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David Bowie Is [on display]

22 Apr Bowie bolt

Fashion in Film Beat: Yahoo! Movies

by Staci Layne Wilson

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David Bowie is, therefore we think.

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“David Bowie Is” is the name of the exhibit on display now at the V&A Museum in London (the show ends on August 11). It’s brilliantly titled, as it leads to almost as many roads as the entertainer himself took on his long and continuing journey through fame.

As you walk into a virtual labyrinth (yes, film fans – Bowie’s star turn in the Jim Henson film Labyrinth is featured within the presentation), the first thing you will see is the writing on the wall “All art is unstable” and hear Bowie’s voice intoning, “There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings.” Paraphrasing fellow troubadour Bob Dylan’s go-to muse, Arthur Rimbaud (and let’s not forget Bowie’s own A Song for Bob Dylan, off the Hunky Dory album), the ultimate glam rock entertainer leads you by the brain into his silvery lair.

Bowie  – a poet and a pin-up, a sell-out and a maverick, a lover and a loner, an actor reading from a script and an off-the-cuff philosopher – is pretty much impossible to define. And so is this exhibit. A mish-mash of glitter and substantive information, it’s up to the beholder to find the beautiful. Co-curated by Geoff Marsh, the items on display seem, at first, to possess a cohesive narrative (early career, glam era, influences, movie work), but then, like Gretel running out of breadcrumbs, I found myself lost in this forest of finery. Overwhelmed and all done, I could barely remember all that I’d seen.

Original Ziggy Stardust bodysuits are on display, as are Kansai Yamamoto’s Aladdin Sane tour outfits, an amazing Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen and Bowie himself for the cover of the Earthling album, as well as a deeply striking, very irreverent religious-icon mask worn in the Dead Man Walking music video directed by Flora Sigismondi.

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As a bit of a museum rat, I’ve seen some pretty awesome collections – from the unprecedented Stanley Kubrick exhibit by Elvis Mitchell currently at LACMA, to last year’s Hollywood Museum Marilyn Monroe retrospective in the famous Art Deco Max Factor Building in Hollywood. While I did love every spangle and glistening thread of “David Bowie Is”, I was unable to grasp a through-line. Perhaps that’s the blessing of, first of all, trying to make sense of such a mysterious icon, but also the curse of presenting a definitive picture of a living legend.

As you enter the first room, look up at the aerial library. It’s a disparate mock-up of suspended books that open like flowers to show a gilded glimpse of the intellectual influences inside the man who was so much about the façade. Then take a gander at the glamour Bowie beheld, regurgitated, and repackaged in his own image – the famous Marlene Dietrich photographic portrait and Bowie’s mirror of that same angular face on his Hunky Dory album cover is the most striking illustration. However, sprinkled throughout the rooms are many more eye-opening examples.

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Eerie, androgynous mannequins lurk in corners and stand on open display, wearing Bowie’s most famous costumes. Room décor ranges from the Soho flavor on his U.K. beginnings to his current bedroom in Manhattan. Then we go from the deepest, darkest outer spaces bringing to mind Major Tom and The Man Who Fell to Earth, to bright and airy floor-to-ceiling video monitors showing Bowie strutting his stuff onstage throughout the eras. His Broadway dressing rooms are recreated to remind us of his powerful performance in Bernard Pomerance’s play about the “Elephant Man” John Merrick in which Bowie self-transformed without the aid of prostheses or makeup.

David Bowie exibition at the V&A

Film fans will flock to the rooms which feature Bowie’s considerable acting accomplishments, including the aforementioned sci-fi noir film directed by Nicholas Roeg, 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, to his work some 30 years later as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s magic mystery, The Prestige. Fantasy fanatics will thrill over the Labyrinth props, including The Goblin King’s sepulcher and crystal ball, and will enjoy reading the hand-written letter from Henson to Bowie asking him to read the enclosed “rough” script and please consider the role. Also on display is the white Andy Warhol fright wig Bowie donned in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat bio-pic. (Aside: just prior to seeing “David Bowie Is”, I attended my first Jean-Michel Basquiat show in New York City. Those pieces are now in London at Sotheby’s, awaiting auction)

 

Like shed skins, each look and incarnation is left behind as the beholder moves from room to room. In the homestretch, we see a faux Ziggy Stardust laid to rest supine on the floor in a glass coffin; handwritten and crossed out lyrics; marked-up outtakes from the Diamond Dogs photography sessions snapped with Terry O’Neil’s camera; and much, much more.

Terry O'Neil Diamond Dogs Photo

Finally, a last look: The iconic photo of Bowie from 1972 by Japanese photographer, Masayoshi Sukita “Exit” and you do just that (through the gift-shop, natch).

