Thursday, November 24, 2011

Revolutionary Fashion

As a new edition on our blog we will occasionally be featuring posts about our favorite male and female fashion in film. Some of you may find this silly or irrelevant, but we are trying to present a socially relevant way of looking at and examining  films in light of what you actually see on the screen. Email us if you have any suggestions of things you would like us to focus on.

As Godard infamously quipped “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” I would like to add that the girl must be dressed impeccably and the gun should most certainly be a pistol. I could talk a great length, and quite frivolously in fact, about female fashion on film, but I would like to use this opportunity to examine fashion as it relates to the other aspects of filmmaking.
When one thinks of revolutionary films, female fashion is probably not the first thing to come to mind. Indeed, “revolutionary films” (loosely organized here around the idea of political or social change) often relegate women to supporting roles if we even see them at all. The idea of a female lead in a war film or political thriller is, with few exceptions, basically unheard of. Instead, women are often featured as the protagonist in social melodramas  (Gone with the Wind, Written on the Wind, A Cold Wind in August, etc– Wind here being a stand in not only for women, but for social change- that’s another tangent for another time). When we see women in revolutionary films, or playing revolutionary figures, we tend to rely on visual cues, I think mostly makeup, jewelry, and clothing to tell us exactly what power she has and the extent of that power.
Let’s look at a few examples:

Theda Bara in Cleopatra (1917)
Forgive me for beginning with perhaps one of the more obvious and well known portrayals of a revolutionary female figure. Bara’s portrayal of Cleopatra, as one can see from this promotional still, was basically built around her wardrobe. The entire film is probably just an excuse to play dress up and pretty up the set, but the choice of pretreating Cleopatra in such a manner is precise and intentional.  Everything here, from the headpiece to the embellished bodice on the dress to her bare feet reads sex appeal. Much in the same way that a leading man in Hollywood demonstrates his power though his attractiveness, this Cleopatra follows suit. Her power, that is, her revolutionary potential, is suggested in her form fitted dress (not every lady could have a dress fit to her exact measurements), with its beading running the length of the gown from her hips to her toes. The beading is mimicked by the snake anklet that she is earing as well as the snake embroidered on her scarf. Of course, the symbolism of the snake is well documented from ancient time though present day, but the motif is taken to an extreme in this garment.

Lets now think about another kind of “revolutionary woman”: Marie Antoinette.
I’d like specifically to focus on Sophia Coppola’s 2006 version of the film starring Kirsten Dunst.

What is so striking about the fashion in this film is the detail to accoutrement. So detailed in fact that it obtains an unbelievable level of artifice (which might explain why even some of  Coppola’s  biggest fans find this film hard to approach.) The satin gloves, the fabric covered book, a string of pears, the ribbon around her neck, and not to mention the birds nest on her head all portray an overwhelming sense of not only a scandalous amount of wealth, but also privilege and power in general. The clothing and styling in this film is perhaps the most important aspect, especially in relation to the overall tone and narrative function of the story. Coppola places us squarely in this world of unbelievable detail, not merely to overwhelm our senses, as in many period pieces, but to drive the plot of the story. Marie Antoinette’s grip on her body politic is stressed by the tightening of lace on each notch of her corset. 

Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)

Ninotchka is a well-liked film based on a clichéd story of a woman being attracted to everything that she claims that she hates. Ninotchka (Garbo) is a Russian leader sent to Paris to oversee the selling of a jewelry collection and bring back three of her comrades who seem to be enjoying Paris a little too much. When she first comes onto the scene she is dressed in a no-nonsense crisp white shirt with a black handkerchief necktie and a simple ¾ length black A-line skirt. There is really no hint of a woman or any kind of feminine figure to be found in her costuming in the early part of the film. She is basically buttoned up, taped down, and in one scene, she even wears a hat that looks like an uncircumcised penis. The fashion in the early part of the film is a stand in for her “Russian-ness” (read: male), but as the film progresses, and she falls in love with the Count (and all of his capitalistic wonder) her wardrobe dramatically changes course. As she is exposed to the riches and excitement of the west, the necklines of her dresses begin to plummet, the fabrics become sheerer, and she goes from black muslin handkerchiefs to delicate beading along her neck.  And it happens so quickly it is as if she came directly from the field to the balcony at the opera. These moments of transformation that rely on a change of fashion and styling are typically in Hollywood films, but the speed at which it happens in this film is truly exceptional.
 The next time you are watching a film, pay attention to the extent to which the filmmaker expresses emotion, tone, and character development though the wardrobe. You can basically use this analysis on nearly any film, Hollywood and non-Hollywood film alike. The fashion is not only a cultural signifier, but a narrative device that should be created just as much as the other aspects of filmmaking.
Tune in next time when I plan to discuss the fashion of “crazy women” in film. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shooting Wall Film Series #1

