This Summer We’re Channelling: Billy Drago’s Armani White Suit in The Untouchables

“The Untouchables”, 1987 | Paramount Pictures
From the book “Giorgio Armani”

Movies shaped his imagination, his culture, his tastes. Giorgio Armani considers cinema has had a great role in shaping the man and the designer he is today. A visual world that has contributed a great deal to his own visual storytelling, to his sense of elegance and style and communication. Maybe that’s why Armani’s designs have always carried this narrative power, unlike any other fashion designer’s, waiting for the right man and woman to step into them and inhabit them. Even his preference of greys and neutral colours draws from his love of black and white movies. Just like the infinite shades of white and black of classic films invited to imagining a myriad of colours, Armani’s use of subtle nuances is a much more alluring invitation to discovering the person behind them than extravagant colours.

Mr. Giorgio Armani, in turn, gave back to cinema, leaving his mark on the world of film. More than that, “it is through cinema that I first reached the public and entered into the collective imagination.” He is referring, of course, to Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo and dressing Richard Gere for the part. Cinema has always been an intricate part of Armani’s designs. And maybe he understands film so well because, for him, clothes are more about attitude than shallow appearance, about the wearer’s personality that makes them come alive and desirable. Isn’t this why costume design is more enduring and far-reaching than catwalk fashion? It is the character the public usually wants to emulate.

“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.”


Emporio Armani Spring/Summer 1989, photographed by Norman Watson
From the book “Giorgio Armani”

In The Untouchables (1987), Brian de Palma’s vision of the crime-ridden Windy City in the prohibition era, Billy Drago wears an Armani white linen suit and a Panama hat. He plays gangster Frank Nitti, and Billy said in an interview for The Void magazine that real Frank Nitti’s family, whom he got to meet during filming, “didn’t mind Frank being portrayed as such a villain; the legend is so big.” About his costume he said: “I wore a white suit in the movie because we thought of him as the angel of death.” That’s exactly what he is, and his clothes have this tremendous power to project that feeling, without too many words needed.

But, of course, being an Armani suit, it transcends the movie, the character, the symbolism, time. That’s the gift Giorgio Armani has given cinema and the public. It is a stand alone timeless piece. This is a man’s suit, but it works for women, too. Just a look at this Vogue Italia editorial photographed by David Bailey, or the Emporio Armani ad for Spring/Summer 1989, shot by Norman Watson (image above), and you’ll know what I mean. Because what better stands for Armani than the deconstruction of stereotypes, reinventing men’s and women’s fashion alike, creating a new kind of elegance, adapting his jacket to her body and dissolving its severe construction in a sensuous and powerful and harmonious line, freeing them from the rigidity of conventional dressing? “A less rigid allure to the male figure and a less mannered style to the female figure”, the kind of style that places a much higher importance to the “elegance of the gesture”, for the kind of man and woman who wear beautiful clothes with self-esteem and self-confidence, but never with pretentiousness.

And what better garment to prove this than Armani’s signature piece, the unstructured jacket, and, by extension, the suit? Following the line of the body without constraining it, conveying sensuality through the very fact that it falls so free on the human body, that it unveils without showing? Natural, instinctive elegance that enables free expression and a new order for the “power woman” and the “new man”. Giorgio Armani changed mentalities decades ago by changing fashion, and he did it subtly and more effectively than the rage and exhibitionism of today’s social media-induced movements ever could.

Quotes from the book Giorgio Armani
Related content: Style in Film: Richard Gere in American Gigolo / Natasha Richardson in The Comfort of Strangers: A Journey through the Armani Style of the 1990s / Mr. Giorgio Armani and That Simple T-shirt


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But Beautiful

“Jazz will never be music for a mass audience,” says Geoff Dyer in the book But Beautiful. That’s music to my ears.

The book – A Book About Jazz reads the subtitle – is not a mass product either. It is different, unlike any other music book I have read (I am not the biggest fan of tell-all memoirs and dry scholarly essays). Geoff Dyer writes beautifully in such a way that you can not tell where the reality ends and where the fiction begins. Because he takes real facts, and quotes, and photos (how uniquely he reads jazz photos), and, most importantly, the way he hears the music, and he composes his own images and dialogue of scenes from the lives of the jazz musicians he writes about. They appear not as they were, but as he saw them, as the author himself reveals. That’s the beauty of it. It takes imagination and ardor and improvisation and spontaneity to write like this. “Jazz was about making your own sound, finding a way to be different from everybody else.” Dyer applies the same principle to his creative non-fiction.

