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Psychics, Sadness and Mystery in Assayas’ Personal Shopper

Published April 6, 2017 by rmpixie

Personal Shopper (2016, 1 hr, 45 mins.)

 

It’s no surprise that death is devastating for those in mourning. Missing loved ones who have passed on comes in many forms but most of us would confidently say that faith (or lack thereof) aside, we don’t really know what happens to our soul after the physical body ends. In Personal Shopper, we see one woman’s struggle with the death of her twin brother and her belief in the afterlife. It brings to light deeper questions about life and death staged before the backdrop of Paris, the fashion world, and its trappings.

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) works for a self-centered celebrity and socialite Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) as a personal shopper. Her job is to find the latest and greatest in high fashion and bring it back to her famous employer since her high profile makes it impossible to shop anonymously. Maureen has also recently lost her twin brother Lewis to a heart defect she also suffers from. His surviving partner Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) wants to sell their house, but Maureen who is a medium, insists that Lewis will send her a sign from beyond, so she spends a few nights in his crumbling house waiting for him to appear. He was a medium like her, so her determination is fueled by his once stronger psychic abilities and their vow to make contact from the other side. When she does contact the spirit world, she also receives mysterious text messages topped off with an unexpected murder that stops her in her tracks. Maureen’s quest for answers becomes more confusing, leaving her in a state of shock and floundering for answers.

Kristin Stewart as Maureen waiting for a sign.

Personal Shopper is a horror, a film noir, a psychological thriller, and a ghost story. It is all of the above and none of the above at the same time, embracing and defying genre. Director Olivier Assayas created a film that’s in a class of its own using art, history and old school paranormal beliefs with 21st century technology and lifestyles to illustrate Maureen’s search for her brother’s spirit. It’s this artistic take that kept me riveted despite the slow burn pace.

Assayas captures Maureen’s loss well, and he also conveys the loneliness of this technological age we live in with Skype and smartphones being key methods with which she communicates. Even when she is with someone physically or electronically, she is separate, guarded, or unsure; from her shopping excursions to her Skype dates with her boyfriend. The smart phone as a thing of necessity in this day and age to stay tethered to this world also becomes an agent of isolation and intense paranoia when Maureen pleads with a nameless messenger behind the texts to reveal themselves.  Assayas takes a now commonplace device and gives it a more otherworldly, sinister presence.

Personal Shopper is also a lesson in how Maureen grieves. She throws herself into her work even though she flat out hates her fashionable job, but Paris is her main connection to her dead brother so she stays there as she waits for a ghostly sign, not ready to let go.  The world of fashion is a fleeting one; rarely delving deeply into the reality around it. Her psychic abilities seem to be stunted as she moves between posh shops in London and Paris to serve Kyra in this superficial arena. It shows how she herself seems like a spirit as she is lost between real life, the supernatural, the fashion world, and her uncertainty with what she believes and how she is perceived. Her only moment of self-awareness comes when the mysterious messenger asks her to do something forbidden, and she taps all too briefly into her desires in her confused and somewhat desperate state. It’s a strange moment in the film, but it makes sense as her character searches for a right fit, so to speak, in environments that while not hostile, aren’t hospitable to her either.

The look of the film is really beautiful. Yorick Le Saux, the cinematographer for Only Lovers Left Alive, does a wonderful job capturing the contrast of the dingy streets and stark sophistication of Paris. He is skilled at making the most of each setting, representing streetscapes and boutiques in their truest and most tangible forms. For anyone that has visited the City of Lights, you’ll feel nostalgic for its frenzied energy.

My only issue lies with the text messages and some of the ensuing actions asked of Maureen. While I really enjoyed these suspenseful interludes and there is definitely a point to them, they were problematic with some details that still remain unclear when the storyline makes a sharp turn. Stewart’s stellar performance as a tortured, uncertain and lost character written for her by Assayas, evokes a surprising amount of emotion that overshadows any inconsistencies in the narrative however, as you watch this poor soul wait for her brother to tell her something, anything as proof of an afterlife.

Personal Shopper is an artistic take on a ghost story and focuses on one woman’s uncertainty when mortality comes into question. See this film for it’s beautiful photography, a haunting performance from Stewart and an interesting albeit imperfect story about grief and the afterlife.

