From stolen pearls to a glove left at the scene of the crime, from an excess of red lipstick to the postmodern gangster silhouette, fashion and style are commonly utilized in film to glamorize and glorify criminal behavior. These images and more will be the focus of the third New York edition of the London-based Fashion in Film Festival to take place at Museum of the Moving Image from today, May 4 through May 13, 2012. Titled If Looks Could Kill, the Festival explores the compelling links between cinema, television, fashion, crime, and violence.
Tackling themes such as disguise, desire, and the corruption of beauty, the festival features a string of underworld characters and their prosecutors whose highly effective costume, styling, and sartorial gestures helped define cinematic genres from detective to thriller, gangster, film noir, and horror.
If Looks Could Kill includes screenings of ten feature films, a talk by the noted film scholar Tom Gunning about the use of invisibility and transformation by criminals in early silent films, and a panel discussion on May 12 featuring costume designers Juliet Polcsa from the HBO series The Sopranos, Lisa Padovani from the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and Shelley Fox, Professor of Fashion at Parsons The New School for Design. In his illustrated presentation on May 5, Gunning will talk about the visual identity of early film criminals including Louis Feuillades’s Irma Vep with her black bodysuit and the dapper yet sadistic Fantomas, and will also introduce a rare screening of the 1929 Belgian surrealist short The Pearl.
Highlights of the feature films include an imported 35mm print of Asphalt, a 1929 German “Strassenfilm,” a pre-film noir tale about a lovely diamond thief, presented with live music by Makia Matsumara; an archival print of Frank Borzage’s Desire (1936), starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper; screenings of two versions of MildrEd Pierce, the 1945 film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Joan Crawford, and Todd Haynes’s recent HBO miniseries, with Kate Winslet in the title role; and John M. Stahl’s luxurious Technicolor melodrama Leave Her to Heaven (1945). Also screening are Martin Scorsese’s Casino, Elio Petri’s The Tenth Victim, Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo, Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie.
The New York edition of Fashion in Film Festival: If Looks Could Kill is programmed by Marketa Uhlirova, Festival Director and Research Fellow in fashion history and theory at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design; David Schwartz, Chief Curator of Museum of the Moving Image; and Christel Tsilibaris, Associate Curator of If Looks Could Kill program.
“Cinema’s images of crime are both seductive and haunting,” said Marketa Uhlirova. “It seems cinema has a tendency to portray criminality and evil as lethally stylish. Fashion lends crime an air of chic decadence and can perform as an immoral equivalent to crime’s extreme measures.”
“As always, the Fashion in Film Festival takes a wide-ranging, expansive view of film history, going from the silent era through classic Hollywood and international cinema to the present,” said David Schwartz, the Museum’s Chief Curator. “It provides an opportunity for audiences to see both rediscovered gems and celebrated works on the big screen. A particularly special treat is the chance to see Todd Haynes’s beautiful production of MildrEd Pierce on the big screen, on Mother’s Day.”
Fashion in Film (fashioninfilm.com) was founded in 2005 and stages a biennial festival and year-round conference and exhibition programs exploring how the moving image represents and interprets fashion as a concept, an industry, and a cultural form. Fashion in Film is based at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts, London.
Museum of the Moving Image (movingimage.us) advances the understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media. In January 2011, the Museum reopened after a major expansion and renovation that nearly doubled its size. Accessible, innovative, and forward-looking, the Museum presents exhibitions, education programs, significant moving-image works, and interpretive programs, and maintains a collection of moving-image related artifacts.
SCHEDULE FOR ‘FASHION IN FILM: IF LOOKS COULD KILL’
MAY 4–13, 2012
Unless otherwise noted, films are free with Museum admission and take place at Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35 Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106.
FRIDAY, MAY 4, 7:00 P.M.
Dir. Martin Scorsese. 1995, 178 mins. With Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci. Costumes by Rita Ryack. Gangster Sam “Ace” Rothstein, Robert De Niro is seen in more than 60 different outfits during Scorsese’s breathtaking epic about corruption in Sin City. The film’s lavish spectacle—its flashing marquee lights, dizzying quick cuts, pulsing music soundtrack, and infinite rainbow of flamboyant costumes—reflect the characters’ emotions.
The Color of Nothingness, a presentation by Tom Gunning, and The Pearl
With live piano accompaniment by Makia Matsumara
SATURDAY, MAY 5, 2:00 P.M.
The modern detective genre deals with the problem of identification in a society where identity is no longer emblazoned in outward appearances. The arrest of a criminal depends not only upon capture, but also, and even more fundamentally, on identification. Acclaimed film scholar Tom Gunning will trace early film criminals’ visual identity, focusing on their acts of disappearance and transformation that owe much to the realms of magic and early trick film. Under special scrutiny will be the black costume, the body suit, and masks worn by such nemeses of the law as Fantômas and Irma Vep of the Vampire gang in popular French crime serials of the 1910s. The program includes a special screening of the short film The Pearl (Le Perle) (Dir. Henri d’Ursel, 1929, Belgium. Archival 35mm print from the Royal Belgium Film Archive). The Pearl is a Belgian Surrealist dazzler, with a pearl necklace at the center of the action. The movie stars a young group of female criminals who are secret residents in a hotel where they steal from rich guests; the film plays with disguises and multiple identities.
With live piano accompaniment by Makia Matsumara
SATURDAY, MAY 5, 6:00 P.M.
Dir. Joe May. 1929, 94 mins. With Betty Amann, Gustav Frölich. Costumes by Rene Hubert. Imported 35mm print, with live projection of intertitles. A pretalkie release, Asphalt is a stunning gem of expressionist cinema, and a prime example of German “Strassenfilm.” Its shadowy scenes, the overt eroticism of the fatal woman and diamond thief Else, and the plot itself,in which an orderly traffic cop is caught in a web of crime and uncontrollable passion, all prefigure film noir. Yet it is in the way the story unfolds where director May shines, able to shift effortlessly from social realism to romantic melodrama and comedy.