Saturday, July 25, 2009

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Retro Active Critique #13

Sparse and distinctive. Not much goes on here, only three drifters driving a car on a road to nowhere.

Hot rods and racing. There's a male-driven feel to the film, in more ways than one. But the two-lane blacktop is a playground, and the race is the game of life. They are simply focused enough to admit that not much else matters to them.

A 1955 Chevy Bel-Air on Route 66. Dennis Wilson is The Mechanic & James Taylor, The Driver. And there's The Girl they pick up along the way who won't leave. There's a looseness to the film and its plot that's appealing and striking -- a sort of freedom and 'we'll do as we please' rebellion. But there's a sense of tragedy sitting quietly in the passenger seat.

I love 'Two-Lane Blacktop'. If ever there was a vagabond & car-centric film, it's this one. Highly recommended, this one is an existential masterpiece and there's no other flick quite like it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Retro Active Appreciation: Renaissance Woman ––Jody Watley

Jody Watley... singer, songwriter, dancer & producer. She has won countless awards for her music and videos, was a pop culture fixture in the late 1980's and early 1990's and went on to start her own record company. She is also a style icon, a rather under-appreciated one at that.

She started out as a dancer on Soul Train at 14, quickly becaming one of the trend setters at that time. Look at this video and you'll see why I think Jody Watley happens to be one of the most stylish women of all time. She never makes a single mistake when it comes to putting herself together. She epitomizes the word 'fierce' with her bold, strong and feminine looks – while always managing to have a sense of the adorable with her playfulness.

And in this video, you can see how effortlessly talented she was in her freestyle dancing days, whether choreographed or calculated, her style and moves (along with her friend Jeffrey Daniel) looked fresh then and still do today.
Then came the days of Shalamar, a band consisting of her fellow dancer and friend, Jeffrey Daniel. In the first video that follows, you'll be utterly amazed, as I was, to see that The Moonwalk was performed by Jeffrey Daniel of Shalamar in 1982... before Michael Jackson made it his signature move - in 1983!! That blows my mind. And I can't stop staring at Ms. Watley's adorable outfit here. Makes me long for my grade school/junior high school days when I truly played with clothes and experimented with my outfits (it's also fun recalling that I was voted 'best dressed' for several years, which was never a surprise since I was fearless and knew how to play with clothes.)
As a young girl in Portland, Oregon, I was rarely enthralled enough by pop stars to dress like them. But in 1987, Ms. Watley won me over. She had a confident style. There was something edgy but sophisticated about her. I'd wear big hoop earrings, skirts with leggings, sling back flats & accessories, courtesy of Brass Plum, to emulate that. Her lyrics, song beats and street style seemed empowering. I was too young to grasp why anyone would be "Looking For A New Love" but her "hasta la vista... baby" delivery sounded as cool as it gets. That song became an inspirational beat in my mind if it was ever time to move on from a relationship. "My love was true, still you threw it all away... (Now other guys will have me they'll appreciate my love, tell me, how does it feel?)"

In this clip, she's seen performing again with Shalamar - and later accepting her first Grammy award as a solo artist.
Long before the style and lyric challenged antics of pop stars today, this was Jody Watley... the real, authentic deal:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Retro Active Inspirations: Blondie & Birkin

Video stylings and thought patterns - revealed! I'd intended on dressing up as Blondie, aka Debbie Harry, last Halloween and perused many photos of her to guide me. I bought the wig and had the makeup and dress, but ended up being Mary Richards (MTM) at the last minute instead, with my own hair flipped.

Having spent some time looking at photos of Blondie is what led me to realize, when I saw The Ting Ting's video for "That's Not My Name", that Katie White's look in said video was directly inspired by one specific photo of Ms. Harry that impressed me. Knee pads, dark-bottom rooted hair and all. I quickly understood. And although emulation can occasionally be annoying, hers is so specific and she seems to have so much fun stomping around in this Blondie outfit it makes it fun to watch. Few people will have made the connection, and I can see why she'd choose this look - it's energetic and cool.

Here's another video that has an inspiration I found familiar.
Jane Birkin, back in 1969 in the film "Slogan": stunning and carefree, with a childlike manner. Her breakout film was Antonioni's "Blow Up" and she had her own, very distinctive style at the time. With her breathy voice, beauty and awkward movements or dancing she charmed the Brits and the French alike. I own that rare film in which she first met Gainsbourg, and have seen it countless times - so when I happened to see the video for "Somebody Somewhere" by The Cazals featuring Lou Douillon, I could tell the origin of its concept in the way Douillon is prancing around. Very Birkin in "Slogan". If anyone can legitimately summon the incomparable Jane Birkin in her prime, it would have to be her daughter Lou. Here, Lou does her best impression of her mum. Still, I think I prefer Jane B.'s utter randomness, from back in the day.