Tag Archives: Sofia Coppola

Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards (Michael Roberts, Netflix, 2017)

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Those of you who love celebrities and fashion will enjoy this documentary on the world’s most famous shoe designer. An eccentric of Hungarian descent who grew up on the Canary Islands, modelled himself on Cecil Beaton and constantly dreams of Sicily, Manolo Blahnik, wearing beautifully tailored suits and with scarves and socks carefully colour co-ordinated, is very much himself and a joy to behold. His career is legendary and touches on everyone who’s anyone in fashion: Diana Vreeland encouraged him to focus on shoes; Anna Wintour took solace in his company and his shoe-shop before either of them were famous; Paloma Picasso hung out with him in Paris; a thin André Leon Talley became pals with him in London in the 70s; he was the first man to grace the cover of Vogue in 1974, shot by David Bailey and with Anjelica Huston by his side. All of these people alongside Rihanna, Rupert Everett, Penelope Tree, Sofia Coppola and many others come to sing his praises. The film itself charts his career from an unknown emigré in Paris to becoming a fixture in fashion in the 1980s and household name in America in the 90s thanks to Sex and the City. It’s an enjoyable film to watch and, as expected, a delight to the eye.

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Gracing the cover of Vogue with Anjelica Huston for David Bailey in 1974

There is only one moment however that seems to break out of the luvviness of the fashion world and hint at something deeper. John Galliano appears at Blahnik’s shop in the middle of a shoot. They clearly adore each other, lavish each other with compliments and then begin an homage to legendary Spanish flamenco diva Lola Flores. As they look into each other’s eyes and sing ‘Pena, penita, pena’, that classic and classically excessive song of hurt, both equally adoring  but each trying to out-trill the other for the cameras, two lost boys are revealed; homeless, exiled, lonely and finding a connection in a shared appreciation of a culture they’ve largely lost but perhaps the more meaningful for that: it’s camp, silly, touching. I wish the film had gone deeper. Manolo Blahnik claims that there is nothing deeper to find, that shallowness is all there is when it comes to him. That’s what the film offers. But Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards,  in flashes of moments like those with Galliano,  hints  that it’s not quite so; that there’s a much more interesting story to tell, although it could very well be it’s not one Blahnik wants told.

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A shared love of Lola: surrounded by glamour but singing ‘Pena, penita, pena’

 

Jose Arroyo

 

A Note on Brief Encounter (David Lean, UK, 1945)

Brief Encounter is woven through and through with loss, sadness, the stifling of desire, the structuration of forces of repression — the state, the police, the institution of marriage: all that is so beautifully expressed in the scene where we see Laura (Celia Johnson) going to have a smoke under the the War Memorial, the park bench still wet from the rain, after her failed attempt at the assignation with Alec (Trevor Howard) that had exercised her so — interpellated as personal lacks and individual moral failings.

It was only on my last viewing that it became clear how the film is actually structured around the moment of loss, a moment which bookends the film, and which we first see narrated objectively and then come back to subjectively at the film’s end (and Catherine Grant’s marvellous video essay, Dissolves of Passion, take on an even richer resonance when seen through the lens of loss, of Dolly Messiter robbing the couple of their last minutes but also the loss of a love that is desired but cannot be).

The film begins to tell us a story, one that doesn’t start of as but then becomes Laura’s story told in flashback, and the end returns us to to the beginning but now fleshed out as Laura subjectively experiences– and by this I mean something different than told through her point of view — those last moments with Alec, the loss, the despair, the world infringing on and robbing her of that which is so important to her but which she cannot speak of, except to us, the audience.

As we can see in the clip above, the film begins with a train, engine steaming streams of smoke, heading towards us and slicing through the frame. We then begin with a medium close-up of Mr. Godby (Stanley Holloway). The camera cuts to passing trains once again, before again picking up Mr. Godby, crossing the track on foot. Why begin here and with Mr. Godby? Clearly the passing trains, the platform where people linger only momentarily before heading elsewhere, the steam; all help create an emotional as well as physical setting for the drama that will be played out. But look also at the formal elegance, at the beauty of the compositions. This dangerous speed, the transient and furtive meetings, the steaming desire the film will dramatise, all will be contained by the same order, hierarchy, symmetry, the elegant manner that also characterise framing and composition (and in a different way, Mr. Godby’s uniform).

