Sounds and Tracks: On the Road


 
“Maybe this world is busy enough, yes?”

During my interview with Dylan Haley earlier this month, there was something he said that resonated with me only too well. He said that lately he had been listening to “a lot of Bob Dylan and Hank Williams and other traditional music often with just one guy or girl singing and playing the guitar and that’s it. Now I can hardly listen to any other kind of music, it just sounds like noise,” resembling his recent more minimalist approach to design to a good folk song. I think many creatives are likely to experience this in response to everything that this world has been going through, not just in the last six months.

I have been listening to a lot of early Bob Dylan myself all summer long (I finally understand why Mats Wilander is so hooked on listening to Bob Dylan on his road trips), including his soundtrack for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, from 1973. Sam Peckinpah’s Western marked Dylan’s first dramatic role, playing an associate of the gunfighter Billy the Kid, and stealing the scene while doing it, and his first soundtrack album. And I couldn’t leave Jeff Bridges’s Hold On You from Crazy Heart (2009) out either. I always mix movie soundtrack songs with other favourite tunes. I just wish I had a good old mix tape every time I feel like gathering all the songs I’m currently listening to in one place. Remember those? The human element.
 
 

 
 

1. Hold On You, Jeff Bridges / 2. Out on the Weekend, Neil Young / 3. Perfect Day, Lou Reed / 4. Union Sundown, Bob Dylan / 5. Lay Lady Lay, The Birds / 6. Summer in Siam, The Pogues / 7. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack), Bob Dylan / 8. The River, Bruce Springsteen /
9. Out on the Road, Norah Jones / 10. Main Title Theme (Billy) from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack, Bob Dylan / 11. Words (Between the Lines of Age), Neil Young / 12. Jersey Girl, Tom Waits /
13. Sara, Bob Dylan

 
 

Bob Dylan in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”, 1973, directed by Sam Peckinpah
Photo by MGM/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

 
 

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The Armani Aesthetic and Film Costume Appropriation: Sam Shepard in “Voyager”

Sam Shepard in “Voyager”, 1991 | Action Films, Bioskop Film, Stefi 2

 
 

This Summer We’re Channelling: a recurring seasonal series
in the journal that celebrates both style in film and summertime.

 
 
Giorgio Armani’s menswear, and womenswear, aesthetic defined and ruled an era, giving birth to a new form of democracy, a new modernity, a new elegance, by going against the grain and proposing diffused lines, a less severe allure to the male figure, and a less constricted allure to the female figure. It was an aesthetic that photographer Aldo Fallai, who started to work with Armani in the early 1970s, before Armani established his own label, and the designer “developed together step by step, as it came from simply observing what was happening around us”, but not by copying what they saw but by portraying something aspirational, a social class that was missing, “a non-existing Italian bourgeoisie – a sort of Nordic bourgeoisie, an enlightened bourgeoisie. A civilised population. […] I mean, especially when there’s a period of general crisis, we should deliver dreams to people instead of helping to lower their general taste,” the photographer further concludes in this interview. Armani wanted people to live differently through the way they dressed.

It was an aesthetic that went against the formality of the times. Talking about his impoverished childhood in postwar Piacenza and his father in his book, Armani writes: “My father was someone for whom it took very little to look elegant – as people would say back then – whenever he didn’t have to wear a uniform. But I always picture him, even now, in that Fascist uniform” (his father had no choice when he was hired to work at a Fascist local headquarters): “a black jacket made of course wooden cloth, baggy blue grey gabardine trousers, a black tie over a black shirt. How curious: isn’t there something about the description that makes us think of the way people dress today?”

It was an aesthetic that Aldo Fallai noted that it originated in Fellini’s I Vitelloni.

Giorgio Armani has had a long relationship with cinema and he has worked on many films, as it has been well documented in this journal, from American Gigolo and The Comfort of Strangers to The Untouchables. In his fashion designs, he preserved an aesthetic of “elegance and distinction” and the idea that attractiveness should not be too revealing. He made people sexy by dressing, not by undressing them, and the epitome of that was the unstructured jacket.

