Love with The Proper Stranger - Classic Film of the Month
Love with The Proper Stranger is an extraordinary and important film in any era, let alone 1963.
It stars Natalie Wood and the prince of cool Steve McQueen as two people who have a one night stand after a dance and Wood's character discovers she is pregnant by a man who doesn't even remember that they met, let alone have sex.
The Birth of Cool and the Beatles
What happens next is a compelling story of class, sexual politics, women's emerging liberation from the kitchen sink and a spellbinding, bird-eye view of post-war War New York, right at the point the Beatles and youth culture was about to explode.
An Oscar-Winning Performance for Natalie
Natalie Wood won an oscar for her portrait of Angie, an Italian-American immigrant who is smothered by her over-protective, interfering family and brothers who want to marry her off to the first man who has a steady job and a home, so she rebels in an 'experiment' that leaves her with something the movies never mention - a baby and no husband which scandalises her conservative, catholic family.
Wood and McQueen are electrifying together, and the film intimately captures the strange and awkward dynamics of meeting up again with someone you had sex with once, who you don't know at all and now you have this 'problem'.
Edith Head's Sixties Costumes
The film also captures the energy and freewheeling revolution that shook society right out of its tight-lipped most war social mores. From the swinging hipster music and McQueen's kooky house-mate/girlfriend/ brilliantly portrayed by Edie Adams as Barbie to Edith Head's costumes which include impeccable tailoring and sartorial raincoats for McQueen and the little black cleavage dress, the skinny rib sweater and adorable, liberating bob for Natalie Wood!
McQueen deserves an Oscar too as Rocky, an itinerant trumpet player who trades sex for a place to shack up with a succession of lovely, frustrated women until he meets his match in Angie.
Wood's character Angie, a shop assistant at Macy's department store tracks McQueen's character to a union assembly for jobbing musicians to tell him that she is pregnant. McQueen doesn't remember meeting Angie, let alone sleeping with her. For once Rocky is shocked by his own freewheeling actions. " You just can't come up to a guy and tell him that," he says.
A Woman's Right to Abortion
Angie is crushed that the event was meaningless to him. However, she insists he helps her find a doctor to carry out an abortion in secret. Abortion wasn't legalised in New York State until 1970 and once again it is under serious threat in the 21st Century making Love with The Proper Stranger as fresh now as it was in the early sixties.
The Sexual Tension
The sexual tension makes the film. It is both comic and tragic. Angie and Rocky have made a baby, but they spend most of the film trying to keep their hands off each other by remaining as far apart as they can in the same room whilst slowly getting to know one another, and finding out what makes the other tick.
The scenes where they hang out with Rocky's family and then go on the run before turning up for the abortion appointment are exhilarating, thrilling and fascinating on so many levels. McQueen begins to open up about his life of chasing women and inevitably moving from one woman to the next. "It's tough when they love you," he says in a moment of wistful candour.
A Slice of Italian Life in the Big Apple
We witness Italian-American immigrant life in New York in the late fifties and sixties, with McQueen's mother slicing up salami and drinking Chianti whilst hanging out at a neighbourhood social and then Angie and Rocky begin to grow closer as they evade her brother's before turning up for the backstreet abortion.
The abortion scene is shocking and it should be. Women have died having backstreet abortions or they have suffered lifelong health complications. McQueen's character stops Angie desperately going through with it when he realises that they have been duped, and the woman about to perform a crude termination in an empty building is not a doctor.
Girl Power and Cultural and Social Revolution
It is so exciting to watch Natalie Wood play a young woman at the beginning of the sixties who awakens to the idea that she doesn't have to live like her mother. The sexual revolution is just beginning, she has her own job and money and she starts to assert her right to move out and get her own apartment, to date, listen to music and to run rings around McQueen by asserting herself and letting him chase her.
What an interesting, important film that captures the energy of sixties America. A film that explores the nature of human desire, the search for love, the sexual emancipation and liberation of women in the sixties and the risks and danger associated with illegal abortions by criminals who exploit desperate people.
