28 April 2010

Leather Shorts

Intellectualize it all you want Wall Street Journal, but leather shorts will never be anything but hot, sticky, uncomfortable, and unflattering.  Try again.

27 April 2010

On Remakes

Whether we like it or not, the classics are fair game for new artists to repeat.  In some cases, a reimagining of an iconic scene or work is an inspired act. Consider a good cover song - when you hear it, you feel a rush of nostalgia and affection for the original, combined with an immense appreciation of and amazement at the reinvention of the song (Nirvana's cover of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World").  And of course in other cases, things can go disasterously wrong - at its least harmful, we laugh off the poor imitation, at its worst, the final product ends up being viscerally offensive to the original and anyone who loved it (Britney Spears' cover of  Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'N Roll"). 

Photographs and films are harder to recreate than songs - or at least few have figured out how to do it effectively. After all, what's the point?  Someone must either think that they can do it better, or that they are somehow paying homage to the original.  In most cases, the audience just wishes they were seeing the original.  Need I bring up Gus Van Sant's Psycho, or the 2006 version of The Pink Panther?  Aside from film, magazines have gotten a lot of flak for borrowing from classic shoots, with New York Magazine being the main offender - from recreating classic George Lois covers "accidentally," to purposefully giving Lindsay Lohan more significance than she deserves by allowing her to reenact Marilyn Monroe's last photo shoot.

So in the lastest cultural installment of "nice try, but not quite" Mario Testino attempts to recreate a classic photo shoot with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin from 1974, shot by Francis Giacobetti.  Here's Testino's version with Francesco Vezzoli and Daria Werbowy, featured in this month's Vogue Paris

And here's the original.


So what went wrong?  Why is the 1974 version worlds better?  Very simply, Testino made his shoot too pristine. The models look far more perfect than Gainsbourg and Birkin.  Jane Birkin, a waifish beauty herself, looks more real than Werbowy.  Consider the look of the thigh above the garter - Birkin's leg looks like flesh, Werbowy's looks like plastic.  The surroundings are also dramatically altered, with Birkin sitting in a dingy room on a rickety metal table, and Werbowy lounging in a posh apartment of black lucite and studio lighting.  Even the poses of the women are dramatically different when you begin to analyze their expressions, the "believability" factor, and the way that Birkin clearly isn't concerned about the fact that her arm is squished up next to her side, making it appear larger than it actually is.  

The two men, of course, are strikingly different as well.  Gainsbourg is older, clothed in wrinkled khakis, and gripping Birkin's leg aggressively.  Vezzoli, however, boasts lovely, styled hair, a pressed and tailored suit, and appears to be holding Werbowy's leg ever so gently - as if only to help remove a heel.

Now, it is sometimes too easy to want to just claim that the grittier choice is the more effective piece of art.  And although that's my conclusion, I like to think that I came to it in a more justified manner. When looking at the photos,  I tried to concentrate on my emotional response to both.  The Birkin/Gainsbourg/Giacobetti photo left me feeling uncomfotable.  The Werbowy/Vezzoli/Testino version left me feeling nothing.  Winner: Birkin/Gainsbourg/Giacobetti.

26 April 2010

Graceless Ms. Mitchell

Late last week, Joni Mitchell participated in a Los Angeles Times Q&A and somehow ended up insulting some of the most famous performers of our time.

 Joni on Bob Dylan: "Bob is not authentic at all. He's a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.."


Joni on Madonna: "My work is set against the stupid, destructive way we live on this planet. Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point."


Joni on Grace Slick and Janis Joplin: "Grace [Slick] and Janis Joplin were [sleeping with] their whole bands and falling down drunk, and nobody came after them"



Joni on the singers who cite her as an influence, or are compared to Joni (Joanna Newsom, Chan Marshall, Rufus Wainwright): "Those are theatrical voices, which is a whole other thing."

Ms. Mitchell also appeared defensive, negative, arrogant, and just this side of insane, proclaiming that she intended to quit music to "battle for Morgellons* sufferers to receive the credibility that's owed to them."  The answers that she gave seemed short, choppy, and unstructured.  I wonder if the editor was just being unkind here or if this is what she really sounded like.

I've read the interview a few times at this point and still have no idea why she thought this might be remotely appropriate or meaningful. Now I don't think will have any influence on my ability to listen to and enjoy her music, but my goodness, you'd think at this point in a highly successful performers' life she could take the graceful high road and avoid disparaging her peers and heirs.  

