Cut! Costume and the Cinema: An Exhibit

This is the closest I could get to a movie set. The actual costume worn by prominent screen actors in period movies, that’s the current exhibit “Cut! Costume and the Cinema” at the Glenbow Museum in the centre of Cowtown. Some of the designs had garnered Academy Awards.

Since I could not take any photos inside, this outdoor poster is the only one that I could capture on my camera to give you a sense of what’s in the exhibit: 43 costumes from 25 blockbusters, worn by 30 stars. Mind you, just watching the clothes on headless mannequins is not the same as seeing them on real people with all the set and props you see on screen. So in a way, this is a deconstruction of the magic. However, to have such an exhibition come to Cowtown, I’m excited just the same.

All the items from the exhibition are from the renowned costume house Cosprop of London, England. I learn that for those representing a period before the sewing machine, they have to be hand sewn to reflect authenticity. And due to the cost and labor involved, costumes are usually altered from other existing costumes, seldom are they made from scratch.

Here’s a sample of what I saw, costumes worn by:

Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility”

Renée Zellweger as Beatrix Potter in “Miss Potter

Emmy Rossum as Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera”

Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham in “Gosford Park”

Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox in “Howards End”

Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe in “The Prestige”

Colin Farrell as Captain Smith in “The New World”

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean”

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

Keira Knightly as Georgiana and Ralph Fiennes as the Duke in the Oscar winning costume design of “The Duchess”

… and some others.

But what resonated most with me was that deep turquoise long dress worn by Natasha Richardson as Countess Sofia Belinskya, matching with Ralph Fiennes’s dark green plaid suit jacket in his role as the blind Todd Jackson in “The White Countess.” Looking at the costumes brought back scenes from that movie… the quiet resilience of Sofia, the white countess from Russia, now a refugee in WWII Shanghai, turning a new page in her life with the wounded but passionate ex-diplomat Todd Jackson. Just sad to know she’s no longer with us.


CLICK HERE to an informative video on the exhibit by the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida. A 5 min. virtual tour with commentary by Cut! curator Nancy Lawson. 

You may also be interested in these previous posts on Ripple Effects:

Natasha Richardson: Nell and The White Countess

The Merchant Ivory Dialogues

Howards End by E. M. Forster

Miss Potter for Christmas

Austen-inspired Acceptance Speech

Revolutionary Road: Book and Movie

There’s a story that goes like this.  The Times once asked its readers to send in their answer to this question: “What is wrong with the world?”  The writer, scholar, and theologian G. K. Chesterton sent them this reply:

Dear Editors,

I am.


G. K. Chesterton


Here’s a lighter version from Groucho Marx:

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”




Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961)

If only the Wheelers had had a conversation with Groucho Marx, maybe invited him to tea in their little white suburban house on Revolutionary Road, probably they could have avoided a tragedy.

In her mind, April Wheeler has dreamed of a club like this:

“I still had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere… people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying, who never had to make the best of a bad job becasue it never occurred to them to do anything less than perfectly the first time.  Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I’d suddenly know that I belonged among them, that I was one of them, that I’d been meant to be one of them all along…”

The problem with the self.  What had taken G. K. Chesterton two words to identify, Richard Yates has shown with 463 pages (my pocket paperback).  No, I’m not complaining.  What has driven me to go on and finish the book, despite the ominous cloud hanging over its pages, is Yate’s marvellous prose leading me every step of the way, through every fight of the Wheelers’, every sardonic description of Frank’s New York office, their suburban social circle, and their self-delusion.  And even amidst the dark and grey overtone, the undercurrents of humor could sometimes make me laugh out loud (Having read the book, I’ll have to ask myself: am I being a snob for not using the acronym?)

Humor and irony are only ways of delivery, the message is still poignant.  I’ve enjoyed every visit John Givings goes to the Wheelers’ home during his half-day out of the insane asylum.  John’s mother Helen, the realtor who sells the Wheelers their house, only means good, bringing her son to meet some normal people to help improve his condition.  Yates is superb there in these scenes. As expected, the fool often comes out as the wise, the insane pointing out the truth. But you still want to go over the lines.

Knowing that Frank doesn’t like his job, John responds:

“Whaddya do it for then?   Okay; I know; it’s none of my business.  This is what old Helen calls Being Tactless, Dear. That’s my trouble, you see; always has been.  Forget I said it. You want to play house, you got to have a job.  You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you got to have a job you don’t like. Great… Anybody comes along and says ‘Whaddya do it for?’ you can be pretty sure he’s on a four-hour pass from the State funny-farm; all agreed.  Are we all agreed there, Helen?”

