Tag Archives: Mildred Pierce

Emily Jackman, Blade Runner: Fashioning the Past, Present and Future.

The notion that Blade Runner is a culturally significant film, is not a new idea. Countless books, articles, documentaries etcetera have explained in painstaking detail the effects this film has had on the science fiction genre, depictions of the future and studies of postmodernism in film. “What remains striking about Blade Runner is that, despite the fact we are quickly approaching the year 2019, the year in which the film takes place, its depiction of the ‘future’ still resonates. The future of Blade Runner still looks like our potential future”[1] This statement still stands 3 years after the film’s setting in 2022, it is the reason that in 2017, a sequel to the original was released. Blade Runner is a film that exemplifies the past, present, and future, regardless of time.

To exemplify this a detailed analysis of the film’s themes, cinematography and plot are usually utilised. However, the element of costume design is often overlooked when evaluating the impact, even though it is one of the clearest markers of Blade Runner’s influence that has lasted even until today. Evoking the noir style of the 1940s and 1950s is noticeably clear in the costuming. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is dressed throughout the film in a large, popped collar trench coat, replicating the unmistakable image of Humphrey Bogart, noir’s primary hero, especially mimicking The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941) and Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942). Although, minus Bogart’s trademark fedora, at the refusal of Ford following the success of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981) and the hat that became Ford’s unmistakable symbol.

The most overt combination of noir and technology arguably comes from Deckard’s love interest. The classic femme-fatale but also replicant, Rachael (Sean Young) is often dressed in hugely shoulder padded ‘power suits’ and large fur coats. Not only a prominent icon of 1940s femme fatale style in general, but more specifically of one noir icon, Joan Crawford. Exemplified in Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945) and Sudden Fear (1952). Emblematic of classic styles Crawford was known for after her prolific working relationship with Gilbert Adrian, one of Hollywood’s most prolific costume designers.

Blade Runner is often cited as one of the major inspirations behind the subgenre of Science- Fiction, Cyberpunk. As defined in The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, “a subgenre of science fiction that focuses on the effects on society and individuals of advanced computer technology, artificial intelligence, and bionic implants in an increasingly global culture, especially as seen in the struggles of streetwise, disaffected characters.”[2] This is demonstrated exceptionally throughout the film as a whole but more specifically by the character of Pris, the ‘basic pleasure model’ replicant, who brings these exact ‘streetwise’ and ‘disaffected’ characteristics to life. Her costume and makeup inspiration was taken directly from Breaking Glass, (Gibson, 1980) a gritty independent British music film starring Hazel O’Connor, depicting her rise and fall from fame. These clear comparisons to film costumes of the past are not only used as an indicator of genre and style but as a key visual indication of technophobia and reluctance to move forward with the times, especially if this is what it is going to look like.

More notably than the effects of the past on the film, is the effects of the film on the future, as shown by its influence on the fashion industry. From directly after the film’s release even until the present day, many fashion designers have been heavily inspired by the visual style of Blade Runner in their designs. As early as the spring-summer collections of 1983, Blade Runner was already beginning its long presence in the fashion industry and beginning with one of the biggest designers in the world, Vivienne Westwood. Her collection ‘Punkature’ (A contraction of the words ‘punk’ and ‘couture’) featured skirts bearing the print of Alexis Rhee, dressed as a geisha, featured on a billboard in the film and other bearing images of the ‘love scene’ between Deckard and Rachael.[3] Its resurgence in fashion came about in the mid-1990s, following the release of the director’s cut in 1992. Major fashion house Givenchy, headed by Alexander McQueen at the time, released a collection in 1998, undeniably influenced by not only Rachael’s costume but her hair and makeup, which was a key part of her look being as recognisable as it is. The final cut also being released in 2007, inspired a resurgence with Jean Paul Gaultier’s Autumn/Winter collection in 2009. Most recently the sequel released in 2017, Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017) brought the Blade Runner trend back, arguably stronger than ever before with collections from Bottega Veneta (AW 2017) Raf Simons (SS 2018), Marine Serre (SS 2019) and Oliver Theyskens (AW 2019). In one way or another, each of these collections have been explicitly confirmed to be inspired by the film. Those more overt, such as the Westwood collection featuring images from the film or Simons’ collection whose models walked down the runway, set up to look like the lower level of the Los Angeles of the film. Conversely, those more obscure, either with subtle references to which the designer had to explain was influenced by the film or in the case of the Theyskens collection, the models walked down the runway to the theme in reverse. In any sense, the collections depicted in the video essay is merely a sample of what is out there based on the film, both confirmed and unconfirmed. Despite being the first collection to feature inspiration from the film and the most overt, printing the scenes onto her skirts, due to inaccessibility of footage, the Westwood collection was unable to be featured.

