My Fair Lady, the 1964 film, is a musical adaptation of the Lerner and Lowe stage musical production of the same name, based on the book, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The book is said to be themed based on the poem, London Bridge.
The poem tells a simple rhyming story of a woman, a fair lady, who has London Bridge, but it is falling down, and no matter how she builds it back, with silver, gold, or any other material, she will not be able to protect it on her own, so a man has to sit to watch all night. But, even the man might fall asleep and need a pipe to smoke. It is a poem about retaining resources based on gender and politics, within a cold, hard world.
Eliza Doolittle, is the fair lady, (played by Audrey Hepburn) as a flower girl, with a drunkard father and a cockney accent. She is caught out in the rain selling flowers to wealthy theatergoers in Edwardian London. Eliza insists, “I’m a good girl, I am,” as her only defense from prostitution with her skill set is to be a flower girl.
While selling flowers Eliza is met with the pompous, snooty, and outgoing Henry Higgins, a professor of elocution. Higgins takes note of Eliza’s diction while mocking her class simultaneously; fellow elocution expert Colonel Hugh Pickering notes the scene. The three, all meet outside of a theater on a rainy London night.
Eliza, later though, not long after her interesting encounter with these two men, puts on her finest dress, a hideously tacky purple ensemble and appears at Higgin’s door. Eliza comes to ask for speech lessons, so she may go from a street flower seller to a respectable girl in a flower shop. She offers to pay Higgins a decent amount for the lessons.
Though, the spoiled, selfish, and abominable Higgins does not see a future pupil before him. He sees a toy. Neither Higgins nor Pickering, overlook how much fun a strikingly beautiful girl, sadly wearing her tacky dress with such pride and her cockney accent, will be. Only the housekeeper lectures Higgins, “Do be sensible,” she tells him. The housekeeper reminds Higgins he actually has to think through how his actions might affect Eliza’s life.
Higgins takes Eliza on for free, including room and board, to teach her, not to be a girl in a flower shop, but to teach her to be a lady of rank equal to his own. Higgins works Eliza to the bone and she fantasizes of his death. But somehow Higgins, Eliza, and Pickering all plod through it together.
Eliza’s father comes to Higgin’s establishment to demand payment for allowing his daughter to stay with Higgins. Higgins, though appalled at first, finds he enjoys the man’s world philosophy and gives in. So, though Eliza gives herself to Higgins for lessons for free, her father sells her to Higgins postdated. It is darkly comic of a man’s world philosophy. And really, just sad.
Higgins trains Eliza to act a certain role among his high society acquaintances. During an event at the races, Eliza meets Freddy, who is everything Higgins is not: charming, sensible, and protectively understanding of Eliza in a playful and conversational manner. Eliza remains friends with Freddy.
Higgin’s ultimate test of Eliza is to take her to a ball and have her interact with a fellow elocution expert, to see if the expert can tell where she is from. The expert decides without a doubt Eliza is hiding an accent and is surely Hungarian. Higgins and Pickering find it all to be a charming joke. Neither of them pays any attention to Eliza after the deed is done. They simply boast to each other of their grand alliance and the outcome it produced.
Eliza is disgusted by the two insufferable a-clowns she is dealing with. She also dislikes her transformation because she has lost her financial independence. She cannot be a girl in a flower shop now. Higgins took her training too far on purpose.
Eliza states she will marry Freddy, as she is fed up with Higgins, yet is still searching for a partner in life. Freddy is in love with Eliza and he is very much the sensible alternative to Higgins. But in the end, Eliza returns to Higgins, as in one way or another, they have grown to become a part of each other. And so, the transformation is complete.
By Sarah Bahl
The Mariinsky Ballet performed Prokofiev's Cinderella, from October 16th to the 21st, at the Kennedy Center. This performance was in a manner; stark, urban, and modernized. The background set, reminded me, in its drab plainness of the set from the movie, West Side Story.
Act I begins with the evil Stepmother and Stepsisters getting their hair done against a bare warehouse style background. The Stepmother and Stepsisters are larger than the petite and lovely Cinderella. Their clothes consist mainly of ugly neon concoctions or baggy shapeless items, that are of marked difference to Cinderella's flowing, pale, graceful ensemble.
The Stepmother and Stepsisters leave for the ball and Cinderella is transformed by an old haggard drone, (really a faery in disguise) into a beautiful lady. The drone does this by pulling the needed items: dress and slippers, out of an old ratty bag.