Aldo Fallai continues: “There was also the narcissistic element of the person wearing the clothes, right? Showing off a bit. If you look closely at the images, the models are almost always looking straight at the camera – this was premeditated. Of course, there were images where they looked to the left or right but in the end we always chose the ones that looked straight at you. That’s the relationship between the image on the poster and the viewer. It looks at you and centralises everything. I remember when the first Armani billboard went up. It was a small, slow, low-intensity revolution of having black-and-white fashion imagery in the streets.”

This narcissistic element, some argue, makes its presence felt in many of the characters Armani dressed for the big screen. Designing for film, as a fashion designer, has had its controversies over time, as it is an ambiguous process of preserving their fashion house look and immersing the designs in the narrative. “Cinema allows me to work with clothes in a way that upholds my vision of style, in that I help to build a character. It’s the kind of operation that, when it really works out well, rewards you in the most satisfying of ways: eternity.”
 

Sam Shepard in “Voyager”, 1991 | Action Films, Bioskop Film, Stefi 2

 
Even when working within the confines of film costume, Armani retains a strong aesthetic identity. That is easily to observe in films such as American Gigolo and The Comfort of Strangers, films set in 1980 and 1990, respectively, thus displaying contemporary Armani designs, but in The Untouchables (released in 1987 but with a story set in the 1920s) or Voyager (original title Homo Faber, from 1991 but set in the 1950s), he had to deal with period reconstruction, and he did it in his own individual way. Films draw on complex codes of authenticity in order to convince and attract their audiences, and Armani knows that. “Film costumes not only relate to the characters who wear them, but also to the audiences who watch them,” writes Sarah Street in Costume and Cinema: Dress Codes in Popular Films. Costume appropriation depends not only on the period of the story, but on the period when the film is released, and, most importantly, on the director’s vision.

“The Magnificent Seven wear Armani,” was the title of an American critic’s piece about The Untouchables when it came out in 1987. Film journalist Lars Penning wrote that that remark “wasn’t far from the truth. The Untouchables is more like a Western than a detective story. In interviews, De Palma repeatedly stressed that the story was really about the young and old revolver heroes.” For sure, whenever a relaxation of the differences between contemporaneity and costume period occurs in film, that is clearly a vision upheld by the director in collaboration with the costume designer or fashion designer. Another example would be New York New York, where the exaggerated suits and clothing that Armani did were an overnight sensation retail-wise, but they were suits and clothing about which a friend of mine who studied film recalls vividly from a talk Martin Scorsese gave to her class that they were brilliantly thought out to reflect the heightened emotions of a crumbling marriage. Sometimes liberties are taken to make a film a bit more comprehensible to modern times and that’s something I am always open to, especially if changes are carefully considered and thoughtfully altered from reality and work for the film and for the audience.

“A successful character surpasses the barrier of time; he or she becomes a legendary figure and not just because of the way they act, but because of the way they’re dressed,” Armani said. Cinema is primarily visual, and Giorgio Armani knows that clothes enhance the cinematic experience, recalling to mind that relationship between his billboard posters and his audience he focused on when creating the image of his fashion house. That being said, Armani’s clothes in Voyager (and before that, in The Untouchables) are not necessarily easily identifiable as Armani style, but as a style that easily navigates through the fashions of the 1950s and 1990s, a repertoire of sartorial items of the fifties that are lended a modern sensibility – therein lies their appeal. Stylisation is the key word here. “Giorgio is a perfect stylist, he knows absolutely everything there is to know – where to put the pins, how to place the jackets in the best possible position, how to shape the waistline,” Aldo Fallai resolved. He is a craftsman, too, one who likes to feel the line of his designs from the moment he draws them by hand to the moment when they follow the movement of the body. “People underestimate the importance of drawing in fashion,” the designer says. “But to those who insist that all you need is a computer, I reply that then the essential human factor is missing; the hand that traces the width of a pair of pants or how low a neckline on an evening dress should be.”
 
 

“I enjoyed being out of reach.”
Walter Faber

 
 
When I first came across a publicity still from Voyager (image at the top of this article), I didn’t know that Armani had worked on the film. But when I saw Sam Shepard in his tank top, vest, suspenders and Trilby hat, the image instantly reminded me of Giorgio Armani’s 1980s and 1990s campaigns. It also reminded me of this portrait of Armani’s father – in his shirt, tie and vest and with his spectacles on, one of those elegant looks he wore on his days off uniform. It was not just the clothes that brought Armani’s campaign imagery to mind, but the feel of the shot, and Sam Shepard’s body language, and the gaze on his face. It is a detached look.