I was struck also by how in the shot in the station café, the focus is entirely on Mr. Godby and Mrs. Bagot (Joyce Carey), flirting away, in their own way negotiating and making possible the fulfilment of the desires denied the more middle class Lauras and Alecs. You might note that the camera pans from Mr. Godby and Mrs Bagot to Laura and Alec, that significantly they remain at a distance. We don’t yet know who they are and we don’t yet hear a word they say. Mr. Godby’s voice is still carrying, now off-screeen, now speaking of police, whilst the camera lingers at a distance is on this new couple we will later get to know so well. So from the very first images, we get speed, steam, the sense of transit and indeterminacy but also of order and containment, all whilst being brought to notice regarding forces of repression. And the film tells us this whilst making a homology between two couples characterised as belonging to two different classes, one the servants; the other those being served, even if only in a cafe.

I will write  about the two ways we’re shown Dolly Messiter’s intrusion into the last moments the couple have together –the one objective at the beginning, the other subjectively near the end —  in my next post.

José Arroyo

PS at the end of  Altman (d: Ron Mann, USA, 2014), a wonderful documentary on the filmmaker, his wife Kathryn recounts how how watching Brief Encounter inspired Altman’s filmmaking, ‘one day, years  and years ago, just after the war, Bob had nothing to do and he went to a theatre in the middle of the afternoon to see a movie. Not a Hollywood movie, a British movie.He said the main character wasn’t glamorous, not a babe. And at first he wondered why he was even watching it. But twenty minutes later he was in tears and had fallen in love with her. And it made him feel that it wasn’t just a movie.

PPS: In an article reflecting on Lost in Translation 15 years after, Sofia Coppola writes: ‘“I got married not long before and kind of felt isolated. I was in this stage where I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choices or what I was doing in the post-college beginning of my adult life,” she says. “Brief Encounter was in my mind while writing but I was looking a lot of the idea of being connected because at that moment, I wasn’t.”

https://lwlies.com/articles/sofia-coppola-lost-in-translation-interview/

 

 

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, USA, 2010)

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This is about a Hollywood film star, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), kind of lost, marriage failed, all his wishes are met but they’re not really desires because all he’s got to do is look and he gets offered it. He doesn’t even need to ask. Girls flash their tits at him everywhere he turns and, tired though he is, he’s eager to please and be pleased, though sometimes he’s so tired he falls asleep doing it. Once in a while he returns home with his daughter to find random women in his bed and has to shoo them away, but always with a wistful regret that charms and seduces even at the moment of rejection. He’s so agreeable he can’t understand why they keep getting pissed off at him when he can’t give them more. He’s professional in his job and nice to everyone but detached.

The film begins with a beautiful sequence, a long take of a black Ferrari racing around an empty road in the desert. The Ferrari races in and out of the frame whilst the camera maintains its ground gazing emptily at the beautiful but parched scenery until the Ferrari once again drives into frame. A person we will later find out is Johnny gets out of the car. We’re allowed to see the emptiness of the landscape and the car becomes a metaphor for the film and the person: sleek, desirable, celebrated…but driving aimlessly and in a desert. The Ferrari and the Chateau Marmont, the shabby chic hotel where all the cool celebrities in LA stay, are recurring tropes in the film, evoking the luxury and comfort made available by celebrity. The Chateau is contrasted later with the chic, elegant and formal hotel in Italy. Coppola depicts luxury next to, sometimes even as, anomie — the plenitude and glitz of things but always on the verge of the void.

The film, and Johnny, sparks to life when his daughter Cleo (Ellie Fanning) arrives.  I can’t think of a better representation of a father-daughter relationship ever depicted on film: sweet, complex, reciprocal, full of feeling but always constrained by external forces partly of their making and partly outside their control. Johnny and Cleo communicate simply, through looks, clearly love each other, each want to spend more time with the other. I love how at the end of the beautiful scene extracted above she tells him about the book she’s reading. clearly referring to Twilight, and how he listens; the film and he both making room for and basking in the girlyness.

