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Kitchen Sink Dramas – Dark Side of the Sixties

10 Dec

I love the 1960s. And I think you already know that. I love Syd Barrett, early Pink Floyd and psychedelia in London, I love Twiggy’s doll-like make up, I love Jean-Luc Godard’s Nouvelle Vague films, especially those starring Anna Karina, I love listening to young, sweet and innocent Marianne Faithfull singing ‘Come and Stay With Me’ or ‘As Tears Go By’, I love watching films with gorgeous Brigitte Bardot, I love listening to Jim Morrisson singing about L.A. – the city of light, I love looking at pictures of Jean Shrimpton shot by David Bailey, I love the student’s protests in Paris and Jane Birkin and Serge singing together, I love the mini dress. But I also love the other side of the sixties, not so glamorous and swinging aspect of the decade, I love the kitchen sink realism.

1960s-shelagh-delaneyShelagh Delaney, by Arnold Newman, 1961

Kitchen sink realism or kitchen sink drama is a cultural movement that manifested itself in films, theatre, art and television plays. It’s characteristic for late 1950s and early 1960s, but because the themes are so universal the term can be applied to artworks and films of later date, for example, Ken Loach’s film Looks and Smiles (1981) has all the characteristics of a kitchen sink drama but was made in the eighties. Also, an earlier film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) resembles kitchen sink realism very much, it deals with poverty and limited education opportunities for lower classes seen through the prism of a working class Irish-immigrant family in Brooklyn. In a way, kitchen sink realism is an aesthetic, and not just a movement.

Typical kitchen sink drama characters are working class lads and girls who all want something more and better of life, although they often can’t define just what is it they long for, live in the North of England or the Midlands in council houses, or grim attic apartments. They are young, intelligent and often good looking, but their social background, along with a string of bad decisions makes them trapped in lives of resignation, bitterness and disillusionment.

1961-a-taste-of-honey-with-rita-tushingham-2A Taste of Honey, 1961, with Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin

Jo from ‘A Taste of Honey (1961)’ is a fifteen year old schoolgirl who falls in love with a black sailor and gets pregnant, in ‘Room at the Top (1959)‘ a working class lad Joe has to decide between living with a woman he truly loves or marrying a pretty young middle class girl which will land him a great job, in ‘Poor Cow (1967)‘ Joy lives with an abusive husband who ends up in jail and has to take care of a small son while still craving beauty, romance and pleasure, in ‘Up the Junction (1965)’ Rube, a young girl working in a confectionery factory, gets pregnant and goes through a traumatic illegal abortion because that’s the only option, In ‘Look Back in Anger (1959)‘ dissatisfied Jimmy Carter, played by Richard Burton, has a sweet-stall in the market, plays trumpet and lives with a passive middle class wife Allison, in ‘The L-Shaped Room (1962)‘ Jane is pregnant and doesn’t want to marry the father, Cathy Come Home (1966) deals with the subject of homelessness.As you can see, every character has a deep inner turmoil and usually ends up unable to fight back the cruel reality.

Their ideals are unattainable, they are in the gutter but they are trying to look at the stars – but there’s none to be seen on that dark, bleak sky of the industrial north. What they want they cannot reach, and if they do get what they want- there’s usually a nasty price to be paid. Was it worth it, they all ask themselves after the taste of honey has vanished from their lips.

by Arnold Newman, bromide print, 1961Shelagh Delaney, by Arnold Newman, 1961

It would be impossible to write this post without mentioning Morrissey and The Smiths; it was because of Morrissey that I was introduced to Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey, and then the movement itself. Perhaps the reason I loved it so much lies in the fact that I love Morrissey’ lyrics, which often deal with similar subjects as the kitchen sink dramas; ‘small-town frustration, lost dreams and complicated loves’ (Why Pamper Life’s Complexities? Essay on The Smiths).

This quote from the book already mentioned above illustrates the connection between kitchen sink dramas and Morrissey’s lyrics:

Kitchen-sink characters such as Jo from ‘A Taste of Honey’, Arthur from ‘Saturday Night Sunday Morning’, Billy from ‘Billy Liar’ and Colin from ‘The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner’ are denied access to the ‘honey’ for most of their lives. Their moment of enlightenment – ‘the taste of honey’ in their lives – is ephemeral and comes under the risk of punishment. This essential dreamless quality of kitchen-sink world can found at the heart of many of Morrissey’s lyrics, and he himself was seen during his years with The Smiths as the official voice of gauche and disillusioned youth.