“Oh look, there is a rainbow,” Mrs. Givings said…

But of course the problem is complex.  While we are all free agents of our own actions, we are also products of our circumstances and our past. The setting of the 50’s is a time of suburbanization, post-war peace and affluence. But the story could take place anywhere, anytime. When offered a promotion at work, Frank chooses to stay rather than opting for a loftier dream.  Substitute now for the 50’s, who would notice?

Frank and April Wheelers and their two children are the perfect example of the young and wholesome family enjoying the good life, in appearance that is.  What’s troubling them is legitimate, of course. What’s the point of being a nut screw in the machine of Big Business and a willing hostage of conformity and suburban ennui?  April might be fulfilling a self-serving and snobbish desire to move the whole family to Paris, but she could be right that Frank needs to be given the chance to ‘find himself’.  What she fails to see though is that she’s the one who could benefit from such self-reflection even more.

John Givings has more pointed words for the Wheelers in his next visit, which ultimately leads to the collapse of everything.  Yates’ writing has taken me captive.  The last hundred pages of the book have me glued to the seat.  It was already dark outside, I was sitting on a couch reading, alone in the house.  The feeling I had while going through those last chapters was no different from my experience of watching The Silence of the Lambs some years earlier, also sitting alone one night in the same spot… although there’s no similarity between the content of the two.  Haunting, eerie, disturbing…. now this is with me having watched the movie before reading the book.

Revolutionary Road is my first Yates book.  While I’ve admired his writing, I’m not so sure I’ll seek out his other works…  You see, I’ve always thought The Silence of the Lambs is a first-rate movie, but I would not want to see it again and again.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, First Vintage Contemporaries Mass Market Edition, January 2009, 463 pages.


Revolutionary Road: The Movie (2008, DVD)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunited since Titanic (1997) to play the Wheelers in Revolutionary Road.  On the outset, they are perfect for the roles: Frank the charmer, April the golden girl.  And to top it off, the movie is directed by Sam Mendes, who has brought us the Oscar Best Picture for 1999, American Beauty, another brilliant suburban commentary.

Supporting roles are well performed by Kathy Bates as the talkative realtor Mrs. Helen Givings.  And Michael Shannon deservedly got an Oscar nom for his portrayal of Mrs. Givings’ son John, the lucid lunatic on a day-pass out from the insane asylum.

But somehow I feel there’s a significant discrepancy in the characterization that has shifted the dynamics between Frank and April.  As a result, the movie offers an altered view.  April here is a victim of circumstance.  She is portrayed as the courageous one who sticks to her goal, even heroic as Mendes says in the Special Features.  No suggestion of smugness or self-delusion, but rather, she is clear as crystal about her situation. Winslet has such cinematic appeal that her April is a much more amiable character than the controlling and self-serving dreamer and schemer I see in the novel.  And here, Frank is the conforming realist, the bully that needs anger management, the one who lacks the guts to embrace change.

While the storyline and scenes are faithful to the source material, the altered characterization of April Wheeler has subtly changed the premise of the novel.  What we have here is simply a love relation gone wrong.  A tragic drama of incompatible expectations, the conflicts between the progressive, idealistic and unfulfilled suburban wife, and the temperamental, gutless husband who has given in too easily to ordinary life.  The complexities which Yates has so marvellously detailed are absent here:  Was there any love to begin with?  Are dreamers necessarily superior than realists?  And, on what do we base our choices and actions?

What initially sparks off the romance between Frank and April and which sustains their façade can be summed up in this sentence from the book, and which, of course, is absent in the film in any nuanced form:

“Sometimes there was a glint of humor in these embraces of the eye:  I’m showing off, they seem to say, but so are you, and I love you.”

All the more reason to read the source material after watching a movie.

DVD Special Features include commentary by director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe, and Lives of Quiet Desperation: The Making of Revolutionary Road.


The Reader: Book Into Film


The Reader is the highly acclaimed novel by German writer Bernhard Schlink.  It was first published in 1995 in Europe and the English translation came out two years later.  Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain, 2003) was said to be the original director of the film adaptation, with his friend Sydney Pollack (Sketches of Frank Gehry, 2005) producing.   Their untimely death sadly altered the scene somewhat, even though they were still named as producers when the Awards Season arrived.  Thus the poignant acknowledgement from Kate Winslet as she received her Oscar Best Actress Award.

