The LA Diaries 2019 #6: TCMFF weekend

As I am taking so long to write these posts, and a huge chunk of time has passed, I figure I best get a move on and tell you all about the final two days of the fest.

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TCMFF weekend started with the fabulous Double Wedding (1937), a raucously zany comedy reuniting Myra Loy and Willaim Powell as sparring partners who obviously become intensely attracted to one another. The ending was an absolute scream — I have never seen anything quite like it to be honest! A pleasure from start to finish. It set the day up quite nicely — plus, Marya bought a Pink Panda!

 

Then it was onto Blood Money (1933), a Pre-Code that ticked the boxes in stylish fair as Bondsman George Bankcroft becomes embroiled with the clients he is helping. By then it was midnight, and wanting to attend the midnight film, The Student Nurses (1970), my friend Millie and I literally climbed under the rail next to our seats to dash into the theatre. We literally escaped from Escape from New York! But it was worth dashing because Student Nurses was hugely enjoyable: a group of four young women studying in 1970s Los Angeles find their paths go in four very different ways. I loved it.

 

Then it was Sunday, the final day of the festival. The day, once again, started fabulously, with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Holiday (1938), a movie I had seen numerous times will rewatch at any opportunity. The chemistry between them is delightful, the gowns and hats are gorgeous, and the movie is delightful — a whole heap of joy.

I usually refer to this say as “Sirk Sunday” because I always watch a Douglas Sirk movie at the festival. This time it was Magnificent Obsession (1954), where Rock Hudson woos widow Jane Wyman without realizing he is somewhat unintentionally responsible for her late husband’s death. Gimme all the melodrama, I love it.

The final movie before the closing party was The Dolly Sisters (1945), a musical with more FANTASTIC surrealistic costumes, is how many of us chose to end our festival, and while this one was not necessarily my favourite, it was a great deal of fun. THE COSTUMES! I’m hoping to write more on this aspect of the movie. at some point so this is all I will say for now about that angle but YES WOW.

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We always close the festival in style at The Roosevelt to drink and chat and say our goodbyes, and later to grab fries at In-N-Out as per tradition.

 

The group of us staying up late to make the most of the festival shrinks every year, but it doesn’t matter, that’s not the point. It’s about enjoying the final minutes of the festival before we say goodbye for another year, about having one last laugh with friends and memories and shared experiences. And that’s what it’s all about.

 

The LA Diaries 2019 #5: TCMFF Day 2

The first full day was five-movie day of joy beginning with the delicious Merrily We Go To Hell at a packed Egyptian Cinema. Sylvia Sidney and Frederic March in Dorothy Arzner’s pre-code based on Cleo Lucas’ 1931 novel called I, Jerry, Take Thee, Joan. Reporter and playwright Jerry Corbett and heiress Joan Prentice marry after a whirlwind relationship, toasting their nuptials “Merrily We Go To Hell,” which more than sets the tone of their marriage. As Jerry’s success increases, so do his alcohol addiction and Joan’s heartbreak, while the loose rules of their ‘modern marriage’ only aggravate the physical and mental decline of both. The movie is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching at times, and I absolutely loved it.

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That was followed up with one of my all-time Disney faves, Sleeping Beauty, which provided the perfect opportunity to see my girl Maleficent in all of her resplendent glory. I think i was the only person who cheered when she came on screen…and it was lovely to have the animators Jane Baer and Floyd Norman in attendance, who shared their memories of working on the movie as Disney in-house animators.  (ND’s photo came out better than mine!)

Onto Sunrise, a movie I had not seen for some time but continues to mesmerize, which I followed with the powerful, always impactful Do the Right Thing at the IMAX. I was excited for this one, not only because I had never seen Spike Lee’s groundbreaking movie on anything other than a television screen but for the pre-movie discussion with costume designer Ruth Carter, Joie Lee, and casting director Robi Reed. 

