Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Roselyne et les lions (1989) + Mabel Stark (1920's)

I! Loved! This! Movie! French 80's teenage lion tamers in love? Sign a girl UP.


I caught a screening of Diva at the Belcourt a few years ago, enjoyed it, and didn't give a second thought at the time to catching up with the director's other movies (shame on me). Sick in bed over the Christmas holiday, I came across Betty Blue and thought, "Hey! That's the director who did Diva! How are ALL his films on Netflix?" In spite of the scandalous amount of raw sexuality, the movie was a big hit with me. The poignancy of BĂ©atrice Dalle's wild child titular character combined with the soundtrack by Gabriel Yared... sigh. Real emotional attachment.

Realizing the great coup this was for an armchair auteur aficionado such as myself, I set to work on the next installment in Jean-Jacques Beineix's film catalog, skipping The Moon in the Gutter (rough, very boring start, will try again another time). At TWO HOUR AND FIFTY MINUTES, I started Roselyne et les lions earlier this week, and finished it last night. While it wasn't as thrilling as Diva (opera meets dirtbike-racing scene through subway?) or as endearing as Betty Blue (sexy but bipolar girl captures your heart and then stomps all over it; repeat, rinse), I couldn't get over the idea of two good looking Francophones falling in love in the middle of a LION'S CAGE. And even at the almost three hour run time, breaking it up into segments still worked for me.


While the question"Will Roselyne's success and Thierry's jealousy destroy the relationship?" does come into play as the key plot point, it's not necessarily as important as it would be in a more structured movie. Mostly, the kind of questions I asked myself during this movie included "How can I get my hair to look like that? I wonder what color lipstick that is. This song IS GREAT! How are in they in there with those freaking lions and not getting eaten? Was that girl in that other movie...the one with the... ah, I'll look it up on imdb later."

And this is not to say I'm superficial!

(....I'm a little superficial). However!

The films of the "cinema du look", a term coined to refer to a series of successful, early 1980's movies made by Jean-Jacques Beineix, Leos Carax, and Luc Besson, have an almost Hitchcock, MacGuffin like ranking of style and emotion before plot. The feel and look of the movie are placed heads and shoulders above the development of the story, and I say, why the heck not. When you get scenes like THIS:


Like I said, they are falling in love in a lion's cage. Pinch me. Watch the movie! And keep an eye out in the first hour for a zaftig, gorgeous voiced torch singer who sings "Les lionnes d'Afrique" as Thierry and Roselyne's taming instructor performs a show. I need her and those considerable pipes to accompany all my public appearances in song.

Thinking about the lion taming culture started these old cognitive wheels spinning about the historical background of , specifically, women lion tamers. Who were they? How far back are we talking about here? While several came up, the best story I stumbled across was that of Mabel Stark (1889-1968). Technically, she worked more with tigers, but we'll let that one slide on the basis of her great, 1920's/30's look. Are you seeing the spangles on the costume to the left? Are you?


Born to large family in Kentucky, Mabel Stark (real name Mary Haynie) ran away to join the circus and learned big cat taming from Louis Roth, a known performer as well as the second of her five husbands. With an adopted tiger cub named Rajah, she rose to prominence in that show and eventually was part of the Ringling Brothers circus in the early 20's. Stark also worked with Mae West (below, in the white cloche hat and suit) as her double for a lion taming scene in I'm No Angel (1933). Mabel Stark was mauled NINETEEN TIMES during her career, and even had occasion to enter the ring after a mauling swathed in bandages and supported by a crutch, to continue with the show! HOW DO YOU EVEN DO THAT? In the fifties' and sixties', she worked for "Jungleland", a theme attratction and the California supplier of trained movie animals to Hollywood. With her marcelled hair and parade marshall's outfits, I can't say I'm not a little crazy about the whole idea of the lady lion tamer. Don't think I'm made of the stuff to do it, but wow, still; wow! I'm going to see if I can't get my hands on her autobiography (cleverly enough titles Hold That Tiger) through interlibrary loan.


