Friday, 30 March 2012

Sew Retro


Here follows a bit of a girly post about *drumroll* sewing!

As a refresh course in dressmaking, I signed up for a Craftsy online course with Gretchen Hirsch of Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing, a blog I've loved for years. Gertie is a girl after my own heart with her love of details, couture techniques and vintage style. On the course, she teaches you how to make a "bombshell" dress. A list of materials is included, as is the pattern, which you print out. It's a brilliant course so far. There are in-depth videos to cover every stage of the make, and a platform to ask questions if you need to. This course is an absolute bargain. I've learned more about dressmaking during this than I did during the whole first year studying fashion design at university. Plus, it's a damn sight cheaper.





Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The House That Dripped Blood (1970)

Just because Jon Pertwee's vampire face deserves an award and so does Ingrid Pitt, for being Ingrid Pitt.


Also, fantastic poster.


Monday, 26 March 2012

The Archers Blogathon - "Gone to Earth" Part 1



Gone to Earth is a 1950 film by Powell and Pressburger, based on the novel by Mary Webb. It stars Jennifer Jones, David Farrar, Cyril Cusack, Sybil Thorndyke and Esmond Knight. It's a story akin to Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles; that of a innocent child of nature at the turn of the century, who is desired by two men - hunted sexually by one, revered spiritually by the other. A brief summary would read as a rural melodrama, but the symbolism and allegorical poetry of the book is translated beautifully in this film adaptation. There is probably no other filmmakers apart from Powell and Pressburger who could do the book justice; handling it with such tenderness that it is a true masterpiece in the tradition of a Greek tragedy.

I'm going to discuss the whole film in an indepth way with lots of photos - just a warning incase you haven't seen the film and don't wish to have it spoiled. I'm also going to try and replicate the dialect when quoting if appropriate. I hope I don't offend any Shropshire readers.


The Archers Blogathon - "Gone to Earth" Part 2 - The Making Of


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The filming of Gone to Earth took place in 1949 in and around Shropshire. The film is particularly fascinating because of the controversy surrounding it. The film was a co-production between British Lion and Selznik Productions. David O'Selznick, the producer of the Oscar winning Gone with the Wind (1939) and Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), was infamous for his controlling, bordering on obsessional involvement with his productions. Selznick had recently signed a deal with Alexander Korda to make several films in England, including Gone To Earth. Korda had previously signed a five film deal in 1948 with Powell and Pressburger, who saw him as kindred spirit who allowed them to make the films they wanted, how they wanted. Although Korda was hugely respcted in the industry and had been involved with many popular films, he was in financial difficulties at this time. He had bought the literary rights for Mary Webb's Gone to Earth years before and saw a chance to sell it on to Selznick and turn over a good deal of business at the same time with a powerful alliance.

kordaselznickpandp
Clockwise: Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Selznick was a passionate producer who had found enormous success with his films in Hollywood, such as "Gone with the Wind". His reason for wanting to be involved in the British film industry was partly because of how Powell and Pressburger had impressed people around the world with The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death and their unique visual poetry. As this was also an important period of Italian realist cinema, Selznick saw an opportunity to be involved in what was a more gritty, new cinema. He was also looking for a vehicle for his new obsession, Jennifer Jones, and wanted something which would show her acting ability and earthiness at its best. As he later stated in a letter, Jennifer Jones' involvement in the film made him doubly concerned about the production.

jones-selznick-soup_opt
Jennifer Jones and David O. Selznick {via acertaincinema}

The deal went through The Archers to Korda and then to Selznick, so The Archers were contracted to work with Selznick under an agreed script. Selnick was very involved with the filming; visiting the set and seeing some rushes. He also bombarded Powell and Pressburger with memos up to ten pages long which were for the most part (politely!) ignored. Powell and Pressburger were very much their own men and were used to a great deal of artistic freedom. Powell later said, "We decided to go ahead with David O. (Selznick) the way hedgehogs make love: very carefully!"

