Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year!


Nothing to wear on New Year's Eve? Don't worry about it!

Quickie! On Saturday night (29 December 2012) I finally launched my long-threatened club night Lobotomy Room, at Shoreditch’s hippest new undiscovered venue Paper Dress Vintage. And it seemed to go OK! Phew! Fingers crossed, it will become a regular thing in 2013. A follow-up blog with a set list and photos from the night will follow shortly. At the moment, I am feeling pretty lobotomised myself!

In the meantime ... Happy New Year!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Mixed Bag O' Shite Updates: Part Two! Last Blog Before Christmas


Tom of Finland Christmas

Things have felt rushed and chaotic since Autumn 2012. First DJ’ing at Bestival, followed by a long weekend in Paris in September 2012, then two weeks in Canada (I got back 2 November). A couple of draining weeks of jetlag and cold ensued after that.  Next thing I know, we're hurtling towards Christmas!

My mind has felt fogged-over and distracted lately, but there is a backlog of stuff I want to blog about. So this entry will be a bit of an epic catch-up about various random (schizophrenic?) things that have preoccupied me over the past few months.
Gee: Do you think he dresses to the left?

Friday 19 October 2012 was the opening night launch party for an exhibition of the red-hot 1950s beefcake / physique pin-up photography of John Palatinus at the Space Station Sixty Five gallery in London. Needless to say my friends and I were there. I’ve long been an admirer of Palatinus’s work, and photos of naked men and free booze are two of my favourite things in life. As a bonus, Palatinus (now an impressively dapper 83-year old) and his curator and archivist Alan Harmon were there in person (and very articulate and affable they were, too). Anyway, the party was a blast.
John Palatinus Exhibition Party 001
Photographer John Palatinus and curator Alan Harmon

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Christopher and I in front of one our favourite shots

Palatinus’s 1950s bodybuilder rockabilly pin-ups may be slathered in baby oil and virtually naked except for engineer boots or a sailor's cap, often with ropes or chains coiled around them, but they still retain a sweetness and naivety which would be impossible to capture today.  (This is the same quality that also makes mid-century female cheesecake photos of, say, Bettie Page or Jayne Mansfield so beguiling. It’s hard to define: an un-ironic lack of self-consciousness?).

More examples of Palatinus at his best, all taken circa the late 1950s


I find this model (apparently named Bob Ireland) particularly heart-melting. He looks so au courant with his sexy, scruffy little beard. If he rocked up to The Joiner’s Arms or The George & Dragon in Shoreditch looking like that, he wouldn’t be buying his own drinks all night

John Palatinus Exhibit Launch Party at Space Station 65 Gallery
Palatinus was arrested on obscenity charges in 1959 at the height of the McCarthy witch hunt era. Most of his work was seized and destroyed. What was especially fascinating about the exhibit (which closed on 18 November 2012) was its inclusion of contemporary newspaper articles covering Palatinus’s arrest: the press didn’t just publish his name and home address – it also detailed the full names, addresses and occupations of his mail order clientele! It makes you shudder thinking about the shame and destroyed lives of these presumably closeted men all over the US in the repressed 1950s, for something so innocuous. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Afterward, my friends and I continued the party at ultra rough, old-school boozer The Little Apple nearby in Kennington. Christopher embraced the spirit of things by donning a sailor cap. (The cap is actually mine! I lent it to him; Christopher was going to be playing a sailor in a pop video).
 John Palatinus Exhibition Party 011

Read more about John Palatinus on his official website. Alan Harmon's V-M-P Vintage Male Physique blog is a real treasure trove; I highly encourage you to check it out. You can see more of my photos from the night on my flickr page.

I avidly follow Decaying Hollywood Mansions  in all its manifestations (it's a Facebook group, a tumblr page and a blog). Think of it as a guide to the haunted, eerie and crepuscular subterranean underbelly of Old Hollywood, in the vein of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. A few months ago they posted some intriguing photos of the actress Merle Oberon in the long-forgotten, very kitsch-looking 1946 Technicolour exotica oddity A Night in Paradise. (It looks like the cinematic equivalent of Yma Sumac's delirious music). 

