Binging and Binding

Binge-watching television while hand-sewing quilt binding, that is.

I don’t watch television too often, but I make the most of it during those hours of hand stitching.  Here are a few videos I have really enjoyed lately.  I found them all on Netflix but I am sure you can find them on other video venues as well.

Design sketches by Orry-Kelly for an unidentified film. From Hollywood Sketchbook by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

Design sketches by Orry-Kelly for an unidentified film. From Hollywood Sketchbook by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

Women He’s Undressed.

I had read a little about costume designer Orry-Kelly in the Hollywood Sketchbook, so I was happy to find this video from 2015.  There is only one page of information about him in the Hollywood Sketchbook, so I knew he had worked with Bette Davis and Kay Francis, but I didn’t realize that he was the designer of the gowns for The Maltese Falcon, Arsenic and Old Lace, Auntie Mame, and my all-time favorite, Casa Blanca.

This biopic has some innovative features.  As in most documentaries, there are movie clips and interviews interspersed with re-enactment scenes, but these re-enactment scenes have a theatrical feel* — a minimal amount of props barely suggest a setting, the actors address the audience directly, and metaphors are presented visually.  One recurring image is that of the Orry-Kelly re-enactor in a rowboat, whenever a decisive point of his life is described — sometimes he is paddling past a crossroads sign in the water, sometimes he is sitting dry-docked in a room.  I couldn’t really decide if I liked the style of these scenes, but they did hold my attention and make the information memorable.

If you like gossip about the Golden Age of Hollywood, you will probably like this movie.  If you prefer to keep your illusions about your favorite stars, you might not want to watch this one.

For a quick look at more of Orry-Kelly’s designs, you can look here at the Vintage Style Files, and to see how prolific of a designer he was  (55 films in 1934 alone!), you can look at his IMDb page.

Finding Vivian Maier.

We all dream of finding that trove of unexpected treasure —  and that dream became reality for a young guy named John Maloof in 2007.  He bought a trunk full of photo negatives at an auction, and when he began looking at them, he realized they were fascinating images of ordinary life in Chicago, taken over decades.  But there was no information available about their photographer, and the mystery captured his attention.  He kept hunting until he found people who had known her — her name was Vivian Maier and she was a nanny who took these pictures obsessively, but apparently never showed them to anybody.  Finding out more about her, and making her work public, took over Maloof’s life.

As the narration delved into possible reasons for her secrecy, I thought, “Well, she probably didn’t know how to contact someone to see if she could sell her work,” but then, it turned out that she was a nanny for one very famous person, who could certainly have opened doors for her.  She also had hundreds of rolls of film she never had developed, but at the same time, she had a lot of uncashed IRS checks, so she could have afforded to have them developed.  As the documentary proceeded, I came up with my own theories as to why she was so secretive, but no one knows for sure.

This documentary is quick-paced and extremely interesting.  However, the last third uncovers some of the dark side of Vivian Maier, so I would not watch it with kids.

In looking on line for a link to the video, I found out that legal battles ensued after Maier’s work gained recognition.  Owners of negatives and prints are not necessarily owners of the copyright.  John Maloof had found the person he believed to be Maier’s closest heir and paid for the rights to the images.  But in 2014, a law student went out and found another heir, and filed a petition to have that person named the rightful heir.  This brought the Cook County, Illinois public administrator into the picture while a copyright case was pursued.  In May 2016, the case was about to be settled, and the most recent information I can find about it is here on Hyperallergic.

The First Monday in May.

Who doesn’t love a “behind-the-scenes” documentary, and this video brings you two events in one!  In 2015, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition called China: Through the Looking GlassIt explored Chinese art and costume, but with a special focus on the way Chinese culture has been portrayed in Western art and film.  This documentary follows Met fashion curator Andrew Bolton, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and artistic director Wong Kar Wai as they plan the exhibition and opening fund-raiser banquet.

The part of the documentary that was hardest for me to follow was the machinations of the fund-raiser banquet.  I didn’t understand why they wanted to limit the number of attendees, why they cared who sat next to whom, and most of all, why they had to pay people to appear (and in the case of Rihanna, hundreds of thousands of dollars).  Fortunately my friend Gerrie works for a foundation, and she explained to me that probably the fashion designers sponsored a table, that that money went to pay the celebrities that appeared, and that then other people would buy a ticket to have a chance to dine and mix with those celebrities.

I had mixed emotions while watching this video — awe at the craftsmanship and detail in the costume creations, distaste for ensembles that “wore the person,” interest in all the work that goes into such a production, and most of all, gratitude that I don’t have to deal with celebrities!

It made me realize though, that for some designers, haute couture is not about creating fashion objects that are artistic, but still can actually be worn; but rather about using “fashion” as a medium for creating art objects.  That is an interesting new perspective for me.

Das Grosse Museum (The Great Museum)

This one was my absolute favorite.  I could have this on all day every day in the background, just for the wonderful glimpses of marble heads, miniature portraits, conservators and cleaners working with great art.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna was closed for 10 years, due to being unable to meet conservation standards.  It took them a few years to get funding from the Republic of Austria, and finally the Kunstkammer rooms were re-opened in 2013.  Without narration, this film presents the labor force of the museum, from cleaners to curators, as they go about planning exhibit spaces, researching and restoring works of art, meeting with donors, even sitting through financial meetings.

My favorite moment is at about 14:40, when the camera follows a worker moving through the vast library spaces of the museum.

Having fascinating videos like these available, makes me look forward to the next time I have a quilt ready for its binding!


*In looking around for a label for this style, I have learned that it is called “presentational theater – a style in which the audience is made to be aware of theatrical conventions.”