Masayoshi Sukita Photo 1972

David Bowie Is book, last page

Gainsbourg’s Girls, Garb ‘n La Gueule

16 Sep

 

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life Movie Poster 

PLOT SYNOPSIS FROM FILMMAKER MAGAZINE: Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is a live-action fantasy based on the life of über-French chansonnier and peerless provocateur Serge Gainsbourg (embodied by look-alike stage actor Eric Elmosnino), whose Russian-Jewish background and almost mythic love affairs with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin (whose orgasmic moans made famous their 1969 duet “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus”) he explores with eccentric charm, employing a kind of dream logic to connect different episodes from the singer’s life.

Sfar’s biggest conceit in Gainsbourg, which was released to great acclaim last year in France (it won a César for best debut feature), centers on an incident that occurs early in the film: walking through Occupied Paris, a school-age Lucien Ginsburg (who later adopted his stage name) is alarmed to see a horrifically anti-Semitic caricature and, in the shock of self-realization, sees it spring to life, a monster that morphs into eerie alter ego (played by Doug Jones of Pan’s Labyrinth), his shadow id and (occasionally misguided) conscience.

Sfar’s depiction of the iconic composer captures many facets of Gainsbourg’s persona, including the self-abuse that he seemed to parade as proudly as his smuttiest compositions, but it’s the elements of comic-book-inflected fantasy (the director enthuses equally about F.W. Murnau and Peter Jackson by way of explaining his visual technique) that differentiate the film from standard-issue music biopics.

 

PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE FROM ME: I first learned of this most unusual biopic a couple of years back from Doug Jones, who acts in the film as “La Gueule” — a fanciful manifestation of Serge Gainsbourg’s impish Id — and I really wanted to see it. Not because I was especially interested in the life of the infamous French songwriter and soused celebrity but mainly due to the way Dougie described it as a fantasy moving picture adaptation of a graphic novel as directed by the artist. (check out my most recent interview with Doug, along with my cohort/co-host Matt Raub, for “This Week In Horror” right here)

I am generally very receptive to biopics (and am an avid reader of biographies and autobiographies), especially the ones that color outside the lines (prime examples are my favorite biopic of all time: Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan parable I’m Not There, as well as Kevin Spacey’s take on Bobby Darrin and George Clooney’s adaptation of the bizarre Chuck Barris tell-all, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind).

It seemed like forever and day before G:AHL finally made it from France and Europe to we Stateside cinefiles. I had to miss the preview press screening of G:AHL on August 24 (only because I was working on directing a short film… such a flimsy excuse, I know!). I was disappointed to miss it as a journalist, but vowed to see it as a fan regardless. So, last night at The Landmark in L.A., I finally fulfilled my wish. G:AHL is now playing in select theaters, in a limited engagement (yada, yada — basically, see it on the big screen now, before it’s gone!).

My dear Dougie is really great in the film as the tyrannical muse of the troubled troubadour. There is something about Doug himself in real life that’s very muse-like. As Guillermo del Toro can certainly attest to, since the autuer’s chosen to work with Doug as often as possible since first meeting him when he was directing his first big American debut, Mimic. (By the by, the director’s cut of Mimic is out on Blu-ray, and I reviewed it for Horror.com) Doug has a way of bringing nightmares, dreams and figments to life. This is him below, augmented as the Serge Id.

Doug was even my muse for a day. This was last year when I undertook a massive project in which, diligently over two months, I photographed a variety of people separately but in the same location (the Korean Friendship Bell in San Pedro, CA).

It was fascinating for me to discover how each one’s personality and vibe transformed the static stone and steel structure into something different every time. The morning Doug arrived was unexpectedly rainy and quite blustery, creating climate calamities I wasn’t too thrilled about in the moment, but which stimulated some of the most arresting images in the series (water-spots on the lens, and all).

Doug is his own amazing muse, on occasion — check out the incredibly compelling self-portrait he contributed for my now-defunct “Blog I’d Like to Fuck [BILF]” on said subject, a few years back (you’ll have to scroll down, after downloading the PDF - totally worth it, promise!)

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Legends of the Guardians – The Owls of Ga’Hool are Fashion Forward

29 Sep

Legends of the Guardians – The Owls of Ga’Hool are Fashion Forward

Writer/director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) isn’t exactly known for his hilarious, whacky sense of humor so I don’t know what else I was expecting, but his new animated 3D family-flick Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hool is awfully stuffy.

The epic spectacle is based upon a series of fantasy adventure novels about Soren, a young barn owl who’s birdnapped and forced into a life of military servitude. Not that the story lends itself to comedy, but a little feather-light levity (ala Charlotte’s Web, The Lion King, or Toy Story 3) would have been welcome. Grave and heavy from start to finish, Legends of the Guardians doesn’t really take flight until the glorious battle scene at the end.