1961-a-taste-of-honey-with-rita-tushingham-4A Taste of Honey (1961) with Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin

Morrissey’s lyrics go hand in hand with bleak aesthetic of the North; smoke rising from the chimneys, small flats with wallpapers peeling off, endless row of red-bricked houses which all look the same just like the days which linger on bringing nothing but dullness. He articulated provincial boredom and feeling of alienation from everyone around him very well. His lyrics create poetic images that seemed to have arisen not only from his own experience of loneliness and life in the north, but also from kitchen sink dramas he loved and often borrowed lyrics from. He sang of kissing under the iron bridge, coming back to the old house (which he never will because it was demolished like a lot of houses in Manchester at the time), short-lasting loves; shyness that is criminally vulgar; going to clubs, standing alone going home alone and wanting to die.

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1961-a-taste-of-honey-with-rita-tushingham-5A Taste of Honey (1961) with Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin; “This place stinks. That river, it’s the colour of lead.” (says Jo in Act II)

One song in particular, This Night Has Opened My Eyes, deals with kitchen-sink theme directly. Morrissey took inspiration from Shelagh Delaney’s play ‘A Taste of Honey’. In his other song ‘Reel Around the Fountain’ he even incorporated a line from the play that goes ‘I dreamt about you last night, I fell of my bed twice.’

This night has opened my eyes
And I will never sleep again
You kicked and cried like a bullied child
A grown man of twenty-five
Oh, he said he’d cure your ills
But he didn’t and he never will
Oh, save your life
Because you’ve only got one
The dream has gone
But the baby is real
Oh, you did a good thing
She could have been a poet
Or, she could have been a fool
Oh, you did a bad thing
And I’m not happy
And I’m not sad
Whereas he sang with an undertow of melancholy, in addition to songs being coated in whimsical melodies thanks to Johnny Marr, another band, Manic Street Preachers sang of similar issues, such as boredom and provincial claustrophobia with a genuine working class anger and resentment. Another northern band from Sheffield, Pulp, has a distinct kitchen-sink mood in their lyrics from 1990s, dealing with themes of provincial loneliness, sex and class struggle.

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1967-poor-cow-1967-ken-loach-terence-stamp-carol-white-11Carol White in Poor Cow (1967), dir. Ken Loach

Shelagh Delaney, who wrote ‘A Taste of Honey’ when she was just eighteen years old, describes the kitchen-sink aesthetic very well in a short TV report for BBC Four in 1960. What struck me is that she loved living in Salford, and admitted she gets very homesick whenever she’s away from it. This is ironic because most of kitchen-sink characters are dying to get out of their provincial towns, but Delaney loved the atmosphere of the place, she loved the vitality of people, the language and the situations were all wellsprings of inspiration. She said: ‘And the language is alive, its viral, it lives and it breathes and you know exactly where’s it’s coming from, right out of the earth.

Delaney also called Salford a drug, explaining that even if you wanted to leave, the place hold you back and it’s impossible to say goodbye to it.

1962-the-l-shaped-room-1962-with-leslie-caron-6The L-Shaped Room (1962) with Leslie Caron

Before I sat down writing this post, I asked myself what is it exactly that I love about kitchen sink dramas. And I can’t really pin-point one particular thing, it was love at first sight I suppose. First of all, I love that it’s about the real people in real situations. I don’t like sugar-coated things, they only make you detest your own life and poison you with desires and daydreams about things that will never happen, at least not for you. But kitchen sink dramas are as real as Dostoyevsky’s novels. Characters are always faced with difficult decisions, live in a place they want to escape from, and there’s always a sense that what they want will cause their downfall. What started as ‘just a kiss’ could and probably will end up in pregnancy because characters such as Jo in A Taste of Honey, Rube in Up the Junction and Jane in The L-Shaped Room have no luck when it comes to the matters. And men are working class heroes and that’s something to be. They usually deal with limited employment opportunities, hard labour in factories and difficulty in reconciling their responsibilities and desires, along with the disdain they feel from the upper classes when they try to ‘invade’ their territory.

