills”. He made the movie stars human. A pioneer of 20th century photography, Bob Willoughby introduced photojournalism to a previously highly staged field and captured some of the most famous and best actors in the history of cinema not posing for the camera, not only during a take as it was unfolding, not only in character for the roles they played, but with their guard down, in moments of repose, pensiveness or intimacy – and this, somehow, made them even more fascinating in the eyes of the audience. Generations on, and his photography still does that. Now, when we are inundated by images on social media with their even more growing lack of ability to hold our attention for long, Bob Willoughby’s photography still has the power to appeal to the imagination and make a visual impact.

He would roam the set freely, mingle with directors and actors, invent the remote-camera, hide behind the crew, find, and if necessary create, the right angle and light, become part of the decor – spontaneous moments look best on film, always, and, in that regard, a good photographer is the one you don’t even get to see. He seized the moment, he knew when he had seen something remarkable, and granted the public unprecedented, unedited access behind the closed doors of Hollywood. He watched and recorded as a world was being made, by filmmakers and actors and the entire crew, and he let his personal creativity to create a world of his own, too. He was not after perfection, not after the star image but after personality, a feeling, he was not after selling an image but about communicating emotion. His photographs offered beauty and insight into the world of each of his subjects. Bob Willoughby, who studied film at the University of South California and design with renowned graphic designer Saul Bass at the Kahn Institute of Art, loved the big screen and those on it, and it just shows that his work stemmed from passion for and understanding of cinema, and art, and of the human kind.

I have recently had the great pleasure to talk to Christopher Willoughby, Bob’s son, about his father’s legendary work, Bob’s special friendship with Audrey Hepburn, the moments he met Hitchcock and Marilyn, the many other greats that he photographed and the one that got away, and why he moved his family away from Hollywood.
 

Frank Sinatra. Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
I would like to start with those words of Sydney Pollack about your father’s work: “Sometimes a film-maker gets a look at a photograph taken on his own set and sees the ‘soul’ of his film in one still photograph. It’s rare, but it happens. It happened to me in 1969, the first time I looked at the work of Bob Willoughby during the filming of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?.” Do you know which photograph he was referring to, and what do you think was your father’s secret in his ability to recognise the soul of the story through his camera?

Hi, Ada. Thank you for your interest in my father’s work.

The Sydney Pollack quote is part of an amazing foreword Sydney wrote for the book The Star Makers (Merrell). I’m not sure he was speaking about a specific image, but we could puzzle it out I think. There are a couple of iconic shots.

Sydney and Dad spoke at length about the visual resolution of the film. Something wasn’t quite gelling for my father – and Sydney, because of these conversations, ended up shooting an extra scene for the end of the film.

What does it take to recognise the soul of a story and transform that into a photograph? First, there has to be a soul. If there was something there, as there was in Horses, Bob would find it. And if there wasn’t, he would create one. There were plenty of filmmakers who wished their movie looked like Bob’s photographs of their movie.

Often my father had a genuine admiration for the director or actors he was working with and real connections were made. He and Audrey Hepburn were great friends and worked together over many years.

I believe a strong contributing factor to what made my father’s work special was his deep understanding and love of art, his ability to recognise a beautiful piece of art from any culture or period and know what made it important. He was a tremendous collector and he brought that mental catalogue onto the set every day. You can see those influences in his compositions and use of light.
 

Jane Fonda on the set of “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” 1969
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
Was there any piece of art from his collection he was particularly fond of? Any artists he drew constant inspiration from?

He had such an eclectic collection, it would be difficult to put my finger on just one, so sorry Dad if I’m getting this wrong – I think Degas would be someone he appreciated for his unique perspectives and figure placement.

Was there any other director he had such a collaborative approach with, as in the case of Sydney Pollack? Any film he developed a special bond with?

We heard more about the directors he didn’t get on with, or who made his job more difficult than it already was. He did seem to have a unique relationship with Otto Preminger who yelled at everyone on set, but never had a harsh word for Dad. I think there was some sense of mentoring, and certainly mutual respect.

My father was a big fan of Mike Nichols and was impressed by his intellectual flexibility, his ability to change direction on set; getting the cast to play a serious scene for laughs for instance.
 

Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman on a specially constructed set at Paramount during filming “The Graduate”, 1967.
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
There are some iconic images from the set of The Graduate: Katherine Ross and Dustin Hoffman running from the church, Dustin Hoffman hiding in his room, and that striking shot of Anne Bancroft in close up and Hoffman in the back.

When dad started on the film, he was introduced to the cast, including Dustin Hoffman, a young New York actor doing his first film, but he looked familiar. As they were shaking hands, dad asked if his mother’s name was Lillian and his father’s was Harry – and Hoffman said “Yes”. “Dusty! I used to babysit you and your brother Ronald a hundred years ago on Orange Drive”.
 
 

”I guess he [Frank Sinatra] thought dad was the best!
He called him Bobby.”

 
 
Bob Willoughby is considered Hollywood’s first behind the scenes photographer, the first “unit photographer”. His job was to capture the moments of a performance live, during a take as it was unfolding, and also between takes, watching everything as the world was being made. Was he on the set every day when he was working on a film? Did he also read the script? What was his creative process like?

Bob’s job was to create a story for his clients – they usually had a specific angle, but because he had multiple assignments for each film, there was a lot of crossover coverage. Often film production would overlap and he would move from one film to another.

He always read the script and the shooting schedule and would research the film – was it to be on location, were there historical aspects to the script he could incorporate? He needed to figure out the most productive times to be present on set, but sometimes the studio hired him for the entire film. When that happened, he would bring the family along and we’d get to live in France or Ireland for the length of the production.

He wasn’t a unit photographer actually. A unit photographer is a union photographer traditionally hired by the studio and is part of the film crew – and when they’re done, they hand over all the work to the studio. Bob was referred to as a special and retained ownership of his work. The images were licensed to magazines and other clients, including the studios, for publication. Bob was never out of print for over twenty years.
 

Humphrey Bogart, one of the most memorable faces in the history of cinema, portrayed as Captain Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny”,
Columbia Studios, 1953. Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
Shooting during an actual take could be a problem, because sound was being recorded. Camera sounds would be picked up by the microphones. One solution was shooting rehearsals. This had it’s own set of problems with actors not in costume yet, or unfinished sets. Bob developed a number of technologies to shoot during sound takes; The Sound Blimp to sound proof the camera, and radio controlled motor drives (used very successfully on They Shoot Horses and The Great Race) to photograph where you would be seen or it was unsafe.

It makes perfect sense what you say, that he wasn’t actually a unit photographer. Bob’s work seems to transcend the film he was shooting and his photographs can stand alone as individual works. How did he start working in the movie industry? What sparked his interest in cinema?

In 1951, he was noticed by Charles Block at Globe Photos who introduced his work to Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar. Since he was in Hollywood, he would often get assignments to grab a shot of an actor on set. By 1954, when he went to cover Judy Garland on A Star Is Born, he had assignments from seven different magazines. Judy was seemingly making life difficult for everyone, but Dad and Judy got on swimmingly. When Warner Bros decided to shoot an additional dance number, she requested him by name. This resulted in his first Life Magazine cover and, from that moment on, things got very busy.
 
 

”Bob’s work broke with the traditional, staid
Hollywood portrait. He created images of intimacy
that showed the vulnerabilities of his subjects.”

 
 

Montgomery Clift. Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

Katharine Hepburn on set of “The Lion in Winter” at Ardmore Studios, Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, 1967.
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
What is your most beautiful recollection of those times spent during the production of a film abroad?

