Archive for Diana Ross

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.


Frock Opera

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2012 by dcairns

It’s a really nice effect (I wonder where they stole it from?) — a dark stage, with figures wearing illuminated stripes, forming antic human hieroglyphs, striking poses — then the lights come up — and the clothes are horrible.*

The next stage beyond the “vanity project” is the “delusional narcissism project” — one thinks, with an inward wince, of Guy Ritchie and Madonna’s SWEPT AWAY, the subject of a hilarious Bad Film Night involving Fiona and regular Shadowplayer David Wingrove some time back. I should write about those evenings — in fact, I’m going to.

While Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA was SO egregiously bad it could not actually be endured (a bad movie that intends to be FUN generally isn’t, whereas a bad movie that thinks it’s deep is likely to be a riot), necessitating the watching of THE MATCH KING to restore mental hygiene and belief in a few of cinema’s possibilities, MAHOGANY proved the Perfect Bad Film — maybe even better than THE OSCAR.


This Thing is Diana Ross and partner/Svengali Berry Gordy’s folie a deux Delusional Narcissism Project, following one woman’s dream of being a fashion designer and how she eventually found herself as appendage to a male politician. It’s empowering! And anyway, the fashion industry is full of untrustworthy homosexuals, as the movie is shocked — SHOCKED! — to uncover.

It’s helpful for a truly bad film to have touches of quality, to illuminate its dankest depths more clearly — this one has David Watkin on photography, so it looks handsome. Watkin no doubt came along with regular collaborator Tony Richardson, who departed the film at some point in the process, at which point Berry Gordy suddenly discovered a fabulous talent for cinematic image-making, rather like how Diana Ross had already discovered a fabulous talent for designing clothes that stink.

Other good things — the song, which tormented the airwaves of my childhood for what seemed like several years, but which is actually quite nice — and this musical montage, apparently directed by the great Jack Cole (who did the musical numbers in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES), is quite something. This would seem to be Cole’s last gift to the world. And it features some proper clothes by actual designers (uncredited — but Issey Miyake seems like a possibility).

Diana herself is moderately effective in places, in an untutored kind of way… then she has some bizarre, horrible moments of would-be high drama, as when compelled to pose for snaps by psycho gay boyfriend Anthony Perkins while driving at 90mph along a deserted Italian overpass —

Yes, Perkins. In unwise tight jeans, he plays a former combat photographer who launches Diana upon the unsuspecting fashion world and gives her her trademark name: “What else is dark and shiny?” I’m naive enough to have thought his character’s impotence might be some combat-shock residue, but no mere post-traumatic stress could cause any red-blooded male to fail to get it up with Diana in the sack, not in her movie, so a more sinisterly aberrant explanation prevails. It’s all horribly homophobic… yet hysterical. If it were at all effective, it might have offended, but we were too busy crying with laughter. One wonders what Richardson and Watkin made of this side of the film, given their own natural proclivities. One could also wonder what Perkins was thinking, but some things are literally imponderable.

The real climax of the film is this fight, which David Wingrove called “the closetiest thing I’ve ever seen” — peculiar not so much for what it says about Perkins’ character, but what it seems to suggest about the all-man Billy Dee Williams…

Crumbs. Mind you, this is followed by Diana stripping at a crowded party and dripping candle wax over herself — very coyly filmed, but still an eye-opener conceptually. Just what was going on in the Ross-Berry relationship? I don’t want to wonder about that, but the film seems to require it of me.

*And it’s a given that all Hollywood films about fashion will have terrible clothes, even those made in periods when movie clothes were routinely chic and smashing — perhaps, as Hollywood versions of modern art are always faux Dali, and modern music is always faux Gershwin, modern fashions are always unwearable crap. An unwritten rule. So one shouldn’t blame Ross for merely following a time-honoured tradition.