Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New Friends: New York

Guys, I promise I won't always take photos in front of my closet.  I promise.  For the moment, the only times I can get in a shoot are either weekdays before work, or sometimes the weekend, assuming I have somewhere to go!  And between the near-arctic weather outside (no coat? no thank you) and trying to find a place to shoot with my tripod, it's just been easier to take some shots in the warmth of the apartment.  It's actually one of the million ways long-distance relationships suck-- I've realized lately that most of the vintage bloggers I follow have significant others who help out with taking photos.  Unfortunately, my girlfriend's squarely in Baltimore.  There's a few developments in the works that'll hopefully shake things up a bit, but in the meantime I'll be on the lookout for a little indoor location variety!

In any case, last week a friend of mine had the amazing idea of inviting over a group of women she thought ought to know each other.  So over wine and a giant bag of candy, I and about ten other women from different walks of life got acquainted, and it was awesome.  Post-college/grad school, it can be really hard to meet and make friends, and in New York, where everyone seems to be booked two months in advance, it's even harder.  Hosting a friend meet-up is a generous and brilliant way to bridge that gap, and I hope we'll all get together again soon.

As for What I Wore, I took a little inspiration from the women in the photographs I featured last week and did a little 1930s-esque feminine menswear.  It was also a great occasion to break out a new bow tie I got at the Manhattan Vintage Show the weekend before!

I could probably write a post about The Posts I Meant to Write, and the Manhattan Vintage Show would be at the top of that list.  I had an outfit planned and my camera ready to go, and then a small snowstorm forced me to change the outfit.  Then, right after buying my ticket, I looked up and saw a sign that read "No Photography."  So... there went that post.  I did score a few terrific finds at the show, however, and this polka dot bow tie is one of 'em.

I think I like bow ties because they're simultaneously an accessory and an integral part of an outfit.  It doesn't have the look of an add-on, which is often how I feel about necklaces and bracelets.  It's the same reason I'm looking to fill out my brooch collection, and probably why I hunted high and low for a pearl sweater collar.

This skirt is one of my favorites, less because of the color than because of the silhouette; I really like slim-cut pleats, as they can be adapted for looks anywhere from the 1920s-early 1940s (see also Jessica's gorgeous early 1940s-esque look, thanks to a slim pleated skirt).

Somehow, despite the twelve bottles of red wine at the meetup, the skirt came through the evening unscathed--a vintage miracle!

Hope you're well and keeping warm this winter--or cool this summer, to any Australian readers!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Snapshot: Oops, I Did It Again.

Hey everyone!  This post is coming out super late for a Sunday Snapshot, but as always my weekends tend to be almost as busy as my weekdays!  Here's what I was up to, between running errands:

Remember that time I said I'd never buy another fixer-upper suit, because it was too much work?  Yeah. Turns out I'm a liar, because Oops, I did it again.

I found a beautiful 1930s suit at a flea market a few weeks ago.  The seller wanted $75 for it--a serious bargain, particularly as the jacket is gorgeous.  It fit like a glove, and I was about to hand over some money when I remembered to actually, you know, inspect the garment.  That's what I noticed a handful of moth holes in the skirt.  There are few worse feelings in vintage life than having to tell a very sweet seller that the garment she thought was near-mint is actually very damaged.  The jacket has only two very minor faults, though, and when she dropped the price by $30, I couldn't pass it up.  So, here I am, back in the repairing saddle again.  This time, though, I went with mending tape.

The biggest of the eight or so holes.
I have this anxiety that when I mend garments, I'm doing it "wrong," but in this case, the drape of the fabric and its color made me think mending tape was probably a good, safe option, so I went for it.

  The mend itself went well, and I'm now debating whether I should reinforce it with a few small stitches.  Any suggestions are welcome!  In the meantime, I'm planning to shoot the full suit in a few weeks, so look out for it!

After making (and loving!) my first skirt, I decided to try another one, this time at the length I'd actually intended the first one to be.  After seriously, seriously hunting around for this precise fabric, I ended up going back to the store at which I'd bought the burgundy fabric.  I'd gone there first, actually, but hoped to find a better price somewhere else.  Turns out, emerald green wool blend is hard to come by.  In any case, I got a good deal on it in the end, and might have enough to make a second, accompanying garment (hope hope)!

