- Norma Shearer and her mama hug in THE WOMEN, face forward, preserving the make-up. The film was cast entirely with women, with over 130 speaking roles. The hug was super stylized. Norma hugged her mom the way a little girl might hug her doll in front of an audience full of stuffed animals in her bedroom. It was less about the reality of the film and more about a fantasy of female solidarity and stoicism.
- Veda slaps her mother, Mildred, in MILDRED PIERCE. You watch it and wonder how they got the timing right. Mildred follows Veda to the stairs. Veda gives her mother a talking down. Veda has a check, dirty money she’s going to cash in. She’s marching upstairs with it. Mildred (Joan Crawford) grabs Veda’s purse, gets her hands on the check and tears it up. When Veda strikes her she makes confetti of the paper. It explodes in the air and flutters in different directions, floats down in delicate little pieces as the force of the slap sends Mildred stumbling back. It all happens in seconds but feels like slow motion.
- In NOW, VOYAGER, Charlotte (Bette Davis) returns home to visit the mother (Gladys Cooper) who made her into an early spinster, after going out into the world to get glamorous. Charlotte walks up the enormous staircase of the house to get to her mother’s bedroom. Her mother’s new caretaker meets her at the foot of the stairs, explaining her mother’s “condition”. There is no condition. Charlotte’s mother has basically taken to bed to force the world and her daughter to visit her bedside. The caretaker is played by Mary Wickes, who never stopped working and became the shorthand for a certain kind of wise-cracking sidekick who tells the rich and hypocritical what for. Wickes’ sarcasm lays bare the manipulation at play in the typical family dynamic.
Reading my friend Jack’s status updates on Facebook is always a mood lifter for me. Jack is as obsessed with perfume and movies as I am, but much more eloquent and readable. Read in sequence, at length, his updates feel like conversation with a super smart, totally irreverent friend. Here’s a selection from the last year or so:
July 21, 2010: The two fictional characters that I relate to the most are Gene from A SEPARATE PEACE and Claggart from BILLY BUDD. Unfortunately.
July 24, 2010: Holy shit, my mom just notified me that the pharmacy by the Crestview Minimax has some FOREVER KRYSTLE but it’s closed already!
August 14, 2010: The designer imposter Opium they sell at Walgreens isn’t bad at all. The Coco Mademoiselle, on the other hand, smells frighteningly of Liz Claiborne.
September 3, 2010: Found some pre-reformulation Fahrenheit at the Walgreen’s by Northcross with the insane, ostentatious environmentally hazardous synthetic violet intact- what a strange and exciting idea for a mass-market masculine- violets and gasoline- and how unexpected that it caught on!
September 4, 2010: Best product placement I’ve ever seen in a TV show- on the fifth or sixth episode of True Blood, when Sookie’s brother is fucking that blond divorcee there is a close-up of her designer impostor fragrance “If you liked Vera Wang Princess, you’ll LOVE blah blah” spray can falling out of her purse. Amazing.
September 9, 2010: I think I may have graduated from Youth Dew to White Linen.
September 25, 2010: Van Cleef and Arpels FIRST= aldehydic civet heaven. Mmmmmmm
October 18, 2010: I put the Giorgio perfume on my bookshelf in an effort to prevent myself from wearing it. I know it will give me a splitting headache for hours but sometimes don’t care. Evokes snobbery and oppression with its yellow/ white sunny prison bar box graphics and lethal cloud of floral stench. Women who went to high school in the 80’s all seem to associate it with popular girls in designer jeans that made their lives miserable.
October 27, 2010: At Walgreens they have tiny 99 cent pots of Nivea cream. I bought two of them, and a small bottle of Coty Exclamation.
November 3, 2010: Last night I had a frightening dream in which Vivienne Westwood played a major role; I ran into her while I was shopping at a department store, and she was ancient and senile and kind of didn’t seem to be aware of what she was doing and she was being followed around by her caretaker who reprimanded everyone who didn’t treat Vivienne with proper respect.
November 9, 2010: Dior Dune is definitely the scent of someone who is world-weary and ALONE. It’s so pessimistic that it’s perfect to wear to something you have to do but hate, like meeting your probation officer.
November 15, 2010: Anybody want a practically full bottle of Lolita Lempicka? I WILL GIVE IT TO YOU. I just don’t want it…I wore it hung over too many times, and the thought of it makes me queasy.
