One of the most incredible aspects of the TCM Classic Film Festival is how personalized an experience we all had when we were there. There were so many options on the schedule that every account from attendees seems to be different. Some focused on the early films of the 1920s...some on the more modern classics of the 1970s...and some who chose sentimental favorites from every era in between. But with the festival built around a theme of Style in the Movies, I made sure my entire schedule really reflected that. All of my activities, events, and screenings were steered toward what I consider the Style Essentials--iconic costume design in the movies.
Closing day Sunday was mostly spent at screenings in the darkened Grauman's Chinese and Egyptian Theaters...four full films plus discussions at almost every one. Seeing all these movies on the big screen was a sensation. They had so much depth to them, it is not an exaggeration to say it felt as though I was seeing the pictures in 3-D. If there was a costume on screen, you felt the texture of the fabric. If there was a set on screen, you felt you were inside the room. And the scenery was even more stunning as well...in To Catch a Thief, for instance, it was as if I was vacationing in the south of France.
Here is a recap of my Style in the Movies road map:
- Stanley Donen discussing directing icon Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957)
- Robert Evans discussing the cultural phenomenon of Ali MacGraw and her style in Love Story (1970)
- Kim Novak discussing her own iconic performance in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)
- Norman Jewison introducing sexy Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
- Two-time Bond Girls Maud Adams and Eunice Gayson introducing Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962)
- Chinatown (1974)--unfortunately missed the one due to losing both my phone and credit card (yes, both were returned to me)
- Grace Kelly in Edith Head in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955)
- Stanley Donen introducing Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (and her Givenchy) in Charade (1963)
- Joan Crawford (and many many others) in The Women (1939)
- Closing the festival, Tony Roberts introducing Woody Allen's trendsetting Annie Hall (1977)
With all this style, what surprised me most at the festival is how little the experts discussed it! Often dismissed as secondary to aspects like acting or directing, its importance to the longevity and legend of these films is far too often overlooked or taken for granted. A perfect example would be the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. His career stretches all the way back to 1922, but he is probably best known for his decade of hits--from Dial M for Murder (1954) to Marnie (1964). Yet even as host Ben Mankiewicz called out this creative peak in his introduction to To Catch a Thief on Sunday morning, he neglected to mention one of the biggest reasons these movies are still so well known and loved--their "Hitchcock Style." And the center of that style stems from the genius of the great costume designer Edith Head.
To Catch a Thief should be seen as a Style Essential. I dedicated an entire video to it last Fall. It possesses iconic costumes that continue to be influential in design. This is especially true of the blue and white goddess gowns, which were copied when the movie came out in the mid-1950s and designers still pay homage to the originals in their collections today. Even among her often Oscar nominated work, Edith considered this wardrobe her absolute best. Thus, she was devastated when she lost the Academy Award that year to Charles LeMaire for Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. Hard to believe when you see her costumes come to life on the big screen.
Charade was another movie I attended where style was not discussed. And yes, this is despite the fact that that it contains costume design by Hubert de Givenchy and style stars Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. When host Robert Osborne spoke with director Stanley Donen before the film, the conversation centered on securing Cary for the role. Early in the process, Donen lost his leading man to Howard Hawks on another picture. But thankfully, the script wasn't right (or good) and Cary asked to do Charade instead. That said, he still had changes he wanted to see in Charade's script...he believed it was wrong for a man his age to be chasing a girl, so he asked that the girl chase him instead. The changes worked and do make a rather charming twist to the story. No mention, though, of the early 1960s costumes that keep audiences coming back...luxurious minimalist dresses, suits, and hats from Givenchy that made his muse, Audrey, an icon.
