Time for Tweed: Julie Christie in “Don’t Look Now”

Fashion and fiction intertwine.

Julie Christie in “Don’t Look Now | Casey Productions, Eldorado Films

 
“Eschewing the normal rules of commercial entertainment, Roeg’s films deal in raw emotion, shaking our preconceptions about civilisation and cinema. His aesthetic is founded on a masterly montage of time and space and elliptical narratives through which his character’s are cut adrift from their usual moral and physical surroundings,” writes Jason Wood in the introduction to his interview with director Nicolas Roeg, included in the book Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview. Here is a director who has never story-boarded anything, who likes the idea of chance, who likes to do things differently and who believes in the audience, in their coming to the movies with an open mind.

Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) remains the template for using decaying Venice as metaphor for the psychological disintegration of its characters. Venice has never looked more melancholic and alienating. Often regarded as one of the best British films of all time, Nicolas Roeg’s tragedy, set in off-season Venice, works with grief just as acutely as it works with supernaturally charged thriller elements, to devastating effect.
 

Julie Christie in “Don’t Look Now | Casey Productions, Eldorado Films

 
In 1967, Times Magazine observed of Julie Christie, “what Julie Christie wears has more real impact on fashion than all the clothes of the ten best-dressed women combined.” I like to say the same thing about films: you can find more inspiration in movies than in what the best dressed women of the moment wear. Julie Christie’s style, on and off screen, has remained ingrained in the collective imagination just as much her memorable roles (“the most poetic of actresses,” is how Al Pacino called her). She made a first huge impact with a passing appearance in Billy Liar (1963) and was immediately catapulted to Vogue style status. She soon found stardom with her roles in Dr Zhivago (1965) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1967). Few films have had a comparable influence on fashion as David Lean’s Dr Zhivago. It was the 1960s, the heyday of the mini skirt and frilly, feminine shapes, and yet, the maxi coats, the longer hemlines and the sober, military tailoring were rushed into fashion as a result of Lara’s wardrobe in the film.
 

Julie Christie in “Don’t Look Now | Casey Productions, Eldorado Films

 
In Don’t Look Now, Julie Christie’s Laura Baxter wears so many timeless pieces and the film marks one of those rare moments when the female character’s clothes have dated so much better than her male counterpart’s (played by Donald Sutherland) and that is an accomplishment in itself. Naturally, Christie’s clothes, in dark tones and heavy fabrics worn one on top of another, are a reflection of her character, the surroundings and of what she is going through. It’s late autumn and everything is grey and misty and on the edge of frost, and Laura has suffered an unimaginable loss. Roeg uses dark earth tones entirely, but precisely introduces bright red splashes now and then throughout the plot, from a glass of red wine spilled on the table, to a shawl, a scarf, a poster on the wall or Julie’s red boots – colour becomes a link between past and future. It’s a startling visual effect accomplished entirely through a masterful use of colour. “I can’t think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography,” the director says in the conversation with Jason Wood, and, watching Don’t Look Now, his words kept coming back to me. Being able to shoot their own film, that should be an intrinsic part of a director’s job.
 

Julie Christie in “Don’t Look Now | Casey Productions, Eldorado Films

 
The appeal of Julie Christie’s dress code however surpasses the film. The most timeless A-line skirts, knitted sweaters, cardigans, and especially the coats, from the trench to classic tweed blazers and outerwear pieces, whether in earthy plaid, black and white checks or herringbone, that she wears. But it is tweed that has never looked better in these late autumn days. Tweed coats have, in fact, never gone away. It’s an item you can wear over a blouse, rollerneck or knitted sweater, just as Laura does, over skirts, jeans or trouser suits. It’s elegant, but versatile and practical, too, it can be Ivy League-inspired, but I favour the British countryside-look. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, the saying goes. I agree. It’s time to embrace the cold season and layer upon layer of tweed, do up all the buttons, flip up the collar and brave the worst weather that nature can throw at you.

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November Playlist

The music I’ve been listening to on repeat lately, from the soundtrack of one of the best films of the year to some of my all-time favourite songs.


