Monthly Archives: October 2012

Look what arrived!

I didn’t buy the book last week at the exhibition, because I didn’t want to carry it (such a princess…) and so I’m very happy that this arrived at school today!


Holiday reading.

I had a lovely half-term of film related activity – the V&A exhibition, ‘Imitation of Life’ and creative task and some reading.  I really enjoyed the Judy Holliday biography by Gary Carey.  Dad and I found this on Swanage railway station for 50p.  It’s actually a first edition and so I’m pleased with my purchase.  I have really loved Judy Holliday since seeing ‘Born Yesterday’ a year ago and have now ordered ‘It Should Happen To You’, also starring Jack Lemmon (another favourite).

And look at the jigsaw we did!

2. ‘Imitation of Life’ creative

On holiday in Norfolk I realised I had a good set of props to create my ‘Imitation of Life’ creative task.  In the lovely National Trust cottage they had a very cheesey still life print, some beautiful red roses and Mark had bought a retro butter churner.  These gave me the correct impressions of working class life, glamour, red and  a painted backdrop.  I tried to keep it fairly minimal and give that Technicolor static quality.

An emotional day.

My mum texted me on the 13th October to ask if I would like to go to the V&A ‘Hollywood Costume’ exhibition during my half-term week.  Of course I would.  I had heard it was coming and couldn’t wait to see it.  I used to want to be a costume designer (which explains my A Level choices – textiles, history and English – no film studies in those days) and the power and importance of costume in film, as well as the amazing glamour, has alway fascinated me.

We arranged to go on the 23rd as I was going to be down in London for an Amanda Palmer gig anyway (dream day!) and it was the day before my mum started her radiotherapy.  We decided that it would be good to take her mind off it.  We met outside the doors at midday, had a lovely French lunch, a quick trip to Skandium (even more of a dream day) and then went in to the exhibition at just before 3.

Waiting to go in…

I don’t think I had prepared myself properly for what I was going to see.  One of the first costumes was Vivien Leigh’s green curtain dress from ‘Gone With The Wind’ and it made me cry.  I think it was the combination of my mum being poorly (and my sister Joey),  and the fact that I was so happy to be there with her, she had introduced me to the film when I was twelve.  I watched it twice in a row the first time I saw it (that’s seven and a half hours) and then every day for the entire holiday.  I watched it while writing a list of every costume change that Vivien Leigh made (I’m sure I have the list somewhere…), I have the poster over my fireplace in my current flat, a jigsaw, books on the film and its stars…  I haven’t watched it for years now, but it is part of my childhood and so to be faced with a physical representation of that was too much for me.  I felt like an hysterical Catholic faced with the relic of a saint.  But it felt lovely and comforting and surreal.

Yes – that one!

The whole exhibition is amazing, I recommend everyone to go and see it.

2. Joint 93rd – ‘Imitation Of Life’

Very comfy for a lush melodrama on a cold October night

I was very pleased to have ‘Imitation of Life’ as my second film of the top 100 to watch.  I had watched a couple of Douglas Sirk films (‘All That Heaven Allows’ and another one…) and enjoyed the decadent, hyperbole of the melodrama.  Unfortunately, as soon as I pressed play, I realised that the other Sirk film I had seen was this one!  Of course I would have watched it anyway (I’ve probably watched 50% of the top 100 before) and I am now looking at it for different reasons, but I couldn’t believe I had forgotten a film I saw in the last year.  My brain is clearly packing up.  Anyway, Kate and I settled in with some lovely food (always on offer at her house) and some pink fizz to suit the 50s tone.

I was very impressed with the way the film dealt with some major issues (harassment, sexism, racism, the role of women and the struggle of everyday working-class American life) in a straight-forward and adult way.  Occasionally it was a little heavy-handed, but the strong female characters were engaging and it was interesting that Lora and Annie were almost allowed to be more complex because they are widows, they are removed from the girlish romantic storylines of conventional Hollywood.

I started to investigate Sirk, who is an engaging Hollywood character.  He was born in Germany to Danish parents and was always an outsider in Hollywood.  He had to leave Germany in the 1930s as his second wife was Jewish.  With this outsider view he was able to see the excesses and hypocrisies within his adopted culture and create some ‘paradigmatic dissections of conformist 1950s American society.’  On his retirement after this film in 1959, he was considered a second or third rate director, although very popular at the box office. ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ and Godard revered him as an auteur and created his current reputation.  I am always really interested when critics re-evaluate artists and re-write film history.  Throughout his career, he focussed on cultural mores, constraint and repression.  This repression is obvious in the mise-en-scene in ‘Imitation of Life’ with the use of ceilings, low angles and placement of things in front of the camera (banisters, fences etc.).  There are a lot of fragmenting lines.  The female characters are also always physically corseted and constrained by their clothing.  The reflection of society is potentially represented in the multiple scenes where characters are seen as reflections in mirrors or shop windows.

I thought some of the acting was great – particularly from Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner.  Mahalia Jackson is amazing when she sings ‘Troubles of this World’ at the funeral.  A YouTube clip that I sent my dad (a big Mahalia fan) last time I watched the film!

Only at the end can Lora (Lana Turner) be the proper mother of Susie and Sarah-Jane – she had drafted out those duties to Annie, Juanita Moore’s character.  Is this a comment on women’s possibility to have a career and be a mother?

