The Director’s Cut: Past, Present & Future

Johnny Depp in ED WOOD (1994). “I’m Directing!”

So. Chances are you’re here, reading these words, because you have some sort of affinity for classic films. Black, white, color, VistaVision, CinemaScope, 35mm, 70mm, cinerama and even smell-o-vision. And as a fan of celluloid cinema (something facing extinction with the onslaught of the now commonplace DCP and the possibly soon-to-be commonplace 48 FPS) you are probably familiar with the work of director Chuck Workman. Even if you don’t know his name. In 1986, Workman created a short film entitled Precious Images, commissioned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Director’s Guild of America. The film won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 1987, where it was screened during the Oscar ceremony. Classic film-lovers, however, possibly know it better for its second incarnation: 100 Years at the Movies.

This re-imagining of Workman’s original film was produced by Turner Classic Movies in 1994 and has been embraced, emphatically, by movie fans worldwide. The split-second splices of cinema’s greatest moments flicker, like flickers, and burn into our consciousness, like the celluloid matter they were magicked from. 100 years of history in eight minutes… it’s a film fan’s feast.

What few people are aware of is the fact that last year, in honor of the Directors Guild of America’s 75th Anniversary, Workman was commissioned to produce another short film in the vein of Precious Images. The result is called Directors Cut, and encompasses not only film, but television as well. And while it may not be as emotional and nostalgic as the TCM production 100 Years at the Movies, I highly recommend giving it a look.

I daresay you’ll end up looking twice:

Chuck Workman’s Director’s Cut

The Director's Cut: Past, Present & Future

Johnny Depp in ED WOOD (1994). “I’m Directing!”

So. Chances are you’re here, reading these words, because you have some sort of affinity for classic films. Black, white, color, VistaVision, CinemaScope, 35mm, 70mm, cinerama and even smell-o-vision. And as a fan of celluloid cinema (something facing extinction with the onslaught of the now commonplace DCP and the possibly soon-to-be commonplace 48 FPS) you are probably familiar with the work of director Chuck Workman. Even if you don’t know his name. In 1986, Workman created a short film entitled Precious Images, commissioned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Director’s Guild of America. The film won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 1987, where it was screened during the Oscar ceremony. Classic film-lovers, however, possibly know it better for its second incarnation: 100 Years at the Movies.

This re-imagining of Workman’s original film was produced by Turner Classic Movies in 1994 and has been embraced, emphatically, by movie fans worldwide. The split-second splices of cinema’s greatest moments flicker, like flickers, and burn into our consciousness, like the celluloid matter they were magicked from. 100 years of history in eight minutes… it’s a film fan’s feast.

What few people are aware of is the fact that last year, in honor of the Directors Guild of America’s 75th Anniversary, Workman was commissioned to produce another short film in the vein of Precious Images. The result is called Directors Cut, and encompasses not only film, but television as well. And while it may not be as emotional and nostalgic as the TCM production 100 Years at the Movies, I highly recommend giving it a look.

I daresay you’ll end up looking twice:

Chuck Workman’s Director’s Cut

What Makes A Classic Film Classic…?

What makes a classic really "classic"?

That was the question once asked by writer Ted Elrick, his answer coming in the form  the essay Classic is in the Eye—and Mind—of the Beholder (as published in DGA News Magazine, Feb. 1992). Elrick gave the daunting task of defining that elusive quality which differentiates a good movie from a classic film to over 100 people working in the entertainment industry. Many of them were veterans of the classic silver screen themselves– still with us when the story went to print back in 1992.

Below are a few of the highlights from this most insightful piece, written at the height of the industry’s first major rally in Washington on the issue of film preservation, and I hope it provides much food for thought…and discussion.

Gene Kelly

A classic film must stand the test of time, have universality of appeal, and be a reflection of the society at the time it was made, but must not seem dated.

Charles Champlain

An impossible question. A  classic film is one that was not quite like those that went before and was not quite like those that followed.

Katharine Hepburn

Something that lasts. If they really last I would say they fit the description of a classic. … Universal truth and something that appeals to everyone. The reason of life.

Robert Wise

The elements that go into making a film a classic are a timeless story and a script that have a meaningful subtext, outstanding direction that enhances the script, great ensemble acting by the cast and exceptional cinematic treatment in every department.