Don't you just love it when you discover something you like that you hadn't even thought of?


Irina Bugrimova, a famous Soviet female lion tamer
Yahoo Female Circus Tamers Group (I can't make this stuff up)
Interesting article on reading Mabel Stark's autobiography from the LA Times

If you can't make it through the whole three hours, at least treat yourself to this TOTALLY METAL final act, in which I am CERTAIN Isabelle Pasco is going to be eaten, scant burlesque bra-and-pants set and all, and the character of Thierry is dressed in a full death's head skeleton costume:

Til next time!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hair Rats And You

I have achieved real, ultimate, hair height! Here's a picture of me, channeling my beloved Priscilla Presley, before having some people over to watch Bringing Up Baby on the screen in front of which I'm standing. The sanguine, satisfied look on my face in the picture to the right, as well as the "Oh, yes! Who me?" look on the left, comes from the knowledge that after twenty six years on this planet, my hairdo is actually nearing the height to which it aspires! A couple more test runs, and I am joining a B-52s cover band.

Do you know the power of the hair rat? Both of these hairstyles! Attainable!

(Source, source)
Now, it initially sounded weird to me in a Victorian-short-story-sign-of-madness (along with keeping dead flies in a jar or scraping wallpaper off with your bare hands) to harness the power of the hair that collects in the back of your brush towards a higher use. Some people in the comments on this tutorial (one of the better explanations of WHY someone would use real hair to prop up real hair) straight disavowed the practice altogether. "Interesting article on how things used to be done, but I am one of those people who find using my old shedded hair for a rat simply disgusting. Ew." I'm telling you, from someone who has tried bump-it's, foam pieces, and everything else under the sun, using your own hair is the way to go. The color's perfectly matched, so if it shows through a little from under the section you've used to camouflage it, so what?

Materials needed: Lots of bobby pins, a good brush, lots of hair, and patience.

  1. Collect hair from hair brushes over a period of several weeks. Try not to look and or feel like a complete lunatic while amassing balls of hair in a plastic sandwich bag in your bathroom closet. Explain to significant other or housemates in simplest terms possible so they're not in for a shock while looking for towels.
  2. Once you have a good sized supply, take a comb and roll/comb pieces into a round, sausage sized pieces. Yes, this will also look weird. At this point, you can either wrap the rat in a small, same color as your hair hairnet, or leave it as is. You have to take it out more delicately sans net.
  3. Pin rat to head. [best sentence in the history of the world]
  4. Pin hair around rat, using hairspray to create a helmet-like beehive covering. You want this to look as smooth as possible, and to be relatively secure so that you don't bend over to pick something up and the whole thing falls to the wayside.
  5. At this point, you can either add a scarf tied around a few times for the straight up beehive, or leave a section down in a ponytail for the Priscilla look like I went for above.

I've got a lot of hair teasing and trial and error-ing to go, but I'm pretty pleased with the initial results!

What about you? Do you have any beehive or hair styling secrets? Would you make your own rat like I did, or does the idea of having old hair pinned to your head, even in the service of historically accurate hair, just gross you out too bad? Do tell!

Til next time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Shanghai Gesture (1941) Dresspiration

Josef von Sternberg... man, alive. One of the MOST talented directors of the silent era had plenty of stops and starts in his sound-era career... collaborating with Marlene Dietrich on six films, including The Blue Angel and Morocco, the man was a master of using lighting to create shadows that took a beautiful face like Dietrich's and turned into something ethereal. I was familiar with his work from the silent movies Docks of New York and Underworld, as well as the Dietrich pictures, but I hadn't heard of The Shanghai Gesture (1941) until it popped up on a black and white film channel on Youtube.

Cast? STELLAR. Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, and Ona Munson (GWTW's Belle Watling). While the plot's credibility was badly maimed by the limitations of the Hays' Code, the atmosphere of film-noir, underworld China and the truly top notch visuals made it worth the time it took to watch, for sure. I took some screenshots to show you some of wilder aspects of costume, and tried to think of ways you could recreate the looks at home with the help of even more Etsy window-shopping. Take a look!