The portraits of the musicians he evokes – Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Art Pepper – are alive, intimate, lyrical, heartbreaking, and capture the spirit of jazz better than any academic work ever could. And the story about Duke Ellington and Harry Carney, which is not a separate chapter, but divided in a few parts, each part inserted between the other chapters, could very well stand alone as one of the best road trip short stories.

This is the kind of book that reads well in summer. It is by no means a summer read in the lighthearted sense usually associated with summer books. But it is by all means a book that you feel, that takes hold of you, that is happening, just like jazz, just like summer. If you don’t live it, summer is gone before you even know it. You have to make the most of every moment of summer, just as the jazz musicians are “in a state of constant creative alert”. The book is emotionally heavy, but also brimming with the enthusiasm of those musicians who lived for their art.
The film Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, directed by Sophie Huber, is out in the US now and will be playing at these selected theaters during the summer and the DVD will be released in September. The documentary tells the history of the legendary jazz record label, which also established itself from the very beginning as a symbol in jazz imagery. Huber also directed “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction”.
Related reading: M Train, by Patti Smith / Words of Sound / In His Own Words, by Morrissey

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This Summer We’re Channelling: Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy

“Certified Copy”, 2010 | Abbas Kiarostami Productions, MK2 Productions

At first sight, Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy (2010) is a linear story, a tale of two people who are trying to get to know each other through the course of an afternoon. The heroine, Juliette Binoche, who is not named, attends a lecture in Tuscany by an art historian, James Miller (opera singer William Shimell, in his film debut), who has written a book, Certified Copy, which carries the subtitle Forget the original, just get a good copy, about the validity of certified copies. She wants to meet him and leaves him the address of her antiques shop. He goes there to meet her and she takes him on a car ride through the scenic countryside to a nearby Tuscan village.

But there is more going on here than what meets the eye, there are side stories that provoke ideas, and the line between reality and fiction becomes wonderfully diffuse. The film is a deep and rich reflection on authenticity, in art as well as in relationships and life, and the two characters, during such a short period of time, mirror in fact the emotions from the entire life span of a marriage, with its ups and downs. I won’t say anything more, firstly for those of you who have not seen the film. But also because this is a story open to interpretations and with an open ending, and I am usually against talking about the specifics of a film, and, as a matter of fact, against movies that want to tell the audience what to think.

“I want to create the kind of cinema that shows by not showing. Some films reveal so much that there is no space for the audience’s imagination to intervene,” Abbas Kiarostami says in the book Lessons with Kiarostami.

Above: Juliette Binoche/Juliette Binoche and William Shimell in “Certified Copy”, 2010 | Abbas Kiarostami Productions, MK2 Productions

There is a scene in the film when Juliette’s character and James are nearing the end of the day and she excuses herself from the table in the restaurant where they want to have dinner and goes to the bathroom to freshen up. She is in front of the mirror and tries on a couple of pairs of earrings (first image in the set above). And I will quote Kiarostami once more: “When someone stands in front of the mirror, matching her inner feelings with her outlook is more important than matching the colour of her shoes with the bag she carries.” It is the first time when she pays attention to her looks. When James came to her shop, she wasn’t expecting him, therefore the outfit she was wearing and would wear throughout their day together was not picked out especially for the occasion. That image in front of the mirror reveals more about her emotions than words and clothes ever could. And it is just one of the sequences which convinced me that Juliette Binoche truly is that woman in the film.

Abbas Kiarostami was a director who usually worked with non-professional actors, because he wanted reactions as natural and real as possible from his film characters, and which he thought professional actors could only act, fake, not genuinely live on screen. But in Juliette he saw that raw quality of non-actors. “What pushed me to make Certified Copy was the intensity and enthusiasm of Juliette Binoche’s response to the story I told her, the reaction in her eyes, the spontaneous movement of her head. I never had any intension of turning that story into a film, and I am sure that had I told it to anyone else I would never have made Certified Copy,” he revealed. In this film, she transfers real life on screen, she is more than a “certified copy”. I am even reluctant in using the word performance. Those are raw emotions, she is a natural, the story awakens something in you, it feels real. And what, if not that, should anyone channel every single day?