Edward James Olmos

A classic film takes us into an experience and grounds us into something eternal.

Arthur Hiller

A classic film is one that leaves me intellectually stunned and so emotionally drained that I can’t get up from my seat. It accepts and incorporates the established conventions of art of filmmaking and takes it to the highest levels or artistic superiority that it stands the test of time.

Jack Lemmon

A classic film is not necessarily of a time. Whatever its theme was, whatever its point of view was, it was not only pertinent then, it’s pertinent now. (his example: Citizen Kane)

David Lynch

When a film creates a world and characters that you are compelled to visit again and again, it is a classic. (His examples: Sunset Blvd, Rear Window, Lolita, 8 ½)

James Stewart

That’s a very tough question when you come right down to it. More than ever, it’s survivability.

Milos Forman

Any film you can watch after 20 years without embarrassment has a chance to become a classic.

Rod Steiger

If a picture’s not credible, then it can’t be memorable. [It must] touch upon great truth.

John Levin (agent)

A classic film is one that continues to amuse, move or frighten years of moviegoers with the appreciation and passion deepening with each new generation. (His example: The Wizard of Oz)

Diane Cairns (ICM agent)

A film that captures a past generation’s heart, challenges a present generation’s mind, and nourishes a future generation’s soul.

Stanley Donen

A film is a classic because it is unique in conception and execution and it exposes human weaknesses and strengths with a cinematic eloquence and beauty which enlightens, astonishes and entertains. (His examples: Welles, Kurosawa, Chaplin)

2011 Best of the Blogathons RoundUp

There were many things about 2011 I’d rather forget, and am quite eager to sweep under the rug and write off as a (semi) total loss.

It was, however, a fantastic year for bloggers. And especially so for the classic film community– a niche that hitherto has been of a largely insular nature, existing on the fringes of filmdom, never quite enjoying a resounding presence in its own right. An eclectic makeup of film theorists, essayists, historians, fanboys and fangirls, visual artists, poets, and everything in between, classic film enthusiasts the enjoyed a real renaissance in 2011 and can confidently start the new year with a newly defined sense of community. (And if that’s overstating things, it is only because I believe we have every reason to start the new year with a newly defined sense of community!)

The exponential growth of social media has made it possible to nurture a culture of mutual respect and graciousness within the blogging community, resulting in work that is enlightening, enlivening and always entertaining.

Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in the “blogathons” that permeate the blogosphere. Sponsored by either an independent site, or a conglomerate (like CMBA), blogathons rally writers together by challenging them to dig deep into their resources and contribute a piece on a specific topic. Typically lasting anywhere from a day to a week, not only do blogathons result in a hearty cornucopia of material, they are an invaluable tool for writers to connect with fellow colleagues on an international scale.

The Pictorial signs off for 2011 with a review of some of our favorite blogathons of the year. If you missed any of these, I can’t think of a better way to spend some of the idle holiday hours than by giving them a good long read.

Grand work, everyone! Every last one of you is, without doubt, an:

Film Noir Blogathon
Hosted by Self Styled Siren

The Nicholas Ray Blogathon
Hosted by cinemaviewfinder

Margaret Lockwood Blogathon
Hosted by Shroud of Thoughts

The Dick Van Dyke Show Blogathon
Hosted by Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

The CMBA Guilty Pleasures Blogathon:
Hosted by CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association)

The Films of 1939 Blogathon
Hosted by CMBA

The Late Films Blogathon
Hosted by Shadowplay

The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon
Hosted by Park Circus Films

Carole-tennial(+3)
Hosted by Carole & Co.

For The Boys Blogathon
Hosted by The Scarlett Olive

Fashion in Film Blogathon
Hosted by The Hollywood Revue

Dueling Divas Blogathon
Hosted by Backlots

The Loving Lucy Blogathon
Hosted by True Classics

The Queer Film Blogathon
Hosted by Garbo Laughs

The Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier Appreciation Blogathon
Hosted by Viv And Larry

Blog it for Baby: The Jean Harlow Blogathon
Hosted by… Us 😉

Sound and Vision: Charlie Chaplin and the Sound of Silence

First things first: this post is in conjunction with the Park Circus Charlie Chaplin Blogathon … for which I am shamefully late. The blogathon wrapped two days ago, but I absolutely HAD to contribute. Park Circus does amazing work: a UK-based organization dedicated to bringing classic films back to their home on the big screen. Not being a part of their Chaplin blogathon would be unforgivable!