Photography lesson: backlighting is bad.
Part of my motivation is also so that I can have a long, cold-weather skirt to wear with the Doris petticoat I got for Christmas-- it's gorgeous, and deserves an outing!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Operation: Photo Rescue

You may remember from my Vintage Potpourri post a while back that I came into possession of two beautiful photo albums.  Most of the photos are in terrific condition, despite their crumbling, assuredly acid-filled album pages, and for a while now I've wanted to transfer them over to a new, safer method of storage.  My hope was to get black pages I could put back into the original albums, since their covers are so beautiful, but it finally got to the point where I just needed to get them out of the disintegrating papers and somewhere safe.

So with that in mind, I headed over to B&H to figure out how best to store these celluloid treasures, and got a lot more than I bargained for.  That store is massive.  As in, massive.  I got a little overwhelmed and since I couldn't quickly find the paper I was looking for--and realized getting it into the albums would be a little more complicated than I'd thought, with different sizings, acid-free settings, protective covers, etc. to account for. To make things easier, I bought two small albums for simple, no-muss storage.  It turns out I have way more photos than these albums have pages, so I'll be making another run soon, but in the meantime, I think it's a good temporary solution.

Then began the honestly rather depressing process of removing the photos from their original paper.  While some of the photos were displayed using photo corners, a great many of them were pasted in.  And as I started carefully peeling them up, I discovered whoever originally took and owned the photographs had just as carefully documented many of the photos.  Much of the writing is now lost.  

Why glue? Why?
It makes me wonder about the life of these photos-- I really doubt the same woman who took such care in writing on the backs of them is the person who pasted them into the paper.  Interestingly enough, the paster seems to have taken a doubtlessly well-intentioned route to preservation: the older and more documented the photo, the more heavily the paste was applied.  Well-intentioned, and now super frustrating.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few of the gems I've found so far.
"The L.O.S.L. gang & Helen S., July 4, 1937
I have no idea what the L.O.S.L. gang is, but it looks like a fun group of ladies!  One woman (back row, second from right) even has the acronym sewn onto her sweater!

This one is really sweet, and at the same time, breaks my heart from the reverse side's condition:

The reverse says, "Met him in the Watres Armory on a Monday nite. Aug 14, 1935."  Then at the bottom, "Don't be afraid my love, this only my ____, N.J."  I thought it might say Aunt something, but I'm not sure the top would make sense.  In any case, even though this photo was kept in the album by photo squares, it still saw some damage from age, and possibly the pages themselves.

I have a little bit of a crush on the woman seated all the way to the right in this photo.  She appears throughout the album:

And in fact, there are many photos of women in menswear from the 1930s, which I'm so happy to have come across-- I think it speaks to the popularity of the look in the period.  Or at least, with certain segments of the population.  Here's the back:

"Taken in Carmel's yard, Dunmore, July 4, 1937.  There are several photos from that date, and many featuring Carmel.
Next up, a lady with a great sense of humor. 

This one says, "It's really me, Mike, ___. Next picture I'll push out my face-- No I'm not really that fat it's the coat. Ha, Ha,".  I've gotta say, that's why I've never invested in a swing coat.  I think she looks nice, but I sympathize with the self-assessment.

Throughout the album, the rectangular pieces cut from pages and empty picture squares testify to the way the photos were sold before I got to them.  If I'd wanted, I could've ripped out a page and bought it, rather than the whole thing.  I much prefer, obviously, to keep them together--it's a family album, after all--and I wonder what photos are floating out there alone.  This one is a fallen soldier, I'm guessing from someone who wanted to pull out just that photo.

But, let's go out on a high note-- this one caught my eye partly because of the celebration it's captured, but also for another reason:

Is it just me, or do I look like the girl hoisting that wine jug in the air?  I mean... that's probably who I would be in a similar party situation.  Partly because babies make me nervous.  Here's the reverse:

"The Whole Family reunion. What a sharp time we all had."  Hey, who knows-- maybe that hard-partying, babyless lady in the back is me in a former life!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Queer Vintage/Vintage Queer: Mädchen in Uniform (1931 & 1958)

For this Queer Vintage/Vintage Queer profile I'll be talking about the German film Mädchen in Uniform, both the original 1931 version and its 1958 remake.  Based on the play Gestern und Heute (Yesterday and Today) by Christa Winsloe, Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform) is set in 1910 Prussia and follows 14-year-old Manuela Meinhardis, a recent addition to a strict all-girls' school, and her growing fixation on the school's most popular teacher, Fraulein von Bernburg.  Very noteworthy: both films feature an all-female cast.

