All posts by Josephine Grahl

Master Chef – Babette’s Feast


by Josephine Grahl

Based on a short story by Danish author Karen Blixen (who also wrote as Isak Dinesen), Babette’s Feast (1987) tells the story of two sisters, Martine (played by Birgitte Federspiel) and Philippa (Bodil Kjer) who live in a remote fishing village on the western coast of Denmark. Daughters of a Christian pastor who leads his own sect based on self-denial and austerity, after his death they preside over his dwindling flock, doing good works and living a simple, austere life. Continue reading Master Chef – Babette’s Feast

The Man in the White Suit

By Josephine Grahl

Paul Kinsey: It’s from the future, a place so close to us now,
filled with wonder and ease.

Don Draper: Except some people think of the future and it upsets them. They see a rocket, they start building a bomb shelter.

— Mad Men

There are films which seem as though they come from another world. The Man In The White Suit (1951)  is one of those. In some ways it’s a straightforward comedy about unforeseen consequences; but in another way, it’s a film about a world that might have been but never was – that might have been but now never can be.

Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) is a maverick research scientist in the textile industry occupied with synthesising a new fabric. As a researcher, he’s fired from several mills, but then finds himself working for Birnley’s, first as a labourer and then, by accident, as a researcher. The gradual sequence in which he appears, peering from behind his lab equipment, disappearing behind a door, to the gentle ‘blip… bloop’ of his chemical process is a gently comical delight.

Continue reading The Man in the White Suit

Character building – Hollywood costume at the V&A

By Josephine Grahl

Fashion and the movies have a mutually rewarding relationship. Historical movies, however authentically costumed, almost always have a little something of the period in which they are made – think of the poofy, quintessentially sixties hair in Doctor Zhivago, or the 1935 version of Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo as Anna, in which the female characters attend balls in sequinned strapless vamp dresses more suited to 1930s Hollywood than to late nineteenth century Petersburg. But it goes the other way too – Dr Zhivago sparked a brief craze for fur hats and long Russian coats, and Gone with the Wind inspired a short-lived fashion for romantic full-skirted evening dresses before the fabric restrictions of the Second World War put an end to such frivolous wastefulness.

Evidence for this symbiosis is sprinkled throughout the V&A’s new exhibition of Hollywood costume, five years in preparation, which assembles some of the most memorable and iconic costumes from the last century of Hollywood film. Witness the costume in which Claudette Colbert played Cleopatra in 1934, which to modern eyes looks like nothing so much as a particularly elegant 1930s evening gown. Next to it, one of Elizabeth Taylor’s outfits for her portrayal of the Egyptian queen is a reminder of the fashion for gilded embellishment and weighty jewellery which followed the success of the 1963 film. Since the exhibition is at the V&A, it’s an interesting exercise to visit the fashion galleries down the corridor and compare the authentic period clothing with the versions produced for film – how far do cinema versions stray from the authentic? How are the shapes and silhouettes exaggerated or minimised? When a costume is made to be filmed, what effect does that have on the detailing or on the colours used?

Continue reading Character building – Hollywood costume at the V&A

Let’s all go on an urban safari

Josephine Grahl reviews Plan B’s iLL Manors. There will be plot spoilers after the jump.

As the bunting is taken down after the Jubilee, and David Cameron looks forward to the Olympics being a “giant advertisement” for Britain, it’s perhaps a good moment to be reminded of last year’s most dramatic London event, the riots which erupted in August. Rapper Plan B’s song iLL Manors was one of the first mainstream cultural responses to the riots, and he’s followed it up with a film of the same title which looks at the lives of a group of young people growing up in the impoverished council estates of Forest Gate in Newham, east London, where he was born and grew up. iLL Manors doesn’t deal with the riots themselves, instead focusing on the day-to-day life of a group of drug dealers and their hangers-on in the fictional Circle Estate.

Continue reading Let’s all go on an urban safari