Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dressed Up to Watch TV: 'Mad Men' S7E1 –– Psychedelic Neon Gown + Review

THE LOOK ~  Back in the day, people dressed up to board a plane or go to the cinema. These days, I spend a great deal of time watching TV at home. Why not dress up in my late 1960's-era garb to watch the show that turned me back on to TV? For this final (split) season of 'Mad Men', I will. And for the season premiere, I went for a full-on color celebration by donning a neon psychedelic Lanz gown (from Electric Ladyland.)
THE ANECDOTE ~  As someone who spent her formidable years, plus a couple more decades, deeply immersed in the gritty, progressive, kaleidoscopic world of the 1960's, particularly enamored with the latter part, one would say I've been dedicated. If dedication is work, I've earned a celebration. For most of the 2000's, I did not even own a TV; I was thoroughly entertained via films, shows and music that have existed for decades in our collective archives.
In 2007, a TV show depicting the very era that had been my 'personal culture' came along. Now is the beginning of the end of that series –– one that, fortunately, (thanks in large part to the dedication of Matthew Weiner) has never missed a beat or disappointed this disciple of mid-to-late 1960's culture.
THE REVIEW ~  In S7E1, it's January 1969. The story picks up shortly after last season's events. The first face on screen is surprisingly Freddie Rumsen's, giving a terrific pitch –– another surprise –– although we discover later he is Don's proxy. So those first moments are actually Don Draper delivering stellar work despite being so coldly (and cruelly, IMO) shut out by SC&P, formerly SCDP.
Making plot predictions can be enticing, especially with the often non-subtle hints on 'Mad Men', but let's just watch and see what happens to these characters in this final season. Yes, as predicted: darkness looms heavy in the canyons, where Megan now resides –– very near, in time and place, to where Sharon Tate meets her doom.
Don remains smitten with his wife, despite whatever marital problems they've had and their current bi-coastal situation. That point is driven home in this episode by Spencer Davis Group in the (now famous) airport pickup scene: 'I'm a man, yes I am, and I can't help but love you so!' (See below. I had originally planned to include Traffic's 'Dear Mr. Fantasy' for this piece.)
The unexpected bits in the premiere are what I particularly enjoyed, like the protective conversation Weiner seemed to be having with his bullying audience members on the very topic of Megan (and the beautiful actress who plays her, Jessica Pare.) Megan has been a strong contributing character since Season 4 –– or since 1965. It's been difficult to avoid noticing the pointedly angry and cruel remarks certain viewers have made about her during this time.
The writers of the show have made it plain, time and again, that Megan Draper is to be loved. Don loves Megan (in his way; and at times, even obsessively.) Megan was never just 'going away'. She has been integral to many of the transitions that have occurred during that progressive era.
Included in the script for S7E1 were inside jabs directed at Megan-haters during the dinner scene, when her agent announces that she got her first Hollywood callback. 'I thought the guy hated me!?' She exclaims. 'But his boss loved you,' he says. (Megan-hate-viewers vs. Matthew Weiner, right there.) He adds: 'I'll say one thing about this girl. She evokes strong feelings.' And I have to hand it to Jessica Pare –– she has seemed to keep herself, (and her confidence), well in tact, despite the bullies. Megan's agent says next: 'We can hold off on fixing your teeth.' To this, Megan gives a sad and very professional nod: 'Okay.' Proving yet again that while Hollywood can be cruel, today's online bullies are just as bad. It might have seemed odd to bring this level of reality into the show, but I delighted in this decision on the part of the writers.
We also caught up with what's happening in the lives of Pete (he's tan and happier in L.A.), Joan (the unlikely partner has become a rather gutsy businesswoman) Peggy (misses both Don and Ted), Roger (so hip, it hurts; still acts like a square with his daughter), Stan (such a cool cat), Ted (bi-coastal Mr. Professional.)
Meanwhile, TV itself even played a large role in the Season 7 premiere. Don watches a lot of it, with too much time on his hands out of the office. He gifts Megan with a very large TV set, to her dismay. I enjoyed celebrating the return of 'Mad Men' this way –– so I'll be dressing up to watch TV, again, when S7E2 airs next Sunday.
(Originally posted for Vintage Fashion at Examiner.com.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

'The Americans' –– Cold War Cool (If Looks Could Kill, They Probably Will)

(Originally posted for Vintage Fashion at Examiner.com.)