Watching them, and observing how they deal with these very difficult situations and decisions acts as a catharsis for me, in a way that Aristotle described it as ‘purification of emotions through art’. He thought that art (in this case film) ought to evoke feelings of compassion and fear and thereby purify the feelings of the viewer. Kitchen sink dramas definitely do that for me. When I think of Jo being pregnant with a ‘grown man of 25 who said he’d cure her ills but he didn’t and he never will’, or those girls in ‘Up the Junction’ working in a factory, living for the weekend to go out, put that eyeliner on and dance to some whimsical tunes, or Allison deciding whether she’ll stay with Jimmy or not – these situations make all my problems seem trivial, and I end up crying for them because their lives are so helpless and I don’t know what I’d do in their situations.

1959-look-back-in-anger-with-richard-burton-2Look Back in Anger (1959) with Mary Ure and Richard Burton

I also like the aesthetic of these kitchen sink dramas; everything is dark, rainy and cold, people seem to live on tea and toast, women walk around wearing petticoats and skirts all day long with their hair made for the week, children play on streets and clothes hang on the washing line, while the landscape always seems dominated by tall chimneys of factories, and red bricked houses go on and on, and people walk in the small alleyways clutching umbrellas and wondering when will that day come they’ll finally escape from their shitty town, and there’s not a single tree in the sight. And still, markets are lively, and people smile. Children play and young couples kiss. Hope lies beyond everything.

1956-kenneth-haigh-right-as-jimmy-porter-with-helena-hughes-alan-bates-and-mary-ure-in-the-original-production-of-look-back-in-anger-at-the-royal-court-in-london-in-1956Kenneth Haigh (right) as Jimmy Porter, with Helena Hughes, Alan Bates and Mary Ure in the original production of Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court in London in 1956. Photograph: Charles Hewitt (source)

In this post I wanted to show you that, while the sixties are mostly loved and remembered for their swinging and glamorous qualities, there’s also a ‘darker’ side to them. Kitchen sink dramas deal with social and economic problems of post-war Britain shown through the psychological portrayal of an individual – it’s up to you to embrace their dark charms.

Now I’ll recommend you films that were my personal favourites: A Taste of Honey (1961), Poor Cow (1967), Look Back in Anger (1959), The L-Shaped Room (1962), Alfie (1966), and some of later date by Ken Loach: Kes (1969) and Looks and Smiles (1981). Mike Leigh seems to nurture a similar aesthetic in some of him films, although they are noticeably less grim, but I love them as well, particularly Naked (1993), Life is Sweet (1990) and All or Nothing (2002).

Do you like the aesthetic and themes of kitchen sink dramas?

Jane Eyre: ‘…utter solitude and leafless repose…’

16 Nov

This is a fragment from the book Jane Eyre which is very dear to me and is very fitting for this time of the year, so I thought why not share it. It describes Jane’s walk not long after she arrives at Thornfield Hall, and before she meets Mr Rochester.

jane-eyre-solitude

It was three o’clock; the church bell tolled as I passed under the belfry: the charm of the hour lay in its approaching dimness, in the low-gliding and pale-beaming sun.  I was a mile from Thornfield, in a lane noted for wild roses in summer, for nuts and blackberries in Autumn, and even now possessing a few coral treasures in hips and haws, but whose best winter delight lay in its utter solitude and leafless repose.  If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound here; for there was not a holly, not an evergreen to rustle, and the stripped hawthorn and hazel bushes were as still as the white, worn stones which causewayed the middle of the path.

—Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
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Art Nouveau and 1960s: A Psychedelic Dream

6 Oct

I noticed that some sixties posters and film costumes have a strong Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite vibe, so naturally I turned to my art, culture and music bible when it comes to the Swinging Sixties – book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe’ by Julian Palacios, And here’s what I found. So, in this post we’ll take a look at the influence of Art Nouveau, Aesthetic movement and 19th century Orientalism on 1960s posters, designs, fashion and film costumes. I’ve also chosen some whimsical psychedelic tunes that I love and that fit very well with the mood of the post. Psychedelic Autumn, is it not?!