November 19, 2010: Two chunky, probably married women in their late twenties with those stupid razor-cut bobs cut shorter in the back walk in, one says, “Do you have Dash by Kim Kardashian?” and the clerk sprays her with some. “Oh, that’s STRONG, and there is some gardenia in there or something, I don’t wanna smell like flowers. Do you have the new J.Lo?” Then she says, and I couldn’t believe it, “What do you sell most of?”
November 21, 2010: Holy shit, has Yatagan beaten Kouros in terms of dirtiness? I think so. I think Yatagan may be better.
November 25, 2010: I’m feeling panicky because it just occurred to me that one day I will be living in a world in which there is no Paco Rabanne La Nuit. I’m feeling like I should devote my every spare cent to stockpiling it while the prices are still under $200. WHAT WILL I DO??
November 27, 2010: I don’t own a single pair of pants that don’t reveal at least 42% of the top of my ass. Good thing exposed crack is an unremarkable as exposed ankles these days. The only people that still object to it are very old.
November 30, 2010: I feel like complaining about being lonely right now!
December 5, 2010: ”Aliage Sport Fragrance Spray”. Now I need to find a sport to play, so I can be like, “Hold on everyone I’ve gotta put on my Aliage since we just played a sport.” Tennis? Polo? It brings to mind the uncomfortable tennis scenes is CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, which also originates from the early 70’s.
December 6, 2010: Just dumped an entire 1 oz bottle of Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur that I bought today for $3 into my bath. It was luxurious.
December 13, 2010: Sometimes I get really fucking tired of how perfume people cream their pants for Mitsouko. Sometimes it gets really annoying. SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT MITSOUKO.
December 16, 2010: Anyone else think that current Dior ads seem really cheap and downmarket? Nothing about those J’Adore ads says “high fashion”, Charlize Theron in some boring gold dress… and don’t get me started on Miss Dior Cherie, which manages to incorporate everything I hate about French culture- the ideal dark-haired Amelie-type French girl on her bicycle with a baguette holding a bunch of balloons.
December 30, 2010: I hate the movie Humpday more than any movie in recent memory. Can I please go back to fucking 1973, when movies about sex contained nudity?
January 7, 2011: Wearing my favorite shirt (the Marilyn Manson Portrait of an American Family one) and about eight sprays of Spellbound. Which will get more attention?
January 10, 2011: I’m about to go to a movie theater and I put on about six sprays of Aromatics Elixir OVER the copious Bandit parfum I was already wearing. It’s the Alamo Drafthouse, where people will be eating. Yep, I’m in THAT mood.
January 14, 2011: Dream: A curiously young Ed Asner is my boss, he takes me into his office and tells me my Christmas bonus is “a third of a grand,” then says, “This is the last time I’m gonna ask you, after that I’ll never mention it again. I want you to come live with me.” We live in a small southern town, so it’s all very secretive.
January 16, 2011: For me, “not wearing fragrance” (because I’m planning on going to buy some more in a minute and I want to wear it) = showering with Antonio Banderas shower gel (thanks, Becky!), splashing Jean Nate over my entire body afterward, and dabbing Bonne Bell Skin Musk on pulse points. I’m practically nude.
January 17, 2011: Tomorrow’s the first day of school, so I’m going to be wearing Alliage and humming “Georgy Girl” while swinging my Giorgio Beverly Hills tote bag around. Hey there, Georgy Girl, swingin’ down the street so fancy free, nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness there inside you Hey there, Georgy Girl, why do all the boys just pass you by? Could it be you just don’t try, or is it the clothes you wear?
January 18, 2011: God, I am so attractive to me. SO attractive. I want to be dating me long enough to tell me I love me without it being weird.
January 24, 2011: Linda Evans was on Rachael Ray today and Rachael made her smell four cards with celebrity scents on them and discern which was Forever Krystle. Linda (who claimed that she worked with the nose of the perfume and had a say in the final product) got it wrong and chose what turned out to be Rhianna’s Reb’l Fleur. You don’t know how excited things like this get me, you just don’t know.
February 3, 2011: I have a miniature army of Calvin Klein fragrances now. I had to get them because I was reading about his various ad campaigns in this book, and the mere DESCRIPTIONS of them gave me the itch. I can now choose between the disco decadence of Obsession, the return to traditional family values of Eternity, the oceanic adventure of Escape, or the Gen-X anti-fragrance of CK One.
