"Always wear sunscreen" is a motto to live by, especially if you have skin like mine and double especially if you use wrinkle-reducing products.
Both men and women seem to recognize that a valuable fashion accessory can be the company of an attractive, well-attired member of the opposite sex. And if one item of arm candy helps proclaim one’s attractiveness, what about the effect of a bevy of them?
Musical theater has long understood and exploited this notion. In the 1957 film Les Girls Gene Kelly works with a troupe of 3 beautiful dancers. In the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy James Cagney sings for a bevy of 16 belles wearing matching costumes. (See image number 22.) And in the same film Fay Templeton is admired by 8 nattily attired men. (See image number 37.)
Costuming one's bevy of admirers in matching outfits helps mark them as your entourage. In a 2005 Salzburg production of Verdi’s La Traviata, Anna Netrebko, in a red dress, is surrounded by a large chorus, all of whom wear black suits. If you look closely you can see that many of those wearing suits are women, which only adds to the implication that she is attractive to all.
This image from Broadway Melody of 1938 suggests even greater sexual ambiguity. Thirty-two men in black top hat and tails kneel in admiration of Eleanor Powell, who is dressed in masculine, gray-blue top hat and tails. She stands in a feet-planted, legs-apart stance that body language experts call a crotch display. It is common stance for tough guys, but is seldom used by women (except superheroes). Of the 32 women whose eyes admire her, half already seem to have swooned, their dresses forming a lovely pattern. (See a superb large scan of this image here.)
Such over-the-top images almost parody themselves. By the time music videos came around, the entourage effect was ripe for post-modern reworking. In Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video his band consists of five women who seem made up to resemble the stylized prints of Patrick Nagel. Clad in provocative versions of the simple black dress, these women wear neutral expressions. This leaves the tie-clad Palmer as the only person free to show facial emotion, his sexual attractiveness firmly established by his glamorous band.
Shania Twain parodied these images with her Man! I Feel Like a Woman! video. Her male band is strangely clad. Wearing what appears to be latex from the waist down, their upper bodies are showcased in thin stretch fabric. Better matched facially even than the women in Palmer’s video, they all wear swim goggles atop their forehead, perhaps a reference to a particular image of Nagel’s. The men seem to be stoic soldiers of glamour who know and accept their role as accessories. For brief periods they even disappear from the video. (And be sure to note Twain's stance.)
Twain begins the video wearing a top hat and long black dress that suggests a tuxedo. By the video’s end she has stripped down to long black gloves, thigh-high boots, and a black corset. This costume has enough dominatrix overtones to reinforce her commanding role in this group, and, like Palmer, she is the only one allowed to show facial emotion.
As a stage device the entourage effect can seem part of an entertaining fantasy. But perpetuated over time in real life (à la Hugh Hefner surrounded by living Barbie Dolls), it can devolve into a caricature that becomes unflattering to everyone involved.
Frat boys are customarily considered the scourge of the earth, at least in all right-thinking online circles. On the other hand, 16 members of the Sigma Phi chapter at UC Berkeley live in one of the state's architectural treasures, the Greene and Greene- designed Thorsen House. Tracey Taylor, writing for the Financial Times, investigated, and found that not only were these brothers residents, they're also the caretakers.
Gamble House, in Pasadena, is perhaps better known, but no one is in residence.
Paramount recently released the poster for the new Star Trek movie, opening May 8. The black and white composition and almost abstract suggestion of speed make an interesting contrast to the clear forms and primary colors of the original show.
Long-time DG readers may remember this quotation, comparing James Bond and Mr. Spock, from Jeff Greenwald's 1999 book Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth. Like Ayn Rand's novels, Star Trek traffics in glamour that appeals to people who generally think they're immune to such frivolous nonsense (and, conversely, whose obsessions seem decidedly unglamorous to most of the fashion crowd). Greenwald's book has a number of good passages that deal with Star Trek's glamour, without using the word. Here's one of the best, which follows his girlfriend's insight that the book "is about longing," the subject of all glamour:
When I began this book, I naively imagined that everyone I spoke to would echo my own intuition: that Star Trek has become successful because it awakens a collective human yearning to get out into space and explore the “final frontier” in earnest. A number of people on my list did indeed feel this way—but they were in the minority. Star Trek, I learned, inspires longings of many kinds. It’s a mirror that people tune like a radio, focusing on the aspects that attract them most.
Star Trek invokes an almost primal wanderlust—a hardwired compulsion to break away from the familiar, and plumb the depths of outer and inner space. It inspires a desire to build a society where technology is partnered with conscience. It evokes a yearning for family and friendship, which is played out in a thousand different fan clubs and Web sites around the world. And it fulfills a deep and eternal need for something to believe in: something vast and powerful, yet rational and contemporary. Something that makes sense.
