Tuesday, 28 April 2015

French Film Festival 2015

As I'm learning French, each year I try to go to at least a few films at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. Although it's a carefully curated selection to pick from, it's always a bit of a gamble whether you're going to like it or not. This year I picked four films that were quite different from each other - a documentary, a fairytale, a romantic comedy and something that was more of a psychological thriller.

Une Nouvelle Amie (The New Girlfriend)
Directed by François Ozon

Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) is shattered when her closest friend since childhood, Laura, dies leaving behind her grieving husband David (Romain Duris) and their new baby. When Claire drops by David's house unexpectedly one day, she finds a strange, blonde woman there, who turns out to be David dressed in his dead wife's clothes! At first Claire is horrified, but when David explains that his wife was aware of his desire to sometimes dress as a woman, she becomes more understanding. She and David begin to go on outings together, with him dressed as his female persona, "Virginia", and Claire tells her husband that she is spending time with an old friend from school. But as David begins to identify more strongly with Virginia, Claire begins to feel confused and conflicted, and her relationship with "Virginia" causes tension between her and her husband.

I really enjoy Roman Duris' acting, but he's not the most effeminate man, and it is testament to his skill as an actor that he manages to make David/Virginia a believable character. The film has some interesting things to say about desire and gender, and the character of David is handled in a respectful way.

La Belle et La Bête (Beauty and the Beast)
Directed by Christophe Gans

A very straight re-telling of the classic fairytale. I really wanted to see this because Léa Seydoux (Beauty) is so gorgeous, and I'm a sucker for anything with really lovely costumes.

This was a little over-the-top even for me - it was almost like twee on a grand scale. The costumes were extremely detailed and theatrical, but at the same time a bit too fussy and fiddly. The scenery was so romantic that it started tipping over into slightly sickly territory, and because the story was very traditional the whole thing got a bit boring.

I mean, this dress was quite amazing, but I just wanted to tell her to look in the mirror and take a few of the accessories off, You don't really need a matching earrings, necklace and tiara set with a dress like that.

Aesthetically the whole film reminded me of one of those New Age crystal shops full of fairies and whimsical romantic stuff. I expected a unicorn to come prancing through at any moment. I like my fairytales with a darker edge and this was just too much like fairy floss.

Directed by Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache

Samba (Omar Sy) is a Senegalese dishwasher who has been living in France for ten years. After being arrested as an illegal immigrant, he meets Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), his caseworker, who is volunteering at the centre while on stress leave after a breakdown at work. The pair make an unlikely couple, and their hesitant romance is thrown into trouble when Samba's past actions start to catch up with him.

There are some fantastically funny bits in the film, especially from Samba's friend Wilson (Tahar Rahim), a fellow immigrant who has a way with the ladies. There are also some really heartbreaking moments, and although some reviewers have criticised the film for making light of the very real problem of illegal immigrants living without rights in France, I found that the humour allowed the characters to develop more three-dimensionally and to be seen as real people with flaws and desires. Sy is brilliant as both a comic and a dramatic actor, and Gainsbourg excels in portraying a woman tormented by shyness and anxiety.

Le Temps Suspendu (Handmade with Love in France)
Directed by Julie Georgia Bernard

If you are interested in artisans and handcrafts like I am, you will be fascinated by this documentary. It looks at several small ateliers in Paris which still produce exquisite handmade items for France's top fashion houses. There's M. Lognon, who pleats fabric in the most complicated designs, and who does all of Hermes' finely pleated silk scarves; M. Legeron who runs the silk flower workshop his grandfather established, and who still has boxes of flowers that his grandfather made; and M. Ré, who carves amazing hatblocks out of wood.

The French title of the film (Suspended Time) hints at the idea that these artisans are living almost in an earlier era, where craftsmanship was prized and clients respected the time it took to make things. These days it is getting harder and harder to run an independent workshop - fashion is speeding up, there are more collections per year, and the turnaround time on orders is reaching a level where it is becoming almost impossible to create a quality product in the time given. Many workshops are being sold to conglomerates owned by the fashion houses, and moved out of their quaint Parisienne ateliers and into large modern workshops in the suburbs. It's a bittersweet look at something that probably won't exist in twenty years.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Books of 2014

"Miss Auras, The Red Book" by Sir John Lavery (1856-1941)

I got so close to my target of 52 books (1 book per week) last year, missing out by only one book! Each year I try to read some books from the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, last year was a pretty dismal effort, I only managed 8 books from that list.

