Tag Archives: Films

A Family Affair: Mozart’s Sister

Eclipsed by her brother’s prodigious talents, constrained by the limitations placed on her sex, and fueled by her passion for music, Maria Anna Mozart’s forgotten story is positively brimming with conflict. 

Or is it?

As the eldest child, the woman her family affectionately called Nannerl was originally the family star, but she soon took a second seat to her  brother.  In the 18th century, women didn’t compose; they performed.  Likewise, they were restricted as to which instruments they were permitted to play, including the violin–what her father calls a “boy’s instrument.” 

Nannerl pursued her music, regardless.  At an early age, she became accomplished at the harpsichord and the fortepiano, but no matter her talents, social impediments prevented her from what might have been a distinguished talent.  Marriage was of the utmost importance to Nannerl’s future, and she was expected to fulfill her obligations like every other woman alive.  That pesky little problem aside, Nannerl’s relationship with music was a source of joy in her life.  Mozart looked up to his big sister, from childhood desiring to be like her, and they enjoyed a close relationship for many years.  Sources disagree as to whether this mutual adoration continued until Mozart’s death in 1791.

Talent-wise, evidence of her composing is mentioned in her letters to Mozart, but these informal compositions would not have been approved of for a public concert.  As her work has withered out of existence, we can no longer know the true scope of her talents, but the film allows us to imagine Nannerl being dragged across European courts, playing second piano as it were, and experiencing a full spectrum of emotions of which we shall only have to guess.  I personally think the lady looks like she’s got a bit of moxie beneath that mischevious smile.

A lush period piece, Mozart’s Sister is an imagined portrait of Nannerl, the question being “what if?”  The film is in French and currently has a limited U.S. release .  If you can’t wait for the dvd, there have been a number of books published, including Mozart’s Sister by Rita Chabonnier, Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser, and In Mozart’s Shadow by Caroline Meyer (YA). 

Watch the movie trailer

Watch the exclusive clip


18th Century Costume Archives: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Part III

The redingote costume above is a close replica of George Morland’s engraving, The Squire’s Door, 1790 (below).  Bonaham’s version has been given an extra ruffle at both the collar and the jacket’s hem.   Most other redingotes around this time period use a single floor length coat instead of what appears here as a separate jacket and skirt, although it could very well be one piece.  Take note of the plain style cravat instead of the elaborate ruff worn by the women below.  The  modified tricorne hat is also pared down and the hair looks to be clubbed, or tied back, with a black ribbon.  Both of these styles are very masculine and as such, atypical on a woman.  A little artistic licensing done here to illustrate independence in the character.

Lady Worsley (above) made the redingote famous by wearing this regimental riding habit while camped with her husband and his South Hampshire militia at Coxheath in 1778.  As Coxheath became a gathering place for the ton with the likes of the fashionable Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Clermont, Lady Jersey, Lady Melbourne and Mrs. Crewe all dressed en militaire to suppord their husbands’ cause.  Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Worsley in 1779 after his visit to Coxheath.

Line drawings of the redingote’s evolution can be found at Fashion-Era, from the early 1700s to 1895.

Also see:  18th Century Costume Archives: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Part I and Part II.


18th Century Costume Archives: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Part II

On account of a rapidly moving screen, these movie stills leave something to be desired but bear with me, it’s worth the squinty eye I’m going to force upon you.  Helena Bonaham Carter, right, wears an amazing post 1789 Fall of the Bastille gown here.   It’s the sort of gown one wouldn’t have seen before this period.  First of all, it’s striped with huge pink revers (lapels showing the lining facing out).  Second and third, a matching pink stomacher, which I suspect is more of a corset, sports an exaggerated upside down triangle design and the petticoat is not just peeking out, it’s front and center.  Whatever’s dangling from her waist reminds me of a man’s fob, but upon closer review, I think they are silhouettes.  Either that or she’s wearing sentimental trinkets displaying a favorite person or thing.   From an historical perspective, these initally grew in popularity thanks to Marie Antoinette and her elaborate poufs and of course, were similiar to carrying a beloved’s miniature.

A  Closer Look

The French Revolution brought about numerous fashion changes including a preponderance of stripes.  Why, you ask?  Stripes were the outgrowth of the patriotric “constitutional costume” and openly displayed one’s support for the fall of the ancien regime.  The national symbol for the revolution, the tricolor cockade, were concentric stripes, red, white and blue.  Working class women wore striped skirts.  San-culottes and men of political affiliations donned striped stockings.  The list goes on and on. 

If you are so inclined, The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes can fill your head with more than you ever needed to know about stripes, from the 13th century onward!

Read Part I of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Costume Archives.

18th Century Costume Archives: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Part I

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) is a surprisingly rich costume resource.  The gowns worn by Helena Bonaham Carter stretch the period of 1773 to the mid 1790s, this particular pink froth representative of the 1780s.  It has the typical 3/4 length sleeves, the lacey engageantes, and ribbon/embroidery on either side of the stomacher.  Of note, the gown’s color is on the bright side, a salmony pink, which would have been worn by the gentry as rich dyes flaunted their dear expense. 