Juliette Binoche in “Certified Copy”, 2010 | Abbas Kiarostami Productions, MK2 Productions

I think Juliette probably chose her own clothes, too. She became this character and she knew what her character should wear. There are in fact just two outfits. A green trench coat, t-shirt, black trousers and ballet flats at the very beginning when she attends the lecture, and then a silky, vaporous sand-colored dress cinched with a brown belt and worn with a black blazer and high-heel sandals when she’s driving James around. For once, I am not going to try and find symbolism in costumes. I will just take this second look in the simplest of ways: the perfect lightweight, minimalist look you effortlessly throw on for a tour of Tuscany on an adventurous summer day. And take the heels as the perfect excuse to go barefoot.

The Koker Trilogy, a new collection of films by Abbas Kiarostami,
“Where Is the Friend’s House?”, “And Life Goes On”, “Through the Olive Trees”,
will be released this August by The Criterion Collection.


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Reading Picture, first published in 1952, reminded me about what real journalism is about. Integrity. Objectivity. Responsibility. Power of observation. Respect for the privacy of your subjects. Lillian Ross, who worked at The New Yorker for more than half a century, is considered one of the pioneers of novelistic journalism, and Picture was named one of the “Top Hundred Works of US Journalism of the Twentieth Century” (Reporting is the writer’s other work that is on the list). I didn’t even know about the new edition, released in June by The New York Review of Books, until I discovered it in my favourite bookstore – who doesn’t have a good bookshop keeper, they should buy one.

“Beautiful journalism”, John Huston said about Picture. No stylistic flourishing, no gratuitous metaphors, no speculation or gossip, just clarity and simplicity, a probing insight into filmmaking. Picture, Lillian Ross’ reporting of the making of John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage, is one of the most authentic and accurate documentations of how a movie is made, of how the big studio Hollywood mechanisms work and how an original, artistic film and a director’s uncompromising vision can be slashed into a whole different thing when the studio heads and producers step in and cut down by a third a film they had previously thought was great in its initial form just because of the public pressure (“that odd sampling of the public that comprises preview-goers,”, as Lillian Ross describes them). The studio heads who think that you have to tell people what the movie is about because they can not think by themselves. The studio heads who disconsider any other kind of movie made outside Hollywood because they say those films want to harm the heart-warming, sentimental Hollywood motion-picture business. The producers who disturbingly admit that once the director is through, they can usually do whatever they want with a picture.

One of my favourite parts in the book were the John Huston passages. Every mention of his name has the capacity of revealing something from the character of this magnetic, bigger-than-life man, great director and talented artist, and to make the reader part of the moment. His wit, his humour, his ego, his search for simplicity and truth, his appetite for life and art. As Anjelica Huston (if you haven’t already red her two-part autobiography, A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York and Watch Me, I highly recommend that you do) says in the introduction to Ross’ book, “in the country recently, my husband, Robert Graham, and I were reading Picture aloud to each other. We were laughing and having a lot of fun when suddenly I realised that reading this book was like being in the same room with my father again.”

But what I believe Lillian Ross captured first and foremost, and so well and effortlessly, was that rare quality that John Huston had for looking at and making art with enthusiasm and curiosity but without intellectualization. She was able to capture the essence of the artist, with his many facets, just by reporting the facts. That’s a rare quality, too.
Related reading: A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York, by Anjelica Huston / Watch Me, by Anjelica Huston / Room to Dream, by David Lynch


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This Summer We’re Chanelling: Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only

Carole Bouquet and Roger Moore in “For Your Eyes Only”, 1981 | Eon Productions

With For Your Eyes Only, the Bond franchise producers wanted to go back to more human and realistic values and focus upon character and story rather than the familiar, audience-pleasing action elements. The film came after Moonraker, who had put James Bond on the orbit and into the space age – bigger and more spectacular was the aim. For Your Eyes Only (1981) was shaped as a more serious and realistic spy thriller anchored on a young woman, Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), whose parents are killed by an assasin named Gonzalez. There is also Bond’s personal story that we are reminded of at the very beginning of the film when Bond goes to the grave of his wife – that was a first in the history of the Bond films, because “regardless of how attached any one woman is to Bond (or Bond to her), he almost never refers to her in a subsequent film or in his next mission”, as Christopher Lindner notes in the book Revisioning 007: James Bond and Casino Royale.

But what makes For Your Eyes Only stand out even more though is that there is also the tough side of Roger Moore’s Bond that is being explored more than in the other Bond films he appeared in. The director, John Glen, wanted to tap deep into the character, not just by showing his humane side (Glen had the idea with the grave scene), but also by revealing a hard edge that was characteristic more of Sean Connery’s Bond. “Although Roger is a completely different type of actor, I still felt that we needed to put a bit of edge in it,” Glen said.