Selznik was ultimately unhappy with the finished film of Gone to Earth. Firstly, he didn't think there were enough close-ups of Jennifer Jones, and felt the story was unclear and did not live up the potential he thought the film had. He outlined what he believed were P&P's two "tremendous faults" in a letter to Ben Hecht:
The first is an excessively English resistance to portrayal of emotions, which I am hoping to cure with retakes and additional scenes following completion of the job of re-editing the film. And the second is a fantastic obsession against making things clear.
He (quite cheerfully apparently) told Powell and Pressburger that he was going to take them to court for not shooting the agreed script. Powell and Pressburger argued that they had, and ultimately, when the case did go to court in April 1950, the judge agreed and the film could be released in the UK. Even though he lost the case, Selznick exercised his right under the contract (as he had all of the film rights in the Western hemisphere) to make an alternate version. In Hollywood, he hired director Rouben Mamoulian (who had directed Blood and Sand) to reshoot parts of the film and re-edit it for its American release in 1952 as The Wild Heart.

gonetoearth
David Farrar as Jack Reddin

Mamoulian cut many scenes, in fact he took over 30 minutes of the films running time from 110 minutes, to 82 minutes. Powell claimed that only 35 minutes of the original film remained. New outdoor scenes were reshot in California (though it's amazingly hard to tell those scenes apart from those filmed in Shropshire), and shot some more melodramatic interior scenes between Hazel and Reddin. Selznick also hired Joseph Cotten to do a voiceover for the film and included more close-ups of Jennifer Jones. In some reshot scenes, Jennifer Jones can be seen carrying what is obviously a toy fox.

Selznick's changes and cuts more or less eradicated the subtle symbolism of the original film as well as the incidental details which made Powell and Pressburger's work so atmospheric and evocative of the English countryside. Many of the scenes he cut because he found them too slow, were essential to the plot, making the final film quite confusing to watch compared to the original for some viewers.

jennifer-jones_420
Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus

In his later years, Michael Powell found it increasingly difficult to get his ideas finiancially backed, though, paradoxically, his reputation grew. As a result of this renewed interest in Powell and Pressburger's work, particularly from the 1970s, many of their "forgotten" films were restored and reissued, including Gone to Earth which was restored by The National Film Archive in 1985. This allowed people to see the film again for the first time in decades.

For his part, Michael Powell later dismissed the film as a "disaster" apart from Jennifer Jones' performance.

Gone to Earth with JJ
Jennifer Jones and Esmond Knight as Hazel and Abel Woodus

A New Statesman review claimed the restored film to be "One of the great British regional films" and, according to Powell's cinematographer, Christopher Challis, "one of the most beautiful films ever to be shot of the English countryside". It was extremely unusual for a film of Gone to Earth's scale to be shot on location at the time. Though The Wild Heart is not an awful film by any means, it's just a very different film and I was spoiled by seeing The Archers' film first. Gone to Earth is very much a story about the countryside, and that evocative nature of the film was mostly removed in The Wild Heart.

I've included a "making of" film in three parts which consists of Michael Powell's private films while making Gone to Earth



P&P employed the residents of Much Wenlock to act as extras in several scenes, such as the Condover Brass Band and the choir from the local Methodist Chapel. Apparently when he heard them singing, director Michael Powell said they were too good and he wanted them to sound "more ragged, like a choir of country folk," only to be told, "But we are country folk, Mr Powell".

extras
Much Wenlock residents as extras on the set of Gone to Earth

The score was composed by Brian Easdale, a long time collaborator with Powell and Pressburger. Here is the suite from Gone to Earth and I very much recommend the album The Music of Brian Easdale which includes his scores for the Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, Battle of the River Plate, Gone to Earth and other works.



