The Gravedigger of French Cinema

François Truffaut whilst he was in military prison, circa 1951

 
 

After starting his own film club in 1948, François Truffaut met André Bazin, who would have great effect on his professional and personal life. Bazin was a critic and the head of another film society at the time. He became a personal friend of Truffaut’s and helped him out of various financial and criminal situations during his formative years.

Truffaut joined the French Army in 1950, aged 18, but spent the next two years trying to escape. Truffaut was arrested for attempting to desert the army. Bazin used his various political contacts to get Truffaut released and set him up with a job at his newly formed film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. Over the next few years, Truffaut became a critic (and later editor) at Cahiers, where he became notorious for his brutal, unforgiving reviews. He was called “The Gravedigger of French Cinema” and was the only French critic not invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1958. He supported Andre Bazin in the development of one of the most influential theories of cinema itself, the auteur theory.

In the late 1950s, French New Wave critics, especially Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, were among the first to see and promote Alfred Hitchcock‘s films as artistic works. Hitchcock was one of the first directors to whom they applied their auteur theory, which stresses the artistic authority of the director in the film-making process.

As critics for the iconoclastic film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, Godard and Truffaut had shared a similar aesthetic. Their masters were (besides Hitchcock), Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini and Fritz Lang, whose films were underestimated at the time and whom they defended with the pugnacity of young prizefighters.

In an article for Cahiers du Cinéma in 1954, Truffaut posited his “auteur theory”: the idea that certain directors, regardless of whether they wrote their films, were the true authors of their work. They reserved their greatest criticism for postwar French cinema, which Truffaut dismissed as “cinéma du papa” for its tendency to churn out tired over-literary adaptations of classic novels and plays.

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Children As Center of Gravity

“My favorite Rossellini film is Germany Year Zero [1947], probably because I have a weakness for movies that take childhood, or children, as their subject. Also because Rossellini was the first to depict children truthfully, almost documentary-style, on film. He shows them as serious and pensive—more so than the adults around them—not like picturesque little figures or animals. The child in Germany Year Zero is quite extraordinary in his restraint and simplicity. This was the first time in the cinema that children were portrayed as the center of gravity, while the atmosphere around them is the one that’s frivolous.”

François Truffaut

 
 

Jean-Pierre Léaud and François Truffaut, at Cannes Film Festival, 1966

 
 

French director and screenwriter François Truffaut on the set of his movie L’Argent de poche (Small Change). Photos by Christian Simonpietri, August 1975

 
 

L’Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child), 1970

 
 

From birth François Truffaut was thrown into an undesired situation. As he was born out of wedlock, his birth had to remain a secret because of the social stigma associated with illegitimacy. He was registered as “A child born to an unknown father” in the hospital records. He was looked after by a nurse for an extended period of time. His mother eventually married and her husband Roland gave his surname, Truffaut, to François.

Although he was legally accepted as a legitimate child, his parents did not accept him. The Truffauts had another child who died shortly after birth. This experience saddened them greatly and as a result they despised François because of the memory of regret that he represented. He was an outcast from his earliest years, dismissed as an unwanted child. François was sent to live with his grandparents. It wasn’t until François’s grandmother’s death before his parents took him in, much to the dismay of his own mother. The experiences with his mother were harsh. He recalled being treated badly by her but he found comfort in his father’s laughter and overall spirit. The relationship with Roland was more comforting than the one with his own mother. François had a very depressing childhood after moving in with his parents. They would leave him alone whenever they would go on vacations. He even recalled memories of being alone during Christmas. Being left alone forced François into a sense of independence, he would often do various tasks around the house in order to improve it such as painting or changing the electric outlets. Sadly, these kind gestures often resulted in a catastrophic event causing him to get scolded by his mother. His father would mostly laugh them off.

Truffaut was married to Madeleine Morgenstern from 1957 to 1965, and they had two daughters, Laura (born 1959) and Eva (born 1961). Madeleine was the daughter of Ignace Morgenstern, managing director of one of France’s largest film distribution companies, and was largely responsible for securing funding for Truffaut’s first films. While he had affairs with many of his leading ladies – in 1968 he was the fiancé of Claude Jade – Truffaut and actress Fanny Ardant lived together from 1981 to 1984 and had a daughter, Joséphine Truffaut (born 28 September 1983).

The Richard Avedon of Asia

Self-portrait

 
 

Russel Wong is a Singapore-born Hollywood celebrity photographer. He had his primary and secondary education at Anglo-Chinese School. His celebrity portraits have earned him celebrity status. He is heralded as “the Richard Avedon of Asia” –an association Wong doesn’t seem to mind.

Like Avedon, Wong creates stunning portraits that are minimal, dramatic, and brilliantly composed. However, his photographs lack the cool indifference and stiffness of Avedon’s work; instead, the imagery is warm, personal, engaging.

Where does that gift comes from? “It’s difficult to explain”, he begins. “When I shoot someone, I feel like I’m dancing. The idea I’m working with is equivalent to the melody I hear in my head… then I improvise what that song’s ups and downs. I often try something wild at the end.”