One of the trailers for the new Star Trek movie features someone’s voice telling young Jim Kirk, “You’ve always had a hard time finding a place in this world, haven’t you? Never knowing your true worth. You can settle for something less, an ordinary life. Or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special.” In the trailer, that enticing suggestion accompanies this evocative shot, which beautifully captures both the centrality of the individual and the longing to belong to something larger than oneself:
The promise of becoming someone special is at the heart of much glamour, from the allure of beautiful dresses to the appeal of the U.S. Marine Corps. Particularly for people who feel out of place in their surrounding community, the idea of belonging to an ideal fellowship (Camelot's Round Table, Ayn Rand's Galt's Gulch, the Enterprise crew) is particularly powerful—and, as Greenwald documents, able to sustain real-world fellowship among devotees who share the same enthusiasm.
"Glamorizing" usually implies an active effort at editing out flaws: retouching photos, showing cigarettes without smoke smell or cancer, celebrating cliquish bullies as Queen Bees and Gossip Girls. But, as these two contrasting passages from classic works illustrate, glamour can also arise from the audience's willingness or proclivity simply to overlook flaws.
From Jane Eyre:
"Come where there is some freshness, for a few moments," he said; "that house is a mere dungeon: don't you feel it so?"
"It seems to me a splendid mansion, sir."
"The glamour of inexperience is over your eyes," he answered; "and you see it through a charmed medium: you cannot discern that the gilding is slime and the silk draperies cobwebs; that the marble is sordid slate, and the polished woods mere refuse chips and scaly bark. Now HERE" (he pointed to the leafy enclosure we had entered) "all is real, sweet, and pure.
No words of mine can tell you how Wendy despised those pirates. To the boys there was at least some glamour in the pirate calling; but all that she saw was that the ship had not been tidied for years. There was not a porthole on the grimy glass of which you might not have written with your finger "Dirty pig"; and she had already written it on several.
As anyone who has ever framed a photographic shot only to notice dirt on the window or wires across the view knows, the mind always does some unconscious editing. (Those of us in love with Florence rarely notice the ubiquitous graffiti.) But I think there's a deeper truth here that applies equally to overt glamorization: Glamour only works on the receptive imagination.
Some people are--to say the least--as immune to Barack Obama's glamour as Wendy was to that of the pirate calling. Even the "world's most glamorous couple" gets mixed reviews. “I fail to see the glamour of this couple,” writes a website commenter about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. “They usually look like aged hobos.” Although Princess Diana remains a touchstone of late 20th-century glamour, there are plenty of skeptics. A “glamorous” person, setting, or style will not produce glamour unless that object resonates with the audience’s aspirations, and unless the audience is willing to entertain the illusion.
[Paris photo courtesy of Flickr user smallish fish, copyright and used with permission.]
While was wasting time this morning (I mean, “getting smarter reading the internet”), I came across this brief article and slideshow on Julius Shulman, the 98-year old architectural photographer famous for his iconic photos of mid-century L.A. homes. His photo of Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22 (at left), an impossibly futuristic home perched over glittering Los Angeles at night, represents my absolute ideal of glamour. I’m viscerally drawn to the modern home, the breathtaking view, and the people inside, just beginning a night (and decade) full of potential for fun and drama.
I’m not the only one to look at this image and see “glamour” defined, but it’s not everybody’s glamorous ideal. So why mine? How did I develop an affinity for that kind of image vs. something else? When?
While I’m not so sure about the “how,” I do have an idea about the “when” and also the “where”: Orlando, Florida, 1981. My first trip to Disney World or, more specifically, my first trip to Tomorrowland.
At first glance, Disney World isn’t terribly glamorous. It’s full of tired, sweaty parents and their whiny kids, nothing’s even a little bit authentic, and it’s more heavily merchandised than The Mall of America. But just as Disney teaches kids about manners and social mores, Mickey and friends play a critical role in helping America’s youth develop their attitudes toward glamour.
For me, it was Tomorrowland and its streamlined futuristic aesthetic that took hold. But it could’ve just as easily been Cinderella’s castle that resonated, as it does for thousands of little girls. Or the bordellos-and-brawn-lite version of the Old West that is Frontierland.
So now I’m all grown up and Shulman’s photos have replaced Space Mountain (mostly) when I think “glamour.” What about you? Do you have a glamorous ideal or icon? Can you trace it back to what you loved when you were a kid?
[Space Mountain photo courtesy of Flickr user russes.]
The gods of singing are capricious. Some of us are given passable voices, others pathetic voices. Some are given good voices, and a few are given extraordinary voices. Some of these few have the power to enchant.
Most of the singing we hear today uses electronic amplification. Some singers have learned to take advantage of this, and sometimes use their voices in ways that seem remarkably intimate.
Here’s a video of Alison Krauss using her beautiful voice in this way while performing on a TV show. At times she seems to sing so softly we almost feel we are overhearing her sing to herself. The male members of the group sometimes join her by singing softly into their microphones, gently supporting her. Everything about the group’s performance, including the clothing, suggests casualness, as if they look and sound much the same as they would if we happened to find them singing in someone’s home. (Nonetheless, I find Krauss’ lovely voice and quiet beauty enchanting.)