February 3, 2011: After two years of wanting it I finally have a full bottle of L’Air de Rien. After I read a review describing it as “Mick Jagger’s soiled underwear circa 1968” I knew I’d have to get it at some point.
February 4, 2011: Do any guys wanna go out with me? I’m totally awesome, and I have undeniable height. I like eating food and seeing motion pictures and going for walks. But mostly I have undeniable height. Yes?
February 6, 2011: There was, at one time, an Avon cologne in the shape of a clock called TIME FOR DAD.
February 6, 2011: ”I got you this perfume at a garage sale because it smells like pee, like you like.” –My Mom
February 9, 2011: Elizabeth Arden Red Door + cigarettes in the cold = THE BEST SMELL. Red Door is just MEANT for cigarette smoking.
February 14, 2011: God, people just smell terrible naturally! It’s only pleasant if it’s someone you want to fuck. Body odor is usually pleasant, but that’s not what people smell like- People actually smell like fucking CHIPS and FEET and DIRTY HAIR! Why isn’t everyone just SWIMMING in fragrance to mask these things! No, not deodorant, REAL PERFUME!
February 15, 2011: Bathed in Aramis. I smell like an homme fatale. Leather and piss and tobacco.
February 17, 2011: Incense and Bubblegum perfume by Etat Libre D’Orange just blossoms on a day like this. It’s a Madonna-inspired perfume and I’m wearing it with my Blond Ambition shirt. I wish I had Madonna pants, and shoes.
Calpernia Addams, who plays “Ingrid” in WOMAN’S PICTURE, and Brian Pera, the director, talk about Ingrid’s section of the film:
In WOMAN’S PICTURE, Ingrid returns to her mother’s home after a ten year estrangement, bringing Mackie, a close friend, along for support. The reasons for Ingrid’s visit are something she keeps to herself throughout the story. Even Mackie, who seems to be a kind of Nick to her Nora, is kept out of the loop. Mackie and Gladys, Ingrid’s mother, clash instantly. Ingrid and Gladys maintain a wary distance.
The story was written with Calpernia Addams in mind, and it’s hard to think of anyone else playing Ingrid. We spoke on the phone and exchanged a series of emails over the course of the several months leading up to the shoot, discussing who Ingrid might be–what she would wear, who she might have modeled herself after, what she might think about her mother, Mackie, and things in general. Calpernia’s observations and insights were always very precise but generous; where the story could easily have been narrowed down, she usually opened it up, making the character more complicated and interesting. She was open to discussion, but had very clear ideas about who this woman was. Watching Ingrid on screen, you sense a very deep and private person. Like many of the women in the classic women’s films we were riffing on, Ingrid comes across as a woman who “has her reasons”. Now that WOMAN’S PICTURE is nearing completion, I wanted to revisit the character with Calpernia to ask her what she feels some of those reasons are.
BRIAN PERA: When you first read Ingrid’s story, what did you think of her?
CALPERNIA ADDAMS: When I first read the script, I was excited to see how much Ingrid and I had in common. I knew that I could bring my own conflict with my mother and my trepidation about returning home into my performance. I was jealous of Ingrid in some ways, because she seemed more committed to glamour than I seem to manage in my daily life, and Ingrid seemed a little stronger than I have been personally when it came to dealing with my family. There are other reasons I’m jealous of Ingrid, but no spoilers!
Though this is never expressly explored on the screen, Ingrid would have learned long ago that one’s appearance and presentation is one of the few things that she has control over when it comes to how the world treats her. When you know that your mother finds you disgusting, there’s an urge to try and prove to her that she is wrong. A fantasy that if you look lovely enough, and perfect enough, that you will overcome her rejection and she will love you. Failing that, beauty can intimidate and place you “beyond reproach”. It can be an unassailable wall, and Ingrid is probably somewhere between those two ideas with her presentation. Plus, she just really likes to look pretty.
BRIAN: Why do you think Ingrid brings her friend Mackie with her to visit her mom after such a long estrangement? He doesn’t really seem to understand why himself.