Carole Bouquet’s Bond girl, Melina Havelock, has her own personal story and a family to revenge,
and she gives Bond a ride for his money in “For Your Eyes Only”, 1981 | Eon Productions

Roger himself was reluctant to this new approach, because “my Bond would not do that”. With his trademark single raised eyebrow, a twinkle of humour in his eye, a dry wit and tongue-in-cheek charm and class, Roger Moore was the James Bond who knew how to carry off by being himself. The secret agent who had the tough task to follow Sean Connery in the role, but who knew better than following on Sean Connery’s tough-guy James Bond. But Glen knew that they had to steer away from the much too gimmicky and fantastical scripts and to tone down the humour. After all, Fleming himself insisted that James Bond was “a skilled professional: ruthless and sardonic in his work; gentle, witty, and stylish off duty.”

So Glen stood his ground and had Roger play rough in a particular scene, when Bond is chasing Locque, the killer of Ferrara, an MI6 agent, and Countess Lisl. The Mercedes the villain is driving ends up on the edge of a cliff and Bond throws in the pin that belongs to Locque and which he had found on Ferrara’s body. Just the weight of the pin sends the car over the cliff, but Glen wanted Bond to be more ruthless and give it a push with his foot, too. Moore eventually agreed to it and afterwards he also agreed to the fact that the scene turned out to be an important part in the evolution of Bond on film. Indeed, Roger Moore’s complex Bond in For Your Eyes Only sits very well among the Bonds played by the other actors. In the book Revisionng 007, Lindner acknowledges once again the significance of Roger Moore’s role, writing that “Daniel Craig’s Bond is the most effective ‘serious Bond’ since For Your Eyes Only”. It is a part that also proved what a versatile actor Roger was and I can not help wondering how his Bond would have been depicted if the producers, screenwriters and directors had been willing to explore the character on more levels.

Carole Bouquet and Roger Moore in “For Your Eyes Only”, 1981 | Eon Productions

Another element that moved the Bond movies further, reinterpreting key features, was the Bond girl part. Following Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me, from 1977, Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock also played against type, even if, in time, the French actress would come to disconsider her part for being unsubstantial. Her role deserves much more credit than she gives it. There is much more to her character than what meets the eye. She is beautiful and she dresses the part, but she does not give it all away. She has a personal story to tell, driven by revenging her family, and she certainly gives 007 a run for his money.

In The James Bond Archives, director John Glen recounts how he cast Carole Bouquet in the role: “We flew into Rome and met Carole. She was absolutely gorgeous. The thing that impressed me most was her hair. She had the most gorgeous hair. I could immediately see the girl with the crossbow as Fleming had described her, which was really the only Fleming element that was in the movie.”

Carole Bouquet started her acting career with her role in Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, 1977, and she would give one of her best performances in Claude Berri’s 1997 Lucie Aubrac, one of the best War World II political thrillers. Carole’s wardrobe in the film is classic, simple, and, almost forty years on, stands the test of time, much unlike Roger Moore’s Bond, whose look is undoubtedly the most ingrained in the period it was filmed in – that doesn’t mean however that Roger Moore’s Bond could not pull off a timeless look.

Carole Bouquet as Melina Havelock in “For Your Eyes Only”, 1981 | Eon Productions

But what exactly does Carole’s look consist of that makes it a modern-day, summer destination-ready capsule wardrobe? A practical black dress for day – with straps and attached pockets and worn with a traditional Greek head-scarf (Melina is half Greek) and a bag in a very modern way, crossed-body. A gorgeous bareback red dress for the evening. White sleeveless top and white shorts for a boat travel. Black swimming suit and plain white t-shirt for a dive in the sea – she initially wears that under a yellow maritime suit and it comes in handy for a ride among sharks. One of the film’s locations was Corfu Island, which makes Carole’s stylish staples even more appropriate for a summer getaway.

That said, I believe that Melina’s style appeal has also to do with the fact that she is played by a French woman. And what we admire so much about the French is that they don’t take fashion seriously, but they know well crafted, classic pieces that add character to their style. Carole Bouquet defines Parisian style and she imbues her character in For Your Eyes Only with it. It’s easy to see why Melina Havelock is one of the alt Bond girls.

Alongside Melina, who’s wearing black bikini and a white t-shirt, Roger Moore’s 007
takes an unexpected dive style-wise: dark blue, fitted, V-neck t-shirt. | Eon Productions

Related content: Bond Style: From Connery to Craig / Bond Girl Style: Carey Lowell in Licence to Kill / Roger Moore’s James Bond: The Style, the Charm, the Humour


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