Merle Oberon in A Night in Paradise (1946)

I hadn’t thought of Oberon in ages and it reminded me of her strange, secretive life story. Her exact origins will always be clouded in mystery, but it appears the Anglo-Indian Oberon was born in 1911 in Bombay of mixed race heritage (her mother was Indian, her father British). For the entirety of her life (she died aged 68 in 1979) Oberon denied her biracial background and “passed herself off” as white. When her dark-skinned and sari-clad mother eventually moved with Oberon to her Hollywood mansion, Oberon told everyone she was her maid! Oberon was widely regarded as one of the great beauties of her era; apparently even Marlene Dietrich was jealous of her. To modern eyes, she certainly looks like an exquisite Asian woman (film historian John Kobal would accurately describe her exotic beauty as “jasmine scented”).

Nonetheless, it wasn’t until years after Oberon’s death that her secret was unmasked in a biography I remember reading as a teenager. (In this regard, her story echoes that of musician Korla Pandit's).
An almost scary 1930s portrait of Merle Oberon. The lighting makes her look like an escapee from a Josef Von Sternberg film

Who are we to judge? In the 1930s miscegenation was strictly taboo; a biracial race actress could never have become a mainstream star. Oberon emerged from an impoverished background and apparently had a steely determination to succeed. It could be that Oberon was a far better actress in real life than she ever was onscreen. The great irony is that if Oberon is remembered at all today (she’s mostly not, except for playing Cathy opposite Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff in the 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights), it’s not for any of her film performances but for being the half-Indian actress who painstakingly concealed her ethnicity – the one thing she didn’t want anyone to know about!

The great Self-Styled Siren film blog devoted a whole entry to Oberon’s story a while back, comparing her to the doomed and conflicted mixed race character Sarah Jane in the 1959 Douglas Sirk melodrama Imitation of Life. It’s the balanced and ultimately sympathetic account that Oberon deserves.

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Coco and I at my mother's place. Re her green-ish paws: my brother-in-law had just mowed the lawn, the grass was damp and Coco ran through it

Since moving to London twenty years ago now, I make an annual trip back to visit my family in Canada. I usually aim to get there around the beginning of September when "peak season" is over but the weather is still relatively summer-y and I can swim (my mother lives walking distance from the beach). This year the airfare was so prohibitive I had to wait until late October (I was there 22 October – 1 November), which meant I was home for Halloween. I divided my time between my mother’s place in Norway Bay, Quebec and my sister’s in the suburbs outside Ottawa, and spent most of it sleeping (averaging 11 hours a night), eating (I’ve gained about ten pounds), playing with my nieces (Maya, 10 and Miranda, 8) and getting to know their new dog – an adorable Shih Tzu called Coco.
Halloween in Canada 2012
My mother and I

I’d forgotten what a big deal Halloween is in North America. Check out my flickr page for how elaborately the people of suburban Ottawa decorate their houses for Halloween (and loads of shots of the many moods of Coco).
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Vampire princess Miranda in her front yard on Halloween night

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Miranda and I

Halloween in Canada 2012 125
Maya and I. (Her costume was "bloody nurse")

Leee Black Childers Book Launch Party 5 December 2012

Portrait of Warhol drag queen Jackie Curtis by Leee Black Childers. No one documented the iconic Warhol drag Superstars (Curtis, Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling) better than Leee

On 5 December 2012 my friends Christopher, Mari and I went to the launch party for Leee Black Childer’s book Drag Queens, Rent Boys, Pick Pockets, Junkies, Rockstars and Punks at The Vinyl Factory (a chi chi art gallery in South Kensington). In case Leee needs any introduction: In the 1960s he was one of Andy Warhol’s assistants; later on he was involved in the management of the music careers of the likes of David Bowie, Iggy and The Stooges, The Heartbreakers and Levi and The Rockcats. Throughout, he was photographing everything: the Warhol Superstars, the whole decadent Max’s Kansas City and Chelsea Hotel milieu, glam rock, and the emergence of punk on both sides of the Atlantic. A natural raconteur, in the essential oral histories of punk (like England's Dreaming and Please Kill Me), Leee is always interviewed as one of the key witnesses and scene makers. His wonderfully grainy, gritty and evocative portraits of the Sex Pistols and Warhol drag queen Superstars in particular are like cat nip for me.  (Obviously there were other photographers documenting the Warhol scene at the time, but Leee’s photos of Curtis, Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn have a real intimacy and rapport). I’ve known Leee for several years now via mutual friends and usually wind up seeing him when he comes to London (he’s based in New York). It was really gratifying to finally see his work get the deluxe coffee table book treatment (and accompanying exhibit) it merits.