The row of échelles (literally “ladders” in French, sometimes spelled eschelles in English) down the bodice is one of Madame de Pompadour’s contributions to fashion.  Although it’s hard to see from the picture above, the bows decrease in size down the length of the stomacher, emphasizing the slender tuck of a woman’s waist.  They were a popular adornment for the period, worn well past the time of Pompadour’s death in 1764.

Detail of Pompadour stomacher, Boucher, 1759


The Picture Silhouettes of Lotte Reiniger

An artist working in the 20th century, Lotte Reiniger found her inspiration in Chinese shadow puppetry.  In 1926, she pioneered silhouette animation(take that, disney!) by creating the first full length animation film in, The Adventures of Prince Achmed.  To say it’s beautiful is an understatement.  However much our modern eyes are used to 3D, Reiniger’s early images still retain their ability to whisk viewers away with evocative fairy tale landscapes, spindly gossamer creatures, and intricate storyboards. 

Watch The Art of Lotte Reiniger if you’re of the particularly curious or visual sort.  Otherwise, here follows the rundown.  

Her technique, if time-consuming, is charmingly simple:  black cardboard cutout figures, assembled piece by piece and pinned together by wire hinges at joints to allow for movement.  The figures are then reinforced with flat lead pieces,  finished by rolling it flat, and placed on the animation table which is essentially glass, transparent paper, and atop that, the silhouettes.  Light is shone from underneath, all other light extinguished.  The figure can now be manipulated, the shot, taken, then the action repeated until the scene is captured. 

In motion, the silhouettes remind me of pinocchio,loose limbed, but instead of being clunky, their movements possess fluidity.  Even static, they are wonderful to see. 

The labor required for Reiniger’s silhouettes was incredible–not only did she draw the figures, planning for scene and movement, she cut them out by hand.  Lazy me can’t even write in my journal for five minutes without getting hand cramps! 

Anywho, come back later this week for a post to learn more about silhouettes!  Their origin resides in the 18th century where partygoers used to amused themselves with this delightful pasttime.

18th Century Costume Archives: Amazing Grace

Romola Garai as Barbara Spooner is Amazing Grace (2006)

A stunning 1780s recreation in the redingote style complete with a Gainsborough hat, aubergine riding coat, kid gloves, and what looks to be an embroidered cotton or linen petticoat.  This ladies’ redingote is a bit usual given the coat is short rather than being full length.  This allows the petticoat to take center stage.  Interestingly, redingotes for women first appear in the latter 1780’s so Spooner is on the mark!

As a side note, Romola Garai’s hair here is absolutely perfect for the period: large sausage curls trailing over her shoulders, smaller curls teased in a bouffant.


The Lady and The Duke – A Review

Watching The Lady and the Duke is a unique if yawn-inducing experience.  I can’t say I’ve seen anything like it before.  The film is experimental—layered paintings in the foreground, a nearly static camera, an aesthetic and haunting recreation of the French Revolution that would be difficult, if impossible, to achieve with built sets.  The effect summons the viewer to step into a classical painting with moveable characters, yet simultaneously leaves the viewer short of interaction. 

On that account, the film is a disappointment.  One does, however, get the sense of New Wave director Eric Rohmer’s vision.  He succeeds in horrifying the viewer through the rampant violence and suspicion surrounding the heroine, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Scotswoman and lover of Duc  d’Orleans, cousin to the king.  Working as the framework, her journals, upon which the movie is based, begin on Bastille Day, July 14, 1789 and end with the fall of Robespierre.

Grace is around thirty years of age when the film opens off Rue Miromesnil.  The chaos of the revolution has awakened and the Duc d’Orleans, no longer lover but dear friend, arrives for one of his many visits  Despite the conversational plotting—table, chairs, and talking heads in a room—Rohmer’s subtlety in achieving his message is what kept me watching.  He refrains from explicitly pinning down the conflict and although Grace develops an increasingly political voice, her outbursts appear that of a woman overwhelmed. 

Through her eyes we see the Princesse de Lamballe’s ghastly green head stuck on a pike; the ghost streets after curfew, barely restrained violence buzzing off guards as they march through the city.  Later, the ragtag band searches her house, as they do every other house in the city.  She is undressed in her bed, hiding the Marquis Champcenetz at her side, when the theme of what it means to be a good patriot takes hold of the film.  Perhaps I’ve been watching too many WWII films, but it reminded me of how the Nazi party controlled their army and the public: denounce suspected enemies of state, cry out in favor of treason at the first whiff of foul play, and keep your head by surrendering another’s—all things Grace is unwilling to do.

For Grace this proves a dangerous stance, but the Duc d’Orleans’ is more perilous.  He is fond of new, emboldened ideas, but falls short of leading their implementation, a trait which places him as the unfortunate figurehead of a revolutionary faction.  As the introduction to Grace’s journals puts it, “. . . it was necessary to group all disappointed and newly born ambitions around the Duc d’Orleans, sow gold to produce popularity, slander the queen and her entourage so as to finally put the king, already deprived of a portion of his nobility and at war with his Parliament, alone, face to face with the people.  The Duc d’Orleans was then to come forward as lieutenant of the Kingdom and interpose between the nation and the King, and they would control the government.”

