Last Year at Marienbad (1961), directed by Alain Resnais, from top: Delphine Seyrig and Giorgio Albertazzi; grounds at Marienbad; Seyrig and Albertazzi; SachaPitoëff and Seyrig; Albertazzi and Seyrig; Seyrig; Albertazzi (left) and Pitoëff; Seyrig. Images courtesy Rialto Pictures.
In the 1960s, Hydra was a seemingly magical refuge from the world, a bubble that kept you safe as long as you stayed inside it. But for many who left the Grecian island and returned to what was then referred to as the “rat race,” life away from their sanctuary proved dangerous, and there were many casualties along the way.
Leonard Cohen met an early, essential inspiration for his life’s work on Hydra—Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian woman who was visiting Greece with her husband and son. This is where MARIANNE & LEONARD—WORDS OF LOVE—the fascinating new documentary by NickBroomfield—begins. Cohen’s obsessive self-involvement provided its own buttress against straight society:
“A large part of my life was escaping, whatever it was… It was a selfish life, but at the time it felt like survival.”
It was left to Marianne to take what Broomfield—during his Film IndependentPresents post-screening interview with artistic director Jacqueline Lyanga—called the “oddly unflattering” role of muse. MARIANNE & LEONARD brings us the lifelong entanglements, the separations and reunions, the breakdowns and break-ups, the round-the-clock use of speed, wine, LSD, and other substances (“They used to call me Captain Mandrax,” explains Cohen in the film, citing the Quaalude-like drug he used to combat paralyzing stage fright)—all told through the eyes and hindsight of a man, Broomfield, who was also on Hydra in the ’60s and also fell in love with Marianne.
The film ends with Cohen reciting the last lines of his poem “Days of Kindness”:
“… What I loved in my old life I haven’t forgotten It lives in my spine Marianne and the child The days of kindness It rises in my spine and it manifests as tears I pray that loving memory exists for them too the precious ones I overthrew for an education in the world.”
Ihlen and Cohen died less than four months apart. And in the end he did give her what she wanted most, sending her a last message on her death bed: “See you down the road my friend. Endless love and gratitude, your Leonard.”
Black and white photographs: Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen in Marianne & Leonard—Words of Love (2), courtesy and Nick Broomfield and Roadside Attractions. Color photographs: Broomfield (2) and Jacqueline Lyanga at the Film Independent Presents special screening of Marianne &Leonard at the Arclight Hollywood on July 2, 2019. Photograph by Araya Diaz/Getty Images.
Nearly thirty years after his death, Halston—the master of American minimalism and fashion’s greatest cautionary tale—has finally received a documentary worthy of his contributions. Unlike the designs of its subject, the film is somewhat padded with yards of unnecessary material. But this should not deter its intended audience from enjoying the ensemble.
Directed by Frédéric Tcheng—the filmmaker behind documentaries about Raf Simons (Diorand I) and Diana Vreeland (The Eye Has to Travel)—HALSTON hits an early peak when, one after another, his core house models—dismissively labeled “Halstonettes” by Loulou de la Falaise—testify to the talent of the man who could throw a bolt of fabric onto the showroom floor and, within minutes, create the basis of a couture gown:
“[Wearing a Halston dress imparted] elegance and ease. A sense of owning power without being masculine. And honoring the body you have.” — Alva Chinn
“You were free inside his clothes.” — Karen Bjornson
“He took away the cage. You didn’t really need the structure as much as you needed the woman. He really based most of his collections on us girls.” — Pat Cleveland
So where did it all go wrong? Cocaine and Studio 54 may have started the slide—and in the film, jewelry designer and Halston confidante Else Peretti gives a hilarious digression on mind-altering substances and their use:
“We worked all night… we didn’t get high… yes, we smoked, but no hard drugs… well, maybe a little coke…”
Because when you’re working all night…
But the man who introduced Halston to Studio 54, illustrator Joe Eula, traces the designer’s fall to the delusions of grandeur that set in after the move to the Olympic Tower studio, with its lofty, across-the-street view of St. Patrick’s spires.
The irascible, amphetamine-dependent fashion genius Charles James, who briefly worked with Halston Limited, was—typically—incendiary:
“Halston is a middle-of-the-road man who’d be better as a buyer in a store, or a stylist. He knows how to select good things to copy. But his passion is to put his name on it, for which action the word ‘plagiarism’ is correct.”
In the film, Fred Rottman, a workroom supervisor at Halston, is quick to deflect:
“Halston didn’t copy. He took concepts of Charles James’ and relaxed them.”
Halston’s era—the 1970s and early ’80s—was a time of out-of-control franchising. A designer sold his name to and sometimes designed for an array of manufacturers, slapping the cachet of his or her moniker on, yes, perfume and handbags, but also bedsheets, luggage, rugs, car interiors, and—in Halston’s case—uniforms for Braniff Airlines and the Girl Scouts of America.
This obsession to design everything for everyone, trading “class” for “mass,” led to the sale of his company to a conglomerate—a subject the film spends far too much time on. Suffice to say, Halston lost his judgment: How could he imagine that Bergdorf Goodman would want to carry a brand that was also hanging on the racks at J.C. Penney?
The film includes interviews with the designer’s friends Liza Minnelli, Bob Colacello, MarisaBerenson, Iman, Joel Schumacher, Naeem Khan, and his niece Lesley Frowick.
“The beauty of dance… is that it gets passed from one body, one soul, to another. There’s something so beautiful, so precious about that. It comes out of the body, it goes into the air, and then it disappears.” — Stephen Petronio
In the afterglow of the Merce Cunningham—Night of 100 Solos events, the immersive new documentary IF THE DANCER DANCES tells a different Cunningham story: the 2015 restaging of the choreographer’s RainForest by the Stephen Petronio Company.
The sexual quality and hint of narrative in this 1968 dance—with music by David Tudor, costumes by Jasper Johns, and décor by Andy Warhol (the silver, helium-filled pillows)—create an atmosphere distinct from almost every other Cunningham work. The challenge for the stagers—and Cunningham company veterans—Andrea Weber, Meg Harper, and Rashaun Mitchell is replacing the continuous-movement ethos of the Petronio dancers with Cunningham’s non-momentum aesthetic. As the film demonstrates, how to do this is perhaps a subject of dispute:
“The focus needs to be exactly on what you’re doing, and not on an image of anything.” — MegHarper
“RainForest… transcended pure movement… [The dancers] need to hear images that might help them.” — Gus Solomons, Jr., Cunningham company veteran
IF THE DANCER DANCES—directed by Lise Friedman and Maia Wechsler—mixes extensive performance and interview footage of Petronio’s dancers and their teachers with scenes of Cunningham rehearsals from the 1960s. This essential document of modern dance making and Cunningham’s philosophy and practice is playing around town through May 9.