Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
The Beguiled is visually beautiful. A large white Virginia mansion sits surrounded by majestic trees dripping with moss. The women who inhabit this home are outfitted in gowns that would put Scarlett O’Hara to shame. Each scene, shot in gauzy, low light is mesmerizing, giving the entire film a dreamlike quality. Yet that exceptional cinematography cannot save a film whose storyline is demeaning to women. That the director is Sofia Coppola and the cast predominantly women only adds to the disappointment.
“I think just the power between men and women, which we can all relate to, is at the heart of the story,” Coppola said on the CBS Morning Show, explaining why she decided to do a remake of the 1971 film which starred Clint Eastwood. The earlier version did poorly at the box office after being marketed as a “hothouse melodrama” – “One man…seven women…in a strange house!” That setup, a group of women competing for the attention and love of a man, never falls to draw an audience, one reason why ABC’s The Bachelor is now in its 21st (!) season. Still, whether during the Civil War or in current time, seeing women scratch and claw each other to win a man is unseemly.
Seven women, ranging in age from seven to 40, are holed up in the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Women, practicing their handwriting and studying French while trying to ignore the Civil War raging around them. The youngest girl, Amy (Oona Laurence) is gathering mushrooms in the forest when she happens upon a wounded Union soldier, Colonel McBurney (Colin Farrell). She helps him back to the mansion where he collapses. The school’s head, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), decides they should tend to his injuries before turning him into the Confederates. He’s placed on a bed in the music room which is kept locked. Miss Martha strips off his clothes and sponges away the dirt and blood on his body, her movements and facial expressions making it clear it’s been a long time since she’s seen a man. She also cleans out and stitches up the wound in his leg.
When he regains consciousness, McBurney tells the women he recently arrived in America from Ireland and, being short on cash, was paid to take another man’s place in the Union Army. Fighting for a cause he knew little about and didn’t believe in made it easy for him to desert when he was wounded. He wants the women to know that he’s not their enemy. (Eastwood’s character told the women he was a pacifist.) The women soon band together to protect McBurney from being turned in when Confederate soldiers stop in to check on Miss Martha and the others.
Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst
Although Miss Martha keeps telling McBurney he’s not a guest, he’s soon joining them at the table for dinner. The women dress for each occasion like they are dining with a prince. McBurney doesn’t disappoint, enjoying the food, particularly Amy’s mushrooms, and flirting with each woman. Although Miss Martha tries to keep things professional, there’s no doubt she’s attracted to him, too. But the major contenders are Edwina, the school’s second in command and teacher played by Kirsten Dunst, and Alicia, one of the older students played by Elle Fanning. McBurney plays one off against the other until his manipulations backfire with disastrous consequences.
Despite the fact that the film is set during the Civil War, Coppola made the curious decision to jettison one of the characters, a slave, Hallie, played in the original by Mae Mercer, which sparked some fascinating and heated exchanges with Eastwood’s McBurney. Hallie and the women (a cast headed by Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman) dressed in work clothes, not ball gowns, and toiled in the fields in order to supply their food. In Coppola’s version, not only do we wonder where all the mansion’s food comes from (aside from Amy’s mushrooms), but also ponder who spends time washing and ironing all those dresses?
Coppola’s work was recognized with a best director’s award at Cannes, which certainly is a boost to women directors battling for equity in Hollywood. And the cast (which also includes Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, and Emma Howard) delivers strong performances. Too bad the plot didn’t present women in a better light.
“This is a story that begins with a barbecue….An ordinary neighborhood barbecue in an ordinary backyard.”
What happened at that barbecue frames the plot for Liane Moriarty’s bestselling page turner, Truly, Madly, Guilty. With an expert hand, she teases out what actually transpired at the cookout, along the way filling us in on the lives of those who attended with their overlapping and complicated relationships.
Clementine and Erika grew up together, the friendship orchestrated by Clementine’s mother, Pamela. Erika’s father left when she was a child and her mother, Sylvia, fell apart, her penchant for collecting exploding into full blown hoarding. Clementine didn’t always welcome Erika’s presence, resentful that Pamela at times seemed to favor Erika over her own daughter. Truth be told, Pamela related more to Erika’s career as an accountant with regular hours and a steady paycheck, than to Clementine’s as a cellist, with an erratic schedule and constant auditions.
Clementine and Sam have two young daughters, Holly and Ruby, while Erika and her husband, Oliver, are childless. Neither couple boasts a happy marriage. Clementine, preparing for an important audition, feels guilty whenever she takes time to practice. While Sam makes a show of being cooperative, he’s going through his own career crisis and has little sympathy for his wife.
Erika’s complicated relationship with her mother drains her energy, both emotionally and physically. With Sylvia’s “collecting” spilling over onto the front lawn, complaints by neighbors require Erika to visit occasionally to clean up. Oliver is supportive, but often wonders if his wife will follow in the footsteps of her mother.
Vid and Tiffany, who live next door to Erika and Sam, round out the trio of couples. Tiffany is Vid’s second wife and they have a daughter, Dakota, whose nose is constantly buried in a book. While Tiffany now makes money in real estate, she was once a pole dancer and still has the look.
The barbecue was a spur of the moment invitation from Vid. Erika and Oliver had already invited Clementine and Sam over for dinner and Vid eagerly expanded the invitation to include both couples as well as Holly and Ruby. It’s an invitation they will all come to regret.
As she did in one of her previous bestsellers, Big Little Lies, Moriarty alternates between the past and present. In Big Little Lies, the big event was a Trivia Night at a posh school for children. In Truly, Madly, Guilty, it’s the barbecue. With both books, I had the urge to flip forward to discover what crisis impacted the lives of the characters. But Moriarty manages to make the present equally compelling as she carefully adds to each character’s resume.
