This week, the hairdressers in Belgium are allowed to reopen after months of corona closure, much lobbying, endless debates and great anticipation by some. Alas, cinemas remain shut. Therefore, Sabzian offers you some free film inspiration for your new, unkempt hairdo or for the professional readjustment of your lockdown mop.
A visit to the barbershop has been the source of many memorable film scenes. Think of Chantal Akerman’s musical, multicoloured hair salon in Golden Eighties, The Great Dictator’s shaving scene, set to Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 5, Lino Ventura’s silent refuge with a barber in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows, the surprising buzz cut in John Smith’s four-minute short OM, or the closely filmed trim with special tools in André Delvaux’s The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short. But rather than barber-set films, we’ve opted for some direct hairstyle advice for men and women. Because you’re worth it.
The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
And what better stylist than Josef von Sternberg? In his wild film The Shanghai Gesture, Ona Munson shines as Mother Gin Sling, the Chinese owner of a decadent gambling palace. The extraordinary Munson, a natural blonde who’s best known as bordello madam Belle Watling from Gone with the Wind, delivers her career-best performance wearing a series of outlandish headdresses, the most lavish anyone had put on screen since von Sternberg’s films with Marlene Dietrich. With hair pieces coiffed high in lacquered snake-like sculptures, Munson’s sardonic matron has been described by Chuck Stephens as a “Medusa in antennae braids and hairpins of ancient jade”.
La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)
From the extravaganza of von Sternberg to the asceticism of Carl Theodor Dreyer. The female buzz cut might find its filmic origin in Renée Falconetti’s Jeanne d’Arc and set the trend for other shaved-head woman warriors like Five Branded Women’s Jeanne Moreau, GI Jane’s Demi Moore, Alien 3’s Sigourney Weaver, V for Vendetta’s Natalie Portman, or Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. Her face stripped of any make-up, Renée Falconetti had her hair cut off in close up with a pair of scissors. Locks whirl down and are swept into a dustpan. Tiny hairs stick to real tears. The film’s costume designer, Valentine Hugo, vividly remembered the shoot: “Particularly impressive was the day when, in the silence of an operating theatre, in the pale light of a morning execution, Dreyer had Falconetti’s hair cut close-cropped to the scalp. (…) The electricians and technicians held their breaths and their eyes filled with tears. Falconetti wept real tears. Then the director slowly approached her, gathered up some of her tears in his fingers, and carried them to his lips [in a gesture replicating Antonin Artaud’s monk, Jean Massieu, wiping away of Jeanne’s tears in the film].” Jean Renoir praised Falconetti’s performance and claimed: "That shaven head was and remains the abstraction of the whole epic of Joan of Arc."
Good Time (Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie, 2017)
For men, we could have gone for the erect hairdos of Eraserhead’s Jack Nance or Barton Fink, and the steely grey Tom Cruise from Michael Mann’s Collateral. However, midway through Benny and Josh Safdie’s Good Time, Robert Pattinson gives himself a cheap platinum-blonde dye job with what he can find in the bathroom of the 16-year-old girl he kisses and things just get worse for him. In a spin on the trope of criminals who change hair colour to go incognito, Pattinson’s character, Connie, looks like the male counterpart of the beach blonde Isabella Rossellini in Wild at Heart, or the reverse of Hitchcock’s Marnie—the thief who washes out her black hair dye and returns to blonde. Pattinson’s hair was dyed black for the first part of the film, then peroxided blonde, and actually bleached back and forth several times until they got all the scenes. His hair, in fact, eventually started falling out. The solemn moment when Pattinson puts on the colour in front of the mirror was filmed, but it was cut because it slowed down the pace of the film. Josh Safdie remarked: “But there was something great going on with it. This grown man trying to bleach his hair in an attempt to blend in.”
The Shanghai Gesture is available on Amazon Prime (in the US).
La passion de Jeanne d’Arc is available on LaCinetek, Amazon Prime, The Criterion Channel, Kanopy, MUBI UK, The BFI Player.