Fortunately, the animation is absolutely breathtaking and the 3D immersion is organic to the narrative — the flights, fights, and even the quiet moments are stunning. Also, they’re ultra-realistic. At the red carpet premiere, Warner Bros. brought out Twilight, a European Barn Owl, and I have to say seeing him just before the screening really added to my enjoyment of the animators’ attention to detail. There’s not a pinfeather out of place.

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Hm, coincidence or calculation? The premiere was just across the street from HOOTERS.

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The voice cast of Legends of the Guardians is also excellent across the board. The main character Soren is played by Jim Sturgess, and the young actor hold his own with the likes of Dame Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, and the ever-eminent Sam Neill (who got a real kick out me mentioning his work in Possession, when I interviewed him on the red carpet! Check out the video, below). Overall, the movie is solid but it just didn’t work for me. (I’m holding out for Sucker Punch!)

Since my mind is always taking flights of fashion fancy, I wore my owl ring to the premiere.

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But someone on the red carpet was even more owl-obsessed than me: check out her cool purse!

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Here are some more owl-inspired fashions I found online.

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Easy A & The Scarlet Letter

15 Sep

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The Scarlet Letter is a novel of high-drama, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and published in 1850. It recounts the fictional plight of young bride Hester Prynne who, in 17th-century Puritan Boston, who commits adultery while her husband is away and is badged by her friends and neighbors with a giant “A” on the bodice of her gown. There’s that self-same uppercase letter worn in the new comedy Easy A, too.

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Emma Stone plays Olive, a sardonic high school student who fakes the loss of her virginity and then talks about it via webcast — a sex, lies and YouTube tale, if you will. But Olive’s intentions are honorable. She does it to help the reputation of her closeted gay friend Brandon (Dan Byrd), and to make her classmates take notice of her (as if this Olive were as drab as her name! Stone is perhaps too hot for the role, but she makes it her own quite beautifully as the sordid story unfolds).

Once word of Olive’s easiness gets out, the boys flock to her — she sets them straight on the virgin angle, but angles in on some nice deals for herself along the way. Before she can say “Charge it!” she’s the proud owner of cash, coins, gift certificates and coupons. It’s a sort of prostitution, but without the execution.

Along for the wild rumor-ride are the boy she loves (Penn Badgley), her freewheeling parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson), her meddlesome teachers and various elders (Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell), and of course, the school’s resident sanctimonious bitch (Amanda Bynes). The cast is flawless across the board.

A few things didn’t ring true in the dialogue for me; especially the many references to John Hughes and Judy Blume. I looked up the screenwriter, Bert V. Royal, and saw that he was born in 1977… I’d assumed he was in his 40s, if those are his points of reference. The movie is somewhat contrived and everything ties up far too neatly, but it’s enjoyable overall.

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When it comes to the costumes (this is a fashion blog first, after all) I can’t complain but I felt designer Mynka Draper (no relation to Don, I assume!) was just a little too on the nose. Not that Easy A is a subtle comedy anyway, but I think the wardrobe will appear quite dated in the years to come. Especially the egregious use of skinny jeans… when even slim 19-year-olds like Stone can’t pull it off, it’s a trend that needs to end. After her sullied rep is nice and solid, Olive begins to wear her heart on her sleeve (via webcast) and her letter on her bust (As on the bustiers). It’s a cute idea, but after a while: We get it! As the school mascot, the woodchuck costume Badgley is forced to wear during an adorable, out-of-nowhere musical number (and those are the best kind, aren’t they?) is appropriately embarrassing and quite amusing.

In fact, I give Easy A an A for amusing. It’s probably not bound to be a classic, but Stone shines with star power and it’s definitely worth the price of admission for some laughs on the big screen.

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Check out my interviews with Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, and Stanley Tucci at TV-Wire.

Emma and Penn

Emma and Stanley

Thierry Mugler: Galaxy Glamour Book Review

14 Jul

It’s a good thing a picture is worth a thousand words, because this big, glossy coffee table book on audacious designer Thierry Mugler isn’t worth reading. It’s true you can’t judge a girl by her corset, but it was the cover that attracted me and fortunately there was a lot more of the same knockout imagery to be found inside.

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The photos, many of them by the immortal Helmut Newton, are gorgeously reproduced large-sized and in full-fledged color. There are a couple of smaller pics, and only 10 black and whites ones, amid the supermodels and with marquee-appeal celebs (Jerry Hall, Beyoncé) splashed across the pages in hues mostly muted (lots of grays and somber, beautiful blocks).

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