Blog Filmic Fits Reclamations

The Lost Boys’ Found Fashion

Of all the iterations and reinventions of the classic vampire narrative, there’s only one near and dear to my heart—Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys. Far from the cliches of the traditional Dracula aesthetic, this film ushered in a new age of the undead, in a full embrace of culture clash that defined the 80s. From the punks, to goths, to yuppies, to the new romantics, and valley girls, the microcosm of California coast culture in the 1980s America was the ultimate crucible to set this hyper-styled warped Peter Pan. One of the elements I love most about this movie and the meticulous curated environment it’s surrounded by is the fashion that distinctly marked this movie away from the cloaks and cravats of the Transylvanian origin story to reframe the machismo bad boy. Just as the universe of Santa Monica was stratified among social groups, Schumacher’s and costume designer, Susan Becker’s, influence on the costuming mimes this reality among the film’s varying cliques in the most iconic display of 80s garb to make any other vampire eat their heart out.

Perhaps the most underappreciated group out of all of this are the Frog Brothers, played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. They fully embody the 80s action antihero in full Sylvester Stalone Rambo iconography. From the muscle tees to the dogtags and red bandana adorning Feldman’s forehead, their hypermasculinized aesthetic reeks of toxic machismo and identity conflict. One of the best clothing bits we get from the brothers is a shirt with almost an Araki flair. It reads, “Why waltz when you can rock & roll” with a machine gun partly obscuring the text. Ignoring the rhetoric of a shirt like that, it’s easy just to see the counterculture rebel hero the boys try to emulate in their style. In the iconic fight scene, both brothers gear up in an almost comical revolutionist uniform of berets, airborne shirts, and ill-fitting ERDL camouflage as the true expression of the kind of man that takes no prisoners and kicks ass according to his own rules despite the boys being about 14 in the film. The obvious parallel to draw from their military depot couture is the vicarious reappraisal of Vietnam heroes as a reactionary measure against changing gender expressionality in the 80s. 

Their embrace of ruggedness in respect to the lone wolf protagonist from the comics they read fully sets them apart from everyone else in the film, and most distinctly from Sam who represents the antithesis of their fashion’s ideology. Sam looks like he just stepped off a WHAM music video set with his visually assaulting devotion to the ‘mall fashion victim’ aesthetic of incoherent patterns clashing on top of each other. He’s a fish out of water in this new environment and is recognized in his own way for standing out. There’s definitely a queer reading to Sam who literally had a ‘Born to Shop’ t-shirt and semi-nude photos of men adorning his room, but we’ll save that for another time. I’d also go into more detail about a particular iconic outfit he wears in the film, too, but honestly, everything he wears is just some variation of a primary color abstract pattern button down which you can pick up at your local thrift store. Sorry, Sam 🙁

And then there are the vampires–the men that shaped my taste in boys and incidentally have left me disappointed ever since. First things first: those mullets are luxurious and voluminous which is a must when you need your hair to flow through the wind on your motorbikes as you terror your community. Kiefer Sutherland’s in particular stands out because of its peroxide platinum blondness almost as a signifier of the artificiality of the western coast atmosphere. More than what Sutherland’s character wears, it’s how he wears it. His outfit specifically is rather understated, opting for the all black, but nevertheless he has a distinct coolness in his long leather overcoat, leather pants, leather boots, AND leather gloves…I’m sensing a pattern here and I’m loving it. The contrast between his ultra white hair and his all black attire is such a bold contrast, and he has a definitive English Travelever look about him that’s ultra slick with a layer of grime, making his trashiness ultimately sexy.

The other vampires opt-in for more distinctive looks that speak more than the characters actually do.  Paul, Dwayne, and Marko definitely fit more into the West Coast Sunset Strip delinquents vibe, opting for the fitted ripped jeans, big hair, and jackets adorned with patches, studs, and safety pins. The tops underneath are something to behold in their own way; mesh tanks and crop tops under leather (my heart just can’t take it!). Just like Nic Cage in Wild At Heart, their jackets are a symbol of their individuality, and their belief in personal freedom–possibly; we honestly don’t know anything about these guys other than they’re hot and mean. Marko’s jacket in particular is alluring just because he himself has a Baroque style angelic face, and his jacket uses so many rich warm tones with all the patches and tapestry squares that look almost like an Italian church mural. Perhaps the best element of the vampires and their 80s makeover is the detailing of their blood. The special effects makeup artist totally transformed not only their faces but he specifically added glitter to the fake blood, heightening the glam element of these vanity vamps. This evokes a very new generation of expectations for the undead as they adapt to the world around them more than being isolated from change.

The Lost Boys presents the sexiest iteration of vampires of all time. Before the Cullens, before Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, there was Kiefer Sutherland with a cigarette behind his ear and my heart in his hands.