Needless to say, I snapped a few shots on the night.Before heading to Leee’s party, we assembled for Happy Hour drinks at Simmons Bar in Kings Cross (great place; I highly recommend it. It has a skull-shaped disco ball!). They had a lurid hot pink (or should that be fuchsia?) acrylic Christmas tree in the corner that transfixed us. So artificial! So Jayne Mansfield! And so futuristic: it was like a Space Age Barbarella Christmas.  

Leee Black Childers Book Launch Party 5 December 2012

Christopher and the glamorous Mari
Leee Black Childers Book Launch Party 5 December 2012

Christopher and I

Leee Black Childers Book Launch Party 010

Mari and Leee

Leee Black Childers Book Launch Party 008

Leee, Mari and novelist / journalist Rupert Smith


Leee and I way back in September 2008 at Cockabilly at The Moustache Bar in Dalston


I can claim to actually have been photographed by the great Leee Black Childers myself, once! He took this shot at the club night Polari at the sadly now defunct Trash Palace bar on Wardour Street. This was also taken in September 2008. Left to right: Rupert Smith, Christian Rodrigues and me

Check out photos from the last time Leee Black Childers was in town on my flickr page

I held my annual Christmas cocktail party on 5 December. As promised (threatened?) on the Facebook events page:
Right: Am thinking of having another intimate Christmas cocktail party chez moi again this year. For those of you who came last year, you know what to expect: I live in a shoe box! Seating is minimal, so you will have no choice but to stand and mingle for the most part (or sit on the floor). The couch represents the elite VIP area. Kitsch and abrasive 1950s and 60s Christmas music will be cranked up LOUD (my CD player is fixed!). I don't "do" food, so eat beforehand, although there will be olives and crisps! (I make these things sound so tempting, don't I?). I will be making snowballs, but I only have one bottle of Advocaat and I ain't buying another one, so if you want snowballs, arrive early to avoid disappointment. After the snowballs, am thinking oceans of icy Cava and maybe Prosecco!

Anyway, the party really swung. In fact it rocked! A week later I was still finding stray bits of broken glass, wasabi peas and roasted peanuts under the sofa bed. Here are a few shots from the night (there’s loads more on my flickr page). Look at these and try to imagine how hung-over I felt that Sunday. Then multiply that by ten.

Christmas Cocktail Party 2012 007
Paul smoking his head off

Christmas Cocktail Party 2012 009

Sally and Paddy

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Lauren and I, Part 1

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Lauren and I, Part 2

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Marlene Dietrich, Eric and Divine: all in one shot

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Eric and Sally

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Christopher and Lauren. They are in a band together called Spanking Machine, by the way, destined to be big in 2013. (Don't you love how the red dumb bells in the corner match Lauren's dress perfectly? What's that about?!)

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Dez and Paul. I love this shot of Paul: at his most louche, gesticulating wildly, smouldering cigarette on the go

Right: I’ve pretty much brought things up to date. There was no Dr Sketchy at all this month, so I didn’t DJ any Christmas music which felt a bit sad. The most exciting but nerve-wracking bit of upcoming news is that I’m launching my club night Lobotomy Room on Saturday 29 December 2012! It’s happening at Paper Dress Vintage in Shoreditch. The organiser / promoter Steve is going to be away that weekend, he had nothing scheduled for that night and offered it to me, to launch my night in a low-key, no pressure way. (I know it’s very likely loads of people will be away for the holidays. London can be quiet the week between Christmas and New Years). Fingers crossed, if this goes well Lobotomy Room will become a regular monthly occurrence in 2013. Wish me luck: I’m shitting bricks / sweating bullets / having kittens trouble-shooting all the things that could go wrong! Hopefully my next blog will be posting the set list from the first night of Lobotomy Room.


