Archive for the ‘Classic Films’ Category

Adrian

Posted by Winifred on June 25th, 2014  •  No Comments »

We’re having such a time reading about the work of interior designer Tony Duquette, his tutelage under Elsie de Wolfe, his many clients in Old Hollywood and his work with the costume designer Adrian. When Adrian left MGM to open his own Beverly Hills salon, it was Tony Duquette he turned to to create the interiors, advertising and displays.

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Adrian Salon Beverly Hills

 

With “amaze me” as his only directive,  Tony created dipped plaster elephants, plaster lace pagodas, plaster monkeys, bas reliefs and a scene of found objects. Only the artistry of Adrian’s gowns could withstand the dramatics of a Duquette staging. It was Adrian who created the look that would launch Jean Harlow as the original blonde bombshell. Harlow once said that without her hair color Hollywood would never know her name. We suspect those fitted silk gowns cut to accentuate always braless breasts and flow along every curve of her figure, also made her a star in films like Dinner at Eight and Hold Your Man.

We always did find her to have a funny looking face, and don’t much care for the extreme pencil thin eyebrows, even if it was the 1930s. We can’t imagine what her lover, William Powell faced first thing in the morning before they were painted on. Harlow surely slept in make-up…Nevertheless, we came to like her style and her attitude in films like Red Dust. But mostly we love her dresses. It’s what we adore about the 1930s. The decadence, the ultra feminine, the soft yet bold sexy. Though Adrian became better known for his stronger silhouettes created for Joan Crawford, particularly the padded shoulders, he knew how to tailor a dress to glorify any woman’s body and build character through costume.

Born Adrian Adolph Greenberg, the designer became known as Adrian during his career creating costumes for MGM film studios in the 1930s and 1940s. Adrian created costumes for over 200 films, many that we have loved. Dinner at Eight, The Great Ziegfeld, Grand Hotel, Marie Antoinette, Mata Hari, The Philadelphia Story, The Women.  Too many to name, but classic film lovers will not have missed his work.

We thought we would take a detour from our readings on Duquette and celebrate the glamour and design in film costumed by Adrian

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Greta GarboMata Hari , 1931

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Jean HarlowDinner at Eight, 1933

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Joan Crawford Grand Hotel,  1932

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Katherine Hepburn The Philadelphia Story, 1940

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Jeanette MacDonaldThe Firefly, 1937

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Norma ShearerMarie Antoinette, 1938

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Hedy LamarrThe Great Ziegfeld, 1936

Posted in : Classic Films, Head wear, On Style, Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Should TCM still show films with blackface?

Posted by Winifred on June 19th, 2014  •  No Comments »

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We love William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series and are always pleased when we run across an episode on TCM. As Mr. K has recently started to enjoy the work of William Powell, we thought we would introduce him to the series as well, inviting him to join us for Shadow of the Thin Man. It was mere seconds in when we lost him. All it took to ruin Mr. K’s rare interest in a classic film was the appearance of Louise Beavers as the Charles’ maid, wide eyed with open mouth as she struggles to pronounce the word telepathy. This is a frequent routine for us in our efforts to bring Mr. K into our love for classic film. Mr. K starts off open, is soon offended with the appearance of a black actor in a subservient role, and closes the door on TCM until we slowly, weeks or months later can lure him back with the proper star, story or action, preferably along the lines of Bullitt.

A few days after Mr. K sulked through The Thin Man, we saw Barry Cunningham question with disgust why TCM (the Turner Classic Movie Channel) continues to broadcast films depicting blackface. Mr. K understood the question – he would just as soon scrub a number of titles from TCM’s lineup and not just those showing blackface. We no more enjoy Louise Beavers’ eyes popping out of her head than Mr. K does. We just finally experienced an exquisite moment of elegance with Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle, an image of a black woman still so rare in media, some 80 years after The Thin Man. We too would prefer to not, each time we turn to TCM, be confronted with only the most racist, unflattering imagery of black men and women, or feel the greatest regret that the 1930s and 40s had no black Gene Tierney, Carol Lombard, or Bette Davis.