Some of the scenes confused me, because in order to show the faery, warning Cinderella of her fate if she does not return before midnight, Cinderella dances out the fate, collapses to the ground and the curtain is pulled. I did not realize this was symbolic of future pretense. The realities of Cinderella's collapse, either eluded me or were not portrayed clearly.
Act II begins at the ball, where the characters and meaning are simpler. The dancers' movements are puppeteered in unison to the point of comedy. The audience laughed repeatedly during Act II as throughout all acts, for the ballet movements often took on a playful cartoonish quality. At least for all the characters except the consistently elegant Cinderella and her Prince Charming.
Cinderella is gorgeous - in white - and dances with her Prince Charming. She leaves at midnight, leaving behind her one glass slipper...
By Sarah Bahl
Empress Catherine II of Russia, utilized fashion and style as she did everything else, for politics. Her memoirs have been decided by some historians as flagrant use of primal justification for the death of her husband, Peter III, who she is rumored to have assassinated. Though, she really isn’t justifying anything. She is telling.
Catherine the Great, monarch and ruler of Russia for a golden age, was born a German princess: Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst in Stettin on April 21, 1729. Princess Sophie was culled at the age of 15, to be the Grand Duke Peter's bride by Empress Elizabeth of Russia. The Grand Duke, was Princess Sophie's second cousin. Princess Sophie, renamed as Duchess Ekaterina Alekseevna upon entering Russian court life, was everything her husband was not; athletic, intelligent, patient, and a creature of calm and consistent political voracity. She was a fair and strong woman, though not distractingly beautiful, with a fine mind, conversational nature, a physical endurance, and ability to withstand pain.
Catherine describes the pulling of a tooth; “I have never felt anything but pain of that moment. It was so violent tears streamed down my nose as though water had been poured from a teapot…I then learnt by experience that pain one suffers often gives rise to a grudge against whoever caused it. Boerhave, who obviously realized this, began to laugh and begged me to allow him to examine the spot. He then discovered that one of the roots had remained, while together with the tooth, a piece the size of a shilling had been wrenched from the jawbone. I was put to bed and suffered for about 4 weeks…I did not leave the seclusion of my room until January 1750, because at the bottom of my cheek I had Gyon’s five fingers imprinted in blue and yellow bruises.” The daily physical pains of life at the time are not comparable to many peoples’ today.
Russian court life could also be emotionally brutal and Catherine’s marriage to her husband is a depressing one, as she refers to him in her memoirs, as “The Grand Duke.” Neither party remained remotely faithful to the other and Catherine wept over The Grand Duke's affairs (at least initially) while keeping discreet about her own. The Grand Duke is depicted within the memoirs as an emotional maladjusted man-child of limited intelligence and questionable sanity.
Catherine, overcomes the environment by utilizing an awareness of her own powers and makes clear her self regard in her memoirs. Catherine considered herself better than her mother in maintaining a proper hold over the intricacies of court life and international domination, (her mother lacked the sophistication to keep multiple powers astride in relation to each other, with oneself as an individual ahead. And beside, since Empress Elizabeth was in want of sole control over Catherine, there was no room within the Russian courts for Catherine’s mother anyway) as well as better than her husband as a person entirely.
Catherine was recruited at an early age, as an unknown princess, by Empress Elizabeth, a calculating political machine. Whereas Catherine was a political woman, the Empress was pure machinery. The memoirs imply Elizabeth knew her nephew as useless, early on, and trained Catherine, from the start, to rule in her husband’s stead. The Empress repeatedly took from Catherine those she loved, her servants, Catherine’s own children, and raised Catherine to be one thing: Empress.
Court life and gearing toward empire control also came with great financial costs. Catherine was often in considerable debt to keep up with court life. It was not a capitalist economy, and as rulers they were not kicked out if they had to pay back debts at such and such a time and could not. Catherine wrote, “…and the next day I requested my accounts. They showed that I owed seventeen thousand rubles; before leaving Moscow for Kiev, the Empress had sent me fifteen thousand rubles and a larger coffer of simpler cloths, but I had to be richly dressed. In sum, then, I owed two thousand rubles; this did not seem to me an excessive amount. A variety of causes had forced these expenditures upon me. Primo, I had arrived in Russia very poorly outfitted, I was at the end of the world, and at a court where one changed outfits three times a day…” Catherine spends politically, for gifts and for clothing.