'The Americans', now in its second season on FX, is the only Cold War era spy thriller series on television. Here's what can happen: you begin to watch 'The Americans' for its early 1980's style and appeal; stay for the pacing and storytelling; discover you've become an avid fan of the series itself.
Having spent years poring over fashion from the late 70's & early 80's, in all of its understated elegance, I am happy to find any manner by which to pass the time in the early 1980's. Meanwhile, the first season begins with 'Tusk' and ends with 'Games Without Frontiers'. Even its musical bookends couldn't have been better.
 
In terms of fashion, the early 1980's was a unique time of classic and tailored looks. Form-fitting. There were no unusual shapes or colors. Everything was wearable. From office garb to weekend wear, these were clothes in which people could live, work and play. And for a pair of spies (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) living in the Cold War era, understated they must be, as they manage their covert affairs with great skill. They are not just a couple of spies; they are two excellent spies living as a married couple, with two very real children.
The early 80's were a transitional period and some remnants of late 1970's silhouettes were still in play. This depiction is also one of a conservative location and time, since the couple's home is in the suburbs of Virginia. We have characters working at the FBI HQ office; others who work for the KGB. The action happens in or around Washington, D.C., during the Reagan administration.
It is fascinating to see actors playing people who act in their daily lives as if they are 'normal', hoping their true abilities go undetected so they may infiltrate by drawing as little attention to themselves as possible -- overcompensating by being extremely casual in their manner of talking and walking. So casual, they're often too casual, and therefore strange. Factor in the multiple disguises they must wear for their various undercover tactics (they are spies, after all.) It's evident just how juicy the roles of Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings must be for Russell and Rhys to play.
As for the dream role of being the costume designer for the show, Jenny Gering has her work cut out for her. Anyone who has shopped vintage knows that while the most wonderful items can be found in vintage stores or by shopping online, difficulties can arise in finding that item in great quality or the right size. Having to do that for an entire cast for a series, including extras, would certainly be a challenge. But what a dream job. I could have only dreamed that another show might delve deep into period storytelling, taking us where 'Mad Men' has taken us before -- but within this other fascinating era, the early 1980's. Given all of their dramatic aesthetic changes, the 1960's and the 1980's are both of great interest.
 
Presumably, the show could cover further ground into the 1980's as long as it continues to be this captivating. (Here's hoping!) 'The Americans' could return for enough seasons to take us into the colorful, vibrant, BIG eighties.
For now, the subtlety that exists in the transitional early 1980's is what has kept me transfixed. And the quiet, stoic pacing of the series ties incredibly well with the covert lives of its characters, making 'The Americans' an altogether streamlined, distinguished, and deeply exciting experience.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cats In Films (Year Of the Cat) -- VIDEO

I'm someone who is generally considered a 'cat person'. I would take it farther, however, in that I respect all species equally; I am entirely against speciesism. But yes, I am a cat person.
After seeing 'Inside Llewyn Davis' last month, and falling deeply for Ulysses the cat who I consider the hero of that Coen brothers film, I had an inkling to piece together a (hopefully) beautiful and especially respectful tribute to cats who've appeared in films. I immediately knew I'd want to use Al Stewart's song 'The Year Of The Cat'. As a music-and-film-driven videographer who loves cats, and also loves that particular song, this was all an inevitability.
After gathering all the media I could find, I created the video over the course of a few days. I wasn't entirely satisfied when it was completed last Sunday. But I waited, then shared the video on my social media channels on Monday. This video meant a great deal to me, so I asked and practically pleaded (for the first time, ever) for friends to watch and share. A few did and I was appreciative for their support of my efforts (as this sort of 'super-cut' video does take some effort!)
By Tuesday afternoon, I noticed the views were creeping up slightly. And faster. I found out Tuesday night that the video had been posted on Neatorama, which was a wonderful surprise. By Wednesday, in the early afternoon, I discovered that Slate.com had picked it up as well (via Neatorama.) An even bigger surprise. I'm happy the video has gotten some traction since it was meant to be seen and enjoyed by other like-minded cat lovers. I hope it might even instill a sense of respect for all species, somehow.
Here is my celebratory tribute to cats in films –– 'Cats In Films (Year Of The Cat)'.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Vintage Ads: How Sanderson's Home Decor & Wallpaper Brand Appealed To The 'Me Decade'