So. That being said…

I thought it would be fun to explore Chaplin’s fascinating love/hate relationship with a little thing called … sound. Chaplin may have been the one filmmaker to hold out the longest against sound, but he also happened to be one of the earliest filmmakers to embrace it. A fitting contradiction given Chaplin was a man of so many contradictions.

The truth is, Chaplin could neither read nor write music. He had no formal musical training of any sort and taught himself to play the violin and cello entirely by ear. What Chaplin did have was a childhood deeply rooted in late Victorian English music hall culture. Music, whatever its form, was therefore an integral part of Chaplin’s Dickensian childhood. So many of his boyhood memories were wrapped in the soft comfort of sheet music– melodies brainwashed into him by his mother Hannah, herself a semi-successful music hall performer before her slide into mental deterioration.

“It’s beauty was a sweet mystery I did not understand,” Chaplin said, waxing poetic about those early music hall days. “I only knew I loved it and I became reverent as the sounds carried themselves through my brain via my heart.”

This sort of reverent attachment is essential to assessing Chaplin’s musical endeavors. Music was (pardon the pun) instrumental to Chaplin’s growth as an artist.  How could it not? Charlie fell in love for the first time there in the damp, dirty, overcrowded backstage of the London music hall (Hetty, a beautiful young dancer who would become, in Chaplin’s later memoir, an almost Arthurian figure) and Chaplin’s own poetic (if not somewhat inflated) prose he would pen for journals at the height of his fame romanticized those early years:

Lambeth, the land of concertina music! As I walk along the darkened streets, I hum to myself some of the old familiar tunes again:

“Why did I leave my little back room in Bloomsbury, Where I could live on a pound a week in luxury…” 

These old songs have their associations and a flood of memories surges through my mind. The streets are deserted and there is a slight mist. The houses are just visible in outline. Here in these humble quarters I walk along as though I were visiting some fairyland…. How often I have heard this waltz, refrain on a Saturday night played on concertinas by Cockney lads as they strolled by the house, the music gradually diminishing in the distance, dying off into the night. –Excerpt from A Comedian Sees The World, The Ladies Home Companion 1933.

When Sidney Chaplin successfully recruited his young half-brother to join powerful impresario Fred Karno’s music hall troupe (“Karno’s Army”) it was the music that became integral to the famous Karno pantomime.

From a 1952 BBC Interview:

“The [Karno sketches] had splendid music. For instance, if they had squalor surroundings with a lot of comedy tramps working in it, they ou see, they would have very beautiful boudoir music, something of the eighteenth century, very lush and very grandioso, just purely as satirical and as a counterpoint; and I copied a great deal from Mr. Fred Karno in that direction.”

Chaplin in THE VAGABOND

His nearly intoxicating love of music led him to, at age 16 while still under Karno’s contract, learn the cello and violin. A defiant perfectionist, Chaplin would will himself to possess an adroit fluency with the strings that came with age– but at the onset, Chaplin’s natural comedic dexterity far outweighed any musical aspirations.

Chaplin may have left Karno for Keystone and Hollywood in 1914, but music would stay the rest of his life. A fact that would serve him grandly in the face of the silent comic’s greatest adversary: the talkies.

Now, Chaplin was by no means a musical prodigy (remember, he could neither read nor write music) and there are some critics to this day maintain he was never truly a bona-fide composer. I understand their arguments and court them, but resolutely disagree. It is true that Chaplin’s first works were far from polished, and his first scores not original compositions. They were, instead, dreamy gossamer re-imaginings of his favorite pieces. A patchwork quilt, if you will, of music hall memories.

In 1916, while newly contracted with The Mutual Film Company (anyone who thinks that the Mutuals aren’t his best shorts needs their head examined… or a Valium) Chaplin set up a music publishing shop in downtown Los Angeles called (ever so creatively) The Charlie Chaplin Music Publishing Company.

The sheet music for Chaplin’s “Oh! That Cello,” “The Peace Patrol” and “There’s Always One You Can’t Forget” would sell only a handful of copies. Downtown Los Angeles in 1916 was, simply, not Tin Pan Alley in 1916. Even a sky-rocketing name like Chaplin’s couldn’t attract interest. Not surprisingly, the company folded not long after.