We got out of school! My dad had roaring arguments with Mother Celine, the principal at our grade school – He wasn’t going to let school get in the way of a good education!

I have a memory of dinner near Pompeii during Goodbye Mr Chips with mom and dad, Peter O’Toole and Petulia Clark and others from the production. They were drinking a red wine made from grapes grown on the slopes of Mt Vesuvius and, when they opened the bottle, it foamed pink.

Building wooden forts out of logs in our house in Fontvieille near Arles during The Lion In Winter.

Watching the Apollo 11 moon landing in our sitting room in Ireland.

Going down into town in the morning to buy bread by ourselves in St Maxime. I have many wonderful memories.

With his portraits of actors, he captured the humanity in each subject, but he made them memorable, too. He brought his own creative instincts and abilities in. Is good set photography both creative and witnessing?

Bob’s work broke with the traditional, staid Hollywood portrait. He created images of intimacy that showed the vulnerabilities of his subjects. Some are full of bravado and playfulness, others reveal shyness and insecurity. There is a documentary aspect to his work, so yes, witnessing played a part, but that was not the primary focus.

Bob always came up with a solution to get what he needed – if he had to, he would set up his own shoots next to the film production. He created his own parade on location for Dr. Dolittle when the director was being uncooperative – “What are you going to do, come back without the shot?” But, most importantly, he cared about the people he was photographing. His images are human and trusting. He always wanted them at their best, even in their unguarded moments and his subjects knew this and trusted him.
 

Steve McQueen on location for “Junior Bonner”, Prescott Arizona 1971
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
He also seemed unfazed about celebrity and lacking in pretension himself, a great professional who wanted to do his job. Did that also help in putting the stars at ease around him?

I think most professionals in Hollywood can’t really be taken up with celebrity and get any work done. Dad treated the actors, directors and whoever he was shooting as fellow professionals. He also had a pretty solid sense of his own worth. He told Barbra Streisand once, when she was being a little difficult, that he was at least as good a photographer as she was a singer – and could we just get to work.

Dad worked hard to keep his family separate from the Hollywood lifestyle. Most of my parents’ close friends were not part of the business and, ultimately, he moved his family to Ireland where he thought we had a better chance of growing up safely.

Looking back now, do you feel you grew up safely?

We definitely grew up safely – my parents felt Los Angeles was becoming less safe, and so, by the time I was 13, they had moved the family to Ireland, and rural Ireland at that. A much more relaxed lifestyle.
 

Rock Hudson in his trailer, on location in Grado, Italy for “A Farewell to Arms”, 1957.
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
Did you grow up thinking that people in Hollywood are like everyone else? It’s easy to see why one might think otherwise, especially when you see an image like Rock Hudson behind his typewriter in his trailer and his admirers gathered at the window.

We had limited exposure and really we were too young to be impressed by actors. Although it’s funny now to see pictures of us kids climbing all over Tony Curtis in our living room.

 
 

”As Marilyn came towards him, he looked down into
the camera and felt the hair on the back of his neck rising.
He said he realised then what all the shouting was about.”

 
 
He photographed Hitchcock in 1964, on the set of Marnie, that great shot of the filmmaker’s famous profile. How was that experience?

Dad was impressed with Hitchcock. During a lull in filming, he was asking the director some questions about the script and, to dad’s delight, Hitchcock took the time to run through his whole vision of Marnie with him. Hitchcock was famously bored with aspects of filming – he could see the whole film in his head, he found the actual shooting anti-climatic.
 

Alfred Hitchcock on the Universal Studios set of “Marnie”, 1964.
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
I am returning to Audrey Hepburn, to a shot of her, I think it is from the set of My Fair Lady, when she is chatting with George Cukor. I think that extraordinary shot simply captures the scale of a film set you are working on, evoking the feeling that you inhabit a silent world where you are on your own just watching. And I think that just shows how special his job was, but how good a photographer he was, too.

That shot of Audrey and Cukor was on the Covent Garden set on a Warner Bros soundstage in Burbank for My Fair Lady. It was after the first day of shooting, Dad was packing up his gear when Audrey came out and sat down to discuss the day with George Cukor. It is a wonderful image that, I think besides being beautiful, conveys the scale of the movies, the magic of the movies and the dedication of cast and crew.

Your father also published a book with his photographs of Audrey Hepburn. Was Audrey your father’s favourite subject? What was his favourite memory of Audrey?

Taschen published a wonderful book of my father’s images of Audrey. I think Audrey and dad hit it off the first day they met and over the years worked together on half a dozen films. Both Audrey and my mother were pregnant at the same time; her son Sean’s birthday is two days after mine, and there are fun shots of us crawling around the house and having birthdays together.
 

Marilyn Monroe on the set of “Let’s Make Love”, 1960
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
There is a shot of Marilyn Monroe on the set of Let’s Make Love. Did he impart with you any views about Marilyn from the set of that film?

Wistful and vulnerable sometimes and able to turn on a very potent sexuality when she was being photographed. The first time he photographed Marilyn was at a Photo Op at Fox Studio, not really dad’s sort of thing. He managed to find a spot away from the other photographers which, out of sheer luck, was the right spot. As Marilyn came towards him, he looked down into the camera and felt the hair on the back of his neck rising. He said he realised then what all the shouting was about.
 

Jean Seberg during filming “Bonjour Tristesse” in France, 1957.
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
He shot Jean Seberg during Bonjour Tristesse. About Seberg in this film, Truffaut had said that her “wide-open blue eyes” had “a glint of boyish malice” and “when Jean Seberg is on screen you can’t look at anything else. Her every movement is graceful, each glance is precise.” Bob seems to have captured that piercing look, and then some, in his photographs. You said he got along great with Preminger. What was his collaboration with Seberg like?

Before Bonjour Tristesse, dad worked with Otto and Jean on Saint Joan in 1957 – Otto had hired Bob for an earlier film, Carmen Jones, and seemed to like Bob right off the bat, I think they had similar interests in art and culture.

Jean was a seventeen year old Iowa schoolgirl who emerged as Saint Joan after a massive publicity based talent search. During production in London, Jean was young and out of her depth and on set Otto was emotionally brutal with her, trying to get the performance he wanted. Dad and Jean became good friends and spent a lot of time together. I believe Otto was relieved Jean was being chaperoned around and that he didn’t have to do it.

By the time Bonjour Tristesse went into production, they were old chums. Here again I feel trust and affection is the collaboration and played a huge part in creating those beautiful images.
 

James Dean goes over his script on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause”, Warner Bros. 1955
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
Two of my absolute favourite photographs of Bob Willoughby are the ones of James Dean from the set of Rebel Without a Cause, between takes looking over a script with a cigarette in his hand, and that of Montgomery Clift on the set of Raintree County.

Dad was working on the Warner lot when his agent called and asked him to go over and get a few shots on the set of a little film called Rebel Without a Cause. He mentioned there was a new actor from Broadway playing opposite Natalie Wood, and it might be good to have a few shots of him. And that was James Dean.

During production on Raintree County, Montgomery Clift was in a serious car accident coming home from a party at Elizabeth Taylor’s and the lower part of his face was badly damaged. It delayed the production for months, Monty never really got over it and became increasingly eccentric. My father was very impressed with how maternal and caring Elizabeth was towards him.
 

Montgomery Clift on the set of “Raintree County”, 1953.
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 

Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, 1965
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
 
And he also photographed Frank Sinatra, who had the reputation of having only the best photograph him, or let come near him. What was Bob’s relationship with Sinatra like?

It was great! – I guess he thought dad was the best! He called him Bobby.

Did he ever think “I could have taken a better shot”?

Nope.