Here, "Mother Gin Sling" (originally "Mother Goddamn", the character Bette Davis said she'd most liked to have played and from which she took her autobiography's title) makes a typically arresting entrance. DO. YOU. SEE. THAT. HAIRPIECE. The Medusa coils continue throughout. I particularly like the ones at bottom right which look like typewriter ribbons come un-spooled. Also note at left how she creates the look of a plunging neckline without showing an ounce of flesh by the creatively draped, large stone necklace.

Forties' noir Chinese madam? Coming right up, thanks to Etsy:

(fascinator and dress and haircomb) The peacock. That's all I have to say about that.

Phyllis Brooks plays "Dixie Pomeroy, the Chorus Girl", who, you could imagine by her name, is a little American forties' spitfire if ever one graced the screen. Now it LOOKS like the woman is revealing her modesty in the shot above left, but actually, the dress has a nude colored illusion panel that goes all the way up to her collarbone. I, for one, am still slightly scandalized. Dixies does the dip into decolletage again here:

Are you not impressed by how cheekily these costumes skirt the production code by dressing the girl all the way to the neck, but forcing the eyeline somewhat lower?

To recreate her more "demure" look, you'd mostly need a cute little beret and a little livening up in the lapel area with a fur collar:

(hat and suit and collar)

You might have noticed the be-fezzed man in the pictures with Phyllis Brooks. In another spiritedly strange example of miscasting, Victor Mature plays the role of Doctor Omar, an Arabian playboy and sawbones. Now, seeing as the man's career was largely comprised of Bible/sword and sand epics, I've seen Victor Mature in a lot of far-out costumes-- usually shirtless, sometimes in what is essentially a biblical mini-dress. This, however, does take the cake, for the fez. Not that I have anything against fezzes! But its appearance is a little odd in this movie. I suggest you do some self-evaluation before attempting this costume, then, if you are first as handsome as VM, you can secondly try and rock a fez AND a full length cape over a man's suit. Did I mention he snares both ladies in this movie? Look at him. IN A CAPE AND FEZ, he manages these seductions. That's star power.

(fez and cloak annnnd... you're on your own after that. A good eyebrow pencil might help! But it might not.)

Last, but not least, the impossibly lovely Gene Tierney:

Tierney's character, Poppy, starts out the film as a kind of Gilda like character, cool, mysterious, soigné, but soon falls into a gambling addiction and a weirdly possessive situation with the eel-ish Omar that transforms her into a harridan-woman. I still love her elegant, all curls updo and the way clothes sit on her slim shoulders. Such a girl! And some of those closeups, especially when she's angry, are just framable. The necklace becomes a plot point in the last act, and how do you like HER take on the illusion dress...still all the way up to the collarbone, but so smoky and noir-ish!

(dress and curls and necklace and earrings and shoes)

You can check the movie out on Youtube, I'm sure, if you search the title. Not a perfect gem, but very watchable and not a bad performance amongst the cast.

Do you have any movies on your "dresspiration" radar? Do dish!

Til next time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Etsy Shoppin' (with a Lotto budget)

Happy Valentine's Day, kiddos!

I've been spending waaaay too much time at work clicking through unattainable Etsy items. Why does it have the option to sort from "most expensive to least expensive"?! It just tempts we collectors to seek out the very finest (or the most overpriced) items in the land. And how they seem to find ME!

Wanna take a look at some of "the ones that got away"? Caveat for you fellow e-rummagers... I don't think any of these items are under a hundred smackers. But still! When our ship comes in, we can stow these in the hold.

1950's skirt and top hand painted velvet : I want to get married in this! Are you kidding me?! If I feel obliged to spend an outrageous amount of money on a special occasion dress, how about one that looks like I'm going to ascend into the heavens following the ceremony? This dress looks like I dream: in sequins, black velvet, and Technicolor.