Typed correspondence from the Charlie Chaplin Publishing Company that, prophetically, has nothing to do with music. The company lasted only a few months.

Sheet Music for "The Peace Patrol"

Also not surprisingly: Chaplin did not give up.

From the beginning, Chaplin acknowledged the symbiotic relationship between music in film. Others did as well– D.W. Griffith composed original music for some of his films and commissioned a score for Broken Blossoms— but none came remotely close to equaling Chaplin’s passion for telling stories shadow, light and music.

Chaplin allayed himself with well-established composers with whom he could collaborate.  Eric James and David Raskin are perhaps the most famous, helping Chaplin create the unforgettable scores to the likes of Modern Times and Limelight. But Chaplin’s first such collaboration was with musician Frederick Stahlberg in 1923 for the daring directorial departure, A Woman of Paris. The film was his first venture as a truly independent filmmaker, under the creative protection of United Artists (of which he was a founding member) as well as his first dabbling in serious drama. Chaplin was already a director supreme, an auteur decades before that word had any real relevance, and his confidence was such that he made a decision that mystified everyone: A Woman of Paris would be a film by Charlie Chaplin without Charlie Chaplin. Hardly surprising, the public did not respond. After all, the public reasoned, “Who wants to see a Charlie Chaplin film without Charlie Chaplin?”

It flopped.

But the very few fortunate enough to have actually seen the film during its first run, would have also, in addition to witnessing the birth of a first-rate director, witnessed the birth of a pioneering film composer. This fact has more than its fair share of critics, but regardless of Chaplin’s musical merits the fact of the matter is inarguable: he was absolutely one of the first filmmakers to be just as passionate about the music of his films than any other creative aspect of the process. Something all the more remarkable given the fact that Chaplin’s enthusiasm for film scoring came about at a time when there was really no such thing as a film score.

Always drawn to musicians (his illustrious roster of acquaintances would come to include such 20th Century maestros as Igor Stravinsky) in 1925 Chaplin took a brief respite from filming The Gold Rush to team up with the highly popular Los Angeles-based bandleaders Abe Lyman and Gus Arnheim.  By way of perspective, during the gloriously delirious heyday of 1920s Hollywood, The Ambassador Hotel’s Coconut Grove was THE in-spot and Abe Lyman’s California Orchestra were the Ambassador Hotel’s big attraction. (Gus Arnheim was the pianist soon to make a major name in his own right.)  Arnheim’s jaunty, jazz-age tunes sizzled nationwide over the KNX radio waves their 78 recordings (still very much in existence) are high examples of hot ‘20s West Coast jazz.

From this partnership came a composition that was, really for the first time, consummate Chaplin: “With You Dear, In Bombay.” While the original Brunswick 78 is tinny, the energy of the piece still comes through and marvelous re-recordings of this and other Chaplin compositions are available on the excellent album Oh! That Cello.

Charlie with Gus Arnheim (at the piano) and Abe Lyman.

Chaplin’s guest conducting Lyman’s orchestra was noted in Music Trade Review, July 1925:

 Film Comedian an Able Left-Handed Violinist and Recently Conducted Orchestra in Making of Brunswick Record.

Few of the admirers of Charlie Chaplin, the well-known film comedian, know that he is a composer or that he is much of a musician. As a matter of fact, however, he is quite accomplished in this direction. He studied the violin in his youth and is one of the few left-handed bow-players the world has known. He is also a conductor as was demonstrated by his ability in directing Abe Lyman’s Cocoanut Grove Orchestra when they recently made the recording of his new song “With You, Dear, In Bombay.” This record was made for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company. Chaplin not only wielded the baton on this occasion but himself played the violin solo part of the recording. It is said that the Brunswick Co. has inaugurated a special publicity department and will feature this Chaplin recording. “With You, Dear, In Bombay” is published by M. Witmark & Sons. Chaplin wrote both the words and music. It is a lively fox-trot with an appealing swing and very tuneful melody. The Witmark Co. will exploit the number on a wide scale.

Chaplin (far left) on the violin while Sid Grauman sits at the piano, Mary Pickford sings and Douglas Fairbanks plays the bass.

