Getting to know you

Around this time, last year, on Tumblr I reblogged a post that suggested making a list of the top 10 films that, right now, would let someone get to know you. ‘not necessarily your ten favorite movies but the ten movies that you, as a person existing currently, feel would help people get to know you’. You can see what I posted back then here.

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Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964)

I’ll admit that, while I love the idea, it’s a little abstract for my general way of thinking. While there is a great deal to learn about someone from their interests, I tend to struggle making the connection of what exactly it is I can glean from it. So, my way of choosing films was perhaps different than how others chose films. (Then again, it may not have been). For instance, I mostly chose films that had characters I thought reflected aspects of my personality or to whom I felt a deep connection (other films, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, were chosen because I’ve loved them for so long I felt they left an indelible mark on me).

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Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

But I love making lists, especially ones that challenge me, so I thought it would be interesting to revisit it. Most of my current choices are the same, so this post may be redundant but I did swap out The Philadelphia Story for Stoker, and removed The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I spent a long time thinking about what I would change, but I honestly feel like I’m in such a similar place, now, as I was last year that there isn’t much point changing most of them.

Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964)

Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, 1994)

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, 1994)

Muriel’s Wedding (PJ Hogan, 1994)

Les Amours Imaginaires (Xavier Dolan, 2010)

Secretary (Steven Shainberg, 2002)

Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (David Mirkin, 1997)

Stoker (Chan-wook Park, 2013)

Stoker (Chan-wook Park, 2013)

Stoker (Chan-wook Park, 2013)

I was going to write a little from each film about what I connected to, and why I picked it, but I feel like it’s more interesting to let them speak for themselves. I will say that I think these films say that I’m still feeling a bit lost and uncertain about life. And maybe that I find it difficult to connect (to others). This is a far more personal post than I am accustomed to, but I just liked the idea so much, and I felt like I needed to revisit it. It would be interesting to see what others would choose!

The Duke of Burgundy, 2014

*Review originally posted on letterboxd and expanded for my blog.

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Written and directed by Peter Strickland, The Duke of Burgundy (2014), is an erotic melodrama which centres on the relationship between Cynthia and Evelyn, a lepidopterist and her younger lover. Taking visual and atmospheric cues from gothic horror and other films of the ’60s and ’70s it is a lush and romantic (and Romantic) film exploring the tensions between the two lovers as Cynthia is unable to satisfy Evelyn in the way she wishes to be. It is set in an indeterminate European town (in what could be any time), and populated entirely by women.

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I had been in a strange, dreamy mood, after finishing a particularly haunting book, and this turned out to be the perfect movie to watch in that state. It is one of those films that seems to seep right into every pore, leaves you dazed (and I shall stop myself before I get too…poetic about it all. I have a tendency to do that, as evidenced in my Superman Returns review). I went into it not knowing very much, which I don’t always like, but it worked well for me this time. (I’ve tried not to give too much away in this review).

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It’s a beautiful, sensual film and it moved me deeply. Maybe one of the most romantic and believable films I’ve seen in some time. It manages to explore what is still an unconventional relationship to many in a way that is not shocking but still revelatory. I felt completely immersed in the film but there was still a slight sense of removal watching it all unfold. I have to admit, I haven’t seen a lot of films that deal with BDSM in a relationship but I thought this did so well and respectfully. I think it was the first I’ve seen that showed that the scenes were actually negotiated (or, at least, requested) in advance.

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The visuals are stunning; I’m a sucker for mirrors/reflections, distorted and refracted images, etc., which can be overdone but Strickland utilised these tricks well. The crisp colours, perfect costumes and picturesque settings rounded it out nicely in creating the atmosphere.

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Oh, and I have to mention the score/soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes. It is exquisite. Especially the pieces with the harpsichord and that dreamy (there’s that word again!) sighing/chanting. I’ll shamefully admit, I don’t often pay the most attention to scores, but I’ve been listening to this one on repeat since I watched the film a couple of nights ago.

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The two lead actresses (Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen) were great, particularly Knudsen, who played Cynthia. Her insecurity and fear of love slipping away was eloquently acted. Evelyn had the sense of a petulant child about her at times, which worked well, but you see her tenderness too.

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It is a film I can see myself revisiting in the future (probably multiple times) and would highly recommend. I’ve added the trailer below.

