Monday, March 31, 2008

Sinister Storytelling

These illustrations are from Edward Gorey's miniature book The Gashlycrumb Tinies. First published in 1963, the book has since been through several editions. Both the macabre subject matter and the illustration style are distinctly Victorian. Punch, a weekly satirical magazine of the period, often featured pen and ink drawings (like the example at bottom of Jack the Ripper by John Tennier), which were inspirations for Gorey. The book is an alphabetical catalogue of children & how they meet their demise, with a dark and gritty illustration style. Gorey classifies his writing as "literary nonsense", close to the sensibilities of Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Preferable Priest!

This is the youtube capture of the song "A Little Priest" from the original theatrical production of Sweeney Todd. In my opinion this is incredibly superior to the new film version.
The acting quality here is larger, and somehow more believable even though it is more obviously theatrical. Perhaps because both George Hearn and (the magnificent) Angela Lansbury understand the full story and seem to have enjoyed making it a lot more. They have an enormous amount of fun with the scene, which is a full four minutes longer than Burton's film version and does away with the pretensions of a sinister atmosphere, using it only when required instead of hamming it up at every possible opportunity.
The extension of this scene is not wasted space, rather it is used to fully play out the comedy of the scene, for example with the addition of the characters playing with words. Lansbury provides Hearn with a starting word, for example "tinker" to which Hearn replies with a rhyme, "something pinker!" They play with this for a few moments until he is completely stumped by the word "locksmith".
The actors clearly understand the comedy of the scene and how the audience will react to it, and this feels a lot more natural to me than forcing the scene to seem sinister and dark with no real reason other than that is how Burton wanted it. Shame on you Tim! I thought you knew better than this...

A Little Priest

Here is the new film version of the song "A Little Priest" from Sondheim's grisly musical, Sweeney Todd. I wanted to include both this version and the original theatrical version of the song because, in comparing them, it is (to me) glaringly obvious which is the better version.
Here Bonham Carter and Depp sing a macabre song about killing various types of people and turning them into pies. They hypothesise on the different tastes that different types of people would have, for example the idea that Royal Marine would taste of wherever it's been!
While this film version is clearly trying to make a point of how grotesque the story is, it seems a waste not to play up the obvious comedy in this scene. The idea of killing people to bring more business to your shop is horrendous, but to then sing about it and draw it out for so long just makes it hilarious. I think it is a great shame that this version did not play up the comedy, as it makes it seem as though Helena's character really has no idea what she's singing about and is just saying her lines in a robotic fashion. And she has no sympathy from me! Do it properly, or don't do it at all!

Tim Burton's Magical Mystery Tour

From his humble (and somewhat surprising) beginnings as a Disney animator, the legend of Tim Burton has grown into a force which currently seems unstoppable. He is best known for his work with actor Johnny Depp and composer Danny Elfman. Although Elfman had worked with Burton a few times by this point, Edward Scissorhands was the first film that the Burton, Depp, Elfman triad worked on together.
Burton’s highly distinctive style was well developed by this stage, and the bizarre, fantasy world of Edward Scissorhands was the perfect showcase for it. It is best described as a crazy mix of childhood fantasy, gothic, Victorian chic, with a pinch of art nouveau, a cloud of steampunk, and a splash of irony all thrown together in the bizarre cauldron that is Tim Burton’s mind!
The story follows a mad professor’s creation, Edward, as he enters the everyday world and attempts to understand and cope with it.
From the very beginning of the film we see these styles mesh, as Dianne Wiest’s character views a highly gothic castle in her car mirror. The spired turrets, the angular design, the fact that it is situated on top of a large black rock, all these things add to the gloomy gothic atmosphere lurking over the castle. When we view the inside, the gothic imagery continues, as seen by this beautiful staircase. Again there is darkness everywhere, high arched windows, and everything is covered in cobwebs and dust. The house is clearly a darkly gothic place.
Looking now at Edward’s creator, it is interesting to note that he is Vincent Price, an actor very well known for his roles in gothic horror movies. Although old here, he maintains an aura of glamour and mystery that a modern viewer must appreciate. The background of this picture shows huge cogs which, along with Edward’s outfit, produce a distinctly steampunk feel. Steampunk is a style frequently set in a fantasy or science-fiction world, but a world run by steam a la the Victorians. Continuing with this, here we see the mad professor character’s machinery. While this is highly representative of Burton’s style, there is also a distinct feel of steampunk here. Finally we should take a quick look at the costuming of the film. Although most of it is based on Burton’s 1950’s fantasy world, Edward’s costume is clearly Victorian influenced, as is Kim’s (Winona Ryder’s character) The long flowing dress, simple, demure cut, boned bodice and extreme, fiddly buttoning are all very reminiscent of the Victorian era.
Although completely crazy and bizarre, Burton's films are incredibly well-loved by millions of people. Long may he continue to create visually beautiful films with such a glorious mish-mash of styles!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Legacy of William Morris, Beloved