 

1. Ed Sheeran – One / 2. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga – Shallow (from the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack) / 3. The The – This Is the Day / 4. New Order – Temptation / 5. Dire Straits – So Far Away / 6. The Lumineers – Ho Hey / 7. Patti Smith – Dancing Barefoot / 8. David Bowie – Heroes / 9. Nirvana – The Man Who Sold the World / 10. U2 – I Still Haven’t Found what I’m Looking For / 11. The Goo Goo Dolls – Iris / 12. The Smiths – How Soon Is Now / 13. College and Electric Youth – A Real Hero / 14. Nina Simone – Feeling Good / 15. Roxy Music – More Than This


 

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“A Star Is Born” through the Times

Bradley Cooper on the set of “A Star Is Born” (2018) | photo by Peter Lindbergh

 
After seeing the latest A Star Is Born, directed by Bradley Cooper, I wanted to watch all three previous versions of the movie. I did and, not surprisingly, the modern version still stands firm, and my skepticism about remakes almost went out the window. This is that very rare remake that works. But I am not particularly interested in ranking the four films. I would rather talk about each one in part, because I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss so easily the less good versions, especially that all earlier films informed in one way or another this latest telling of the fable.

The main story of A Star is Born is the same in each iteration: A famous, alcoholic man’s career goes into decline right as the career of the woman he loves blossoms. The only thing that changes is the industry: the first two films are about actors, and the most recent versions are about musicians. But, and this is a considerable but, regardless of how good or not so good each of these films is, none of them lays bare the drama of a performer amid or at great personal loss. None of these films, nor any other for that matter, comes as close to this theme as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) or John Cassavetes’ Opening Night (1977).
 

”A Star Is Born” (1937) | Selznick International Pictures

 
A Star Is Born (1937), starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March

William Wellman co-wrote (with Robert Carson, and Dorothy Parker was subsequently brought in for the screenplay) and directed the original film, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in the leading roles. Janet Gaynor is Esther Blodgett, the daughter of a North Dakota farm family. She is an aspiring actress attracted to the nascent movie industry. Her family is against her ambitions; only her grandmother, Lettie (May Robson), is sympathetic and helps Esther leave for Hollywood and try to make something of her dream. Fredric March is Norman Maine, a fading movie star, who helps Esther launch her career.

The film taps into the behind-the-scenes of Hollywood and into the corrupt and soulness business that the movie world was already becoming. But the film remains restrained. It doesn’t get very close to either the male lead, Norman Maine (Fredric March), who badly lacks a strong sense of character, nor to Esther’s own art, and what drives her forward. It’s more focused on the glamour than on the inner personal struggles.
 

”A Star Is Born” (1954) | Warner Brothers

 
A Star Is Born (1954), starring Judy Garland and James Mason

George Cukor’s A Star Is Born is classic Hollywood making. A lavish production, with considerable focus on the entertainment part, but one in which the personal drama is at all times dominating the story. Moss Hart was the screenwriter. Esther is played by Judy Garland and her character is no longer a wanna-be artist, just starting out, she is a singer in a popular band and a skilled performer and her career has been modestly successful so far. But she dreams bigger. And Norman Maine (James Mason), a hard-drinking, brilliant, but has-been actor, is the one who sees she has the potential to become even a greater star than what she is dreaming about. She could be a movie star. And he does everything he can to make that happen, step by step building her to stardom.

Cukor was a great director, one who could do drama, but who excelled at comedy, too, and, as François Truffaut said, “it’s easier to make people cry than to make people laugh”. And in A Star Is Born, his skills are perfectly attuned to his actors’. James Mason, one of the most talented and underrated actors in my opinion, is as tender as he is tormented, and his presence on screen keeps you watching. As for Garland, she undoubtedly gives one of her best performances, a triumphal return to the screen after an absence of four years. She bursts onto the screen in both explosive performances – although some of her numbers are no more than Hollywood musical clichés and the film does feel at times that it was intended to be a showcase for its leading lady – and agonizing moments.