Further reading:

Peter Strickland: six films that fed into The Duke of Burgundy at BFI

Designer Spotlight: Eiko Ishioka

Picture heavy post.

A lot of my ‘reviews’ focus quite a bit on costumes, so I thought I would start writing about some of my favourite costume designers. For one, it will give me something different to write about. For another thing, it will make me actually research some costume designers. I can only think of a few off the top of my head – Eiko Ishioka, Colleen Atwood, Edith Head – and as someone who has an appreciation for costumes, it’s about time I start to look at the people designing them, more often.

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As it was an idea I had while watching Immortals (don’t ask how many times I’ve seen that movie), I decided to start with the late Eiko Ishioka, who designed the costumes for that film (arguably the most impressive aspect). She also designed the costumes for one of my favourite movies, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which she won an Oscar. I’ve mostly focussed on these two films, as well as Mirror Mirror: The Untold Adventures of Snow White, as I’ve shamefully yet to see any others.

Eiko Ishioka was born in Tokyo in 1938. Before costume design, she previously worked in advertising and then in production design, when she worked with Paul Schrader for Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. But it is her surreal, over the top costumes for which I best know her.

1bramstokersdracula03Of course I had to start with this dress from Dracula. It’s so iconic! I remember reading something where Ishioka mentioned she was influenced by frilled neck lizards, which I just love. (Note: I think it was in the video I’ve posted below). As a part-time cosplayer this is on my ultimate dream costume wishlist.

1dracula-movie-screencaps.com-2432 copyLucy and Mina make a stunning pair. Their costumes reflect the differences between these two friends – Lucy is often seen with her hair down and in flowing gowns, her shoulders exposed, even before she starts transforming, while Mina is more reserved and modest by contrast with high necks, rows of buttons and carefully coiffed hair.

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Dawn (2014)

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I don’t watch a lot of short films. As such, I never quite know what to make of them. So much needs to be contained in a relatively short space of time and while the narrative structure is clearly the same, with a beginning middle and end, it always feels different to me. So, I struggled thinking of something to write about Dawn, the directorial debut from actress Rose McGowan. But I was so struck by the film, that I needed to post about it.

McGowan has been one of my favourite actresses for something like 15 years. Lately, I’ve come to admire her for more than her acting and outsider status but also for her outspokenness on feminist and other issues. To say I was excited that McGowan had finally turned her hand to directing was an understatement. And that the film is set in the ’60s is even better!

Dawn is about a young girl, living a sheltered life in 1960s America, who daydreams of something beyond her cookie cutter existence.

From McGowan’s post of the film on Tumblr:

Dear viewer,

Dawn is a cautionary tale. We hurt girls with casual negligence. We change the course of lives with a stereotypical view shared thoughtlessly. We shape the minds of the innocent. Let’s think different and be better.

My inspirations were varied – I wanted the color palette of The Parent Trap (1961) the loneliness of an Edward Hopper painting, the driving tension of Night of the Hunter mixed with Hemingway’s unsparing style of editing. These greats are my teachers.

I layered a lot into Dawn and feel it’s best watched twice. Please enjoy for free and pass it on. THOUGHT+ART = FREEDOM

Peace,

Rose McGowan

This film is beautiful and deeply unsettling. The ending is abrupt and, while it is hinted at throughout, it is shocking, even though we do not see it. I love that the brutal conclusion is not seen, to be honest – I usually find not seeing more interesting than having everything displayed onscreen. As McGowan said of the ending: “What my mind can do is so much scarier than what anybody can ever show me.”

McGowan does an excellent job at creating the world in which this film exists: a bubblegum pastel vision of the 1960s with crisp, meticulously created sets, character perfect costumes and deliberately delivered lines. The eeriness is there, underneath it all, from the beginning. In the slightly stilted acting (on purpose!), in the too-perfect sets and costumes. It is more than real, and this unsettles.

Creepy girlhood movies are always appealing to me. I feel like this would make an interesting companion piece to Stoker – though they are quite different stories, about very different people, I think there are similarities in atmosphere that link these films in my mind.

I know this is mostly about the visuals but I still haven’t entirely grasped the film, as a whole. I need to watch it again. Let it sink in a bit more. Plus, it’s probably evident by now that the visuals are what I pay the most attention to.

