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Q&A Series by Filep Motwary
Curator, photographer, blogger and costume designer Filep Motwary, conducted a series of interviews with top opinion leaders in fashion
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28 Sep

New York Stories by Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen

New York Stories - Runaway Review, Mother of Pearl SS17

Runway Review – Mother of Pearl SS17

One Big Apple, one slice each. ‘This is merely the cinematic equivalent of limiting Dickens to London’ writes Empire, and it’s true – it’s films from the previous decade like Mean Streets or Manhattan, that perhaps more than any other painted a vivid map of New York for audiences across the pond and further. Yet in 1989 this omnibus, this triptych of local short stories, offered at once a round-up of multiple points of view. Biased, certainly, as the three authors all seem, with various degrees of reluctance, almost inevitably fond of the city. Personal, surely. All relate to New York’s mid- to upper-class, and if Allen openly writes and plays a version of himself, Scorsese drops hints: “I was married four times since before you were even born!” exclaims his protagonist, as the director had been at the time. But still diverse enough in message, genre and style, that should they be so inclined, foreign spectators could try and trace a shape of city in between one tale and the next.

First comes Scorsese’s Life Lessons, loosely based on Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. The lead mentioned above is Lionel Dobie, a scruffy but successful abstract painter who believes himself to be in love with his trainee Paulette. We understand they slept together before, and she’s still enamoured with his talent – dubious, in the eye of this viewer, but clearly sublime for Paulette and the art crowds on screen. As we meet them though, she’s already begun to see past it, and past the lies he still feeds her to keep her around. Paulette’s got a crush on a cocky performance artist played by a young Steve Buscemi, and who could blame her? Lionel’s jealousy, meanwhile, ironically helps him through a creative dry spell. Though the focus of the featurette is on the collapse of their relationship, Scorsese doesn’t miss a chance to make subtle fun at the world they inhabit. Alone at last, at the opening of his new show, a fan in awe compliments Lionel: “When I look at your stuff, I just wanna divorce my wife. I mean like, thank you”. Shortly after, Lionel offers a beautiful waitress, herself an aspiring painter, a better job as his new apprentice.

Next comes Coppola’s Life Without Zoë; a family film. It’s usually considered the weak link in the anthology, unfortunately with good reason. Zoë is a schoolgirl who lives lavishly in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, wearing her mum’s Chanels while her absentee parents travel the world. She takes it upon herself to return a diamond earring to an Arab princess who sent it to Zoë‘s father, a flutist, when she was seduced by his music. In oversized tweeds, Zoë hops around plenty of plot holes. ‘Part of the overall incoherence of this segment undoubtedly comes from combining the romanticised views of New York conjured up by two generations 30 years apart,’ wrote Jonathan Rosenbaum for the Chicago Reader when the film hit the theatres. Zoë’s script had been penned by Francis together with his then 17-year-old daughter Sofia. Rosenbaum also calls out the ‘glorification of wealth’ all throughout the short. Though rich child leads are nothing new in movies, Zoë, unlike say Mary Poppins’ Jane and Michael, has nothing to learn. She’s by far the wisest among the whole lot of people who surround her, not just in her own but in the previous and following films too – which is indeed why it’s so difficult to like her.

Thankfully, next comes Woody. In Oedipus Wrecks he’s Sheldon Mills, a lawyer in his 50s who works for “a very conservative firm”, and is constantly embarrassed by his “too Jewish” mother, Sadie. Together with Sheldon’s fiancée whom Sadie vocally dislikes, and her three children from a previous marriage – one of whom, look out for her, is Kirsten Dunst in her first film role – they all go together to a magic show. Sheldon’s mum is invited on stage for a trick that should make her disappear, and works it all too well; she’s nowhere to be found, for days. Initially upset, Sheldon begins to warm to his newfound freedom, and that’s naturally when she shows up again as a giant apparition all over the clouds of New York. And she’s up there for weeks, telling strangers all sorts of humiliating details about her son’s childhood, or complaining about his girlfriend until finally she packs up and leaves him. In the meantime, Sheldon had been seeing a psychic, Treva. She turns out to be pretty useless in bringing Sadie back to earth, but Sheldon slowly finds himself falling for her with the more fruitless time they spend together. The way she talks, her exuberance – she reminds us of Sadie more than she should, more perhaps than Sheldon realises. Finally pleased with his new flame, Sheldon’s mum climbs down from the sky, her purpose met.


Runway Reviews

This in an ongoing series covering the most important fashion shows from around the world through the gaze of film. Moving images continually inspire collections and designers are more involved in the film world than ever; indeed Fashion Film is a verified genre. So rather than examining the garments on the runway, writer Silvia Bombardini analyses the film that inspired them in the first place.

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