Barry Cunningham offers that TCM at least start with a warning label to films depicting blackface, allowing parents, for instance, to determine if such imagery is something they would allow their children to see. We second that, but also wonder if this label would not be appropriate for just about every film with a black cast member say, pre-1970? Let’s look at In The Heat Of The Night. How hard is it to stomach the gallant, debonair, gem that is Sidney Poitier being called “boy” throughout the film? Would a warning label be placed on that? And if Mr. K had his way and we scrubbed TCM’s lineup clean of such offending films, would In The Heat Of The Night, an important film in the history of Black Hollywood, not be one to be edited out?

We have previously written about the difficulty of loving the early 20th century and the disappointments that come with that for a black woman. But we persist in these films because after we close our eyes for the humiliation of actresses like Louise Beavers, we are left with film that is beautiful, that is art, that shows Myrna Loy making 3 outfit changes within a day, that tells of the social norms of that time, the language, the mannerisms. We get a view of history. We saw Barry Cunningham scoff at this concept a bit, and we do not blame him. But as an immigrant we truly appreciate the opportunity to look back.

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We want to know even the unpleasant parts of America. Fortunately on TCM they are served with a side of refinement and style we wished had better endured. We want to know that in 1929 Nina Mae McKinney starred in Hallelujah, the first sound film with an all black cast. We can see for ourselves that despite all efforts to deglamourize her, Nina Mae would have outDietriched Dietrich, outlgamoured Lombard, outposed Garbo.

We would certainly have appreciated a warning for Showboat, letting us know Irene Dunne, who we had just enjoyed in several films including A Guy Named Joe, was going to appear in blackface. Shame on Irene Dunne, but thank you TCM for airing the film and her dirty laundry in effect. Had it not been for TCM, we might not have known and would foolishly have given her a place not deserved. The upside was not missing the opportunity to enjoy the voice of Paul Robeson.

Old Hollywood was for black actors an unbearable time and continuing to show these films is a reminder of a great shame that should not be forgotten. In a small way we feel that not suppressing these works also honors those who had this shame to bear. We quietly do so every time we tune in…

Posted in : Classic Films, In an Ideal World..., On Style, Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Opulent and Refined…

Posted by Winifred on June 6th, 2014  •  No Comments »

What else is the seductress to do

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But to bathe with Tuberose soaps

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By the flames of the red poison apple

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Then feast from gold lined plates

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Draping herself in diamonds, and

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Swaying in pom pom heels

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Images Via Lucky Scent, Enarche, BellaBoutique, Pinterest, DL & Co

Posted in : Beauty, Classic Films, Jewelry, Looks we Love, Objects of Our Desire  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dido Elizabeth Belle

Posted by Winifred on June 5th, 2014  •  No Comments »

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We had waited patiently, knowing that what was in our minds would one day come to fruition. We had waited patiently for nowhere had we ever been portrayed in the way we know us to be. Not any of our models, actresses, icons, or role-models anywhere, had ever been captured the way we knew they should have been. None had ever received the treatment, that of adoration, that which captivates, that which brings to life the delicate and rare flower that resides within. Of course there had been the ordinary. Patronizing and often condescending portrayals of sexiness, glamour, power, strength, some better than others. But we had never been able to find the words for what was missing, until they were said by Amma Asante, Director of the film Belle.

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Asante said, “I wanted to put a woman of colour on screen with visual value, with mental and psychological value, and not have anything that would take away from that…” Value, mental and psychological, is what Asante gave us in her film about Dido Elizabeth Belle. Greater still, in creating Belle, Asante also gave us, long suffering women of color who have been consistently disappointed in our portrayal, a portrait of ladylike elegance, refinement and grace heretofore unseen in cinema or mediums of any kind. She gave to us an era, a time and place – eighteenth century aristocracy – from which we had always presumed to have been excluded. This may be the next important event to have occurred for us since Michelle Obama became First Lady.

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Belle is a gorgeous film with all the storybook details of Jane Austen, except it tells the more important story of the British slave trade, by way of the Zong Massacre trial. The trial was presided over by Lord Mansfield, in which 142 diseased African slaves were thrown off a ship, the Zong, in 1781 – worth more dead, with an insurance payout, than alive. The insurers refused to pay. Lord Mansfield meanwhile, is also the guardian of his niece Dido, a mixed race child who’s mother was a slave. For the most part she is raised with the same education, introduction to society and status as her cousin who Lord Mansfield also cares for. We would have been more than pleased simply leaving this film with visuals of the beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido.