Shooting Wall has posted the first film to our Vimeo page, which is a film by Joshua Martin entitled Deal(s). This film is the launch of a new series of Shooting Wall "commissioned" films (we place commissioned in quotations because, although, we are asking and aiding filmmakers in the creation of these films, we cannot pay them to do so, which is the general meaning of a commissioned film and, hence, the quotation marks around it). This means that Shooting Wall is going to be actively seeking out filmmakers and asking them to create new works for the explicit purpose of being posted and shared on our Vimeo page and then screened at a future Shooting Wall screening or event. We will be asking local filmmakers whom we believe are making the most original, interesting, and forward-thinking cinema to produce films no more than 15 minutes long and will be offering our aid with equipment, casting, production, and post-production. This new series is aimed at bringing together a group of filmmakers we at Shooting Wall believe to be the future of cinema and give them an opportunity to make original works, have support from other filmmakers and artists, and to have a venue in which to have their films screened and promoted. We hope that this series will further our goal of creating a community of like minded critics, filmmakers, theorists, and cinephiles in Philadelphia. Please check out this first work and continue to look for further films. If you are a filmmaker interested in participating in this project, please send us an email at

Monday, November 14, 2011

Film Recommendations

DVD Recommendations


Muriel, or The Time of Return (1963) by Alain Resnais: Resnias follow-up to Last Year at Marienbad may appear to be a more subdued and less experimental effort, but Muriel is one of the filmmaker’s most amazing achievements. Whereas in Marienbad and Hiroshima Mon Amour Resnais favored flowing camera movements, baroque set design, and an over the top style, Muriel is more minimal in design, foregoing the ostentatiousness of Marienbad’s camera and mise en scene for an elliptic narrative and a fractured and obscured editing style. Muriel I believe is a far richer and more complex film both visually and thematically than what Resnias had previously made; it is a dense character study, a political film, and a deconstruction of conventional editing and narrative strategies. Muriel is available on DVD via Netflix and Facets.

Two—Lane Blacktop (1971) by Monte Hellman: There is a romanticism in American cinema for the golden age of the 1970s and the “New Hollywood” era; a time when Hollywood actually allowed art films to be produced and made within the mainstream. We at Shooting Wall have already talked about some of the inherent problems with these eras and many of its most famous films. Monte Hellman, however, was one of the few filmmakers who took this freedom and available money from Hollywood and truly made a difficult, dense, engaging, and fascinating film called Two-Lane Blacktop. The film, like all the films from this era that were truly difficult, was a failure and Hellman never got that kind of money or distribution again, but has nevertheless carved out a place in the American cinematic landscape as one of its few true and original outsiders. Two-Lane Blacktop is available in DVD via Netflix and Facets.

Under the Pavement Lies the Strand (1975) by Helma Sanders-Brahms – Like many of the later female filmmakers of the New German Cinema (Ulrike Ottinger, Helke Sanders, etc.), Helma Sanders-Brahms has remained largely unknown in American. Facets has done an excellent job of releasing a number of her early films on DVD including this one, her first feature from 1975. Brahms’ films are an excellent example of the more experimental, less mainstream feminist branch of New German Cinema that emerged in the early to mid- 1970s. The film is available on DVD via Netflix and Facets.

The Seduction of Mimi (1972) by Lena Wertmuller - For a time in the mid-1970s, Lena Wertmuller was the most famous and acclaimed woman in international cinema. For some reason, her status has fallen slightly, but I think she made some of the best international art films in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Seduction of Mimi is a great place to start and it features Wertmuller’s favorite actor, Giancarlo Giannini who would act in all of her best films from this era. The film is part political, part sexual, part farce, and really quite funny throughout. Available on DVD via Netflix and Facets.

Region 2 Pick of the Week:

Portrait of Jason (1967) by Shirley Clarke – A filmed interview with a New York street hustler, drug addict, and all around con man becomes something utterly fascinating and intense in the hands of Shirley Clarke. Jason, the aforementioned street hustler, is the only person on camera for the entire film and he tells stories and answers a barrage of questions from off screen voices as the camera hovers around him in a small New York City apartment. The film is a fascinating character study and a deconstruction of the “interview” and documentary film. Available in Region 2 DVD (even though it’s an American film there is no American DVD release!) via Facets.

