Writing on Film – Article 6 – Undressing Almodovar.

Undressing Almodóvar

Spanish Director Pedro Almodóvar has been making movies for over 30 years. Picking up 2 Oscars, 5 BAFTAS and scores of nominations, Almodóvar is one of Europe’s finest directors. His movies amuse and provoke, with controversial themes and a distinct colourful style. 
Many ingredients go into making a successful Almodóvar movie. Shocking and venomous dialogue reveals character, close ups express intimate moments of passion and music heightens emotion and drama. But what part do clothes and fashion play? This is a question that Almodóvar has asked throughout his career, addressing in many significant and diverse methods.
Take his debut feature Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980) for example. Here we see style on a budget, but glamour no less. Sophistication and clothing separate the three characters who lend their names to the title and express their disparate personalities and social diversity.
Bom wears Vivienne Westwood inspired DIY punk fashions, Luci a middle class house wife wears expensive lace dresses, while Pepi falls somewhere in between, preferring high street fashions. These characters find their lives intertwined through circumstance and tragedy and Almodóvar has employed fashion as a uniform, to present their separate lives, distinct styles and social background. 
Dark Habits (1983) continues Almodóvar’s distinct use of fashion. Yolanda (Cristina Sanchez Pascual) is a provocative night club singer, who joins a covenant after her boyfriend dies of a heroin overdose. Even though she is in a nunnery, Yolanda does not conform to their uniform and instead continues to wear a bright red glittering ball gown. Previously Almodóvar utilised fashion to express social status, but here psychology is apparent. Yolanda is her own woman, non-conformist in attitude and style. Dark Habits is also of great interest when looking at Almodóvar’s use of fashion. A priest in the covenant is obsessed with English costume designer and photographer Cecil Beaton. Famous for his Oscar winning designs for My Fair Lady and his fashions shoots for British Vogue, Beaton is an interesting obsession for a Priest and Almodóvar knows this. The covenant has its rules and regulations and each of the Nuns rebel in their own way (one is a cocaine addict, another a writer of erotic fiction), but the Priest rebels through fashion. His obsession with Beaton is his method off breaking free from the uniform and illustrates that clothing can be expressive and powerful in revealing the true character behind occupation and beliefs.
Almodóvar’s fashion obsession was apparent in his break through movie, the chilling thriller Matador (1986). Starring a young Antonio Banderas as Angel, a trainee Matador who obsesses over his Maestro’s girlfriend Eva. Here a fashion show displays absurdity and is utilised for comedic effect. The victimised Eva is a model and Almodóvar exposes the exuberant and indulgent world of fashion. When a nameless model vomits over a colleague (after explicitly shooting up heroin), the flamboyant designer at the helm (played by Almodóvar himself), proclaims “Don’t worry, it looks great on you”. Maybe not fashion expressed as a uniform, but definitely as a means to offer relief from a movie that expresses sex and desire through a lack of romance or passion. 
After the success of Matador, Almodóvar had the budget to employ the services of big name designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld and Giovanni Versace.
These collaborations are particularly intriguing when looking at how Almodóvar employs style to express psychology and story. Lagerfeld and Gaultier are auteurs in their own right, however in the world of fashion. On one hand you have a director whose objective is to tell a story and convey various provocative themes and on the other you have a fashion designer whose objectives may not be to tell a story, but to make the actor look good with garments designed by The House Of Chanel or The House Of Gaultier.
With Kika (1993) Jean Paul Gaultier worked with Pedro Almodóvar on his first of three collaborations, partnering again with Bad Education (2004) and The Skin I Live In (2011). For Kika, Gaultier designed the costumes for the intimidating and boisterous Andrea “Scarface” (Victoria Abril). Kikas themes include sex, death and most prominently voyeurism. Gaultier clearly embraced the latter and created a costume that not only explicitly conveys voyeurism, but removes the character from the reality of the movie and heightens her to an other worldly being, who spies on individuals and attempts to undercover the truth.