Sanderson is an English wallpaper, interior design and decorating company. It is the oldest surviving English brand in its field. The Sanderson brand is known for its coordinated fabric and wallpapers.
In the 1970's, Sanderson's print ads included a series featuring some famous Brits and one Swedish Britt (Ekland), who was also a resident Brit. The ad copy says simply: 'Very Britt Ekland, very Sanderson.'
Ekland's ad is from around 1973. She had yet to appear as a Bond girl and would soon play Mary Goodnight in 'The Man With The Golden Gun', which was released in 1974. Other ads from this print campaign feature Ekland's fellow Bond girl, Diana Rigg (the only Mrs. Bond, Tracy Bond, in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' in 1969); the singer and actress Petula Clark; and famed British chef Robert Carrier.
The standard in 1970's home decor often entailed matching wallpaper with fabrics, including curtains and sofa covers. Sanderson had enough clout to suggest a connection between its brand name and a person's ability to decorate his or her home to reflect a distinctive style.
If a home is 'very' someone -- but also very Sanderson -- this indicates that Sanderson values (and can accommodate) each person's unique design preference to the hilt. In the midst of the 'Me Decade', the idea of a brand being able to cater to one's individual taste had to have been a novel and appealing concept. Which is why these Sanderson print ads are a strong time capsule. They capture not only the look and feel of the 1970's, but also what Sanderson, as a company, perceived to be the needs and desires for people in that era.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Music From The 1980's That Dazzled Me In 2013 (A Strange Year-End List)

This is a very different sort of year-end list. 

As they say, what's old is new. The 'Retro Active' outlook with which I began this blog is my standard. Still, 2013 stands out. It was a year of 1980's (re)discoveries that felt incredibly fresh & vibrant. Some of these I already knew but hadn't seen or heard in a while; some I'd yet to experience. Each has made an imprint on my life & I'm happy to carry these gems with me into 2014 & beyond.

6. The Belle Stars | Sign Of The Times
People talk about girl power. This band is comprised of girls, girls, & more girls. There are so many ladies working together in this group, it's impressive. This song should've had more airplay, stateside, back in its day. (I'm not sure it did.) Glad I've begun to enjoy it now, I've listened to it at least 30 times. (I have some catching up to do!)
5. Banarama | Aie e Mwana
According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, (their Wikipedia page has pointed out), Banarama still holds the title of all-female group with the most chart entries in the world. I did not know that! I also did not know their first hit 'Aie e Mwana'. This one I heard on iTunes Radio, a recent godsend for new discoveries. The lyrics –– aside from the title (which is said to be nonsense) –– are sung in Swahili. The intro is long, but it's all so worth it. Listen & enjoy. 