To round up this LONG double post, I thought I'd post a video of Kate Bush's song, "Hounds of Love", which has been edited to include scenes from Gone to Earth. Although Kate Bush has stated the song was inspired by the excellent British horror The Night of the Demon, obviously I'm not alone in thinking that it owes something to Gone to Earth. It certainly sums up Hazel's predicament in the film. Kate Bush has said that the song is about being frightened of falling in love and compares the feeling to being pursued by dogs.

Thank you for reading and many thanks to The Archers Blogathon for letting me take part and write for ages about one of my favourite films for a good reason.




The DVD of Gone to Earth seems to be now out of print (in the UK at least). I'm sure you can still pick up a secondhand copy online somewhere. It's well worth the effort.

Credits:
Worcester SaucePowell-Pressburger.org | Esmondknight.org.uk | A documentary on the GtE DVD


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Platinum Blonde, 1931

Platinum Blonde (1931)

Platinum Blonde (1931)

Platinum Blonde (1931)


Platinum Blonde is named after Jean Harlow, like Bombshell (1933), and the title is not really indicative of the plot of the film. It just shows how powerful the draw of big stars like Jean Harlow was in the 30s.

It's about a wise-cracking, salt of the earth journalist, "Stew" Smith (Robert Williams), who is called upon to investigate a scandal involving a rich family. Stew meets Anne Schuyler (Jean Harlow) and the rest of her family, refuses a bribe by the Schuyler's lawyer (Reginald Owen) and Anne's flirtatious pleas to drop the story, making himself an enemy of the family. He visits again later to return a book he took from the Schuyler's library, and letters which were going to be used by the injured party in the scandal to further extort the family for money. Anne offers Stew a 5,000 cheque, which he refuses. Anne and Stew start to become quite friendly and Anne invites him to a party. They quickly fall in love and secretly marry.

Platinum Blonde (1931)
Platinum Blonde (1931)

When news of their marriage breaks it leaves Stew's friend, Gallagher (Loretta Young), who is in love with him, devastated, but she puts on a brave face and wishes Stew well. The film then chronicles Stew's difficulties with moving into the Schuyler mansion, fitting in with his in-laws, failing to fight off Anne's attempts to make him a gentleman, and his hurt pride at being dubbed "Cinderella man" or "Mr Anne Schuyler".

Platinum Blonde (1931)
Platinum Blonde (1931)

When Stew invites Gallagher and a few friends for drinks at the Schuyler mansion, about twenty other journalists gatecrash, turning an intended small get-together into a raging party. Stew and Gallagher retire to a quiet room to work on an idea Stew has for a play, basing it on his marriage and life with the Schuylers. When Anne and her mother return, Anne is furious at Stew for disrespecting her home and for his close relationship with Gallagher. She makes a point that it's not his house, it's her house, implying that he has no right to invite friends around.

Stew and Anne fight, ending with Stew leaving the Schuyler mansion with Gallagher and returning to his old apartment where they continue to work on the play. Grayson stops by to say Anne has offered to pay him alimony in a divorce, which Stew refuses, punching him before throwing him out of his apartment. Stew tells Gallagher the play could end with the main character divorcing his rich wife and marrying the woman he realised that he has always loved. The film ends with Gallagher and Stew embracing.

Platinum Blonde (1931)

I suppose the message of the film is about the value of independence, being true to yourself, and, sadly, something about the class system. If this film had the Jean Harlow and Robert Williams roles reversed in a The Bride Wore Red (1937) kind of way then I think it would have been more interesting and innovative, personally speaking. Viewing it from a modern standpoint it just smacks of the imagined horror of emasculation, which had, even by 1931, been done to death. But bearing in mind the time the film was made, it's quite a witty comedy with some classic 30s lines and characterisations (Some quotes here on imdb.). I still think that some men today would have problems being a "Cinderella Man", and Anne really doesn't treat Stew with much respect, so it's still relevant. She wants to mould him into someone who is more acceptable to her and her class.

A sad bit of trivia is that Robert Williams died a few days after the premiere. He was great in this, his first leading role and it's easy to imagine how his career could have grown from this point. He has excellent comic timing in this film and a no-frills, likeable persona.