Is there anyone he wished he had photographed and didn’t have the chance to?

I’m sure there was, but he went where the job dictated. There are certainly a few holes in the collection – I know he liked Robert Redford, for instance, and we don’t have anything on him. It’s also interesting to see who it was assumed would be a big deal and who would be a flash in the pan – and turned out wrong.

And something like that happened with…

Hmmm – Geoffrey Horne in Bonjour Tristesse springs to mind, or maybe Christopher Jones in Ryan’s Daughter?
 

Peter O’Toole. Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 
Towards the end of his career, photographer Terry O’Neill said: “I’m not really interested in photography anymore. I’ve semi-retired; there’s nobody I want to photograph now. Nobody as great as all the people I used to photograph. Standards have fallen where photography is concerned. Now when you go to a film premiere, the photographers look at their pictures as they take them and when they have ‘the shot’, they just stop shooting.” How did Bob feel about that? Did he think the quality of stardom had been absolutely debased in time?

He didn’t feel that way at all, he loved photography – He photographed until the very end of his life and was always working on his own projects. O’Neill is talking about paparazzi and that isn’t the type of work my father did, it was always a collaboration with the actors and the studios. And there are still great faces out there.

That’s actually reinforcing to hear. Before he became known as the great chronicler of Hollywood stars, Bob Willoughby produced an astonishing series of photographs of pivotal jazz musicians. Why did he stop photographing musicians?

Time, mostly, I’d say. He loved jazz, it was always playing in his office while he worked. I think his shooting schedule was taken up almost entirely with movies and he didn’t have time to go to shows. And record labels didn’t have the budget to compete with the film studios either.
 

Marcus Roberts listening in the wings at Jazz Gipfel in Liederhalle, Stuttgart, 1992.
Photograph by Bob Willoughby. © The Bob Willoughby Estate

 

willoughbyphotos.com

 
 

MORE STORIES

Jacques-Henri Lartigue: The ultimate Peter Pan of photography

Art will set you free: In conversation with photographer Bill Phelps

The Nest: In conversation with costume designer Matthew Price

Posted by classiq in Film, Interviews, Photography | | Comments Off on Bob Willoughby: The Photographer Who Was as Great as the Stars He Shot

The Searing Style of Jacques Deray’s “La piscine”

Romy Schneider in “La piscine”, 1969 | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) and Tritone Cinematografica

 
A rectangular swimming pool framed by shaded stones and trees under the blinding sun, each element a character in itself. Marianne and Jean-Paul live freely, the lazy, good times in a magnificent villa in the South of France. Directed by Jacques Deray and starring Romy Schneider (Marianne), Alain Delon (Jean-Paul), Maurice Ronet and Jane Birkin, La piscine (1969) teases the viewer with a relative bohemian atmosphere and calmness of the St. Tropez surroundings, only to reveal a suspenseful plot, with dramatic eye contact, sexual tension and a subtle intensity of the characters, eventually taking a dark turn. But an unease is felt from the very beginning. A huis-clos atmosphere. The ever present swimming pool. Often times, time seems suspended. Deray’s discreet, almost impassive camera examines the slightest gestures, stares and silences, capturing the characters’ muted confrontations, hidden thoughts and secret motivations. “The less you put in words, the more you will oblige me to have imagination,” Deray instructed Jean-Claude Carrière when he was working on the script.

Alain Delon plays the writer Jean-Paul, staying in a luxurious villa on the coast with his lover Marianne (Romy Schneider). Their idyllic vacation comes to a halt when Marianne’s former lover, Harry (Maurice Ronet), arrives with his teenage daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin). On the jazzy score of Michel Legrand, Jacques Deray directs with great style a searing psychosexual thriller, while drawing on the bigger than life personalities and star charisma of his protagonists – Schneider and Delon again together on screen after having been lovers off screen, and Delon reunited with Ronet nine years after Plein soleil. “I did not want to make expert panoramas, but I wanted to constantly go towards the gaze,” Jacques Deray confessed. “I was lucky to have Delon, Romy Schneider or Ronet in front of my lens. With actors like these, the camera can drag on a bit in close-up: you don’t get bored.”
 

The Criterion Collection restored edition of “La piscine”, set to be released this July. Cover art by Michael Boland

 
“I knew nothing about this film before I had the opportunity to work on the Criterion release,” film poster designer Michael Boland, who did the beautifully intense, subtly disquieting cover art for the newly restored Criterion Collection edition, set to be released next month, tells me. “However, it was not only its general appeal but probably its importance to film. I would not be surprised to learn that this is a film that is studied for its ability to continually keep the viewer uncomfortable and for the insular environment that never seems forced or contrived.

The cast exists in an oasis from which we get glimpses of a world outside of its natural boundaries. There is the occasional sliver of the Mediterranean and the intrusion of people, but nothing ever breaks the privacy and secrecy of what plays out around the pool and its gardens. There is always a shield or a wall to keep events contained and allows for some very questionable choices.

The pallete is all natural warm skin tones that are made even more luscious by the blues and greens of the environment. It is only the dark empty shadows that hints at the ominous mood which hangs over it all. The entirety of the film is a study in subtleties and control.”
 

Romy Schneider and Alain Delon on the set of “La piscine”, 1969 | La Galerie del’Instant

Alain Delon and Romy Schneider in “La piscine”, 1969 | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) and Tritone Cinematografica

 
The costumes blend in with the surroundings, and at the same time perfectly embody the style of the ‘60s and the visionary Parisian movement of the times, led by André Courrèges, Paco Rabbane and Pierre Cardin, that cut away superfluous material, decoration and introduced geometry and new materials for fashion. The costumes in La piscine were designed by Courrèges, whose clothes are considered to be magical in their simplicity – “My style accompanies a silhouette, a way of moving through life.” In 1950, Courrèges was apprenticed to Cristóbal Balenciaga, whom he considers his mentor, and worked with him for ten years. It was Balenciaga who taught him, more than anyone else, that style was “the combination of technique, aesthetics and finishing into a single harmonious result”. He is considered by many to be an architect of fashion design because of his devotion to construction, taking inspiration from men’s clothes, finding their practicality suitable for the modern woman. In 1961, he opened his own fashion house, Maison de Courrèges, and since 1996, his wife, Coqueline, a Balenciaga pupil herself, has been the artistic director of the maison.
 
Romy Schneider’s clothes are simple, elegant, uncluttered. “It is important to distinguish between style and fashion. Fashions change; style perpetuates itself through a recognizable personality of its own”, says the designer. It is however the array of swimsuits that Romy is wearing that has garnered the greatest interest in the film, costumes-wise. The simplicity of lines and the predominance of a neutral colour palette, beautifully contrasting her tanned skin, instantly transformed them into classic items, much more so than the trapeze dress, a signature Courrèges design, for example, that can be easily pinned down to that particular period.
 

Romy Schneider and Maurice Ronet in “La piscine”, 1969
Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) and Tritone Cinematografica

 

Romy Schneider and Paul Crauchet in “La piscine”, 1969
Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) and Tritone Cinematografica

 
There is a simplicity and timelessness to Romy’s everyday looks as well. Shirts in basic colours, espadrilles, woven baskets and trousers. In the ’60s, André Courrèges became the man who put women in trousers: dispensed with front pleats and cuffs, side pockets, fly-fronts and even belt-tab waists. Romy wears hers in navy blue or white, paired with a monogrammed blue shirt, another style staple, with the collar and sleeves turned up, or polo shirts, and espadrilles. Her evening outfits, dresses in vibrant colours and psychedelic print, or bare-backed, are much more sophisticated and glamorous, a duality in appearance that reveals the complexity of her character.