Andrea wears a dark green uniform with military undertones and a large cumbersome, evocative camera on top of a helmet that tightly encases her head. Within the context of the film she brazenly stands out, with the male lead of the movie, Nicolas (Peter Coyote) proclaiming “I thought you were a Martian”. However this is the only reference to her obvious and unique visual singularity. Almodóvar has ensured she is treated like a human through the respect other characters show her, via dialogue and attitude, and the lack of reaction they have to her appearance. Gaultier has countered this by making her visually stunning.
But does this method progress the story or go against the grain of the dark comedy of Kika? In balance the technique works. The audience is in no doubt of the intrusive nature of Andrea. Just her being explicitly conveys voyeurism and intrusion and effortlessly advances the character through the movie, where she reveals the twist in the plot that exposes Nicolas’ dark secret.
Significantly the other costumes in Kika were supplied by Giovanni Versace, another renowned fashion designer. Versace took a subtle approach with less prominent designs, however Kika has one key scene that is a major topic for debate. A rape occurs between the character of Kika (Veronica Faroque) and an escaped convict and sex craved porn star Pablo (Santiago Lajusticia). It is important to note both characters are wearing red, a colour associated with danger, anger and lust.  The rape scene itself is controversial. Lasting several minutes, where Kika’s protests and outrage turn to resolution as she accepts the sexual assault. Here Versace’s stylings clearly reflect the complex predicament and the bright red clothing foreshadow the horrific ordeal Kika is put through.
Gaultier himself does embrace subtlety in his approach to The Skin I Live In. Here plastic surgeon Robert Legard (Antonio Banderas) performs sex reassignment surgery on a young man named Vincente, transforming him into Lagard’s attractive but deceased wife Vera Cruz (Eleanor Anaya).
The Skin I Live In is a change of pace and style for Almodóvar. A psychological horror film at heart, the movie feels more placid visually, with the bright colours of Kika and Pepi, Luci, Bom replaced with delicate tones. Gaultier’s approach is masterful, dressing Anaya in tight body suits that explicitly present her feminine body (even though a hidden masculinity lies underneath) and actually refer back to the movie’s title. The body suits have skin like tones alluding to nakedness and expressing the skin that she now lives in is actually separate from herself. This presents a complex psychology via a bold yet subtle uniform.
High Heels (1991) employs another well known fashion designer to dress Victoria Abril, here playing the vulnerable character of Rebeca Giner. Karl Lagerfeld (Head Designer and Creative Director for Chanel), takes a more distinct approach, dressing Abril in glamorous and distinguishable Chanel suits, accessorised by the iconic Chanel hand bag.
The story revolves around the news reader Rebeca, whose alluring mother Becky del Paramo (Marisa Paredes) is a popular singer in South America. She returns to Madrid to find Rebeca married to her former lover Manuel (Feodor Atkine). Manuel is murdered and Rebeca dramatically confesses to the act while reading his obituary live on air.
Here costume not only progress the story, but reveals character traits and society, particularly when we are first exposed to Rebeca. As she sits in the airport waiting for her mother, we clearly see the Chanel label on Rebeca’s hand bag. Moments later Becky del Paramo (dressed not in Chanel but in Giorgio Armani) compliments her daughter’s “Chanel Suit”. Despite just being introduced to the characters, clothing has presented them as affluent individuals, expressing wealth through fashion labels and showcasing prosperity like an expressive uniform for all to see.
Cynics could say the blatant Chanel references are advertisements or product placement, however as Chanel is synonymous with fashion, it is unlikely a Fashion House of such grandeur requires the films of Almodóvar for promotion. Therefore in conclusion the clothing choices of Rebeca allow us to make assumptions about how she perceives herself. Also the fact that the mother wears Armani and the daughter Chanel, presents a conflict through opposing styles. This conflict continues as mother and daughter fight over the affections of Manuel and debate who is really responsible for his murder. 
Throughout his career Almodóvar has employed fashion in various degrees, with themes and character expressed through style. With Almodóvar’s new movie I’m So Excited due to hit the screens and being based around an airline flight crew, it will be interesting to see what themes will be conveyed and how he takes fashion, and a literal uniform in this instance, to new heights.
Steven Fraser