Rare 1940's monkey fur coat: SO. MARLENE. DIETRICH. After seeing Shanghai Express, I fell for the vamp look hard, and now I keep thinking about a monkey fur coat to complete my look, though they're riDICulously expensive. Look. How. DRAMATIC. though!

1850's tintype of man with guitar: Doesn't this look like the cutest guy in a bar in Knoxville? Except in the year of our Lord 1858? Reminds me of the My Daguerrotype Boyfriend tumblr (though tin types and daguerrotypes are different, #vintagephotographynerd). The case is beautiful and I just love the picture. Unfortunately, it's both on reserve and $285. GOOD. LORD. I'm glad I got to see this picture, though, if not kiss its glass goodnight every night.

AM Clock Radio and MP3 Player: MADE. FROM. AN OLD. GENERAL ELECTRIC. TUBE RADIO. I don't need to tell you how cool this is. Function and style do not have to mututally exclusive for once! Last week, I went through the heartbreak of trying to replace my Zenith 60's console tv with a newer tv someone had given us, to increase the "usability" of the living room space for tv viewing. Granted, anything seen on the Zenith looks like it was shot underwater and transmitted from the moon. Granted, the new tv had more hookups and a clear picture and would make watching movies en masse a much simpler task than borrowing projector and screen from my dad. The hulking look of the newer model, however nice it was, in place of my neatly made little Zenith, however, was more than my little vintage heart could bear. Plus, I am as resistant to change as the Rock of Gilbraltar. Moral: I wish I could do this with a non-functioning vintage tv, and save all the parts to send off to underpriviledged vintage tv repair enthusiasts.

Clara Bow lobby card from Red Hair: 1928 lobby poster for a Clara Bow movie! Wow! Also, don't you love the Ziggy Stardust color of red hair she's going for in the illustration?

Vintage big-eyed girl print by JANE: I don't know who Jane is, but I was really struck by this vintage painting and its colors. How do you like her antler-like profusion of flowers? The pale eye mask? Totally winning, the whole shebang.

Vintage 1910's Edwardian Dress: Sometimes it amazes me that anything textile from a hundred years ago can even still exist, much less look so vibrant.

Large industrial lighting sign: Not sure what this sign is advertising, but the penguin is a charmer. I also wish, vainly, for a big enough home to HOUSE such a large sign.

Growing Hair Cher : For what reason would I NOT need a Growing Hair Cher doll?

Celestial Globe : For planning your star chart; would obviously save me hundreds of dollars a month in psychic prediction hotline charges (do they still have those? Psychic hotlines, I mean. Seems like a dream job of telemarketing!).

Gorgeous original French Phone of the 50 s in black bakelite: I am always buying vintage phones, I am never stopping. This one looks particularly elegant.

Collection of beaded purses : I don't even know what I would do upon the transfering of ownership unto me. My head would probably explode for pure please'd-ness. I might need to learn slash take up beading in order to make this dream a reality. Imagine the dresses these went with at one time!!

vintage Bakelite miniature ladies purse clock : So it wouldn't look like I was checking my phone every five minutes for text messages, when in fact I just don't have a watch. This compact-sized time piece still works, too! I saw a much less expensive one in black on Etsy, but it was cracked and didn't keep time. Figures.

1920s Art Deco Flapper headband : Again, I'm on a silent movie sort of kick for clothes. This headband is part of set of embellished headpieces bought at an estate by the Etsy seller. IMAGINE. THAT. ESTATE. Great items in her store, too.

vtg 70s Fleetwood Mac Tusk record promo t shirt : Because it's the best album, period.

Vintage 1920's era Egyptian Revival Bracelet : I like looking like I just inadvertantly stole some ancient, museum quality jewlery, a la Madonna's earrings in Desperately Seeking Susan.

Russian Prison Tattoo Encyclopedia : Didn't know there was such a thing, am not particularly into tattoos, and yet this title! This cover! How could you not want to take a peek?

Any items your little Valentine's heart has been particularly lusting after lately? You've seen my inattainables; now share yours!

Til next time.


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