Walter Faber is an engineer who travels from New York to remote sites in Latin America, and from one corner of Europe to the other – Schlöndorff has acknowledged that the content of Voyager in a way reflected his own personal situation: “Somehow, I sort of have a suitcase existence,” as cited in the book Volker Schlöndorff’s Cinema: Adaptations, Politics and the Movie-appropriate. Faber’s work has always come first. He is detached from everything, tepid and analytical, a voyager through his own life. Even when the plane he is on is about to crash, he remains composed and unemotional, simply absorbed by the mechanics of the accident rather than by the possible outcome – however, the experience makes him remember that there was a time when even he was in love (“With the eternal dream to settle down with a home,” Schlöndorff concludes his resemblance to the character). It’s that detachment, the intentional projection of a certain image that I first associated with the Armani aesthetic. More than representing the times and the fashions of the times, it creates a point of identification with the character, to his transient traveller’s existence, while subtly assimilating Armani’s designer identity into the costumes.

 

Sam Shepard in “Voyager”, 1991 | Action Films, Bioskop Film, Stefi 2

 

Walter Faber always wears a Trilby hat, even in bed. 1950s accurate? Yes. Functional for that particular scene? No. But it makes sense because it’s a distinctive trait of his character. It is however interesting to notice that the hat is clearly meant to be a reflection of the times. He always wears one in the present, which in the film is 1957, but in the flashbacks that show him in the 1930s, he wears a cap, which was much more appropriate for those times. Faber’s pleated, light weight trousers and his loose shirts with big breast pockets also echo the 1950s fashions, but it is a style that also reverberates the fashions of the 1990s – I perfectly remember how my father used to wear those same kinds of clothes in the 1990s.

But the details, the one size too big of the black coat, the way he wears his hat (just so), the gracefully draped and rumpled supple materials, the insouciant nature of that vest over tank top and suspenders, and attitude are undoubtedly Armani bywords. By offsetting the functionality of his clothes with a modern stylishness, a stylishness that confers Faber a universal appeal, Armani “surpasses the barrier of time”.

 

Sam Shepard in “Voyager”, 1991 | Action Films, Bioskop Film, Stefi 2

 
 

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This Summer We’re Channelling: Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig in “Spectre”
Marilyn Monroe and Blue Jeans in “Clash by Night”
Natasha Richardson in Armani in “The Comfort of Strangers”

Posted by classiq in Film, Style in film, This summer we’re channelling | | Leave a comment

The Powerful Impact of Minimalism: Interview with Designer and Illustrator Dylan Haley

Dylan Haley film poster design for the Arbelos release of “Sátántangó”, 1994, directed by Béla Tarr

 
 
A poster design has to feel appropriate for the film and the style of an illustrator or designer has to be versatile enough to communicate different films in a way that best compliments each film. But I will say this: I personally appreciate so much more a minimalist aesthetic. Not stubbornly minimalistic just for the sake of being minimalistic, but one that is enigmatic yet strong in condensing the idea of the film or in extracting one of its special qualities.

One of the best contemporary posters that fall into this category is Dylan Haley‘s for the Arbelos Films release of Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó, a poster that caters to the audience not like the catchy commercial posters do, but one that has its own aesthetic identity and appeals through imaginative design, just as uncompromising as the film is. It speaks about the film within, yet can very well have a life of its own. And, most of all, it impresses because it’s this very simplicity that seems to prepare you for something visceral and profound.

I have caught up with Dylan to talk about his beautiful piece of art and other recent works, about the movie poster he would hang on his wall and about the approach he has taken with his design style since our last interview.
 
 

Dylan Haley festival poster for “Human Affairs”, 2018, directed by Charlie Birns

 
 
Your poster for Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó is one of the most striking, minimalist poster designs of the last few years. Could you walk us through the design process?