That same year, Chaplin released one of the masterpieces of silent cinema– and indeed, cinema itself– The Gold Rush. Still years before the advent of talkies, Chaplin went to extraordinary lengths to protect the musical fidelity of his vision by composing a score to accompany the film, the sheet music of which was provided to theatres. Of course, Main Street Hollywood was light years from Main Street Anywhere, U.S.A., and Chaplin’s musical accompaniments were very often lost in the process. A fact which, to say the least, annoyed Chaplin The Perfectionist. (I could rightfully use the term ‘control freak’ but that would be terribly disrespectful: it was Chaplin’s obsessive behavior that made his films as perfect as they are.)

Someone who dedicated himself to recovering these lost, and highly important pieces of film history, was silent film composer Timothy Brock. Brock restored a number of Chaplin’s original scores and was instrumental in their public re-introduction in (cough) modern times.

There is a tendency to believe that Chaplin’s collaborations with his musical advisors merely consisted of Chaplin humming a tune while his associate took down the dictations. Chaplin himself made the remark, and it is actually a case of Chaplin giving himself too little credit. Brock described the process this way:

“Chaplin’s composing methods, as we all know perhaps by now, involved a “musical associate” who would transcribe what Chaplin composed, either on the piano or the violin. From there, Chaplin, sitting beside [City Lights musical advisor] Johnston on the piano would orchestrate each passage as he had heard it in his mind. The unfortunate quote that I and my colleagues have to contend with, that Chaplin simply “la-la-ed” his music to the arranger, was not only a self-deprecating remark but wholly inaccurate. He was as meticulous with his musical output as he was with his directorial results. In the original manuscripts there are pages and pages of rejected music that he deemed unworthy in the final cuts. It is clear by looking at these documents that Chaplin not only knew what was involved in composing just the perfect music for the scenes, but had the objectivity to discard what any normal director would probably have used. Therefore, there is not a note out of place in the entire score.”

Serenading Jackie Coogan on the set of THE KID

The production of Chaplin’s silent masterpiece, City Lights, was plagued by a state of neurotic paranoia. With so much at stake, Chaplin drove himself to the absolute limit on the picture– not to mention those he worked with– and while the result is pure cinematic perfection, the result is also nearly perfect film score.

Hollywood’s first synchronized film soundtrack was Warner Bros’ 1926 John Barrymore starrer Don Juan, and of course with the advent of the talkies, music had taken on profound importance. But Chaplin, already a seasoned pro in this particular area of production, perhaps understood music and its relationship to narrative structure more than anyone else working at that pivotal silent/sound crossover. Although refusing to talk, Chaplin embraced this new technology with radiant enthusiasm as it finally allowed him to exercise complete control over musical accompaniment.  Relying on that patchwork quilt method of his, the City Lights score is seamless.

“His scores, within the boundaries that he set himself, are perfect,” remarked legendary silent film composer Carl Davis. “I would not change a note of them.”

“I use music as a counterpoint,” explained Chaplin. “ I learned that from the Fred Karno Company. For instance if they had squalid surroundings with a lot of comedy tramps working in it, they would have very beautiful, boudoir music, something of the 18th century, very lush and grandiose, and it would be satirical, a counterpoint.”

This style is highly evident in the original score for The Gold Rush and, of course, City Lights, (Jose Padilla’s “La Violetera” pitch perfect poignancy as the poor flower girl’s theme song) but also in his 1936 final silent feature Modern Times. (Flawed as it is, I love the ballsy, bad-ass nature of Modern Times: Chaplin effectively extending a prominently raised middle finger to anyone and everyone telling him what not to do and why not to do it.)

What would later become one of the 20th century’s most beloved standards, the sweet melancholy of “Smile” swirls in and out of Modern Times, framing moments of destitution and despair with sublime loveliness.

“Sometimes a musician would get pompous with me,” said Chaplin, “and I would cut him short: ‘Whatever the melody is, the rest is just a vamp.’ After putting music to one or two pictures I began to look at a conductor’s score with a professional eye and to know whether a composition was over-orchestrated or not. If I saw a lot of notes in the brass and woodwind section I would say: ‘That’s too black in the brass,’ or ‘too busy in the woodwinds’.”

Carl Davis, very accurately, made this observation: “His assistants had a terrible time. It must have been torture. He was very, very moody.”

