Superhero Saturday: The Women in Phase One – ‘Avengers Assembled’

Now that we’re winding down our Superhero Saturday posts I thought that I’d focus on the women featured in the set of films in the Marvel Universe that have been titled ‘Phase One’. So this really means no X-Men characters or Mary-Jane Watson or Gwen Stacy or Invisible Girl. I’m going to look at the female characters from the films, JUST the films, leading up to Avengers Assemble. There may be spoilers so if you haven’t seen a film just scroll past!

Iron Man (2008)

The first Iron Man film only has two female characters worth mentioning: Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb).

Pepper Potts in 'Iron Man'We first see Pepper handing dry-cleaning to Christine and escorting her out of the building. Then Pepper spends most of the film mothering and pining over Stark. Having said that, she’s still a highly intelligent, motivated woman. Her career may have been slightly stalled by her love for one man but she made the best of her situation. And she helps with the final fight by using her wits to unveil Stane’s true plans and then drawing Agent Coulson in to help. With someone dangerous hovering near her she is able to think on her feet and act quickly. I don’t think I’d have the calmness that she did. And don’t forget her helping to replace Stark’s arc reactor and he announces that he “doesn’t have anyone else”.

Christine Everhart in 'Iron Man'Christine starts off looking like a dedicated, intrepid investigative reporter. That doesn’t last very long. Sadly she then reverts to one of Stark’s one-night stands. She tries to make a comeback by using her reporting skills and, actually, if it wasn’t for her then Stark might not have found out about Stane’s evil plans. I do kind of wish that she hadn’t gone through the stereotypical sleeping with her investigative subject though. (Maybe that’s one reason Hammer was so keen to be her subject in Iron Man 2.)

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Betty Ross in 'The Incredible Hulk'We pretty much just have Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). And that’s nothing to rave about really. As I mentioned when we attended the Avengers marathon at The PCC, The Incredible Hulk was my least favourite film – and the audience’s from the reactions throughout. And a lot of the disappointment came from Liv Tyler. Betty has a few strong moments but for much of the film she just seems to be controlled by her father. Obviously not all female characters have to be strong, not all male characters are strong, but when you are the only female character to speak of, with an army general a father and the love interest of ‘The Hulk’, you expect a bit more.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Back to Iron Man and we have a new female addition to Pepper and Christine: Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson).

Pepper Potts in 'Iron Man 2' Pepper gets to take on a much stronger role in this film. Yes, it’s mostly because Stark gives her the job as CEO but she does a great job with it; including removing Stark when necessary. She no longer needs to “look after” him as part of her job – that responsibility belongs to Natalie. Pepper can concentrate on proving herself in the job that she has been doing behind the scenes for years. This film shows Pepper’s emotional strength. She may need saving by Tony in the end but she is instrumental in helping save members of the public and having Hammer arrested. This may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things but when you realise that Pepper has no special powers and only her wits and bravery you’ve got to give her points for that.

Christine Everhart in 'Iron Man 2'Christine returns briefly but her only purpose seems to be to further the rivalry between Stark and Justin Hammer. She has no investigative journalism input and doesn’t seem to aid the plot in any way. This is a little disappointing because we saw some sign of her intelligence and skill in Iron Man but all we have here is bickering, the attempt to witness arguments between Stark and Hammer and to get an interview with Pepper for Vanity Fair’s ‘Powerful Women’ edition. Saying more about Pepper than Christine.

Natalie Rushman in 'Iron Man 2'Natalie’s role is a little more interesting. She starts out as Natalie Rushman – the over-qualified, ex-model, assistant to Stark. Having said that, the first time we meet Natalie it becomes clear that she can take care of herself after beating Happy in a boxing ring without breaking a sweat. Then (no surprise to the audience who was alerted to her true identity at casting stages) we find out that she is really Natasha Romanoff, working undercover for Nick Fury. From this point she becomes key in the world of SHIELD but remains slightly on the periphery, but does play a key role in saving Rhodey from Vanko’s control. Then she’s gone. Just disappears. But then, that’s what spies are meant to do. The role always felt slightly like a trailer for Natasha’s role in Avengers Assemble. She is very capable but never seemed entirely necessary to “watch over” Stark when they realised he was ill. Her best work as ‘Natalie’, rather than Natasha, is when she works for Pepper not Stark – two strong women together in a male dominated industry.

Thor (2011)

Thor has many more female characters than you may initially remember. We have the obvious Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) but there is also Frigga (Rene Russo) and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings).

Jane Foster in 'Thor'Jane’s interest in Thor stemmed from a scientific angle. He somehow landed on Earth and she wants to find out how, why and what he knows. Then she wants to help him and get ‘revenge’ on SHIELD. Her motives are never initially romantic so when a romance does unfold it feels more worthwhile and less forced. Her main role in the film is to help to humanise Thor by giving him a greater understand of the world (both his and ours) and of people. Although she isn’t involved in any great battle she enables Thor to win his; for the right reasons.

Sif in 'Thor'Sif is one of the warriors on Asgard – the only female warrior as far as we can tell. All she has wanted to do is to fight for her world and be seen as a strong fighter rather than “just” a woman. She has followed Thor into battle many times (including into the forbidden Jotunheim) and comes to Earth, along with the Warriers Three (Fandral, Volstagg and Hogan) to help Thor return to Asgard and stop Loki. Sif was willing to die in the battle against The Destroyer if Thor hadn’t convinced her to run. To live and tell her own stories.

Frigga in 'Thor'Frigga gets a little bit of a short shrift in Thor but she still gets moments to shine. We first see her taking amusement in Thor’s brash walk to his planned coronation. We don’t see her again until she tries to explain to Loki that he is still her and Odin’s son – despite his true birth. She is a consummate mother. Then we see her try to protect Odin against the Frost Giants. They are dangerous foes but she manages to strike one down before Loki defeats Laufey. Sadly, Frigga ends mourning her son and maybe never knowing completely how far he had strayed. This is what we shall discover in Thor: The Dark World.