Selected as a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year, the novel’s 218 pages are packed densely with poignant images and thought-provoking moral questions.  The first part takes place in the 1950’s. 15 year-old Michael Berg gets sick on his way home from school and is helped by a woman, Hanna Schmitz.  Thus sparks the sexual encounter and later love affair between the two.  Every time they meet, Hanna makes sure Michael reads to her literature from Homer to Chekhov.

After a while, Hanna disappears, and not until Michael becomes a law student does he see her again, this time in a post-war trial of Nazi criminals.  Hanna turns out to be a guard at a concentration camp during the Holocaust.  As Michael is awash by torrents of conflicting emotions while watching the trial, he is aghast at a personal secret Hanna refuses to reveal, one which could have saved her from a lengthy prison term.  Her only statement of defence is wrapped in one sentence:  “What would you have done?”  She asked the judge.

The last part of the book is in the present day.  Michael, now a lawyer, is still haunted by his past and the residual emotional ambivalence upon the release of Hanna from prison.  The story wraps up with a heart-wrenching ending.

Hidden behind the romantic facade is a story that deals with a deeply complex set of moral issues; the love affair between a 30 some year-old woman and a 15 year-old boy is only the initial spark.  This is not a Holocaust novel, but rather, an incisive depiction of psychological dilemma confronting a new, post-war generation in Germany.  The moral burden that Michael faces is heavy, seemingly unresolvable and yet born by the collective psyche:

“I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it… When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned.  When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding… it was impossible to do both.”

I read the book  a while back but have delayed seeing the movie, directed by Stephen Daldry and screenplay by David Hare (both of The Hours, 2002).  First off, I could imagine the film, having the advantage of transporting the literary into visual realism, can go all out gratuitously to depict the love affair between Michael and Hanna.  Further, the very complex moral issues the book deals with would be a challenge to transfer into film, making it less effective and maybe even trivializing the crux of the matter.

Well, I was both right and wrong.  The first part of the movie depicting the seduction of Michael (18 year-old David Kross) by Hanna (Kate Winslet) and which gradually grows into a full-fledged love affair does carry some gratuitous erotic sequences.  However, having watched the movie I have also come to appreciate the necessity of this relationship.  The love affair between Michael and Hanna is the very analogy of a younger generation having had to deal with the conflicting emotions of loving their own parents, many of whom were involved in the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

Both Winslet and Kross have delivered a most affective cinematic rendering of an otherwise despicable affair.  Winslet has brought out an exceptional performance, from a simple and passionate young woman to a grey-haired, seemingly amoral and yet deeply tormented prisoner.   The irony of the movie is that, by crafting a visually appealing cinematic offering, it has won over its viewers’ heart (especially Winslet fans), resulting in a much more sympathetic rendition of someone who has a hand in the death of hundreds of Jews under her guard.

Likewise, the portrayal of the older Michael (Ralph Fiennes) is less effective than it deserves.  Maybe due to his limited scenes, it appears that Fiennes lacks the time to dwell himself fully in the character to elicit the spectrum of conflicting emotions.  It may also be the weaker script, compared to the book, that has shrouded some critical issues with ambiguity.

But I did appreciate the scene where a distressed Michael consults with his professor (Bruno Ganz), who  distinguishes between law and morality.   The law has nothing to do with right or wrong, he tells Michael.  What’s legal doesn’t make it right.  Implication follows that duty and legality do not excuse wrongdoings.  While the  law regulates the behavior, it is morality that constrains the heart.

While the movie is appealing visually and offers some riveting performance, I urge viewers to be the reader.  That’s what I did, re-read the book as soon as I got home, and appreciated the written words even more.

Book and Movie

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway, published by Vintage International, 2008,  218 pages.

Photo Source:


The Oscar Results 2009

CLICK HERE for Oscar Results 2010

The film that defies all odds,  Slumdog Millionaire, was the big winner at the 81st Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in LA last night.  It won 8 Oscars:  Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Best director and Best Picture.

Its major rival, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which led the nominations with 13 nods, took only three golden statuettes, mainly in the technical categories.

Click here for the complete list of Oscar Winners.