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Writing on Film – Article 5 – Ralph Bakshi

Ralph Bakshi is an animation director of films such as Cool World, American Pop, Coonskin, Fritz The Cat, Wizards, Heavy Traffic and a now overshadowed version of Lord Of The Rings. From my Writing on Film class I had to choose to do a profile on a film personality. I chose Ralph Bakshi as I knew nothing about him. It gave me an opportunity to watch some of his films and analyse them. This article will be reworked for when I hand it in with my portfolio for review. The article is below:

RALPH BAKSHI
Ralph Bakshi creates animated movies like no one else working in the medium. He tackles a variety of styles and genre’s ranging from fantasy (Wizards, Lord of The Rings), Blaxplotation (Coonskin), adult comedy (Fritz The Cat) and musicals (American Pop). Bakshi makes films he wants to make and even though flaws are obvious, his passion, diversity and artistic vision is apparent throughout, making him an appealing director and an interesting artist to explore.
Born in 1938 in Haifa (then a Palestinian territory, now part of Israel), the Bakshi family migrated to New York in 1939 to avoid World War 2. American culture is very much part of Bakshi’s films. Growing up in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn he was clearly exposed to a  range of cultures and this is reflected in his films.
Bakshi’s first feature length animation was an adaption of a comic book by counter culture icon Robert Crumb. Released in 1972, Fritz The Cat tells the story of a smart talking anthropomorphic feline who takes drugs, has sex and considers himself a poet. Being the first X Rated American animated film Bakshi does not hold back when presenting drug abuse in a cartoon New York. The loose hand drawn style does little to distract from a uninteresting story that relies on blatant sexual imagery to engage the viewer, however the lack of restraint feels manipulative and prevents any real connection to the main character. The result is a cold film where Bakshi’s vision was to remove animation from the niceties of Walt Disney and push it to X rated extremes.  Speaking at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con Bakshi highlighted his lack of respect for Disney and his desire to do things his own way. Although admiral, the reactionary nature stifles Bakshi’s work and is apparent in his 1975 film Coonskin.
Coonskin homogeneously combines live action and animation and has been described by Quentin Tarantino as “The most incendiary work in the entire genre” in reference to Blaxplotation. Starring Barry White (whose deep baritone voice is perfectly cast as Bear) again we see sex and drug abuse and follow two gangsters who make it to the top of the Harlem criminal underworld. Despite plaudits from Tarantino, Coonskin has similar problems to Fritz The Cat, with the need to shock being second to the uninspiring story. However the influence to Tarantino is obvious and clearly inspired Pulp Fiction, making Coonskin an interesting movie within this context.
Wizards (1977) is a family fantasy film and a precursor to his now overshadowed adaption of The Lord Of The Rings. We are in a post apocalyptic planet earth where a war rages between good and evil. Here Bakshi presents diversity in the chosen genre which is far removed from Coonskin. Visually Wizards is bland with the vast landscapes appearing insipid, with pale purple colours and a distinct lack of detail. Although this in part could be due to time and money constraints. Without major financial backing Bakshi had to economise when making his movies, cutting corners wherever possible, but for Wizards this is obvious and to the determent of the imagery.  Undertaking a method known as posterisation (a photographic development process where areas of colour are graded to separate tones and present a colourised image) Bakshi entirely removes animation from the equation. This juxtaposition is jarring with the posterised scenes being too obvious to fit seamlessly within the context of the film. This however is not apparent in 1981’s American Pop.
Celebrating American popular culture through it’s music, American Pop follows four generations that are linked together through tragedy and the love and expression of music. Using an animation technique known as rotoscoping (where the animator traces over live action footage to create a drawn animation that mimics real life), American Pop emphasises the theme of America and is visually more dramatic when compared to Bakshi’s previous movies. At times the live music sections are awe inspiring capturing the raw energy of a Jimi Hendrix concert, the expressive freedom of jazz and the intensity and passion of punk rock. The epic story takes in 1930’s burlesque, World War 2, the Beat Generation and concludes with 80’s excessiveness. American Pop was released the same year MTV launched and captures the marriage between visuals and music.
Bakshi has not made an animated movie since Cool World in 1992. Despite starring Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger in live action segments, the film was a commercial failure. Instead Bakshi has taken to painting to express himself, but that was until February 2013. Utilising crowd funding (where creators invite fans to pay upfront for new ventures, thus funding the projects and cutting out traditional investors) Bakshi has again found a way to make films his own way and fulfil his artistic vision. If funded, another one of the directors passions will be evident. Entitled ‘Last Days of Coney Island’, we will see Bakshi’s beloved America in animated form once again.

 

Writing on Film – Article 4 – Charlotte Rampling

For my Writing on Film class I had to write an article on a scene from the film ‘The Look’. The clip involved an interview and the article I had to write was interview preparation. In the clip the actress Charlotte Rampling talks to the photographer Jurgen Teller. The article is below: 




INTERVIEW REVIEW

Taken from the 2011 film ‘The Look’, actress Charlotte Rampling and photographer Juergen Teller have an open conversation on the subject of ‘Taboo’, with the audience feeling like a fly on the wall listening to a private conversation. The subject matter clearly engages the pair as they ask each other questions and deliberate the past; crossing the boundary of interviewer and interviewee.
The location is not glamorous, they are perched on a somewhat run down staircase, with Rampling very much aware of the camera and occasionally coming over as candid. Her body language and uncomfortable position suggests she may be guarded, but her openness in conversation proves otherwise.
The pair view photographs (taken by Teller) of one another and seem comfortable in the nudity and playful nature of the imagery. Rampling is again in control when a set of photographs, taken by the legendary fashion photographer Helmut Newton are deliberated. Rampling states that the shots were Newton’s first nude photographs and it is a bold statement to suggest she had creative control during a Newton fashion shoot.
A degree of vulnerability is shown when Rampling and Teller discuss suicide (both have lost close ones) and this vulnerability is emphasised, less dramatically, when Rampling mentions an unfavourable review, by prominent critic Pauline Kael, of her 1974 film The Night Porter. Rampling is clearly taken aback when recalling the negativity.
Footage from The Night Porter is exhibited with a scene presenting a provocative Rampling teasing Nazi soldiers. Definitely a Taboo image, showing Rampling again in control.