Catherine, though she spent well on fashion and gifts made sure of one thing - never to outdo The Empress. Catherine writes in her memoirs, "At that time, I loved to dance. At public balls I usually changed costume three times. My jewelry was always very fine, and if the costume I wore attracted everyone's praise, I was sure never to wear it again, because I had a rule that if it had made a big impression once, it could only make a smaller one the next time. On the other hand, at court balls that the public did not attend, I dressed as simply as I could, and so I paid my respects to The Empress, who did not much like anyone to appear overdressed," as well as to remain true to her own calling, "I did not make beauty or finery the source of my merit, for when one was gone, the other became ridiculous, and only character endured."
Notes: All quotes are taken from The Memoirs of Catherine the Great, 2005 Modern Library Edition. The Memoirs are written to depict life before Catherine became empress. Images are found online.
By Sarah Bahl
Viva Laldjérie is a film about three very different women trying to survive on a daily basis in a man’s world, when there is no man. The year is 2003, and Algeria is dealing with a rise in internal terrorist activities, due to rallying from 9/11. Goucem is the lead protagonist, living in a world, of conflicted emotions.
She works in a camera shop during the day, for a Mr. Mouffok. She is bi-lingual and able to speak English, though; she never speaks about her educational background. Goucem is 27, gorgeous, and having an affair with a married surgeon, named Aniss. Goucem and Aniss argue over having dinner in public together. Goucem is angry at Aniss for not spending the weekend with her. And when he drops her off at what appears to be an Algerian version of a piazza, a stranger sees her get out of Aniss’s car and realizes she has money. Though, the money Goucem has, is her own. Mr. Mouffok had paid her that day.
Her payment is stolen out of her purse, and the scene skips to Goucem, with a couple boxes of pizza, sitting with the restaurant owners after closing. Goucem is in shock and asks to use the phone. She does not have a cell phone. She either cannot afford one or else does not want one in order to protect herself from potential terrorist operations toward her. Or both.
She calls Aniss, who does not pick up. She leaves a message. Then Goucem is at home, in her small apartment, with her mother, Papicha, who is rather masculine seeming, an ugly woman to be honest – the mother, does not seem to have much to do. She eats the pizza Goucem brought home and comments on what Goucem is doing, getting dressed, clubbing up to go out. Goucem is really her mother’s mother.
When Goucem leaves the apartment she puts on a body cover, an elegant type of long poncho and a hijab, over her club dress. At the club she plays pool…by herself. She meets a man there and they hook up in some sort of weird empty warehouse by the sea. The man respects her and asks to see her again. She rebuffs him.
Also pursuing Goucem is the sweet and understanding (as well as handsome) Samir, who stops by her work fairly often only to ask her banal questions about passports and photos. Samir admires Goucem’s spirit, though of course she treats him terribly because of how the surgeon lover, is treating her. Goucem is also earnestly afraid to lose Aniss because he seems like a protector in an insecure world. But the reality is that financially, psychologically, and emotionally Goucem would be better off without Aniss. It just doesn’t feel that way to her.
Goucem’s father has passed away at the age of 51, and she and her mother never discuss why. They visit the grave of the father- and on the way to the headstone, they pass a man with a beard and Papicha becomes afraid, that he recognizes her. The reason for this fear is due to Goucem and Papicha laying low from terrorists because Papicha used to be a dancer. It is implied they have moved from the suburbs after the death of the father, to a small apartment in the city, to avoid notice and survive.
Goucem confronts the bearded man directly, asking him if he recognizes her mother. He does not. Also, when Goucem and Papicha first leave their apartment complex to visit the deceased father, with flowers, Goucem sees Aniss’s car and says, “Aniss!” and begins to chase the vehicle. The car never stops. Then, Goucem gets to deal with the further dignity of being drilled by her mother as to whether that really was Aniss’s car.
The only friend in Goucem’s life is Fifi. The prostitute next door. Fifi’s character takes the whole, whore with a heart of gold cliché to another higher note. Fifi is well read, educated, wealthy, or at least well off, and politically powerful due to her independent use of money within the local community of women. Fifi protects Goucem, by listening to Goucem and caring.