1958 remake
Original 1931 film

There's a lot to talk about here, and a fair amount's been said on the side of film history and on the side of LGBTQ interest sites like Autostraddle and After Ellen (reviews linked).  It'd be possible to talk about the films' place in film history, or about all the Super Gay Moments (and trust me, there are a lot).   Since I'm interested in both, I'll be taking some of Column A and some of B.  Nearly 30 prime years in film history separates the two films, so I'll talk a little bit about what sets each apart in terms of filmmaking, and each films' presentation of Queerness and what each suggest about the perception of lesbianism in 1931 and 1958--Lesbianism As Fixation, and Lesbianism As Illness, respectively.


Spoiler alert!

After her mother's death, Manuela is brought to an all-girls' school for a proper education and some old-fashioned tough love.  Branded "overly emotional," she cries often, as one tends to do after one's mother dies.  The school's strict, often arbitrary rules censor the girls' every move--candy is confiscated upon entry along with pocket money, books are forbidden, including Manuela's diary (in the 1958 version), meals are meager, and letters home to parents must be read and approved by faculty, most especially by the authoritarian Headmistress.  The Headmistress is an iron-fisted Prussian who believes hunger and poverty will lead Prussia back to greatness, and that individuality and emotion must be checked, so as to produce the mothers of future Prussian soldiers.  So this school sounds like a blast.

The only kindness Manuela receives, apart from her fellow students, comes from her teacher Fraulein von Bernburg.  Beautiful but distant, von Bernburg is a frequent object of schoolgirls' crushes--Manuela's hand-me-down dress was embroidered with EvB and a heart by its previous owner.  Manuela quickly grows attached to von Bernbeug, who takes a special interest in Manuela as well, hoping to provide a counterpoint to the school's rigidity.

Gradually, Manuela's crush overtakes her, and after the school play--in which she plays the male lead--she downs a few too many rum punches, and announces her love for Fraulein von Bernburg.  Mentioning some of the special treatment she's received, she shouts that von Bernburg loves her, too.  The Headmistress is outraged, and immediately sends Manuela into confinement and forbids her any future interaction with von Bernburg.  Von Bernburg resigns, and in her hysteria Manuela nearly commits suicide by throwing herself down the school's main stairwell.  She's intercepted just in time, and the film ends with the Headmistress chastened by the dire results of her strict treatment of the girls.

Differences in Production

Though the production value differs enormously between the 1931* and 1958 films, both follow the same story, each with a few details of their own.  Given the novelty of sound and still-developing techniques in cinematography, the older film is a rougher view--cuts between scenes have a near-palpable jolt, actors aren't always framed well, and acting styles vary widely.  That many of the actors in the film were pulled straight from the stage production of Gestern und Heute explains this last detail. By comparison, the 1958 film is much more recognizable.  Hollywood's influence is felt in everything from the seamless structure of the story to the superb acting, and even the conventional beauty of Fraulein von Bernburg (played by Lilli Palmer).

While many of the developments in film make the 1958 version more watchable, 1931 director Leontine Sagan used much of early film's limitations to her advantage.  Using heavy chiaroscuro techniques, Sagan captured the gloomy, forbidding environment of the school wordlessly.

A still from the 1931 film Mädchen in Uniform
Costuming and casting were also used for a particular effect.  While Lilli Palmer is softly beautiful, Dorothea Weick's Fraulein von Bernburg, with high-neck dress, severe hair, and darker features, appears alternately cold and riveting.  She embodies the warning given to Manuela on her first day: "Careful you don't fall in love!  …She's different.  She's hard to read.  She'll give you a terrifying look, then all of a sudden she'll be sweet again.  Frau Bernburg is really strange."