Lobotomy Room ... it's coming!

Anyway, this is almost certainly my last blog before 25 December, so Merry Christmas to everyone! I know I post this pic of Jayne Mansfield every year but it never gets tired.

Christmas Cocktail Capers 2010: A Jayne Mansfield Xmas

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Paper Dress Vintage DJ Set List 1 December 2012


Pretty, pretty? In an ideal world, she would be the official “face” of Lobotomy Room. All women should have this photo taped next to their make-up mirror as a reference guide! (Are there hairs growing out of her Liz Taylor "beauty spot"?)

Saturday night marked my DJ’ing debut at hip new Shoreditch fleshpot Paper Dress Vintage. It was a bit of a trial or audition for possibly doing my own heretofore jinxed club night Lobotomy Room there. After Lobotomy Room’s botched “non-launch” last summer (it was bedevilled by chronic venue problems), I put the whole idea on ice for a while. But recently I've been testing the waters and shopping my sleaze / trash night concept around again and I'm hoping to unveil Lobotomy Room somewhere suitable early in 2013.

Anyway, Paper Dress Vintage: by day it’s an ultra chi chi and frou frou vintage clothing boutique and cafe. By night, they clear some space, darken the lights, start serving beer and cocktails and it’s transformed into a bar/nightclub/performance space (there’s a makeshift stage in the shop window for musicians, and a DJ area to the side). The place definitely has a beatnik / Boho vibe that appeals to me.

I didn’t actually DJ for very long: there were three bands on the bill and I played in brief snatches between them while their gear was being set up. The highlight (for me!) was the last bit when the bands were finished and I got to do a stretch of uninterrupted DJ’ing. By then I’d had a few beers, got my head screwed-on tight and was feeling more relaxed.  Early on I was rattled with nerves and my set was pretty disjointed. One of the bands was quite Mumford & Sons (beard-stroking folkies, banjo, sea shanties): I probably sounded jarring playing right after them. My priority was to do a kind of compilation / greatest hits version of what I tend to play at Dr Sketchy, to give the promoter of Paper Dress Vintage a sampling of what I’d play if I did Lobotomy Room there: so a mix of rhythm and blues, rockabilly, tittyshaking instrumentals, weird kitsch stuff and punk.

Anyway, the place was packed-out and the crowd proved to be really fun, open-minded and good-natured. Towards the end, they even danced, which is always gratifying even for a non-people pleaser like me. They were up for dancing to everything, including stuff they almost certainly weren’t familiar with (Hasil Adkins, X).

Speaking of weird kitsch stuff: I played (and people danced to!) “Elle est terrible”, Johnny Hallyday’s French-ified reinterpretation of Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin' Else.” (I followed it with Sid Vicious's snarling punk cover of  "C'mon Everybody", so it was a bit of a mini-Eddie Cochran tribute). Below is a strange, frantic 1960s clip of Hallyday performing "elle est terrible" -- featuring at least two blatant crotch shots!

While I was searching for the above, I stumbled across this gem: a very young Catherine Deneuve in her early 1960s ingénue days being serenaded by Gallic heartthrob / "faux Elvis" Hallyday. Who knew the inscrutable ice queen of serious European art cinema, who worked with great auteurs like Luis Bunel and Roman Polanski, ever appeared in kitsch teenage drive-in schlock like this? I love the moment when she unpins her beehive and shakes it loose. (With her bouffant hair, pussybow blouse and tartan skirt, Deneuve looks like an escapee from the Sterling Cooper typing pool in Mad Men. Hey, you could probably piece together her outfit at Paper Dress Vintage). To be fair, Hallyday and Deneuve look adorable together (and they were romantically involved after she split from film director - and ex-Mr Brigitte Bardot - Roger Vadim).