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But sometimes the camera and the story telling serve as vehicles to draw out the exquisite beauty, of its subject the way artists in other mediums do. The camera was there to draw out the character’s full value, as Asante said. And so she did. From Dido’s regal stride, the arch in her back, the length of her neck, the softness of her curls, the delicacy of her complexion, her cultured ways, her refinement, her essence as a lady, no detail was spared in conveying, lineage, status, breeding. But more remarkable, was Dido’s strong sense of pride in her African lineage and a desire for the life and privilege she was awarded to be shared by the African slaves from which she came. As she starts to question the laws that allow her privilege, yet limit her future, the Zong Massacre Trial, serves as an opportunity to change the world. Lord Mansfield was instrumental in bringing about the end of the British slave trade, an act one cannot help but attribute to his own black bloodline.

Once Asante offers us the rewards of Dido’s refinement and grace, she does not allow it to be snatched away with a romance not befitting Dido’s status. Her husband-to-be is an abolitionist lawyer and their romance also becomes her political awakening.

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Belle is a very satisfying film and for us vindication. We knew the need was urgent, for a black woman to show up in this way and it turns out that desire was not ours alone. In addition to our own gushing, proud and elevated response to the film, we witnessed that of other black movie goers as well. Gugu Mbatha-Raw has said to have experienced the same from fans who have thanked her for what she has given them.

Amma and Gugu, the breadth of our gratitude is infinite, your service indescribable. The best we may do for you is to share everywhere we can the gift of Belle….

Posted in : Beauty Refined, Classic Films, In an Ideal World..., Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mad Men, a kind of an ending…

Posted by Winifred on May 26th, 2014  •  No Comments »

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It was a short season that took us through many turns, mercifully landing the way the viewers really needed it to. What we love about classic films is an opportunity to see how history was experienced by those living it. They may not be the exact, but they are close interpretations of a way of life and a way of thought that is clarifying. Mad Men does this too. Who knew, for instance, the amount of skepticism and dread even, that American people felt over the mission to the moon? The uncertainty that the astronauts would even make it there.

Even office politics – was there really that lack of subtlety in the way a Jim Cutler tries to edge out Don Draper? Immediately after discovering Bert Cooper’s death? And how we gasped when Pete Campbell said of Peggy’s Burger Chef presentation, “she’s as good as any woman in here….” What does always amuse us is how badly the institution of marriage fared even during a time when it was an assumed rite of passage. Even in the 1930s the assessment had already been made that women marry in the hopes a man will change and men marry in the hopes nothing will. Pete Campbell calling marriage a racket after Don admits to the failure of his second, was expected then.

We couldn’t be more pleased it has finally happened. Is it possible we can have the last season entirely without Megan or will we have to endure more of her distance and cruelty even once she and Don have agreed to separate? We hope to be spared.

Peggy’s pitch to Burger Chef was a masterpiece, Don’s masterpiece, but still delivered with a confidence and poetry we have not experienced from her. How could we have found it in ourselves, we wondered, to deliver such a pitch, when it was so personal? The Burger Chef table, where everyone can go is the one she needs most, because she has no where and no one. Especially referencing her 10 year old neighbor who had just told her he was moving. We really interpreted her tears upon the news as her losing the safest and easiest relationship she has been able to have with the opposite sex. The only one in which she could be herself and be accepted and not be hurt.

Masterful was Roger taking a leadership role, no longer content to just live a hippie life of orgies. He gave us what we needed most, the return of he and Don at the helm, as he arranges a buyout that will offer the partners money, autonomy and a new direction. The boys are back and we suspect so are a few more moves that will redeem them both as we are forced to say goodbye.

Meanwhile, we will live our own 60s life, our vintage fashion life, our glamorous life…

Posted in : Classic Films, On Style, Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , ,

Things to look forward to for Summer…

Posted by Winifred on May 21st, 2014  •  No Comments »

Unlike most here on the East, we never complained during the long Winter. There was that one day when the puddles of melted snow almost sank our Fiorentini and Baker biker boots and had our poor toes, though not wet, quite frozen. But for the rest we paid it no never mind. We can always stay in sweaters and coats, ear muffs, and woven hats. Besides, what is more romantic than being wrapped around Mr. K while watching glorious fat snow flakes floating down on a sea of blanketed trees and roofs? We can stay entirely in the moment, even when that moments stretches on for months.

But when the sun begins to shine and warm balmy days finally happen, we really light up. We waste no time becoming ever present on the roof deck, finding the open air and sunlight compatible to most anything we might do in a day; meditation, guitar sessions, reading, stretching, cocktails, all meals, even sleeping.