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Walking out of the movie at 11pm in a little daze following the power Do the Right Thing continues to hold, it was straight back into the TCL multiscreen for some midnight fun. I was determined to do both midnight movies this year, cramming in as much of the festival as possible and they did not disappoint! Two very different movies playing on the Friday and Saturday night that attracted a loyal following and entertaining audience reactions. Santo vs. the Evil Brain was the Friday night showing and my very first Santo movie. A joy from start to finish starring the Mexican wrestling champion who is practically a superhero encountering his own brainwashed brain! See, a joy! Plus, the movie had one of the best car chases I had seen onscreen (not for any of the reasons you may think, and not what you would expect for a ‘chase’, but it was fantastic). Masks and treats were handed out before the movie, and we whooped and cheered the whole way through. A fun day.

 

The LA Diaries 2019 #4: TCMFF Day 1

I had a great first day of TCMFF, mainly because it was different from how I have spent my time in previous years. The films always start in the early evening, and because I don’t do the red carpet or sit in the bleachers, I have no need to really be any place until the first show. Seeing the red carpet rolled out and set up in the morning and afternoon is always fun (especially if you’re eating lunch with a view), trying to cross the street or bypass the Boulevard in the afternoon is not so much, and becomes impossible the closer the clock approaches four. But I have all the detours memorized — you just need to add another five minutes to a two-minute coffee run.

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Instead of hanging around and soaking up the festival atmosphere, Kendahl and I followed up our plans from the previous night and jumped in a Lyft headed downtown for the final day of the Art of the Motion Picture Design Exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM).

 

Now in its 27th year, the exhibition brings together some of the most phenomenal movie costumes from a host of Academy Award-winning films. Amongst those on display included Ruth E. Carter’s award-winning work on Black Panther (I gasped), pieces from Avengers: Infinity War (I was hyperventilating by now — and this was in the first room), Ocean’s 8, Solo: A Star Wars Story, A Simple Favour, Crazy Rich Asians, and so many more! Here’s a snippet of what was on display.

 

With a couple of hours to spare after we finished, we nabbed another Lyft back to the station and caught a train back to Hollywood to avoid the rush hour traffic and arrived back in plenty of time for the first movie. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) at The Egyptian — what a way to kick off the festival!

The final film of the night was The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, a screwball romantic comedy (and first-time watch for me) starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple. Temple is the smart high school student who develops a crush on cad artist (Grant), the man who her Judge older sister (Loy) had met in her courtroom the previous day. Obviously, they end up attracted to one another, much to the dismay of Rudy Vallee. It’s funny, a fresh take on a reliable formula, and just delightful. A great first day of the fest.

The LA Diaries 2019 ​#3: The Night Before

 

The day before the festival is always fun; the sense of anticipation in the air palpable. Everybody is excited, happy, energized for what lies ahead. We start seeing each other on Hollywood Boulevard as we walk between The Roosevelt and bites of lunch or dinner, as we stroll between hotels or to pick up supplies that take us through four days of solid movies. Time becomes irrelevant.

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And then the day before becomes the night before, which always kicks off in style. The combination of the historic hotel, classic movies and the City is an intoxicating combination, on this night more than any other. So, I don my glitter heels, and I have a great time before it all gets crazy, before the movies start and before everybody is tired or on their way home. Because this is the night we have looked waited for since we arrived home from the previous year’s events. And when the party ends at the Roosevelt, we head to Boardners until 1am. The night becomes the early morning. TCMFF has begun.

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Bee’s Hollywood – Part 5: The Night Before

The night before the festival is always a magical experience. It’s an evening of dinner with friends, gatherings, and general low key revelry. You can feel something wonderful accumulating in the air, and indeed it is: the festival we have been waiting for all year long has finally arrived. Friends are together, familiar faces on the screen, and balmy spring evenings at The Hollywood Roosevelt. We take time out from our regular lives and fully immerse ourselves in the world — the location — of classic Hollywood stars and their movies for a few days. I put on my glitter heels, click three times, and know it’s real…it doesn’t get much better than this.