Darcy Lewis in 'Thor'Darcy is the more average girl. A student who has taken on Jane’s study for the college credits; despite being a political science student. She likes Thor because he’s hot and funny. She is snarky but still seems to have developed a fondness for Jane and Selvig. And she helps save the inhabitants of New Mexico when The Destroyer attacks. That’s something we could all do.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

This film may have my absolute favourite female character from this universe: Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Sadly, she is really the only female character beyond the briefly seen, disastrously for Steve and Peggy, Private Lorraine (Natalie Dormer).

Peggy Carter in 'Captain America: The First Avenger'The first time we see Peggy she is calling new recruits to attention and punching one who wouldn’t accept her superiority. Strong enough entrance? Pretty sure she wins there. Throughout the film she takes a hands-on approach to training the new recruits and fighting battles. She even goes against Colonel Phillips’ orders by taking Rogers, with Howard Stark’s help, to enemy territory. Breaking rules may not seem like that big a deal but in the army it can be career ending. That’s bravery and then some. That decision also helped Rogers to believe in himself in the way that Erskine believed in him. She helped Rogers to fully become Captain America.

Private Lorraine in 'Captain America: The First Avenger'Private Lorraine has a horrible role to play – to separate Rogers and Peggy. Why? So that they’re not a couple when Rogers goes off to attack Hydra’s base and he can “earn” her respect back before their one and only kiss. She has clearly worked hard to get to her position in the army but all we get her used for is the mildest attempt at a love triangle; following the failed attempt at a Stark love triangle.

Avengers Assemble (2012)

We have the return of Natasha, now splitting more fully into her Black Widow persona, a brief return of Pepper and the introduction of Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

Natasha Romanoff in 'Avengers Assemble'We meet Natasha apparently held hostage by Russian terrorists. But then we see that she’s playing stupid to allow their pride to take over with revealing answers. And that she beats them all despite being tied to a chair. Her first responsibility is to recruit Bruce Banner. This is not an easy task and shows how much faith and trust SHIELD have in this spy. Throughout the film we see her taking on tough odds whether they be the cause, to rub out the red in her ledger or to help her friend (Hawkeye). We also see aspects of her spying in her using the expected female vulnerability against people. Is this playing to female stereotype or playing to male weakness? The assumption that women are weak and emotional… There is one key scene where it’s spelled out to the audience that she’s a spy and not a soldier and yet here she is willingly going to war. She has made bad choices in her life but is now trying to make amends.

Pepper Potts in 'Avengers Assemble'Pepper’s appearance is very brief. We see her convince Stark to follow his heart in helping Coulson, we see her fear at the news footage of the battle in New York and then helping Stark redesign their damaged home. What can we learn from her here? Both times we see her she is concerned about Stark but she is also busy working as the CEO and furthering their clean energy projects. A confident and happy career woman with a seemingly healthy home life.

Maria Hill in 'Avengers Assemble'Agent Maria Hill is the first female character we encounter in Avengers Assemble. We see her interacting with Nick Fury and Coulson, already established within the Marvel universe, so she needs to mark herself out fairly quickly. She is clearly a woman in power. After Loki’s attack on the base she takes it on herself to follow Hawkeye and Loki. After this she went back to try to save any trapped SHIELD workers. Maria may not have had too much more involvement despite a few great shots when the Helicarrier was attacked but that’s due more to the fact that the film is called The Avengers. With her appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and its greater focus on SHIELD, there is more of a chance of her character having the chance to shine.

And that’s the end of Phase One. Phase Two is well underway with Iron Man 3 already released, Thor: The Dark World due to be released in November, Captain America: The Winter Soldier filming, Guardians of the Galaxy due to start filming in the next few months and Avengers 2 due to film early next year. We’ve had cases of interesting female characters so far with Thor probably boasting the most, but with characters now appearing in other films (Black Widow and Maria Hill both in The Winter Soldier along with the return of Peggy and the new Agent 13) hopefully these strong characters will continue.

Final Note on The Bechdel Test

Helen referenced this when looking at female sitcom stars and it occurred to me to mention it here. There are three basic rules:

  1. There has to be at least two named female characters
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man.

If you go through the Marvel Phase One films the result is a little depressing, if not altogether surprising when you see the “vast” range of female characters.

There is debate as to whether Iron Man passed all three rules because of the conversation Pepper and Christine have but, to me, it is so clearly about Stark that it means it gains only two out of three.

The Incredible Hulk passed one test. There is another named female character (Major Kathleen Sparr) but she and Betty never interact.

Iron Man 2 passed three out of three because of Pepper and Natalie’s brief business discussion (and possible Pepper and Christine discussing the Vanity Fair article).

Then we come to Thor where it easily passed three out of three.

Despite the strength of Peggy’s character in Captain America: The First Avenger, the film only passed one out of three – for the two named female characters.

And finally we come to Avengers Assemble. Only passed one out of three. There are three strong named female characters. Who never interact with each other.

Out of the six Phase One films we have two films successfully passing the Bechdel test even if some of the other films still contain strong female characters. We’ll see what happens with Phase Two. (Iron Man 3 passed three out of three.)