1967. Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp. Image scanned by Sweet Jane.

Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp, 1967, Image scanned by Sweet Jane

Donovan – Season of the Witch

Around 1966/67 there was a shift in style and mood. A change was in the air, as ‘vibrant coloured clothes and laughter’ filled the drab tube stations. Waning Mod fashion was quickly being replaced by a style more romantic and oriental. The new mood, exhibited not only in clothes but in posters, designs and music, found its inspiration in nostalgic reveries of the past and romantic daydreams about far East. Gone were the days of short skirts and fake eyelashes. Instead, young people – students, artists, musicians, groupies and dollies – traded their black and white geometrical outfits for caftans, vibrant coloured long dresses, long hair and less make up.

1960s fashion illustrations

1900. The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) - Alphonse Mucha

Do you notice the similarity in colours and composition between the sixties illustration (above) and Mucha’s painting ‘The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) from 1900.

Cosmic Sounds – The Zodiac

In late sixties, when Mod culture was starting to be looked upon as too commercial, and ‘futuristic themes gave way to exoticism, romanticism and nostalgia’ (1), young people started seeking answers and inspiration in paganism, mysticism and Eastern stuff: I Ching, Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough by James George Frazer which explores ‘magic, myths, Druids and Viking lore’, (p. 91), Ouija boards, tarot cards, meditation, vegetarianism and Hindu scriptures. Driven by LSD and hashish, they believed they were creating a new world, and so they delved into mysticism, found beauty in forgotten illustrations and paintings, whether it’s the sumptuous Klimt’s golden paintings or intricate William Morris wallpapers or William Blake’s drawings, laden with spirituality, hidden meanings and symbolism.

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1) Baby Doll Cosmetics 1968/ 2) Photo of Cleo de Merode, 1905; similar hairstyles.

Ravi Shankar – Sitar

A quote from the already mentioned book that sums it all:

The underground exhibited a curious nostalgia, unusual in people so young. Living in tattered Victorian flats, smoking dope and rummaging for antiques on the Portobello Road, the underground pillaged their cultural history. Part romantics and part vandals, as they pulled away from their parents’ world, they embraced the shadow of their grandparents’ Victoriana, torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past.

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1) Flower Love, C.Keelan, 1967/ 2) Painting by Mucha

Just imagine that beautiful asceticism of the sixties; candle lit room with bare floor, mattress, incense sticks, Eastern fabrics for curtains, someone jamming on the guitar, girls in colourful clothes with flowers in their hair, resembling Mucha’s painting, laughter, optimism, mind expanding chatter… General mood of the time could be described as a combination of idealism, hedonism and optimism that eventually exceeded into decadence. Similar were the turn of the century vibes and the art movement that came to define the era – Art Nouveau.

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1) 1960s poster/ 2)Alphonse Mucha, ‘Job’, 1898

Art Nouveau demanded artistic freedom, art for art’s sake. Free the colour, the line, the beauty itself, the artists demanded. Similarly, in the sixties, after the drab post-war years were finally over and the economic situation was a bit better, artists and designers demanded the liberty of colour and design. Taking inspiration from the past, in a hope for a better artistic future, designers combined the refinement and elegance of Victorian and Edwardian art; floral prints, aestheticism and playful lines, and combined it with acid-laced colours such as magenta, aqua and bright yellow. Inspiration was often found in flamboyant turn of the century designs by Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, Mucha and Georges de Feure.

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1) Poster for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at UFO, 16 and 23 June, by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, 1967, London (Michael English & Nigel Waymouth / 2) 1897-98. Journal Des Ventes, Georges de Feure, Color lithograph

As you can see above, poster for the UFO designed by Michael English and Nigel Waymouth who worked under the moniker ‘Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’, is truly Art Nouveau in style; whimsical lines, fluid shapes amalgamating one into another, female figure with flowers and different ornamental detailing in her hair and on her body, the whole mood very playful and fit for the new sixties spirit and yet beautiful aesthetically.