4. Adam Ant | Strip
I'd somehow forgotten about this! I'll remember it from now on. 
3. Talk Talk | Life's What You Make It
This 'bass piano' knocks me out. The song just floors me. Who focuses their bass on piano? Works really well for the mood of this song. ('Everything's all right.') And the video is beautiful.
2. Heaven 17 | Penthouse and Pavement
This next one was a thrilling discovery for me –– again, first heard on iTunes Radio. I've enjoyed many Heaven 17 songs, but their 'Penthouse & Pavement' was new for me in 2013. Now it's my favorite of theirs. I'm not sure how many times I've listened to it by now; it gets better every time. I'm baffled (and dazzled) by the fact that this is from 1981. This band was ahead of its time. The video also captures the early 80's mood very well. 
This TV performance of 'Penthouse & Pavement' is also worth watching. I suppose they had to have a fill-in for the female vocalist whenever they performed it (the original singer was a session performer.) When I first saw this video, I was blown away by the fabulous gal who performs with them –– she's so charming –– so I was a little disappointed to find out she isn't the actual singer. But it's fun to watch her OWN the song during this performance.
1. Wham! | Ray Of Sunshine
When I listened to my Wham! Fantastic cassette tape as a kid, I'd often fast forward and rewind to listen to a few songs in particular. I enjoyed 'A Ray Of Sunshine' –– just not nearly enough. I heard it after having had quite some time away from it in 2013. This tune is so sadly overlooked –– and it's rare to hear it anywhere. It didn't even appear in an extensive Wham! karaoke song list, I recently discovered –– but again, iTunes radio was my friend in 2013 & there they played it. Since then, I keep listening to it and loving it. It's made it's way into my all-time favorites list. 'Ray Of Sunshine' is literally, very possibly, one of my Top 10 favorite songs of all time. What a huge leap this song has made into my heart :)
I have to include this video, with footage from the Wham! film 'Foreign Skies' set to 'Ray Of Sunshine'. No other piece of media in 2013 (aside from the many, many adorable videos of non-humans) charmed me quite as completely –– and utterly –– as seeing this! 
I should add that in 2013 I watched three very significant movies from the 80's for the very first time in their entirety: 'E.T.', 'Poltergeist' & 'Gremlins'. I also watched 'A View To A Kill' in its entirety after not having watched it for many years –– and realized how worth revisiting that Bond film happens to be (much more on that soon!) 2013 certainly was a good year to be inspired by the 80's.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Year's Eve Is Real & Inclusive –– & Why Chariots Of Fire Is A Quintessential NYE Movie

New Year's Eve has gotten a bad rap for a long time. People often complain that they don't have exciting plans for the night, or grow despondent if highly anticipated plans prove lesser than they'd hoped. Some feel like being alone on New Year's Eve is indicative of personal failure. It's all a matter of perspective, really. Just remember: in the midst of all holidays that come through during the fall-winter season, this is the one that is inclusive and universal. It is 'real'. New Year's Eve bears no real conflict for anyone, in truth. No politics or religious denominations. No questionable history.
Despite the fact that some parts of the world celebrate a different calendar –– and therefore a different day that signals the new year –– everyone can relate to that transition. Whether your year has been a good one, or a difficult one, (for some it may have been one they can't wait to leave behind), New Year's Eve is a day for everyone.
Whether you're surrounded by friends and family or spending the night entirely alone, it is your night. It is everyone's night. Make the most of it in any way you can. It's a night to celebrate. Or reflect. Whichever makes sense in your particular predicament.
Two years prior, we wanted to spend New Year's Eve relaxing at home. The plan was to watch a movie and play board games. By happy accident, I had a craving for one film: 'Chariots Of Fire'. That was my movie pick, so we watched it. And by 'happy accident', I mean I had no idea when I chose 'Chariots Of Fire' that I'd soon consider it the quintessential New Year's Eve/New Years' Day movie. Every aspect of life –– and what drives people in living it –– is represented in 'Chariots Of Fire'.
Lord Lindsay
Harold Abrahams
Eric Liddell
If you are like Eric Liddell, you feel a sense of purpose and you're driven in life by a power you consider greater than yourself. You are running for what you consider to be your God, whatever you aspire to. If you're like Harold Abrahams, you are running to prove something to others –– you are running because of the shear force of competition. If you're like Lord Lindsay (Burghley), you run because you are privileged enough to do so, and only because you can, which minimizes a sense of purpose in your efforts. But whichever force is driving you to be part of the race, you are in it.
The real Eric Liddell
The real Harold Abrahams
The real Lord Burghley (Lord Lindsay in 'Chariots Of Fire')
Of course, there are also those on the sidelines. There are the cheerleaders and supporters. And there are the coaches. Whichever role you most identify with, there is no denying the strength of 'Chariots Of Fire' in capturing the way we exist by way of running (or standing by to watch) our own particular heat in the game of life.
And I can attest that it is a uniquely inspiring experience to watch this movie –– one that is as unfairly and oft-derided as New Year's Eve itself –– as you transition into the new year.