Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Film Reveiw Red Sorghum

Most fans of Chinese director Zhang Yimou will have been introduced to him with Hero (2002) and the commercially successful House of Flying Daggers (2004). Yet Yimou has received critical acclaim since 1987 with Red Shorgum winning a Golden Bear Award at the 1988 Berlin Film Festival. Raise the Red Lantern (1991) was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1992 but missed out to Italian director Gabriele Salvatores's Mediterraneo.

For those of you who have yet to view a Zhang Yimou film then there are two immediate things that spring to mind to recommend his films to you. Firstly it is his use of colour in costume. We first see the beginnings of this with the opening scene of Red Sorghum as the female lead (Gong Li) is being dressed in Chinese bridal wear. Yimou uses tonality to counter the red with greys and beige in the other characters. This visual technique adds a dimension to the narrative which almost spotlights a character but equally highlights them in their setting. Yimou carries this on to great effect in his later films particularly Hero. The second compelling aspect of his films is the strong female characters. Zhang Yimou's films give a greater breadth of female characterisation than your typical Hollywood blockbuster.

The story of Red Shorgum is essentially a story of a young women married off to a prosperous leper. It is set in a winery near a field of red shorgum and involves the workers, a local villain and eventually the impact of the Japanese occupation and invasion of areas of China. It is in essence a simple story with clear narration to accompany the story. The sub text is its attempt to sympathetically deal with the communist conversion of China from its Imperialist past and give understanding and meaning to change. However, Yimou and other film makers at the time would not have been able to be overly critical of the Chinese regime. It was made at the Xi'an Film Studios - where daring and innovative filmmakers were shielded to some extent by the dynamic studio boss Wu Tianming, who was also the producer of Red Shorgum - until 1989 when Wu Tianming fled to the US due to political differences. The period of film making from 1984 is widely referred to as the 'Fifth generation' of Chinese film making as directors Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige the two most famous directors were graduates in 1982 from the Beijing Film School where Yimou studied cinematography.

Red Shorgum with its intense but unseen sexual relationship between Gong Li and Jiang Wen is contrasted with the steadfastness of the character Luohan. The thrust of the film is about people as individuals and includes a fantastic ritual involving the wine making. It is understandable that such a film was a threat to the Communist Party rule given the expression and freedom embodied in the film. It is a story of love with out sentiment and a beautifully shot one at that.

Sunday, 29 March 2009


What's not to love about a film which is in essence about greed, deception, money, power and murder taking place between two mobster friends, a trophy wife and all over a gambling empire! Okay maybe it is just me who is beguiled by the LA glamour and Sharon Stone's costumes.

Casino, (1995) directed by Martin Scorsese, it is Sharon Stone's finest performance as an actress and earned her an Oscar nomination as best actress in a leading role. She did however win the Golden Globe for her role as Ginger McKenna. Scorsese direction is sublime with the contrast between the glitz of Vegas and the cruelty of the mob related operators behind the scenes.

In true Gangster movie fashion the clothes are all important for the men and the women. Robert De Niro is immaculate in his pale pink matching shirt and tie ensemble but Stone is immaculately styled in high glamour 70s outfit by the costume team of John Dunn and Rita Ryack.

It's a gripping film with all the usual machismo and ruinous living that befalls the gangster lifestyle but as a fashion inspiration the high glamour of Ginger is a great look as an alternative to the demur sophistication of classical Hollywood stars Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Old school Hollywood costume designer know how

It was her prolific output and outstanding work with directors that established Edith Head as the most renowned Hollywood costume designer and arguably the most influential in respect of her public appeal and influence. Edith said of herself ‘I knew I was not a creative genius...I am a better politician than I am a designer...I was never going to be the world’s greatest costume designer, but there was no reason I could not be the smartest’ (Vanity Fair 1998:156). Remarkably, Edith’s self promotion and ability to adapt to change enabled her to wield an influence across all generations of women cinema goers during the classical Hollywood period and ultimately their consumption of clothes.

Head’s creativity led to her first influence on a fashion trend in 1936. Wrapping Dorothy Lamour in boldly patterned sarong for Jungle Princess (1936) started a trend immediately adapted by bathing suit manufactures and adopted by women on beaches from ‘Coney Island to Cannes’ (La Vine 1981:75). Head describes her design as ‘a garment that was to become a national institution’ (Head, Armore 1959:69). However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that her costume designs began to penetrate every layer of American society.

The new market of the teenager was deemed a 1950s revolution and Edith Head had her first success with the sweetheart dress designed for Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951). The real significance in terms of the costuming for the film is the dress Taylor wore in the pool room scene - a strapless boned bodice top with an enormous white tulle skirt over pale green satin and white violets covering the bust. Edith Head won the Oscar for best costume in the black and white film category and the dress captured the public imagination so much so that every prom had many an Elizabeth Taylor. In fact one could argue that this dress has defined the look for proms and brides ever since 1951.

Head began to build a direct relationship with the women of America with her advice to the nation firstly on Art Linkletter’s House Party on radio and then when it transferred to television. She also contributed articles to Photoplay magazine from 1940 onwards and her emphasis was on ‘telling the average girl how to dress like a star on a small budget.’ (Cherichetti 2004:97). Her book The Dress Doctor in 1959 co-written with Jane Kesner Ardmore was a great insight into tricks of the trade and dress advice; which she followed up with How to Dress for Success in 1967. The age range of stars she costumed for meant she understood the desires and dress market of the teenage to those past their prime.

If you would enjoy a style book that is less 'selling me' and more a costume history then both the adapted Dress Doctor - sadly the original is no longer published with its marvellous titbit about Marlene Dietrich, who loved to bake cakes (and eat them) but had to keep this fact hidden as it suggested more hausfrau than sex siren - or Dress for Success will imbue some old fashioned classical Hollywood glamour.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Welcome to Fashion and Film

For those of you who are hopping over from Make Do Style or if you are new to Fashion and Film then here is a bit of background information.

It is probably useful to know that the fashion bit is not just about garments. Fashion is a term that covers a way of life that revolves around the activities, dress, interests etc. that are most fashionable. To quote the most Chanel quote of all 'Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.' More astutely Chanel said in 1962 'A fashion that does not make one look up-to-date is not a fashion.' And that is as they say that!

It is our tastes of the moment that defines fashion even when we borrow from the past, it still is fashion. It is just a recycled fashion that has become of the 'moment' again. Laver's Law suggest that there is a cycle or timeline of fashion

Indecent 10 years ahead of its time
Shameless 5 years ahead of its time
Smart now
Dowdy 1 year after its time
Hideous 10 years after its time
Amusing 20 years after its time
Quaint 50 years after its time
Romantic 100 years after its time
Beautiful 150 years after its time

Which helps explain the current fascination with the 80s.

Films also have a cyclical nature - for years no one would produce a musical and now we have a whole generation growing up with High School Musical.

This blog will attempt to highlight and discuss current trends as well as providing information on what's happening now.

Saturday, 21 March 2009


Well it seemed important to use her proper name - Coco 'Gabrielle' Chanel. An eagerly awaited film Coco avant Chanel is due for release in April in Belgium and France and I have no official dates for UK and USA yet. Starring Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel and directed by Anne Fontaine - yes don't faint a female director but remember this is France and there are more!
No trailer to view but these stills should be a joyful appetiser.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Screen Seductresses Season

BFI Southbank is running an excellent femme fatale event from March 1st to March 25th - the screen delights are Chinatown, Gilda, and the re-release of Gun Crazy to mention a few!

Faye Dunnaway in Chinatown

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity

Rita Hayworth as GildaPeggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

all images BFI