 

Romy Schneider and Alain Delon in “La piscine”, 1969 | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) and Tritone Cinematografica

 
While Romy’s wardrobe carries a very French, laid-back, nonchalant elegance quality, reflecting her as a well-heeled woman, her self-confidence, free will and womanhood, a very young and gamine Jane Birkin sports a pretty, preppy style (with the gingham print as a center piece). Birkin’s character, both lovely and insolent, is part tomboy (her flared jeans and simple white t-shirt are a look synonymous with Jane Birkin), part temptress (the crocheted white and black cover-ups are a perfect example of the innocent-sexy style Jane Birkin has become famous for), and she is the cause of the rapture that ensues between the characters.

But there is no doubt whose version of a woman is more alluring. In La piscine, Romy finally got rid of her acting beginnings as Empress Sissi. In front of Deray’s camera, in the company of Alain Delon’s insolent beauty and their tumultuous past relationship, and Maurice Ronet, her Marianne radiates a troubled and seductive sensuality. Both Romy and Delon were at the height of their beauty and youth – she was 30, he was 33 – in Deray’s film, and their passion for each other seems to have transformed into something much stronger and more powerful, and it is expressed in the images on screen much better than it could be in words.
 

Jane Birkin in “La piscine”, 1969 | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) and Tritone Cinematografica

 
It was Alain Delon who suggested to Jacques Deray (the two were at the beginning of their collaboration and they would end up making nine films together) to cast Romy in the role of Marianne, saying that he didn’t want anyone else for the part. When Romy joined Deray and Delon in Paris, the director reportedly declared that he found her “radiant but with a distant expression of sadness in her eyes”. He had found his Marianne. Marianne was Romy. That troubling sadness and overwhelming radiance are two qualities forever linked to Romy’s mystery and power of attraction. After the filming, Romy would write to Deray, expressing her gratitude for the opportunity to play a wonderful part and for finding her ambition again, and her hope that she had gotten the best out of her role. She would sign her letter, “Your Marianne, your Romy”.

La piscine was the film that did more than revive Romy’s career, it changed it for good, giving her the trust and courage she needed to explore her acting abilities. Claude Sautet visited Jacques Deray in the studio while editing the film and the rest, as they say, is history. Instantly won over by Romy’s fierce temper, he cast her in Les choses de la vie (1970). They would make four more films together and she would win the César award for her role in Une histoire simple (1978).
 

Maurice Ronet’s Harry is the only one who is wearing dark coloured shirts, even in daylight.

 
It’s not Romy’s body on display when the film opens. A tracking shot slowly glides over the water’s surface to Delon drowsing in peace under the blazing sun, dressed only in his skin-tight swim shorts, before Marianne awakens him. Delon is wearing his swim shorts in psychedelic or paisley prints whenever he’s by the pool. Even when he is in jeans and shirt, he is often barefoot. Never has bare skin appeared to conceal so much. Delon’s natural way of gliding through the frame is even more striking in his minimalist clothing against the shimmering swimming pool. And he is indeed reliant on his ability and physicality to seduce and satisfy Marianne, on whom he is about to become even more dependent, in more ways than one, as the events unfold. The occasional denim jacket or oversized chunky knitted sweater completes the look only on chilly nights.

As for Maurice Ronet’s Harry, he is the only one who is wearing dark shirts – undone to the navel, tucked in fitted trousers and wide belt – even in daylight. Clearly pointing to the events to come, but his appearance also invests his character with another demeanor: it is coded as good quality, fashionable and wealthy, just like his Maserati (he is a successful music producer and one of the reasons for Delon’s discomfort around him). His shirts are more body-conscious, more tailored, more macho, whereas Jean-Paul’s writer who has a hard time writing again having taken an advertising job for the time being are more loose, soft-textured and light-coloured, conveying a more relaxed and casual impression than that of Harry, reflective of his holiday mood, but also of his identity and social status. Harry never wears short sleeved shirts either, like Jean-Paul does. He prefers to roll up his shirts’ long sleeves, perhaps another sign of elevated elegance. Jean-Paul’s professional and financial shortcomings are further delineated by Harry when he asks him not to stay in the way of Marianne’s writing, for she is a writer, too, we learn, and a good one at that. Delon is at the most unsettling when he seems impassive on the surface, just like he was when Marianne told him about Harry’s imminent visit, when he was trying to keep his cool, yet his minimalist expressions capable, in mere seconds, of revealing a slight simmering tension.

As the thriller elements of the plot develop, Jean-Paul appears suited up, then in a camel suede jacket, white shirt and black trousers. The darker the plot gets, the more dressed Jean-Paul becomes, the more prim Marianne’s dresses are. In one of the last frames, we see them nestled by the window, held captive by the camera as they look outside, a safe distance from the pool, unable to break free from their present fortuity, locked in a delimited space, the guardian of their secret, existing just for each other.
 

Romy in a Courrèges signature design: the simple trapeze-shaped dress with a geometric pattern. Delon is suited up.
The darker the plot gets, the more dressed, and more soberly dressed, they become.

Romy Schneider and Alain Delon in “La piscine”, 1969 | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC) and Tritone Cinematografica.

 
 
Note: This is a revised version of the article published on August 7, 2012, on Classiq Journal, on the occasion of the recent restored edition of the film.

editorial sources: Le Paris de Claude Sautet: Romy, Michel, Yves et les autres…, by Hélène Rochette; Jacques Deray, J’ai connu une belle epoque; Courrèges
 
 

MORE STORIES

Romy Schneider in “Innocents with Dirty Hands”: A study in black Yves Saint Laurent

Drawing on the quiet moments of a film: Interview with poster designer Michael Boland

The Mosquito Coast: Interview with costume designer Justine Seymour

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film | | Comments Off on The Searing Style of Jacques Deray’s “La piscine”

The Mosquito Coast: Interview with costume designer Justine Seymour

Justin Theroux in “The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+

 
Forty years after its publishing, Paul Theroux’s book, The Mosquito Coast, which, with the incredibly vivid creation of Allie Fox as the escapee from society who abhors modern life and uproots his family for a deluded utopian mission in Central America, gave us such an unnerving and fascinating read, has inspired a contemporary retelling of the story. The series however, created by Neil Cross, starring Justin Theroux, Paul Theroux’s nephew, and co-executive-produced by the writer himself, unlike Peter Weir’s faithful 1986 adaptation for the big screen, bears little resemblance to the book and follows Allie Fox and his family’s dangerous journey across the border to Mexico, before arriving at the title location, in a tensely plotted thriller and family drama.

The story begins with the family – Allie, brilliant inventor but who has a hard time selling his inventions for profit, his wife Margot (Melissa George), and their two homeschooled children, Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) – living mostly off-the-grid in Stockton, California. Allie has a job on an asparagus farm and is working on an ice machine that’s the core element in the book but barely carrying any importance in the series. Justin Theroux’s Allie Fox is adverse to technology and consumerism, but the reason his own disillusioned character uproots his family from an America mired in materialism and conformity is not leaving by his own free will in order to remake a better civilisation elsewhere, at least for now. Why tell the same story twice? He and his wife Margot have to flee the US when they suddenly find themselves on the run from the US government and their mysterious past. But the urge to leave, to go somewhere else has always been there, I think, for this contemporary Allie Fox, too. Maybe Justin Theroux’s egomaniacal patriarch is more a stubborn optimist than an idealist, and he certainly is deeply flawed and has a distorted perspective on reality (at least by the standards generally accepted by society), but his unabated conviction in his own beliefs is liberating, and feels liberating for the times we are living, too, which fuels this differently shaped story.