Actually, the Academy Awards Show itself may well be the winner, thanks to a talented, Tony Award winning Hugh Jackman. After the slumping ratings in the past few years, the Oscars could well have been resuscitated last night.  Which previous Oscar host can sing and dance Broadway style so naturally, and bringing out the musical talent of Anne Hathaway at the opening gig, plus performing a tribute to previous musicals from West Side Story to Mamma Mia! with Beyoncé?  And, who says it takes a comedian to crack jokes?

Speaking of musical numbers, who could have thought the two songs of Slumdog Millionaire, with traditional Indian melodies, can be performed together with the other nominee, “Down To Earth” from the Sci Fi Animation Wall E.,  a collaboration of John Legend and A. R. Rahman.   It was a colorful post-modern rendition of musical fusion.

Entertainment aside, there are some moving moments that I’ve appreciated:

  • Penélope Cruz in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress: “… art in any form has is and will always be our universal language and we should do everything we can to protect its survival.”
  • Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor was accepted by his parents and sister who delivered some heartfelt words of thanks, ending with: “… we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda.”
  • The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was presented to Jerry Lewis, who began fundraising for muscular dystrophy since the 1950’s.
  • Kate Winslet paying tribute to Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, two talented directors and producers who passed away last year, two months apart: “Anthony and Sydney, this is for you, this is for both of you.”
  • Previous winners in Acting categories came out together as a group to announce this year’s nominees.  Kudos to the writers for some moving intro narratives.  So, it was a night of gathering of veteran actors like Sophia Loren, Alan Arkin, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley MacLaine, Anjelica Huston and 85 year-old Eva Marie Saint, who won her Oscar in 1955 for On the Waterfront.
  • All the children who play major roles in Slumdog Millionaire came from India to attend the Awards and had the honor of winning an Oscar, no doubt a surreal experience for them.

A word about Slumdog Millionaire:  The two young actors Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto are the future stars to watch for.  They are poised, articulate, modest, and carry themselves marvellously in the limelight of fame and glamour.  I wish this Hollywood episode is the springboard to further career opportunities.  And for the children who still have to go back to the slums of Mumbai, I hope this experience would open doors for them to a better life in the days ahead.


Jane Austen: Sense Or Sensibility?

With PBS Masterpiece Classic broadcsting Sense and Sensibility (2008 ) again on Feb 1 and 8, it’s good time to muse on the question:  Which Austen heroine was Jane herself most like?  You can see the poll on my side bar, and the results so far. 

As you watch Sense and Sensibility once again, look closer at Elinor and Marianne.  Mind you, if you have a chance, watch the 1995 movie too, then you’d appreciate Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in bringing out the differences between sense and sensibility even more clearly I think.

No doubt, we all like to perceive Jane herself as the very source that had inspired the creation of our all time heroine, Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, intelligent, witty, self-assured, sharp in her critique of social norms, and brave enough to challenge, and diverge.  She dominates our popular votes here with a 44% lead… so far.

But Anne Elliot of Persuasion is also a popular choice, mature, patient and wise.  The silent lover is a strong second with 23%.


After reading the biographies of Jane, knowing how she had loved the burlesque and to play a part in the family’s performances, how openly she had engaged in activities with her brothers and the student boarders in her home, how she had  written satires while still a youngster, how critical she could be, and above all, upon my reading Claire Tomalin’s incisive analysis of Jane’s relationship with her older sister Cassandra, I tend to lean toward a very unpopular choice. 

I think Jane by nature was more like Marianne Dashwood, passionate, spontaneous, expressive and bold.  It’s Cassandra, like Elinor, who reminded her to rein in her emotions, to keep her skepticism in check, and to help her fit into a world that was not ready for a female like her.  Have you wondered why Cassandra needed to burn so many of Jane’s letters to her after Jane’s death?

Is it sense and sensibility we’re talking about here, or rather nature and nurture? 

No matter.  It’s best that our favorite writer remains an enigma.  But, if you have to choose, thinking back to all the Austen heroines in her six novels, who do you think Jane resembled the most?

Cast your vote and let Janeites decide.

To read my review of Sense and Sensibility (2008, TV), Part 1, Click here.

Click here for Part 2.



2009 Golden Globe Winners

If you’re looking for the 2010 Golden Globes, CLICK HERE.

slumdog-golden-globe Photo Source:  Irish Times

Click here for the list of the 2009 Golden Globe winners

Slumdog Millionaire is the big winner of the night, garnering the golden globe in four categories:  Best Original Score (A. R. Rahman),  Best Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy),  Best Director (Danny Boyle), and Best Motion Picture – Drama.  Good to see the underdog win.  Hopefully the bright road leads all the way to the Oscars.

