Greatest moments of fashion in film
While there are numerous films about fashion or featuring current fashions, thinking about fashion in film is a bit complicated, as what we usually have in mind is costume, not fashion. That said, costume is always necessarily in dialogue with the fashion at the time of the making the film, even if it's an unconscious thing.
I always change my mind about what my favourite "fashion" films are. Ask me in a week and the answer will probably be different. Also, the interest is probably less focused on fashion than the actual clothing.
This film epitomises the dadaists’ and surrealists’ fascination with clothing that can be detached from its functionality and assume life of its own. And when it comes to clothes, cinema is of course all about making them come to life.
Man Ray’s film is also about a fascination with fragments: the best-known sequence in Emak Bakia is probably the one titled "La raison de cette extravagance" (The reason for this extravagance), in which a man repeatedly tears collars off shirts. Collars then start to misbehave and move around independently—they can no longer be controlled! And finally, a couple of them rise mid-air and perform a beautiful dance in which they spin into abstraction.
Le Farfalle (Butterflies, 1907)
To my knowledge, this is perhaps the most beautiful short film featuring the "serpentine dance". In the very early days of cinema, the serpentine dance films were made in an attempt to re-capture the mesmerising performances by Loie Fuller, a popular and much-admired Belle Epoque solo dancer.
Loie Fuller. Image via danceheritage.org
Fuller worked with a team of technicians and, among other things, had coloured lights projected on her voluminous white silk dresses, which she manipulated in the air to create various shapes (lilly, orchid) and phenomena (fire, smoke). The serpentine dance films were among the first films to make moving clothing into a filmic spectacle—even before filmmakers began to film actual fashion.
Le Farfalle was produced by an Italian company Cines and features the serpentine dance, stencil-coloured, in its finale. It's a whole troupe of women dancing simultaneously and the effect they create is almost psychedelic.
The film is everything you want a "fashion film" to be. I had always said I would never do a season on Audrey Hepburn—just because it's such an obvious choice, and I felt there was so much more to talk about. But the film is a true classic and makes for a perfect afternoon on the sofa.
It portrays a fictional behind-the-scenes of a fashion magazine, and it does so with such a light, humorous touch. Interestingly, it also reflects on the difference between fashion photography and film. There are great moments of Fred Astaire asking Hepburn to pose for him, and directing her so she creates an exquisite fashion image. The figure of Astaire is of course inspired by Richard Avedon, one of the most iconic fashion photographers of all times. He also acted as a technical/artistic advisor to the director Stanley Donen.
Don't Look Now
This is a fascinating film by Nicolas Roeg, included in our current season about time. It is an example of a film you could not call fashion. And yet, clothing here plays a central role. A little girl tragically drowns in a shiny hooded red mac, and this then becomes a device around which her parents’ memories of the past and premonitions of the future revolve.
The film also features one of my favourite sex scenes in the whole of cinema (the other one being Lupe—more below). It shows Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland making love, in an unusually unstaged way, and you get a feeling their passion is raw and intense in part due to the shared pain for their lost daughter. So you get such a complex mix of emotions right there.
Plus, the whole scene is inter-cut with shots of the two getting dressed, an expression of a certain undefined post-coital feeling, neither tristesse, nor exactly euphoria, and is a perfect antidote to the more conventional strip-tease moment leading to a sex scene.
This was my favourite film from our 2010 season, which celebrated costume as a form of cinematic spectacle. And whenever I think of it, I always remember gratefully the two men who introduced me to it—Ron Gregg at Yale and Stuart Comer, the former curator of film at Tate Modern.
It was made by Jose Rodriguez-Soltero, a much neglected figure of the New York underground scene, who moved in the same circles as Jack Smith, Mario Montez or Charles Ludlam. His Lupe was dedicated to the Latina star Lupe Velez, and owes a lot to Smith’s glorification of movie stardom, dressing up and artifice, all re-purposed for the queer sensibility.
Thus, Lupe becomes erratic and fragile rather than the seamless star we know her as. But Lupe is also very different from Smith's own films. It is much more sumptuous, more composed and formally disciplined. The colours are simply incredible. Thinking about it I think I need a top-up soon, on 16mm please.
The Inferno Unseen
I first saw several newly-digitised rushes for Clouzot’s Inferno back in 2008, at a time when the producer and director Serge Bromberg at Lobster Films was making his experimental documentary about it. It's hard to describe my first response—I was completely hypnotised, and very jealous of Serge, in the nicest possible way, ha!
After he released his film in 2009, which tells the story very poignantly and beautifully, and which has been very successful at festivals internationally, I kept going back to that first experience of mine—just seeing the rushes on their own.
I eventually approached Serge asking him if he would let us have another go. The point I wanted to make was to let those rushes just play out, to capture the strange temporality of a screen test where nothing really happens, and yet you see and feel so much. Serendipitously, I met Kiri Inglis from MUBI who was also a huge fan of Serge’s film, and it was her who brought Rollo Smallcombe on board, a clever musician and producer who did most of the new edit and wrote a wonderfully atmospheric new score for it. We are all so excited about this new cut.
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