From embodying key character traits and themes from the book into the wardrobe of the leading cast – “It was something you could boast about, it made our life seem dull and home-made, like the patches on our clothes,” Charlie fantasies in the book about that other world, the ordinary world, his father had forbidden them to enter – that evoke the simple living and breaking of the status quo, centered around style choices of recyclable, re-used and sustainable clothing, of the Fox family, to embracing the rich colours and design of Mexican culture and subtly incorporating them into the development of the characters, costume designer Justine Seymour was responsible for the art that conceals art. Especially in a film that requires dressing down rather than dressing up, costume design is the thing that often goes unnoticed. And so it should. Because everything is part of the alchemy of film-making – creating a world and the characters that inhabit it. But there are some people who simply rise above whatever you put on them, or you make the choice of using a Hawaiian shirt as a beautiful tribute to Harrison Ford’s Allie Fox in the original film and costume designer Gary Jones while remaining truthful first and foremost to your own character. And that is what makes dressing a film all the more fascinating.

Right after the series aired, I talked to Justine Seymour about her design process, her style references and this new world the entire team have created in The Mosquito Coast.
 

Justin Theroux and Melissa George in “The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+

 

How challenging was it to work on The Mosquito Coast given the legacy of the book and of the 1986 feature film?

The book and original film compared to Neil Cross’s TV show are very different. Our show is a prequel to the original story. I, of course, watched the film again, I read the book, and did quite a bit of research into alternative living ideas. I wanted to get a good base understanding of how the Fox family were living. Once I had read Neil Cross’s script, I started my design process. I always embrace a challenge and this one was a fun adventure!

Where do you start and where do you look for inspiration? What were your references for the wardrobes?

We contemporised the world in this show, so it would have political relevance to today’s issues with waste and the environmental issues we are facing. But I did start with the original material from the 1980s, with Paul Theroux’s book and the issues Allie Fox was obsessed with back in the 1980s.

I also watched all of Justin Theroux’s previous work and looked at about a million images of him online to see how his physicality worked with clothing. I did the same research for Melissa George, in addition to a lot of research into migrant workers, refugees trekking across the desert, and families that go on adventures across the country.

Once the story moved down to Mexico, things became so much more colourful and vibrant. It was such fun exploring the markets and cultural differences, finding wonderful handmade items to place on my characters. Dina is wearing a handcrafted sundress at the dinner party, and Justin is wearing a very classic linen Guevara shirt. I love incorporating traditional handcrafts from the region.

But they are still wearing their boots, all of them. Is it a way of reminding the viewer that their clothes are in fact not theirs, but what Enrique Salazar has chosen for them to wear?

Yes, exactly, well spotted. The clothing is given to the family, as their personal clothing is caked in sand and sweat from the three-day desert crossing. The clothing fits our beautiful cast very well, leaving the boots hinting that this was some sort of façade, and the Fox family have walked into a very serious situation. The miss-matching of the clothing supports the unease experienced so acutely by Margot.
 

Logan Polish and Melissa George as Dina and Margot Fox in “The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
Dina is wearing a locally handcrafted sundress and Margot is wearing the dramatic, out-of-character red Hispanic-style
dress given to her, reflecting both her unease and the faded glory of the Hacienda.

 

Margot may be the most intriguing and enigmatic character and her clothes give us glimpses into the character that could hardly be revealed otherwise. Were Margot’s dresses, the striped day dress and then the red and black patterned dress for dinner at the Hacienda, also sourced locally?

They were sourced in the USA since I needed multiple dresses, allowing for Margot’s stunt double and picture double. The dresses from the Mexican markets are unique and don’t have multiples, so they would not have worked.

I wanted the day dress to feel as if it once belonged to someone less fortunate, that had not managed to escape the spider web of the Hacienda. But also keeping her colour palette in the motherly world of white and dusty pink stripe, mirroring her earlier shirt. This supports the reveal when she emerges in her strong red Hispanic-style dinner dress. This dramatic red dress was an old cast-off from Lucrecia the Matriarch (in my back story), reflecting the faded glory of the Hacienda.

And we also see Allie in a Hawaiian shirt. Harrison Ford’s own Hawaiian shirt from the movie comes to mind, but the shirt has a different meaning here, as, again, it’s a piece of clothing that isn’t the character’s choice. Was it your intention to reference the original or you just felt it appropriate for that part of the story?

The yellow Hawaiian shirt was an homage to the original film, celebrating Harrison Ford’s Allie and Gary Jones the costume designer from Peter Weir’s feature film. A perfect introduction to a slightly out-of-character shirt, replacing the cool, minimal, utilitarian clothing Allie had worn in the first three episodes. It allowed me to have him adopt a tourist feel for episode 7, while setting up this shirt for later seasons.
 

Bruno Bichir and Justin Theroux in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
Allie’s Hawaiian shirt is a tribute to Harrison Ford’s Allie Fox and Gary Jones the costume designer in Peter Weir’s 1986 film.

 

Did you make or have made any costume for any of the characters?

Yes, I did have some of the clothes made. I started by finding Allie’s cap, it was a copy of Quint’s cap, played by Robert Shaw in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws. Rupert Wyatt, our director for Episode 1 & 2, loved this idea. I also had the American flag pained onto the cap of the Militia leader played by Brett Rickaby. Then, in Episode 4, all the maid’s uniforms were made to measure. Lucrecia’s played by the amazing Ofelia Medina dinner party dress was also made to measure. Then, in Episode 7, I made the dress Margot wears at the gas station and beach.

And, for the character Hershey, I had been looking for the perfect hoodie for this petty, criminal beach bum character with little success. Thinking outside the box, I asked my buyer to go to the market and get samples of the fabric used in Mexico for cleaning the floor. The fabric is woven in long 15” panels, a wide loose woven cotton, available in many colours. My heart was set on a colourful stripe. Later that day, Sam, my lovely buyer, presented some options, and I was delighted to have found the fabric I was looking for. Then the ager/dyer overdyed it to a warm, over-washed, sun-bleached colour. The tailor then built two hoodie tops for Hershey. We needed two for the waterworks, just in case one got wet during the shoot, continuity from shot to shot is super important, and water scenes are always unpredictable.

Of course, there are always many alterations and often over-dyeing to make clothes look and feel authentic.
 

Justin Theroux and Melissa George in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
The classic white linen Guevara shirt worn by Allie Fox brings traditional handcrafted design from Mexico into the story.

 

What a great style reference, Quint’s cap in Jaws. It somehow makes sense. Robert Shaw’s rough-edged, old sea dog Quint is as anti-social and anti-conventional as one can be. His clothes serve one purpose and one purpose only: to be worn, and everything about his clothing suggests that the last thing on his mind is to impersonate a social creature or to belong. I think Allie would have liked him. How did you come to think of Quint’s cap?

I agree that there are similarities between Quint and Allie Fox, both are very practical men, salt of the earth type guys, that make no apologies for who they are. Rupert Wyatt had talked about Quint’s cap as a reference and when I found that I could get the exact copy, we both just laughed, and it was perfect.

Is the writer or the director usually a big part of the costume process or is it more a conversation about characters and their evolution?

When you make a TV show the size of The Mosquito Coast, the showrunner (writer) is the final decision maker, but I work very closely with the directors and, of course, the cast. It is a very collaborative department, I have to work with the production designer and the cinematographer as well, to make sure we are all working on the same narrative and ensuring we are creating worlds that all fit together perfectly.
 

Ofelia Medina and Bruno Bichir in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
The beautifully elegant Ofelia Medina put her own spin on the character of the Matriarch, Aunt Lucretia.

