RETRO REVIEW: You Can’t Help Falling in LOVE, CECIL, Opening July 27 at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Jul 27th, 2018 By:

by Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

LOVE, CECIL (2018); Dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland; Narrated by Rupert Everett; Zeigeist Films/Kino Lorber; Opens Friday, July 27 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

“Be daring. Be different. Be impractical.” Such are the words of Cecil Beaton, famed photographer, designer, all-around renaissance man, and the subject of Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s highly entertaining documentary LOVE, CECIL, opening Fri. July 27 at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema.

Through interviews with Beaton’s peers and admirers, narration drawn directly from personal diaries, and archive footage of the man himself, Immordino Vreeland, who also directed PEGGY GUGGENHEIM:ART ADDICT (2015; Retro Review here) crafts an intimate portrait of the visionary force that was Cecil Beaton. To document every photograph taken, every costume designed, or every diary entry written by Beaton would be a Herculean task, seeing as how his massive body of work spans from the early 1920s to the end of his life in the late 1970s, but Immordino Vreeland touches upon each era of Beaton’s work with such grace and brevity that the viewer feels as though they have accompanied Beaton on his artistic journey each step of the way.

Born in Hampstead, London in 1904, Cecil Beaton came into the world with less of a clear career goal and more of a broad artistic flair that manifested itself in every part of his life. Instead of attending classes at University and receiving what one would consider a “traditional” education, Beaton  spent his days creating theater clubs, performing as a female impersonator, and photographing his friends, many of whom were a part of the London socialite group known as the “Bright Young People.” Through this circle, Cecil became enamored with the aristocrat Stephen Tennant, and thus began a long pattern of Beaton finding himself infatuated with both men and women who did not necessarily return his affections. In one of the most commendable facets of the film, Immordino does not eschew Beaton’s sexuality, but chooses to highlight it, pulling direct quotes from Beaton’s diary where he explicitly states that he is attracted to men. This is not to say that Beaton did not have feelings for women as well however, as his long lasting obsession and possible affair with Greta Garbo is discussed in the film at length.

After his years as a Bright Young Person, Cecil moved to New York and was soon hired by Vogue, where he became a noted fashion photographer. Beaton’s career highlights are too numerous to list in full, but among his most notable achievements Immordino features are the portraits of the Queen Mother, Wallis Simpson, and the rest of the royal family, his wartime photographs taken during World War II (Beaton took over 7,000), and the costume and set design for films such as GIGI (1958) and MY FAIR LADY (1964), for which he won Academy Awards for both Art Direction and Costume Design on the latter.

No matter what the medium, Cecil was noted for being able to do more than just make something pretty; he was able to create an entire mood, and present the world as he wanted it to be seen as opposed to how it appears on the surface. His portraits of royalty, Hollywood starlets, and ordinary citizens and close friends all have a classic yet Modernist feel to them, an aesthetic that would carry over to his works on the big screen. While many artists who achieved fame in the pre-WWII era through the 1950s failed to keep up with the rapidly evolving youth culture, Beaton continued to mesh with whatever was fresh and innovative. He made art with the “Bright Young People” of this new generation, including Mick Jagger and Twiggy, and still maintained his classic sense of style and Jazz Age wit.

Cecil Beaton may not be a household name to many in 2018, but as LOVE, CECIL proves, the man had a sensibility to him that remains timeless, and his art continues to inspire those who seek to eschew the traditional in favor of the unique. Be sure to catch Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s charming new film to have a chance to fall in love with Cecil.

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RETRO REVIEW: LA BELLE ET LA BETE: Jean Cocteau’s Masterpiece of Gothic Fantasy Gets Rare Big Screen Treatment at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Apr 7th, 2014 By:

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE) (1946); Dir. Jean Cocteau; Starring Jean Marais and Josette Day; Tuesday, April 7 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of their Midtown Cinema Classics series, the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema is bringing one of the greatest works of filmed fantasy to the big screen in a stunning new digital restoration: Jean Cocteau’s immortal BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

“Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.

