Cinema is always an inspiration for creative work. Not surprising when creative individuals have infused a movie with such aesthetic flair that it triggers ideas in the viewer. I was happy to catch two acclaimed movies over the festive holidays, both of which left an impression. Coincidentally both films have characters who work in department stores with brief glimpses of that world, in different time periods, and on opposite sides of the globe.
Carol is set in 1950s America and based on a book by Patricia Highsmith and follows a taboo relationship between a married mother and a younger sales clerk she meets in a department store. Carol (Cate Blanchett) is unusual in pursuing a romantic encounter despite the repressive climate in which she is expected to conform. Therese (Rooney Mara) is the younger beautiful store assistant who slowly falls under her spell in what is to become a complicated relationship.
Several of the meetings take place in the Manhattan department store with its almost quaint displays of dolls and train sets, with furtive glances and not so chance encounters. The opening scenes of winter night-time NY streets, with people hurrying around in hats and coats in dim light, almost make an Edward Hopper painting come to life. The wardrobe and styling of Carol is like stepping back to the golden age of Hollywood and will no doubt win another Oscar nomination for costume designer Sandy Powell.
The awards nominations should also go to the two leads for turning in moving dramatic performances with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara already critics’ choices. Director Todd Haynes’s earlier movie Far From Heaven was a great drama about discrimination and Carol is a powerful survey of sexuality and women’s roles in a conservative era.
The Danish Girl, set in 1920 Copenhagen and Paris, tells the relatively unknown story of one the first attempted gender reassignment operations, in a time when medical science treated same-sex attraction as an illness, and gender dysphoria had never been identified.
Eddie Redmayne give another Oscar buzz performance as the vulnerable androgynous young Eigner Wegener/Lili Elbe married to Gerda (Alicia Vikander). Both talented artists and liberal thinkers, his sympathetic wife supports him as he explores the possibility of perhaps changing his gender. A brave and courageous story follows, in their quest to find a solution.
Again this movie is stunningly photographed, with the costumes and locations adding to the unfolding drama. Huge canvases, beautiful apartments and lush scenery capture the era and make you want to travel back in time to both cities.
Lili’s costumes in this image, remind you of the young thin white duke Bowie and one high-waisted suit which could have been designed by Freddie Burretti, as below.
The film also features a scene with Lili starting work at an elegant department store and being told about how working there is a performance, echoing the feeling no doubt of the best visual merchandisers, who enjoy lavish budgets to realize such retail theatre.