A very disappointment fact is that the movie was severely cut soon after its initial release (the film didn’t meet the studio’s expectations and they made a shorter version, by 30 minutes, and melted the negative from the cuts) and every format available now includes reconstructions of sequences that were cut, with dialogue playing over still images in several scenes.
 

”A Star Is Born” (1976) | Warner Brothers

 
A Star Is Born (1976), starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson

The 1976 A Star Is Born stars Barbra Streisand as struggling singer Esther Hoffman, and Kris Kristofferson as the alcoholic rock star John Norman Howard. Joan Didion was brought in to co-write the script (John Gregory Dunne and Frank Pierson were the other writers). The film takes on a different perspective, placed in a different world, the music business, but unfortunately director Frank Pierson misses the opportunity of truly taking the film into a new direction. Barbra Streisand is a talented actress and a fantastic singer, but what the film does so wrong is that it ends up resembling too much a Streisand concert, molding on its leading actress rather than on her character. Not only does she outshine by far Kristofferson, but the singing outshines the inner side of her character, too. Everything seems just for the sake of the show. Furthermore, while the most famous line in the previous versions is that when the female lead declares herself “Mrs. Norman Maine”, thus claiming her husband, in Streisand’s film her character keeps her maiden name when she is introduced as “Mrs. Esther Hoffman Howard”. Kristofferson’s character gets even more played down. I was glad that Bradley Cooper kept the idea of the first films, especially in the view of the current feminist movement, not steering away from what’s relevant for the plot.

Reportedly, Streisand originally wanted John Cassavetes to direct the film, after she had seen a screening of A Woman under the Influence. Cassavetes turned her down, but the original A Star Is Born (1937) was one of his favourite films and as far back as 1968 he had had the idea of doing a backstage drama, which would turn out to be Opening Night (1977). I can not help thinking what a huge impact it would have had on the outcome if Cassavetes had directed Streisand’s A Star Is Born. Cassavetes, who made so many sacrifices in order not to compromise his work and his artistic vision, a filmmaker who lived for his art.
 

”A Star Is Born” (2018) | Warner Brothers

 
A Star Is Born (2018), starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

One of the things that make this such a good film is the fact that it is honest and grounded. Bradley Cooper makes the story new and fresh and current. The characters are contoured very well, especially Cooper’s, Jackson Maine, a hard drinking country musician. Far from being a vanity reel (Bradley Cooper co-wrote the script with Eric Roth and Will Fetters), it is a very well written and well performed part, and although Lady Gaga (Ally) is very good in her first major role, for the first time (and this is what is so badly missing from the previous stories), this felt very much like an artists’, an actors’ duet. They are in this together, they are both in love not only with each other but with each other’s talent and that’s the beautiful part, that’s why the film stands apart.

But the female lead part seems a bit underdeveloped. That’s one of the few weak points of the film. The character of Ally is beautifully built up until the point when she finds success by starting to sing superficial, shallow pop songs. The film gives in too easily, her character gives up too easily the values she stands by at the beginning of the film, and which she had refused to break in the past when she had been told that she had to look a certain way and sing a certain way in order to succeed. It is not very plausible that she gives in to compromise. Or maybe it is, if you realise that it is this turn to pop singing that starts the rift between Ally and Jackson.

Apart from that, all the other music sequences and songs are brilliant. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper transmit such energy and passion when they are on stage, it’s extraordinary and overwhelming the way the film captured the fantastic atmosphere of the best kind of live music. Not for once, though, does the spectacle overshadow the characters, and that’s another reason why this film is so good. And it’s because of these two characters, their chemistry and the fact that this story could really happen nowadays that I felt connected to this film more than with the others. After all, watching a movie is a personal experience.

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One Week, Eight Movies in Cinema: What Did I Like?

Last week I set out to watch as many films in cinema as I could. By that I mean not any multiplex film, but only films that premiered at different festivals (Sundance, Cannes and Venice) earlier this year, some of which were briefly screened in town, many of which have not yet been released in theaters worldwide.
 