This, I’m sure, surprises no one.

But the simple fact remains: Charlie’s only competitive Oscar win was not for acting nor for directing (crimes, both) but for Best Original Score: the 1952 beauty Limelight.

Keaton and Chaplin on the set of LIMELIGHT

As Chaplin grew on in years, especially while living Swiss exile, so did his obsession with perfecting the sound of his silents. Chaplin’s final musical associate, Eric James, worked closely with Chaplin during his ailing years in the 1970s and, therefore, took on a much larger creative role than his predecessors.

In 1975, at the age of 86 (two years before his death) Chaplin and James worked on recording the score for A Woman of Paris. “As the years went by, Charlie found it more and more difficult to think of ideas for the music and left a great deal of it to me. … When I arrived to work with Charlie on A Woman of Paris, he looked quite weak and ill. I was very distressed to find him in such a state and I could see that he found even talking quite an effort. I therefore told him not to worry but that when I had finished each piece and played it over to him, he need only shake his head…”

In these later scores, Chaplin revisits the music hall memories of his youth, and grand music hall-esque string arrangements dominate the scores for Pay Day, The Kid, The Circus. It is, I think, fair to say that all of the Chaplin/James arrangements are Chaplin’s autumnal swan songs to that childhood that was so very much a part of his lifelong love affair with music.

Recommended listening:

Oh! That Cello (Beautiful arrangements of Chaplin’s early sheet music.)

Charlie Chaplin: The Original Music From His Movies (A marvelous, comprehensive collection of Chaplin’s film compositions.)

The Film Music of Charles Chaplin by Carl Davis. (This is out of print, but worth the digging. Got mine 8 years ago from a Russian e-bay seller and still cherish it.)

My Somewhat Neurotic Relationship with Buster Keaton Movies and Why They Make Me OK with Being Me.

Image ©2011 ~TheBalloonMan

So here we are, day one of Project Keaton. Submissions are pouring in and The Pictorial is buzzing with excitement. The Project’s Tumblr and Facebook pages are up and running and … this is gonna be awesome, guys.

So for the first official Project Keaton post, I’m going to be a total prima-donna and grab the mic for a minute and reflect back on why the heck Keaton matters very much to me in the first place.

But I’m gonna leave the sociological and academic analysis of his films and their seismic influence on the framework of modern cinema to the Leonard Maltins and the David Thomsons out there, and instead, simply confess that the reason I love Keaton is because of something he excelled so very much in:

Timing.

Now, as you all know, I am a massive Charlie Chaplin fan. MASSIVE. In many ways, Charlie is the love of my life. I was 10 years old when I fell in love with Charlie. A wondrous, marvelous, romantic age to discover anything.

I was 14 when I saw my first Buster Keaton film.

Being 14 sucks. In fact… few things suck more than being 14. (Except, maybe, 15.)

Which is why Sherlock Jr. absolutely rocked my world when I first saw it flicker on the old movie channel one random weekend. If anyone’s life sucked more than mine, it was Buster’s. That sweetly honest stone face that just couldn’t catch a break. The woman in his life was weak, his boss was a jerk, his future prospects were dim, he’s painfully awkward and the only ray of sunshine in his life involved celluloid fantasies.

Yeah. I knew that guy.

Here I am at the cusp of 30 and I realize that I will always know this guy. And when chaos consumes, and all I have to keep my sanity is my sense of humor, there is nothing more therapeutic than a Keaton film. That’s when I switch on Steamboat Bill Jr to watch Buster battle hurricanes, or Seven Chances to watch him dodge a gang of pissed off jilted brides, or The Cameraman to watch him fight urban turf wars.

It’s absurd.

But so is life.

Buster knows it. His films get it. And, in so many ways, he is all of us. Buster doesn‘t always get the girl, beat the bad guy or ride off into the sunset… and somehow, it’s still OK. Which is why 116 years after he was born, we’re still so deeply affected by his work. And only one of the countless reasons the Pictorial is championing that deeply human comedy of his in our month-long celebration of all things Keaton.

Thanks, Buster, for always keepin’ it real.

The 21st Century REALLY needs you.

And so do 14 year olds.

*puts down mic, disembarks soapbox, and lets the festivities begin*

Film Fashion Frenzy: Cinema Fashion Shops of the 1930s

This post is in conjunction with today’s Fashion in Film Blogathon behing hosted by the lovely Angela at The Hollywood Revue!