 

Ofelia Medina, whom you’ve mentioned earlier, does stand out when we meet her, through poise, attitude, and clothing. Was the script your only inspiration for the character?

The character of the Matriarch, Aunt Lucrecia, turned out more glamorous than Rupert Wyatt and I had originally talked about, but that was also due to the casting. We had talked about a cigar-smoking, drug cartel, cruel and scary. But the casting of the beautifully elegant Ofelia Medina added another dimension and she put her own spin on this character, and it was wonderful to watch her character develop into a much more stylish woman. Plus, the location was so grand, I felt that all the wardrobe needed to be elevated from the original conversations to match that spectacular Hacienda.

Do you ever feel that contemporary film costume doesn’t get the attention it deserves and that people are quick to overlook its relevance in telling the story?

I do feel that not many people understand the costume department world and how much work goes into creating a character. A period costume gets more recognition as it is easier to see the difference, but a contemporary piece is well done if you don’t really notice the separate pieces but still understand the character.

Is designing a contemporary film more difficult than a period film, in the sense that you don’t get the control of designing the costumes, choosing fabrics, and fine-tuning colours?

No, not really, and you still have a choice of fabric and colours. I often over-dye and even more often alter to get exactly the shape I am looking for. It does get tricky when you are working on a film that is set in a different season. Let’s say the shops are full of summer stock and you are looking for that perfect winter coat, that you might need 4 of exactly the same coat then it can become tricky. There are always challenges to be overcome in my department.
 

Justin Theroux in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
Allie Fox is wearing his well-worn elbow-patched cardigan at the beginning of the series.

 

Allie Fox loathes the consumerism that is choking America. There is a line in the first episode where he is talking to his son, Charlie, and he is revolting against the waste the modern society is capable of, against the fact that people don’t mend and fix anything anymore, they are just throwing it away if it doesn’t work anymore. He is a tinkerer. He is wearing a patched-elbow cardigan in the first sequence. I suppose he is wearing an old cardigan patched up, not the kind you buy designed in that way – use what you have, make things last longer.

Yes, I wanted the family to be dressed in secondhand clothing from Goodwill or even collecting from the tip and Allie resurrects many household items found at the tip, why not including clothing.

Margot has a slightly retro feel to her pants and shirt when we first meet her, all are well worn and soft. And, yes, I did buy the cardigan Allie wears, then aged it down by putting patches over the holes in the elbow so that it looked well-worn and well cared for.
 

Justin Theroux and Melissa George in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
Allie’s overalls are old and lived-in, and reminiscing Harrison Ford’s character again.

 

The overalls are again something old most probably, recalling almost by definition a feeling of resourcefulness, and also reminiscing of Harrison Ford’s own dungarees in the 1986 film.

His overalls were about 10 years old to start with, and then we aged them, ground-in dirt to the knees and elbows, giving an extra lived-in dimension.

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

Not really, I don’t think so, we work as a team and bring the story to life step by step. All is talked about, images are shown, fittings and options discussed and worked out, both Justin and Melissa were very much involved with creating their characters and we found the looks as a team.
 

Ian Hart in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
The character of Bill Lee is “an elegant Hit Man” and the Cicada bolo tie that looks like a cockroach
was used by costume designer Justine Seymour to reflect his underworld connections.

Ian Hart in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
Bill Lee goes undercover, trading his elegant suit for a short-sleeved shirt and straw Fedora.

 

Ian Hart’s character seems to steal the show whenever he wanders into a scene, not in the least through his clothes.

Bill Lee, played by Ian Hart, is an elegant ‘Hit Man’. Neil Cross and I spoke about Rocker Billy’s influences, but that got diluted and became a Bolo tie, suit-wearing elegant killer. With his army of street kids, he has eyes all over the city. The street kids’ wardrobe was broken down and aged to make them look scruffy and homeless, the ‘forgotten children’ that Billy Lee utilizes and supports, while, in return, the kids organise themselves and hunt down the Fox family. I chose the Cicada bolo tie as it looked like a cockroach, representing Bill Lee’s underworld connections, moving through Mexico unnoticed, killing his pray with grace. I wanted him to be an elegant thug, with neatness that contradicted his line of work. He goes undercover to the beachside town in Episode 7 and I change him into a short-sleeve shirt, and a straw Fedora. I enjoyed that the look just barely changed, but to him, he was fitting into a tourist world. This character was such fun to play around with, and Ian Hart was always game to go to the next level.

“His army of street kids, the forgotten children”, I love that. They were such a crucial part of the world that you created in Mexico. How are you addressing dressing the extras?

I am very involved with Background Artists (Extras), they are so important for setting the mood of the scene and, of course, the colour palette.

Before the shoot day, I collect palette images, style images, and references relevant to the scenes being shot. The images and instructions are sent directly to the Background Artists, asking them to match the images as best they can. I also have a stock of clothing to change things out once we see the Extras, that don’t match the world I am trying to create.

The Tomato factory scene is a perfect example. We had about 100 extras on that day, they all came dressed according to the reference images. Then my team gave them pre-aged and pre-dirtied garments, hats, shirts, bandanas, and character pieces to add to the basic layer they arrived in. Creating a world of workers, where Allie chats to his friend Hector over lunch surrounded by the perfectly aged, sun-bleached, sweaty, and dirtied workers. Hector is Allie’s connection to the Coyotes.

Creating worlds with Neil Cross and Rupert Wyatt is a joy, the clues throughout the script are wonderful pop culture references.

Let’s end on a little quiz for your readers: Hector’s name, can you spot the reference?
Hint Episode 2.

Thank you for letting me show you my world of thought behind the design.

Thank you, Justine, for taking us on this journey with you, and I will get back to you with spotting that reference.
 

Justin Theroux, Logan Polish, Melissa George and Gabriel Bateman in ”The Mosquito Coast”, 2021 | Apple TV+
Allie’s cap is a copy of the cap Robert Shaw wore in “Jaws” – both are “very practical men, salt of the earth type guys,
that make no apologies for who they are,” says Justine Seymour. Melissa George is wearing a dress created for her character.

 

Photos published with permission.

 
 

MORE STORIES

From the period authenticity of Meek’s Cutoff to the contemporary realism
of Boys Don’t Cry: In conversation with costume designer Vicki Farrell

Art will set you free: In conversation with photographer Bill Phelps

The Nest: In conversation with costume designer Matthew Price

Posted by classiq in Film, Interviews, Style in film | | Comments Off on The Mosquito Coast: Interview with costume designer Justine Seymour

June Newsletter: On Drawing on the Quiet Moments of a Film and Childhood Summers


 

Photos: Classiq Journal

 

“There was life everywhere, mysterious and energetic.
In time I came to cherish our surroundings.
We led our Peter Pan existence –
Bambi my spirit dog with the deep sad eyes.”

Patti Smith, Woolgathering

 
Summer is here. Are the engineered entertainment machines that we now call movies back, too? I am eager to go back to cinemas, but I hate the feeling of picking it up from where we left off. Stories told over and over again in prequels, sequels and franchises. I’m thinking I must choose wisely in order to make the best of returning to movie going. To mark the moment. To feel that something has changed for the better. Maybe I am too much of an idealist in thinking that we all have learned something from these past fifteen months, in hoping for even a small change in the way we see and do things. And when it comes to movies, I realise I may be dreaming too big. My first experience returning to cinema would be an open air cinema, where I could watch a classic, a return to form, to the magic of cinema. It would be the right place, small yet big enough for people to join and dream together and laugh together and be awed together, with their eyes “upwards, into the horizon, with perspective”, as Maialen Beloki, the deputy director of the San Sebastián Film Festival, beautifully expressed it in our conversation last year. The collective imagination is more likely to be born out of a moment carefully building tension, out of the quiet moments of a film than out of the noise and constant distraction of blockbusters. In his book, My Life and My Films, Jean Renoir recounts how his father believed that the empty spaces in a painting were as filled with life as the parts crammed with matter, and continues to express his own beliefs that “a pause in music can be as resonant as a fanfare by a dozen military bands”.