The legendary celebrity-photographer the late Richard Avedon [1923-2004] had once sharply noted ‘my portraits are more about me than about the people I photograph’. This observation from the towering figure who chiselled his reputation on photographing the celebrated and the powerful suggests that the portrait-image could reveal as much about the photographer as it does the sitter-subject – or more. Russel Wong [b. 1961-] who (as stated before) has been christened the Richard Avedon of Asia by the popular media, wields an inventory of celebrity portraits that would exhaust most name-droppers. Joining the tradition of celebrity photographers like Avedon, Annie Leibovitz [1949-] Helmut Newton [1920-2004] and Herb Ritts [1952-2002], Wong’s practice ruptures the slender line between celebrity photography and fine art. Whilst some critics banish this genre as a soft art form shaped by the pressures and demands of celebrity publicity machines, most agree that this species of photography remains one of the most potent and most difficult to commandeer. It is one thing to wrestle for access to celebrities and quite another feat to persuade strong self-willed celebrities who are well-acquainted with camera tactics to trust if not share, one’s vision.

Several pivotal shifts in Wong’s practice occurred after his enrollment in the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in 1984 for a fine art degree (Photography). There he encountered tutors and mentors whose personal charisma and professional triumphs exerted great influence over his formative development. In his second year, Wong made a 4-month ‘immersion trip’ to Milan, Italy – ‘the Mecca, where all aspiring fashion photographers go to, and where all the big-name photographers pay their dues’ [Russel Wong, interview 2004]. Wong learnt the language, ate the food and hung out at the Italian fashion cafes, like The White Bear, where models and photographers congregated. Most importantly, his photographic style and approach changed radically, and these shifts were not lost on his mentors. Amongst these was Paul Jasmin [1935-], the renowned fashion designer and photographer who worked with Vogue and Interview. Jasmin introduced Wong to his agent who also represented Herb Ritts.

The agent subsequently became Wong’s first agent in his career – opening the doors to major magazine assignments. Another seminal figure was Antonio Lopez [1943-1987] the flamboyant Puerto Rican fashion illustrator noted for his portraits of Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange and Grace Jones. Lopez, a cult figure in the circles, had in the 1970s, run a Paris salon with Karl Lagerfeld for fashion celebrities. Lopez noted Wong’s work and connected Wong to the remarkable photographer Art Kane [1925-1995] who had photographed The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan among others.

“Antonio said, ‘Go to New York. I will help you!’ He invited me to his New York studio in Union Square and he called up a bunch of photographers. At the point when Antonio introduced me to Art Kane, I was ready to be an assistant, intern, anything. I didn’t really care, because I just wanted to see what it was like to do real photographic work in a New York loft.
I would have waited tables, carried the photographer’s lights, made coffee… you name it. But it turned out that I didn’t have to do any of that. I don’t know if this is good or bad but I didn’t have to assist any photographer on my way up. They liked my work, and it all began.”
[Russel Wong, interview 2004]

 
 

Antonio Lopez

 
 

David Lynch

 
 

Isabella Rossellini

 
 

Kenzo Takada

 
 

Helmut Newton

 
 

Oliver Stone

 
 

Joan Chen

 
 

John Galliano

 
 

Cindy Crawford

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Yoko 1, Archival pigment print on cotton rag paper, Emilie Halpern, 2010

 
 

Bianca Jagger

 
 

Isabella Rossellini

 
 

Anjelica Huston

 
 

Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson

After a Photograph

Joan Collins

 
 

Truman Capote

 
 

Anjelica Huston

 
 

Michael Jackson

 
 

Eddie Sedwick

 
 

Madonna

 
 

“Divine”

 
 

Cher

 
 

Grace Jones

 
 

Miguel Bosé

 
 

Isabella Rossellini

 
 

Maria Schiano

 
 

Debbie Harry

 
 

Diane von Fürstenberg

 
 

David Bowie

 
 

Mick Jagger

 
 

For 15 years, beginning in 1972, Richard Bernstein’s signature artwork graced the monthly covers of Interview magazine, that seminal celebrity chronicle of the social, fashion and art crowd that had met in Andy Warhol’s Factory and the back room of Max’s Kansas City in the 60′s and catalyzed in the sybaritic heat of Studio 54 in the late 70′s.

Using an airbrush, pencil and pastel on photographic portraits, Bernstein made the up-and-coming celebrities of the era-Sylvester Stallone, Calvin Klein, Madonna, even wholesome Mary Tyler Moore-look as sleek and sexy as our nostalgized memories of that era. “Things are stronger, faster and further,” Paloma Picasso wrote of Bernstein’s oeuvre in a published collection of his work, Megastar . “Superstars became Megastars.”

But though Bernstein’s work helped put many a celebrity into the hot zone, he never seemed to be able to make the same conversion in terms of his own career. “I never felt that Richard got the full recognition for his contribution to the art world,” said Steve Newman, director of still photography at 20th Century Fox studios. “He never got the representation or put himself out there enough to earn the kind of reputation that other contemporaries of his did. I still think it’s a great shame.”