Moriarty, one of Australia’s most popular writers – her sisters, Jaclyn and Nicola are also novelists – is now an international favorite. Her reputation will continue to grow in 2017 with the release of the HBO miniseries based on Big Little Lies starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Alexander Skarsgard. Can one on Truly, Madly, Guilty be far behind?
It’s no secret 2016, is shaping up to be a very…ahem…exciting election season. Besides such issues of income inequality, the Supreme Court, reproductive justice, foreign policy, and so forth the increasingly dire news about global warming is weighing on many people’s minds-and makes Earth Day this year seem more weighted with symbolism than usual. Here are some more films that deal with environmental issues.
Erin Brockovich (2000) The biography of the real life Brockovich who successfully spearheaded a lawsuit against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company for polluting the water of Hinckley, California was a commercial and critical success that was nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Soderberg) and won Julia Roberts the Oscar for Best Actress in the titular role of feisty single mom Erin. Albert Finney, Peter Coyote, Aaron Eckhart, all provide stellar performances as well.
Being Caribou (2005) Husband and wife team Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison spent five months following the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd. Allison an environmentalist and Heuer a wildlife biologist were weighing in on the Arctic Refuge Drilling controversy, by demonstrating how such drilling threatened the herd’s survival since their natural calving grounds are within the Refuge. Being Caribou won scores of awards including a Gemini Award and most popular Canadian film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Happy Feet (2006) Every emperor penguin sings a ‘heartsong’ to attract a mate, but when Memphis (Hugh Jackman) manages to drop the egg while his mate Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) is away their son Mumble (Elijah Wood) hatches without the gift of son. He can however, tap dance! While the main focus of this animated musical comedy is on Mumble’s struggle for acceptance, the driving catalyst is how over-fishing by man in the Antarctic waters has put the entire penguin colony at risk of starvation. Happy Feet won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film, the Saturn award for Best Animated Film, AND was the first Warner Brothers production to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Food Inc. (2008) This documentary directed by the Emmy nominated Robert Kenner examines the costs of industrial meat production and corporate farming in the U.S. It’s narrated by Michael Pollan author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Eric Schlosser author of Fast Food Nation. Interview subjects include food activists, former politicians, organic food executives and more. Food Inc. was nominated for both the Independent Spirit Award and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Virunga (2014) Directed by Orlando von Einseidel, Virunga chronicles the fight to save the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from oil exploration. It primarilyfocuses on four figures: gorilla caregiver Andre Bauma; park warden Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo; chief warden Emmanuel de Merode; and French investigative journalist Melanie Gouby. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and after airing on Netflix it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Jackie Rogers bought her first Chanel suit for “around $600.” As she stood for the first fitting found herself thinking, “It would be nice to work here.” Upon hearing that Chanel needed models, she quickly lined up an interview, “Chanel liked me, hired me on the spot and paid me top dollar,” she said. “I’m the only designer today who ever worked with the great Coco Chanel. From her I learned that fashion doesn’t start with design. Everything comes from fabrication.”
Jackie Rogers, a timeless legend in the fashion world, is one of the last remaining designers to craft custom clothing for individual clients across the country from her atelier in New York City. Rogers likes to say, “I don’t believe in fashion, I believe in style.” That motto is reflected throughout her latest collection, which is made with the timeless elegance that is the signature of the Jackie Rogers brand.
Jackie’s clientele includesPatti LuPone, Christine Baranski, Julianne Moore, Condoleezza Rice, Roberta Flack, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Courtney Love, and more. Her favorite star studded moment? Jackie Onassis. The best moment was when Jackies she asked her to design seven outfits, one for each day of the week. “I will put a number on it so I don’t have to worry about what to wear,” she said.
Jackie Rogers is designed and manufactured entirely in New York City in its midtown showroom with her collection sold from there (by appointment only), in Palm Beach, Florida boutiques, at select Lord & Taylor retailers across the country and from her website.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
Meeting Chanel. Before I was just carrying on as an actress and model. We loved her, all of the models. There were 12 of us. I went there strictly for a couple of months do to the show and wound up staying for 2 years until I quit. I think Chanel influenced me to become a designer because I would work with her late into the night. She never had one assistant. She was there alone. I came as close to it as anybody else.
What about the fashion industry did you find most appealing?
I love what I do. I love designing clothes. This is what I live for, to design every day. I’m always thinking about it. That’s what makes me happy. What’s unfortunate now is that it is all about money and advertising, and that clothes are being chosen for celebrities without any aesthetic or unique taste.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
None. I never studied it or anything. The only thing I studied were men, darling. That’s how I became a menswear designer. Chanel told me not to design for women, I’d go crazy. Just do men’s clothing. So I became a menswear designer. And then finally Bill Blass said you gotta do womenswear, you’re not gonna make a name for yourself unless you do women’s clothing. So, I had to switch to women. When I was a menswear designer, I dressed all of the famous actors like Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Jones, and all the singers. I dressed the Beegies, everybody. They all came to me to get their clothing. It was a hot time.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
No, very encouraging. I was very fortunate. Francesco Scavullo was a great photographer and he gave me Time Magazine on the cover with Meryl Streep in my clothes. That was when she was coming up in the 70s.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
When did your career reach a tipping point?
That will never be reached. I think you have to keep moving and going. I don’t want to stop. I will never stop. I love designing.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
Insecurity. Thinking I wasn’t good enough. I have often questioned myself and then when I see the results I know I did the right thing.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Draping. I don’t sketch I drape and I form shapes with my hand on a mannequin.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Staying in business through thick and thin, by myself with no outside financing. It’s a miracle.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
They have to not be influenced by anybody else and to go back into the 30s and 40s and see what the great designers did, like, Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga. It’s all about line.