Ideas for creativity:

  • Colours – bright reds/dove grey
  • Lush Technicolor photography
  • Very forced/artificial/consciously fake – the painted backdrops
  • Spotlight lighting
  • Long depth of field
  • Vaseline on the lens/soft focus (especially on Lana Turner)
  • Static cinematography to focus on the lush sets.
  • A painterly quality – Sirk was influenced by Delacroix and Daumier.

Details of the film:  USA, 1959, Universal. Directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore

Details of viewing: 22nd October, with Kate at her house in Stanwick on DVD.

1. ‘Madame De…’ creative

I got very inspired by ‘Madame De…’ and I wanted to try to capture some of the decadent and musical camera work with economical story telling.  After a few ideas, I decided on a moving photograph that could tell a quick story in key objects.

I did a few practice shots with random objects (safety pins, my glasses) in colour and then considered how the real textures, colours and props would work in black and white.  I’m pleased to report that hot pink slub silk looks excellent!

The hardest part was keeping the camera as steady as possible and holding my breath for long enough.

Clink on the link below to see the video on flickr:

‘Madame De…’ creative

Hot pink!

1. Joint 93rd – ‘Madame De…’

Which one to start with…?

I started off my top 100 film list by watching ‘Madame De…’ a lush and regal 1953 French film directed by Max Ophuls.  It was the perfect choice for a Saturday afternoon and told the story of a Parisian coquette (played by Danielle Darrieux) who sells her husband’s earrings (Charles Boyer) as she is in debt.  We then follow the earrings as their owners get entangled in affairs, deceit and desire.

Throughout the film there were numerous long tracking shots that involved complex camera movement and the use of focused lighting. It gave it a lovely musical quality, it had an innate choreography that was most clearly demonstrated in an energising waltz montage.  The camera and two main characters (Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica) are continuously spinning round each other, they have a force that will inevitably lead to the tragic resolution.  I have discovered after researching the film that Ophuls had been a musician and he used to script a tempo to each scene of the film.

This lightness of touch continues with the amount of adult content that is explored in a delicate way.  We have mistresses, gambling, debt, heartbreak and I love the way they are all treated with ease.  There also seems to be a lot of parallels througout the narrative that give it a lush, formal feeling (to match the incredible rococo mise-en-scene).  The train departure, the earrings as a gift, both men wanting her to come back, being injured or feeling pain in her and his heart and feeling irritation about her suitors.   The dialogue is equally sparse and precise, but contains some lovely, philisophical statements that discuss the human condition.

The most impressive scene for the economy of story-telling, something I think modern films have often lost, is the scene where Darrieux and De Sica meet.  It is in a customs office and in only four shots we find out what he does (an ambassador), realise he is interested in her, they acknowledge each other and she leaves.  The camera movement does all the work and they exchange no words.  A masterly sequence and an example of how tightly crafted the whole film is.

I loved Darrieux’s performance.  She went from a frivolous coquette to a tragic heroine in ninety minutes.  I loved her taut, composed face with eyes that showed desperation.  Her scenes during the affair were well done and I loved how she said ‘Je vous n’aime pas’ over and over, while clearly expressing the opposite.

I was interested in the suggested critique of the church.  Her futile prayers were another parallel througout and I liked the fact that her cursed earrings were left to the church as the final image.

Ideas for creativity:

  • A close-up of precious objects.
  • Moving camerawork- like my scary scene?
  • Use of spotlight.
  • Work with black, white and grey.
  • Try to tell a narrative with a simple plot device/objects.

Details of the film:  France, 1953. Directed by Max Ophuls and starring Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica.

Details of viewing: 6th October, 5pm, on my own at home on DVD.

Thanks Uncle John!

My Uncle John works for the Oxfam book shop in Birmingham and looks out for film books for me.  I picked up these beauties (and a few more) at my dad’s 70th birthday party.

Thanks Uncle John!

I can’t wait to get stuck in!

The List.

I am going to use the 2012 Sight and Sound critics’ list, available here –

I am going to go in descending order and therefore I am going to start with the joint 93rd films of:

The Seventh Seal, Bergman, 1957

Un Chien Andalou, Bunuel, 1928

Intolerance, Griffith, 1916

A One and a Two, Yang, 1999

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Powell/Pressburger, 1943

Touki Bouki, Mambety, 1973

Madame de…, Ophuls, 1953

Imitation of Life, Sirk, 1959

Go and visit it!

The plan.

Film and creative challenges are a passion.  For the last three years I have been using flickr to remind me to be creative.  I have completed the 365 challenge, a topic a week and a photographer a month – results on

I would love to do an MA in film, but until I have the funding and the time I thought I could start making an effort to widen my film knowledge here.  But, I don’t want to consider film in a purely academic, critical way.

So – the plan.  I will use the critics’ choice top 100 from the 2012 Sight and Sound poll as a guide.  I will watch and write something (maybe a review, focus on an area of film language, consider some theory) and then use it as a springboard for creativity – possibly a photograph, poem, collage, alternate poster.  Theory into practice, practice into theory.

This is a big challenge and may take me a while, but all learning is good learning.  I will also document any books I read or other films I see of interest.

I thought I would start off the creativity by posting one of my photos from the Film exhibition by Tacita Dean.

At the Tate Modern