Good Time is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Apple TV, Kanopy, UniversCiné/Sooner.
Mother Gin Sling operates the finest gambling house in Shanghai. Only when the newly arrived landowner Sir Guy Charteris threatens to make her close shop, she decides to return the favor.
Coolie: “You like-ee Chinee New Year?”
“Most of the film [The Shanghai Gesture] – though this does not show – I directed from a cot, while lying on my back. Despite this handicap, it launched Gene Tierney and Victor Mature as stellar attractions. It also contained the superlative talents of Walter Huston, Albert Bassermann, and Ona Munson. (...) The [film was] made while the world was engaged in a danse macabre. (...) There was not a corner where I had strolled peacefully a short while ago that was not now pock-marked with bullets. This was not a time to make films. All over my world fellow humans were being tossed like tumbleweed or exterminated like so many flies. Long before this it had become clear to me that the making of films was only my profession, and not my obsession. By the time the atomic bomb was added to man's genius to destroy others I had been knee-deep in celluloid for more than a quarter of a century, and I wished to look back and to look forward. I left Hollywood, which still was engaged in embalming mummies that had been hauled out of their caskets too often, and I built another ivory tower overlooking the Hudson and Manhattan. [The Shanghai Gesture was the last Hollywood film Sternberg ever completed; Howard Hughes fired him halfway through production of Macao in 1951, as well as from Jet Pilot in 1957.]”
Josef von Sternberg1
“This note is an ironclad contract denoting my love, friendship and complete admiration.”
Ona Munson closing a letter to von Sternberg2
“The Shanghai Gesture had no ostensible subject except the decadence and depravity of a horde of people who seem to have been left behind by history and the Shanghai Express [Josef von Sternberg, 1932]. (...) What is most felicitous in The Shanghai Gesture and least appreciated in Sternberg's films generally is the sheer beauty and meaningful grace of physical gestures and movements – the way his players walk, the way they grasp objects and fondle fabrics, the way they light cigarettes and flare the smoke through their nostrils, and the way they eat and drink. In the realm of physical expressiveness, Sternberg is supreme.”
“De gevoelens van beklemming, van gevangenschap zelfs, in een wereld overvol van dingen, is een van de meest frappante themata van von Sternberg, uit al zijn beelden zo af te lezen. Zijn visuele overdaad is echter grondig ambivalent: het is een overvolheid die een leegte verraadt, een gevangenschap die eigenlijk toch een, zij het erg ‘onzuivere’, vrijheid suggereert. Want, het kan paradoxaal lijken, maar deze propvolle beelden ademen een bepaalde rust uit. Von Sternbergs stijl is geheel en al het omgekeerde van die van een Orson Welles of een Max Ophüls, met wie men hem om zijn barok-expressionistische wereld op het eerste gezicht zou willen vergelijken. Achter de overdaad wordt een constante ascese zichtbaar. De rococo beelden-composities zijn zo beheerst, dat ze niet kunnen resulteren uit een meesterlijk maar niet altijd in toom gehouden spel met vormen, zoals dat bij Fellini meestal het geval is, maar ze worden opgenomen in een scherpe en doelbewuste, ‘demonische’ bewijsvoering. (...) De wereld van von Sternberg verkeert in een voortdurende staat van ontbinding, is gedeeltelijk reeds gefossiliseerd. (...) In deze para-menselijke wereld, in deze volledig artificieel in de studio gereconstitueerde werkelijkheid, in deze hollywoodse super-kitsch worden de spanningen gereduceerd tot minieme details. Eenmaal de toren van Babel gebouwd, hecht Josef von Sternberg alleen nog belang aan het briesje dat een grassprietje doet bewegen en ergens een teken van onvervalst leven verraadt.”
Eric de Kuyper4
- 1. Josef von Sternberg, Fun in a Chinese Laundry (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 278-9.
- 2. Josef von Sternberg, Fun in a Chinese Laundry (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 120.
- 3. Andrew Sarris, The Films of Josef von Sternberg (New York: MoMA, 1966), 47, 50.
