Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Life in Pictures

"Share three classic movie moments that have, in some shape or form, made you buy things, do things, think things that perhaps you shouldn't have."

That's the challenge set before us by FelixInHollywood. As a rule, we're not particularly fond of memes, but this one intrigued us. Whether we should have bought, done, or thought these things is debatable, but here we go:

  • The last item we bought after viewing a movie was a pair of deep, golden yellow Sermoneta kid gloves piped in a light, doe brown and lined in cashmere. We were so inspired by Anton Walbrook in The Red Shoes (1948), who wears the most impeccable suits, stylish eyewear, and gorgeous gloves of any man in any film we've ever seen. There's a throwaway moment where Walbrook is at a train station, wearing a simple, flawlessly-cut black suit, with his yellow kid gloves peeking out of his suit pocket. We were enthralled.

  • Oh, how many times have we done one of these scenes - often with our sparring partner completely unaware of the fact that we were actually channeling Helen Lawson, Margo Channing, or Faye-as-Joan?

  • When we first came to New York, we thought that life would be like How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) - we'd have a soundstage-sized apartment, scads of beautiful clothes, and handsome millionaires (or at least Rory Calhoun) throwing themselves at our feet.

It's funny, though, how many things (both specific and abstract) have been influenced by films that we love: the way we think, how we conduct ourselves, our view of life in general. We particularly identify with miraculous transformation stories: Bette Davis blossoming from spinsterish "Aunt Charlotte" to confident "Miss Charlotte Vale" in Now, Voyager (1942) is a touchstone in our lives.

Having undergone our own metamorphosis from drab to divoon, we were convinced that Charlotte Vale's triumphant tale was really our own. Everything seemed to mirror our own real life situation. Ugly eyeglasses, unruly brows, and ungainly appearance? Check, check, and check.

Bonita Granville, as Charlotte's bitchily bullying niece, could have been any number of classmates who made going to school an endurance test. "We always ragged Aunt was only a game!"

And if our own mother wasn't quite the monstrous gorgon so brilliantly essayed by Gladys Cooper, she had the same steely, domineering edge as Mrs. Vale, and we shared the same complex, maddening relationship as Charlotte and her mother ("My mother, my mother, my mother!")

Some other films we've strongly identified with over the years:

In Possessed (1931), Joan Crawford plays Marian, a factory worker who climbs her way up the social ladder by climbing on top of Clark Gable. In one of the film's earliest, best, and best-known scenes, a passenger train filled with beautiful, elegantly-gowned and -tuxedoed swells passes through town, bound for glamorous New York City, while Marian watches, literally from the wrong side of the tracks.

Twenty years later, Crawford was playing nearly the same role, only with even more guts and less sentiment, in The Damned Don't Cry (1950). As smalltown drudge Ethel Whitehead-turned-faux society dame Lorna Hansen Forbes, Crawford knows what she wants and how she's going to get it - and she's none too fussy about the body count.

As we delved deeper into affaires de coeur, we suddenly began imagining our day-to-day routine as produced by Ross Hunter, wardrobed by Jean Louis, with jewels by David Webb, furs by Alexandre, and a swoony title song. We lived out the drama and romance of Back Street (1961) on more than several occasions, although we have never had a showdown with a Vera Miles-esque scorned wife - for better or worse, depending on how you look at it.

Finally, one of the defining, seminal moments in our warped childhood was the first time that we saw Mahogany, the 1975 feature film which elevated Diana Ross to the status of uber-gay icon, while simultaneously nearly ruining her mainstream film career (The Wiz put the final nail in the coffin).

We positively gasped, gaped and gawked at the insane fashion show that Miss Ross put on for 90 glamorous minutes, all designed (yes, she really took credit for it!) by her own hand, and heavily inspired by kabuki, Erté, Ross's own Motown finishing school-run-amok idea of elegance, and a little Boom! (1968) thrown in for good measure.

"DIVA 2" by Erté

ELIZABETH TAYLOR (with Richard Burton and Noel Coward) DRESSED BY VALENTINO IN BOOM! (1968)

Needless to say, in spite of an inspired use of neon tubes, Miss Ross's designs for Mahogany didn't exactly start any new trends - but they did make quite an impression. We were suddenly aware of the power of expressing oneself visually, of making a statement with apparel and adornment - and that epiphany came to us through the medium of film.


Our love for Mahogany (which is no cinematic classic, we understand) also neatly sums up just why we love these strong, temperamental, brave, glamorous women of the screen: it's the triumph of the underdog, really - from Bette Davis to Joan Crawford; Roz Russell to Barbara Stanwyck; Judy Garland to Diana Ross; none of these superstar divas were classic beauties or demure shrinking violets. They didn't make it to the top on their looks and by playing cute; they made themselves beautiful and glamorous by sheer force of personality, talent and guts, and through constant reinvention. It's a lesson we continue to be inspired by.

Have fun!


  1. but what we really want to know is WHERE did you get such fabulous sounding men's gloves?

  2. Oh that was just splendid!
    And darling, thank God you selected the '31 Posessed and not the '47 Posessed! (Same Joan, different sanity)

  3. AD - From Sermoneta! Their shop is like an accessories wet dream. You tell them your size, and they produce a secret stash of every color glove imaginable.

    Felix - "David! David! David!"

  4. They didn't get where they are today by virtue of their perfectly-chiseled cheekbones! (Neely, Neely O'Hara)


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