Dorothea Wieck as Fraulein von Bernburg, 1931
Lilli Palmer as Fraulein von Bernburg, 1958
Mädchen in Uniform's first film adaptation occurred towards the end of the Weimar Republic.  This inter-war period, much like the Roaring Twenties in the U.S., saw an explosion of culture, with an outpouring of theater, film, music, art, literature, and a burgeoning a gay subculture.  Taboos were openly violated, sex was out in the open, and Marlene Dietrich crooned a lesbian duet with her "Beste Freundin."  Though some queer interest pieces express shock that a movie about sexual love between two women was made in--gasp!--1931, knowing the environment of the Weimar Republic, I was surprised the film wasn't more shocking.  Similarly, some  praise the 1958 film for craftily evading the stringent Hays Code, which heavily, heavily censored film content beginning in 1930--forgetting that the Hays Code had no jurisdiction over foreign films.  In both cases, the content of the films is shocking, but perhaps not for the reasons most frequently cited.

1931: Lesbianism As Fixation

In the 1931 film, almost from the moment we're introduced to Manuela, she's weeping.  She cries often--to a new friend when talking about her mother, very often in front of Fraulein von Bernburg, and so thoroughly that a maid tells von Bernburg, "I feel sorry for Fraulein von Bernburg… She cries a lot at night.  Her pillow is always wet."  Though she has reason enough to cry, her emotions are discouraged--"Soldiers' daughters don't cry!" she's told by her aunt, who, it's worth noting, is the deceased mother's sister.  Though von Bernburg is equally stern at every outburst, she quickly softens and attempts to comfort Manuela.  The turning point in their relationship comes when von Bernburg bids the girls goodnight.  She gives each a goodnight kiss on the forehead, a ritual that elicits near-hysterical glee from the girls.  When she reaches Manuela, Manuela throws herself onto von Bernburg, having finally found some comfort, and when von Bernburg pulls Manuela away, she gives her a goodnight kiss on the lips.
That is quite a goodnight kiss.
Of course, the kiss isn't quite as romantic as a still image suggests, but it's enough of a mixture of motherly and erotic love to feed Manuela's fixation.  From this point on, whenever she has a problem, Manuela turns to von Bernburg.  On one occasion, von Bernburg gives her a camisole, to replace the worn one Manuela brought with her, and in her happiness, she hugs von Bernburg--and promptly weeps.  When von Bernburg questions her, Manuela makes a confession:
M: I'm not unhappy at all, I don't really know why I'm crying.
EvB: Are you homesick?
M: Homesick?  No.  Sometimes I just need to cry.
EvB: And you don't know why?  Or is it something you can't trust me with?
M: I can trust you with everything, it's just hard to say.
EvB: Try, I'd really like to know.
M: When you say goodnight and leave, and shut the door behind you, I stare at the door in the darkness.  I want to get up and go to you, but I know I can't.  And when I think how I'll have to leave, and you'll still be here, kissing different girls every night… I love you so, but you're always so distant!  I can't ever go to your room and talk to you, or take your hand--
EvB: Pull yourself together, child!

This girl must have a real problem with dehydration.
 Rather than shut Manuela down completely, von Bernburg tells her she must be a good friend to the other girls, and realize that if she made exceptions for her, the others would be jealous.  She dangles a carrot in front of her, too-- "I think of you very often, Manuela."  Manuela leaves elated, and further infatuated.

Though this scene has definite sapphic overtones, the fact that each of Manuela and von Bernburg's encounters is preceded by Manuela weeping with grief and followed by a comforting word suggests that what Manuela feels isn't sexual, it's emotional.  Manuela feels deeply for von Bernburg, but her frantic love is her grasping tightly to a surrogate mother.  From this vantage point, Manuela's determination to impress von Bernburg with her lead role in Schiller's Don Carlos and her drunken outburst afterward are frenzied attempts to keep this affection--an understandable desire after the loss of a mother.  Further bolstering this interpretation? In Don Carlos, the eponymous character falls in love with his stepmother.  After the show, in her drunkenness, Manuela gets the attention of the others girls, and shouts:

"She gave me a present.  A camisole.  I've got it on.  She opened her cupboard and gave me a camisole!  'Wear it and think of me.'  No, she didn't say that, but that must be what she meant.  I'm so happy, because now I know for sure-- she cares for me!  Fraulein von Bernburg!  Nothing else matters. She's there, she cares for me!  I'm not afraid of anything or anyone!  Long live our beloved Fraulein von Bernburg!"