Some who knew Bernstein said he never broke out because his work, which was clearly influenced by Warhol’s art, was too often confused with the Pope of Pop’s work, and that Warhol, who enjoyed autographing the covers of fans’ copies of Interview , didn’t work too hard to disabuse them of that notion.

Other friends said that Bernstein was too nice and not ambitious enough, and that he was often taken advantage of by those who were in a position to help him.

With his dark, wavy hair, good looks and unfussy fashion sense-black jeans, leather jackets-Bernstein attracted members of both sexes, and though he was gay, he had at least one significant relationship with a woman, the actress and photographer Berry Berenson.

On Oct. 18, Bernstein’s body was found on the other side of that door, in his high-ceilinged studio apartment that once was part of the Chelsea Hotel’s grand ballroom. According to friends, a note found in his apartment that said simply “Do not resuscitate” left some with the suspicion that he had taken his own life.

The Last Flappers

Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

 
 

Jack Lemmon, Marilyn and director Billy Wilder

 
 

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag

 
 

Audrey Hepburn as Holy Golightly in Breakfast at Tifanny’s (Blake Edwards, 1961)

 
 

keiraKeira Knightley wearing  Chanel Couture

 
 

Make-up and styling for Chanel Resort Collection 2013

 
 

Natalie Portman photographed by Mario Testino. Vogue USA, February 2004

 
 

Portman in a still from Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004)

 
 

Michelle Pfeiffer. Photo: Herb Ritts

 
 

Madonna

 
 

Anjelica Huston. Photo: Gian Paolo Barbieri

 
 

Portrait of Isabella Rossellini by Ellen von Unwerth

 
 

Ali MacGraw

 
 

Ralph Lauren

 
 

Jean Paul Gaultier

 
 

Alexander McQueen

 
 

LV0043Louis Vuitton

 
 

Etro

 
 

Gucci

 
 

Balenciaga by Nicholas Ghesquière

 
 

Images from fashion editorial Paris Je T’Aime photographed by Steven Meisel. Vogue USA, September issue. 2007

 
 

Rihanna

 
 

Mary Jane Russell with a Christian Dior swan hat. Photo: Louise Dahl-Wolfe, 1949

 
 

Christian Dior by John Galliano Spring-Summer collection 1998

 
 


The Dolly Sisters

 
 

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior Haute Couture at the Oscars 2013

 
 

* The Last Flapper is the title of a play written by William Luce. It is based on Zelda Fitzgerald’s life.

Life Becomes Them

In her formative years, Monica Bellucci’s most intimate desire was to follow in the footsteps of Gina Lollobrigida, Silvana Mangano, Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren, four Italian muses that, (as she finally also achieved) became magnificent actresses in their country and abroad. Monica began her modeling career at Elite+ Models Agency working with several important brands like Revlon.

 
 

The Most Unforgettable Women in the World Wear Revlon, Ad Campaign phots by Richard Avedon, 1989

 
 

Legendary filmmaker Dino Risi (who directed movies starring by Monica Vitti, Sophia Loren and Ornella Mutti) offered her a leading role in 1990’s Vita coi Figli. Francis Ford Coppola, after watching photos of her in a portfolio offered her a small but arresting cameo in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Bellucci played one of Dracula’s brides who, in one particularly erotic scene, practically devoured Jonathan Harker, the fictional character performed by Keanu Reeves.

 
 

Producer Franco Rossellini, Isabella’s cousin, also appears in the Ad Campaign

 
 

By that time, Steven Meisel made this Dolce Gabbana’s Spring Summer Collection 1992 Ad Campaign inspired by La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960), depicting playful mischief and self-indulgence behaviors along glittery outfits. The collection higlighted the trends of that season: short dresses, embroidered accents, bustiers with lifelike flowers, along with D&G’s stylistic signatures over the years, lingerie, lace and so on.

 
 

Goldie Hawn wearing a costume for the frisky photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz. Vanity Fair, March 1992.

 
 

Isabella Rossellini began her career as a model at 28, photographed by Bruce Weber for British Vogue. From 1982 to 1996, she became the exclusive face of Lancôme. Around October 1992, Rossellini made appearances in two of Madonna’s projects: her outrageous book Sex and the Erotica music video.

 
 

British Vogue cover by Bruce Weber, circa 1982

 
 

Lancôme Ads

 
 

That same year, in Death Becomes Her (Robert Zemeckis, 1992) she played Lisle, a mysterious, wealthy socialite who seems to be in her thirties. However, Lisle discloses her true age as 71, and reveals to Madeline (Meryl Streep) the secret of her beauty: a potion that promises eternal life and an ever-lasting youthful appearance. It has been said that after her appearance in that film, Lancôme was considering not renewing their contract with Rossellini.

 
 

Death Becomes Her Theatrical movie poster

 
 

 
 

The comedic film, Cactus Flower (Gene Saks, 1969) marked the return of Ingrid Bergman (Isabella Rossellini’s mother) to the movies. This, her first role in a comedy, garnered critical praise. Goldie Hawn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.