Free Movie of the Week:

British Sounds (See You at Mao) (1970) by Jean-Luc Godard and Dziga Vertov Group – Made during Godard’s brief period in England in the late 1960s, British Sounds finds Godard expanding his revolutionary attitudes towards both politics and cinema. The film also shows Godard’s clear break with narrative and mainstream cinema, as well as his fascinating with the creating disharmonious sound and image which he would continue to expand upon throughout his career. British Sounds is a nice introduction of Godard’s revolutionary period a fascinating and complex film. The film can be viewed in its entirety on Vimeo.

Download of the Week:

Fallen (2005) by Fred Kelemen - Fred Kelemen’s (Bela Tarr’s frequent cinematographer) Fallen is a bleak and beautiful film about obsession, loneliness, and moral ambiguity. The film is shot in stark black and white and feature long, unbroken takes. This film got little to no release in the United States when it came out, only popping up at some adventurous film festivals, and has not received a DVD release either. The film is available for download on The Pirate Bay.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


We really would prefer you go pick up the free print version of our latest issue our zine if you're in the Philadelphia area. Get out of your house, be amongst the people, and/or here is where you can find them:

South Street:
The Wooden Shoe (704 South St)
Bean Cafe (615 South St)
Black Bird (507 South 6th St) 
Bohdi (410 South 2nd St)

Old City:
Ritz Theater at the Bourse(400 Ranstead St)
AKA Music (27 N 2nd St)

Center City: 
The Last Drop Coffee Shop (1300 Pine St)
University of The Arts (On Film/Video floor)

West Philadelphia
International House (3701 Chestnut St)
Penn Cinema Studies (209A Fisher-Bennett Hall 3340 Walnut St)
Institute of Contemporary Art (118 South 36th St)

South Philadelphia:
Grindcore House (1515 South 4th St)

North Philadelphia:
Temple University- Annenberg Hall (2020 North 13th St)

Cinema 16:9 (35 N Lansdowne Ave  Lansdowne, PA)

If you're not in Philly or the spot you went to has run out we'll restock them, let us know via

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reading Group #3: Monday November 14th at 6:30pm at the Wooden Shoe
Watch the film and check out the readings at

Philadelphia Zine Fest
Shooting Wall is excited to take part in the Philly Zine Fest to be held at the Rotunda at 40th and Walnut this Sunday, November 13th from Noon-6pm. At 4:30 we will put on a hour long mini-fest featuring the following films from some Shooting Wall members:

“Horses” by Derick Crucius
“Insurrections” by Carrie Love
“Shame is the Greatest Teacher” by Karl Starkweather
“Color is the Answer” by Priyanka Lahiri
“Savage Myths” by Joshua Martin
"Trigonometric Feces" by Dante Aleman
“Birthday Party” by Rob Mugge

It's also a great event to come and see some really cool zines and local groups. Look for our table and come pick up our latest issue!

Best of the Net

Every few weeks we will be posting about some of our favorite film blogs, websites, and journals. Please send us your recommendation of sites that you would like to share with people and we will try to feature them on the blog.

Carrie here-

In this first installment of Best of the Net I wanted to talk about two websites that I have been frequenting lately. This is by no means meant to be an endorsement by all shooting wall members, but just a list of some sites and blogs that I find helpful, illuminating, or otherwise captivating.

Observations on Film Art

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell (University of Wisconsin) are known for the Film Studies 101 Books: Film Art (1979) and Film History (1994). Their neoformalist approach has alienated the more psychoanalytical and post-structuralist theorists and critics, but I find blog posts to be particularly inspired. The blog, like much of their work, closely examines Classical Hollywood cinema to bring to light their theories on scenic density, fragmentary flashbacks, and Scriptography, among other diverse topics. Bordwell is also regarded as an expert on East Asian cinema and auteurs and his posts, which are neatly organized on the blog, are a good starting point to learn about these lesser known directors.