Although aware of his hatred for Marie Antoinette and the Versailles Court, Grace maintains his noble senses will save his neck.  Not so.  The Revolution is out for blood, and as the film suggests, everyone—Jacobin, Girondin, Royalist—is suspect.  After all, the duke is a dog without teeth, trespassing where nobody really belongs.  

Bottom Line:

Like Grace’s journals, the film explores the little known character of the Duc d’Orleans.  It may be worth watching for the visual feast, but at two hours and nine minutes, don’t bother unless a) you are a Rohmer fan, b) you’ve read (or want to read) Grace Elliott’s journals, or c) like me, you’re a French Revolution nut.  Costume wise, it does have some stunning striped dresses.

7 Kiss Scenes to Heat Up…Your Writing

Stumped on how to write a moving kissing scene? Here are 7 types to get the juices flowing. Just don’t end up drooling on your own hand while, ahem, “practicing”! And remember, one of the best parts about writing is involving one’s partner (or if dealing with a lack thereof, an unassuming friend, a random and willing stranger, hell, maybe even your neighbor’s garden gnome) in research. Hey, honey . . .

The Kisses

1.  The angsty, “I’ve loved you so long, but wanted you longer,” kiss.  Also known as, “You might be dating my brother, but in another life I was dating you, and damn, I think I just stopped caring.”

2.  What do you get when you combine a fragile, doe-eyed girl human with a boy-rock-band-bodied vamp?  The “I don’t want to hurt you, I want to eat you, but no! we can’t . . . can’t . . . can’t . . . oh, yes!” kiss.  P.S. Ms. Meyer, I know you’re writing for teens, but I can’t help it.  When Bella and Edward’s sexual tension explodes and you fade to black, I’m holding that against you.  Kinky creatures that they are, I don’t think vampires would approve and I don’t either!

3.  In short, ugly girl Penelope becomes a swan, but Scottish guy already thought she was beautiful, pig nose and all.  Ah, sweet.  No, spicy!  I could be wrong here, but I think James McAvoy can kiss with the best of them. 

 4.  The “I’m drenched, you’re drenched, and we’re so mercurial together, the weather’s mimicking our mood” kiss.  Pride and Prejudice, you get the award for the hottest kiss that wasn’t. 

5. The passionately angry, long time coming kiss.  Summarized as:

Allie:    “I waited for seven years! Now it’s too late.”

Noah:   “It wasn’t over.   It’s still not over.” 

Me: Swoon

Click to watch video

6.  The fated and mated kiss.  Who would’ve thought animations could be hot?

7.  The slightly subversive meets secret yearnings kiss. As somebody wrote on the youtube comments, “Why can’t that be my leg?!”  Bittersweet, tender, and yet sizzling.  Now that’s my style.

Know of any scintillating kiss scenes that set the bar high? Do share! I’d love to hear about which ones you find memorable and romantic.

18th Century Makeup Link

I’ll be on a blog holiday until around the end of the first week in February or so.  To leave you with a little something, I stumbled across this wonderful site of makeup examples from the 18th century and beyond. In addition to before and afters for modern day actresses and their period counterparts, The Makeup Gallery also has some wonderful movie suggestions, some of which are unfortunately unavailable stateside, but it’s a great jumping off point if you’re looking to broaden your 18th century movie horizon.


Red Lobsters, Robin Redbreasts, and Thief Takers

18th Century Word of the Day: Raw Lobsters and Robin Redbreasts

Are they:

A.  Edible, but questionably delicious

B.  Crustaceans, birds, or other animal kingdom variety

C.  Bow Street Runners

D.  All of the above

If you answered A, you are correct.  Well, technically its C (and moreover D) but murderers in eighteenth century London did have a predilection for biting of the noses of their victims during the act of strangulation.  Gruesome, aye?


Established in the 1750’s at No. 4 Bow Street, Raw Lobsters and Robin Redbreasts refer to Henry Fielding’s Bow Street Runners because as you might have guessed, they wore red.  Vests, that is.  As much as I’d love to show you a picture in color, I’m afraid we’re stuck with b&w.  You’ll just have to imagine how well they would’ve matched the crime scene.  I wonder if that was intentional.

Bow Street Runners, William Hogarth, Cruelty in Perfection

Bow Street


Henry Fielding, author of Tom Jones and his half brother, John Fielding (below) founders of Bow Street Runners.

Sir John Fielding by Nathaniel Hone

And, no, John Fielding is not a ninja warrior.  Great misfortune.  He’s actually blind and that is what the black band signifies.

If you’re curious about these two fellows and about Bow Street Runners in an eat popcorn and slurp on cola kind of way, rent City of Vice, a  Britsy mini-series that uses historical records as a basis for their tales.  This show does, however, contain flights of whimsy so just don’t nitpick.   It’ll ruin the whole sordid experience.