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David Bowie Is [on display]

22 Apr

Fashion in Film Beat: Yahoo! Movies

by Staci Layne Wilson

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David Bowie is, therefore we think.

Bowie bolt

“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.

dead man walking mask


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.


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 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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Filthy Glam Fashion Show – 40 Photos!

12 Aug

I was on the scene on behalf of Buzzine the other night at the Fred Segal Store in Santa Monica for the unveiling of the Nude Collection by Lyric Culture’s Hanna Rochelle Schmieder. As fan of fashion and rock’n roll, it was the perfect fit for me (though I may have to lose a few lb’s to wear *those* clothes!), so I took a million more pictures than Buzzine will ever publish. The logo tees and tights feature prose and snippets from classic rock songs of the 60s, 70s and 80s (via special arrangement with the artists, so they can cash in too).

I’m posting many of the images here (some by me, some by Enzo) plus a video of the wet’n wild grand finale by the band Semi Precious Weapons. Singer Justin Tranter was there to perform, but also to show off his Fetty (F’n Pretty) jewelry collection (fun fact: Tranter’s mom is a custom engagement ring designer) and to unveil Lyric Culture’s first foray into modern-day bandom with a limited edition SPW “Sticky” (With Champagne).

The unseasonably chilly August evening began with some red (OK, champagne-colored) carpet shenanigans from special guests and the band.

SPW is a band from New York City (not unlike The New York Dolls, come to think of it) consisting of Justin Tranter on vocals, Stevy Pyne on guitar, Cole Whittle on bass and Dan Crean on drums. They have two excellent dancers and all-around cheerleader party-gals who perform with them onstage, but for the life of me I could not find their names anywhere online. If you know, drop a comment — they deserve recognition, too. (I’ve posted a few pics of them here, but if you want to see the naughty bits, you have to go my personal CONCERTS photo album at Picasa.)

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Rochelle strikes a pose with the glammy guys and gals.



A band apart.


Just the boys. (The guy to the far left of the screen looks so much like Kato Kaelin, doesn’t he?!)

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Model Falls on the Runway & Semi Precious Weapons Fully Cocked

11 Aug

What are the odds? I’d post a blog about spectacular catwalk calamities, and then crash! bam! boom! a model falls on the runway right in front of me. It happened last night at a fashion show for Lyric Culture’s Nude collection in Santa Monica at the Fred Segal on 5th. The photos (by Enzo Giobbe) illustrate the diva’s dive and recovery, then a few follow-up images (by me) show how rock’n roll glam saved the day.

Newsflash: Fresh paint and high heels don’t mix.


Don’t worry, folks at home. She’s gonna be OhhhKayyy.


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