Blog Reclamations

They Cum From Within – On Shivers

David Cronenberg’s filmography has given us some of the most horrific and nauseating body horror ever depicted from The Fly to Videodrome (long live the new flesh!), his work taps into this undeniable, visceral fear of the deconstruction of self as a tactile physical form but also as the site of conflict. It’s a dissociation of the human as a body and a deep dive as an exploration into the facets that make us who we are as entities coexisting but largely shaping each other with each interaction. Then it should come as no surprise that his first feature film, Shivers (1975), earnestly explores these concepts as an extended chamber piece within a consumer-friendly high rise apartment as parasites invade the occupants, turning them into sex-crazed fiends. Just imagine if the Tinder Google Doc for The Standard at Athens hadn’t been deleted and instead of everyone getting COVID, they gave each other massive horny worm parasites.

These laboratory-created parasites spread like wildfire throughout this island resort condominium, infecting everyone with a literal ‘love bug’ with not-so romantic implications. What kicks this whole outbreak into action occurs in one of the opening scenes. After the advertisement slideshow that lured a wholesome young couple in to tour, the audience is berated with a horrifically brutal escape and avoidance scene between a young school girl and an older gentleman that ends with her death and dismemberment. This flagrant and excessive violence against a woman shocks the viewer into the darker underbelly of this middle class paradise facade. Nicolas’s discovery of the girl’s body sets the story into motion as the tacit incrimination of harm enacted on a female and the spread of her parasites into others shifts the film outside the normal paradigm of a low-budget schlock body horror piece and into a critical representation of weaponized female sexuality and brutality in a pre #MeToo-era cautionary tale.

It doesn’t feel like an accident that the ground-zero for this island epidemic starts with a young woman who’s revealed to have been a sexual preoccupation of one of the scientists. Her body was mutilated and mangled from the inside out by her former lover who had injected her with trial parasites for a medical experiment that he was experimenting on. A story of mistrust and abuse of power, this is really the only scene we see these characters throughout the film, but they’re integral in creating this backdrop based on a secret no one is willing to confess to publicly. When her body is discovered, the investigation of the circumstances leads nowhere as the woman’s involvement in the experiment had already been known by his colleagues, and the focus then shifts towards containment. Containment as a means to insulate the knowledge of the crime and the re-narrativization of the scientist as a martyr to public help really captures this story of concealment as a means to guard against an unpleasant truth about the reality of the situation. His involvement with her death faces no scrutiny nor does his serial preoccupation with younger women ever get highlighted in any real critical light.

Regardless, the initial spread from the young woman to Nicolas redirects anxieties to containment as the characters are unaware of what exactly has been happening under their noses the whole time. There’s a slow pickup of scenes as the contamination lurks in every interaction thereafter, staining the walls and floors with its hidden blood trails as infection sets in. The parasites act as a symbol with dualist meanings in the extended metaphor of the film as both a side effect of the original act but also a perpetuation of it forward unto the guests spreading it to one another. As a side effect of negligence on the behalf of those in the know about the parasite, its rapid progression through the floors and levels squirms and writhes just below the carpet silently lurks in each interaction without knowing it had even taken place at all until the insatiable sexual appetite had consumer everyone in its wake and by then it’s too late and the irreparable harm has been done.

On the other hand, the parasites could just be a physical manifestation of the perpetuation of the crime as it moves from person to person. In other analyses, the parasitic worms have been considered a predictive depiction of HIV. Along that same line, sexual misconduct in all its external and internalized effects do have a way of trickling down from the initial point of contact. Every decision and act after the initial murder of the girl can be traced and her presence is felt through each of the infestations as it progresses further until everyone ends up naked in the indoor pool–as horny worm contagions tend to go. Thinking of this in terms of the current Hollywood climate, it’s easy to see the way that certain executives’ interactions with stars and actors alter the layout and design for not only the final film but everything that succeeds it.

Women as perpetrators and the main driving force of sexual pervasiveness and the spread of the parasite definitely complicates this narrative in a lot of ways, but Cronenberg has a fairly consistent preoccupation throughout his films with women as vessels not just for plot but also for deeper sentiments of primitiveness as humans more intensely linked to their id. As Nicolas deals in restraint of his urges while the worms eat him from the inside, the veil of traditionalism of chastity and modesty is yanked away as the impropriety of lust takes hold. The female body becomes the site of danger and excess as actual incubation chambers that are absolutely bursting with eroticism–perhaps as a compensation for scarcity of satisfaction that normally characterizes these women’s intimacy.