William Morris, member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and leader of the Arts & Crafts movement in Victorian-era England, is popular still in the 21st Century. 
Morris was the designer of furniture, wallpaper, typography and stained glass; he also revived the art of tapestry-making. His elegant, nature-inspired wallpaper graced the walls of Victorian parlors - and still prettifies walls today. Reproductions of his furniture designs and tapestries are also still available from companies like Stickley Furniture, Sanderson & Sons, and Liberty of London.

Among Morris' influences was John Ruskin's book "The Nature of Gothic"; his inspirations are Medieval, and his representations of nature are almost utopian.

These images are of prints of Morris' wallpaper designs, all available to order online.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Contemporary Victorian Style

As I was searching the internet, I came across this video on YouTube which illustrates a modern view of Victorian fashion. Enjoy! - Erika

The Corset: Painful Yet Provocative

Fashion has changed considerably since the Victorian era in England, however there are many styles that have remained or have been modified for our current society. This time period was marked by defined curves and an hourglass figure. The most scandalous of these fashion articles were undergarments, and in particular, the corset. This Victorian fashion item was amoung the first of its kind and incorporated materials such as lace and silk, while sometimes also including stunning embroidery. Corsets came in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes, but seem to be all used for the same purpose: to confine the body, while making it more sexually desirable.

The corset can also be seen as an example related to the class system because they were most often worn by middle and upper class women. Corsets also materially set apart women since women of the working class who could not afford corsets were seen as loose or immoral. The confining and painful characteristics associated with wearing a corset can be symbolic to the roles that women tended to play during this time. Women were considered to be inferior to men and seemed to dress in this manner for male sexual desire.

While the Victorian corset disfigured the female body, it also highlighted its feminine features and ended up becoming an eroticized item of lingerie. Although women wore corsets for sexual attention, they gave the female body an unrealistic view of sexuality. Women’s undergarments were also known to excite curiosity about what is hidden beneath, and therefore increase male interest.

In recent years, Roy Raymond, the founder of Victoria’s Secret, recognized the idea of the corset as an eroticized item of lingerie. He found it hard to shop for lingerie at department stores for his wife and decided to open a store that resembled the drawers and closets of a traditional Victorian woman’s dressing room. There are many types of lingerie available at stores all over the globe. They not only carry modern corsets, but also have expanded their selection to include underwear, brassieres, sleepwear and swimsuits. Victoria’s Secret is now one of the world’s largest lingerie suppliers and continues the trend of supplying elegant and fashionable undergarments for ladies.

The reasons women chose to wear corsets have changed slightly since the Victorian era. The previous restrictive style has been updated to suit all of women’s undergarment needs, whether it is for at work, going out for dinner, or lazing around the house. However, corsets still give a somewhat unrealistic view of the female body and sexuality, but this look can sometimes be perceived to be more attractive than simply letting loose. Gender roles that once were associated with women wearing corsets in the nineteenth century do not apply in the same way today. Presently, corsets are seen to be more of an accessory rather than a necessity, and although they are only accessories, women of all social and economic statuses are encouraged to wear them. This notion makes present day corsets a great example of Victorian culture that we see in our everyday lives.