“I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s ‘Open Sesame’:

“Once upon a time…”

Jean Cocteau

Painter, poet, novelist, designer, filmmaker: all these and more were the simultaneous identities of Jean Cocteau, an artist so brilliant that one medium could not contain the full range of his talent. And much like the man himself, the handful of films he created transcend any categorization or pigeonholing. They are poems written in light and shadow; full of visionary imagery and drawing from painterly influences to create moving works of art that continue to resonate through the years. His films are bountiful feasts that fill your plate every time you return to the table. And while this is particularly true of his Orphic trilogy (THE BLOOD OF A POET, ORPHEUS and TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS), those films—as great as they are—stand in the shadow of his singular masterpiece, LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

I’ll spare you a detailed plot summary. It’s a tale that has been told and retold so often that it has become part of our collective genetic memory at this point. The lovely Belle is forced to live in the kingdom of the cursed Beast to repay the actions of her father (he steals a rose from Beast’s garden). Beast falls in love with Belle, and proposes to her on a nightly basis; each night, she refuses, though she becomes more and more drawn to him over time. Their growing feelings are tested when he allows her to return to her home for a week and informs her that if she doesn’t return after those seven days, he will die of grief. However, she is unaware of the plans her scheming siblings and her previously intended beau Avenant have drawn up to ensnare Beast’s fortune while Belle is away.

Cocteau implores us in the film’s opening to view his adaption of the classic fairy tale with the eyes of a child. To let ourselves be carried away by the irrational and the dreamlike, rather than impose the hard-and-fast logic of the adult workaday world onto our experience. And with those eyes open, we are treated to a darkly magical manifestation of the fantastic. An atmosphere of love and loss hangs over the film like an embrace both heartfelt and sorrowful. Living faces peer from mantelpieces, human arms bear the torches that light a hallway, food serves itself for dinner. Meanwhile, as in a dream, details are introduced and suddenly abandoned: Beast’s five items of power (a rose, a horse, the key to his pavilion, a glove and a mirror) are vital objects in the story, yet when they are lost or stolen after their purpose has been established, we do not revisit them.

And, much as in any fairy tale told to a child, the implications of sexual tension are sublimated and find abstract release in symbols. Belle indicates her growing acceptance of Beast by allowing him to sup water from her cupped hands. Beast’s source of power is tied inexorably to the feminine: his pavilion dedicated to the Greek goddess Diana. A strike from Diana’s arrow transforms the loutish Avenant into another Beast, revealing the savage nature that lies beneath the veneer of the handsome gentleman. And it’s another feminine power that redeems our Beast and turns him back into Prince Ardent: the transformative effects of Belle’s acceptance and love.

Speaking of that transformation, what is perhaps the most interesting move Cocteau took in adapting this story is in creating the disappointment many feel when Beast is ultimately metamorphosed into Prince Ardent (who happens to unfortunately look exactly like the rejected Avenant). We, along with Belle, spend the entire film falling more and more in love with Beast, so it’s natural that when he is revealed as the prince after the death of his feral countenance, we are left wanting. It’s said that screen legend Greta Garbo shouted “give me back my beautiful Beast!” at the screen when she first saw the film. Indeed, Belle herself is left with mixed feelings about the whole arrangement, as she informs him that “I shall have to get accustomed to you” after his transformation. Cocteau later revealed that this was his intent all along, writing:

“My story would concern itself mainly with the unconscious obstinacy with which women pursue the same type of man, and expose the naïveté of the old fairy tales that would have us believe that this type reaches its ideal in conventional good looks. My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”

We can well imagine that Beauty may long miss—and may spend many days attempting to uncover remnants of—that beautiful Beast with whom she first fell in love.

Ultimately, what can I say about this movie? I could go on, lathering up further praise without ever coming close to expressing just how wonderful and magical LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE truly is. Suffice it to say that its wonders continue to reveal themselves nearly 70 years after it was released, and any chance to see this film should be leapt upon by any lover of cinema. What pushes its screening at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema into the realm of absolute necessity is the fact that they will be presenting the widely-hailed digital restoration which debuted last year to mark the 50th anniversary of Cocteau’s death. Years of print damage have been immaculately swept away to fully reveal the sumptuous detail of the film that Guillermo del Toro called “the most perfect cinematic fable ever told.”