While the internet may be abuzz about such incendiary statements, do we think anyone will care enough to issue direct responses? 

*According to the wikipedia page, a Washington Post Magazine cover story, and the interview itself, the existence of an actual medical condition that supports the existence of Morgellons is questionable. Many believe it is merely delusional parasitosis "a form of psychosis whose victims acquire a strong delusional belief that they are infested with parasites, whereas in reality no such parasites are present."

23 April 2010

Now Playing: "Running Out of Fools"

Here are two versions of "Running Out of Fools" performed by Neko Case and Aretha Franklin. Athough Ms. Franklin originated the song, I think I might prefer the Neko Case cover - it's more desperate, more longing.  Aretha's is strangely chipper for such a somber topic.

What do you think?

22 April 2010

Anna Karina in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is spoiled, the District of Columbia is starved.  The latest enviable event?  Anna Karina, Danish actress and star of the New Wave movement, is attending a screening of the newly restored Godard (also a former spouse) film Pierre le Fou, as part of the annual City of Lights, City of Angels festival. 

Le sigh.  I would have really liked to have listened to one of the original manic pixie dream girls talk about...well...anything really.  Instead I'll just sit here and mope and read some of David Eherenstein's excellent interviews with her.

Not enough?  Here's one of her more famous scenes from Godard's 1964 classic Bande à part.

This Week's Party People: Milan Store Opening

A few crazies taking themselves far too seriously came out to play at Stella McCartney's recent Milan Store opening.  

Paola Maugeri (or something like that)  
doing her best mash up of Sandy from Grease and Victorian Prostitute
Giambattista Valli in harem pants for men
 Photos: Max Montingelli / Guindani SGP via Style.com

My new goal in life is to get invited to (crash) one of these things to find out what these people are really like.  Anyone want to help me out with that one?

20 April 2010

How I Met Your Mother: Home Wrecker

Man, I'm sappy sometimes...I really enjoyed this week's How I Met Your Mother. Read my full write up here.

19 April 2010

Pop Songs in Film: The Virgin Suicides

Sofia Coppola’s sublimely wonderful adaptation of The Virgin Suicides is full of great moments in pop music.  Like The Great Four [Wes Anderson, Cameron Crowe, Paul Thomas Anderson, Hal Ashby] Ms. Coppola takes her music selection very seriously, and it shows – her soundtracks become choice pieces of pop culture art in and of themselves.  
The Virgin Suicides tells the story of the Lisbon sisters and the months leading up to their suicides.  Shot in a hazy, sun soaked light, the audience sees events through the eyes and memories of four boys who were (and remain into adulthood) fascinated and endlessly frustrated by the girls.  The Lisbon sisters are beautiful, ethereal, and withdrawn from reality, each carrying out their alluring jadedness in different ways.   So the scenes move from the normal, to the whimsical, to the surreal, to the campy with incredible ease, aided by the tonal score provided by Air.  

Kirsten Dunst’s Lux ends up being the only sister who to get close to Lisbon family outsiders – although it’s only through meaningless and frequent encounters with guys.  She is aloof, yet vulnerable and needy, and is altogether unprepared for Josh Hartnett’s Trip Fontaine, who the audience meets in a brilliant montage set to Heart’s “Magic Man.”

Giovanni Ribisi’s crackly, cynical voice tells us that “the only reliable boy who actually got to know Lux was Trip Fontaine, who only eight months before the suicides had emerged from baby fat to the delight of girls and mothers alike.” We see Trip in a school office, convincing the girl working the attendance desk to give him a pass for being late with only a smile and a whispered “come on.”  As he swings around to triumphantly exit the office, the guitar starts.  His tall, lanky body struts down the hallway, Ann Wilson begins to belt:

"Cold late night so long ago
When I was not so strong you know
A pretty man came to me
Never seen eyes so blue
You know I could not run away
It seemed we'd seen each other in a dream
It seemed like he knew me
He looked right through me, yeah"

Heart’s "Magic Man" is so perfect for this scene because it is self-consciously campy.  The song is about an older man seducing a younger girl to the ignored disapproval of her mother.  The girl singing is smart enough to know that this guy is a bad idea, but she can’t resist the him. 

