Monday, April 26, 2010

Cinematically the Waist

Now, Voyager (1942)
Starring Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid
Directed by Irving Rapper
Costumes by Orry-Kelly

The power of clothes to transform one's sense of self, i.e. the makeover effect, has been explored for ages. Shaw's Pygmalion, every cycle of Top Model, Nicole Richie...and one of the best examples is this little melodramatic gem starring the one and only Bette Davis.

For the love of god, does anyone have a set of tweezers?

Garnering one of her 11 Oscar nominations, Davis plays perennial spinster Charlotte Vale. Charlotte is dowdy, has an unruly brow, drinks clandestinely to cope with life (no judgement there, sister) and has never met an unflattering floral house dress she didn't like. Constantly under the thumb of her overbearing mother (the wonderful Gladys Cooper), Charlotte has no hope or confidence.

No, these aren't shoulder pads. Why? Jealous?

Enter psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Raines) who valiantly rescues Charlotte from her despair. Feeling better, and with a new wardrobe in tow, Charlotte embarks on a cruise where she meets handsome Jerry Durrance (Henreid).

This isn't the only thing I'm good at sucking on if you catch my drift...

The two fall in love and Charlotte's transformation is complete. However, there's only one problem: the bastard's married. They decide to ignore their love for one another and live their lives separately.

That's right, take it in. Touch this skin, honey. Touch all of this skin.

Meanwhile, Charlotte returns home and gags everyone with her stunning transformation. No longer cowing to her mother, Charlotte stands up to her and soon begins attracting suitors. However, when her mother dies from a heart attack after one of their arguments, Charlotte runs back to Jaquith where she meets Jerry's daughter, Tina, also under the good doctor's care.

Did I just wander into a middle school production of The Hours and are you little Virginia Woolf?

Seeing herself in the shy, homely girl, Charlotte takes Jerry's daughter under her wing and helps her to come out of her shell. Charlotte and Tina become inseparable and Charlotte takes the girl home with her.

What's in this? Chronic? Hashish? Cuz I am FUCKED up.

Jerry and Charlotte are then reunited, but theirs is a love that can never be. However, Charlotte remains a force in Tina's life on the grounds that she and Jerry end their affair for good. And they part with the classic line: "Don't let's ask for the moon; we have the stars."

Turn. It. Tranny.

Charlotte's transformation is not just about her clothes, but they are an essential part of the equation. The clothes seldom make the woman, but what's better to turn a frown upside down than a new outfit?

Yeah, that's right, I just lit my cigarette on a dead homeless man. And I killed him. Who's gonna judge me?

Originally, Charlotte could care less about fashion, but once draped in Orry-Kelly's chic ensembles, she becomes a lady of style and sophistication. Yes, one's transformation must begin from the inside, but if the outside's still the same, the change is incomplete; it's not as believable or as profound. And if there's one thing clothes are good for, it's making a profound statement.

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