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Psychedelic poster, Pink Floyd, 15 March 1966

A sixties touch in designs is definitely colour which is often bright, contrasting and eye-catching, whereas the turn of the century style preferred more refined colouring, jewel-like colours being popular but always combined with subtler shades. Klimt, Mucha and Georges de Feure placed the attention on ornamentation, almost Baroque in its heaviness, whereas in the sixties, the designs were made for the tuned-in folk, and colour combination such as mauve and yellow, orange and lilac, red and green appealed to the crowd. Psychedelic flamboyancy owes it all to Art Nouveau (and LSD).

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’s posters rejected the stark formalism of graphic design in favour of referencing the 19th century illustrators William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley, with opium-laced flora and leaves drawn in interlaced patterns, hypnotic motifs and arabesques.“(p. 147)

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1) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian-inspired dress and hairstyle/ 2) Biba drawing

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1) Barbra Streisand /2) Edwardian illustration

The book also mentions illustrations by Arthur Rackham, a late Victorian and Edwardian era book illustrator who portrayed subjects from Nordic mythology to scenes from Shakespeare and Alice in Wonderland: “Art Nouveau posters by Alphonse Mucha and illustrated books by Arthur Rackham, dented silver carafes, spindly umbrellas with ivory handles, and chipped porcelain tea services formed a backdrop for an undulating mass along Portobello, Curving to Landbroke Grove…

And it seems to me that the sixties were one really long Mad Hatter’s tea party with great clothes, music and attitudes towards life and spirituality.

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1) Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue, 1969 / 2) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian dress

Influence of Art Nouveau, Pre-Raphaelites and Edwardian era can be seen not only in visual arts but also in fashion and film costumes. In 1990s there was a Jane Austen revival with films such as Sense and Sensibility. Well, films from the sixties and seventies are all about turn of the century; large hats decorated with roses, Art Nouveau interiors, Edwardian dresses in pastel colours with abundance of ruffles and lace… Some great examples of this aesthetic are films Hello, Dolly (1969) with Barbra Streisand, La Ronde (1964), Morgiana (1972), Viva Maria (1965) with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, Baba Yaga (1973) etc.

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1) Catherine Deneuve in Edwardian dress / Photo of Emilie de Briand, 1900s

Even in everyday fashion, it’s hard not to see the influence. No, women didn’t return to tight corsets and uncomfortable lingerie, but some designers such as Barbara Hulanicki of Biba took the best of Victorian and Edwardian fashion and incorporated it in sixties style. Think of longer dresses (compared to Mary Quant’s mini dress that ruled the Swinging London), straw hats and lace details, floral prints, velvet, bishop sleeves, heavy dark coloured fabrics, longer hair often with curls (instead of the previous strict bob hair) or soft voluminous buns that were worn by Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue in 1969, and also Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot. Jane Birkin couldn’t resist the style as well, picture below:

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Jane Birkin in Edwardian dress with lace and ruffles, 1970

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1) Biba girl with Gibson Girl Hairstyle, 2) Illustration by Alphonse Mucha, 3) Biba illustration

Fashion Icons: Brigitte Bardot

3 Sep

Ah, Brigitte Bardot! What can be said about this French actress, sex symbol and a 1950s and 60s fashion icon that wasn’t said already? She was simply gorgeous with her cat eyeliner, pouty lips and a messy blonde hairdo. She made St Tropez a hot spot, posed for Kess van Dongen, danced ballet, acted in many films, and had an amazing style that’s really timeless; from her elegant 1950s dresses, gingham print skirts and black shirts with the smallest waist ever, to her carefree seaside style with beach hair and barefoot-look, all the way to her classic Parisian 1960s look and her bohemian/gypset 1968 look. Brigitte Bardot is, along with Kate Moss, my ideal of a beautiful woman. She is a vegetarian and a lover of animals. This is one of her quotes:

I gave my beauty and my youth to men. I am going to give my wisdom and experience to animals.”

Enjoy the collages!