Trip is perfectly confident, and seems to have a celebrity like effect on the girls in the hall, who are all left to stare in awe at the handsome man passing by.  Wilson continues “‘Come on home, girl’ he said with a smile, ‘You don't have to love me, yet let's get high awhile.’” We see eager girls sliding their homework to him in class with dumbly huge smiles and coming by his home with a plate of brownies and a report.  Just like the woman in the song, these high school girls know that this isn’t love, this is lust, this is hero worship, and they are more than willing to compromise everything for this guy. 

“But try to understand
Try to understand
Try try try to understand
I'm a magic man."

So Ribisi’s narrator tells us that “Every girl in school was in love with Trip.  Every girl except for Lux.”  In a hot-boxed induced haze, Trip stumbles into a nearby classroom and sees Lux for, what seems like, the first time.  What better way to drive the “Magic Man” crazy than to exhibit no interest for him at all.  He’s smitten, the song ends, and Trip’s infatuation and pursuit of Lux is ultimately to blame for the eventual downfall of the Lisbon sisters.  

Take a look for yourself.  The song and visuals pretty perfectly captures the charisma of the high school dream guy, helped by Ann Wilson's submissive intensity and world weariness.  

16 April 2010

Sorry, Gia Coppola (and well played)

I should have looked around a little bit more before judging you solely on the Zac Posen for Target commercial/short film/chance to hang out with your girlfriends thing, because this short/music video/promotional whatever makes me completely reconsider your worth. 

Created for Opening Ceremony's Spring/Summer 2010 line with the help of Tracy Antonopoulos and shot like a vintage home movie, this short captures Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst dancing, smiling, and playing to the Coconut Records song "Is This Sound OK?"

I'm obsessed. 

15 April 2010

Target and a Coppola

In just a few weeks, designer Zac Posen's collection for Target will be released, much to the delight of cash strapped, Vogue reading girls everywhere.  I've been following Target's designer collaborations since the beginning, always making sure to at least stop by a store the weekend of the debut (there was of course the embarrassing time when I made two college friends accompany me to a store with the intent of arriving when it opened because I was sure that the Skokie, Illinois Target would sell out of the Proenza Schouler line immediately, only to discover that we were in fact the only silly girls there.)  And yet, in spite of my devotion, I'm pretty consistently disappointed with the inventory.  It's as if the designers are tickled by the novelty of producing clothes on the cheap, and thus don't feel compelled to disguise the inexpensive look and feel.  I wonder if they realize that all we want are afforable copies of their high end stuff. 

Target has leaked a few images of the Zac Posen clothes, and they seem all over the place - from sweet, floral dresses, to punky, blood red club wear, and apparently they are alterable. 

 In an interview from Teen Vogue, via Yahoo, Posen said “We made the ruffles detachable, like a Judy Garland apron. You can wear it as a skirt over the dress; undo it and drape it over your shoulders à la Cristóbal Balenciaga; or if you don’t want any frou, take it off and you have a sexy date dress.” He failed to comment on whether or not the socks were optional.  

And, in the spirit of selling a lifestyle, Posen asked his friend Gia Coppola (Francis Ford Coppola's grandaughter, niece of Sofia, cousin of Jason Schwartzman, etc, etc) to direct a promotional video for the line. Coppola asked her friends to star - a band called The Like.  What beneficial friendships for all!

Anyway, I have no idea what this has to do with the clothes. The video shows the band goofing around in black and white in a hotel room, pretending like they're some important band from the 60s, right down to the eyeliner and hairstyles, and then jumps to a neon stage where we see them performing the forgettable, sometimes off key song "Fair Game."  The singer with the Twiggy eyes and haircut keeps you watching, but in the end, you come out having seen hardly any clothes and wondering why these girls are people you'd want to emulate. 

In spite of the video and my history with target collections, I'll be at the Columbia Heights target on April 25th, credit card in hand and expectations high.  See you there.

13 April 2010

How I Met Your Mother: "Zoo or False"

My new How I Met Your Mother post is up over at TheAtlantic.com!  You know...in case anyone was, uh, wondering.

12 April 2010

Pop Songs in Film

There are few things in life that excite me as much as a well used pop song in a movie, a television show, or a trailer. This is likely because there are so many abuses of the medium, so many lazy attempts at profundity, so many throwaways, so many overused tunes, that it's easy to spot great moments when they happen.  Just think of how many times you've heard Van Morrison sing about finding "someoneeee exactly like youuuuu" while two attractive characters reconcile/meet/fall in love.  Or how many times you've heard that "there's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear" in a scene about Vietnam or just general 60s/70s unrest.  