In terms of soundtrack, the inclusion of Young Love by Tab Hunter pleased me. His impassive singing was a perfect fit for the atmosphere of this short.

Tara Lynne Barr, who plays the titular character, reminded me of Christina Ricci (and seeing YouTube comments, I’m not the only one who thought this), another of my favourite actresses (along with McGowan) from my childhood/teen years. From her cheerful naïvety, to her tearful realisation at the conclusion, Barr was excellent as Dawn.

I’m excited for more directorial efforts from McGowan, the next being a feature length film called The Pines, an ‘art thriller’, set in 1971.

You can watch Dawn for free on Rose McGowan’s YouTube channel (I’ve embedded the video above for convenience).

Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin), 1970

I’ve had a Jacques Demy boxset sitting on my ‘to watch’ shelf for some years. I don’t remember where or when I bought it (I remember why, obviously: I wanted to watch the films) but I know it’s been sitting there for far too long (though not as long as others have). Recently, I decided it was about time I cracked it open. The last I watched, Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin), turned out to be my favourite, which I hadn’t expected at all. I’d thought I’d probably enjoy it, but prefer either Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) or Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort). But Donkey Skin it was! I feel like I’m in the minority, here, though.

It’s such a strange fairy tale to start with (I was familiar with the story, by Charles Perrault, before ever knowing of the film) and this adaptation fully embraces the absurdity. For those who don’t know, it’s basically about a king who decides he wants to marry his daughter (he had promised his wife, on her death bed, to not marry again unless it was to someone more beautiful than she) and so the princess ends up disguising herself in a donkey pelt and running away. (More or less).

030-donkey-skin-theredlistIt’s been described as part fairytale satire, and largely referencing Cocteau (apparently, I’m ashamed to admit to never having seen any of Cocteau’s films) yet still a fairytale film on its own. I feel this is apt. (You know, despite not having seen any of Cocteau’s films – I absolutely, certainly will at some point).

But, first, let’s talk costumes and sets, because they’re always what I notice first and think of the most. In terms of sets and set dressing, things that particularly caught my eye: Deneuve’s bed that looks like a meadow, living statues, the throne in the form of a gigantic white cat, the Lilac Fairy’s outdoors vanity and the touches of glam in Donkey Skin’s ramshackle cabin.

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New life goal: acquire cat shaped throne.

And then, to costumes, all of those dresses! My gosh. They’d be beautiful enough without the ‘gimmicks’ but they become ultra dazzling with clouds projected on them or luminous spots. It’s all very dreamy and whimsical. And even dressed like a donkey, Deneuve is radiant.

Wearing the skin of an ass. Still beautiful.

Wearing the skin of an ass. Still beautiful.

The Lilac Fairy was fantastic, too. Not least because of her Endora-esque costumes.

av7m8xr1_n0g28lThe playful poking of fun at fairy tale films was diverting, and I think most noticeable with the prince. The scene where he demands that all the maidens of the kingdom be rounded up to find the one girl who fits the ring, even though he obviously knows it belongs to Donkey Skin, highlights the absurdity of fairytale rituals and the almost capricious nature of the prince. I mean, I’m fairly certain that he’s also manipulating his parents, so they’ll let him marry Donkey Skin, but geez!

ecran8I hadn’t realised until I finished the film, but the princess/Donkey Skin becomes more interesting when she’s wearing the pelt than when she’s in the garb of her ‘true’ self (although her task setting for the king, under the intstruction of the Lilac Fairy is fun to watch, she seems more passive in her role as princess). I wonder if this is a pointed comment on the blandness of fairy tale princesses in many films or if I somehow related to her more as Donkey Skin. (Wonder if that’s something to worry about? Ha.)

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Oh, and the musical numbers were delightful! I especially enjoyed the song the Lilac Fairy sings about children not marrying their parents and the one about baking a cake. So strange, yet such fun. (I think that describes the film, on a whole, pretty well.)

Disjointed review aside, let’s leave it with saying I enjoyed this film immensely. I admit, the helicopter at the end had me stumped, though.

Within the past year (or so) I’ve watched maybe 4 European fairytale films and I think I want to watch more. Actually, I think I just want to watch more non-Disney fairytale films especially ones that embrace the strangeness of these stories. Any recommendations are most welcome.