Now, just a quick note to say that I'm really honoured to be taking part in The Archers Blogathon at the end of the month. I'll be covering Gone to Earth on the 26th March, which I'm thrilled about as it's one of my favourite Powell and Pressburger's films. I think there are still (at this moment of posting) film spots left if you want to take part. I hope someone blogs about A Canterbury Tale! Click on the button below to see the post at the Classic Film & TV Cafe and apply.



Here are a few other costume screencaps from Platinum Blonde which I've placed under a cut to save killling computers with all these image heavy posts. There are some gorgeous bias-cut dresses and I think the costumes in this film gives a really good overview of clothes in the early 30s.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Suddenly, Last Summer, 1959

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
And the award for most misleading poster and tagline goes to...

I have to apologise in advance that this post is a bit rushed and the photos are haphazard and numerous. This is part review, part picspam, part costume design study, so please bear with me.

Suddenly, Last Summer is a typical Tennesse Williams potboiler with a gruesome twist. It features Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. While I find Monty lacking in this film (more on that later), Elizabeth and Katharine do a really outstanding job.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Dr. Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) works for a dilapidated state asylum in New Orleans where he performs lobotomies. Yes, it's that kind of film. Doctor tells us that "Cukrowicz" is apparently a Polish word for sugar, but that isn't very important.  He throws a strop about the conditions he works in and is about to run back to Chicago when his boss tells him about a rich widow called Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn). She is fascinated by an article about the Doctor's work, and might give them some financial support which would allow for necessary modernisation to the hospital. Monty shoots off to visit Violet, who has interesting taste in interior design and a dislike for herbaceous borders. Her garden, which was designed by her son, is "like the dawn of creation", otherwise known as a jungle with Venus Flytraps which are hand fed with specially imported flies.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Her son, Sebastian, a poet who liked cruises (and cruising), died the previous summer in the company of his cousin, Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor), who has since gone absolutely bonkers. It becomes clear that Violet wants Dr. Cukrowicz to give Catherine a lobotomy in exchange for great wodges of cash for his hospital.

Dr. Cukrowicz: Mrs. Venable, loving your neice as you do, you must know there's great risk in this operation. Whenever you enter the brain with a foreign object... even a needle thin knife in the hands of the most skilled surgeon there is a great deal of risk. 
Violet: But it does pacify them, I've read that, it quiets them down. It suddenly makes them peaceful. 
Dr. Cukrowicz: Yes that that it does do, but... 
Violet: But what? 
Dr. Cukrowicz: Well it will be years before we know if the immediate benefits of the operation are lasting or maybe just passing or perhaps... there's a strong possibility that the patient will always be limited. Relieved of acute anxiety yes, but limited. 
Violet: But what a blessing Dr. to be just peaceful. To be just suddenly peaceful. After all that horror. After those nightmares. Just to be able to lift up their eyes to a sky not black with savage devouring birds.

He visits Catherine and realises quite quickly that she's not she insane at all. Catherine's mother (played by Mercedes McCambridge, who incidentally dubbed the voice of the demonically possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist) and her dopey brother have been offered money by Violet if they'll agree to Catherine's lobotomy. As they are greedy little sods, they try to convince Catherine into lying down while thinking of the Confederacy, and let the nice Doctor put a hole in her head. Catherine doesn't really like that idea, strangely enough, and runs amok through the asylum making all the crazies crazier.

Dr Cukrowicz is sure that Catherine is hiding a secret about the death of Sebastian, and forces the family into a confrontation in which Catherine reveals what really happened last summer - and it isn't very pleasant. Violet gets into her cage (some kind of early Stannah stairlift) and ascends to loonyland while Catherine and Dr Cukrowicz gaze into each other's eyes.

Thar she blows!


Highlight below for spoilers:

...................................................................................................................
It turns out, that Sebastian used Catherine to "procure" boys for him on their travels, as he had previously used his mother until she grew too old. In a place called Cabeza de Lobo, Sebastian was killed and cannibalised by street urchins at the ruins of an ancient temple. No one was expecting that.
...................................................................................................................