Having a phallic shaped worm be the monster of the film coheres well with this idea as it’s grotesquely misshapen and persistently invasive that tends to speak to a larger issue of consent. The look of the worm as the means of creating body horror for the plot of the film is so genuinely impractical as a prop for a practical effect which makes its design so feel intentionally useless but still assuming in its probing movements. Using something like this to facilitate a mass orgy of lust defies the logic of reason but champions its practicality as a mutant penis meant to terrorize an unassuming prudish middle class into sexual awakening solidifies this as a Cronenberg film in its execution of not only being a body horror piece but also an exploration into the language of deceit and suppression to the underground world that has altered the visual world of film forever.

To understand the pure direction that went into something that looks so conceptually simple that guides the story in a remarkably pointed and mindful way is exactly what you’ll find with Cronenberg’s work. This as a first feature film for him really sets the tone for his body of work as a whole but moreover the personality that makes this movie a cult classic.

Blog Streaming Reccomendation

Baroque Beauty in Portrait of a Lady on Fire

There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I mean, how could you possibly resist an art-driven French rendition of Desert Hearts? The enormous swelling silences, the unbearably yearning glances–I just melt at the thought of such sapphic excellence. It’s a film that hurts in all the right places and thankfully received the critical acclaim and recognition the lesbian film canon desperately deserves. Most of the discussion of this movie is in regards to its phenomenal script and unpatronizing depiction of LGBTQIA+ romance. And while I cannot expound enough about the line “In solitude, I felt the liberty you spoke of” being the most chilling line I have ever heard uttered, what strikes me the most about this film is its visual form that pays homage to the historic period it’s set in.

Situated sometime in the mid to late 17th century, the intense passion and style of POALOF invoke the waning of the Baroque artistic movement that swept across Europe and touched every influential aspect of creative endeavors, and, in some ways, revolutionized visual style and form. As a brief overview, Baroque style is typically characterized in contrast to the previous austerity of artistic movements like Renaissance and Mannerism. So, where Renaissance art was steeped in the quiet dignity of realism that moved to unite Christianity and science, Baroque presents dynamism through precision and embellishment. Through the usage of motion, contrast, exquisite attention to detail, rich coloration, and a sense of awe and adoration to its subject material, Baroque art is omnipresent not only in the story world of POALOF but also in the overall visual effect of the film itself, portraying it as an extension of the period’s paintings in a reinterpretation of film as an artistic medium.

Away from the more muted tones of naturalism, Portrait of a Lady on Fire relies on deliberation in its presentation of selective vibrancy in color. Evident mostly in the strategic color-coding of its queer characters into archetypal figures, Marianne and Héloïse’s costuming provides beautiful illumination to contrast the darkness of the background. Here, the vivid red-orange of Marianne’s dress sets her apart from her landscape filled with the beautiful blues of heavy shadows and ocean waves crashing against the French coastline. Warm tones like hers are commonly used throughout Baroque art to provide intensity and drama to the foreground to pronounce the depth of field in an exaggerated sense of perception. It’s vibrant; it’s power; it’s unsatiated passion in longing for eroticism all composed onto the body in space. Héloïse’s color composition acts in opposition to Marianne’s by using the Convent deep blue tones in the typical Christian fashion of the time to connote angels and chastity. Her tethering to the religious world and the way that it guides her desire shapes the visual juxtaposition of the two women as opposing ideals converging in a perfectly balanced frame. Even as the colors oscillate between the two women, the intentionality of them of the primary figures on the screen in brilliant richness remains constant.

It’s absolutely impossible to discuss Baroque art without at least mentioning the specific implementation of lighting composition which distinguishes it from other previous movements. Chiaroscuro pushed the two-dimensional world of painting into the third by focusing light coming in from a specific direction and gradually shading away from the light source. Portrait channels this directed illumination in its interiors magnificently, relying on the exaggerated shading from candlelight to impartially obscure the subjects into darkness. Every shot of the film focuses the composition on this natural light source draws the viewer into the intimacy of a confined space as the delicate details of the subject flush with a glow to mark tacit glances and hidden gestures of yearning. Even in the exaggerated form of chiaroscuro–tenebrism–the softness and sincerity highlight expression over form as a series of dramatic sparks on par with Caravaggio. In the scene where Marianne, Héloïse, and Sophie go to the village initially, the communal fire pit blazes at the feet of the women singing in acapella, casting Héloïse’s face in a fiery warm glow as the darkness of night inks around her outline; she is not just a piece of the story captured in the frame but exists as its entirety while the dynamism of the fire eating away at her highlights her allusion to Orpheus. Kineticism compounds as visual art and film compress into something new entirely that’s just utterly breathtaking.