It is clear to see that Blade Runner has had an immense impact on the fashion industry beginning with its initial release in 1982 and expanding with each subsequent version/sequel. It is a concise representation of the past and future that (without the intertitle identifying the year) appears timeless in both its themes and aesthetics, as a result succinctly representing the present, resonating with people across all decades. “We have seen that Blade Runner exemplifies postmodern pastiche in its combination of sci-fi and film noir […] despite this combination of past and future, Blade Runner, is undoubtedly a film about the postmodern present.”[4]




  • Bukatman, Scott. Blade Runner. London, BFI Publishing, 1997.
  • Flisfeder, Matthew. Postmodern Theory and “Blade Runner.” New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
  • Lack, Hannah. “Michael Kaplan on Blade Runner’s Iconic Costumes.” Another, Another Magazine, 22 Oct. 2012, anothermag.com/art-photography/2286/michael-kaplan-on-blade-runners-iconic-costumes. Accessed 30 Nov. 2021.
  • Page, Thomas. “‘Blade Runner’ Influenced 35 Years of Fashion. Can Its Sequel Do the Same?” CNN, CNN, 3 Oct. 2017, edition.cnn.com/style/article/blade-runner-2049-costume-design-fashion-renee-april/index.html. Accessed 30 Nov. 2021.
  • Prucher, Jeff. Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195305678.001.0001/acref-9780195305678-e-100?rskey=eTlVdX&result=1. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.
  • Westwood, Ben. “Punkature Video – Vivienne Westwood.” Vivienne Westwood, Aug. 2014, blog.viviennewestwood.com/punkature-video/. Accessed 7 Nov. 2021.




  • Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)
  • Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941)
  • Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945)
  • Sudden Fear (Miller, 1952)
  • Breaking Glass (Gibson, 1980)
  • The Third Man (Reed, 1949)
  • Barbarella (Vadim, 1968)
  • Scarlet Street (Lang, 1945)


  • Vivienne Westwood & Malcom McClure (SS83)
  • Alexander Mcqueen for Givenchy (AW/98)
  • Alexander Mcqueen for Givenchy (AW/99)
  • John Galiano for Dior (AW/06)
  • Jean Paul Gaultier (AW/09)
  • Bottega Vanetta (AW/17)
  • Raf Simmonds (SS/18)
  • Marine Serre (SS/18)
  • Oliver Theyskens (AW/19)


[1] Flisfeder, Matthew. Postmodern Theory and “Blade Runner.” New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

[2] Prucher, Jeff. Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195305678.001.0001/acref-9780195305678-e-100?rskey=eTlVdX&result=1. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

[3] Westwood, Ben. “Punkature Video – Vivienne Westwood.” Vivienne Westwood, Aug. 2014, blog.viviennewestwood.com/punkature-video/. Accessed 7 Nov. 2021.

[4] Flisfeder, Matthew. Postmodern Theory and “Blade Runner.” New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.


Think of how to rephrase this. Can one be ‘regardless of time’ in relation to past, present, and future when considerations of time are inherent to the very definition of each?

Some more thoughts on Mildred Pierce

Preparing a class on Mildred Pierce and binged on the Todd Haynes TV series yesterday, which I thought beautiful and moving. It reinforced my feeling that cinema is not only condensed — condensed I suppose could also mean insufficient, missing out important bits, truncated — but poetic; that that condensed form needs to be used variously, that everything has to contribute, allegorise, fulfil the obvious function and do something else. Even the speech in the Curtiz version seems to mean not only what it says literally but also something else. The Haynes version also uses visuals beautifully but has more space. Curtiz’s visuals are striking; and that also made me think of a comparison of the performances in the two adaptations. Crawford is so impactful, and her performance certainly hits all the notes….but not the spaces between the notes like Kate Winslet does in the Haynes version. Winslet moved me so whereas Crawford leaves me awestruck. Anyway, a thought.

The close-up below, part of the magnificent star entrance at the beginning of Mildred Pierce. After two years away from the screen (not counting her cameo in Hollywood Canteen), Crawford returns in rainy streets, under lamp-pots, weaving in and out of the shadows wearing fur that seems to bristle with a dark and luxurious sensuality….and now about to throw herself from a bridge. Why? It’s terrific…and a hint of what Crawford might have carried over from her ‘Silent’ movie days.