Well thank you, I am very pleased with the response this poster has had. The first thing I will say about this poster is that it was very much a collaborative process with a fellow named Ei Toshinari, who is one of the co-founders of Arbelos Films who are distributing the film in North America. Ei wears many hats, but one of them is working with me on these designs. Something that is rarely discussed is that a good design can only happen if the client says “yes”. I am the one crafting the posters, but both of us are looking at other work for reference, and, in this case, it was Ei’s idea to use the photo of the young girl looking in through the window. The two of us discuss almost every detail of the work we do. I have learned to not shy away from his input!

OK, back to the process – the film is such an uncompromising masterpiece it was very intimidating. I just tried to put all that out of my mind to start with. Furthermore, it was intimidating because the film is so long, and the story isn’t straight forward at all. There is no obvious simple way to visually sum up this film, there isn’t even really a main character. I eventually concluded the main character in this film was the shit weather, the rain and the mud and just the decay and desperation. That was my starting point. The image of the young girl in the film looking through the window was perfect as we could put the wild rain dumping down above her, and of course her expression is so powerful.

The type below I am particularly happy with. None of it was typed out on the computer, it was all taken from screen shots from the film’s title sequences and then printed out on a copy machine and then I photographed the prints. So the shapes are maybe 4 (?) stages removed from the original source. It was a little step like this that made the type start to feel like an old letterpress poster. None of the type is centered or lined up evenly, which I think contributes to the tension that the young girl is also creating with her eyes. And then of course mixing the letters in with some dirt and dead leaves that I photographed gave it the final touch. I added a lot of grain and did some contrast stuff to the whole thing. In general I try to make my posters look “not digital”, but I took this concept to heart even more than usual for this poster.
 
 

“I always think of the life the poster could have.
If it ends up framed on someone’s wall for years to come,
then what could be better advertisement than that?”

 
 
I remember that the first time I saw your poster I lingered on the typed part because I loved the element of surprise, the fact that the credits are not a separate component, and the way the dead leaves and dirt are incorporated into the overall composition, interspersed with the text. The dead nature you photographed and incorporated into the design also reminded me of one of my favourite Hans Hillmann posters, for Louis Malle’s Le feu follet. Was it an inspiration?

Yes, the dead leaves and dirt were very much inspired from the Hans Hillman poster of which you speak. Adrian Curry at Movie Poster of the Day also noticed that. Of course my version is more subdued. I’m very impressed you would catch that! The dirt and the leaves give this poster a final touch or grittiness. Well, I don’t have a problem borrowing ideas, they are out there for the taking, but there is still the challenge of making them work with any given project.

Absolutely. Because what truly caught my interest was not the possible influence, but the way it all made perfect sense in your artwork, because that’s where my interest lies ultimately, in each and every poster that tells a story on its own. Going back to your stylistic approach for this poster, is there a lot of resistance to this extreme minimalism that lets the image speak for itself, from a commercial point of view?

Ha, well, the film itself is minimal. Compared to the original poster (which I love), our poster is not minimal at all! Well, again I must sing my praises for the Arbelos team. They have good taste and they love film, and they care about good design as a means of communication. I wouldn’t say we don’t care what other people think, because we do, but the model is that Arbelos only distributes films with a certain amount of artistic integrity, and the design that accompanies those films is meant to speak to that. To try and promote Sátántangó like a Hollywood film is ridiculous.

Adrian Curry wrote something about how we showed great restraint with the Sátántangó poster to leave out any quotes, praising the film in the empty black area that covers the top two thirds of the design. The truth is we never considered it. I’m not convinced quotes really work to sell a film in the first place, and besides, they never look good. They instantly turn a poster into an advertisement. I always think of the life the poster could have. If it ends up framed on someone’s wall for years to come, then what could be better advertisement than that?
 
 

Dylan Haley film poster design for the Arbelos release of ”The Juniper Tree”, 1990, directed by Nietzchka Keene

 
 
I do believe that a good poster will have a life past the release date, and it will make you want to frame it and put it on the wall. What movie posters do you have on the wall?

I would love to boast a wonderful film poster collection, but I actually don’t own any. Our home is very small with lots of windows and there is just no good place to hang a large film poster… a bit odd actually. I won’t shy away from the question though. If I had the space, I would possibly put up one of my favourite posters of all time, which is the poster for the film Downhill Racer, designed by Philip Gips. It’s just the greatest poster ever! The movie is really good as well, but I think the poster has had a more lasting life than the film. It’s also a very minimal poster that I imagine would sit very well in a living space. I’ve been fantasising about getting my hands dirty and turning our garden shed into a studio, maybe I will have to treat myself to a copy of this poster if I ever complete this task.
 