Roma Alfonso Cuaron

“Roma” | Netflix

 
So what did I see? Roma, Burning, Ash Is Purest White, First Man, A Star Is Born, Blackkklansman, The Man who Killed Don Quixote, Todos lo saben (Everybody Knows), Leave No Trace (the latter, the ninth, is also a 2018 release, but I watched it on DVD).

Before getting to the films I liked the most, I want to say a few words about two of the films I didn’t get to see (they were sold out early on) and which are also two of the films I was most looking forward to. I am sure they would have been included in my list here. The first one is Shoplifters, this year’s Palme d’Or winner, but that’s not the reason I expect it to raise up to my expectations, but because I like Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films (Our Little Sister (2015), for example, which is a graceful observation of family life that reminded me of Ozu’s films). The good news is that Shoplifters will be soon launched in cinemas. The other one is Capharnaüm (Lebanon), directed by Nadine Labaki, which unfortunately I don’t know how soon I will be able to watch. The film, set in Lebanon and reportedly using a non-professional cast, is about a boy who rebels against the life imposed on him by others and who launches a lawsuit against his parents.

Of all the films I’ve watched this past week, Blackkklansman is by far the most overrated. It failed hard my expectations. The film is based on the remarkable true-life story of the black 70s police officer Ron Stallworth, who masterminded the infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan, talking to Klansmen on the phone and sending in a white officer when face-to-face meetings were needed. But on screen, unfortunately, the story is caricaturesque, it makes fools of the KKK, and if Spike Lee’s intention was to take across the message that racism is still pretty much the reality in America, I’m afraid it didn’t reach the audience it intended to reach. Because I don’t believe that comedy is the way to approach this subject. And because of that farcical tone of the movie, I thought the footage at the end of the film – a series of images from the white nationalist march on Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11, 2017, and the aftermath, including President Donald Trump’s infamous remarks and images of the car that plowed into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a girl – made the least sense of all.

The Man who Killed Don Quixote was a disappointment, too. I believe even some of Terry Gilliam’s long-time fans (which I am not) found the film confusing and incoherent.
 
Ash Is Purest White

Liao Fan and Zhao Tao in “Ash Is Purest White” | MK2 Films

 

Ash Is Purest White

Ash Is Purest White was one of the films that clearly stood out for me and one of my favourite movies of the year so far along with La enfermedad del domingo (Sunday’s Illness), which I saw a few months back. Directed by Jia Zhang-ke, Ash Is Purest White is a winding tale of love, disillusionment and survival that can also be identified as a portrayal of the evolution of contemporary China, a theme often occurred in the director’s films. Zhao Tao (the director’s longtime repertory player) is riveting in her role. She plays Qiao, the girlfriend of Guo Bin (Liao Fan), a young and good-looking jianghu. The two characters transmit such a strong connection and deep understanding of each other that surpasses words. And when Qiao is betrayed by Guo Bin, she shows resilience and remains unflinching in her pursuit of him. I am not sure if he shares her feelings in totality, but I think that, beyond that culture of masculinity, he does. And it’s incredibly thought-provoking how their love story feels timeless rather than ephemeral. It makes you wonder about life itself.
 
Roma Alfonso Cuaron

“Roma” | Netflix

 
Roma

The winner of the Golden Lion in Venice this year, Roma is Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since Gravity (2013). A visually groundbreaking spectacle shot by Cuarón himself in pellucid black-and-white, the film is an autobiographically inspired, richly personal story, gentle and stoic at the same time, set in the Mexico City of the 1970s; a portrayal of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst political turmoil. It is clear that every shot, every scene, every character was carefull composed.