Unfortunately for Manuela, the Headmistress arrived to see what the commotion was, and, screaming "Scandal!" sends Manuela into confinement.  Manuela's histrionics appear to upset the Headmistress not because of their object, but because emotionalism in general angers her--particularly when invited (monied) playgoers are in the next room.  Similarly, Manuela's despair at being separated from von Bernburg can be understood as a reaction to having a second maternal figure ripped from her side.  Manuela's fixation on von Bernburg is extreme, but nowhere does it suggest an overtly sexual longing.

One cinematographic detail that throws von Bernburg's motivations into question: at two points, a close-up of von Bernburg is followed by a double exposure and closeup of Manuela's angelic face--von Bernburg has either a vision or a fantasy of Manuela.  Once during class, and once immediately before Manuela's attempted suicide.

In this period, lesbianism as it's known today wasn't exactly a concept.  Mädchen in Uniform came out during Berlin's fascination with Marlene Dietrich's Lola Lola, and was in fact overshadowed by Der Blaue Engel.  Just before Mädchen in Uniform was filmed, Dietrich also beat Mädchen to the first female/female kiss in film with Morocco.  But for all of this queerness circulating, lesbian sex was most often considered a part of a woman's sex life, not its entirety.  Dietrich was bisexual, but at no time questioned heterosexuality as the norm. Lesbian sex was considered to be good for a girl, in fact, but didn't threaten said girl's eventual capitulation to the norms of marriage and motherhood.  It simply made her cheeks rosy, her complexion clear, and made for a little fun.  Women who were exclusively lesbian were less common, for myriad reasons, and so the idea of a girl actually in love with a woman would be at best a harmless crush, and at worst an embarrassing fixation.

1958: Lesbianism as Illness

Romy Schneider as Manuela
For me, the 1958 film is infinitely more interesting, not because of its better production value or more sophisticated techniques, but because it presents Manuela's love for von Bernburg as sexual obsession, and even more, suggests the feelings are mutual.

While the film follows the same plot points as the original, less significant sequences are cut and a few key subplots are inserted in their place.  First, the performed play is changed from Schiller's Don Carlos to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, with fascinating results.  Second, lesbian relationships among the other schoolgirls are featured.  And third, the 1958 version raises the question of why Fraulein von Bernburg never married.

In 1958, Schiller is ditched for Shakespeare, and Manuela plays Romeo.  When she has trouble summoning Romeo's passion, von Bernburg offers to tutor her.  Playing R&J's first meeting, Manuela ignores the direction she'd received from her teacher to blow Juliet a kiss, and boldly kisses von Bernburg.  Not only is this a reversal from the 1931 bedtime kiss, in which Manuela was a passive recipient, this kiss is in a romantic, not maternal, context.

In Manuela's drunken confession, she begins reciting Romeo's monologues for her schoolmates (monologue translated from German, which differs from Shakespeare's original):
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
The moon is sick and pale with grief!
Wait but a moment-- I'll give an answer!
It is she: my goddess, my love,
Fräulein von Bernburg.
Why are you looking at me?  She knows.  She knows it, and she loves me, she loves me so!  …She gave me a dress, a silk dress!  No, no, not a dress, a camisole.  One of her camisoles, and said I should wear it and think of her!  No, she didn't say that.  She didn't have to.  I know she loves me.  I'm not scared.  Of anyone.  Not of anyone!  Cheers!  Cheers, Fraulein von Bernburg!  I love her.  I love her!
The language in this version is more passionate and more overt.  There can be no confusion about Manuela's feelings here, and the Headmistress' horror has nothing to do with an excess of feeling.