A Black and White Love Letter to New York
Love with The Proper Stranger is a black and white elegy to a New York that no longer exists. A city of vast empty warehouses, not yet gentrified, union halls and the alluring hustle and bustle of the Big Apple and the birth of cool, with banjos and whistles, naturally. You won't want to miss Steve McQueen telling Natalie Wood that she looks 'wild' in an hourglass LBD with the most impractical, frilliest apron you will ever see in a movie about love and sex and all that jazz.
Costume Historian Vicky Haddock comments on Edith Head's costumes for Love with the Proper Stranger
Due to the contemporary subject matter of Love with the Proper Stranger, the film’s costumes take a very realistic approach to 1960s working fashion. Edith Head was Oscar-nominated in 1964 for Best Costume Design (Black & White) for her designs, and the film was actually the beginning of a long collaboration between Natalie Wood and Head.
Edith Head's Pursuit of Authenticity
Head described how she approached designing for the film, especially for Wood in her role as Italian Catholic shop-worker, Angie Rossini: ‘we had to dress Natalie Wood as a salesgirl in the pet department at Macy’s. We went straight to Macy’s and shopped for a hamster. We saw the girls who handled animals all wore a certain kind of smock. We got a sample of it and copied it exactly. Today people expect this kind of authenticity in theatrical costuming – and they expect the same kind of ‘fitness for the occasion’ in everything you wear too.’
Impeachment: American Crime Story
Impeachment, the story of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky lying under oath and committing perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case to cover up their affair is the perfect, late-night, slow-burn political and sexual thriller.
The Most Powerful Man in the World
Starring Sarah Poulson, Beeny Feldstein and Clive Owen as Clinton, Impeachment successfully reimagines the claustrophobic environment of the White House where a starry-eyed, graduate intern from a privileged but broken home who had a history of relationships with unavailable married men could be aided and abetted to get up close and personal with the most powerful man in the world. Soon, Lewinsky imagines herself in love with William Jefferson Clinton, the forty-second president of the United States.
Initially, I didn't recognise Clive Owen in the role of President Bill Clinton. That's how believable he is as President Clinton. Owen successfully portrays the president as a complex, mercurial personality. He is all charm and ice-cool, calm capability as the leader of the Western world who secretly uses sex with a series of women outside his marriage with his best friend (Hillary) to let off steam in between dealing with late-night matters of state, notably trying to hunt down Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and kill him.
Let's be honest. Power is very, very sexy. Just look at the ugly, rich and frequently very old men who managed to bed and marry women half their age, simply because they can. It's as true of rock stars, CEOs and presidents. Money, power and influence is one hell of an aphrodisiac and can obscure reality.
It's Monica Lewinsky's Story
Monica Lewinsky is named as a producer for the drama, and it is very much her story from the inside, looking out. At times, it is sad, excruciating and makes uncomfortable viewing. However, it does feel authentic. Beeny Feldstein is superb as Monica. She's a raging mix of hormones, insecurity and breathless fantasy-land. Paulson is great too as an angry, disgruntled government employee who thinks she is acting for the moral good of the nation and apart from a slightly unconvincing whig, Clive Owen nails Clinton as a complex man who projects presidential gravitas and charm with a steely darker side. Mercifully, the director has chosen not to recreate any of the scenes where Monica and the president fool around and she gives him the infamous blowjobs. I am grateful for that. This is definitely a situation where the sex is best left to the imagination and less is more.
I am sure there will be plenty of women reading this review who recognise themselves in Monica. Women who have fallen for a sophisticated older married man at university, or perhaps in their first job or with a family friend. A relationship that felt thrilling at first and then ultimately turned out to be the source of disappointment, frustration and unhappiness.
The Whitewater Scandal
In Clinton's case, it wasn't proving that he was a womaniser that was the jewel in the litigation crown. Kenneth Star was the independent prosecutor for the federal investigation into the Whitewater real estate scandal. He was trying to implicate Bill and Hillary Clinton in the huge fraud attached to the deal, but so far, the Clintons just appeared to be innocent investors.