Remember those childhood summers, Generation X? When there was so much play, but also so much time to dream away, to be in your own world? A long country road would put your own imagination in motion, the dirt path stretching ahead paved with ideas. The surroundings and the books you read would weave their stories together. And again I am thinking of the films of Hayao Miyazaki, and those of Satyajit Ray, too, when there are moments when nothing seems to happen, moments which give both the characters and viewers the respite to just be present, leaving time to breath, but feeding the imagination, too.

In the same conversation about the experience of movie going mentioned before, Alessandro de Rosa, film music composer and author of the book Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, recounted one of his experiences, from San Francisco: “While walking around and exploring the city, I ended up in the Union Square area. It was a relatively cold and windy night, and from far I thought I heard a music I knew, a beautiful song sung by Bing Crosby. When I finally turned the corner and got to the square, totally unexpectedly for me I saw a lot of people gathered in the middle of the square around a big screen on which they were projecting Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock. The audience was so varied: children, elderly and young people, families, homeless, all watching this masterpiece together. I described this unique moment in the last novel I wrote with my brother: “The guitar which survived the desert” (“La chitarra sopravvissuta al deserto”, yet to be translated in English). That unity, in spite of differences and distances… that night I seemed to see a photograph of the United States of America.”

This is it about cinema. It brings people together. But I also feel that the world is becoming so preoccupied with catching up speed again, too fast. Like the fleeting exhilaration (for whoever feels that) of a summer blockbuster. I would rather ride on summer’s quiet moments that can take you higher and further away long after the special effects have stopped. I wish I could find some of them at the movies, at a special summer gathering, at a cinema as a nature film set of sorts.
 

 
Viewing

After young Mary is orphaned by an earthquake in India, she is sent back to England to live in her uncle’s castle. Soon, she discovers some dark secrets emerging from the castle wrapped in fog, but a beautiful garden, too, and sets out to explore its own secrets. The Secret Garden (1993), directed by Agnieszka Holland and adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book by the same name, has both beauty and darkness in it, which I think is enriching for a child and everyone watching. And, most of all, I love the character of Mary Lennox (played with such feeling by Kate Maberly), how genuine she is. Rarely is a child depicted on screen as innately having both good parts and bad parts (which I think is very true with every child, as with every individual) and it’s beautiful how the story, and the film, charters this character, not by taming her, but by letting her shine in her own time.

There is an American patina and texture in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984), but it is so offbeat and deadpan funny and perfectly minimalist that you sense that the drive behind it was a desire to express things independently and as freely as possible. It is a movie and a road movie with a narrative so unconstricted that it allows the viewer incredible freedom of interpretation. It has that “make-it-in-the-garage” aesthetic, as Jarmusch himself described the filmmaking and musical scene of the late 70s-early 80s, that was not about “trying to be famous or have a career, or be a virtuoso, or be flashy”, but about “having real emotional feelings that you expressed through whatever form” (and this is why I love the 80s so much). Stranger Than Paradise is filmmaking in the most raw and free and genuine form.

Max Ophüls’ Le Plaisir (1952) is formed of three parts, three different stories, three people of different backgrounds who experience pleasure in different ways – an old man who wears a mask of youth in the first, a man’s lust transformed into life devotion in the third. It is the second part however, La Maison Tellier, I loved the most because, quite frankly, it reminded me of Jean Renoir. Julia Tellier, who owns a small-town brothel in the city, takes her girls on an outing to her brother’s village to attend the First Communion of her niece. Their loyal clients are taken aback when they discover the brothel is closed, the villagers are taken aback by the presence of the girls, the girls are moved to tears by the ceremony, and Julia’s brother, Joseph, played by Jean Gabin (who so beautifully gets his greatest effects with the smallest means, as Renoir remarked), becomes infatuated with Madame Rosa (Danielle Darieux), one of the girls. Everything is as funny as it sounds, and Joseph’s amorous intrigue seems to be his only object in life, but there is a realism behind this ludic spirit that is subtly felt. The shot towards the end of this second part, when Joseph stops his carriage on the way to the train station so that the girls can pick up flowers from the field seems depicted from a Renoir-the father painting.

I could watch Jeff Bridges (a former shock DJ who has a breakdown after an incident caused by an unstable caller) and Robin Williams (a former professor who lives in a world of his own creation to insulate himself from a tragedy in his past) over and over again in The Fisher King (1991). But the surprise for me was Mercedes Ruehl in the role of Anne. She is right there besides them. One of the great, memorable, completely natural comedic roles.

I hardly ever like the endings in romantic comedies (I hardly ever watch romantic comedies in fact). But there is The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), with Jeff Bridges and Barbara Streisand, and its ending, when the credits are already rolling. I love that sense you get that a great love story is about to begin. You don’t think that you’ve just watched a great love story throughout the film, you in turn imagine what’s about to come, that the most beautiful part is just beginning, and I won’t admit this often, but I think it’s wonderful to be left with that feeling of hope, and wondering, and happiness smeared all over your face.

In Marcel Pagnol’s The Marseille Trilogy (Marius, Fanny, and César), Marius and César (Raimu), his father, own a bar on the harbour front of Marseille. Marius is in love with a local girl, Fanny, whom he seems destined to marry, but can not overcome his urge for the unknown that the sea holds for him. Everyone’s life changes with Marius’ leaving and it’s beautiful how Pagnol presents us throughout the three movies the different destinies that life has in store for each of them. The atmosphere of old Marseille, the typical south of France culture, the way people talked and interacted. These films are fundamentally French yet incredibly universal. “Not only did he restrict himself geographically, like Bergman,” Jean Renoir wrote about Pagnol, “but he did so also in the historical sense. His company, Les Films Marcel Pagnol, operated like a medieval workshop. While I was working on my film Toni, I saw him constantly. He used my Vieux Colombier electrical equipment. He collected technicians, actors and workpeople in his country house like a fifteenth-century master-carpenter.”

That pastoral holiday cottage house in the Provence hills in Le château de ma mère (My Mother’s Castle, 1990)… I am not usually one who looks for escapism in movies, but I loved the effect this film, based on Marcel Pagnol’s childhood recollections, had on me, as I drifted to another time and place, as if joining my mind elsewhere.
 

 
Reading

Patti Smith’s writing somehow reminds me of the characters in Yasujirō Ozu’s films. But in saying that, I don’t want to take away anything from the uniqueness of her writing. On the contrary. There is something so nobly quiet about her. It seems that hardly anything is allowed to interfere with her interior life and art, and this lack of artifice, her pared-down way of being is what draws you into her story and reasoning and feeling, into understanding the soothing nature of life, despite whatever may come its way. If you read Patti Smith, try to read it uninterrupted. I usually do, because I don’t want to interrupt that beautiful, natural flow of the narration, floating between present and past. She’s living so many lives in her writing, and it just fills “the reader with a vague and curious joy,” as she hoped she would when she wrote Woolgathering, as she confessed in the preface to the book. “The air was carnival, responsive. I opened the screen door and stepped out. I could feel the grass crackle. I could feel life – a burning coal tossed on a valentine of hay. I covered my head. I would gladly have covered my arms, face. I stood and watched the children at play and something in the atmosphere – the filtered light, the scent of things – carried me back…”

I am an admirer of Sylvie Lancrenon’s photography and I am happy she has published a book, Ombres et lumières – in a time when everyone seems to be releasing a book, whether they have something to say or not, I long for books telling the story of truly deserving artists. “I love natural light from dawn to dusk,” she told Elle France in an interview discussing her book. “I hate flash, heavy makeup, touch-ups that take away the magic. I seek the soul of those I photograph, the moment of abandonment. It’s just a fleeting moment, a look that suddenly is given to me and must be caught.”