S x

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Red Carpet Watch: The Serpentine Gallery Summer Party 2013

There haven’t been many RCW posts in a while…sorry. And this one is pretty late but after seeing some of the outfits (via Vogue) I thought it was worth having a late post to include my favourites. L'Wren Scott wearing her own design As the party was hosted by L’Wren Scott and Sarah Jessica Parker there were numerous counts of Scott’s designs being worn. But when you’re the designer of course you’re going to wear one of your designs! This is definitely not a dress to wear to fade into the background but that’s never been Scott’s style anyway. This dress is ostentatious and over-the-top and I love it. The black sequin panel detailing is great and references the ’20s and ’20s and who doesn’t love that? Karen Elson wearing L'Wren Scott Karen Elson’s L’Wren Scott dress is a very interesting choice for her. Purely because she is so naturally pale that this very light gold dress barely registers. It’s the white swirls that make it pop and the red detailing on her shoes that pull the whole outfit together matching the brightness of her hair. It’s a risky look but I really like it. Kate Moss wearing a Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket Kate Moss makes this list mostly because of that Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket. I’m very predictable like that. It works great against the floor-length flowing dress. Yes, black is a little obvious for Moss and this is meant to be a summer party but as we’ve had about two days of summer I guess we can let her off for that. Leah Wood wearing Just Cavalli At first glance I didn’t like Leah Wood’s Just Cavalli dress but it’s really grown on me. I was initially drawn by the jacket (of course) and the way that the sharp lines work against the flared hem of the dress. And I really like the pale colours. I don’t even mind the white heels – probably the gold heel has sold them for me. It stops them from looking too “90s Essex”. Hayley Atwell wearing L'Wren ScottDo I need to justify inclusion of Hayley Atwell in a L’Wren Scott dress? Really? The cut of the dress, the pattern, the shoes, Atwell. Sold. Joanne Froggatt wearing L'Wren Scott This is a very simple L’Wren Scott dress for Joanne Froggatt but as we’re used to seeing her in a maid’s costume it’s nice to se anything else. The cur of the dress is classic but when you actually look at the dress and see the beautiful embroidery you can completely understand Froggatt’s choice. And I don’t mind the shoes. Quite like them… Sarah Jessica Parker wearing Naeem Khan The Great Gatsby may have left cinema screens but its presence is still felt on the fashion circuit. Here Sarah Jessica Parker is wearing a Naeem Khan dress. That’s right – not a L’Wren Scott dress. The ’20s style dress works perfectly for Parker’s figure. And it does look great – a much simpler outfit than we’re used to seeing Parker wearing. Especially when you think of her Carrie costumes and choices that directly connected with Carrie. Clara Paget Clara Paget wearing a leopard print maxi dress. I love it. That is all. Jessie Ware wearing L'Wren Scott Jessie Ware’s L’Wren Scott ensemble might be a little matchy-matchy but it kind of works becuase of the ’50s vibe it gives off. I think what could be getting in the way is the matching clutch. A plain coloured bag would keep the attention on the dress and jacket without hurting your eyes so much. I applaud the bravery though. And she does look great in the dress with its amazing print and wonderful cut. Portia Freeman wearing L'Wren Scott Portia Freeman wearing a L’Wren Scott dress that is fairly different from the other Scott dresses chosen. Another black dress (pretend it’s summer?) but this full-length dress definitely fits into the evening dress category more than a maxi-dress summer dress category. The best points of the outfit are the lace detailing at the neckline, the gold panel on the clutch and those bright green nails. That’s where summer comes in. Georgia May Jagger wearing L'Wren ScottA red sequin dress (L’Wren Scott) worn with Georgia May Jagger’s classic red lipstick. What’s not to love? Well, the shoes maybe…but I’m always picky about shoes anyway. Like many of the Scott dresses worn, the cut of them is fairly simple but well constructed leaving the print or design to take over. The dresses can be worn by pretty much anyone without looking too overpowering (except maybe Scott’s own choice). These were my favourite dresses from the party but there were a number of other great dresses but they just didn’t make the cut! S x

My 5 Favourite Episodes of ‘Marple’