Another big winner is Kate Winslet, surprising even herself by winning both Best Supporting Actress (The Reader) and Best Actress (Drama, Revolutionary Road).  Her emotion was spontaneous… She even said sorry to her fellow nominees Meryl  (Doubt),  Kristin (I’ve Loved You So Long), and who’s the other one?  Yes,  Angelina (Changeling).  But ooh, she forgot Anne (Rachel Getting Married), who got all the hype from being recognized as the winner due to an earlier glitch on the GG website.

kate-winslet-golden-globe-2009 Photo Source:

Sally Hawkins nabbed the Best Actress trophy  (Comedy, Happy-Go-Lucky), beating fellow Brit  Emma Thompson (Last Chance Harvey).

After waited for a whole year, Steven Spielberg finally received the Cecil B. DeMille Award which he won in 2008  but was not presented due to the cancellation of the GG Awards ceremony. Or was it 50 years that he waited?  It was in 1959 that Spielberg made his first film, an 8 min. short.  He was 13.

Heath Ledger won posthumously Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight.  Chris Nolan accepted it on his behalf: “He will be eternally missed, but he will never be forgotten.”

Wall-E took the Globe for Best Animated Feature Film, deservedly.

As for the TV division, John Adams garnered four Awards, seeing Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti receiving their honors.

Overall, a big night for the Brits.

Click here to read CBC reporting.

Click here to see a clip of the highlights from BBC News.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) DVD

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.
          – Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard



Summer is the best time for me to catch up on movies I have missed in recent years.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of them.  I have long admired the title of this movie, and wondered who made it up and what it could possibly mean.  Well, I finally made the move and bought the DVD.  After watching it I gave out a sigh of contentment, “Of course!”

It is a challenge to write a review of this movie without spoiling the enjoyment of those who haven’t seen it.  But just let me say this Oscar Best Original Screenplay (2005) is one of the most ingenious in years.  Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, of Adaptation (2002) and Being John Malkovich (1999) fame, teamed up with director Michel Gondy and screenwriter Pierre Bismuth, and created a wonderful and fresh look at a love story.

If science could allow you to erase any bad memories, which ones would you delete?  This is the premise of the film.  Two individuals, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) met each other at a friend’s party and fell in love.  As with all relationships, they went through ups and downs, experiencing the exhilaration that love could bring, as well as the humiliation it could unleash.  Given the convenience of technological advancement, they elected to erase each other from their memories when their relationship turned sour.

What follows is nothing short of a visual treatise on the conflict between scientific advancement and what it  means to be human, but well embedded in an intelligent sci-fi comedy, evoking the minds of Nietzsche and Pope.

The fine script is augmented by the excellent acting of the cast.  I’m not a Jim Carrey fan, but I’ve particularly enjoyed his more ‘serious’ roles, like in The Truman Show (1998 ) and here in ESOTSM.  He has given a superb performance as the sullen Joel Barish.  Kate Winslet is convincing as the wild and intuitive Clementine.  Their amiable chemistry draws out some great performance from each other.

The rest of the cast is also fun to watch.  Kirsten Dunst (Marie Antoinette, 2006), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, 2007), Mark Ruffalo (Blindness, 2008 ), and Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings, 2001-2003), all lend exceptional support to the main characters.

Other than the acting, the movie also benefits from some excellent editing and technical expertise.  The switching back and forth in time, and the juxtaposition of memories with the present, and imagination with reality, is superbly intertwined.  On first viewing, one may find it a little confusing.  However, as the movie finishes, one would definitely want to watch the beginning again.

I was much gratified to see the story come to an ingenious end.  With love, bad memories are better than no memories.  As I was watching, a movie quote from another film came to mind:

The things that people in love do to each other they remember, and if they stay together it’s not because they forget, it’s because they forgive.

It is uplifting to be reaffirmed that being human encompasses the various subjectivity of experiences, be they sad or joyous.  And forgiveness and love may well be some of the loftiest ideals humanity could ever pursue.

The DVD comes with some excellent special features including behind-the-scenes look at the production, a conversation with Jim Carrey and director Michel Gondry, feature commentary with Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman, a music video, deleted scenes, and a neat little surprise.

~ ~ ~ Ripples