Writing on Film – Article 3 – My Beautiful Laundrette

The third review for my Writing on Film class was longer than my previous articles. I had to review a movie of my choice and I chose My Beautiful Laundrette starring Daniel Day Lewis. I am going to rewrite this review as I am studying the course for credit and I definitely believe I could improve on the article, before I submit my portfolio. The article is below:

 

MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE
Directed by Stephen Frears (1985)
Set in London, during the mid-eighties, My Beautiful Laundrette tells the story of the young and unemployed Omar Ali (played by Gordon Warnecke) and how he becomes the proprietor of a laundrette. Several themes are tackled during the film including homosexuality, class, family, money and economy, however the theme of race and racism is the most prevalent and the driving force of the movie.
From the opening scene it is obvious that we are in poverty stricken Britain. A sleeping Johnny (played by Daniel Day Lewis) is awoken and kicked out of a run down flat by some thugs. The viewer assumes the dingy dwelling is a squat and this aggressive and intimidating act can be seen as a precursor to the violence that is presented during the film, which reaches an apex in the final scenes.
The story centres on Johnny and how he is reintroduced to the young Asian man called Omar. They were friends in their youth, but their friendship ended when Omar’s Father spotted Johnny at a National Front march.  Johnny is now older and his racist past is behind him. This back-story is bestowed to the audience as the plot progresses and reveals how racial tensions between the Asian and white communities have developed in the years leading up to the setting of the film.
In contrast to the racial tension, Omar is a forgiving individual and looks to help Johnny by offering him a job. As their friendship progresses the two young men then enter a homosexual relationship which they attempt to conceal from Omar’s family.
When we are introduced to Omar we are also introduced to his alcoholic Father – Hussein Ali (played by Roshan Seth). The setting is another bleak and run down flat. Beige and smoke stained wall paper further emphasise the discontent and present the viewer with a austere view of 1980’s Britain. This viewpoint is underlined when Omar’s Father attempts to get his son a job with Omar’s Uncle – Nasser Ali (played by Saeed Jaffrey). Here we see the closeness of the Asian family and how they look out for one another, but also the lack of employment opportunities in times of austerity. References to high unemployment levels and the need for business prospects litter the film, painting a picture of discontent and bitterness.
My Beautiful Laundrette reaches its turning point when Omar and Johnny open up a refurbished laundrette that Nasser Ali has imparted to Omar. We see Omar and Johnny triumphing, despite the desolate backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. The laundrette itself is in contrast to setting of London the viewer is given; it is clean bright and shiny. Neon lights make the building standout and this is in stark contrast to the block of flats and the post war modernistic buildings that surround the launderette.
Although an important issue, Homosexuality is not given the same gravity or attention as race. The gay relationship is more implicit and the intimate moments occur behind closed doors and in the dark. However, this makes the homosexuality seem more forbidden and tainted, adding a degree of danger to the relationship between the two characters.
During the opening ceremony arranged for the laundrette, Johnny and Omar retreat to the back office and are concealed behind a one way mirror. Here they have sex, while we can see Omar’s Uncle dancing within the laundrette with his mistress. This scene emphasises the absurdity of the suppression of Omar and Johnny’s relationship. Nassir Ali can explicitly cheat on his wife, while two young men in love have to be discreet. When Nassir enters the back office to find the two men swiftly getting dressed, Omar instinctively states they were just sleeping. Nassir’s expression shows he does not believe his Nephew and he ignores the issue.
Omar’s father is constantly trying to find his son a wife, suggesting he is aware and concerned about his son’s sexuality. This makes the sexual aspect of My Beautiful Laundrette feel like an elephant in the room, as opposed to a serious issue that needs to be tackled.
Costume and location firmly places My Beautiful Laundrette in 1980’s London, however this is not a glamorous or regal London. There are no shots of Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament. Instead we see run down streets and arrogant and racist punks terrorising the Asian community. London appears as a city divided. The film however, is beautifully shot. If you were to take one single frame, there would be no denying what decade or even city you were in and this is conveyed through the urban setting and the then contemporary fashion styles.
Music plays a pivotal role and at times offer light relief to the drama. A musical motif of bubbles bursting in tuneful rhythm runs throughout the film and evokes images of the laundrette. This adds a comedic effect, but at times can be distracting when then drama takes a serious tone and the bubbles can be heard in the background.
Racial segregation is apparent throughout the film and explicitly stated within the dialogue. The Asian community constantly speak in almost tribal tones, with references to ‘us’ and ‘them’. The street punks however are far less discreet and it is their direct approach that is the catalyst for the violent ending. Omar’s cousin – Salim Ali (played by Derrick Branche), takes matters into his own hands and runs over one of the punks while in his car. The punk breaks his foot and he and his friends take revenge several days later by vandalising Salim’s car. This starts a bloody fight, where Johnny shows his allegiance by helping Salim.   
What makes My Beautiful Laundrette such an intriguing film as that many of the issues presented are very much at the forefront of life in Great Britain in 2013. The somewhat ambiguous and unsatisfying ending only goes to emphasise this, as the film itself could not find a conclusion to the problems that lie within.