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Bee’s Hollywood – Part 4: An Afternoon in Burbank

My early arrival in Hollywood really allowed me to savour the pre-festival excitement that hits at the beginning of festival week. It also allowed me to do something I had not done before: greet my out-of-town friends. As they started to trickle into town on Monday and Tuesday, plans started taking shape over texts, tweets, DMs and PMs for pre-festival adventures, dinners, and get-togethers.

Arriving into town the weekend before the festival also allowed me to attend Kimberly Truhler‘s marvellous fashion and film lecture (an event I would usually miss due to travel!) and a spend a sunny Burbank afternoon vintage clothes shopping with the lovely Danny and Aubrey. (We also met some sweet cats).

 

In a serendipitous occurrence, we ran into Beth and Karie. Following a quick drink and bite to eat, we popped into the fantastic Besame store to peruse and purchase a few items from their wonderful Agent Carter Collection, making our way to the Women’s Club of Hollywood en masse in time for Kim’s lecture.

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Then it was onto The Women’s Club of Hollywood for a fabulous evening of fashion and film. It’s an incredible historical venue around the corner from The Roosevelt, and so under-represented that long-term L.A. natives — even those on historical committees —were not even aware of it’s existence. We all gasped after being told it was once The Hollywood School For Girls attended by Ginger Rogers! Now, it’s a lovely hall space and fantastic venue that needs to be seen to be believed.  Check out it’s history and more details via the link above.

When the night was over it was over to The Roosevelt for the first time this trip and to meet up with my bestie Ms Marya Gates and the TCM/Filmstruck gang. It may not have officially started, but TCMFF was well and truly underway.

 

 

 

Bee’s Hollywood – Part 3: What on earth…?

For the price of thirty dollars you can gain entry to three of the most touristy places on Hollywood Boulevard: The Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe Ir Or Not, and The Guinness Book of World Records. I used to live a stone’s throw from the Ripley’s in London, and for three years never set foot inside. But when in Hollywood…

This may seem like an exaggeration, but the Wax Museum was once of the creepiest places I have ever visited. It started well—a pretty good section of horror figures (see above photos) greeted me—and went a little askew from there. I turned the corner and found myself staring at figures I recognised but only in an extremely vague sense—it was like they had travelled to a parallel universe and had melted a little from the planetary change in temperature. “That’s supposed to be…..???” was a sentence I kept exclaiming, and not always under my breath. I did that a lot during my visit, which was brief as the place is pretty small. Regardless, it is a truly bizarre, fun experience, and I recommend a visit just to prove I am not exaggerating.

The Guinness Book of records was fun but a quick buffer before the more vibrant Ripley’s. My pick of the three, you will find yourself navigating a series of rooms alternating in themes that take you on a journey from old Hollywood via occult trinkets and back again. The first space homes slabs from the original Chinese Theatre, Hitchcock’s Director’s Guild Medal (and a bronze death mask), samples of Mary Astor’s hair (hair or wig?), and framed newspaper cuttings, one being news of Mae West’s death.

I enjoyed the transition into the next room downstairs, which is a treat of magick and the occult. The items on display include Gerarld Gardner’s magician’s club, an ‘authentic’ vampire killing kit, an alter, and a porcelain phrenology head (exactly like the one residing on my desk).

The museum gains a bittersweet note as you weave your way through, culminating in the Marilyn Monroe Room. Her clothing, strewn make-up case and bikini do little to downplay her sex symbol status. “Marilyn’s Sexy Sleepwear” is not the ideal display card and does little to push past the glossy veneer of a person constantly striving to be seen for herself rather than the dizzy blonde characters she often portrayed on screen.

However, I was entranced by one particular item: the belted cardigan she wore in George Barris’ famous 1962 Santa Monica beach shoot. It captivates in a room of frippery and glamour where the visitor is still encouraged to view Monroe as a commodity.