If, like me, you’ve been watching the new Poirot and Marple episodes on ITV you will be as disappointed as me that they have stopped again. Months ago I looked at my favourite episodes of Poirot (and in case you were wondering, Elephants Can Remember wasn’t particularly close to making the list) so I thought it was time to look at my favourite Marple episodes. To start off I must say that I am only looking at the ITV series of Marple from 2004 – present, not any of the films or the Joan Hickson BBC adaptations. This series had a lot of criticism regarding blatant plot changing or the insertion of Miss Marple into stories that she was never written into. For me, I take them mostly as I find them. They are fun, hokey, sometimes accurate, mostly great performances and more Agatha Christie adaptations just make me happy. So I now give you my list of five favourite episodes. Spoiler alert, there are no Julia McKenzie episodes. This is just how the chips have fallen. 5. Towards Zero (2008) Towards Zero Coming up with my “final” favourite episode was hard (and yes this feels like it’s the reverse order to be talking about somehow) because I wanted to try and avoid choosing another episode from the first two series of Marple. I was very close to choosing Murder is Easy (might have something to do with Benedict Cumberbatch in it…but also I love Anna Chancellor), but I prefer the story in this one. Miss Marple doesn’t appear in the novel ‘Towards Zero’ but this only means that she plays a key part in solving the mystery – as you would expect with Miss Marple, and with a detective played by Alan Davies. When you really go into the plot of Towards Zero there is true malice and darkness to it which is greatly contrasted with the persona of Miss Marple. I like that comparison. And shallow reasons? Take a look at Kay and Audrey Strange’s dresses (played by Zoe Tapper and Saffron Burrows respectively). Mostly beautiful all of the time. Having the Marple episodes constantly set in the ’50s means that there is a sense of consistency with the show (compared with the books ageing with the time period) and allows for the differences with Poirot to exist. And preventing the two characters from ever meeting. We hope. 4. The Body in the Library (2004) The Body in the Library This was the first episode of the ITV series. It didn’t have great responses mostly because the murderer was changed at the end. Everything else was pretty much the same with a few omissions to allow for the running time. There were mixed feelings about McEwan as Jane Marple, mostly from people who hold Joan Hickson as “the” Miss Marple, but I love her. She’s cheeky, fun, and completely plays into the doddery old woman role – particularly around the policemen. The plot of ‘The Body in the Library’ is really interesting but is still fairly ridiculous when you think about it! Moving on from that, the cast is pretty great her. Joanna Lumley is so much fun as Dolly Bantry and steals most of the scenes – just watch her downing a cocktail for no apparent reason. I adore Jack Davenport as Superintendent Harper and Ben Miller playing it up as Basil Blake. Just watch and enjoy it! 3. Murder at the Vicarage (2004) Murder at the Vicarage This episode may have been intended as the first episode because the first shots seem to be setting up Miss Marple as a “new” character (and with the little fake back story they set up). As far as the general plot of the murder goes this adaptation is “faithful” – same motive, murderer and method. It also simplifies a few points;  to allow for the running time just like with The Body in the Library. Giving Miss Marple a romantic backstory seems to be a way of connecting her more emotionally with the murderer and giving her a stronger moral setting. It could also be seen as a further way of separating her from the Joan Hickson and Margaret Rutherford portrayal’s. The love story is only shown in this episode and never featured or mentioned again. When you take it in the context of this adaptation you can understand it. We also have another case of some great cast members and costumes. I am particularly fond of Lettice Protheroe (Christina Cole) and Griselda Clement’s (Rachael Stirling) costumes. And its fun seeing Jason Flemyng (as Lawrence Redding) in a period drama and not a Guy Ritchie/Matthew Vaughn film! It’s a little unexpected the first time you see him. This adaptation also does a good job of showing the nature of a little village like St Mary Mead with a particularly great performance by Miriam Margolyes (has she ever given a bad performance?) as Mrs Price-Ridley. This kind of atmosphere is what Agatha Christie’s Marple stories are famous for. There is always something going on in a village. Under the surface. 2. A Murder is Announced (2005) A Murder is Announced Another Zoe Wanamaker episode. But not as Ariadne Oliver this time. This is a great story if for the subtle clues. Once you know the ending you’re aware of them earlier on (just like with the book) but when you watch it cold I don’t think you’d guess. With these earlier episodes it’s funny to see the cast members who wouldn’t be appearing in this kind of drama now – I point you to Matthew Goode here. The surrounding characters were altered a little from the book but all the basics that allow for the murder plot to be solved are all present. 1. The Moving Finger (2006) The Moving Finger So now we’ve come to my favourite adaptation. Again, not massively faithful but also not wildly different. In the novel, Miss Marple doesn’t appear until well into the story. That just wouldn’t work for a TV adaptation about Miss Marple – she was also introduced much earlier in the Joan Hickson adaptation. The characters are all present and accounted for with Jerry and Joanna Burton (James D’Arcy and Emilia Fox) looking wonderfully out of place in Lymstock – Joanna particularly. This is probably why I enjoy her character so much. She is much more “shocking” than the Joanna in the Hickson adaptation. This episode may also be a case of the best cast members – Ken Russell as a Reverend, Frances de la Tour as his wife, Harry Enfield as a solicitor, Sean Pertwee as a country doctor, Jessica Stevenson as his sister and Keith Allen as the detective. And because of the importance of the female characters we once again have some more great costumes. Kelly Brook has some beautiful ’50s dresses, as does Emilia Fox and even Talulah Riley gets her moments. (I used to hate her final costume but it’s slowly been growing on me…) And James D’Arcy as the damaged war veteran with alcohol problems from London also gets some great suits – enough to continue to make him seem slightly too modern for Lymstock. Final points? Just about the costumes for Geraldine McEwan’s Jane Marple. I love them. There is a clear consistency throughout her episodes whether it’s just the general old-fashioned 1910/20s silhouette or particular features. Even in the photos I’ve chosen you can see the same cardigan with cross-over buttons, the same hats in different colours, her heart-shaped magnifying glass around her neck, similar blouses. This is all part of her character. To try to dress her in ’50s silhouettes would be ridiculous. A woman of her age wouldn’t be trying to be modern. She would continue to wear the clothes she has and she likes. It’s also worth pointing out that a similarly great job has been done with Julia McKenzie’s costume. Their portrayal of Miss Marple is different and so should their costumes. I quite enjoyed the adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery (but I still think it works better in book form – it always seems too obvious to me on screen), the Greenshaw’s Folly adaptation was interesting but not one of the bests. I ahve high hopes for Endless Night because it is one of my favourite Christie novels – but possibly very hard to pull off. Especially with the insertion of Miss Marple… Any thoughts about the Marple series? From fans of Agatha Christie or from those who have never read her books but like the show? S x

The Apprentice, Episode 9 – DTSFT Roundup

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The remaining contestants were set to the task creating a range of microwave ready meals.  EASY PEASY! Bung a bit of rice with some meat and veg in there, you’ve got yourself a meal. Can’t be hard to get this task wrong…  Much like Team Evolve’s meal, this episode was rather bland for me.  These tasks where they have to come up with a product from concept to pitch can be quite exciting, but this was just boring for the most part.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t reach into the screen and try the food – you don’t dangle pasta in front of this girl and expect her not to leap up and try to tear it from your grip.  I think that everyone should have survived this week because the task itself was boring and pointless, and everyone who watched it deserves a pat on the back.

Anyway, I guess here’s your roundup.  Oh, and we’re sticking with the large picture format – I mean who doesn’t want a close-up of Neil’s facial hair?  Speaking of which….

Neil’s neck-beard - sort it out, you scruffy shit

Neil’s neck-beard – sort it out, you scruffy shit

Leah being helpful, which is unusual for the majority of the female candidates. My opinion of Leah has changed a great deal since the beginning of the series, I have to admit

Leah being helpful, which is unusual for the majority of the female candidates. My opinion of Leah has changed a great deal since the beginning of the series, I have to admit

Jordan proving that some of the candidates are quite literally head and shoulders above him

Jordan proving that some of the candidates are quite literally head and shoulders above him

Not even trying to disguise that it’s Morrisons…

Not even trying to disguise that it’s Morrisons…

Francesca “I’m happy to project manager this week” Remember, these are some of the BEST BUSINESS BRAINS IN BRITAIN

Which was followed by this:

...which made me laugh a lot, for some reason

…which made me laugh a lot, for some reason

Both Luisa and Francesca trying really hard to assert that they can’t cook – what are you doing?! JUST PRETEND

Alex’s idea for the name Popty Ping – is it just me who thinks that’s an awesome name?

