Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

Maggie McNarmara, Dorothy McGuire, and Jean Peters star in this Academy Award nominated film about three American secretaries working abroad in Rome, Italy.

Charade (1963)

Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant star in this delightful romantic comedy involving spies and missing money. Set in Paris. Walter Matthau also makes an appearance as a CIA agent.

The Best of Everything (1959)

Original tagline: "These are the girls who want the best of everything...but often settle for a lot less!" Mid-century drama following the lives of three young career women living in New York City.

High Society (1956)

Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra star in this delightful musical comedy remake of the beloved classic The Philadelphia Story (1940).

Far From Heaven (2002)

Set against a spectacular autumn palette, Juilanne Moore, Dennis Quaid, and Dennis Haysbert star in this compelling drama which grapples with issues of race and homosexuality in conservative 1950s Connecticut.

Death In Venice (1971)

An aging German music composer sojourns to Venice in hopes of improving his health and finds himself enraptured by the beauty of a young adolescent boy. A visually mesmerizing film.

Cracks (2009)

Based on the novel of the same name, Eva Green stars as a young, charismatic teacher at an all-girls English boarding school.

Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005)

Based on the true story of the Windmill Theatre in London, Judi Dench stars as a wealthy, eccentric widow who purchases a theatre and turns it into a somewhat Moulin Rouge-esque venue that featured nude performers.

Desk Set (1957)

The introduction of computer technology renders the reference jobs of three women potentially useless. Stars Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

Sylvia (2003)

A biopic of writer Sylvia Plath set in the 1950s starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.

Howard's End (1992)

Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins and Helena Bonham Carter star in this E.M. Forster classic set in turn-of-the-century England.

September 19, 2009

Head in the Clouds (2004)

My Ratings:
Production Design (wardrobe/hair+makeup & set design & milieu) = 8
Performances/Direction = 5.5
Last week I sat down to watch, with high hopes, the sweeping [war] epic Head in the Clouds (2004) and after two agonizing hours, am sad to have to report back to you that it was....not good. I am sad because this story had such extraordinary potential - compelling characters with complex [love] lives set against the theatre of two wars (Spanish Civil War and WWII). Plus, the actors cast are all good actors! Everyone delivered convincing performances. And yet, in spite of everything, somehow it just...failed. Or, fell flat at best.

But hey, at least they looked pretty.


The story centers around three lovers, Gilda (Charlize Theron), Mia (Penélope Cruz), and Guy (Stuart Townsend) in the 1930s up through the end of WWII. It begins with an effervescent Gilda chancing upon shy, virginal Guy one stormy night while they were both students at Cambridge and follows them to Paris where a sultry Mia is added into the mix, thus creating a very unconventional ménage à trois, and then to the desolate snow-laden battlefields of Spain during the Spanish Civil War and finally back to Paris for the German occupation of France.

You too can look nerdy and naive by brushing your bangs forward and slapping on a bow-tie and sweater vest.

Does my head-to-toe magenta outfit scare you, virginal freshman?

I am cute as a button!

But I can also be fierce!

(Love that camel colored coat. thought it was leather at first but it's not.)

So fierce!

Gilda is the girl who we all secretly kind of wish we could be for a day - tall, blond, gorgeous, and wealthy. She's brazenly bisexual, fiercely feminist, defiantly artistic and oh, she lives in Paris, works as a photographer, and spends her nights dancing the tango with her lesbian lover in seedy smoke-laced cafes.


Check out the back to this mustard colored velvet dress.


Check out the back to this dress.

When you live in France, it is mandatory that you own at least two dozen berets in various colors.

And a collection of artsy, whimsical hats.

Gorgeous wine colored suit worn with long black leather gloves.

Loving the sheen and the ribbed texture of the suit fabric.

Actually, Gilda wears quite a lot of suits. It's interesting because while a lot of her outfits have that masculine edge, they still look very sexy and feminine on her. Expressive and empowering are two words that come to mind. A bit Marlene Dietrich.



I want to BE you, Gilda. No, on second thought, I'll just take your camera instead.

Going all sort of crazy over that leather camera bag!

Ignore that hideous puke-green+brown wool dress her assistant is wearing and focus on Gilda's low-cut gray velvet double breasted suit.

She may even look better here than the model.

She wears this headscarf so well.

Here's a shot of the rest of the outfit.

In the "3rd phase" of the story, we see Gilda abandon her pants-suits in favor of more traditional dresses that emphasized her femininity. We can look at this outward shift as a parallel to an inner shift where she no longer upholds the kind of control she had over herself, over her relationships, and over her "fate" as the movie would like you to believe before the Nazis invaded France.


Pretty floral dress + ivory chiffon scarf + hat.

Tiny hat. Love the earrings + necklace.

On the arm of a Nazi.


She's actually using cream to take off the line drawn on the back of her legs to mimic the appearance of hosiery. A lot of women during the war era did that due to a shortage of stockings.

Are you swooning over her hair yet?

You should be!

Channeling Veronica Lake.

It's hard to describe Gilda's "transformation" without giving away the twist to the movie, as if it wasn't blatantly transparent already. This movie is so predictable you have to inhale half a box of cinnamon toast crunch just to keep from falling asleep...oh no? the phagocytic cereal eating was just me?
- - - - -

And because Stuart Townsend's character Guy is totally and utterly boring, I'm going to unapologetically skip over him and move onto Penelope Cruz's Mia.

I mean, just look at this face!

And this body!

And this attitude!

Even though she was only in a third of the movie, Penelope Cruz carried her part as the crippled lesbian lover/muse to Charlize Theron's Gilda well. She was the only redeeming feature in this ridiculous melodramatic saga.



- - - - -
Moving on, lastly, to the set. I know that much of it was shot on location in Paris but some of the exteriors looked as if they were recreated in a sound stage. In fact, it looked like something out of An American In Paris (1951). And I’m left to question – Why? Was there some deeper, artistic significance that I'm not catching? Look, there's not a speck of dirt on those fake cobblestones and the ballerinas appear out of place. Did someone just say, "let's condense all the possible stereotypes you might encounter on a Parisian street together, side by side within this small stretch of 20 meters!" Because that's what it looks like and the resulting mise-en-scène is both awkward as it is artificial. Actually, you could use those two words to describe the entire film altogether.


Just take a look at how this shot is lit and you see what I mean. Doesn't this scream 1950s Gene Kelly musical? I feel like he should break out in song and dance routine any second. And the ballerinas are already perfectly positioned to join in the musical interlude!


Here are some shots of Gilda/Mia/Guy's apartment in Paris. It's actually very cute.


The spiral staircase confused me because I never once saw it used. All the action took place on the first level.

Their kitchen. Nice blue tiles over the stove.


What is up with this lighting?? I can't get over it. It's just so harsh and poorly executed!

Loved the sunburst sculpture on the console table.

I don't know why but that ostentatious coat+hat rack (left) kind of appeals to me. I generally make it a rule that if something looks like it could belong in Donatella Versace's home, then it should never pass the threshold into mind. But oddly enough, I'm liking that gnarly piece.


Bedroom. I like the dried roses in that silver vase on her vanity.

Gorgeous green silk embroidered bedspread.

I want that peacock lamp! (right)

And finally, my favorite set piece - french doors with gorgeous peacocks painted over the glass.

Also, I just discovered that the director for this picture was John Duigan, the same man who ruined Wide Sargasso Sea (1993) for me. Double fail, John.

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