The Republican's wouldn't let it go. They believed that the Whitewater affair and the rumours about Clinton's sexual antics and financial wheeling and dealing all pointed to a man who was morally corrupt and shouldn't be in the Whitehouse.
They wanted him out. They also thought that sex was his Achilles heel.
There had been rumours of inappropriate sexual behaviour that had swirled around Clinton since his days as the governor of Arkansas, but nothing ever stuck until Paula Jones, the secretary who accused Bill Clinton of exposing himself to her in a hotel room back in his campaigning days was helped by powerful people in the Republican camp to file a lawsuit against Clinton for sexual harassment aided and abetted by America's self-righteous, right-wing. When they were tipped off about Monica and the president, they saw their chance to implicate him in a pattern of behaviour that might finally be his undoing.
Clinton Survives and Monica Lewinsky is Publicly Shamed
What is really fascinating is that the American people didn't disapprove of Clinton cheating on Hillary. Ultimately it isn't Bill Clinton who is harmed by his affair with Monica Lewinsky. In fact, his ratings went up. It is Monica and Linda Tripp, the colleague who befriended Lewinksy and then betrayed her to Ken Starr and the FBI on the basis of her own moral crusade. It is Lewinksy and Trip who are shamed, lampooned and demonised by the media and in public. This is the story that Impeachment explores. Would the MeToo movement make any difference if a similar scandal happened now?
The BBC has also heightened the tension by only drip-feeding us one episode per week and I like it! I can't wait for episode eight on Tuesday.
Six Minutes to Midnight
Six Minutes to Midnight starring Eddie Izzard, Dame Judi Dench, James D'Arcy and Jim Broadbent is a visually accomplished WW2 spy thriller that just doesn't quite pull off all the components to become a classic of the genre. It is loosely based on the remarkably audacious story of the real Augusta Victoria College, an elite finishing school for the blonde, blue-eyed Arian daughters of the Nazi high command. The girls were sent to be 'polished' in the unlikely setting of England's south coast in the years leading up to WW2.
Eddie Izzard's character poses as a teacher and replaces the last incumbent who washes up on the beach after being murdered. I rather like Eddie Izzard in boy, spy mode. He is believable as a laconic spy and suits the sharp, noirish tailoring, homburg hats and genteel elegance of the girls finishing school. Alas, Judy Dench's character is entirely one dimensional as the naive head, who cares about her girls. As a result, she rather coasts through the film as a sort of pale copy of Dame Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and I would love to have seen more of Jim Broadbent's heroic local bus driver.
Six Minutes to Midnight is let down by the chase scenes and a plot that just isn't quite clever enough to be compelling. Where the film excels is in Chris Seager's cinematography, which focuses on the visual display and order of Hitler's propaganda machine. He captures the spirit of Nazism by showing us the hypnotic lines of the girls exercise classes and regimented marching on the iconic, cathedral cliffs, and the scene where the frightened girls are ordered to form a human landing path on the beach at dusk is intense, dramatic and terrifying.
Radio Highlights of the Week on BBC Sounds
Things We Forgot to Remember - Revisit all the action, uncertainty and extraordinary bravery of the RAF at the height of WW2! Michael Portillo explores the gripping, once-top-secret story of how a German Junkers warplane and its crew got completely lost over Britain and landed safely at an RAF airbase in Suffolk thinking they were landing back in Germany. The sergeant who came to meet them got the surprise of his life. The captured aircraft provided the vital intelligence we needed to help win the war in the air.
Cillian Murphy's Limited Edition
Travel far, far away with a dreamily nocturnal selection of music jewels and conversation with Irish actor Cillian Murphy from the Kinks to Madlib and Nina Simone.
Radcliffe and Maconie
The masters of laid-back wit, musings and cool, eclectic music with Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie. This week they talk to Peter Capaldi.
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