Nick’s spot-on impression of my dad

Nick’s spot-on impression of my dad

Culturally sensitive, as ever.

Culturally sensitive, as ever.

Myles has seemed like a cool customer throughout the series so far, but it’s starting to wear off right about now…

Myles has seemed like a cool customer throughout the series so far, but it’s starting to wear off right about now…

Neil sometimes acts like a jerk, but he can’t handle jerk chicken….

Neil sometimes acts like a jerk, but he can’t handle jerk chicken….

Really important shots like this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 19.24.40

Everytime Luisa said “HELLO” or “THANK YEEEERRRRWWWWWW”, it made my skin crawl

“Are you powerful enough?” For a ready meal. That’s the slogan. Seriously.

The steely determination with which Myles wore Alex down and won him round to his idea was quite unnerving, actually

When this poor human Cheestring got worried at Luisa and Neil's

When this poor human Cheestring got worried at Luisa and Neil’s “Oh My Pow” concept

Not even trying to hide her feelings about the taste

Not even trying to hide her feelings about the taste

The woman who told the ‘box of prawns’ story – outstanding stuff, I wonder who’ll play her in the movie of her life

Neil, in one of his ‘to camera’ bits, saying that he’d told Francesca to try the food before giving it to the test group – why would you even need to tell her to do that? Is she that stupid?

Jordan asking Alex why he wasn’t pitching, which I felt was totally hypocritical seeing as he spent his task as project manager delegating work to the others in his team

Luisa’s body-language while Karren says this, making for quite a bit of irony

Luisa’s body-language while Karren says this, making for quite a bit of irony

“No grammar intended”

Actually felt a chill when Francesca did this look - I thought Luisa was going to die

Actually felt a chill when Francesca did this look – I thought Luisa was going to die

Spot the attention seeker

Spot the attention seeker

Alex knowing that the best way to leave a crowd of screaming kids is to scream at them one more time, keep them hyped for their next lesson

Alex knowing that the best way to leave a crowd of screaming kids is to scream at them one more time, keep them hyped for their next lesson

The unforgettable and quite unbelievable moment when Alex spent most of Myles’s pitch pricking (pun intended) at the microwave seal, giving the whole scene a sort of bizarre tension

I felt bad for Leah; you could see the frustration on her face when the men on the team kept interrupting her during the pitch, namely Myles… you’re losing your cool veneer, M-Dawg!

The legend whose feedback form gave the serving suggestion of “Don’t serve it”

This will be the final scene of the show will be if Luisa wins

This will be the final scene of the show will be if Luisa wins

Nick saying that Leah is academically gifted, while the camera shows that she can’t even close both eyes simultaneously to blink, like a broken lie-down doll

Nick saying that Leah is academically gifted, while the camera shows that she can’t even close both eyes simultaneously to blink, like a broken lie-down doll

Leah speaking up for herself properly for the first time, referring to herself as a ‘realistic prospect’

Lord Sugar saying he wouldn’t even categorise himself in the same league as Richard Branson – wow, bit of unexpected modesty there!

I think everyone felt a little uncomfortable in the moments before the firing.  Leah bringing Myles’s age into the discussion, and Myles in turn telling her coldly to take Lord Sugar’s advice and ‘be quiet’.

Next week sees the gang growing a business from scratch in 48 hours – sourcing products to invest in and sell.  Should be fairly interesting, seeing as everyone left in the competition comes from very different business backgrounds, so the struggle over what to invest in should be fun to watch!

DTSFT Men’s Column #4 – FestivalLAD

 Ah, yes it’s that eight day period that Britain waits all year for – summer.  And when summer rolls around it can only mean one thing; plenty of music festivals around the country for people to use as a backdrop in their 50,000 Polaroid-app, boho-chic selfies. But it’s not just girls in shorts with ombre hair who attend these music festivals – no, men have also been known to make appearances at these events.  This week’s question comes from Luke in Devon, who asks:

“Me and the lads are heading to Glasto this year, hoping to pull some birds and get rat-arsed, the usual – any tips on how to make the most of my time at the festival?”

You’ve done the right thing by contacting me, Luke. Having been to approximately zero festivals, I think you’ll find my advice second to none.  Here are my top tips for thriving and surviving at any festival this summer….

Don’t bring anything that you might need

These festivals are always crowded, so why take up extra room with amenities?  There are always plenty of down to earth, selfless young people at music festivals, they’ll be willing to share their bounty of toilet paper, deodorant, bottled water and sun-block.  Unless they’ve read this post.

Get as drunk as possible

Everyone loves a drunk stranger lurching about, it only contributes to the atmosphere of the festival.  Enhance a fellow festival-goer’s experience by wandering up to them, pawing at them without self-restraint and if you want to REALLY make an impression, vomit all over them and their possessions.

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 Watch a show from the comfort of someone’s shoulders

Yes, sitting on your mate’s shoulders to get a better view is no longer just for the shorter attendees.  Footage from previous years has shown that everyone’s getting in on the act!  Why bother standing to watch the show when you can ruin things for many, many people by blocking their view and giving a beloved friend permanent nerve damage by spending hours sitting on their shoulders – who knows? You might even catch a split second glimpse of yourself on the swooping BBC footage when you’re watching the inevitable 6 weeks of re-runs and wondering what is the purpose of all this frivolity.

Take some kind of activity that requires lots of room but very little participation

Something like that poi or a unicycle!  If there’s one thing that can enhance a festival experience for someone, it’s having to be extremely careful that to avoid the twirling rings of fire while they’re trying to enjoy some live music; who doesn’t love a bit of danger, eh?  Make sure that you don’t practice before you go – in fact, it might be better if you wait until you’re at the festival before even attempting your chosen activity for the first time. Fun for everyone!

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“Everyone loves me!”

These are just some of the things you can do to have a great time at Glastonbury or any festival you go to.  But here’s a bonus tip for how you can make the most of AFTER the festival:

Never shut up about it. 