Come. Accept the Beast’s invitation. Cast off the grind of the harsh realm of adult reality, look upon this film with the eyes of a child, and be swept away by the pure, dark, sublimely gothic bliss of the fantastique. There are few things in the world that compare.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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A Sexy Silent Scandal at The Strand Theatre: Daring to Reopen Louise Brooks’ PANDORA’S BOX

Posted on: Nov 21st, 2012 By:

PANDORA’S BOX (1929); Dir: Georg Wilhelm Pabst; Starring Louise Brooks, Francis Lederer; with live organ accompaniment by Ron Carter; Sun. Nov. 25 3:00 p.m.; The Strand Theatre

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Ever since The Earl Smith Strand Theatre found new life on the Square in Marietta, the theater’s event schedule has cast a wide net. In between the usual live events and mainstream film titles, The Strand quietly stands as one of the last venues in Atlanta to regularly seek out and book classic silent films, a callback to its roots as an old movie house. (The Strand’s first ever show was the 1935 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers vehicle, TOP HAT.) Except that by the time The Strand opened, the talkies had already taken hold, so the decision to run silent pictures in an increasingly-noisy age of media strikes me as more than nostalgia. It’s incredibly brave.

And so, fittingly, The Strand has found a brave picture to screen. There are few silents more daring than PANDORA’S BOX (1929), playing Sunday afternoon Nov. 25 at 3 p.m.—even braver!—accompanied by a full organ score. PANDORA’S BOX doesn’t fit the mold of the typical silent melodrama. Louise Brooks stars as Lulu, a young woman whose ambition is eclipsed only by her voracious sexual appetite. She uses sex as a weapon to get what she wants, or who she wants, and the film largely deals with an escalating series of consequences, from murder, to imprisonment, and finally… well, I won’t spoil it, but Lulu’s story crosses with a famous historical figure, and her final reward is a spot in historical infamy.

PANDORA’S BOX is directed by the great Austrian director G.W. Pabst, whose list of leading ladies includes such names as Greta Garbo and Leni Riefenstahl, but he cast no lady as magnetic or iconic as Brooks, whose distinctive flapper style and bobbed haircut are more famous today than her name. Brooks was an American actress who rubbed elbows with names like William Randolph Hearst, but who grew dissatisfied with the American system and fled to Europe, where audiences came out in droves to see her magnetism and sexuality portrayed on screen. Lulu is a part born for Brooks and, although the film met with a fair amount of pushback from concerned censors, eventually made Brooks an international star. Today, her name is inseparable from the film’s title.

I mentioned censors, but it’s important to note that PANDORA’S BOX was a pre-code picture. In fact, the film came to America in December 1929, only three months before the adoption of the Hays Code that put a lid on the titillation and sexual experimentation of the earliest studio pictures. (Even in the ’20s, people knew the truth about film audiences—sex sells tickets.) PANDORA’S BOX contains a litany of elements that would soon disappear from American cinemas, such as frank sexuality and a disrespect for marriage. Just a decade later, Lulu’s actions would have classified her as a femme fatale, and she’d certainly snare a young hero or two to their doom. Here, the reality is a bit more complicated, and although it’s true that Lulu faces retribution for her loose morals, it’s hard to ignore the allure of her behavior, which is what the Hays Code was trying to snuff out in the first place.

Alice Roberts as Countess Anna Geschwitz and Louise Brooks (center) as Lulu in PANDORA'S BOX (1929), directed by G.W. Pabst. Credit: UCLA Film and Television Archive

PANDORA’S BOX is also a landmark film in queer cinema, as it does contain (if briefly) one of the first ever screen representations of a lesbian. Played by Alice Roberts, the Countess Geschwitz enters the film dressed in men’s clothes—a tuxedo—and fawns over Lulu, suggesting that the two have a sexual past. Within a year, even such a minor reference to homosexuality would be strictly outlawed on American screens.