 

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Face Off Season 8 Episode 8: Stylish and Deadly in the World of Clive Barker

Published March 4, 2015 by rmpixie

This episode had me champing at the bit when I heard about the inspiration.  The artists headed to the historic Sunset Strip club, the Whisky-a-Go-Go, where bands like The Doors, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones have played.  It was there that McKenzie revealed their next challenge, inspired by the legendary Clive Barker!!!  She told them that he redefined the silent and destructive iconic horror villain like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers by making a stylish, eloquent and elegant one in Pinhead. He sent them a video message where he told them that he went to punk clubs for inspiration to create demons and wanted to see something different from the artists; to marry cutting edge fashion and images that are startling and terrifying.

I remember reading Clive Barker novels as a teenager, and marvelling at the richness of his worlds.  Hellraiser remains one of my top five horror movies, and Pinhead is so iconic he is known around the world.  I actually have my own Lemarchand’s Box (it sits next to my golden Dalek).  I couldn’t wait to see what the contestants came up with!

The artists were to choose from several models wearing avant-garde outfits to create a stylish and intelligent horror villain.  The models stayed with them as they designed their concepts, and the guest judge on the reveal stage would be the V.P. of Seraphim Films, Clive Barker’s production company, Mark Alan Miller.

Emily chose the model with a feather vest and gold chain mail skirt.  She created a fallen angel cursed with a cage on his head.  She was inspired by old school string art to create a really cool cage effect on the character’s large triangular head.  That string cage, or webbing as she called it, started to fall apart when she applied it to the model, so in a split second decision, she added feathers instead.   Her villain was really cool with a great iridescent paint job.  The judges liked the paint too, and Ve loved the silhouette.  Neville thought it was iconic and memorable, and even though it didn’t fit the Clive Barker world to Mark Alan, he thought it was extraordinary.  She was in top looks.

Stephanie hit a major road block this episode.  The purple cape, gold dress and golden dangling accessories could not inspire a concept, and Coach Laura tried to help her hash it out.  Mr. Westmore even gave her some suggestions, like adding hooks in the character’s skin and encouraged her to “go for it”.  She was really embarrassed that she had nothing to show him, and frustrated to tears, deciding to just work out the concept the first day and sculpt on the next.  She came up with a seer that had peeling skin and a partially destroyed face, but had to sculpt and mold in one day.  She was really behind and painted with different techniques furiously to hide some lifting around the eyes.  She could only hope to be safe.  The judges thought her sculpt was non-specific and not conducive to the model’s face because she didn’t incorporate her nose and jaw line.  Because her concept was compromised by indecision, she was in the bottom.

Ben’s model wore a silver tutu, a black leather corset and stark white jacket.  He decided to create a demonic fetish model with a black leather corset skull-cap.  He took a lot of time sculpting his cowl, and he ended up being behind with his painting.  He would have to do a beauty makeup in last looks.  His character was really unique.  She had a truly avant-garde, minimalistic look.  The judges loved that the shapes tied into the wardrobe, especially the leather skull, which I thought was super clean-looking.  You could tell he really perfected that detail.  Mark Alan liked the story and the corrupted porcelain doll look, and Glenn loved the head detail and felt it was a brilliant and daring combo.  He was in top looks.

Darla took on a demon.  I really like her, and she has obvious talent, but I think she is losing her stride.  Her character wore a motorcycle inspired leather jacket and pants, so she went with a post-apocalyptic look.  She had a stretched out skin concept that didn’t work, so Coach Laura helped her with that.  The judges thought the character looked like an alien, and I thought the paint was a little flat but she was safe.  I’m glad because I know she can do something amazing-she just needs a boost.

Jamie had a model in a leather and mesh outfit with a whip and created a scorned, black widow type character who lured and killed men.  Coach Anthony helped her with the sculpt to make it more in tune with the Clive Barker universe, and hash out some spider details.  He was worried about the skin texture looking too realistic, and her painting went south when she had trouble matching tones.  The end result was a flat paint job, and the judges noticed it too.  Ve thought it didn’t look like skin, and that it was more alien and less Clive Barker.  Neville thought it looked like a Klingon or Borg character, and the mouth and chin looked like it was melted wax.  She was in the bottom.

Julian’s model wore a gold studded tuxedo-like jacket, an intricate amulet and carried a scythe.  His character would be a demon that killed those who wore the cursed amulet.  Mr. Westmore suggested he sculpt something into the head so that it read more horror than human, so he paid attention to the critique and created a second mouth running along the top of the demon’s head.  He took his time with his sculpt as well, ready to risk time for perfection.  Julian put in black mesh in the eye area of his face piece to hide the model’s eyes, and his character impressed the judges.  Glenn thought it worked within the Barker world and Ve gave it a 15 1/2 out of 10 for creepiness.  Mark Alan liked the jaw line, and Neville thought it was good, but not next generation Clive Barker (I agreed).  Because his character was terrifying up close, sophisticated and intelligent, Julian was in top looks.