Never stop telling people how great it was and how good of a time you had, and that they should have been there too.  It’s important that people know just how much you enjoyed yourself, so you should ideally tell them as soon as possible and as often as you can – it doesn’t matter if you interrupt them mid-sentence, you just make sure that you shout in their face about how great the whole thing was.

Feel free to share this advice with your friends, Luke, I’m sure that if everyone used these tips then this summer will be one to remember for everyone.  Have a great time, you shit.

Superhero Saturday: Powdered Toast Man

He's no Henry Cavill, but Cavill probably doesn't taste like toast either. DTSFT would like to find out, mind.

He’s no Henry Cavill, but Cavill probably doesn’t taste like toast either. DTSFT would like to find out, mind.

“Are you holding tenaciously to my buttocks?”

No, this isn’t a He Could Get It. This week’s Superhero in focus is a bit-character from 90s cartoon Ren and Stimpy. He obscure, yes – but he’s a hero so he definitely counts. He does. This post has been on the back burner of my brain since losing the remote one Saturday night and watching the last five minutes of an episode called Powdered Toast Man vs Waffle Woman.

Powdered Toast Man has a piece of toast for a head and is the ambassador of a breakfast treat that “tastes like sawdust”. If that wasn’t weird enough, powdered toast doesn’t taste the way it’s supposed to unless Powdered Toast Man farts on it. Like most things, really. It’s precisely this bizarre aspect of this hero that not only makes Powdered Toast Man (as he shall henceforth be known) brilliant, but Ren and Stimpy a classic cult cartoon.

We will, food. We will.

We will, food. We will.

What made Powdered Toast Man (or PTM as he shall henceforth be known) so great was that he was a spot-on send up of comic book superheroes. He was spoof superhero created with care and attention to detail, a love-letter to caped crusaders.

PTM was over-earnest, over dramatic, over-muscly, over-patriotic. He possesses traditional superpowers such as flight, but also others that are very fitting with the show  such as super-powered farts and the ability to fling toast shavings from his head at will.

He had cheesy catchphrases (“Leave everything to me!”) and even a reserved, introverted alter-ego (sound like anyone familiar?) in the form of a youth deacon who wears glasses and a clerical collar – BUT STILL HAS A PIECE OF BREAD FOR A HEAD. Yet no one knows who he really is.

Like all good superheroes he owned an arsenal of villain-busting weapons – namely slices of olive loaf that could read and send emergency codes, a phone in his tongue, the ability to shoot raisins from his mouth and inflatable briefs. Everything a fully-functioning superhero could want. Can you imagine being able to shoot raisins from your mouth? You would cinnamon swirl everything in sight.

At his core he was a good person who wanted to help those who are vulnerable, like all the decent heroes. What made him especially hilarious, was the fact he accomplished banal things at the expense of something massive i.e. he helps a cat cross a road but a plane gets completely totaled in the process.

When PTM first popped, it was only a matter of time before self-professed "cult TV show appreciators" started dressing up like him to barbecues for the LULZ.

When PTM first popped, it was only a matter of time before self-professed “cult TV show appreciators” started dressing up like him to barbecues for the LULZ.

His assistant, Catholic High School Girl, with whom it is suggested he has a romantic relationship, is a bit less heroic however; but that was the cheeky dash of adult-humour PTM was loved for.

What was particularly cool about PTM was that Marvel – that giant of comic book heroes – even featured the bread-headed character in one of their comics. He fought Spider-Man after Dr. Donut turned him to the dark side, and Spidey uses milk to re-instill PTM’s good-hearted nature. When Stan Lee and the Gang want you in their pages, that’s the sign John Kricfalusi created something a little bit special.

Genius

Genius

Sandy Powell on Costume Design

Mid-afternoon yesterday I set off for a (nearly) two hour drive through motorway traffic to get to Pinewood for the BAFTA Crew Masterclass with Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell (chaired by Mark Salisbury). I would like to say that I was attending as a member of BAFTA crew but I gained an invite through the Skillset Trainee scheme I’m on. (Information about that here.) Having toiled through the M25 and M4 I arrived (still early) and waited with fellow trainees and BAFTA crew members fro the talk to start. It didn’t disappoint.

Sandy Powell collecting her Oscar for 'The Young Victoria'

The talk lasted for about an hour and a half (followed by about half an hour of questions) and was mostly chronologically through her career – with a few natural digressions. The talk was filmed and photographed but I don’t know if the video will be on BAFTA’s website or on a separate BAFTA crew website. If it does go up, they’ll probably be some footage of me scribbling away…

Pinewood were hosting this masterclass because Powell is in the middle of pre-production for Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, due to start filming in August. Why did Powell want to design Cinderella?

It’s a girl’s film…it’s a film about girls for girls…the antithesis of a Scorsese film…

Powell wanted a change from films about boys for boys. Salisbury asked whether she’s been looking at the animated film or if Disney had requested that she looked at it. She thinks that she has probably been referencing the film subliminally but she had never been directly asked to by Disney. The previous day she spent in Italy fabric shopping and looking in costume houses. This wsa most of what she could say about the film!

The process of Cinderella has been a while in coming because Powell (along with production designer Dante Ferretti) was brought in when Mark Romanek was due to direct as the only crew members and have both just carried on with Branagh. She has now been working full-time on Cinderella since January – very long pre-production.

Salisbury then went back to Powell’s early life and her decision to go into costume design. Her parents weren’t particularly artistic, so they didn’t have artistic jobs but her Mum did make clothes for her and her sisiter. This led to Powell being taught to sew at an early age, making clothes for dolls and taking more and more of an interest in the fabrics and shapes of the clothes her Mum made – eventually making clothes for herself. Powell was interested in clothes and fashion but never thought of it as a job possibility. The first film that really impressed her was Visconti’s Death in Venice when she was fourteen. The real desire for a career in design originates from seeing Lindsay Kemp (British choreographer) perform when she was sixteen. Powell wanted to be involved in that world, she didn’t know in what capacity beyond not being on stage herself.