 

“Maybe this world is busy enough, yes?
If it’s done right, a simple poster can have
more impact, just like a good folk song.”

 
 
Do you think film poster designers are prone to being more creative when they are working on a film that is restored or re-released and the public is already familiar with the film than on a new theatrical release that usually puts accent on the marketable value of the actors’ image and their names?

I think in many cases that is true, but, that being said, I have generally put the main character on my posters even if the film is an older known film. I worked on The Last Movie starring Dennis Hopper, and ultimately we had to make a second poster, because the first one we all liked didn’t clearly show Dennis Hopper’s image. It’s annoying to have to think about stuff like that, but at the same time you have to be realistic. I have done a few mock-ups on projects that don’t show any of the actors, but so far none of them has been picked. This is true on new releases as well as re-releases.

I do however think that, without a doubt, re-released films often have a lot less restrictions simply because the stakes are a lot lower, and, generally, a lot less people are involved. The most obvious example of this would be the Criterion Collection who have probably never created a Blu-ray cover that wasn’t better than the original One Sheet!
 
 

Dylan Haley film poster designs for the Arbelos releases of “Mutual Appreciation”, 2005, directed by Andrew Bujalski,
and “The Last Movie”, 1971, directed by Dennis Hopper

 
 
There is this distinctive, minimalist approach that runs through many of your latest works, from The Juniper Tree and Human Affairs to that alternative poster for The Last Movie. Is this the style you are most likely to pursue in your film poster designs in the future?

Well, yes, it seems my work is perhaps getting more minimal. Well, what can I say, I like it. Maybe this world is busy enough, yes? If it’s done right, a simple poster can have more impact, just like a good folk song. I’ve been listening to a lot of early Bob Dylan and Hank Williams and other traditional music often with just one guy or girl singing and playing a guitar and that’s it. Now I can hardly listen to any other kind of music, it just sounds like noise. I’m also constantly trying to make space in my house and clear things away… perhaps this is a “first world problem”. It’s so easy to buy things for cheap these days, but then you have to keep what you buy in the house and you can run out of space quickly. Maybe because I have a mind like a hamster on a wheel that I like to have some empty space around me.

That being said, not everything I do is SO minimal. Babylon and Mutual Appreciation, for example, show I can make things a little chaotic if the film calls for it!
 
 

“Working on a film poster isn’t really about ME and my work,
it’s about the film, and the distributor, and the filmmaker.”

 
 
Right. The design has to feel appropriate for the film rather than just be designing for the sake of designing in a certain style. Was there any handwork done on the Mutual Appreciation poster?

The Mutual Appreciation poster has a hand-drawn scribble on there with a pencil, but that is all… Also, I painted the yellow background on The Last Movie poster.

In our last interview you said you were thinking of bringing illustration more into your film poster work. How has your work been evolving in these last few years?

Ha, and so the struggle begins! I have made some attempts, but so far I have not found my voice so to speak. Maybe I am meant to simply be among the many who appreciate good illustration done by others. Funny thing about creative processes (maybe life in general), there is a tide that takes you where you are going whether you like it or not. I think free will may be more of an illusion than we would like to believe. At any rate, I have done some work that I am happy with recently, but it has not involved illustration.

So work does what it does and you are trying to follow it. What does freedom mean to you as an artist?

Yes, I suppose that is what I just said, but if I have to explain more, I will say that I find pleasure and stay interested in certain processes, and not so much in others, and I can’t really control that. And it is true that an idea can sort of pop out of nowhere and I, just as you say, “follow” the idea. But let me reel it in a little, because a lot of what I do is completely calculated and considered. In some cases, the ideas are even “borrowed” from another design. So it’s not like I am communing with spirits here. And even after the initial idea for a poster is decided upon, there is the very straightforward task of adding the film credits and just basic composition, which is not always easy and can make or break a design. So it’s like a dish that a cook prepares, a dash of this and a dash of that until it is just right.