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 1 yes t

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 2 yes t

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 7 yes t

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 9 yes t

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 14 yes t

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 15 yes t

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 8 yes t

Fashion Icons - Brigitte Bardot 5 yes t

Fashion Icons: Uschi Obermaier

28 Jul

1960s Uschi Obermaier 49

Uschi Obermaier (b. 24 September 1946) is mostly remembered for being a groupie and a sex symbol of the ’68 generation. She really led a ‘wild life’, so it’s very appropriate that they named the film about her Das Wilde Leben or Eight Miles Heigh (2007), and she’s played by Natalia Avelon. I think the film captured the spirit of the times, and her clothes are wonderful. Her life was one big adventure, but it wasn’t always like that. In the early 1960s she was a bored and miserable teenager living in drab suburbs of Munich, just waiting for something fun to occur. She started modelling and for some time she was a member of an art bend/commune called Amon Düül. There she met Rainer Langhans and the rest is history. In 1969 she was already living in a commune in the capitalistic West Berlin with students and ‘rebels’ who praised socialism and sexual freedom.

Uschi and Rainer soon became ‘the star protagonists in a bizarre political experiment involving group cohabitation that was explicitly designed to shock Germany’s corseted conservative establishment to the core. Commune 1, as it was called, was Germany’s answer to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, but it had a seriously Teutonic streak. The gang of long-haired, dope smoking Maoist students who started the experiment by occupying a spacious turn-of-the-century apartment in central West Berlin, were out to explode and revolutionise the moribund values of post-war German society.‘ (source)

1960s Uschi Obermaier and Rainer Langhans 1

Uschi Obermaier and Rainer Langhans, c. 1969

After the Kommune 1, Uschi spent some nights together with Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and even Mick Jagger. She went on The Rolling Stones 1975 tour. From 1973-1983 she was in a relationship with Dieter Bockhorn and the two of them travelled in a bus through Asia, where they married in India, then Mexico and U.S. Uschi’s style is very psychedelic and rock chic. In my collages I used some photos from the film as well as pictures of Uschi herself.

You can read more about her here and here. You can watch a short footage of Jimi Henrix and Uschi in Berlin in 1969 here.

Fashion Icons - Uschi 1 text

Fashion Icons - Uschi 2 text

Fashion Icons - Uschi 3 text

Czech Avant-Garde: ‘Daisies’ and ‘Valerie and her Week of Wonders’

19 Jun

Today I’m going to talk a bit about two films I recently watched and still can’t stop thinking about.

The imaginary is what tends to become real.” (Andre Breton)

Sedmikrasky (1966) 51

Daisies (1966)

Last Wednesday I finally watched these two brilliant films – Daisies or Sedmikrasky (1966) and Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970). Looking back, it seems I had an afternoon of Czech New Wave, and what a wonderful afternoon it was! The first film I watched, Daisies, directed by Věra Chytilová, is about two girls, Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), who, led by the thought that everything is relative and that the world is f*cked up, decide to do everything they want, and that includes behaving improper at restaurants, cutting sheets, dining with wealthy men, eating lots and lots of food, cutting eggs and pickled cucumbers with scissors, having a bath in milk, walking through a corn field, just fooling around really.

Every scene of this film is so aesthetically pleasing; from Marie II’s floral headband and bright orange hair and their pretty 1960s dresses, to their walls half-covered with drawing of flowers and pressed flowers and half with phone numbers and addresses of their ‘sugar daddies’. Just to observe them having fun is a cure for mundaneness of daily life. And Czech language is so soft and pleasant to the ear, especially when Marie I says something like ‘Kam jdeš?’ (Where are you going?) or Marie II proclaiming she likes food very much. Their cheeky behaviour is hilarious. Oh, did I mention it was forbidden by the Communist regime? Forbidden fruit always tastes better.

I’ve read about these two films on a website about weird films. This is what makes this film weird, according to the author of the website:

Watching the bright colors and bratty joie de vivre of Marie I and II as they slash and burn their way through square society, cutting up phallic symbols and the film stock itself with scissors, it’s hard to believe that Daisies wasn’t produced under the influence of drugs. Made a year before and half a world away from San Francisco’s Summer of Love, this proto-flower power film nonetheless captures the anarchic spirit of Sixties psychedelia; it’s a relic from an alternate universe populated by sexy Czech hippy chicks with serious cases of the munchies. Alternately described as a feminist manifesto, a consumerist satire, and a Dadaist collage, it seems that no one—possibly including the director herself—is quite clear on what Daisies is supposed to be about. Does it matter? No, it doesn’t.” (source)