Carole Lombard, 1937,

Scene: Main Street, USA. 1937. Boy and girl at the local theatre watching the new Carole Lombard comedy Nothing Sacred. Lots of laughter, lots of coddling. The sight of Lombard in a voluminous yet slinky black dress catches both of their attentions. The Boy: “My god,” he thinks, “look at those [insert female euphemism of choice].”  The Girl:  My god,” she thinks, “look at that dress!”

She wants it.

She needs it.

She is instantly convinced that owning it will make her fella think her [euphemisms] are every bit as noteworthy as Lombard’s.

And Hollywood, that eager opportunist, was ready to oblige.

Enter, stage left, a start-up by New York entrepreneur Bernard Waldman called Cinema Shops– a nationwide chain of retail outlets dedicated to bringing big-screen fashion to small town shops.

From the book Movies and Mass Culture by John Belston:

“In 1930, Waldman played the role of fashion middle-man for all major studios except Warner Bros. (Warners, always a loner, established its own Studio Styles stores in 1934). By the mid-1930s Waldman’s system genrally operated as follows: sketches and/or photographs of styles to be worn by specific actresses in specific films were sent from the studios to the bureau. The staff first evaluated these styles and calculated new trends. They then contracted with manufacturers to have the
styles produced in time for the film’s release. They next secured advertising
photos and other materials that would be sent to retail shops.”

By the late 1930s, motion pictures were the most powerful influential means of communication the world had ever known. Itsexponential effects were, as of yet still incalculable, but its tremors deeply felt on an international scale.

An MGM short subject from 1940 entitled Hollywood: Style Center of the World does a succinct succint job of capturing this movement at its zenith. Before descending into an MGM parade of studio propaganda, it captures the very spirit of this fascinating—and never to be repeated—time in popular culture.

Sweet little Mary gets a telephone call from her beau in uniform, Joe. He’s in town and wants a night out. But …

Mary needs a dress. So she drags Papa into the city and they both pause in front of the town’s Cinema Shop.

From Movies and Mass Culture: “Waldman’s concern also established the best known chain of fashion shops, Cinema Fashions.  Macy’s contracted for the first of these shops in 1930 and remained a leader in the Hollywood fashion field. By 1934 tehre were 298 oficial Cinema Fashions shops (only one permitted in each city).”

Mary sees …

Mary remembers …

Mary buys it. (Or rather, Papa does.)

Driving home its point is a montage of middle America fields of grain, waving against the superimposed image of a smartly dressed young lady. Now a country girl, the narrator assures, is every bit as fashionable as her Big City sisters.

And who do they have to thank? Hollywood.

For Hollywood is a factory town just like any other– be it Detroit or Milwaukee. Only the skilled laboreres in this town happen to be writers, musicians, actors and …artists.

Like this one.

Dilligently working with conte crayon and tablet to furnish the natural wonders of his studios’ latest find.

Oh yeah. And his name just so happens to be Adrian:

The inumerable movie fan magazines of the day seized upon this trend and made monthly fashion editorials (featuring, of course, screen starlets) a mainstay fixture. As the MGM short concludes, we get glimpses of factories working overtime to reproduce the fashions created by the black ink and pastel color of Adrian… his canvas creations becoming celluloid dreams-come-true as seen below:

Waterloo Bridge, 1940

Again, from Movies and Mass Culture: “The sale of these fashions was tremendously aided by the release of photos to newspapers, major magazines and dozens of fan magazines. … In monthly issues of each of these magazine, millions of readers saw Bette Davis, Joan Crawford in a series of roles unique to this period: as mannequins modeling clothes, furs, hats and accessories that they would wear in forthcoming films…”

Photoplay magazine introduced “Hollywood Fashions,” was Photoplay magazines effort into the cinema fashion foray. Photoplay’s by then routine fashion sprea featured styles identical to those being distributed that month to Photoplay’s “Hollywood fashions” outlets nationwide. Advertised under banners such as “Now at Modest Prices: Styles of the Stars!”

A Cinema Fashions Shop

The Screen Book magazine shots below illustrate the cinema fashion frenzy, with Anne Sheridan and Priscilla Lane modelling their latest film frocks:

Ann Sheridan