‘The wool gets pulled from her eyes’: light as dramatic revelation and narrative device:

Mildred Pierce is chock-a-block with brilliant examples of the Expressionist work so characteristic of Curtiz. This moment, were Bert finds his wife has remarried is a favourite, partly because it’s not only expressive in many ways (Burt’s feelings, his anger, perhaps jealousy) but also via the shadows and timing, that they’re hidden, only partly perceptible, and full of a passion and violence we haven’t seen him exhibit before.

Winslet in the TV version, shot like a woman in a Hopper painting — lonely, lost — but also evoking another range of feeling: anxiety, fear, defeat, desperation. The look in the last five seconds or so is beautiful.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 135 – Double Indemnity

The film noir to end films noir, Billy Wilder’s classic crime drama Double Indemnity made its way to The Electric in Birmingham for a one-off screening, where a packed cinema ensured a great atmosphere. Mike, as usual, hadn’t seen it, while José is very familiar with it, even having taught it before.

Mike didn’t entirely click with it, though he’s able to appreciate much of what makes it a classic. Perhaps the stylistic and thematic elements that identify film noir are so perfectly employed by Double Indemnity that it leads to an ironic, detached mode of viewing – the genre, though it has existed since its inception, is strongly connected to its classical era of the Forties and Fifties, and has been parodied and pastiched more than most, burdening the film with unfair baggage to audiences not in that frame of mind. José, on the other hand, relishes the chance to see it with a paying, enthusiastic audience, finding that he notices different details and appreciates the film differently outside of an academic setting.

Unquestionable is the strength of Barbara Stanwyck’s seductive performance as the femme fatale, her Phyllis Dietrichson the archetype of the dangerous woman who bewitches her doomed victim, in this case a chump played with distracting self-importance by Fred MacMurray. And every time Edward G. Robinson appears on screen he lights it up, capturing the audience, whether with the array of witty retorts and bon mots with which the script furnishes him, or dialogue as ostensibly dull as a recitation of an actuarial table for types of suicide.

With all of this in mind, Mike is sure that a second run at the film would help him appreciate it more. There’s no doubting its place in cinema history, and that it continues to pack out cinemas with eager filmgoers is testament to that.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.


Eavesdropping at the Movies: 113 – Mildred Pierce

We’re joined by Birmingham blogger Laura Creaven (www.constantlycurious.co.uk) for a discussion of our fourth Michael Curtiz film, the film noir Mildred Pierce. We’re glad of her perspective, as this is a film all about women, their relationships and desires.

We discuss the film’s flashback structure – though it helped the film get made in the Hays Code era, would the film be even stronger with a simple chronological plot? Class is everywhere too, motivating the mother-daughter conflict that’s central to the film, and we consider America’s class system and social mobility, and whether you could tell this story in Britain.

We look closely at Curtiz’s use of shadows and mirrors to imply off-screen space and create meaningful, poetic images. And there’s a lot to discuss in the construction of the characters, both male and female – we think about how masculine and feminine characteristics are deployed in both, and how roles are reversed.

Mike and Laura talk about how they each had differing attitudes to the framing device of showing the climax first, Mike wanting to know how the film would tie its plot up and Laura not caring very much. It reminds Mike of discussing Carmen Maria Machado’s brilliant short story The Husband Stitch (free to read here: www.granta.com/the-husband-stitch) with previous podcast guest Celia, and finding a similar difference in the experience. Mildred Pierce is without question a film aimed at women, but as a film noir does the framing device work to capture their interest?

And indeed, how much is the film a noir? With shadows and murder and intrigue, it’s inseparable from it, but there’s a lightness to the image and combination with family drama that serves to adjust it. To José the film is unambiguously noir; to Mike and Laura, the noir elements invade an otherwise normal world in interesting ways.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Mirrors in Mildred Pierce

The use of mirrors is also a key component of mise-en-scène in Mildred Pierce.  The film begins with the shooting of Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott). There are several shots, some land on the mirror, he falls over. The mirror teases us with off-screen space but in this case angled so that we don’t see the perpetrator. Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 08.40.05.png

Mirrors are used for expressive purposes. Here at the beginning Mildred (Joan Crawford), having led Wally (Jack Carson) into the beach house is planning to leave him on his own so the police may find him and he can take the rap. The duplicitous action suggested by Mildred being doubled for us through the mirror.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 08.42.20.png