***

Sedmikrasky (1966) 47

I’m an enemy of stupidity and simple-mindedness in both men and women and I have rid my living space of these traits.” (Vera Chytilová)

Sedmikrasky (1966) 44

Sedmikrasky (1966) 30

Sedmikrasky (1966) 25

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Sedmikrasky (1966) 2

"Tausenschönchen - kein Märchen" CSSR 1966 Ivana Karbanova (links), Jitka CerhovaSedmikrasky (1966) 43 Sedmikrasky (1966) 5 Sedmikrasky (1966) 55

Sedmikrasky (1966) 37

***

Valerie and her Week of Wonders (original title Valerie a Týden Divu), 1970, directed by Jaromil Jiroš, is different in subject and atmosphere, but what connects it to Daisies is a similar creative and non-commercial approach to film making. Valerie, played by Jaroslava Schallerova, is a thirteen year old girl who lives in a small town with her granny who, by the way, looks really frightening. Actually, Valerie’s surroundings hold a sinister appeal all together; from a pale-faced man referred to as ‘the Weasel’, a lusty priest, mass that resembles an orgy, granny whipping her self and proclaiming her love to the priest. Valerie falls in love and often rescues a boy named Eagle (Orlik, played by Petr Kopriva), who is either her brother or just her neighbour.

You could draw a parallel between ‘Valerie and her Weeks of Wonders’ and Lewis Caroll’s opium-laced classic Alice in Wonderland, but Valerie’s story has a flair of Middle European small towns, with a dash of vampires, Edwardian-revival white lace dresses, barley fields, and lots of mystery. All these weird things start occurring after Valerie becomes a woman, symbolised by a daisy splashed with blood drops. The film is an adaption of Vítězslav Nezval’s novel of the same name. Nezval was a co-founder of the first Czech Surrealist group, and I think the film’s dreamy, surreal atmosphere justifies the story’s origin.

***

1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 21970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 17

1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 141970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 231970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 261970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 20 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 19 Valerie a tÏden divÖ - neg color 2.jpg 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 22 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 9 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 25

As I’m writing this, I’m planning to watch two more Czech films – Morgiana (1972) and Alice (Neco z Alenky, 1988), and I hope they’ll be equally weird in a good way! Strange are the paths of one’s imagination; in the beginning of June I was crazy about kitchen sink dramas and wouldn’t watch anything else, and now I totally want to delve even deeper in Surrealism and Czech films. Crazy.

Desperate Romantics (2009) – A Review

6 May

I’ll start off this post by saying I absolutely loved ‘Desperate Romantics‘ – a period drama set in Victorian London which revolves around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; their art, lives, loves and scandals.

WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 2009***

First glimpse of Desperate Romantics, from left to right; Rafe Spall as a somewhat austere perfectionist William Holman Hunt, also known as ‘Maniac’, Aidan Turner as the dashing Byronic Hero, ‘half-Italian, half-mad’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Samuel Barnett as a child-prodigy, sweet and bewildered John Everett Millais, and lastly Sam Crane as the gentle, caring and ‘always-in-the-shadow-of-others’ Fred Walters; a composite character mainly based on Fred Stevens and several other historical figures who serves as a journalist and a diarist of the brotherhood.

I found the actors and actresses wonderful and perfectly suitable for their roles. Every character has an individualised personality and that is one of the main reasons this period drama is so brilliant. This emphasis on individual personality traits, be it good or bad ones, helps a great deal to understand the artworks they produced. Their choice of subjects seems so natural after understanding their characters. For example, the strong-willed and religious Hunt would never go on painting sensual women or characters from Roman mythology, and likewise it’s inconceivable that Rossetti would ever paint anything similar to The Light of the World.

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Brooding Rossetti and his sorrowful muse

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I very much enjoyed how relatable everyone seemed. Their conversations and jokes in the pub sounded beautifully modern. Pre-Raphaelites smoked hashish, consumed opium, flirted with waitresses and visited brothels. In several scenes you can even see Charles Dickens himself entertaining the ‘ladies’. After watching this, I feel like the Victorian world wasn’t as grim and proper as presented, perhaps in the higher classes but not amongst artists and intellectuals.