I keep a notebook of the books I read, with the details of the title and author, a brief description of the book (so I remember what it's about), my comments and a rating out of five stars. I'm also on Goodreads. These were my standout, five star books from 2014:

The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault (1962)
I read the first book, The King Must Die, in 2013 and loved it, and the sequel is just as good. It follows the adventures of the Greek king and legend Thesesus and covers his life after he escapes from the Labyrinth and becomes king of Attica.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
A powerful and intensely readable book that explores the issues of race in America in a thought-provoking way. Ifemelu left her native Nigeria after highschool to study in America, where she experiences being "black" for the first time. Her teenage love, Obinze, hoped to join her, but in the post 9/11 security crackdown his visa is denied and he travels instead to England and works as an illegal immigrant. Years later Ifemelu, now the successful author of a blog about race issues in America, decides to return to Nigeria and makes contact with her former lover, now a successful businessman in the newly democratic country. Adichie skillfully weaves together narratives from the past and the present without it ever becoming confusing, and Ifemelu is such a "real" character - flawed but strong and likeable.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
Born on a snowy night in 1910, baby Ursula dies soon after her birth, but is born again and this time survives until an accident as a small child kills her. She is born again... and so it goes on, each time dying, and in each next life avoiding that death. It's a sort of alternate reality, Sliding Doors idea, that a simple choice can have drastic repercussions in how one's life pans out. I adore Kate Atkinson's writing, and this was so readable and fascinating.

Sophie's Choice by William Styron (1976)
I put off reading this book for years as I knew it was about a woman in a concentration camp and it sounded rather harrowing and gloomy. When I finally started to read it, I was so surprised as it was very different from how I imagined it to be, and Stingo, the narrator, somewhat reminded me of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013)
A huge tome of a book that was such a pleasure to read. A teenage boy secretly comes into possession of a small but very valuable painting of a goldfinch in distressing circumstances. He becomes obsessed with the painting, unable and unwilling to return it to it's rightful owners but consumed with guilt about having it, and this colours his whole life as he grows into an adult.

The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Suzannah Dunn (2004)
Suzannah Dunn is one of those writers  who really raises hackles among readers for her use of colloquial language in a historical setting. I usually dislike it too, but she is such a great writer and I find that it gives a sense of immediacy and closeness to the characters. Her take on Tudor fiction (which is really a rather overdone genre) is fresh and witty.

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines (1968)
Brilliant and real and heartwrenching. Set in a Yorkshire mining town in the 1960s, Billy is a lonely teenager with nothing much going for him. School is a struggle and his home life isn't much better. The only bright thing in his life is a kestral hawk called Kes which Billy raises from a chick and looks after devotedly. 

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (2014)
I've enjoyed all Sarah Waters' books immensely, and this was no exception. Set in London in 1922, Frances and her genteely-impoverished mother are obliged to take in lodgers to make ends meet. The Barbers, a young married couple upset the steady routine of the house with their brash ways. But Frances soon discovers that they are not as happily married as they had first seemed.

The Light Years and Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1990 & 1991)
These two books (the first in a series of five) follow the lives of various members of the Cazalet family, who spend their holidays with their grandparents in a large country house in Sussex. The first book is set just before the second world war, and what I really like about Howard's writing is that she writes from multiple characters' viewpoints, so often you see a situation from several people's perspective, and see how they sometime have no idea what other members of the family really feel. She also perfectly captures the fears and preoccupations that children have. Immensely readable.

Other books that didn't get five stars but I rather enjoyed were:

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John (1993)
Follows the lives of four very different women who all work in the dress department of an upmarket Sydney department store in the 1950s.

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge (2013)
Fascinating and well researched.

The Strays by Emily Bitto (2013)
Set in an artists' colony in 1930s Australia which has similarities to Heide Circle, and John and Sunday Reed.

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe (1958)
A bit of a pot boiler but I loved the detail of everyday life in 1950s New York in this book about 4 young women who become secretaries.

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (2014)
Another Australian writer, Hartnett never fails to impress, and this tale of suburban life is dark and disturbing.

I also read my very first book in French, Ma Maman est en Amérique, Elle a Rencontré Buffalo Bill (My Mother is in America, She Met Buffalo Bill) by Jean Régnaud (2007). Granted, it's a comic book for children, but it does have quite a bit of dialogue.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Finally! - Finished Femme Fatales

I can't believe it's been over six months since I last posted here. After all this time I'd be surprised if anyone was still reading this, but I thought I'd get things up and running again. The last six months were pretty tumultuous as far as work went, with a long and stressful restructure at the university where I work. But I survived and managed to get a promotion (yay!) so it all worked out in the end.

But enough of that, I promised I would put up the finished pictures from Bordertown issue 2 and here they are.

The Cover

The Showgirl

The Cabaret Singer

The Dragon Lady

The Seductress

We really forgot to take any photos on the launch night, which was a bit silly. I did get this one though, showing the wonderful black velvet Edgeley wiggle dress that Alice made for me, paired with my mother's old silver fox stole. 

You can't see above but I was lent a truly noir necklace and matching bracelet from Metal Couture. Check out the necklace!

And the matching bracelet.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Femme Fatales in Progress

I've been really busy over the last few weeks working on an illustration project. You may remember last year I drew a short comic about mice. It was for Bordertown, a little journal with poetry, art and short stories that Mr Macska and some classmates had to do for assessment at uni.

Well, they had such fun doing it that they decided to do a second issue just for kicks! I thought I'd do some drawings for it, and as the journal has a neo-noir theme (and my favourite thing to draw is glamorous ladies) I decided to do a little cocktail booklet with classic cocktails, each illustrated with an archetypal femme fatale.

The femme fatales I chose were: The Dame, The Seductress,The Showgirl, The Cabaret Singer and the Dragon Lady. I wish I'd had room to add in The Gun Moll too, but I didn't have enough time or space.