As far as “freedom”… Well, sometimes too much freedom can be a bad thing. Sometimes an initial idea I have gets dismissed by a client and I’m not happy about it, but more often than not the final result will be much better. Working on a film poster isn’t really about “ME” and my work, it’s about the film, and the distributor, and the filmmaker. I do find my role within all of this, but the best results come when I consider the needs and goals of the project. If I want to just express myself for the sake of it, I will play my guitar and write a silly song, which is what I’ve been doing these days just for myself.
 
 

Dylan Haley festival poster for “Anne at 13,000 Ft.”, directed by Kazik Radwanski

 

You can find more of Dylan Haley’s work here.

 
 

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The Art of Film Posters: Interview with Illustrator Tony Stella
This Summer We’re Channelling: Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde”
Why Movies Still Need Cinemas

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

The Culture Trip: August Newsletter


 

“People need to realise that every single day,
they make some difference in the world.”

Jane Goodall

 
 
The Classiq Journal monthly newsletter goes out every first Sunday of the month, bringing you a personal round-up of books, films, music, podcasts, talks and cultural news. Here is the August culture trip.
 
Reading

Books:
There are two books* that have kept coming my way in the last couple of months, especially through rabbit-hole inducing conversations and interviews: Country Girl, by Edna O’Brien, and American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. I am making my way through them and enjoying them tremendously, for different reasons, obviously. Edna O’Brien’s writing is beautiful, and American Dirt is a page-turner, keeping me on the brim of my seat.

Interiors, an online journal that focuses on architecture and film, has released the book The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces by Interiors, a highly visual, graphic analysis of film in terms of architecture, cinematic spaces and production design, and discusses films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rope, Le mépris, Playtime, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Home Alone, Panic Room, A Single Man, Her and Columbus.

These photography books take you on a journey through the fashion of the 1990s, and the supermodels are driving.

The interview:
Jane Goodall thinks we can be better travellers. “People need to realise that every single day, they make some difference in the world.”

 

Left: Sigourney Weaver in “Gorillas in the Mist”, 1988, Warner Brothers
Right: Photographic print part of the Classiq Journal Editions, available in the shop

 
 
Viewing

It’s about that silver lining. The best thing about this summer so far? It’s given us the opportunity to finally set out to set up a backyard movie theatre, making me miss a little less the experience of going to the movies. Here is everything you need to know about building your own outdoor cinema. First movie on the list? Jaws (a family summer tradition), followed by The Birds (by the way, Camille Paglia’s book about the film is the best piece of writing I have read about Hitchcock’s masterpiece).

Five indie films to satisfy your travel cravings.

Gorillas in the Mist, the adaptation of wildlife expert Dian Fossey’s autobiography, a remarkable story of thirteen years spent with the rare mountain gorillas in the heart of Africa, first to study and then protect them from poachers. Superbly acted by Sigourney Weaver, it is a gripping, wondrous, emotional film that sees Fossey’s passion become an obsession, and rightfully so, given the cruel reality she witnesses. There is more than the impressive life story that I took a liking to: the sounds and colours and textures and light (the film is beautifully shot) of Africa, and, not in the least for someone who writes extensively about style in film and costume design, Sigourney’s African life-appropriate looks. You can watch the film here.
 
Listening

Music:
On every road trip this summer (could this be the new era of the road trip?) I am listening to this album.

Quentin Tarantino selects his favourite 10 albums of all time.

Podcast:
Jon Caramanica is joined by Joshua Rothkopf for the latest New York Times Popcast to discuss the unforgettable compositions of the late Ennio Morricone. In one of my interviews with film industry insiders, Alessandro de Rosa, The author of the book Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, is recalling one of his favourite cinema experiences – it involves a Morricone soundtrack.

Audiobook:
A friend of mine who is a painter was telling me that she’s been listening to audiobooks because after she paints all day long her eyes can not sustain reading a book. So from now on I will try to recommend a different audiobook in each monthly newsletter. The book she recommended is The Water Dancer, the debut novel of Ta-Nehisi Coates, narrated by actor Joe Morton. I was first introduced to Ta-Nehisi Coates a couple of years ago by the man behind this exceptional bookshop, who considers Coates one of the most important discoveries he has made in the past years (and about whom Toni Morrison wrote that he filled an intellectual gap in succession to James Baldwin), and who pointed out the author’s Between the World and Me, winner of the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 2015 and Pulitzer Prize finalist, to me.