 

She makes him eggs benedict; he loves her eggs benedict. She seems to know all his faults, questions him glancingly on them, sometimes implying ‘really?’ as she sees the next girl he’s bringing over for breakfast. But though she seems to question his actions, she accepts him for who he is and never judges him as a person. He’s clearly crazy about her. She’s what really brings joy to his life and makes it meaningful. When they part, the anomie and the desert kind of re-engulfs him without quite extinguishing him. He gets back on an expensive car and back into an emotional desert. She goes to her mother; he returns to the walking dead. It’s a beautiful and rare relationship on film and it’s a beautiful and rare film.

 

PS

 

In a thoughtful piece on Somewhere and how it currently circulates called Searching for Somewhere ‘ (Film Quarterly, vol 64, No. 4), J. M. Tyree writes, ‘Somewhere is a remarkably divisive film that provokes genuine arguments amongst friends — plus it’s actively despised by some reviewers, denizens of the Twitterverse, and members of various online user communities…Searching through Twitter for references to Somewhere reveals a buzzing cloud of haters (not all of them clearly male)’. But I bet most are; and in any case screw ’em: they’re missing out on something rare and beautiful.

‘José Arroyo

The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, USA, 1999)

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Sofia Coppola’s first film. The title’s such a turn-off that I avoided it until 2012. I thought it would be depressing but it’s not: I was a fool. It’s an engaging and humorous work with a real feel for teenage female desire and angst. ‘What are you doing here honey’, says a doctor to one of the sisters after a suicide attempt, ‘you’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets’. ‘Obviously Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year old girl’. The situation and humour are slightly dark but the story is told with a welcome light touch throughout. The film’s  got depth too: the scene where Trip (Josh Hartnett) leaves Lux (Kirsten Dunst) in the football field without being able to quite comprehend it himself is one of many examples. Plus Coppola’s direction allows for  other pleasures: the callow attractiveness of Josh, the real beauty and skill of Kirsten, James Wood for once underplaying, and a suddenly aged Kathleen Turner, all marvellous. It’s beautifully directed but still falls apart at the suicide. What leads up to it is not quite conveyed. Surely being treated badly by a boy and not being allowed out for a while by their parents is not sufficient cause for it  otherwise so many more of us would be dead. Still, it’s a delight  to see a work of such skill and feeling from a first time director.

José Arroyo

Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, USA, 2006)

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The story of the tragic queen, a kind of contextual preamble to the French Revolution, shot as a tragic teen film. The film is a sumptuous, lively production, amongst the most beautiful and entertaining films of the last decade, distinguished by its use of music, its beautiful mise-en-scène and its evocation of a long-gone world in a way that makes it timely and relevant. Sets, props, and costumes have to be amongst the loveliest ever. Clearly, a lot of that is due to the period itself, but credit must also be given to the filmmakers in having the wit and knowledge to see the value in conveying it in a way that allows a contemporary audience to understand and appreciate it. The film is wonderful at showing the enervated obsessions with lifestyle, entertainment, shopping and consumption, so similar to that of our own epoch, as a frenzied refusal of unshakeable anomie, one doomed to failure. Everything about the film evokes a delicious dialectic between luxe and loss. Kirsten Dunst, at the peak of her melancholic beauty, is peerless as the tragic queen, doing her dutiful best to please other, and when failing, which is most of the time, at least striving to please herself; but Dunst’s face palpably evokes a foretaste of doom, as if all the palaces, clothes and jewels with which she tries to shoo away boredom and the burden of duty, will not keep her from her fate. Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI is almost as good, though he doesn’t erase the memory of Robert Morley as she does that of Norma Shearer in the 1938 version directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Yet another masterpiece from Sofia Coppola.

PS

 

Worth noting that as Rosalind Galt  in her great Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image (Film and Cutlure Series: New York: Columbia University Press, 2011) rightly  points out ‘Sofia Copppola’s Marie Antonette (2006) addresses precisely the relationships among rococo style, radical politics, and gender, but its deconstructive deployment of the Versailles decorative regime prompted critical response to view the films as equally clueless as its protagonist. If we regard the film as something other than a discourse on girly frivolity, it is possible to read its emphasis on the decorative image as precisely the location of its political intervention’ (loc 336 on the Kindle edition).

 

José Arroyo