We’ll use Memorial Day Weekend to start off a long delicious season of communing with nature…

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Working on our a mixologist credentials and

earning reasons to own a

Buster and Punch Rockstar Bar,

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We will start with

Whiskey Ginger’s,

sipping them overlooking the city,

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They will give us the courage to rock out

as if we were Nik West,

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In a jumpsuit of course,

we might need another,

like this one by Maria Grachvogel,

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We really never stop wearing a scarf, in Winter under a fedora,

in Summer tied through our hair,

nonchalantly falling over our shoulders,

at least thats how Diana and we do…

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But the most heavenly of all,

is lounging languorous and sweet,

basking with contentment and harmony,

in all of our blessings,

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A refined, passionate, meditative peace

that sings,

can you feel the brand new day?

Images Via ShrimptonCouture, BusterandPunch, NYTimes, Pinterest

Posted in : A Taste Refined, Classic Films, Dimensions, Looks we Love, Objects of Our Desire, On Style, Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nina Mae McKinney, superstar…

Posted by Winifred on May 16th, 2014  •  No Comments »

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It was totally by accident that the TV was turned off and left on TCM and that we at the right moment would turn it back on to find ourselves stopped short at what looked like a very early film with an all black cast. It was from 1929 no less! The film was Hallelujah, directed by King Vidor featuring a beautiful, magnetic, sassy, raspy voiced star named Nina Mae McKinney. She jumps off the screen immediately, with her doe eyes, her pouty lips, her decisive but feminine moves. Who was she? Why had we never heard of her before and why was she not on our Pinterest boards?

Nina Mae, (pronounced Nine-ah) was born in Lancaster, South Carolina. She had moved to New York as part of the great migration and was discovered on Broadway in the musical Blackbirds of 1928 by Director King Vidor. What is so remarkable is that Nina Mae was only 16 when she starred in Hallelujah, thus she had everything ahead of her. She had beauty, energy, playfulness, she had sexy, spunk and glamour. She should have had it all.

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She was the first black actress to star in a sound film, and was even signed to a 5 year contract with MGM after the success of Hallelujah which included an Oscar nomination for best writing. This, however, never led to any significant roles and she soon left for Europe where she starred in several British films and also performed in cabarets. In Europe they called her the black Garbo. And that she was.

That there are not many photos or even all of her films in the American archives serves us well. That way, we will not mourn for what could have been and not question why she was not a ultra glamorous, divine and richly chronicled star. Without the interference of less flattering photographs and unflattering film roles to mar the thrill of our discovery, we can construct the image of her that we prefer. A great beauty and enduring star.

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In our view of her, Nina Mae McKinney has her hair perfectly set and waved, ultra thin long silky lashes make her already large eyes, sparkle. Her lips are ruby red, a shade of russian red just for her. She is in an Orry-Kelly gown, very low in the back, semi low in front, sequins lighting up her tiny frame and curves. Her nails, also red, holding a long cigarette of course, like all elegant ladies of the 1930s should. And in her photographs, shadows play up her beautiful skin against dark backgrounds, her eyes the stars that mesmerize and seduce. Her days would look like this and her glamour shook up the world…

Images Via pocinclassicfilm

Posted in : Beauty Refined, Classic Films, In an Ideal World...  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Orange Chiffon Cake paired with Old Hollywood Glamour

Posted by Winifred on May 11th, 2014  •  No Comments »

Oh, we had been absolutely spent! Days of fighting with interior designer, Billy Haines, over 100-year old hand painted Chinese wall coverings and the specific velvet drapings for our vanity. We had almost completed handwritten notes inviting friends to our new Roland E. Coate designed home, when we ran out of our Mrs. John L. Strong stationery. We had yet to receive our custom made Ferragamo sandals and the recent fitting for the Robert Piguet gown in which to float around from room to room, air kissing our Hollywood friends, did not help us with our most important decision…would we wear a turban or was the over the shoulder draping dramatic enough?

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The party was all we could do from falling into a slump. We had just met with executives at MGM to discuss the part of Nora on ‘The Thin Man’ series. W.S. Van Dyke wanted William Powell to play the part of Nick, the glamorous socialite Nora’s husband, and for the couple to have an affectionate banter and friendship style of marriage. We were thrilled to have an opportunity to play opposite William Powell, but in the end, contractual agreements prevented us from taking on the role. We had already been fitted by costume designer Edith Head for a film noir. The part of Nora went to Myrna Loy. The studio system be damned!