CALPERNIA: I think Ingrid has a hard time directly asking for help from people, and a hard time letting people in. Mackie is one of the few people she has let in, and although she didn’t spell it out for him, she needed an ally and a source of support. That house in Memphis is probably one of the few places in the world where anyone still treats Ingrid like the person she used to be a lifetime ago, and by bringing Mackie into that little timewarp she was bringing someone from the “real world” with her to keep her grounded. It was a little like going into a dream to retrieve the one good relic from that time and she wanted someone she cared about with her on that journey, so that she wouldn’t become lost once there.
BRIAN: At one point, Gladys, Ingrid’s mother, asks Mackie what Ingrid’s life is like in LA. What do you think the answer to that question is?
CALPERNIA: I like to imagine that she and Mackie talk about books over coffee in Silverlake, then get into tugging wars over cool clothes they find in vintage shops. They catch midnight movies at the NuArt Theatre, bring bottles of wine to share with friends in their paper-lantern illuminated back yards and play silly board games. Ingrid often has a little too much wine, and Mackie always takes her home and tucks her in. They laugh a lot, and have really cool friends, and very few people “get” them like they get each other. None of that would sound interesting to Gladys, or so Ingrid assumes.
BRIAN: What kind of work do you think they do?
CALPERNIA: I was very focused on the “now” of the film, so I didn’t let an idea of Ingrid’s work in LA inform my performance, but knowing her personality I think she’d be comfortable running a small vintage shop in Silverlake/Echo Park. She’s sentimental and loves old Hollywood. Shops like that are quiet, and have the safe smell of other people’s pasts.
Mackie could be a wardrobe stylist, a musician… I can’t imagine him outside the arts in some way.
BRIAN: Well he is a writer but lord knows that don’t bring home the bacon. What are your impressions of Gladys?
Ingrid is shown to her childhood room by her mother, Gladys
CALPERNIA: At first, Gladys seems stubborn and entitled by a strong sense of being “right” about her opinions of Ingrid. Ingrid has an anger toward Gladys that has grown cold and been put to bed after years of evolving through their relationship and separation. Over the course of their visit, I think Ingrid begins to have that grownup moment where the veil drops away and you see your mother as a human being clearly for the first time, rather than as an Olympian god. Gladys had an artistic side once, too. She probably feels a little “country mouse” and intimidated by Ingrid’s glamourous put-together appearance, exotic friend and Los Angeles life. It’s kind of heartbreaking to see two people who should love each other twisting themselves in knots over things that shouldn’t matter, but that’s life, I suppose.
BRIAN: A lot is made in the story about the relationship between Ingrid and her grandmother when Ingrid was a child. I have it in my mind that they watched a lot of old movies together, the kind of women’s films that Woman’s Picture pays homage to, maybe. Can you talk a little about that relationship? It’s clearly in some way what drives the story for Ingrid, motivating her to risk her mother’s rejection and return home. What do you feel must have been so special about Ingrid and her grandmother’s relationship?
CALPERNIA: I can imagine Ingrid’s grandmother being a warm, fragrant, soft presence into which Ingrid could retreat after being rebuffed by her mother. Laying her head in grandmother’s lap in a darkened room, lost in the glow of a black and white movie playing on television. In the darkness like that, it’s like you’re just floating in space without a body; the only thing that’s real is the lighted screen and the perfectly perfect people experiencing passion and beauty. Ingrid could imagine that she had no troublesome body in those moments, and was surrounded by love. It would have been lifesaving.
WOMAN’S PICTURE has a lot to do with fragrance and the way it penetrates memory and persona, insinuating itself permanently into the psyche. The movie is full of my own memories about the women of my childhood and the way scent connected them to each other. Several months ago, I asked friends online to share their own memories with me about the fragrances they remember growing up. –Brian Pera
Spike: For as long as I can remember my mother has had an old bottle of Opium, the eau de toilette in the original rust lacquer splash bottle, and as a child I always loved to steal a sniff of it every now and then. More than anything, Opium embodied glamour and decadence to my young nose. The drama of it just always seemed so far beyond what I knew in my every day life. I suppose the fact that by the time I was old enough to remember smelling it my mother had stopped wearing it added to its mystique, like it was simply too dramatic and sensual to wear whenever you felt like it. Even back then I knew that Opium required a certain context to work, darkness was a must and smoldering makeup finished off with an immaculately lacquered manicure was preferred. There was always this aura of something really bad-in-a-good-way about Opium, something forbidden, dangerous even. If any perfume was responsible for shaping my tastes as I’ve grown up, Opium is it.