Adam created a resurrected South American goddess who killed by gilding her victims.  her outfit was gold, orange and very regal looking.  He had a large cowl in 2 pieces so he took his time molding it, only to have it crack.  He used plumber’s epoxy to fix it, and thankfully, it came out well.  With Coach Rayce’s help, his goddess looked great on the reveal stage.  The judges thought it was original, and would have liked to have seen more gold highlights, but he was safe.

Kelly worked on a vivid green mermaid dress with her model.  Her concept was a woman obsessed with plastic surgery who cut herself, and had a mask to cover the damage.  Mr. Westmore suggested blood dripping from the mouth, and she also created a futuristic surgical fetish mask from vaccuform.  She ran into a problem when her face prosthetic had a bad second skin, making it look shredded, but Coach Anthony told her to go with it as it could work with the character’s mutilation.  It turned out really well, with a bloody, creepy mess of a woman.  The judges thought she was disgusting and sexy.  Mark Alan thought it was sex and violence, and could see the character in an upcoming Clive Barker comic anthology.  The mask was avant-garde, and Ve liked that it was disturbing and the contrasting colours of her red hair and green dress.  She was in the top looks for the story of her perfectly suited character to the challenge.

Working with a quilted vest that looked like a cobra’s hood, Logan created a snake charmer who was a killer immune to snake venom.  He put grids on the character’s arms to catalogue the venoms.  He used a wax based clay to create the sculpt for the arms, and started with the arm application because it was very delicate.  He wanted a sickly look for the “charmer”, and he succeeded.  It was a cool character, and the judges liked how he handled the cheekbones.  He was safe.

The winner was Ben.  His character incorporated pleasure and pain, grace and the grotesque and used a high concept with high fashion.  She was what the challenge asked for:  a glimpse into a future world of Clive Barker.  The person going home was Jamie.  She couldn’t pull her ideas together this week.  I was so bummed because I liked her and hoped she would come up and slay with her talents.  I know she will go on to do well in the industry especially because of her great talent and calm attitude.

Team Tally:

Team Laura:  Darla, Julian, Emily and Stephanie

Team Rayce:  Adam and Logan

Team Anthony:  Kelly and Ben

 

Vogue in Space…Thank you Mr. Theiss!

Published December 13, 2012 by rmpixie

This morning on the Space Channel I caught an episode of the original Star Trek series, “By Any Other Name” (1968), where the Enterprise is hijacked by humanoid aliens called Kelvans so they can go home.  I was kind of half watching when this gorgeous alien babe comes out of nowhere, wearing a hot backless jumpsuit with groovy boots and an intricate beehive.  Her name was Kelinda and she had one of those familiar faces.  Looking her up, I found out her name is Barbara Bouchet and she is actually one of Italy’s top actresses, mostly because of her sexy “giallo” roles in the 70’s.  She is still going strong and living in Italy, acting and running a few business ventures.

Gorgeous Barbara Bouchet in baby blue!

Gorgeous Barbara Bouchet in baby blue!

And that jumpsuit!!!  Wowzers!  This pixie would love to wear that somewhere, if I went out at all.  Of course I had to look up the costume designer and of course, he was fantastic.  William Ware Theiss (1931-1992), a seasoned, award-winning costume designer for film and T.V., was known for creating the sexy Star Trek costumes, and is the namesake of the  “Theiss Titillation Theory”.  It states that  “the degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be”.  I can imagine all the male Trekkers waiting with bated breath, hoping in vain that a boob might slip out unexpectedly as a hot alien chick grappled with Captain Kirk.  His designs usually consisted of strips of fabric precariously holding a whole outfit together, or the weight of the fabric itself.

The infamous dress from the episode "Who Mourns for Adonis"

The infamous dress from the episode “Who Mourns for Adonis”

Another showstopper from the episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?".  Indeed!

Another showstopper from the episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”. Indeed!

I am so glad that costume designers get the recognition they deserve.  The talent, vision and imagination needed to realize characters, especially in sci-fi and horror, takes a special person born with a unique creative energy.  Theiss gave us innovative designs and pushed the envelope, which is why it’s so fitting that he designed for Star Trek, which was a show that was light years ahead of the times.

http://www.spacecast.com/

Barbara Bouchet on imdb:  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0099054/

Check out www.startrekpropauthority.com for some interesting info on sets and costumes.

So far, the only bio available on Theiss is on Wikipedia.  There are many fan sites with tidbits on him if you google his name.

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