LOLA Online Film Journal

This newish online film journal is a great place to find contemporary critical and theoretical writing that is both relevant and understandable. What I love about their inaugural issue is that it features filmmakers talking about other filmmakers. I tend to think that the best filmmakers are the ones who are often the best film critics and historians and I always love reading what a director has to say about the works of others. The first issue of "Histories" features Joe McElhaney on his "passion for aging filmmakers, the older the better"; William D Routt's expansive consideration of Lubitsch; Andrew Klevan on "films which put the in-between at their centre"; Luc Moullet, with his irresistible title: "Ah Yes! Griffith was a Marxist!"; Richard Porton on Dušan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971); Shigehiko Hasumi: "Stated briefly, my hypothesis is that the medium of film has not yet truly incorporated sound as an essential component of its composition."; Sylvia Lawson on Australian cinema's relationship with the nation's history; Stephen Goddard on the ways we remake our own histories; Darren Tofts's defense of The Song Remains the Same (1976); Adrian Martin himself: "Wenders and Godard define, for cinema's Modern or Modernist period, two trajectories of imaginative, cinematic migration."; Justin Grace on "traversing the various locations of XL: A City Symphony at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam"; Nicole Brenez on FJ Ossang; James Guida on Lucrecia Martel; David Phelps on Jacques Rivette's 36 vues du Pic St-Loup (Around a Small Mountain, 2009); and Elena Gorfinkel on Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder's exhibition, Light Spill.

Cine-Societies at Institute of Contemporary Art

Last night we had the pleasure of participating in a community discussion on the origins of independent film societies and their influence on groups like ours and other models of film exhibition and distribution. It was a lively discussion with Jesse Pires (Program Curator at International House) and Caroline Savage (Coordinating Director, Philadelphia Independent Film and Video Association) as well as some greater Philadelphia community members. The discussion was part of the larger series at ICA entitled “Excurus,” described as:

“Excursus is a new initiative at the ICA in which artists, designers, publishers, and other cultural producers whose work engages the archive and publication are invited to create a platform for more intimate programming, alongside an online residency at

Building on the idea of an excursus (an exposition or digression from a primary text) each invited artist-in-residence will activate and re-imagine both the physical and discursive space of the ICA, creating a hub for reflection on issues related to the exhibitions on view in the galleries.”

This type of truly unique and original programing has become the essence of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s role in the community and we were so delighted to be a part of it in some way. If you haven’t been to ICA in a while, they have some great exhibitions up right now and the future installments of the Excursus program , including a two day pop-up shop and special discussion about KARMA bookshop, which promises to be lively and engaging.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I imagine that "some people" would find House of Tolerance to be a a tedious, languid, and possibly plotless mediation on the Parisian bordellos of La Belle Epoque, but I would assume such people did not sit through The Turin Horse, which I had the delight of spending two and a half hours being throughly annihilated by. So in that context, House of Tolerance seems paced fairly rapidly. And, it is starkly beautiful.

I came out of the theater enchanted by the film. I also came out believing that someone had actually made the kind of film that I want to see-- and in my opinion, the kind of film that should be pushed more enthusiastically upon other human beings. House of Tolerance is actually kind of like Moulin Rouge! except it's not a nauseating and irritating musical directed by Baz Luhrmann. House of Tolerance is the film that people who like Moulin Rouge! should like, because it is an intelligent and interesting exploration of the same prostitutes-in-Paris shit, with an equally anachronistic soundtrack.

With that out of the way, the reason I like House of Tolerance is because it is a period piece that doesn't resemble a period piece. A lot of period pieces, remarkably, have the same cloying qualities. They all seem to be shot the same way and paced the same way, and some of them are interesting, but I think the trappings of this genre are really a problem-- spectacle settings and sweeping scores and the alienating sort of melodrama. I mean, sure, Mysteries of Lisbon is a masterpiece, but did it have to be so goddamn... expansive?

House of Tolerance feels contrastingly intimate. All of the girls live in the same in the house, and due to laws involving soliciting, very rarely leave. The only scenes set outside of the house are on their one day off in a rural idyll. It is this intimacy that makes these characters feel like real people who could exist along side us, and not just paragons of days gone by.

The anachronistic soundtrack is also an asset to the film. I find that period pieces can be bogged down by trying very very hard to be true to the period, they can also suffer when the conjured period feels false. Perhaps this film opens with music from the 1960s because Bertrand Bonello wanted to avoid the audience searching for anachronisms-- it seems right off the bat that he obviously does not give a fuck about anachronisms.

Because of all of this, I was able to enjoy House of Tolerance. It freed me from my petty dislike of tiresome epics, and felt fresh and modern despite being set in 1900. Each character has their own quiet plot that moves amongst the men (who are mostly portrayed with flat personalities. This film is not about them.) The shots are interesting, the colors are vibrant, and everything is styled impeccably. It is naturally laden with constant female nudity and sex, so the graphic violence is what draws gasps.The film is a gorgeous fantasy world that is easily broached by the audience. If more films were like this, perhaps House of Tolerance wouldn't sparkle as seductively, but it would be much easier to become lost in and consumed by cinema in general.