Now, there is nothing wrong with using a classic, but at a certain point it just reeks of disinterest on the part of the filmmakers. In fact, in the case of Mr. Morrison, I am actually enraged everytime I hear "Someone Like You" in any movie. It's a great song. But it was used in seven films in a decade (Only the Lonely, Prelude to a Kiss, French Kiss, One Fine Day, Proof of Life, Someone Like You, Bridget Jones's Diary)...and yes, three of those were Meg Ryan films.  I can't even pinpoint its use to a specific scene anymore, which is, I'm sure, the biggest insult one could levy against both the song and the scenes it was chosen for.

So, over the next few months, I'll be writing a recurring segment about great uses of pop songs in movies, with some failed attempts thrown in to keep things interesting. Some will be obvious, some, I hope, will not be so obvious. Many will be scene enhancers - aka, songs that the characters aren't aware of - and some will be songs that the characters themselves experience. Video clips are hard to come by on this project, but I'll do my best to describe and direct. 

In no particular order, here's a preview of some of the moments I'll be covering:

Inglorious Basterds, "Putting Out Fire With Gasoline" by David Bowie
Rushmore, "I Am Waiting" by The Rolling Stones
Being There, "Basketball Jones" by Cheech Marin
The Royal Tennenbaums, "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" by Paul Simon
Almost Famous, "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" performed by Elton John
Reality Bites, "All I Want is You" by U2
The Virgin Suicides, "Magic Man" by Heart
Saving Private Ryan, "Tu Es Partout" by Edith Piaf
(500) Days of Summer, "Bookends" by Simon & Garfunkel
Magnolia, "Goodbye Stranger" by Supertramp AND "Wise Up" by Aimee Mann
Wall-E, "La Vie En Rose" performed by Louis Armstrong
Harold and Maude, "Don't be Shy" by Cat Stevens
Into the Wild, "Rise" by Eddie Vedder
Watchmen, "The Times They Are A Changin'" by Bob Dylan

And why not kick things off with one of the most famous pairings of song and scene?  One that is so notable that there's really nothing I can say here to elaborate.  Let's just watch and appreciate.   

Stay tuned.  Suggestions are always welcome. 

09 April 2010

A Guide for Fame

Pretty reasonable advice on getting famous from the movie Basquait (Julian Schnabel, 1996), wouldn't you say?

How long do you think it takes to get famous? 

For a musician or a painter?

Whatever. Famous. 

Four years. Six to get rich. 
First, you have to dress right.
Then, you have to hang out with famous people, you know, 
make friends with the right blonde people, go to the right parties. 

Then you gotta do your work all the time when you're not doing that. 
The same kinda work, the same style so people recognize it and
don't get confused.
Then, once you're famous, airborne, you have to keep doing it the same
way, even after it's boring--unless you want people to really get mad at you--which
they will anyway.
[via Kelly Oxford]  

08 April 2010

Mainstream Grunge

It happens with nearly every meaningful underground movement in fashion, art, and music...the counterculture inevitably becomes the mainstream culture.  So, in honor of my recent discussion of J.Crew's style evolution through the years, and my series of tweets incorporating the faux grunge language a 25-year-old prankster invented to fool the New York Times, here is J.Crew's attempt at the grunge look from a 1994 catalogue. 

07 April 2010

A Single, Serious, Solitary Man

Yes, there is a movie coming out next month called Solitary Man.  It looks like a pretty standard flick about an aging man, his family, and his quest to sleep with barely legal girls, but with a "hey look at how hip we are" air of desperation.  I love totally conventional plots that were no doubt written to shock people.

Also, Jesse Eisenberg plays his Squid and the Whale meets Adventureland self and gets more bad advice from a jerky father figure.  I think we've all seen this movie before. Many, many times.

06 April 2010

J.Crew and The High End

On April 1, in a move of complete sincerity, J.Crew, the mall-based, mass retailer known for khakis and courderoys and catalogues, revlealed its Fall 2010 Ready to Wear Collection, thus signaling what may just be the beginning of the end for them. In the pursuit of serious fashion, J.Crew will alienate those who love them most - the 20something girls interested in fashion, but supporting themselves.