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The only thing to do was to swing our Figoni et Falaschi Talbot-Lago T150-C by Hollywood and Vine and take our regular table at the Brown Derby.

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It was certainly not quiet or peaceful, what one would expect we would need after such harrowing days. But the Brown Derby was home; there was comfort in the food, the service and in being seen in our freshly curled hair. Carole was there with Clark. We never much liked her in a hat. We made sure to confirm attending each other’s party, but do hope she won’t serve us dinner on the floor this time…

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Kay Francis was there and oh, was she dressed! We already had some of her Orry-Kelly gowns made.

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Dietrich was there, in a veil, distant eyes, with a cigarette working over beef stew. We stopped by to make fun of her for the nightclub number in Blond Venus. She seemed sufficiently shamed for the ape costume and blond afro.

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Then we sat down for a Cobb salad. Bob Cobb always made sure to save us a generous piece of orange chiffon cake. Clark and we finished off the last of it. Cary, Myrna and Ava had to settle for the grapefruit cake. Our stomachs full and banter had, we braced ourselves for the next task – unearthing our Globe-Trotter trunks.

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The Mister and we are sailing off for the Island of Guidecca for a languorous stay at Casa Frollo. We have sent the recipe for chiffon cake ahead…

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Orange Chiffon Cake
From Lost Desserts By Gail Monaghan

For the orange chiffon cake:
2 1/4 cups of cake flour
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
5 large eggs, separated, plus 3 egg whites – at room temperature
1/2 cup of canola oil
3 tablespoons of orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup of granulated sugar

For the orange icing:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups of confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons orange juice
Grated zest of 2 large oranges
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Sift together the flour, superfine sugar, baking powder, and salt onto parchment paper or into a medium size mixing bowl. Then sift again.

In another large glass bowl, vigorously whisk the 5 egg yolks, oil, orange zest, vanilla, and 3/4 cup of water until smooth. About 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture and whisk to just combine.

Using the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the 8 egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until very soft peaks form. Gradually add the granulated sugar and increase the speed to high. Beat until peaks are stiff but not dry.

Using a rubber spatula, fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Pour the egg mixture over the remaining egg whites and fold together until just combined, but completely incorporated. Scrape batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube or angel food cake pan with a removable bottom. Smooth the top and bake in the lower third of the oven; check after 30 minutes, if the cake is browning too quickly, lightly rest a piece of foil over it. Bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Remove from oven and cool upside down on built in prongs or a bottle (wine bottle works well) – with the bottle neck through the hole, until completely cool – about 1 1/2 hours.

To unmold, slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan, pressing the knife against the pan to avoid tearing the cake. Use the knife to detach the cake from the center tube: pull the tube upward to remove the cake from the pan side. Slide the knife under the cake to detach it from the bottom. Invert and let the cake drop onto your hand or a serving platter.

For the icing, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove from the heat and sir in the confectioners’ sugar, orange juice, zest and salt. Turn the heat down as low as possible and return the saucepan to the heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and beat (briefly for a pourable glaze or several minutes for a spreadable icing). You can place the sauce pan in a larger pan of ice water to speed the process. Stir in the vanilla and drizzle the glaze over or spread the icing on the cake. Let set before serving.

Images Via Pinterest, Heatherhomemade

Posted in : A Taste Refined, Classic Films, Looks we Love, On Style, Travel, Vintage Fashion  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The face of Gene Tierney in ‘Laura’

Posted by Winifred on April 25th, 2014  •  No Comments »

We do remember that face from Leave Her to Heaven and The Razor’s Edge, but the face was even more incredible in Laura.

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That face belongs to Gene Tierney, and while make-up and lighting are always masterful in Films Noir, this face was that and more.

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We do credit Guy Pearce with creating tricks of eyeliner that elongate the shape of the eye, and placing highlighter on the inner corners gives brightness and definition as well. Using eyeliner under the eye to give the illusion of shadows from the lashes – Tierney gave a devastating eye.