The director returned to Mexico to make the film, his first in his native language since Y tu mamá también (2001). “I always wanted to make a film and be comfortable with it when I finished it,” Cuarón told IndieWire. “With Roma, I was satisfied with it when we finished. I was very happy with it, and that’s because it’s the first film I was fully able to convey what I wanted to convey as a film. It’s a story in many different shapes and hints of emotions that have been present since the moment I wanted to be a director.” All that said, the film is special from another point of view, as well. Not only was it carefully promoted (very little of the film was revealed until it premiered and even since then, very few images have been made public), but it will continue to be so. It will be released in select theaters, so having been able to watch it on the big screen (it was produced by Netflix) felt rewarding in itself.
 
Burning 2018

Ah-In Yoo, Jong-set Jeon and Steven Yeun in “Burning” | Pine House Film

 
Burning

Burning, by Lee Chang-dong, is an adaptation of the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami. The story follows an aimless poor, young writer, Ah-In Yoo as Lee Jong-eu, whose existence in turned upside down by a chance encounter with a childhood friend, Shin Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon), especially after she leaves on a trip to Africa and comes back accompanied by Ben (Steven Yeun), a rich and mysterious young man with a Gatsby vibe (Fitzgerald’s novel is actually referred to in the film by the chatacters). There is one particular scene that stayed with me, undoubtedly one of the most memorable of the year. The three characters are gathered at Lee Jong-eu’s parents’ farmhouse. They spend the evening on the porch and watch the sunset on the music of Miles David and suddenly time seems to stop, and this strange love triangle, basked in the golden hour light, regardless of class provenance and everything else, seem at peace with one another. An unconventional thriller that focuses on character study and which, in my case, represents a great introduction to the filmography of the Korean director (I am yet to discover his other works).
 
First Man 2018

Ryan Gosling in “First Man” | Universal Pictures, Dreamworks

 
First Man

The most pleasant surprise of all the films I watched this past week was Damien Chazelle’s third motion picture, the stupendous feat First Man, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Admittedly, I am a fan of Chazelle’s films (I sang my praise for La La Land here), but biopics are just a genre I am not particularly keen on. But I should have gotten used to the director’s way of doing things differently by now (I didn’t even like musicals (no, not even the classic ones) until I saw La La Land). For First Man, Chazelle teamed up once again with Ryan Gosling, who plays Neil Armstrong, and I am sure this collaboration is bound to become one of those prolific actor-director partnerships. Ryan Gosling delivers a beautiful, subdued, implosive performance, and Claire Foy as Neil’s wife, Janet, is magnificent in her role, one of the best of the year. It’s such an intimate, humane story, and that makes all the difference. It’s about loss, tragedy, sacrifice and failure. There is no American glorification of the nation’s space heroes here. It’s first and foremost about a human being, not about the first man on the moon and his monumental achievement. That’s the beauty of it.

I also recommend you listen to the Fresh Air episode where Terry Gross interviews Damien Chazelle about the film – it was what prompted me to watch it in the first place and had a good feeling about it when I heard the director saying they wanted to keep the special effects to the minimum, which they did; you don’t even notice the special effects, it’s just movie making craftsmanship.
 
Leave No Trace 2018

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster in “Leave No Trace” | Scott Green/Bleecker Street

 
Leave No Trace

The indie film Leave No Trace premiered at Sundance at the beginning of the year and was part of the Directors’ Fortnight line-up at Cannes. This is actually the only movie of the ones listed here that I didn’t watch at the cinema, but on DVD. I do not know whether it will be brought to cinema here. I always keep an eye on the films launched at Sundance and Debra Granik’s film is a subtle, moving wilderness story of a man (Ben Foster in another great performance after Hell or High Water, one of my favourite films of 2016) who takes his 13-year-old daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie who makes an authentic, understated, confident role), to live with him off the grid in a nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. Leave No Trace conjures up memories of Captain Fantastic, another one of the best films of 2016, and questions the very meaning of home and homelessness, connection and solitude, without being a sentimental comment (and that’s part of what makes it so good) on conventional and alternative societies. And it is sublimely directed. Every frame, move, look, sound, or stretch of silence advances the plot in some way.
 