In addition to M's growing love for von Bernburg, two other pairings are shown.  Two girls sit on a bench, and one tells the other, "I'm writing you a letter."  The delighted recipient asks to read it :
"Dearest, sweetest Mia.  Let me be near you, and sit with you at dinner.  Your little Josie."
This scene occurs in 1931, but is blunted-- in the earlier version, a girl reads a note aloud to a friend, sent to her by a girl she says has a crush on her.  The two laugh at the note before being caught by von Bernburg, who tears up the note without reading it.  It's a source of amusement and embarrassment.  In 1958, von Bernburg tears up the note, again without reading it--this time, doubtlessly to the extreme relief of the mutually interested girls.  But even more, before choosing to tear it up, von Bernburg glances between the girls, and with this pause, she understands the current running between her students.  She knows what's going on, and she tacitly permits it.  Later, Josie draws Mia, who sits next to her with an arm laced around her shoulders.  On seeing the finished drawing, she gives Josie a long kiss on the cheek.  We're talking four seconds long, continued even after the camera pans away from them.  The two are interrupted when an obnoxious classmate rips the paper from Mia's hands, and Josie chases the girl, retrieves the drawing, and, to keep it away from the others, eats it.

Josie and Mia, the most functional couple in the film.
Most important of all, though, is Alexanda Treskow, Manuela's rival for von Bernburg's affections.  Early on, Alexandra's longing gazes at von Bernburg betray her love, and she notes von Bernburg's attentions to Manuela with growing alarm.  After following Manuela to von Bernburg's room and witnessing her gift of a chemise, Alexandra returns to her bed and weeps.  Manuela notices a glum Alexandra after the play, and speaking privately, Alexandra confronts her.  She hints at potential problems, should the Headmistress' assistant get wise:
A: I saw you two.
M: Who? What did you see?
A: You and Fraulein von Bernburg, Sunday night.  When she took you to her room.
M: Ah.  I'm sorry, that was my secret.
A: I won't tell, don't worry.
M: Worry?  About what?
A: If Racket knew…
M (mockingly): What are you talking about?
A: Nothing, Manuela.  I'm jealous of you, that's all.  But Racket…
M: Oh, Racket, Racket, Racket! She's not worthy to wipe von Bernburg's boots!  Cheers!
This isn't a conversation between teacher's pets.  It's a knowing conversation between two closeted rivals.  And sensing she's lost, Alexandra alerts Racket that Manuela is drunk, and in the process outs Manuela.

The most shocking twist, though, is what happens immediately before Alexandra and Manuela's conversation.  Von Bernburg joins the girls briefly to congratulate them on the play's success, and praises Manuela for her Romeo.  On her way out, she sees Alexandra, who stands dejectedly apart from the others.  Von Bernburg sees her and asks, "What's wrong, Treskow?  Didn't you enjoy it?"  She then follows Alexandra's glance to the overjoyed Manuela.  Von Bernburg gives Alexandra the same look with which she recognized Josie and Mia, and, lowering her voice, says, "Don't be a spoilsport, Alexandra."  The look and the switch to a more familiar address suggest that von Bernburg is aware of their rivalry.  But even more, it sounds and looks like a cold dismissal of a former lover.

This leads to the perception of von Bernburg in the film.  While in 1931 she appeared to be a straight woman with a few bi-curious visions, in 1958 it's not so clear.  While on a walk, the girls wonder why Fraulein von Bernburg never married.  Only unmarried women could be teachers--a curious tradition that was true in the U.S., too, until the last century--but given von Bernburg's magnetism, the girls wonder why she, specifically, would choose to remain  unmarried.  Meanwhile, von Bernburg continues to seek out Manuela after her initial confession ("You're always so distant!"), running lines with her--which every theater kid knows is totally code for I Dig You--and later bringing Manuela to her room to give her a chemise.  In 1931, von Bernburg gave Manuela the chemise *before* her confession; in 1958, it's an opportunity to be alone with her.  Furthermore, each time the two are discovered (in her office, running lines), von Bernburg suddenly re-assumes an air of authority, an indication that her behavior was out of the ordinary, and she knows it.  It's getting a little clearer, why von Bernburg never married.

