Archive for Adrian

Strabismus of Passion

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2017 by dcairns

THE DIVORCÉE (1930), an early talkie from MGM, is one those films that’s only really enjoyable when you watch it with my wife.

It’s so early, the MGM lion doesn’t actually produce any sound when he roars, he just sort of moves his lips like Jean Hagen.

This is the first image. So we know it’s going to be cutting edge entertainment. This cheeky fellow’s actually performing Singin’ in the Rain, because this is MGM — it segues into You Were Meant For Me a little later.

The film is stodgy and stagey, and what narrative drive it has is seriously hampered by awkward framing, acting and general pacing. Star Norma Shearer makes the mistake of marrying Chester Morris, overlooking in her ardor the fact that his nose is an extension of his sloping forehead, as if he were wearing a medieval helmet made of skin. When she finds out he’s cheated on her, she cheats on him with Robert Montgomery (only unclenched performance in the film) and then she actually clutches the drapes, so hard she leaves a permanent kink.

Fiona: “My God she’s terrible. And they must have used a lot of starch on those drapes.”

Me: “All that was left over from the cast.”

But the costume changes by Adrian kept us watching. “She’s a great clothes-horse.” Not just gowns but sportswear. Anything, really.

“She’s OK in THE WOMEN,” Fiona admits. Of which this is a clear precursor, having almost the same story but none of the funny, interesting or special qualities.

And Cedric Gibbons dresses the sets just as beautifully. The slow pace, and the desire to exploit the possibilities of offscreen sound, result in some nice empty frames of the kind you know I like.

“Look at that coffee set! My God, look at the creamer! I can’t remember ever being so excited by the china in a film. Look at that vase!”

Director Robert Z. Leonard manages to rustle up a montage of hands, the dialogue playing outside the frame, a sophisticated touch slightly deflated by the linking of shots by fades to black, in case things got too lively. There’s also a crazy drunken rear-projected car ride followed by screaming hysteria, smashed metal, bloody faces and stark lighting, an unexpected break from the drawing-room theatrics. And the turgid pace allows us to appreciate the invention applied to solving the problems of the immobile mic, location filming, unusual wide shots, etc.

“We need to watch another film as an antidote.”

The Secret of Kim

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2013 by dcairns


An arresting and unusual credit from THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY.

The first thing one asks, I imagine, is how much is concealed within that simple phrase “executed by.” And of course we can’t know without seeing the drawings.

Let it be admitted, however, that many professional costume designers really ought to have similar sub-credits. Some famous names will scribble a few indecipherable lines on a bit of card, skim it at an underling, and say words to the effect of “Execute that.” The assistant must interpret, design and realize the squiggly  “concept” with no real credit at all. At least la Novak admits she had help.

(And in those days of costume department heads, somebody like Edith Head [the Head of heads] could get a credit and pick up an Oscar for something she might not have worked on at all, except possibly in some kind of abstract supervisory role. We’re also told that Head got her first movie job by walking into the studio with a portfolio full of her students’ drawings. Such versatility!)

The next question is, are the costumes designed for Kim Novak by Kim Novak as good as the ones designed for Kim Novak by, say, Adrian? The answer would have to be NO, they are not. But some of them are very good. They lack consistency, and that may be because the job was split between Novak and Courtney or because some are mainly KN and some are mainly EC, or because Novak lacks consistency.

So if they’re not as good as what you can get by employing Columbia’s regular man, what is the point, beyond a little ego-boost for a top box office star who ought to be getting all the flattery she needs?


I note with amusement that Courtney’s only non-Novak credit is for LADY SINGS THE BLUES, again with a star (Diana Ross this time) who liked knocking together her own frocks. Fiona actually remarked that the strange triangular sleeves sported by Novak reminded her of those disfiguring Diana Ross’s arms in MAHOGANY. My theory on this preference for isosceles sleeves: a triangle has one line less than a rectangle, and so is easier and quicker to draw. A valuable labour-saver if you also have a movie to act in.

On the other hand, it must be said — this is nice —


Am anxious to hear of any other cases of movie stars designing their own gowns.