Unreal Nature

December 3, 2015

Two Skins

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:03 am

… The independent alternative … necessitates a reversal of the normative clothes/body relationship …

This is from Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies by Stella Bruzzi (1997):


One sequence, showing Baines (Harvey Keitel) crouched under the piano as Ada (Holly Hunter) is playing, stands out as a turning point in my conversion. In close-up we see Baines’s rough, grubby forefinger caress a speck of white skin left exposed by an undarned wool stocking. This gesture is, on one level, a very straightforward signal of Baines’s desire for Ada, and Ada registers this through the startled but not unpleased expression on her face in the subsequent shot.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Its eroticism, however, as a cinematic image rather than an idea, is created by the multiple juxtapositions of color and texture: the two skins (one masculine and swarthy, the other feminine and ‘white and hairless as an egg’), the heavy blackness of the stocking, and the delicate, if a little perfunctory, edging on Ada’s white petticoat.

[ … ]

… In the first scene of Rear Window, Lisa (Grace Kelly), who works at the exclusive end of the New York fashion trade, arrives in an evening dress ‘right off the Paris plane’ at the apartment of her partner Jeff (James Stewart), an intrepid photojournalist. Kelly’s dress is intentionally spectacular, contrasting a tight black top half cut to a plunging V both front and back and a full white tulle and chiffon three-quarter length skirt embroidered with black sequins in sprig patterns coming down from the waistline.

[line break added] Lisa ostentatiously does a twirl to show the creation off to a defiantly disinterested Jeff who dedicates his time, while she glides around the apartment fixing the dinner delivered from ’21,’ to enumerating their incompatibilities. Hitchcock initially goes to great lengths to establish our identification with Jeff’s point of view, repeating twice the soft-focus, slow-motion shot of Lisa stooping to kiss Jeff on the lips. The spectator’s position, however, is soon declared to be at odds with Jeff’s, and the problem is the iconic status of the dress.

[line break added] Paradoxically, despite the emphasis on Lisa’s beauty, this opening scene is the low point of their relationship. As the vulnerable, deflated Lisa serves the lobster dinner, tentatively enquiring of Jeff what he thinks of it, he wearily replies, ‘Lisa, it’s perfect — it’s always perfect.’ She is perfect to a fault, she is too beautiful.

Where the fashionable, too beautiful woman is concerned, the issues of identity and identification become problematised, as the focus has shifted away from the woman herself to the art and spectacle of her clothes.


[ … ]

… The differentiation between costume and couture designs has been an essential means of challenging these widespread beliefs that clothing in cinema does not possess an aesthetic discourse or that it cannot function independently of narrative and character. … The independent alternative offered by fashion in particular necessitates a reversal of the normative clothes/body relationship that understands the former to be subservient to the latter. … This notion of clothing’s distancing, disruptive potential is to be returned to in several guises through [this] book …

To be continued.




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