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This is emphasised when you glance the Monroe dresser that was owned by Anna Nicole Smith, the attached note emphasising the younger, but no less tragic, woman’s money value rather than her career.

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I made my way out via a tribal themed room of ritualistic items, it stuck me how Ripley’s is the perfect metaphor for Hollywood: glamorous yet seedy, beautiful but tragic, dark and dangerous, yet captivating and magical. Some people will say both are crazy and bizarre. I left hypnotised.

(ps. I measured myself going in. Yes, I’m still short).

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Bee’s Hollywood – Part 2: Batman ’66

If a museum was built to house the contents of my working my mind, it would be not unlike the Hollywood Museum. Situated at North Highland Avenue in the old Max Factor building, the three level treasure trove is vast, winding, and appeals to all of my sensibilities. Mae West’s shoes, Hedda Hopper’s notebook, and Maila Nurmi’s gloves appear alongside costumes from Mad Men and sci-fi regalia, while four thematically lighted dressing rooms on the ground floor reveal whether you are best suited as a ‘blonde’, ‘brown’, ‘brunette’ or ‘red’. It’s a feast of a venue and essential to visit, as you will always find something new to discover. However this visit was all about the Bat.

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I first heard about the Batman ’66 retrospective a few months ago, but assumed the exhibition would end a few weeks prior to my visit. Image my surprise as I walked into the lobby to be met with a poster announcing it was still on—I  literally punched the air with glee. Based on the TV series which ran from 1966-1968 and starring Adam West as Bruce Wayne/Batman, the show spawned a wonderful, often quoted film (and countless accompanying memes). Joyous, camp, and innuendo laden, it’s a far cry from the moody, troubled, tortured Batman of recent years and I defy anyone not to be delighted by the feature length film and it’s memorable moments of West battling a (very fake looking) rubber shark or rope ‘climbing’ up a building with Burt Ward’s Dick Grayson/Robin in tow. West’s death in 2017 was a huge loss, but the popularity of the exhibition—which had been extended by two months due to overwhelming demand—is credit to legacy.

While gadgets, gismos, photographs, scripts, props and additional paraphernalia filled cabinets and display cases, I couldn’t get enough of the costume cabinet. As a Catwoman obsessive, seeing all the various iterations of Lee Meriweather, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Julie Newmar was an purr-fest (sorry!) treat.

And, of course, a certain car…

If you follow me on social media, you will surely know how much I am obsessed with all of the Batmobiles, with the ’66 version being a personal favourite, I couldn’t resist having a sly flirt with the car as I consumed her with my eyes until other attendees wandered in with similar intentions. (Although I strongly maintain she loved me the most).

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I must have spent at least an hour in that room, wandering in concentric circles and ensuring that I had taken in each and every word of descriptions. Fandom has changed a lot in recent years, and can be a toxic place—especially for women—but there was none of that here amongst the vibrant colours and the “POW” and “WHAM” captions littered about the place. I soaked in as much as I could before moving on to explore the rest of the museum, a sly glance back across my shoulder, and taking one final lingering look as I waved goodbye to the gang on my way out.

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Bee’s Hollywood – Part 1

In April I grabbed my copy of Eve Babitz’s Eve’s Hollywood and made my annual visit (my third in as many years) to Hollywood for TCMFF for my favourite time of year. I live for this trip: so many of my favourite people in one place, fantastic movies, a great city… I always have fun but the good times were exceptional this year — a combination of staying in Los Angeles for almost three weeks, hanging out with friends, visiting exhibitions, and having more adventures. I may have seen fewer movies this year (including none on the festival’s last day, more of that to follow ) but I had a damn good time. I also caught the closing of Noir Fest (a dream!) and was witness to the Avengers: Infinity War premiere in all its exciting madness. Closed roads, the Boulevard shut down to traffic, chaos and crowds. So grand was the scale it only slightly trailed the was equivalent of the Academy Awards…and no, I was too short to see a thing. But what a joy to witness. And, in many ways, it set the tone of things to come…(Alas, I did not have the opportunity to find James Dean at the Griffin Observatory…maybe next year…)