Deuces Wild - Link Wray
Muleskinner Blues - The Fendermen
Shortnin' Bread - The Readymen
Boss - The Rumblers
Funnel of Love - Wanda Jackson
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee and The Spades
Strange Love - Slim Harpo (Played in error; all due regards to Slim Harpo, but I don't even like this song and it was entirely wrong tempo)
Chop Suey Rockn'Roll - The Instrumentals
Little Queenie - The Bill Black Combo
What Do You Think I Am? Ike and Tina Turner
Beat Party - Ritchie and The Squires
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
I Love the Life I Live - Esquerita
Vesuvius - The Revels
Dance with Me, Henry - Ann-Margret
Handclapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders
Beat Girl - Adam Faith
Elle est terrible - Johnny Hallyday
C'mon Everybody - Sid Vicious
Breathless - X
Chicken Walk - Hasil Adkins
Chicken Grabber - The Nite Hawks
Crawfish - Johnny Thunders and Pattin Palladin
Ring of Fire - The Earls of Suave

Sunday, 25 November 2012

22 November 2012 Dr Sketchy Set List


On the Beach: Ultra-sultry cheesecake shot of Bettie Page

For this Dr Sketchy we were back at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern (for me, Dr Sketchy’s ideal venue and spiritual home, maybe because of its cabaret / musical hall history). It felt like a lifetime since the last Dr Sketchy (there wasn't one in October), and I was itching to get back behind the DJ booth. Sharp-tongued homme du monde Dusty Limits was on emcee duties, while the effervescent Frankie Von Flirter modelled and performed (she did two acts; for the last one, she reprised her drag king Top Gun act she’s done at a Dr Sketchy once before. It ends with Frankie stripped to her underwear delivering a blistering feminist diatribe, singing "I'm haemorrhaging from my vagina ..."). As an added bonus, we also had male model Grant, making his Dr Sketchy debut. And Dr Sketchy’s glamazonian promoter Clare Marie unveiled her new long black mane of hair extensions (very Morticia Addams).

For his poses, Grant wore a pristine vintage sailor uniform. It was undoubtedly the furthest thing from Grant’s mind, but of course the image of the uniformed sailor is one of the most potent and enduring homoerotic archetypes. With his sailor uniform, wavy quiff and rugged and chiselled Lil’ Abner profile Grant nicely evoked a whole range of Jean Genet-Querelle / Kenneth Anger-Fireworks / Pierre et Gilles fantasies in one package! Sadly, there were no photographers snapping pictures that night, but just for the hell of it here is some sailor-inspired vintage beefcake to give you a taste of what Grant looked like.



About 40% of the night’s set came via faithful Bitterness Personified reader Kevin Allman, a music journalist and DJ based in the steamy voodoo realm of New Orleans. In October 2012 he very kindly posted me a CD packed full of the kind of musical vintage sleaze that makes my toes curl in ecstasy:  volume six of Las Vegas Grind (the Las Vegas Grind series of obscure titty shakin’ rhythm and blues instrumentals is one of the bedrocks of my Dr Sketchy sets, and I didn’t have that volume) and a compilation of tunes from John Waters films.  The track “Egg Man” is essentially the dialogue of Edith Massey as Mama Edie (ranting about eggs! Eggs! Oh, god – EGGS!) from Water’s notorious 1972 celluloid atrocity Pink Flamingos sampled over a soundtrack of finger snapping 1950s jazz. The crowd looked pretty nonplussed by it, but it just may be my favourite songs of the moment! If any other Bitterness Personified readers would like to follow Kevin's generous example and send me some music, please be my guest!


"I'm starvin' to death for some eggs!" Edith Massey as Mama Edie in Pink Flamingos

Read Kevin’s excellent interview with one of my all-time punk heroines – Exene Cervenka, front woman of the mighty Los Angeles punk band X – here.
When Dusty made one of his forays into Beat poetry, I employed the city-of-night film noir big band Lydia Lunch instrumental “A Cruise to the Moon” (from her essential 1979 Queen of Siam album) as the background. The songs midway down the track list (from Mildred Bailey’s military-inspired ode to Sado-masochism “I’d Love to Take Orders from You” downward until “Boy from Ipanema” by Eartha Kitt), with yearning female vocalists channelling their inner hot pool of woman need, were the aural backdrop for Grant’s pose. The male and female duets (Shirley and Lee, Elvis and Ann-Margret, Serge and Brigitte) towards the end were when Grant and Frankie posed ensemble.