I had only watched the film. Now I have finally read Paul Theroux’s book The Mosquito Coast. It’s the storytelling and the writer’s imagination (the story is much darker than the film, as I thought it would be) that grabbed me. Allie Fox is such a vivid creation as the man who uproots his family from the US for a deluded utopian mission in Central America that it’s both unnerving and fascinating. It’s just as unnerving and fascinating for his son, Charlie, whom River Phoenix so flawlessly brought to life on the screen.

In April, Paul Theroux’s new novel, Under the Wave at Waimea, was published and he was interviewed by Penguin Publishing House. He mentions Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (mentioned above) as the first book remembers loving as a child. When asked what his favourite book is, he answers: “For all sorts of reasons, I would have to say The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. […] The writing of this book is just magnificent. But your question is a cruel one.”

In commemoration of 100 years since the birth of Satyajit Ray, two new books of his are being released this year. Another Dozen Stories is a collection of 12 stories for children. Actress Sharmila Tagore has penned the foreword of the upcoming book: “It is such a joy to be able to revisit some of Manik-da’s most memorable works in this genre. The stories translated by Indrani Majumdar highlight everything we have come to love and admire about Manik-da’s multifaceted creativity. It’s all here—the element of the unexpected, a hint of the supernatural, a whiff of the macabre with a generous measure of humour. This is a collection that makes me want to curl up in my bed with a pleasurable anticipation and let my imagination soar to the power of these timeless tales. This is a befitting tribute to the master on his 100th anniversary.”
 
 
Listening

Brian Johnson of AC/DC interviews musicians for his interview series Life On the Road, and a little while back he met up with Dave Grohl. Will you look at Dave’s look on his face at the beginning when Brian Johnson arrives in his van? Great recollections, great musicians, great fun.
 
 
The playlist*


 
 
Making

Sometimes, often times, it takes a new comer to clearly see the uniqueness of a place and the dormant values of a community. That is what happened when a couple, sculptor Virgil Scripcariu and art historian Adriana Scripcariu, moved to a little village fifteen years ago. In Piscu, a village about 35 km from Bucharest, they found a community of potters. Romania is a country packed with peerless craftsmanship, and this village has been making pottery, functional, simply adorned vessels and plates, for generations (one of the most valuable piece in the museum’s collection is a traditional wedding pitcher that one of the elders of the village donated to the museum a couple of years ago), even if today there are only two potters in the village still honing their craft. Despite their tradition, the village had a low name recognition, and that’s why the founders wanted to bring it the appreciation it deserved.

The Piscu School museum (images 2 and 6 in this article) wants to connect children (and adults alike) with the local cultural heritage, with its beauty and historical relevance, and to be an inspiration to all those who wish to gain a fascinating glimpse into the riches of the Romanian cultural heritage and become acquainted with its values. The museum gathers ceramics from all over the country, but its emphasis is on celebrating the place and community where it was born – imbued with the natural warmth of wood, the building itself was projected to fit in harmoniously with the surroundings and celebrate its landscape. Workshops, summer schools, exhibitions and online courses are regularly organised, and a heritage specialist school, Agatonia Elementary School, is how an important part of the community. It combines traditional and non-traditional teaching, classic methods and play, encouraging a great sense of freedom and curiosity.
 
 
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 (he has recently interviewed Hans Zimmer). Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. Monocle magazine, in print.

*Note: As Alicia Kennedy writes in her latest newsletter, “I’m also aware that Spotify is terrible, which is why I purchase albums, concert tickets, and merchandise as much as possible to support the artists I love”. These are songs I gather from the vinyls, from the CDs, and from the soundtracks of the films in my library. I hope you opt for the whole, immersing experience of listening an album on the turntable and watch a film uninterrupted on a big screen or at least in the player at home on a big enough screen.
 

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter | | Comments Off on June Newsletter: On Drawing on the Quiet Moments of a Film and Childhood Summers

Daily Little Rituals and Their Lasting Beauty: SAYA Designs


 

Photos: Classiq Journal

 

In this world of fast, SAYA’s regard for detail and wellbeing and nature inspires us to go slow. The story of SAYA Designs started from the desire to make something unique yet functional, something creative yet supporting a bigger cause. A beauty brand that works with nature, based on the idea of interfering as little as possible and, by taking the time to observe, learn and listen, letting nature give us what works well for us.
 

 
Born in Indonesia, a place that founder Victoria Jones chose because of the environment, sense of community and business mindset, SAYA is fundamentally part of its surroundings. From bearing an Indonesian name (SAYA means ‘I’ or ‘my’ depending on your turn of phrase, Victoria told me), to having its hair accessories carved by hand by artisans of Bali from root wood salvaged from abandoned plantations and using as design inspiration the forms and rhythm of nature, reflecting the flora of the region, sustainability is built into the SAYA culture. But the result is more than responsible design and natural beauty, it’s an ode to local nature and culture, and to yourself and your wellbeing.

A respectful exchange, a communion with nature is at the core, an ethos that is carried on throughout their entire range of products, from the organic hair oils, to the wooden hair brushes. Wooden combs and accessories help to reduce anti static, breakage and damage to hair, unlike plastic and metal, and the porous nature of wood absorbs and redistributes your natural oils and maintains healthy hair continuously through your wash cycle. The hair oils are made with 100% certified organic ingredients. A beauty product made with natural ingredients has personality and life in it, and is, in turn, deeply nourishing and moisturising for your hair and skin. And even the box packaging is fully recyclable, handmade from papaya fruit pulp and vegetable inks, which, once used, can be placed in the food compost. Everything in SAYA’s making and aesthetic makes you feel good about yourself and the planet.
 

 
Of the many lessons we’ve learned this past year, one that hit home for many was that too many things still lacked ease and casualness, which made us yearn for a spirit of familiarity that was more personal and comforting. The SAYA products, functional and organic, that can be used daily and feel relevant in the long run, echo that spirit, leaning toward nature’s endless care and one’s renewed need to remain authentic.

To be beautiful means to be yourself. Being with your family, being in nature, feeling the sea breeze in your face that quietly whispers summer stories of play and adventure… that’s when you are feeling beautiful in a natural way, that’s when you radiate kindness and beauty from within. The way one experiences SAYA Designs is a connection with oneself. Self-care is the purest form of beauty and it must be practiced daily. Each SAYA product seems designed around a little daily ritual – accentuating what you love about yourself while unapologetically prioritising looking after your skin and hair in a nurturing and caressing way – that brings you closer to your inner self and your body. It feels soothing and calming, just like the soft blend of chamomile and lavender hues, grounded by the cedar wood base in the soothing hair oil, feels in your hair not just on a perfect day, but on any given day.
 

 

sayadesigns.com | Instagram: @saya_designs
 
 

MORE STORIES

A New Sweden: Interview with Lisa Bergstrand

Art will set you free: In conversation with photographer Bill Phelps

On craftsmanship and the modern woman with Sue Stemp

Posted by classiq in Style | | Comments Off on Daily Little Rituals and Their Lasting Beauty: SAYA Designs