Here's the inking process of The Seductress. I started with a pencil sketch and then added the lines with a fineliner. Over that I did some ink washes. I decided that the picture was a bit too pale, so I made the cushions black so that the her figure would really pop, rather than fading into the background.

I bought my first Copic markers for this project because I wanted to add a little colour to each drawing. Also a white Posca and and white fine liner for something else...

A close-up of the negligee coloured in with pink Copic markers. I love the way you can blend them, and will definitely be doing some more experimenting with these.

Here are some comparison photos of the pencil sketches and the inked drawings (still in progress). I really wanted to do a girl in a cocktail glass, so she became my Showgirl. 

For my Cabaret Singer I found some fantastic reference photos of black jazz singers from the 40s and 50s with really glamorous outfits. The hairstyle, which I adore, is taken from a photo of famous jazz singer Sarah Vaughan.

I had so much fun drawing her outfit! I found two tutorials on how to draw sequins here and here, and did a bit of each. I used my new white Posca pen and a white fine liner, and then also did some extra bits in Photoshop afterwards.

This one was going to be my dame in a detective's office, but I ended up using her for the little cover of the booklet. I'm really pleased with the way her face came out as I don't often draw in three-quarter profile (it's hard!).

This drawing is based of course on Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star who was best remembered for her stereotypical "Dragon Lady" roles. That bead curtain took so much longer to draw than I thought it would! I think this is the one that I'm most pleased with composition-wise.

Next time I'll show you the finished drawings and some photos of the launch party!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Catherine Cardigan

Here's my newest knitting project, the Catherine cardigan. It's a rather nice longsleeved cardigan with a deep v-neck, four buttons at the waist, and a garter stitch collar and revers. I'm knitting it in Classic 5 ply in Poseidon from Bendigo Woolen Mills. It's actually a bit scratchy and splitty as it's a crepe yarn, but I loved the colour (and the price!).

The pattern is from this Patons knitting booklet, which I think was given to me by a friend who was clearing out some old vintage pattern books and magazines. From the look of the patterns, I imagine it's from the early to mid 50s, and they all have wonderful old-fashioned names, like 'Ursula' or 'Joyce'.

I've added the pattern for Catherine below, click on the pictures to see them much bigger. It's a very easy pattern to knit, as it's mostly plain knitting with alternating knit and purls on every fourth row. Unfortunately it only comes in a 34" bust, and although the deep v-neck should give some leeway, it does have extremely tight ribbing at the wrists. I'm actually thinking of re-knitting the sleeve I've just done and adding at least another 4 stitches at the wrist.

I've scanned the whole booklet so I'll post that soon.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Sensible Sewing: Skirt and Half Slip

Earlier in the year I realised that what I really needed to be sewing was sensible things: plain, mostly black things that would go with all the crazy patterned stuff in my wardrobe. Well, finally I've managed to finish off two garments. The first is this sensible skirt. I made it out of black polished cotton which unfortunately had a bit of stretch in it so it was pretty annoying to sew with. Also, I decided that big pleats would look good, but every time I have to iron this skirt I curse myself! Nevertheless, it's been an absolute staple in my wardrobe over autumn. I just modified my usual (made-up) dirndl skirt pattern.

My second sensible sewing piece is this silk half slip. I always wear a half-slip under my skirts, especially under gathered or circle skirts - you never know when the wind is going to blow suddenly and reveal your unmentionables to passers by! I used Gertie's tutorial for a Vintage Inspired Half Slip

 For the fabric I cut up an old silk sundress that I never wore, and trimmed it with some red lace that I had lying around. It was super simple to make, and now I'm thinking of making some more half slips for winter out of old slips that I have that are too long or too tight around the waist, but have pretty lace edging.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Some Goodies

Wheeee! New makeup! When Ms Edgeley went to New York recently I begged her to bring me back some makeup, as it's so much cheaper in the US than it is here. So I was very happy to get my hands on this Smashbox Full Exposure palette, and a YSL Rouge Pur Couture Mat lipstick in Rouge Rock. For my eyes, I really wanted some neutral colours to play around with and I like that there are both the warmer browns and beiges in this palette as well as the cooler colours. I'm not particularly into shimmery stuff but all the reviews I have read say that the glittery colours (the top row) are not very strong so maybe they will just add a touch of glam for the evening.

The lipstick is lovely, it doesn't have as much staying power as a MAC matt one (I usually wear Russian Red) but I've been applying it over the top and then just re-applying the YSL during the day and it is much more moisturising on my lips. I think the packaging looks pretty elegant as well, which is one of the drawbacks of MAC which really resemble a bullet.

Another thing that arrived from overseas was this pattern. It's Simplicity 4530, a shirt pattern from 1953 with the sleeves and collar cut in one with the shirt body.

There's the option of short cuffed sleeves or three-quarter sleeves gathered into a cuff. Two darts and the front and back waist. The collar  is quite unusual as at the back it sort of overlaps itself - you can see it on The Makings of an Urban Rustic. Hopefully I can find some time soon to have a go at sewing if for myself.