Todos lo saben 2018

Bárbara Lennie and Javier Bardem in “Todos lo saben” | Memento Films Production

 
Todos lo saben

Although I didn’t like Todos lo saben (Everybody Knows) quite as much as some of Asghar Farhadi‘s previous films, like A Separation (2011), Le passé (2013) – my favourite from the director so far – and The Salesman (2016), I liked it nonetheless, starting with the strong family bondage depicted and Farhadi’s powerful and accurate directing (the wedding scene has such cinematic beauty). Another strength was the ensemble of the actors, playing their roles maturely and uninhibitedly: Penélope Cruz, and especially Javier Bardem and Bárbara Lennie, who is simply one of my favourite actresses of the moment, having performed in some of the best films of the past years, like Contratiempo and the afore-mentioned La enfermedad del domingo.
 
A Star Is Born 2018

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in “A Star Is Born” | Warner Brothers

 
A Star Is Born

I have read mixed reviews about Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star Is Born (also launched at Venice), including from my own readers. But, much to my surprise, I liked it. The film may seem and may very well be the remake of a remake of a remake if you want (the original being William Wellman’s (1937), followed by George Cukor’s (1954) and Frank Pierson’s version from 1976), and I have been pretty vocal about my opinion on remakes and sequels over the years, but Cooper managed to make this story new and fresh again. Not only that, but it is probably the best version of all four (I am yet to watch the Fredric March-Janet Gaynor film).

I liked the way he captured those music sequences and the passion of the two protagonists on stage, Bradley Cooper himself and Lady Gaga – the energy, the passion, the feeling. And I know that everybody is talking about Lady Gaga as the revelation of the movie, but, no, I don’t agree, this is an actors’ duet, they are in this together, they are both in love not only with each other but with each other’s talent and that’s the beautiful part, you see it in their eyes when they sing together. And that’s also what I believe Cooper brings in – his character’s talent does not seem just something of the past, as in the case of the previous films – without feeling like a vanity reel. I don’t think that is the case at all, I simply think it’s a very well written and very well performed part, and although Lady Gaga is undoubtedly good (although her role felt a bit underdeveloped and if there is something I would reproach Bradley Copper for, this would be it), it’s his performance that impressed me the most and I’m really glad it confirms his talent as an actor. I wish the film didn’t give in to that superficial, shallow pop singing when Ally finds success, but it might have had a point, if only to make it very suggestive towards what’s happening in the music business nowadays.

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A School Look that Stands the Test of Time

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Emma Watson in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, 2005 | Warner Brothers

 
We are well into autumn, but, as far as I’m concerned, a tad of nostalgia for that back-to-school feeling lingers on in the air. It got me thinking of some of my favourite school- and college-set films, like Dead Poets Society, Rushmore and Harry Potter. And about campus uniforms and all those looks that are grasping into Ivy League style. Apart from the fact that I’ve always been drawn to the preppy look, to its timelessness, practicality and no-fuss, dressing-down attitude, I like the uniform from other reasons, too, especially when it comes to children. As Andre Agassi writes in his autobiography when talking about the school he has founded, “we thought it important that students wear uniforms. Tennis shirt with khaki pants, shorts, or skirt, in official school colors – burgundy and navy. We think it creates less peer pressure, and we know it saves parents money in the long run.” I like his way of thinking.

So please indulge me for a moment as I take a look back at Hogwarts – a place that, to quote Ethan Hawke during a Q&A that I took part in last year, “if it really existed, I wish I were cool enough to go there”. Each of the films in the series covers one full school year and that’s one of the reasons why I love the Harry Potter movies. Of course, Hogwarts had a dress code, too. Take Hermione’s school attire, for example: white shirt, V-neck sweater and tie. Take it as a piece of advice that you could have given to your younger self and that you can continue to follow from now on: Keep it simple! It’s never wrong with a simple look. It’s one of those things kids seem to know best. And what we can also learn from them is that style should come naturally, without a moment’s thought, that it must be comfortable first and foremost, and that it can not be manufactured or bought.
 
Emma Watson in Harry Potter

Emma Watson in “Harry Potter and the Ordin of the Phoenix”, 2007 | Warner Brothers

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