Later that afternoon, The Women was shown at the Egyptian and style was finally discussed between guest hosts film critic Cari Beauchamp and designer Todd Oldham. It's only appropriate since this movie represents some of the best work by MGM's genius costume designer Adrian. Adrian was responsible for Jean Harlow's body in bias cut and Joan Crawford's strong shoulders, and both designs inspired trends in the mainstream marketplace that are still influential today. The Women is from 1939, the Greatest Year in Hollywood History, and features an all-female cast with the biggest stars at the time--Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer. Adrian not only had to create costumes that fit all the different characters, but the designs had to work for each of the leading ladies as well. Of course this was also done while carefully navigating the enormous egos involved. Even more impressive is that The Women has a lengthy color fashion show right in the middle of the black and white film, which is a feat in and of itself for all involved...technically similar to The Wizard of Oz, which came out the same year.
Closing night at Grauman's Chinese Theater was a screening of another Style Essential--1977's Annie Hall. Last year's festival ended with Manhattan, so it was only fitting that I finish with another Woody Allen film. Not to mention such a giant...this movie represents a seismic shift in mainstream fashion. The costumes were overseen by Ralph Lauren, but it was Diane Keaton's own natural style that made the cultural impact. Woody loved how she dressed and in recognizing her genius allowed her to costume the character. The menswear, hats, vests, flowing dresses, and loose scarves are all Diane and still relevant today. Along with Ali MacGraw in Love Story, Diane led the beginning of a look that is now called Boho Chic.
But...once again, style was not what Robert discussed beforehand with Annie Hall co-star Tony Roberts. Instead, it was more about the experience of watching Woody create this Oscar-winning film. Much has been written about how Annie Hall resulted from great editing, and Tony praised Woody for being like a photographer who can take 100 pictures of the same thing but know which one is right. Many great takes were thrown out simply because they distracted from the central love story that emerged while in production. One take that did make the cut was the result of Tony's own improvisation...surprising Woody by wearing a radiation suit in front of the jail. Without missing a beat, Woody asked "Max, are we driving through plutonium?" It was this first take that was included in the film.
After laughing for an hour and a half straight, it was time to head over to the closing night party. TCMers, classic cinema stars, and festival attendees all gathered in the Blossom Room at the Roosevelt Hotel--the site of the first Academy Awards--to celebrate and reflect on our incredible shared experience. We found ourselves toasting new friends from around the country we had gotten to know over the course of the festival. And one of the greatest rewards was hearing how much of a difference I made in making people more conscious of style, including experts on classic cinema who were now looking at these movies in an entirely new way. Even Robert Osborne, who has seen these films hundreds of times, paid me a compliment on a question he considered "great" as he began to think more deeply about his own style influences from film.
From art direction to costume design, style is such an important aspect of any film and it's shocking how often it goes unrecognized. After all, it's really the style that helps make most of our memories. Whether we're conscious of it or not, these images from classic cinema have not only informed our past but continue to influence our present and inspire our future. The most successful fashion designers know their history and pay homage to these designs all the time. This summer, I'll be teaching a three-day seminar at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) on the History of Fashion in Film. I look forward to celebrating the style that has shaped the way we dress today, and making sure that future fashion designers know this and always have an incredible source of inspiration.
Hooray for Hollywood--thanks Turner Classic Movies and see you next year!
Early Sunday morning in Hollywood at Grauman's Chinese Theater
Hooray for Hollywood: 1960s purple/orange/red/off-white embossed cotton dress, J. Crew off-white coat,
1960s purple leather purse, Jessica Simpson purple suede peeptoe pumps,
vintage silver bangle, several skinny gold bangle bracelets, gold hoop earrings,
and gold Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses
Off with my coat in the lobby and powder room of Grauman's Chinese Theater
Style by Edith Head...
see more on the movie's costumes in my Cinema Style File video
At the Egyptian for Charade and The Women...
Style by Hubert de Givenchy
Style by Adrian
Closing night at Grauman's Chinese Theater for Annie Hall
Style by Ralph Lauren and trendsetter Diane Keaton
Discussion with Woody Allen alum Tony Roberts
Celebrating style at the closing night party at the Roosevelt Hotel
Sharp-dressed men...meeting my (Atlanta-based) TCM podcast producer David Byrne (above)
and Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller
See everyone next year!