In contrast to this feeling of intimacy, operas are performed in large theaters, and the singers perform without amplification. Voices large enough to full such spaces are rare, typically need years of training, and can be damaged by singing roles unsuited to their voice and experience. Such rigorously trained voices help opera singers portray larger-than-life characters, and the quality of the voice is integral to those characterizations. Words such as powerful, vibrant, agile, and flexible are sometimes used to describe them--terms we associate with health and vigor. In a confined rehearsal space I once heard two baritones rehearse powerful, macho-tinged arias. A soprano then joked she needed to leave the room because there was too much testosterone in the air.
Given the gods’ capricious nature, large, beautiful voices doesn’t always in up in a bodies as appealing to the eye as the voices are to the ear. Opera fans have often overlooked this issue, but in our media-minded age, appearance has become more of a factor.
Listen to gorgeous, sumptuously voiced Anna Nebretko sing an aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi for a TV audience. In this aria the singer tells her father that if he doesn’t help her marry the man she loves, she will jump off the Ponte Vecchio into the Arno River. In singing it she sounds as if she is pleading her case to the whole world—she is singing as she would (without amplification) to move a patron sitting in the last row of a theater.
Since this performance was not in a theater, a microphone was placed on the floor in front of her, and the reverberation was set to emulate the sound of a large hall. The microphone was placed far enough away to allow her to fully use her powerful voice. By contrast, with Alison Krauss the microphone almost touches her lips, allowing her to use a more intimate tone to full effect.
Unlike Krauss, nothing about Nebretko’s performance appears casual. The gown, the makeup, the hair, and the voice all seem larger than life. (Such gowns can cost thousands of dollars, and I find it hard to imagine a more glamorous effect.) The images that we take away from these performances are remarkably different, as they were intended to be. Whatever she is like offstage, in her performance Krauss seems like someone who might, if you met her, talk with you in a relaxed way. In contrast, Nebretko seems like someone who might, if you were lucky, grant you an audience. Krauss seems down-to-earth and approachable; Nebretko seems otherworldly and unreachable.
Their voices and performance personas are each perfectly tuned to resonate in their chosen performance environments. And while each are alluring within their domains, each would find her ability to enchant vastly diminished if forced to trade realms. Lucky us, to have both.
Creating a memorable performance persona is not without danger. A person's public persona and private character are not necessarily the same, and for some people performance images can become traps. In interviews Joan Baez has discussed falling prey to her own mythology when she was young. Although her interest in folk singing and politics remained steadfast, as she grew older she became interested in high-quality clothing. As the photos at her website reveal, she matured into an elegant woman with a sophisticated fashion sense. In 2008 New Zealand fashion designer Annah Stretton named a dress and jacket for her. At the 2007 Grammys, when asked about young performers, Baez revealed that now she listens to opera. She has refused to let her early image as a performer define or limit her later appearance or cultural interests.
Some opera singers, expected to be glamorous, may in private prefer comfortable casual clothes and be wonderfully down-to-earth. When they need to present a glamorous image, they costume accordingly. There is exceptional danger in falling prey to the mythology that can surround a diva. Seeing oneself constantly in this mythic light can lead to insufferable behavior. At the peak of her fame, silvery-voiced Kathleen Battle became so unapproachable that she had trouble dealing with both her colleagues and the people providing services for her. Her behavior ultimately became so intolerable that in 1994 she was famously fired by the Metropolitan Opera and has not worked in opera since. Here she is performing the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria with guitarist Christopher Parkening.
An enchantress had become entranced by her image as a performer. As her behavior became increasing governed by delusions of grandeur, she forgot that glamour is always partly an illusion. Her performing colleagues did not forget. When told that she had been fired, they applauded. Given how disruptive her behavior had become, one can hardly blame them. Her voice and beauty were otherworldly, but the world of opera, like all live theater, is here-and-now, and thus requires performers who can come down to earth.
(For examples of Netrebko at work in the theater, look at these excerpts (1 and 2) from a Salzburg Festival production of Verdi’s La Traviata, as broadcast on German television. With such an over-sized stage, intense vocal presence becomes a necessity.)
I can't decide which is less likely: that hip-hop fans are raging racists, or that they're really this ignorant. Being an optimist, I usually go with "ignorant."
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This British World War I poster, currently up for auction, repesents a calculated attempt to reinforce one of glamour's most ancient forms: martial glamour.
Though not himself a veteran, Frank Dadd, the illustrator, was from the generation portrayed by the old veteran in red. In a busy career, he painted many military scenes, whose accuracy was informed by his collection of arms and armor, but getting the clothes and equipment right isn't the same as portraying what a battle really looks like. (Not all Dadd's war pictures were so glamorous.)
The horrors of the Great War largely destroyed military glamour in Britain. The Dadd family suffered along with the rest of the nation. Three of Frank Dadd's nephews were killed in the war, and another wounded. Dadd's own son survived physically but never recovered from shell shock.