Then Goucem does something horrible and stupid. She is bored, after a fight with her mother over how to handle their lives, and she enters Fifi’s room. She goes through Fifi’s client’s clothes, while Fifi and him are in the bath. Goucem steals the client’s gun and leaves.
Perhaps Goucem is jealous of Fifi. Goucem is sometimes spoken to as a whore by her mother, and treated like one by her lover, while she is trying to make a non sexual related living. These mental undertones might have also lead to Goucem taking the gun. The gun gives Goucem a sense of empowerment. When Fifi states her client is missing his gun and he wants it back Goucem says nothing. Fifi knows, that she might be in huge trouble for the loss of the gun, but continues on, in her usual caring manner.
Still despite her own problems, Fifi listens to Goucem and being a woman from a Muslim country Fifi handles her friend’s troubles in a proper manner. She takes Goucem to the local fortune teller. Fifi pays a large sum for this. Fortunes do not come for free. With Fifi there, all the other women are asked to leave for the day so Goucem can have more time with the fortune teller. Goucem asks the fortune teller, an otherworldly woman with a white painted face, if Aniss loves her at least. The fortune teller does not answer, but asks Goucem, if she loves Aniss. Goucem cannot say yes.
Later, Goucem tries to visit with Aniss, but his wife starts screaming about it and she leaves. Aniss; in this series of scenes is not revealed as the strong distant protector Goucem feels he is. He is a man, tired and not sexy, pulling socks off a laundry line and with a screaming wife, who is terrified about how she is going to protect herself and provide for herself, now that Aniss is remarrying. Though, not to Goucem. All women are the same to Aniss. His wife is as much his toy as is Goucem. (Aniss pays Goucem’s rent, since her money was stolen, though, it was probably stolen because of him in the first place.)
Aniss’s son tells Goucem as she is leaving Aniss’s apartment complex, not to come there anymore, and to do it at the hospital. Goucem tells the son, she is more than happy to point out to Aniss that his son is homosexual. This stops the son from being more of a jerk than he would be otherwise.
Goucem, then has a sandwich type meal by herself, sitting on some steps outside of the complex. (Aniss’s wife was having pasta alone). Goucem and her mother eat separately. Everyone in the film eats by himself or herself, for the most part. There is one scene where people are eating together, and that is for business.
While Fifi is at the fortune teller her client breaks into her room to look for his gun. Though, the manner he goes about it, implies he is not just looking for the gun. He does not like Fifi hooking up with anyone else (nevermind she is a professional) he also does not like her financial independence. On the way back from the fortune teller’s Fifi sees her client and comes up to him to say hello. He throws her in a car with a driver who is huge and has cold distant, pale eyes. Fifi tells the client, that they have been friends for awhile and if she needed a gun, she would have asked him for it. She asks him if he needs money. He says no, that he wants his gun. The client happens to work for “National Security.” Fifi asks where she is being taken and the client refuses to say.
Meantime in Fifi’s apartment her items are being removed and stolen. She has nice taste and very fine things. Three men come and clean out her apartment in silence, and give away to the residence what they do not take. The landlord steals Fifi’s things before she is even killed. Giving them to his children. His wife tells the children their father bought Fifi’s items at a market. Goucem sees a child wearing a shawl of Fifi’s and freaks. She goes to her room and pulls the gun out from under the bed. Goucem realizes what she has done.
The car Fifi is in, stops because of a wedding party blocking traffic. Fifi gets out and starts to run. She gets in one of the wedding party cars. No one questions her, as she is dressed like the lady she is. Fifi is discovered when a child in the front seat turns around and says, “Why are you crying?” There are only other women in the car. They take Fifi seriously and try to get through to the anti-terrorist brigade, but cannot because of a poor phone connection and the noise from the wedding party. When they cannot get through to the brigade, they kick Fifi out of the car due to the safety of the group, especially the boy.
In an unusually heartbreaking scene, Fifi increasingly panics for her life. Her eyes are huge and she starts to hyperventilate and cry and clings to the women, who push her away. She is removed from the car, under orders of the family matriarch. And she begins to run. The driver with the pale eyes, silently follows on foot.
Goucem goes to the police to report her friend as missing. They tell her they do not deal with terrorist kidnappings. Goucem says she does not know. At the police station Goucem runs into Aniss’s son, who got into a fight with another man. They leave the station together and Goucem saves Aniss’s son from an attack by pointing the gun at the assailant. Fifi was a much better person than the son. It is not fair. But it is the happenstance of life under a strange system.