- 4. Eric de Kuyper, “Josef von Sternberg,” Streven, 1 (1966), 265-6. Together with Harry Kümel, de Kuyper made Josef von Sternberg, een retrospectieve (1969), a feature-length television documentary containing rare interview footage with von Sternberg.
“The reality of The Passion of Joan of Arc was so palpable that in 1929, five hundred years after the actual event, when this amazing cinematic attempt to probe into layers of the past – stripping a historic occurrence bare – was shown in New York City, two spectators died in their seats from shock during the first week. Showings were canceled. The Catholic Church demanded whole scenes be excised from the film, although Dreyer had followed faithfully the transcripts of the original trial.”
“And with one exception all of Dreyer's subsequent films were based on either novels or plays. The one exception, if it can be so called, is La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, which was based on the official transcripts of the proceedings of Joan of Arc's trials, even then with some remote reference to a novel. Dreyer himself remained untroubled by this reliance on second hand material: ‘I know that I am not a poet. I know that I am not a great playwright. That is why I prefer to collaborate with a true poet and with a true playwright.’”
“Si Dreyer est l’égal des plus grands par le langage, il est supérieur aux plus grands par son propos. Et s’il est vain et probablement impossible de choisir le second chef-d’œuvre du cinéma, il est aussi impossible d’hésiter en ce qui concerne le premier. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc est le plus beau film du monde.”
“‘So many people have thought,’ Dreyer explained, ‘that Falconetti was ‘unknown’ when I used her in Jeanne d’Arc. She was not; she was famous and well esteemed. She had a luxurious apartment on the Champs Elysées. ‘But I talked to her, and she had faith in our project. She exercised a prima donna’s temper just a few times – or [and his eyes twinkled] you might call it woman’s vanity. It was in her contract that she agreed to have her hair clipped off in one of the scenes. But when the day arrived, the camera ready, she protested. She said, ‘I will not do it.’ She wept. I pleaded with her; I told her we had to have the real thing, that she must suffer it. After all, Jeanne did. That calmed her a bit, and we started the scene.’ Dreyer paused, then continued. ‘The man came up to her with the shears. She became hysterical, but I insisted and finally she gave way. ‘All right,’ she said. And we shot the scene.’”
“There is not one single establishing shot in all of The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is filmed entirely in closeups and medium shots, creating fearful intimacy between Joan and her tormentors. Nor are there easily read visual links between shots. In his brilliant shot-by-shot analysis of the film, David Bordwell of the University of Wisconsin concludes: ‘Of the film’s over 1,500 cuts, fewer than 30 carry a figure or object over from one shot to another; and fewer than 15 constitute genuine matches on action.’”
“The need for criticism to recognize disunity and contradiction is nowhere more pressing than in the analysis of La Passion de Jean d’Arc. The polite respect accorded a classic must not obscure the plain fact of the film’s strangeness. It is one of the most bizarre, perpetually difficult films ever made, no less disruptive and challenging than the early films of Eisenstein or Ozu. Moreover, Jeanne d’Arc plays upon representational systems - especially images and language - in disturbing ways. Since many critics (including myself in a monograph on the film) have argued that it possesses a splendid unity, it is time to defamiliarize this classic and to notice its gaps and dislocations, its estranging features. With respect to the style of Dreyer’s previous films and the norms of the classical cinema, Jeanne d’Arc powerfully rejects dominant relationships between narrative logic and cinematic space.”
“When Godard’s Nana at the cinema in Vivre sa vie weeps at the brief extract of Joan’s torment from La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, Dreyer’s film is suddenly rescued from the clammy aura of film society memories. It is no longer a classic to be revered, but a piece of living film to be experienced. Viewed as a whole, Dreyer’s work affords a startling illustration of the fact, which Godard perhaps more than any other director has realised and demonstrated, that there is no essential hiatus between silent past and sound present, no tension between outdated techniques and new discoveries, but simply the gradual accumulation of a vocabulary available for anybody who knows how to use it. Truffaut using Griffith techniques (Tirez sur le pianiste) looks new wave; British and Hollywood directors copying new wave tricks look positively medieval; and Dreyer’s films look neither old nor new. They simply exist, having as much to do with the present of the cinema as its past or its future.”