Suddenly, Last Summer is sometimes criticised for being a bit heavy on Freudian symbolism. Personally, I like it. It might be a bit clunky but there are some very witty lines amid the bleakness. I remember this film as being one that my grandmother would not allow me to watch, although at that age I think that I probably would have mistaken the flashback of the death scene for a rugby tackle and remained psychologically unscathed. Having said that, the scenes in the asylum are quite unnerving and there's a disturbing tone throughout the film. It's very well directed, and the screenplay and acting is wonderful. My one criticism would be that neither Katharine Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor attempt to put on a Southern accent, when lesser characters do. Elizabeth says "beginning" with an accent once, but that's pretty much it. It's not as if she couldn't put on an accent, as she did a Southern accent in Raintree County for example, so I'm a bit confused. Still, it's a minor gripe.
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


As I said, I found Montgomery Clift was a little... not wooden, but certainly not his normal, amazing self. He looks dazed and his hands noticeably shake in his first scene, so it's quite sad to see him that way. This film was made three years after the car crash in which he suffered terrible injuries and led to his addiction to drugs and alcohol. Monty found the filming exhausting, particularly the long takes. The director, Joseph Mankiewicz, found it frustrating that he had to shoot Monty's longer scenes in multiple takes, and wanted him replaced. Katharine Hepburn was especially resentful of the treatment Clift received. As soon as Mankiewicz called the final "cut" of the film, she asked him to confirm that her services were no longer required, when he did, she spat in his face.

Elizabeth Taylor's truly wonderful performance when she describes Sebastian's death was the result of Method acting. After filming, she could not be consoled, having drawn from her grief over the death of her husband Mike Todd, the previous year. - Liz fan, Ramon H., disputes this and says that Liz did not use method acting. Please read his comment below for his fascinating insights. The theory that Liz used method for this scene is from a Montgomery Clift biography, so it's obviously not the best source for information on Liz and is perhaps a little biased in favour of method acting.

Now for the costumes. The film is set in 1937, although you wouldn't know if you hadn't been told at the beginning of the film. Little effort was made to make the costumes seem late 30s really, but never mind.

First, Katharine Hepburn.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Katharine on set. I love her dress!


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Katharine in her costumed coat and hat, but with her own clothes underneath. :D

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Katharine (not in costume) and Monty on set.


When we first see Elizabeth Taylor, she's wearing a truly hideous dress and she's not happy about it.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Elizabeth with Mankiewicz on set

Now, the black dress Elizabeth Taylor wears is really beautiful. I took a lot of screencaptures, and then drew on some of them (very badly - sorry) to figure out the construction of it.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Ignore my doodling about the lapel seam. I found this photo below which shows that it's a dart that curves about halfway down to shape the collar. You can even see where the neckline has been interfaced. The shoulder seam isn't straight out from the neck to the armsyce as is the norm - it curves back from the neck, meeting the armsyce across the shoulders. There's a zip at the centre back, two tucks in the sleeve cap which square off the sleeves.  I think I make have a go at drafting this dress for myself. If and when I do, I'll blog about it.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Here are some random screencaptures I took. Click for higher resolution.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


This is the blouse and skirt she wears in the final confession scene. Pleats everywhere. You can't tell from these photos, but the skirt is pleated also.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


The racy swimsuit that Sebastian made her wear.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


The dress and hat she wore in the cafe and a lovely portrait.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)



The dress she wore when Sebastian died. It's lovely to have some colour photos of these costumes. Also, the photo below shows the construction lines of the bodice very clearly and the skirt had lots of gores to make it flare out like that. Her waist was so tiny!

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Elizabeth with Eddie Fisher, who played a "street urchin" *tries not to laugh*

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)


Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

And that's it! I'll sign off with this photo of everyone having a fight. Take care! xxx

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)