"You're giving me your lingerie? Kind of sending mixed signals here, Fraulein."
So with all these pro-lesbian characters and moments, surely the perception of lesbianism in 1958 is different?  Well, yes and no.  On the positive side, lesbianism is considered a Real Thing, not a pastime.  On the less positive side… it's an illness.  Once Manuela's secret is out, she's whisked away to be holed up alone.  You know, where she can't infect the other girls with gayness.  When her friend Ilga tries to defend her to Rackets, an interesting exchange ensues:
I: I'm so scared for Manuela.  She's so strange and silent.
R: Meinhardis doesn't deserve your friendship.  Her company can only be bad for you.
I: Manuela isn't bad!
R: No, of course not, but… I can't explain, you're still too young-- just trust me.
Listen.  I know you've been through a lot today, but… we need to talk.
Shortly thereafter, Manuela sneaks out of confinement and into von Bernburg's room.  Now that Manuela's attraction is public knowledge, von Bernburg tries to counsel Manuela, who mutters that, if she's unable to see von Bernburg, "[t]hen life isn't worth living."  Though von Bernburg insists she only tried to show Manuela friendship, her hand wringing and pacing suggest otherwise--as does the electric shock she seems to feel when she grabs hold of Manuela, to talk sense to her.  She then says:
EvB: I think the headmistress was right.  Only strictness can cure you.
M: Cure me?  Of what?
EvB: You cannot love me.
Getting outed and rejected within 24 hours? Rough.
And in the end, after Manuela's attempted suicide, the ending is extended from the 1931 version, which closes on the defeated figure of the Headmistress just seconds after Manuela's attempt.  Here, at the unconscious Manuela's bedside, the Headmistress begs von Bernburg to remain at the school.  She demurs:
EvB: Manuela will find her own way.  I have to go; I'd only be in her way.
The idea that a newly-out lesbian can, if she's just left alone, straighten herself out, is a theory prominent in lesbian pulp fiction.  It's a subject for another QV/VQ, but as much lesbian pulp fiction was written during the deeply restrictive 1950s, order had to be restored by the ending, aka the gay needed to be prayed away.  Sometimes one girl went mad while the other "healed" herself, sometimes one died or met some other sordid end, and sometimes--in what qualifies as a happier style of ending--they just broke up.  But the exact idea in 1958's Mädchen, of just letting lesbianism work itself out of a girl's system by getting her away from her lover, resolved the ending of Spring Fire (1952), by Vin Packer.  Though not all lesbian pulp fiction ended this way, it's disappointing how much historical lesbian literature--and modern lesbian literature (looking at you, Le bleu est une couleur chaude…)-- has a heteronormative ending.  But what's hopeful about 1958's ending is its final image-- Manuela: unconscious, still totally gay, and radiant.  Is it a small push against the norm?  Who knows.  But I'll take it.

Oh, what the hell.  Here's a list of the Top Super Gay Moments in Mädchen in Uniform:

--1931: The Bedtime Kiss
--1931: When introduced to the headmistress' assistant, Manuela's instructed to curtsy, but gives her a firm handshake instead.
--1931: As Manuela runs lines before going onstage, her friend randomly strokes her leg and gazes up at her.
--1958: Fräulein von Bernburg does a walk-through of the girls' showers, which have ridiculously low-slung curtains:

I mean…….. this is pretty gay.  And since it's Alexandra's hair she's fluffing, it's super gay,
--1958 Rumor has it the two stars had a fling during shooting.  This photo does nothing to quell said rumor:
And this? Unrepentantly gay.

--In both versions, the leads perform in drag:

--And, lest we forget, this happened:

*It's important to note that the 1931 film went through heavy editing after the rise of the Third Reich, and the surviving version--including the version I watched--likely has considerable differences, and cuts that may have exacerbated the jumpy feel of the film.  That said, though it may differ from its original content and intent--and the full version could possibly contradict my take on it--it is the version written about by film historians, and as such, has to be up for comparison and discussion.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Industrial Musicals!

Hey everybody!  While I work on the next Queer Vintage post--expect it later this week--I thought I'd share something a friend sent me: the Industrial Musical!

The idea of a musical as a corporate invention isn't anything new, particularly in New York--much of Broadway is for-profit--but  this Studio 360 story talks about the musical expressly written for a business, and it may be the best thing I've ever read about theatrical history.

In the 1950s-70s, businesses would hire writers to write short musicals to educate their sales force and staff about new products--a purely brilliant idea, given how much easier it can be to remember information put to a tune.  And businesses didn't just hire any ol' scribe.  Heard of Fiddler on the Roof?  Five years before its debut (and the same year he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Fiorello!) Jerry Bock co-wrote the Ford Tractor Musical Ford-i-fy Your Future.