Book Review – Picasso: The Artist and His Muses (Editor: Katharina Beisiegel)

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According to Naomi Segal, ‘muses stand for the eyes downcast, the body proffered somewhere around the navel, mindless, organless, giving, an inspiration at the price of being fast-frozen. No, if she darts, glances or wiggles violently, she is no muse’. [1] In my 2012 thesis, “Women Surrealists: Sexuality, Fetish, Femininity and Female Surrealism”, I argued for the women of the movement; how the art they created was more powerful and far greater than that of their mates. These women, through their presence and formidable talent, confronted preconceptions and traditional muse stereotypes, challenged masculine imposed labels and asserted their independent artistic authority:

In retrospect, however, what appears just as relevant is that this creature, as the male artist’s muse, was relied on as much by her mate as she relied on him; the male Surrealist was dependent on her presence to fuel his creativity and he would have been unable to fulfil the creative potential of the great Surrealist mission without her company. [2]

Far from being a role of condescension, muses hold great artistic power. As Patricia Allmer, in reference to Lee Miller, has stated: ‘the muses do return as outstanding artists’. [3] These women – these muses – are catalysts: they have initiated and inspired some of the greatest works of art, determined career trajectories and provided spouses with creative motivation. The career trajectory of Pablo Ruiz y Picasso would have been very different without the influence of six particular women in his life: Fernande Olivier, Olga Khokhlova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot and Jacqueline Roque.

The Vancouver Art Gallery’s current exhibition,‘Picasso: The Artist and His Muses’ (11 June 2016 – 2 October 2016, created by Art Centre Basel, curated by Katharina Beisiegel and produced in collaboration with the Vancouver Art Gallery) puts these women at centre stage. Together with the accompanying book from Black Dog Publishing, essays by scholars, curators and art historians provide a chronology of Picasso’s life and art detailed through rich, densely informative academic papers in a combination of biography, art history and critical theory. The book included two forewords, an introduction and six chapters.

Picasso’s narrative begins with Fernando Olivier – ‘his first great love’ – who escaped a violent marriage and found success in Paris as an artists model. They became a couple in 1904, and her only duty was to be Picasso’s muse: no domestic chores or sitting for other artists. Together until 1912, their artist/model union kickstarted Picasso’s creativity, lifting him out of his Blue period and into his Rose period. She was the catalyst for the Cubist movement, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and inspired Head of a Woman (Fernande) (1909).

In 1917 Picasso met ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. Part of the Bellet Russe, Olga had scandalised audiences when cast as an adolescent in The Rite of Spring: Pictures from Pagan Russia in 1913. They married and had a son, Paul, and he would paint her seated, in ballet pose or with their child: mother, muse and dancer, a vision of maternal femininity. Olga was a keen photographer and her thousands of images – documenting the artist at work, their family on holiday or at play – continue to provide a unique, priceless record of the artist’s private life. Dora Maar was to continue this tradition.

Picasso began his affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, the 17 year old who he first saw standing outside a Paris department store, in 1927. Their liaison, conducted in secret at first, saw the frustrated artist lovingly include her initials in his paintings, lovingly entwined for all to see. Their late 1920/early 1930s union saw Picasso experiment with depictions of the female body while Marie-Thérèse’s youth and vigour, evident through the bright colours and rounded curves, inspired some of Picasso’s most sexual and erotic imagery, including his Bathers series and Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust (1932). Their daughter, Maya, was born in 1935.