As with most of my peers, I discovered J.Crew in my pre-teens, sometime in the 1994-1995 calendar year, when internet shopping was limited and catalogues were like little treasures meant specifically for you.  Tiffany's, Delia's, and J.Crew, were the ones I would eaglerly wait for and pretty much memorize on a monthly basis.  J.Crew was a little mature for a 12-year-old, but they were reliable for standards - clean cut shorts in a variety of colors and three different lenths, well made t-shirts, feminine winter coats, and adorable bathing suits.  Sound familiar?  Well, jump to today and the J.Crew of standards and basics is all but unrecognizable. Of course mall stores have to evolve with the styles.  J.Crew has gone from the basics of the Gap, to some combination of Floridian and northeastern preppy, to today's luxe, geek chic. But each reimagining of the brand has come with a higher price point for consumers, slowly morphing out of the 20something price range and into the range of hip 30 and 40something mothers and professionals who fancy themselves creative types at heart. 

Jenna Lyons, Creative Director

They've been in the lifestyle industry for quite some time, but hadn't achieved anything of note till the brand decided to make a celebrity out of its Creative Director Jenna Lyons, the statuesque brunette embodiment of the J.Crew girl. Aside from her compelling looks, Ms. Lyons has proven to be a brilliant designer and brand savvy. She recognized that fashion girls in the know want the classics that her brand isn't old enough to claim, thus instead of reinventing the rainboot, they began selling Hunter boots.  And it has only expanded from there - they've found the best of the preppy classics and given them new life next to the trendy florals, sequins, and mixed prints. Take a look around the site and you'll find Barbour coats, Selima glasses, Essie nailpolish, Timex watches, and Ray Ban aviators. She's made J.Crew a highly focused department store. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if all of a sudden the site started promoting Waterford brandy glasses.

So far, everything is working. Unlike the retail industry at large, J.Crew is thriving, posting $40 million in profits for 2009.  Same store sales were up 4%, and gross margins were up as well (from 38.9% to 44.1%) meaning they've continued to raise price points, they're taking less markdowns, or they are making their clothes more cheaply than before.  Why mess with the new forumla in the name of HIGH FASHION, whatever that is anyway?

J.Crew's Fall 2010 RTW Collection
(As if J.Crew wasn't always ready to wear)
 photos courtesy of J.Crew, via Style.com

The fall collection in and of itself is lovely, and aside from the more styled models, is practically indistinguishable from what we might expect in the fall catalogues - chambray button ups, chukka boots, textured tights, unexpected belting and layering, plaid, piles of necklaces, natural denim, and shearling.  The Style.com review says "the important point is that, following the lead of the company's cleverly curated catalogs, there was ample opportunity to deconstruct the looks and find plenty of gotta-have-them, affordable basics, along with some truly special pieces." To a certain extent, yes, mix the high and the low.  But it's hard to do even that with J.Crew anymore when oxfords start at $69.50 and t-shirts at $29.50.  By the time you get to the truly special pieces...the $200+ shoes, the quirky, chunky socks, the 5 necklaces ($118 each), the belt, the brocade jacket ($300+), you begin resenting J.Crew a little bit for pushing these "casual, accessible" styles that are unaffordable. This look alone costs $1896.50.

The problem here is that the market is saturated with mid level luxury. Saks, Nordstrom, Neimans, Bloomingdales...they've got em all.  J.Crew doesn't need to become a high end boutique in order to stay profitable.  If the rising prices keep going up, the hip ladies funding the $40million profit will begin to reevaluate its worth and go elsewhere.  After all, J.Crew is popular. Very popular.  And when something is this popular, there's a good chance on any given day you'll run into someone wearing the same thing you are.  And where's the fun in that? 

02 April 2010

Now Playing: Blondie's "Sunday Girl"

Off of Blondie's most popular record Parallel Lines, here is a 1979 performance of "Sunday Girl."  Loving the suit and tie, Debbie.

01 April 2010

The Fake Headlines?

Would someone care to explain why Jezebel published the exact same critique of Lori Gottlieb's 2008 Atlantic article "Marry Him," two years and two months later under a different author's name?

So, is this just reiterating newsworthiness, a weird April Fools Day joke, or editorial laziness? 

(Click on the photos to see the different dates, tags, and authors)

*UPDATE (6:42PM, 5/1/10): As I scrolled down in the comments (most of which were sincere responses to the post) I realized that this is likely an April Fools joke.  And to that I say, Jezebel, I really enjoy your posts and humor, but come on, you can do something more clever than this! It's not funny or edgy.  It's just annoying.


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