Tuesday, November 30, 2010

qui qu'a vu coco

Coco Avant Chanel, with Audrey Tautou as the titular role

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, where Anna Mouglalis portrays the fashion dynamo

I had the pleasure of watching Coco Avant Chanel (known as Coco Before Chanel here in the States) and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky back-to-back the other night. If you’re going to do an evening with Coco biopics, this is the order to do them in. Subject-wise, the stories overlapped for just three minutes. C Avant C ended after the death of Coco’s lifelong love Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel in an automobile accident in 1919. CC&IS picks up right after that – Capel is only in the film briefly, then the narrative jumps forward seven years to the aftermath of his death, where Chanel was described to be the only woman who could make grief look chic.
Not only do the films each examine different eras in the fashion titan’s life, but, through the narrative, two decidedly very different women emerge.
In Coco Avant Chanel, Audrey Tautou plays the young, feisty gamine Gabrielle Chanel, nicknamed ‘Coco’ by her lover after the song she sings with her sister in their cabaret act. Tautou’s Coco is a hardworking, strategic young woman who didn’t know quite what she wanted – except to move beyond the memories of her father’s abandonment of her at an orphanage during her early years and her job as a seamstress. She engages in an affair with a baron, Etienne Balsan, whose high-profile friends gives her an entrĂ©e into French society as well as a posh pad to stay at. Balsan never comes off in the film as having the deep desire for Coco that Boy Capel does, but it is obvious that he had deep affection for her.
While staying at Balsan’s mansion, Chanel continues her hobby of making hats, gifting them to various girl friends and mistresses who stop by the Balsan home. It is Boy Capel who encourages Coco to take her talent as a hat-maker beyond just a hobby – he believes that she could be a real force in the fashion world. His encouragement allowed Coco to pursue a career, and his leisurely style of dress – relaxed suits and jersey shirts – were greatly influential upon Chanel’s early masculine womenswear designs. As Coco the designer finds great success in Paris, tragedy strikes when Capel dies unexpectedly. The last images of Coco in the film are of a heartbroken woman, left without her love but with the thriving business that he inspired her to create.
In Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, Coco Chanel has already found success in the fashion world. When she invites Stravinsky and his family to stay with her at her country home, she is independently wealthy. She is not the romantic young girl with designs on becoming an actress like in Tautou’s depiction; the woman that Anna Mouglalis portrays is icy, beautiful, and self-assured almost to the point of callousness. When she embarks on an affair with Stravinsky, she denies herself the passion that previous film’s dynamic between Capel and Chanel (or even she and Balsan, for that matter). She wants what she wants – and, in that particular case, she wanted to be with the man who created such tremendous music that she admired. Never mind that Stravinsky’s wife, who is dying of consumption, and children are in the next room. The affair serves a greater creative purpose, the film seems to say – borne out of their illicit relationship is the creation of Chanel No. 5 and Stravinsky’s experimentation with freer form and Neoclassicism.
If Coco at the end of C Avant C had become hardened because of Capel’s death, the austerity that she possesses in CC&IS is unwavering. It is almost as though she is playing a game – she is an actress within her own world and she can never be off her cue. The poise that she maintains in this film is almost frightening. She seems unreal, like an unfinished character in a Fitzgerald novel; a femme fatale who was only given a short treatment. I finished the movie feeling (and understanding) less about the fashion great than when I started.
But maybe that’s the appeal - and the purpose. The Chanel brand has created a permanent air of mystery around itself – a certain French sophistication where only those in the know truly know. To deconstruct the woman at the helm of the brand would be to turn the Chanel world into something comprehendible to anyone who was willing to dedicate two hours of their life to a movie. Honestly, I can’t imagine anything worse than if a young university student like I felt like I could understand and relate to Coco Chanel. No, Coco was in a league all her own. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

you've got me wrapped around your little finger, if this is love, it's everything i hoped it would be

