Friday, November 5, 2010

It Takes a Legend to Make a Star: The World of Burlesque

One of the more intriguing holiday releases is the musical drama Burlesque which hits theaters Thanksgiving weekend (November 24th). Starring the timeless Cher and mega voice pop star Christina Aguilera, the costumes, choreography and musical performances should be worth the price of admission alone.

Aguilera plays a small town girl who heads to Los Angeles to follow her dreams. She stumbles upon the Burlesque Lounge where she finds work as a cocktail waitress only to yearn to sing and dance with the musical revue. Cher plays the proprietor and headliner, Julianne Hough from Dancing with the Stars as one of the dancers and reliable sidekick actor Stanley Tucci plays the sharp-witted stage manager.

Aguilera eventually makes her way from the bar to the stage and helps restore the Burlesque Lounge to its former glory. Sets were designed by Jon Gary Steele (who gave us those wonderful interiors in Cruel Intentions) and costumes by Michael Kaplan. Here's hoping the movie is more Chicago and less Showgirls.

Tucci and Cher


No stranger to over the top costumes, Cher's collaboration with designer Bob Mackie over the years could fit right in with burleque costumes of the golden age.

Seventies Cher: Headress by  Bob Mackie

Cher's appearance at the 1986 Oscars remains one of red carpet history

Mackie's drawings for Cher 

Modern day Cher: Mackie's costumes for her Caesars Palace show in Las Vegas

And if you'd like to read about the world of burlesque, I recommend author Liz Goldwyn's Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens (Harper Collins). The book is a fascinating retrospective of the original queens of burlesque's golden age, back in the day when it was considered an art form. Goldwyn is also a filmmaker and her documentary Pretty Things appeared on HBO in 2005.

Note: If you are in Los Angeles this weekend and interested in film history -- or a fan of the cult favorite Planet of the Apes -- the 1968 thriller where primates ruled the world will be screened along with a panel discussion with the film's production designer William Creber, actor Lou Wagner and make-up artist Daniel Striepeke (Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan) on Sunday, November 7th, 5:00 pm at the Darryl F. Zanuck Theater, 20th Century Fox Studios, 10201 West Pico Blvd in Los Angeles. Hollywood Escapes co-author Harry Medved will serve as moderator. For more information go here.

The Ape Village was filmed at Malibu State Creek Park. Amazing transformation!

Photo Credits:  Screen Gems, New York Daily News, Bob Mackie, Harper Collins, Malibu State Park Docents

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Halloween History Lesson

Forget Saw I-III, Hostel I-II, Halloween I-whatever and anything with Freddy Krueger, bad backlighting and a chainsaw. This Halloween, go back to the classics.

As far as I am concerned, the horror genre began with Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari a.k.a. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) a German silent classic that is best known for its Expressionist sets (German Expressionist to be exact). Dr. Caligari plays the first true mad doctor/scientist who exhibits a somnambulist (sleepwalker) who predicts the future which of course include murders, madness and mayhem. It is considered by film historians (Martin Scorsese as one) to be one of the best of films of all time and the first to introduce the ending with a twist.

The wild, warped and perhaps dizzy-inducing sets were wildly applauded for their Expressionist style and a template for horror films to come. Flat panels and floors of painted horizontal and vertical lines, distorted camera angles,  inventive use of shadows, costumes and makeup (all in stark black and white) create the menacing atmosphere. Street lamps that hang askew and long twisted alleyways that fall into each other are just a few of the elements that make the production design unique.

Edward Scissorhands was said to be influenced by Caligari's style

And if you can't find the film at Blockbuster (pretty sure it's not in the Red Box outside of your local Walgreens), you can always resort to The Shining or The Exorcist two films that are always on my top ten list.

The Shining

The Exorcist

Happy Halloween!