Mirrors, of course, also appear simply as part of household or office decor, fulfilling no other function than to make a room seem ‘real’. See the office mirror here in the centre of the frame on one wall reflecting the painting kitty corner to it.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 08.51.39.png

But usually mirrors are used to much more expressive and narrational ends in Mildred Pierce, like in this moment where the dress her mother’s bought her does not at all fit in with the kind of woman Veda (Ann Blythe) wants to become; and how both Mildred’s and Veda’s differing ideas of a pretty dress and the notions of femininity it might help project  are contrasted with Kay (Jo Ann Marlow), happy in her overalls.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 09.01.24.png

Curtiz makes use of any reflecting surface to mirror and creates a striking image with it as here below. Mildred, walked off her feet and needing a rest before she enters the cafe. She’s elegant in her hat and coat, potentially too elegant for the for the type of  job the sign is advertising (though we know she’ll take it). The fact that the reflection is from below expresses something of how low she’s willing to go to work, no job is really beneath her. A striking image conveying lots of story information, densely condensed.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 09.14.44.png

We get some of this also in the scene where Mildred goes swimming with Monte and goes to the wardrobe to find a bathing suit. We see her doubled with Monte off-screen but as she opens the wardrobe, eliminating him from the picture, she sees that she’s far from the only woman Monte’s brought there. As Mildred and her reflection open the wardrobe, Monte gets effaced by what the contents of the wardrobe reveal:  all the ‘sisters, ‘ all to be scantily clad, he’s brought to the beach house before Mildred. The mirror here is used dramatically, as revelation.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 09.38.35.png

Here below, the mirror is used as a kind of narrative punctuation. Monte and Mildred are embracing, the record ends, the camera pans to the record continuing to spin whilst the mirror shows us they’re too hot for each other to bother to change it. The embrace starts and ends the shot and at the end is framed next to and against the record player. It’s a brilliant piece of visual direction, made more so if one also remembers this is the mirror is not unlike the one behind Monte as he was shot at the beginning of the film. Thus the initiations of an uncontrolled passion are already linked with death from the beginning.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 09.59.50.png

Whilst Momma’s been playing, baby’s been dying. In the next scene, the finality of Kay’s death is brought home by the mirror. Mildred, her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) and Veda are mourning. And we see that there’s no hope as the doctor and nurse recede and disappear through the mirror.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 10.01.13.png

Sometimes, mirrors are used to anchor context and create atmosphere. Here below, the main function seems to be to make us aware that Monte and Mildred are at a party — they’re surrounded by people whilst nonetheless allowing for a private conversation: one about money. They’re in public, the moment is private, but the private is always threatening, on the verge and in danger of becoming public.



But of course we mustn’t forget that this use of mirrors, potent, as it is constructed so as to appear incidental and that, although I’ve extracted still images above, it usually takes place in motion and as part of other elements of mise-en-scène. In the scene below, which is really about Monte and Mildred getting together and Bert granting Mildred her wishes, all encased in the break-up of a family. The mirror behind the bar first appears discretely and then gains in dramatic force helping to shows us how Bert and Monte are at odds, how the appearance of Bert onto the scene underlines the break-up of a family.  The conflict is generated by who appears facing the mirror, the whooshing of the camera movement from the mirror following Mildred and onto Bert which begins around 45 second into the clip below and shows Bert appearing in the mirror onscreen whilst following her, past Monte and as she’s pictured between them onscreen. At 1.29, after he says, ‘I’m doing fine’, the scene cuts onto Bert and Monte exchanging challenging gazes through the mirror. The composition once again indicating that the ‘private’ word is being played out publicly, or at least within Monte’s sight (through the mirror).


I wanted to include the whole clip above rather than still images so you could see how important  motion is to the potency of the pictures. They’re moving pictures. And in relation to other elements of mise-en-scène. Thus in the clip above I’ve made the cut after the swish pan to the left, which brings us out of the flash-back, and also underline the inverse rhyming of the camera movement from the last scene in the bar to the first shot at the police station.

It’s extraordinary work by Curtiz, and only a tiny example of his astonishingly imaginative mise-en-scene for this film.

As much as there is to be said about mirrors, there is perhaps even more to be said about the uses of Crawford´s star persona and clothes. Christopher Laverty´s great blog has several posts on it, including this one:

José Arroyo