Black and Tan Fantasy - Duke Ellington
Ain't That Good? George Kelly and Orchestra
Egg Man - Edith Massey
Beaver Shot - The Hollywood Hurricanes
Endless Sleep - Jody Reynolds
Church Key - The Revels
Jim Dandy - Sara Lee & The Spades
Little Queenie - Bill Black Combo
Madness - The Rhythm Rockers
Tear Drops From My Eyes - Ruth Brown
Gettin' Plenty of Lovin' - Esquerita
Frenzy - The Hindus
Kansas City - Ann-Margret
It - The Regal-aires
Town without Pity - James Chance
I Was Born to Cry - Dion
Night Walk - The Swingers
Beat Generation - Mamie Van Doren
Viens danser le twist - Johnny Hallyday
Storm Warning - Mac Rebennack
Wimoweh - Yma Sumac
Coconut Water - Robert Mitchum
Safari - The El Capris
Night Scene - The Rumblers
Slow Walk - Sil Austin
Fever - The Delmonas
Trashcan - Ken Williams
Woo hoo - The Rock-A-Teens
Love Potion # 9 - Nancy Sit
La Valse des Si - Juliette Greco
Jaguar - The Jaguars
Little Miss Understood - Connie Stevens
The Sneak - The Towers
My Pussy Belongs to Daddy - Faye Richmonde
The Slouch - Ray Gee and His Orchestra
A Cruise to the Moon - Lydia Lunch
Welfare Cheese - Emanuel Laskey
Sick and Tired - Lula Reed
I Stubbed My Toe - Bryan "Legs" Walker
Wiped Out - The Escorts
I'd Love to Take Orders from You - Mildred Bailey
Hard Workin' Man - Captain Beefheart
Give Me the Man - Marlene Dietrich
I Want a Boy - Connie Russell with Orchestra
Boy from Ipanema - Eartha Kitt
Margaya - The Fender Four
How About It? Big Bo Thomas and The Arrows
Pass the Hatchet - Roger and The Gypsies
Roll with Me, Henry - Etta James
Crazy Vibrations - The Bikinis
The Flirt - Shirley and Lee
You're the Boss - Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret
Je t'aime, moi non plus ... Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot
Intoxica - The Revels
Hand-Clapping Time - The Fabulous Raiders
Club Delight - Jack Jolly
Suey - Jayne Mansfield
Ring of Fire - The Earls of Suave

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Reflections on Anouk Aimée (and her sunglasses) in La Dolce Vita


/ Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée and Federico Fellini on the set of La Dolce Vita /
Federico Fellini’s carnival-esque and hallucinatory epic masterpiece La Dolce Vita (1960) takes a state of the nation overview of Rome’s post-war upheaval. The themes of alienation and collapse of conventional morality are personified by the existential angst of Marcello Mastroianni, torn between art (writing the Great Novel; the world of poetry, philosophy and spirituality espoused by his intellectual friends) and commerce (his job as a sensational tabloid journalist writing about debauched cafe society and shallow show business, materialism and decadence). In other words, it’s what Pauline Kael jokingly dismissed as one of “the sick soul of Europe movies”, although for me La Dolce Vita remains a vital and profound film and has lost none of its capacity to thrill.  

But hey, I’m also very superficial, and enjoy La Dolce Vita primarily as an exercise in high style. That’s not meant as a diss: what style! La Dolce Vita captures the acme of Italian glamour and design: the glistening cars (and the Lambretta scooters the paparazzi zoom around on), the elegant clothes, the nightclubs (no one films decadent nightclub, party and orgy scenes like Fellini in his 1960s pomp). And the sunglasses.
Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita: Was any man ever more handsome?!

In particular, the severe black cat’s eye sunglasses as sported by French actress Anouk Aimée. La Dolce Vita is episodic, loosely structured around the series of beautiful women Marcello encounters on his nocturnal travels around Rome in the space of a week, including his anguished and neurotic fiancée Yvonne Furneaux; visiting buxom Hollywood starlet Anita Ekberg; and statuesque Nordic fashion model Nico (a dazzling and very funny young pre-Velvet Underground Nico essentially playing herself).

The most complex and elusive of Marcello’s women is Aimée as wealthy, jaded nymphomaniac heiress Maddelena. When we first see her, Maddelena is lounging moodily against the bar of a nightclub, her insolent and inscrutable sunglasses clamped-on. Later we will see her wearing them even while driving her Cadillac at night.

