Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Classically changing: how period movies depict the present

Good morning!

Today it is finally cooler here, which is appropriate since we're supposedly in winter time. Now, when I say "cooler" I mean a can wear a very very thin cardigan (but still wearing a short dress and flats), because apparently that's all we're having this winter. If summer is like last year's, by October I'll have forgotten how it is like not to feelhot all the time.


As a series of posts, Penny Dreadful Vintage is writing this week about Egypt in Vintage Film, and looking at today's pictures portraying Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra I found myself thinking about the use of film as a means of thinking about its time of production.

I see many people going after period movies in an attempt to learn something about history. Now, I'm not saying that's not possible, but of course we have to question ourselves as to why that film was produced in the first place, the interests of those behind it and the moment. In the academic world of Humanities much is said about how a film can say more about its production time that about the era it tries to represent.

That becomes clear when we see the life of the same historical figure, for example Cleopatra, portrayed through different moments of the 20th century. The most iconic and famous is no doubt that of Elizabeth Taylor, released in 1963 (filming began in 1960). If in 1934 Claudette Colbert was pictured with the typical thin penciled eyebrows, dark eyeshadow and that almost heart-shaped mouth, still resembling the classic 1920's fashion (I'm talking about the 20's because, truth be told, the 30's are still quite unknown territory for me), Miss Taylor is the exact image of what we all have in mind when it comes to 60's make-up, with that thick eyeliner, blue eyeshadow and lips in lighter shades.

It is also very interesting to take a look at the silhouette. While in the 1930's a more natural body shape was apparently in, in the 50's (let's remember Elizabeth Taylor was a star in the 50's and things take time to change) curves were all in, emphasizing the female body (or the idea of what it should be).

I'd also mention the colors, but it wouldn't be fair, since the 1934 movie was in black and white. Still, that emerald dress and the lighter shade of lipstick almost erasing the mouth are awesome demonstrations of fashion at the time.

Now, a final confession: I've never seen any of these films! And truth be told, I'm also not exactly looking forward to it because long epic vintage movies are sometimes very boring and lately I've been more into noir and all those 1940's divas, but maybe I'll give it try. And you? Who's your favorite Cleopatra?

Claudette Colbert pictures from the blog and Elizabeth Taylor's found through Google Image.

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