After leaving school she went to Saint Martin’s for an art foundation. The reason behind this was that she should do something after school and an art course seemed like a reasonable choice. When she finished her foundation she decided to go to Central Saint Martin’s for a theatre design degree. She had considered fashion but felt that there was more scope with costume:

Costume is more interesting than fashion

Powell spent two years on the course before leaving. She described herself as a very bad student – doing the minimum of work, if that. Throughout the course she realised that she wasn’t very interested in set design and model making. Costume was where her heart was. During the Summer, after her second year, she saw dance classes with Lindsay Kemp advertised and went along. The class didn’t go very well but she introduced herself to Kemp, had tea with him, showed him some of her designs and the two became friends. She started to work in the theatre world and decided not to return to Central. Powell remarked that studying can work for some people, but that it wasn’t right for her. She learnt that she wasn’t interested in set design and learnt period costume construction skills so she still gained from her time there.

That year she worked as an assistant to the designer for fringe theatre companies Lumiere and Son and Rational Theatre Company. As time went on she designed (set and costumes) for various fringe theatre productions. When she was working on Rococo for Rational Theatre (where she made all the costumes) she began thinking that working in film might be interesting. One of her friends, knowing her interest in film, bumped into Derek Jarman in Heaven, proceeded to get his phone number which Powell dutifully rang. Jarman invited her to tea to see her work and talk to her – much like Kemp had. His advice was to do something before going into film. The solution? He got her some costume designing work on music videos. (Two of the producers Powell worked with were Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe – before they founded Working Title.)

Tilda Swinton in 'Caravaggio'.

Having gained design experience on the music videos, a year later Jarman asked Powell to design the costumes for Caravaggio. He also took her around the set and introduced her to the crew members and explained their roles. The budget was very low so there was a lot of costume making with a team. Every cast and crew member helped out on the film process – on all aspects. Powell stated that the film was set in a timeless era with a lot of references to the 1940s and Italian neorealism – such as The Bicycle Thieves.

Costumes were whatever was right for the character.

Powell credits Jarman as being her biggest influence and inspiration (she designed four films for him in total). The way of working was unusual and he gave many people their first break in films. He was always excited about a new project and generous with information, enthusiasm and encouragement. (There was no-one checking costume continuity on set for the first three weeks – no-one knew that that was needed.) Powell learnt from Jarman to enjoy what you’re doing and to “come to work everyday on a film as if you’re going to a party”.

'Orlando'

The next film Powell and Salisbury talked about was Orlando, directed by Sally Potter. The film travelled from the Elizabethan era to modern day and Powell said that, for a costume designer, was “a dream come true”. Looking at the film you would think that a lot of costume construction was required but, according to Powell, the costumes were only made for the principals with costumes hired from Angels for the extras with additional pieces crudely attached to fit with the world. The film was an imagined history and so was exaggerated a fair amount. Powell mentioned that she may have been still a little stuck in Jarman’s larger than life theatrical world and this seeped into Orlando. The film looks very theatrical to her now and she might not do the same now. She said that when designing for period you need to “think of yourself as a fashion designer” for that era or that character. And when looking at period costume “look at all the rules before you can break them”. Orlando led to Powell’s first Oscar and BAFTA nomination and Salisbury asked her how it impacted her career. Powell said that it probably got her offered more jobs but, just after the nomination, everyone assumes that you’ll get bombarded with offers and will be busy and so don’t contact you. For about a year or so after a nomination or win you could get no job offers!

Discussion then focused on Powell’s designing process after receiving a script.

I read the script thinking about the script.

Powell thinks about the script in terms of whether it’s a film she’d like to see. A film she’d pay money to see. Having read the script, and enjoyed it, then there is a meeting with the director and, if you’ve been offered the job, research begins. Powell uses books, whether from her massive store of books (including the photography book Gypsies by Josef Koudelka that was given to Powell by Jarman and has been used as inspiration for nearly all of her films), libraries, paintings in art galleries, fashion, and her young assistants will help with internet research!

You can find inspiration in anything.

After finding reference images, appropriate silhouettes (particularly for period films), the aim is to meet the actor. Then she will look at fabrics rather than drawing designs. In a similar way to Jenny Beavan, Powell uses fabric as inspiration for costumes and tries out shapes on the stand (dress form). Then she will make rough sketches that are only intended for her and the maker – not for presentation to the director! The costume will appear through the fittings and invariably the original rough sketch will change. Powell will create costume illustrations after the costumes have been shot on.

There were references to lighting tests for fabrics and Powell remarked that there are often no lighting tests because she is brought on much earlier than the Director of Photography so she has to use colours and fabrics based on what she thinks/hopes they’ll look like. Lighting tests are carried out once a costume has been made but these are mostly for hair and make-up. It is generally too late to change a costume at this stage unless it is absolutely necessary.

Sadly the best internet picture of the suit - it looks much more impressive in clips.

Sadly the best internet picture of the suit – it looks much more impressive in clips.

Then there was talk about her work on The Crying Game; her first of six films with Neil Jordan. A very expensive (possibly over budget) Jean Paul Gaultier suit was bought for Miranda Richardson. A screen test was actually carried out and the checked suit strobed horribly so they had a copy made of the suit in a plain fabric. Showing the importance of screen tests!

'Interview with a Vampire'

Interview with a Vampire was Powell’s first studio film after having made numerous low budget films. Despite having worked with Jordan and Stephen Woolley (producer) before she was aware of a different atmosphere – a tense atmosphere. The film was similar to Orlando in that it travelled through different time periods. Salisbury mentioned that costume designers don’t seem to spend much time on set. Powell countered that there is generally no time for a designer to be on set all the time. They are busy working on the next day, the next scene or just the rest of the film. Designers will go to set when a costume is being established (the first time the camera shoots it) or if there is a particularly hectic or busy day of shooting. Set costumers are there to maintain the established costume.