This same year Picasso’s walked into Paris’ Les Deux Magots and set eyes on the Surrealist photographer Dora Maar. Their well-documented introduction, initiated by Paul Eluard, was the start of a passionate, volatile relationship between two brilliant artists who collaborated and influenced each others work: she dabbled in painting while he experimented with photography. Dora’s unusual beauty and temperamental personality (she suffered from depression) challenged Picasso as a portrait artist, leading him into more Surrealistic styles of painting. Picasso called her a genius yet she is often reduced to The Weeping Woman after the infamous 1936 portrait that captured her in complete mental anguish. This relationship was rooted in war – both internal and on the streets – and Picasso’s work takes on an element of violence during this time. Dora assisted with his seminal work Guernica, and she can be seen in the painting, her distorted face and tears representing both the agony of political suffering and her pain of loving a man sharing himself between lovers (Picasso continued see his ex-partners and their children). Their relationship was to end alongside the war.

The calm era signalled the arrival of Françoise Gilot. The young art student, who became the mother of his two youngest children, would latet pen the book, “Life with Picasso”, detailing her time with the artist. During this time Picasso’s art took on a peaceful, almost serene, nature and he rediscovered his love for the lithograph technique. A family visit to Vallauris in the South of France ignited an interest in ceramics – he thought nothing of using his son, Paulo’s, toys for his assemblages – and two years later, 1948, his first ceramics exhibition was held. As a subject, Françoise is slightly cut-off and more unreadable than Picasso’s previous lovers, with an independence and steeliness separating her from the outside work (and her family). Less submissive and more determined than his previous partners, she kept something of herself hidden throughout their relationship, and never entirely relinquished herself to him. She stated: “I had known from the start that what principally appealed to him in me was the intellectuals side and my forthright, almost tomboy was of acting, my lack, in a sense, of what is called ‘femininity’”

Picasso’s final years were spent with Jacqueline Roque as the chapter examines how Picasso’s inspiration was as much from the history of art as it was from wives, mistresses and models.  Tribal masks and African art greatly influenced Picasso during this time, and the book’s concluding chapter, rooted in the theories of French ethnographer Michael Leiris, examines his various muses and inspirations during the final years of his life. Picasso’s art became transformative as he reimagined and reinterpreted of the work of old masters through contemporary art. The muse’s portrayal was also effected. Jacqueline’s identity, which would have previously been so individual and realistic, dominating the image with personality and vitality, fades into the image as she loses her individuality. It is not her story, her face on canvas; she has become absorbed into Picasso’s narrative.

Without having attended the exhibition, it is difficult for me to say how it compares to the book and vice-versa. However, this is a superb piece of work – either to be read as a companion to the exhibition or independently – demonstrating the complexity of the muse and the fluid, constant reinvention of Picasso’s work. Each of these women were responsible for unleashing a fresh creative talent within the artist. These six women, this diverse group with their own unique temperaments and personalities, inspired Picasso and kept his art relevant.

Artists and their muses is a subject that will continue to fascinate because, deep down, the muse is never who she seems. There is always more to her than her appearance. She is inspiration, yes, but her own unique person – whether artist, dancer, mother or nurturer – with a powerful artistic presence. When you look at these women, whether on gallery walls, in books or on art documentaries, when you consider them and ponder their influence, they become elevated. These are the faces and the personalities who inspired masters and created their own art. Listen and look to these muses. They are the ones with stories to tell.

 

Picasso: The Artist and His Muses is on show at Vancouver Art Gallery until October 2, 2016. The accompanying book is out now, published by Black Dog Publishing

 

[1] Naomi Segal, ‘Who Whom? Violence, Politics and the aesthetic’ in Jana Howlett and Rod Mengham (eds), The Violent Muse: Violence and the Artistic Imagination in Europe, 1910-1939 (Manchester University Press: Manchester and New York, 1994), pp. 141-149, (p. 141).

[2] Sabina Stent, Women Surrealists: Sexuality, Fetish, Femininity and Female Surrealism, Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, (2012), p. 7.

[3] Patricia Allmer (ed.), Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism (Manchester: Prestel, 2009), p. 16.