I was long ago seduced by the premise of An Education - the glamorous post-Beatnick, pre-Beatle world of early 1960s England where the rebellion of the decade's later years were just stirrings of restlessness. I finally was able to watch the film the other night, and I must say that I was not disappointed in the slightest.  As I'm sure a lot of other girls have, I identified so much with Jenny that it was almost frightening. There was a scene when Jenny tells her paramour David that when she gets to university, "I'm going to read what I want, and listen to what I want, and I'm going to look at paintings and watch French films, and I'm going to talk to people who know lots about lots." And I swear that I said the exact same thing to my friends almost two years ago.
I'm still much of the same person I was in high school - I still have an intense thirst for knowledge and experience, and a never-ending desire to get more than what I have (I believe it was best described in Vicky Cristina Barcelona as "chronic dissatisfaction"). I read books about famous figures because it offers me a chance to live vicariously through their exploits. Yes, maybe I'm not the one hooking up with Mick Jagger or hanging out in opium dens, but curled up in my own imagination I am almost there.
Like Jenny, I have an obsession with the French. My father's family is mostly French so I excuse my preoccupation with New Wave cinema, and albums by Greco and Peyroux on that. I listen to French music a lot of the time - most of my friends don't quite understand it, but they've grown to like the kitschy tunes. I'm not to the point where I smoke Gauloises (merely on principle) and speak interchangeably with French and English, but I was known to speak a tad like Holly Golightly and pull out phrases like "quelle surprise" and "tres fou" and whatnot.  I've never been seduced so entirely as Jenny was by an older gentleman like David, but I have been seduced many-a-time by the idea of these men. The ones who know their Brioni from their Zegna, who want to educate you as well as out you up on a pedestal. It's really quite intoxicating to feel so inexperienced, and be loved for it as opposed to condescended by it.
An Education is a film that I will gladly add to my DVD collection - after all, it would be nice to visit a soulmate such as Jenny from time to time.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

hills of forest green where the mountains touch the sky, a dream come true, I’ll live there ‘til I die, I’m asking you, to say my last goodbye, the love we knew ain’t worth another try

A young Jane Asher

Francoise Hardy

Jane Asher, in a very David Bailey-esque shot

Sharon Tate

Charlotte Martin in a shot from the 1970s

Charlotte Martin

Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean

Sharon Tate

Sophia Loren

A young Elizabeth Taylor

Debbie Harry

Another shot of Charlotte Martin

Sophie Daumier

A shot from the gorgeously talented photographer Courtney Brooke

Katharine Hepburn

Marianne Faithfull

Paul McCartney and baby Mary

Mick Jagger

John Lennon, in the mid-1970s

Sal Mineo and Jill Haworth in Exodus

and though you want to last forever, you know you never will, you know you never will, and the goodbye makes the journey harder still

Chet Baker is one of my utmost favorite musicians. He's known best for his recording of the tender ballad "My Funny Valentine" - and his version is pretty much synonymous with the song itself - and the 1988 documentary that followed his turbulent life in the time leading up to his death - an accidental fall from a hotel window the same year the film was released. 

When Chet was a young musician in the 1950s, he was famous for his matinee star good looks just as much as his trumpet-playing abilities. The handsome young jazz musician was thought to be a cross between "James Dean and Jack Kerouac." 
Baker's career began to decline when the effects of his heroin use, which he had enjoyed regularly since the 1950s, began to affect his appearance, his ability, and his personal and financial security. By the end of the 1950s, Baker was pawning his instruments for money to support his heroin addiction. 

The 1960s found Baker serving a one-year prison sentence in Italy for drug-related offenses, while also facing deportation in West Germany and the UK for similar problems. He was still addicted by 1966 when he was severely beaten by a group of men after a performance in San Francisco. Chet made it out alive, but after being kicked in the face several times by his attackers, his mouth was split and torn and his front teeth were broken, essentially ruining his embouchure (the facial muscles & way the lips shape to the mouthpiece of a wind instrument). As a result, Baker had to relearn to play the trumpet and flugelhorn with dentures. He eventually developed a new embouchure with the dentures, and Baker was able to make a comeback in the 1970s. The effects of his lifestyle were very evident, as his matinee idol good looks had disappeared and, as Village Voice critic J. Hoberman put it, he became "a seamy-looking drugstore cowboy-cum-derelict." 

I think it's fascinating to listen to what Baker could do with not just a trumpet, but with his voice as well. He had a gorgeous voice. Perhaps due to his experience as a trumpeter, but Baker knew how to use his voice in the most subtle ways possible - it never sounds like he's over-extending himself or trying to make a record sound hot. He just sings. And it's beautiful. The gentle quietness of his voice is cool and refreshing, especially in comparison to a lot of other jazz musicians who do big vocal arrangements.