'Velvet Goldmine'

One film in particular that Powell sought out was Velvet Goldmine, her first film with Todd Haynes. Powell was friends with the producer and got an introduction with Haynes. The film was set roughly in 1974, when Powell had been fourteen. She describes that period as very influential for her and she designed the film from her memory. The film was a fantasy rather than factual anyway so Powell’s memory was perfect research. There was a split in the film between the musicians on stage and the audience. The musicians, specifically Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character Brian Slade, were Powell’s versions of David Bowie’s stage costumes, with the audience members more similar to her clothes of the ‘70s – clothes customised, trousers made into flares. There was very little money and a number of clothes were borrowed from people, including a fur coat from Roger Daltrey’s wife, with other costumes made (from cheap, tacky fabrics as they would’ve been then) or shopped at markets.

The Art Deco lace.

The Art Deco lace.

Then conversation landed on Shakespeare in Love, Powell’s first Oscar win. (Her first BAFTA win came from Velvet Goldmine. This was in the same year as her win for Shakespeare in Love – she was competing against herself!) Powell always regarded Shakespeare in Love as a “glamrock version” of Elizabeth; released the same year. Salisbury remarked that the costumes feel modern but Powell never intended that – the silhouettes are correct for the period but the colours are probably exaggerated. Joseph Fiennes’ leather doublet is accurate in many ways but he becomes the Elizabethan ‘Wild One’ by the way he wears it – just like a modern leather jacket.

It’s not a documentary, we’re not setting out to make a documentary.

Powell wasn’t thinking about the historical accuracy but about what looked right and felt right.

[It’s about] telling a story and making a picture

Queen Elizabeth I’s costumes were designed in the style of her portraits but with no intention of replicating them – portraits are likely to be “false” anyway. Some interesting comments Powell made were about fabric printing to make the fabric look like Elizabethan brocade. And another tidbit was that some lace used for one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s collars was Art Deco (because obviously there is no surviving Elizabethan lace that could be used) and that the seller tried to talk Powell out of using it because it wasn’t the right period. Powell insisted and used it because it looked great as a whole. The costume in its entirety is the important part. Slight mentions were made of Powell’s determination that none of her costumes (for any film) look brand new. They will always be “distressed” in some way – whether broken down, painted into, or merely looking as though they’ve been worn a few times before. Just to make the costumes look real.

'Far From Heaven'

After Powell’s assertion that she prefers period films to contemporary (“it’s a different kind of difficult designing contemporary”) they moved onto her other film with Haynes’ Far From Heaven; heavily inspired by Douglas Sirk films – particularly All That Heaven Allows. This was a film that was very concerned with the colour palette. Numerous meetings took place between Haynes, Powell, Edward Lachman (the director of photography) and Mark Friedberg (the production designer) where colours for each scene were discussed in fine detail – Haynes had attached colour samples to the script. The colours were not there to be strictly adhered to but allowed Powell to see what was in Haynes’ head.

'Gangs of New York'

Then we came to Powell’s first (of six) films with Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York. There was some acknowledgment of Scorsese’s great appreciation for costume (with a period film he always feels a new costume on set – he knows how it should feel) and his infamous film knowledge that led to Powell being given an entire film to watch for a stripe on a collar. (Powell can’t remember the film but clearly Scorsese would.) Then, due to timing concerns, conversation mostly involved the development of Daniel Day-Lewis’ costume for Bill the Butcher. The story of Scorsese’s impression of Bill as a fabulous looking dandified peacock contrasting with Day-Lewis’ initial desire for the complete opposite has been told numerous times, not least in the conversation section of Hollywood Costume. But the true importance of the story is how important a fitting is in shaping a costume. Powell’s ideas (and Scorsese’s) were portrayed to Day-Lewis through the fitting with physical costume pieces.

Most successful collaborations are when an actor is involved.

The post-production "fix" of Blanchett's dress.

The post-production “fix” of Blanchett’s dress.

Powell’s next Oscar win was for her next Scorsese project; The Aviator. This was the film that had the biggest lighting complications for the costumes. Scorsese wanted the early 1920s section of the film to be shot using the colour processes accessible at the time. This was the two-colour Technicolor palette with only green and red available. Then, as the film developed, the three-colour Technicolor palette came through. It was important to test colours to see what the colours would look like on the screen. There was one occasion where there was a problem regarding the colour. Cate Blanchett’s dress came out on the sreen as a sludgy green when it was intended to by mustard yellow. How was this fixed? The colour was changed in post-production for every frame Blanchett was in. It was joked that that was the most expensive dress in film history. As the film showed so many real-life people Powell was asked whether she felt the need to “accurately” copy any clothing. Powell regarded designing for these characters in the same way as designing for Elizabeth I – design in the style. Research was very important but not in replicating clothing.

This was where the discussions of Powell’s work finished and then there were some questions from the audience and a few write ins from BAFTA crew members. I didn’t make  a note of many of the questions and answers. There was the obvious, fairly cringe-worthy, question of advice for aspiring costume designers; a brief discussion around radio mics; mention of the best looking films coming from great collaborations with costume and hair and make-up. There was a discussion about the differences with film and digital and Powell saying that the biggest difference is colour, the shooting of natural or man-made fabrics isn’t that different between the two formats. Colours can be fixed in post-production, as with The Aviator, but the costume designer isn’t in the editing room…

'The Wolf Of Wall Street'

We ended the talk with the trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street. The characters’ become obscenely rick very quickly but they don’t get good taste along with that. Suits would’ve been made at Savile Row so the costumes need to look expensive but they are worn badly to emphasise the point that money doesn’t buy taste.

The evening was wonderful and I feel so lucky to have been able to attend a great talk with an outstanding costume designer. Some of the anecdotes may not have been revolutionary or new but nothing beats hearing them from the person themselves. And hearing their continuing love of their profession. Bring on The Wolf of Wall Street.

S x