 

 
Style

The call of the 21st (that’s the 21st of each month). Are you committed to buying less and buying wiser? Then consider DEMAIN.
 
On an end note

Now more than ever, we have all been seeking refuge in nature. But not everyone can, nor they should, move to the countryside, which is why we have to take better care of our cities. These cities offer a model on how we can build happier communities.

A small French town is fighting Amazon. And here is further proof of how six independent shops have become community anchors in their respective cities, shunning large retailers.

A simple message that goes a long way: Be a lady!
 
 

 
* For an easily accessible, official synopsis of all the books mentioned in this article, I have linked to the respective publishing houses. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore we 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 | | 2 Comments

La Dolce Vita Meets New York Jazz and Beat Scene: Jude Law in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”

Jude Law in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, 1999 | Robert et Raymond Hakim, Paris Film, Paritalia

 
 

This Summer We’re Channelling: a recurring seasonal series
in the journal that celebrates both style in film and summertime.

 
 
 
It begins with a Princeton jacket and an innocent identity mix-up. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a working class young man, wears one when he fills in for a friend who has had an elbow injury and can’t play the piano at a high class party. The party is given by shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf and his wife. They see Ripley in the jacket and assume he is a former college colleague of their son’s, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), who has decamped to Italy, living la dolce vita. His father wants him back home, so he offers to pay for Ripley’s trip to Europe and an extra $1,000 if he persuades Dickie to return to his obligations in New York. Ripley agrees and, dressed in a well-worn and ill-fitted corduroy jacket, sets off for Europe.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, directed by Anthony Minghella, is the second adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel by the same name, after René Clément’s 1960 Plein soleil, with Alain Delon as Ripley and Maurice Ronet as Philippe Greenleaf in the leading roles. The beauty of these two films is that they are different and the viewer is rewarded in different ways when watching them. Minghella’s film is a classic in its own right, and by that I mean it is that kind of film that is character-driven, that kind of film that gives you the possibility and means to get to know the characters and see them evolve, that kind of film where photography, lightning, composition, costume, mise-en-scène are carefully considered and employed to the tiniest detail to ensure a complex cinematic experience, that kind of film that will sustain and reward many viewings over time and that will have later generations turn to again and again. That kind of cinema has been almost completely lost in the last few decades. But maybe the greatest achievement of The Talented Mr. Ripley is that, in the true vein of Hitchcock’s movies, it provides equal parts elated pleasure and simmering tension.

Tom Ripley soon meets a sun-soaked, golden-haired, insouciant Dickie Greenleaf, his no less beautiful girlfriend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow), and his lifestyle in the idyllic coastal town of Mongibello, a fictional location in the south of Italy, and deception takes on new proportions, evolving into a disturbing tale of social climbing, as Ripley’s destructive desire to both acquire and assume the character of Dickie quickly becomes apparent. It isn’t hard to aspire to being Dickie Greenleaf and to his life of Italian leisure. Jude Law’s charismatic Dickie is confident and cool and so comfortable with the good life. Tom Ripley is not, and the only way he sees to create his own identity is to steal Dickie’s – completely outshining the weak and maladjusted and poorly dressed Tom, who looks and feels so out of place in his square glasses, chinos, knitted ties, oversized button-down shirts and the ever-made-fun-of corduroy jacket – an Ivy League look, supposedly a paragon of neatness, gone wrong.
 

“The Talented Mr. Ripley”, 1999 | Robert et Raymond Hakim, Paris Film, Paritalia

 
It was the 1950s, and, as Gary Jones, who teamed up with Ann Roth as costume designers, said in an interview, “it’s really difficult sometimes for us to realize how innocent times were then – the clothes weren’t showy. There was no sexual innuendo – all that came later, in the ’60s.” Indeed, the sixties would be a time when a postwar Italy revelled in a consumer boom driven by film, music, fashion and scooters as the vehicle of choice, an Italy that was “the culture of la bella figura, a belief that appearances, comportment and graciousness are overwhelmingly significant in the well-managed life,” as it is described in the book La Dolce Vita: The Golden Age of Italian Style and Celebrity, by Stephen Bailey, and American actors and socialites, or their privileged children, travelling to Italy were undeterred in embracing the glamorous and decadent life. They brought along the fashions and music and rebelliousness and met with an European sensibility and their own radical demographic shift.