Héloïse’s looks in those shots are everything as her body slowly sweeps the ground moving away from the fire as she focuses on Marianne over her shoulder like an homage to Girl with a Pearl Earring. Figure play is strangely embracing in a confrontational engagement in and out of the film. More than an audience, the open frame style holds the audience captive through the portal into the diegetic world of bodies in motion. The eye line composure of Marianne and Héloïse throughout the film is obsessively balanced and always in interaction with each other. Living and momentum pull inward and the space between them in a charged vacuum where nothing and everything meets. Typically Baroque composition builds the subjects along diagonal lines that triangulate. But in POALOF, the third point of the triangle is the viewer smothered within the lingering tensioning between the two. You can bathe in the heat of the moment and suck up the sultry energy radiating in the dead space between forbidden sapphic desire.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire reinvents the functionality and limitation of mediums as a visual medium of expression conceptually transforming a film into a living painting perpetually in movement. Its expression and style fights against the chaste austerity and convention of the past to ignite something so beautiful and potent like the fire that lights to warm them. But like all great works of art, at some point, just have to stop.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is streaming on Hulu.

Blog Filmic Fits

Filmic Fits – Desert Hearts

Desert Hearts (1985) as a momentous induction into the lesbian film canon is well-deserved on all fronts; from being one of the earliest positive depictions of women loving women, a killer soundtrack, and romanticization of one the worst places in America, this movie is the perfect piece of propaganda for U-Haul lesbians. But perhaps the most culturally relevant aspects of the film is the incredible costuming that makes Cay Rivers deserving of the title of a prolific fashion icon for the queer women community. At the perfect intersection of ‘Futch’ sensibilities, Cay’s look makes her the ultimate fantasy of an androgynous cowgirl, unrestricted by traditionally feminine clothing worn with a purpose to make the way she carries herself within them an unruly body in contrast to the drab and unflattering beiges of divorcees and the excessiveness of casino couture.

A staple in every gay girl’s closet should be an assortment of camp collar button-down tops paired with denim cutoff shorts that are just a little too short. From the moment, Cay enters the film, this look exemplifies her entire wardrobe; blue as her signature with a popped collar and ends tied around her waist should have been foreshadowing enough to the audience that she’s a top. Even within the confines of a hyper-sexualized space of a casino, she exudes butch Americana with embroidered dollar signs on the collar of her perfectly ill-fitted men’s shirt. There’s just something so alluring about a woman who maintains a uniform of such simplicity to the point that it’s iconically recognized and emulated within a real demographic of women.

Western wear on its own has never gotten full attention it deserves, and its stylization within the film acts as an approximate love letter to the aesthetic. The outfits are a constant borage of snaps and pointed pocket flaps to centrally locate the heart of the film as a western space that only uses the specificity of Reno to provide intrigue and nuance into the familiar utility-based fashion. Perhaps the best moment in the film for outfit appraisal is at Silver’s engagement party that perfectly highlights the glamor of 1950s Reno with the emblematic style of formal Western wear. If your engagement party isn’t full of fringed, bedazzled, silk jumpsuits complete with embroidery and big hair to match, what’s the point of having a party all? Even the men in silk ascots and 10-gallon hats show in their best digs in perhaps the gayest celebration to hit the biggest little city in the world.

Almost in a comically dichotomized fashion, lesbian films have relied heavily on color-coding their protagonists into diametrically opposed archetypes—every queer and lesbian woman inevitably presents a uniform, dawning a primarily red or blue ensemble that’s in contrast to the woman they’re impossibly in love with. Despite its current status as a visual trope to easily indicate to audiences the forbidden romance as evidenced in Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Blue is the Warmest Color, its roots in Desert Hearts is fairly revolutionary and skillfully crafted into the subtleties of character progression within the slow-burn of romance.

Cay acts as the ‘blue’ queer woman in this iteration, and the color takes on symbolism with its attachment to the water and freedom that it provides. Additionally, the blue indicates an obvious marker of masculinity as Cay refuses to be confined to traditional expressions of femininity. Vivian learns her ‘gay color’ of red as abandons the beige of lounging divorcees to build her attraction to Cay. Red is the intensity and deeply dyed in clothes she buys to establish her freedom; it’s the obvious foil to slow toiling of the waters and Cay’s love. It’s within this iconic engagement party and subsequent scenes where Cay’s iconic blue ensemble take on new meaning when she dawns a powder blue silk fringed jumpsuit paired with a red leather belt and red cowboy boot; this is the gesture to Vivian—who ‘s fitted out in her own embellished red Western shirt—that Cay’s attachment to her has reached a tipping point and feels that they’re slowly becoming one and the same. The most tender expression of affection you could show someone is to betray your style brand and wear accessories just to catch your crush’s eye. There’s genuinely no way to resist such a passionate plea. In the end, the film goes full circle where Cay dresses in red as she says her final goodbye like a physical manifestation of a light being strong around her heart and glowing red for everyone to see.