Like Cabaret?  You just might enjoy Go Fly a Kite, General Electric's 1966 musical, written by Kander and Ebb: 

More into romance?  Check out "My Bathroom," from American Standard's vaguely threateningly titled 1969 musical The Bathrooms are Coming:

Prefer some good old patriarchy?  How about "An Exxon Dealer's Wife," from Put Yourself in their Shoes, Exxon 1979.  Best lyric?
"This dealer's wife is a full-service island!"

For more songs, including one of Bock's creations and another sung by The Florence Henderson, check out Steve Young's website, or get your hands on his book, Everything's Coming Up Profits.

Listen to the whole story here:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I made a skirt!

As I've gotten more and more into vintage clothing over the past few years, and more familiar with the scene's unique challenges--scarcity, cost of maintenance, repairs, alterations, etc.--I started to realize I really should've learned how to sew.  I had multiple opportunities--both my grandmothers are/were proficient sewers, and I could've learned during my foray into theater in undergrad.  For some reason, though, I demurred, apart from a lone set of PJ pants I made with my paternal grandmother when I was young.  I use the phrase "I made with" very, very loosely.  In any case, when I gradually made the shift  from a "well this is cool and unique and eco-conscious" collector to a "omg I'm obsessed" collector, I realized what a mistake I'd made.

Last year (it's weird to be able to say that already, it's barely this year) I decided to do something about it.  One of the best things about New York, and probably the main thing that could keep me here, is the overwhelming number of resources you have for just about any scene you're into.  Taking up a new hobby is prohibitive only by cost, not availability.  So with that in mind, I scraped together four and a half Benjamins and took Introductory Sewing at LoveSewing, a Burda Style-affiliated company that provides sewing classes of all levels, and publishes a magazine dedicated to sewing.  Among the projects completed in the course, between learning various stitches and the basics of machines, are a drawstring bag, a zippered pouch, and… a skirt!

Following a Butterick's pattern (B5929) I went with pattern B (no pockets allowed yet, for sewing newbies) and since I wanted something that could fit in with my wardrobe, I made it a little longer.  Of course, it could've been a few inches longer than this, if I hadn't made a mistake while cutting out the fabric.  Knowing which pieces you don't need? Pretty much as important as knowing which ones you do. Oops.

Slow your roll, patronizing pattern title.
Fast & easy? I'll be the judge of that, thanks.
I also decided to go with a nicer fabric-- a burgundy wool blend that made the skirt not exactly a bargain, in terms of pricing.  It didn't really occur to me to try for a cheaper fabric, I suppose because the last thing a New York closet needs is a surplus skirt, and I really wanted to want to wear what I made.  I'm happy with my choice, in part because I think the nicer fabric put a little constructive pressure on the sewing process.  "No being sloppy (through laziness, anyway)--you paid too much for it!"

During the alterations process, I thinned it out a little which, combined with the added length, lets it fall flatter, giving me a little more leeway in terms of styling it.  It's obviously not perfect--the back hem is a little wobbly, as I was running out of time during the last class--but I'm really happy with it and am super excited about what it adds to my wardrobe.

For its first spin, I paired the skirt with a silk blouse and an asymmetrical cloche hat for a sort of early 30s vibe.  It's hard to tell from the photos-- winter lighting is the best, y'all-- but in another instance of wardrobe serendipity, the hat's color almost exactly matches that of the skirt.

Funnily enough, I chose the fabric without realizing this, or that it'd go wonderfully with a 40s jacket I found in Dallas.  It's not the first time I've done this (see my first post for a more extreme accidental matching), and I'm not sure whether it bespeaks great intuition or serious absentmindedness.  Either way, I dig it.

Anyway, I'm so glad I was able to take the class, and I'm already signed up for another one!  In the meantime I've got another project in mind--a mid-calf circle skirt to wear with a new petticoat--and I'm jazzed to start getting everything together for it!

Obligatory sassy hat pose.

Outfit details:
Hat: Century 21
Blouse: Thrifted
Skirt: Made by me! (Thanks, LoveSewing)
Shoes: Banana Republic
Gloves: Ann Taylor
Lipstick: Lush, A Million Kisses balm

Photography Lesson #24: That lamp you think is helping light your shot? Actually makes you look a little radioactive.