“Everything is wrong tonight,” she kvetches, petulant and unsmiling, to Marcello. Socialite Maddelena is clearly in the grips of an existential crisis. “I’d like to hide, but never manage it ... Rome is such a bore ... I need an entirely new life.”

Aimée as Maddelena is the epitome of early 1960s chic: stark black cocktail dress, upswept bouffant hair, those killer shades. She drifts through La Dolce Vita with the hauteur of a catwalk fashion model, or a fashion illustration come to life (angular, willowy and wasp-waisted, Aimée is certainly emaciated enough to be a model; Tom Wolfe would describe her as “starved to perfection”).

The opacity of her black glasses renders Maddelena totally expressionless, emphasising how seemingly dead (or blank or “pretty vacant”) she is inside. Her tangible depression is like a fashion statement.

The rich playgirl gets a perverse erotic charge from slumming it amongst Rome’s demimonde: Maddelena and Marcello impulsively pick up a prostitute on the street and go back with her to the whore’s decrepit flood-damaged basement apartment for a sexual assignation. Maddelena is clearly excited to do it in a prostitute’s bed. For the first time, she looks genuinely relaxed and smiling.

(In her brief screen time, Adriana Moneta imbues the role of the middle-aged prostitute with a gritty, Anna Magnani-ish earth mother warmth. She’d play a similar role the following year for Pier Paolo Pasolini in his debut film, Accattone).
Mastroianni, Adriana Moneta and Aimee in La Dolce Vita

In another kinky and unexpected touch, while in the prostitute’s bedroom Maddelena finally removes her signature sunglasses ... to reveal she’s been hiding a black eye behind them all along. The moment is devastating, revealing a whole other side to Maddelena’s haughty demeanour: a secret troubled and seedy life of depravity and sadomasochism. The viewer can only suspect Maddelena craves violence to snap her out of her terminal ennui.

Punk poetess Patti Smith has always been voluble about the influence of 1950s and 60s nouvelle vague and European art cinema on her artistic worldview.  Interviewed for Circus magazine in 1976, Smith described the seismic impact of seeing Aimée in La Dolce Vita as a teenager:

“Besides me wanting to be an artist, I wanted to be a movie star. I don't mean like an American movie star. I mean like Jeanne Moreau or Anouk Aimée in La Dolce Vita. I couldn't believe her in those dark glasses and that black dress and that sports car. I thought that was the heaviest thing I ever saw. Anouk Aimée with that black eye. It made me always want to have a black eye forever. It made me want to get a guy to knock me around. I'd always look great. I got great sunglasses.”

Anouk Aimée (born 1932 as Francoise Sorya Dreyfus. The surname “Aimée” translates as “Beloved”) has been described as “the French Audrey Hepburn”, which only hints at her allure.  While Aimée is every bit as gamine-like and ethereal as Hepburn, she’s far darker and more interesting than that implies. To me, she’s always been one of the great beauties and most haunting actresses of French cinema. By La Dolce Vita, Aimée was already a veteran (she made her debut as a teenager in the 1947 film La Maison sous la Mer). Fellini must have liked her; he cast Aimée again in his film 8 ½ (1963) three years later. With her Modigliani face, feline and inscrutable bearing and whisper-soft voice (her voice in La Dolce Vita was dubbed by an Italian actress), Aimée invests every performance with a remote Garbo-like mystery and capacity for tragedy.  Her melancholic dark eyes evoke graceful, stoical suffering. Certainly her Maddelena is complex, lonely, and even tragic. Fellini implies Marcello and Maddelena would be ideal for each other, if only they were capable of change. “I would like to be your faithful wife,” Maddelena laments to Marcello towards the end of La Dolce Vita, “and have fun like a whore.”

In a long and distinguished international career, the character of Maddelena is one of Anouk Aimée’s greatest accomplishments.

Anouk Aimée in La Dolce Vita


A few years ago fashion designer Tom Ford launched his retro-looking cat's eye sunglasses which he called "Anouk": clearly a tribute to Anouk Aimée and the sunglasses she wears in La Dolce Vita. They come in a choice of black or tortoise shell.