In Desperate Romantics Featurette (you can watch it on YouTube) actors and actresses talk about their roles and opinions of the PRB. I found it especially thrilling how Rafe Spall connected the members of the Brotherhood to modern artists and writers. He made a parallel with the Beat Generation and compared Fred Walters to Jack Kerouac, Millais to Neal Cassady, Rossetti to Allen Ginsberg and Hunt to William Burroughs. Also, he compared the radical avant-garde quality of the brotherhood to Punk Rock, and he described the make-up and hairstyle of Annie Miller (Hunt’s girfriend and model) as being Vivienne Westwood-esque.

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DESPERATE ROMANTICS

Amy Manson as Lizzie Siddal

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I’m afraid that costumes are a great factor for me, and in Desperate Romantics it was yet another source of enjoyment. As you can see from the pictures I’ve assembled here, dresses worn by Lizzie Siddal are very simple and romantic, made of printed cotton in earthy colours, no corsets or crinolines. Along with her long flowing coppery hair, she looks more like a Medieval maiden than a Victorian lady. Apart from a few bonnets, everything seemed historically accurate. Men’s attire was interesting as well, which is unusual because it tends to be boring and grey. Millais is a true peacock, usually wearing scarlet-coloured velvet jackets and lots of purples and greens. Rossetti is very flamboyant but more sophisticated, he wears loose, half-unbuttoned shirts and vibrant coloured scarves. Fred is all simple and proper, true mama’s boy and Hunt is dressed according to his reserved nature, but after his trip to the East, he starts growing a beard, smoking hashish straight from Syria and dressing with a touch of East just like The Rolling Stones when then discovered Marocco.

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First love couple: Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt and Jennie Jacques as Annie Miller

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I’ve read some complaints about the lack of art in the series and I highly disagree. Exhibition of Millais’ Ophelia, an important moment for the PRB, was well presented and so was the moment when Rossetti found his new direction in portraying pure womanly sensuality after an encounter with Fanny Cornforth. Millais, Rossetti, Hunt and Fred are often seen visiting the Royal Gallery, even objecting the mainstream Victorian art, Rossetti said: The Academy’s utter disgust is what gets us all out of bed in the morning‘, continuing Where is the naturalism, where is the life, the flesh, the blood, the nature?’ When Hunt comes back from his trip, he also showcases his paintings, and after Lizzie dies we see grief stricken Rossetti painting Beata Beatrix. We see Rossetti painting Jane Morris and the murals in a nearby church, and Lizzie painting as well. Is this not enough art?

In Desperate Romantics we are presented by something even more important than ‘art’, we see the background of their artworks and everything that went on in their personal lives and the way it reflected on their works. The series captured the mood of the Brotherhood and I think that’s not only more interesting, but more important. Anyone can simply google their paintings, but it takes a lot more to understand them.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal as Victorian era Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull

INTERESTING QUOTES:

“We are artists, we thrive on strong emotions.” (Elizabeth Siddal, ep 5)

“We cannot confuse our feeling about the artist with the art, that would leave us only able to admire works of those we like.” (John Ruskin, ep 3)

“I insists it’s the most noble profession there is. An artist only records beauty, but a model radiates it. If I were Millais, oh, I would paint you in a pure white silk dress.” (Rossetti’s opinion on modelling and words directed to Jane Burden)

“I find the modern world the most random and confusing place.” (Millais, ep 3)

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Love couple number 3: Millais and Effie as Victorian version of Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg

A only have a few objections. Firstly, I’d love to have seen Rossetti’s family because his sister Christina was a poet and his brother William Michael also belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Secondly, no mention of Lizzie’s stillborn child and that was something that deeply saddened her and ultimately led to her death. Thirdly, too many sex scenes which was tasteless and unnecessary in my opinion. It’s obvious that Rossetti wasn’t celibate. Perhaps a hint of intimacy would be more interesting than seeing Rossetti jump on every redhead in London.

All in all, I loved Desperate Romantics – escapism into the bohemian circles of Victorian era London. It’s beyond inspiring, the story itself is enigmatic and interesting, actors were brilliant, thoroughly recommend it! There are six episodes, each is one hour long. If you can spare six hours of your life, I sincerely recommend you to do that.