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Then there were those lashes, impossibly thin long peaks of lash, so long they covered her lower lid yet seemed almost not there. They had a way of brightening the eyes, making them pop right open. Llama eyes without the heavy llama lash. What’s stunning about the photography of that time, is that even in black and white you see color. You feel certain that you are seeing green in those eyes, that blueish green of Mediterranean waters.

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The look is so fresh, so bright, so completely focused on shaping the face, widening the eyes, bright sparkling, piercing eyes, a small straight nose, not a button exactly, but shapeless. Unnoticed with those eyes, because the next thing your eye does, is travel to Gene’s mouth.

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We are more than a fan of a defined lip, we demand it. We rarely see a beautiful mouth. A nice lip, lovely colors, yes, all the time. But Guy Pearce really elevated this already shapely lip; more than just a swipe of lipstick, this is art, a signature shape, defined to frame the face…These lips are more rare. We see a commitment to shape, to architectural lines of the face, drawn with specificity, perhaps with concealer, drawing out, the essence of her.

We see in our future a project: the search for an artist who can capture our face, the best of our eyes, nose and mouth, the defining lines, the creation of our signature…

Images Via Pinterest

Posted in : Classic Films  •  Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Mogambo or Red Dust?

Posted by Winifred on April 18th, 2014  •  No Comments »

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We watched Mogambo, 1953, because we were interested in more of Clark Gable’s work and also Ava Gardner’s. Of course we are always a bit hesitant to watch any film shot in Africa knowing that the storyline will be unflattering to natives. There was plenty of ordering natives about, throwing towels at them, unflattering speak behind their backs. Once we accepted that as part of the trial we would have to go through, we settled in for the story. A love triangle set in Africa, with Clark Gable in the lead as a game hunter, and Ava Gardner as a showgirl looking to meet a rich maharajah who did not show. That part of the story seemed to us a bit flimsy, and we actually read it as her looking for an excuse to escape somewhere, not that there really had been any setting of a meeting.

Given how quickly she then started a relationship with Gable, this seemed all the more so. After a few days of frolicking in the wild, a third party enters the scene. Grace Kelly and her husband, who want to film gorillas. Gable then falls for Kelly while taking care of her husband who conveniently falls ill. By the time he recovers, Kelly and Gable are mad for each other and Gardner is the woman scorned left to take it all in.

We did like Gardner with Gable, but her sad pining quickly wore thin next to Kelly’s grace. More and more she looked used up with nothing left to offer, and Kelly though not giving her greatest performance still resonated as the better choice. What we did not know is that Mogambo is a remake of Red Dust from 1932. We watched Red Dust after and were surprised we liked it better. Red Dust also starred Gable, 21 years younger and not much better, we were pleased to say. This time Jean Harlow is a prostitute on the run and Mary Astor the wife of a new employee. The location Indo China, the setting a rubber plantation.

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Harlow’s role was considered much racier than Gardner’s, primarily because, as was mostly the case for a Harlow role, her breasts were not confined to a bra and she was consistently jiggling and bending about in flouncy, low cut dresses. There was also a bit more heat between she and Gable as he went, in a flash, from high levels of irritation to presumptuous and forward. But what made it fun was Harlow’s character; rather than being sad and forlorn she was also gutsy, playful and wild. In a cute scene she is bathing in an outdoor shower when Gable asks her to use the curtain so as not to offend Astor. Harlow then jumps in a barrel and finishes bathing there just as Astor comes out and sees them.

Though Red Dust has the same colonialist racism, with plenty of unflattering depictions of Asians, what made it better was that it had none of the bad discrepancies of Mogambo which struggled to combine clear set footage of the actors with raw documentary footage of African wildlife. Some of it so blatant as to appear cartoonish.

Both stories could have benefited from a better ending. Gable, after feeling some guilt over breaking up a marriage, decides to make his lover believe that he does not want her and wants her to go back to her husband. After sending off husband and wife, he then turns to his discards, now wanting them back. That disappointed a bit, particularly for Harlow who would seem far too brassy to accept second best. Even Gardner would not seem the kind to take him back, simply for the long suffering she was made to endure.

Neither movie tops any lists, but Magambo was particularly dry and slow where Red Dust offered levity and more sparks. If you must watch one, we enjoy Mary Astor and Jean Harlow’s breasts do entertain. A young, oft shouting Clark Gable works well, and frankly, difficult as it already is to watch classic films, the disrespect heaped upon the Southeast Asians hurt a bit less. Sorry…

Images Via Wooden boat, Doctormacro

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