Writing on Film – Article 2 – Django Unchained

My second article for my Writing on Film class at Edinburgh University was a review of the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained. The review had to be roughly 250 words. The article is below:

Django Unchained Review
The main theme of Django Unchained is revenge and this is presented within the context of the slave trade in pre-civil war Mississippi. The deep American South is very much a back drop as two Bounty Hunters – Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz), travel the outposts and slave plantations looking for outlaws. Django is not your average bounty hunter, he is a black man given freedom by Schultz and hired as an assistant.
Schultz is ruthless and prefers to take his victims dead, as opposed to alive, however he is very much a forward thinking liberal. Schultz has joined forces with Django to free the former slave’s wife from slave traders, whilst capturing a group of outlaws.
Taking its major influence from Spaghetti Westerns, Django Unchained presents the viewer with an atypical perspective on the slave trade. We see the story from the viewpoint of Django as he endeavours to find justice within a prejudice society. The intriguing elements of the movie occur when Django has the upper hand and finds himself with power and respect. This creates a effective method to present a fantastic take on a story of power and ignorance.  

Writing on Film – Article 1 – Buffalo 66

I have been doing an evening class in Writing on Film at Edinburgh University. I have written many articles and reviewed several films. I am going to post the articles and essays on my blog. The first one is below along with a link to the course.

https://www.course-bookings.lifelong.ed.ac.uk/courses/F/film-media-and-contemporary-cultures/C1644/writing-on-film-introduction-to-film-journalism/

With this essay I had to review a scene from a film. The film I chose was Buffalo 66 (starring Vincent Gallo and Christina Ricci) and I chose a scene about 1 hour in to the film involving a photo booth.

Buffalo 66
Directed By Vincent Gallo
Starring Vincent Gallo and Christina Ricci
Scene – Photobooth
Duration – approximately 4 minutes.
The scene begins when we see Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo) leading Layla (Christina Ricci) into a photo booth. Billy forcefully commands Layla into the booth, however she appears to be willing and excited at the prospect. The camera follows the pair, sweeping across the bowling alley, as they walk across the concourse. They could be an average boyfriend and girlfriend, however their relationship is not simple.
When we cut to inside the booth the viewpoint changes; we are looking from the point of view of the photo booth camera. This enforced viewpoint presents the couple as being concealed in a tight space. This could be seen as underlining the closeness that the characters feel towards one another but also highlighting the tension between them.
What makes this scene pivotal is that this is the first time we explicitly hear Layla express her fondness for Billy. She has been free to leave to him, but has stuck by his side. In previous scenes we have uncovered elements of Billy’s past and understand his anger and short temper, however Layla’s motivation remained a mystery. Despite being kidnapped by Billy she has stuck by a man who has insulted her and treated her with no respect. Layla however does not come over as a victim. We know she is in a busy bowling alley and could seek assistance if she was seriously othreatened by her kidnapper.
Layla teases Billy in the booth. She trusts him and does not fear his anger or rage, despite the fact the he is arrogant and dictates orders with patronising repetition in his language.
The mischievous nature of Layla is in contrast to Billy. He stares into the camera without smiling. He is not in the mood to play and purely sees the photo opportunity as an exercise to take an image for his parents and not as a romantic gesture towards Layla.
Despite this, the affection that Layla clearly has, foreshadows the conclusion of the Buffalo 66 and creates an intriguing scene.