PANDORA’S BOX is widely available online, but as with all films, especially from this era, it belongs on the screen (and trust me when I say that a live organ makes all the difference in the world). The film arrived at the end of the golden period of silent films, the end of the pre-code movies, and even puts a symbolic coda on the decade of decadence that was the 1920s. It stands proud as a threshold between two very different eras of cinema. But its sexuality, its spectacle and the compelling nature of its tragic antihero also remind us of another, sometimes-forgotten fact: what excites and thrills us today is the same as it ever was. We didn’t change—the pictures did.

For more about The Strand’s efforts to screen silents as they should be with live organ scores, read our Kool Kat interview with organist Ron Carter, who will be accompanying PANDORA’s BOX here

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Kool Kat of the Week: Silent No More: Organist Ron Carter Restores the Music to Garbo’s FLESH AND THE DEVIL and More at Marietta’s Strand Theatre

Posted on: Aug 24th, 2011 By:

One might almost think it was the 1920s this week in Atlanta. This city is lucky to have two vintage movie palaces with mighty organs, and both are playing classic silent movies this week with live accompaniment. First at the Fabulous Fox on Thurs. Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m.  is THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920), one of the final three features in this year’s Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival. Then on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the Earl Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta presents FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926), a dramatic romantic gem fraught with passion and betrayal that stars Greta Garbo in her first appearance in an American movie.

And just a few weeks from now on Sun. Sept. 11 at 3 p.m., Callanwolde is going to be hosting PIPES ON PEACHTREE, a program by the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (ACATOS) on Atlanta’s movie palaces of the 1920s, ‘30s and 40s, and their organs including Joe Patten, Atlanta’s “Phantom of the Fox”; noted organist technician and teacher John Tanner; and John Clark McCall, author of ATLANTA FOX ALBUM and other articles about Atlanta’s theatres. Highlights include a pictorial tour, playing of Callanwolde’s own 60-rank Aeolian residence pipe organ and the opportunity to tour the 1920s Gothic-Tudor mansion.

Inside The Earl Smith Strand Theatre. Photo courtesy of The Strand.

ATLRetro caught up with Ron Carter, who’ll be playing the Mighty Allen Theatre Organ at The Strand on Sun. for a sneak preview of all these upcoming events and why in the digital age, it’s still an amazing experience to see a movie in a vintage venue with live musical accompaniment. And frankly it gives us chills that Ron also be accompanying DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920), starring John Barrymore, on Oct. 30, at The Strand, closing out what has been a four-film silent series.

Let’s start with your take on what’s so special about seeing a classic movie at The Earl Smith Strand Theatre? Why should people in 2011 want to spend a summer Sunday afternoon watching a silent movie in a vintage cinema?

The Strand is a very unique venue. It was built in 1935 and at that time was the largest neighborhood movie theatre in the Atlanta metro area. Now it is the only neighborhood theatre in the Atlanta area which has been restored (I call it an adaptive restoration) to what it was originally intended to be and more! Our marquee is an exact replica (except for the state-of-the-art digital reader board) of the art deco one with real neon that was installed when the theatre opened in 1935 but then replaced with a “modern” one in 1964 during a remodeling by the Georgia Theatre Company. UGH—it was ugly!

Then when one walks into our outer art deco lobby and views the etched glass above our entrance doors, the ceramic tile floors and granite countertops, and the metal ceiling, you are transported back into a time when a theater was more than just four walls with some curtains hanging to cover up the cement block. Then you reach the inner lobby with its grand staircase, copper-painted ceiling, ornate chandelier and mosaic-covered lighting fixtures. All of this creates an expectation and wonder of what lies beyond the ornate auditorium doors! Samuel Rothafel (aka “Roxy”), who built the largest movie palace in the world in New York’s Times Square (over 6000 seats), had a famous quote. He said “The show starts on the sidewalk.” He felt that the building, the environment, the overall experience  was just as important to the patron as the show on the stage.

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