- 1. Jan Wahl, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker (Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 2012), 2.
- 2. Tom Milne, The Cinema of Carl Dreyer (New York, A. S. Barnes, 1971), 22.
- 3. Chris Marker, “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc,” Esprit, 20ème année, n°5, mai 1952.
- 4. Jan Wahl, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker (Kentucky, University Press of Kentucky, 2012), 11.
- 5. Roger Ebert, “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” Rogerebert.com, 16 February 1997.
- 6. David Bordwell, The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer (University Presses of California, Columbia and Princeton, 1981), 66.
- 7. Tom Milne, The Cinema of Carl Dreyer (New York, A. S. Barnes, , 1971), 10.
Connie Nikas finds his brother Nick taken to jail after a screwed up bank robbery. To get him out, he has to face the dimly lit streets of New York City’s underworld.
“I thought I was going to look a lot trendier than I did.”
“It’s mean, all right–also myopic, pitiless, and deliberately ugly, and it leaves you with no moral. I like it a lot.”
“Good Time is a New York City movie. Being a New York City movie is something very distinct from just being a movie set in New York, which every other recent American film seems to be. When it comes to grounding the narrative in the geographical, political, historical and demographic reality of the five boroughs of the city, however, most films go about as far as an establishing drone shot of the Manhattan skyline. New Yorkers born and raised, the Safdies have always shown deeper interest in capturing the finer shadings of local colour.”
“Pattinson’s Connie is on a bad trip, and so is the movie–except that it’s so kinetic and exciting to look at and listen to that you just go with it without worrying that you’ll be wrecked in the morning. Its saving grace–besides the riotous beauty of Sean Price Williams’s 35-mm widescreen neon-streaked mega-moving images and a propulsive techno score by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), made more immersive by Benny Safdie and Evan Mangiamele’s sound design—is the Safdies’ commitment to showing us the people and places of a marginal New York. Good Time is set almost entirely in a single twenty-four-hour period, and its accelerating dive-toward-doom trajectory [...] resembles nothing so much as Martin Scorsese’s 1985 After Hours, albeit Connie is a lot closer to Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy in Mean Streets (1972) than to Griffin Dunne’s uptown nebbish terrorized by cool and/or crazy Tribeca women. The Safdies know their New York pulp movies, so it’s no wonder that Good Time is being compared to early Scorsese and to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). To those I’d add Nick Gomez’s unforgettable 1992 no-budget indie debut, Laws of Gravity, which has Peter Greene and Adam Trese as wannabe felons every bit as hapless as Connie and handheld cinematography by Jean de Segonzac that is as vertiginous as Williams’s. [...] This is the Safdies’ biggest movie, and while the budget allowed them to work with the magnetic and gifted Pattinson and to shoot in an array of complex locations, they also held fast to their guerrilla filmmaking method. The outer boroughs of New York have rarely been shown as realistically and phantasmagorically within a single movie. It is the city of millions of people who live on the economic margins and try to stay sane and safe while keeping out of the way of the desperate in their midst–people like Connie, whose nightmares twist his perceptions and make him incapable of having a good time or gifting his brother with a better life. Nevertheless, he’s more to be pitied than despised. The Safdies give the last word to Iggy Pop, in a song he wrote for Good Time. That word is ‘love.’”
- 1. “How Twilight star Robert Pattinson went undercover for Good Time to shoot his grittiest role yet,” South China Morning Post, 17 August 2017.
- 2. “A Pitiless Heist Movie,” The Nation, 18 August 2017.
- 3. Nick Pinkerton, “A Thief in the Night,” Sight & Sound, December 2017.
- 4. Amy Taubin, “Runs in the Family. Amy Taubin on the Safdie brothers’ Good Time,” Art Forum, 14 August 2017.