Aniss helps Goucem retrieve Fifi’s body from the morgue. A strange place in the basement of the hospital with a foot of water. Aniss finally becomes good for something. Goucem loved Fifi. For many reasons.She mourns incredibly for her friend, holding Fifi's head and wailing. Aniss tries to comfort Goucem, but she shrugs him off.
Goucem is the only person attending at Fifi's grave. Then, she catches the bus, as there is a highway right next to the grave site. Goucem sees Samir playing a ball game with friends in a court yard. She gets the bus to stop, and joins Samir and his friends. She watches him play while speaking to his friends, who she seems to have things in common with.
Her mother, Papicha, has now found a job as a singer, as she is too old for dancing. Papicha comes across as beautiful onstage, her facial features are interesting this way. And so life goes on in Algeria. Whether fair or no.
Overall, the scenes of Viva Laldjérie are blunt, with sharp cuts from one to another and contain an abundance of psychology. The scenes throw the viewer into a world without explanation. The film’s emotional themes regarding women may be considered universal.
By Sarah Bahl
Coco Before Chanel, is a film about the rise of a woman, born into poverty and determined not be another drudge in the system. (Our lead character is a born snob.) The film begins with two girls being driven in a simple peasant cart. It is 1893. They are taken to a nunnery, where the nuns wear incredibly starched wide sweeping black and white head covers, that are essentially enormous fabric triangles on their heads. Even for the nuns, 1893 was not an era of practicality when it came to fashion.
Gabrielle Chanel and her sister Julie, are the two young girls in the cart. They are wordlessly and unceremoniously dropped off by their father for care within the abbey, that served as an orphanage for poor undesired girls and as a boarding house for wealthy young girls. Chanel waited for her father to come back every week while at the abbey. He never did.
Chanel and her sister both become pretty women, working as seamstresses during the day and in a pub as singers in the evening. Their dresses are very simple. There is a huge difference in the style and the fabric of how the wealthy women dressed versus the working class women. For example, today, there is not a huge difference in the style, cut, color and detail of a suit Hillary Clinton would wear to work, versus, a secretary working as an administrator in any given office. In the early 1900s, differences in terms of style of clothing when it came to class were of incredible variance. Wealthy women had a marked amount of detail in their fabric, how their hair was done, and the jewels they wore. So much adornment. The working class women wore very simple, clothes of plain coloring, that differed greatly from the garb of the wealthy.
At the pub, Chanel meets her lover and protector Étienne Balsan, who she insists on staying with, as she sees him as pivotal to her gateway toward a better life. It is Balsan, who christens Chanel with the name Coco, after a song she sings. The name does seem to suit her tomboyish nature and simple features. Coco, charms Balsan with her quaint mannerisms, her love for clothes, horses, and need to be something different. She is known to dress as a boy, most of the time. To forego the use of a corset and practice other such anomalies for the day.
Coco, consistently wants to have more and be more. She realizes she will never have a stage career but the hats she makes are well liked and in demand. She has a knack for sewing. She leaves Balsan, who remains a supportive father figure throughout her life, for Arthur, “Boy” Capel, a friend of Balsan’s. Boy asks Balsan to have Coco for the weekend, which is how their love affair began. It might seem terrible today for two men to share a woman without complaint, but during the early 1900s in Europe it, was considered unseemly for men to rival each other for a woman. And if one man wanted to sleep with another man’s lover or even a wife, the husband in question should consider the offer a compliment, that another man would want his wife/lover. It was the culture at the time.
Coco leaves Balsan, because he wants her to be his alone, and to have no other features. He wants her to become his wife and she says no. She wants a different future for herself. Boy is the man who supports her career ambitions. He lends her money to start her own business. With the money to launch her own creations on a consistent basis Coco Chanel leads the world of fashion in two manners. First, she lessens the differences in clothing when it comes to class. Her outfits are simple and chic. Second, she lessens the difference in clothing when it comes to gender. Her boyish, elegant simplicity is trademark of all her fashions. Her ideals matched wide sweeping sentiments toward womens' rights at the time.
Coco Chanel is not all hero. The movie does not disclose her anti-Jewish sentiment, she is reputed to have had. Still, despite her drawbacks of character, Chanel lead the world of fashion into incredible changes, that are very visible today.
By Sarah Bahl