Dickie’s wardrobe does have a rebellious element to it. Things had started to change in the mid-50s when the action is set (a change that Federico Fellini was already able to capture in 1960, in his La dolce vita), on both sides of the Atlantic, the new youth culture movements lead by the Beat Generation were taking over, mingling styles, tastes and world views, dropping out of society and rejecting traditional touchstones. Dickie’s clothes are a reflection of his self-confidence and his leisury and luxurious lifestyle, and his whole way of frivolous living is a form of distancing himself from the previous generation, his parents, especially his father. Summers by the sea, skiing holidays in Cortina d’Ampezzo, jazz clubs in Rome – “Jazz is just insolent noise,” is how his father dismisses Dickie’s tastes in music. Dolce far niente. He makes friends easily and discards them even more easily. He makes plans and then ditches them when something better comes along. He plays the sax, but he may become bored with it and take up the drums. Few things last in Dickie’s life. But his clothes are a mainstay.

He wears beautifully made clothes, adopting the Italian sartorial ways with nonchalant vitality. Italian knits with just the right amount of buttons undone, rolled up white linen trousers, deconstructed linen blazers, colourful patterned shorts, and loafers or plimsolls: the finest quality summer wardrobe. They are made to look like they were tailored to perfection in Italy, which they were in the film – Dickie tells Tom his suits are made at a sartoria in Rome – “Let me get you a new jacket. When we get to Rome, there’s a great place, Batistone.” In reality, the clothes were made by John Tudor, a bespoke tailor in New York. “My job was to show this very well-off boy, Dickie, in Europe, on a very strict allowance, but with a sensational lifestyle,” said Ann Roth. “I had him in a jacket and some shorts, or a jacket and some linen trousers, and that jacket had to reflect a very rich background. And if he had one or two made in Rome, it had to look that way.”
 

“The Talented Mr. Ripley”, 1999 | Robert et Raymond Hakim, Paris Film, Paritalia

 
By contrast, Tom’s clothes were all vintage pieces remade by tailors in NY and Italy, after an assiduous research work in magazines, photographs, into the fabrics and garments of the time, so that they didn’t fit the character. The clothes he wears later on, when he “becomes” Dickie, were bespoke. “Just wear some of my clothes. Wear anything you want. Most of it is ancient,” Dickie tells Tom. It is just what Tom wants and this preoccupation of his is obvious in the scene in the train when Tom juxtaposes his reflection in the window with Dickie’s, which I find even more creepy and disturbing than the scene in front of the mirror when Tom is impersonating Dickie, dressed in his clothes, unknowingly that he is being watched, because it is the former sequence that alludes to the fact that Tom does not just want to look like Dickie, he wants to be him.

But it the clothes nonetheless that prove most efficient to Tom to smudge the lines between appearance and personality, because it is through clothes, the supposedly superficial attributes of one’s self, that one character can pass for another so easily and that also can make himself recognize the other in himself. But there is more to Dickie’s beautiful clothes than superficial outward looks. They are more than a privilege of his social class. Yes, he pays attention to clothes and he buys them well. Yes, looks are important to him – “Without the glasses, you’re not even ugly. I don’t need them. Because I don’t read,” he casually confesses to Tom. But his clothes are not brand new. Actually, they appeal so much precisely because he doesn’t flaunt his dressing style, his clothes are not just for appearance, they seem to have a story, and his style is consistent and authentic, and it has to do with individuality just as much as it has to do with necessity. He is happy with his life in pursuit of pleasure, living on his allowance. But it is a strict allowance nonetheless, so he chooses his clothes well to serve him long, and makes them his own. Actually, his wardrobe is surely made up of things he already had from New York and some new stuff he has purchased in Italy, which would best explain his flamboyant style, with a penchant for hats and rings and an overall look inspired by the New York jazz scene of the 1950s just as much as it is by the easy Italian elegance. He can not completely shun his past, but he makes the best of the present. And maybe that’s the most enviable thing about Dickie Greenleaf.
 
 

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