Friday, 20 May 2016
THE SCORE: 'MARIE ANTOINETTE'
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Marie Antoinette (how will you be celebrating?), Sofia Coppola's second film to star the teenage girl we all wanted to be, Kirsten Dunst. On its release the movie received mixed reviews, a lot of critics were, er, critical, of Coppola's lack of interest in historical fact. But as Coppola said at the time, “It’s not a lesson of history; it’s an interpretation documented, but carried by my desire for covering the subject differently.” None of that matters much now—we're used to seeing depictions of the past be historically inaccurate *cough* Downtown Abbey *cough*—and actually the film has dated well. This is largely because of its Instagram and high fashion inspiring, Oscar winning costume design (shout out to Milena Canonero), and the successful marriage of a period film with a mostly contemporary soundtrack.
Watching it now we see the character of Marie simply as a teenager with too much power, which is exactly what she was. At 14 she was married off to a 15 year old stranger, and like most teens with absent parents she was rebellious, naïve, and prone to wild parties. In the film she and her husband Louis are painted as the prototype for Rich Kids of Instagram. So much money, so few people stopping them from spending it. But then most of those kids taking selfies in their Bentleys probably won't be beheaded at 37 after furious peasants storm their mansions armed with flaming torches and pitchforks, so maybe we can give Marie and Louis a break?
As with all of Coppola's films there's deep melancholy mixed in with the pastels and pastries, and Dunst is the ideal lead, portraying innocence, sass, and struggle in one platinum blonde performance. The plush and extremely feminine surroundings in which Marie finds herself become an extension of the fabric she wears. Her clothes are everything—they help her express herself while simultaneously imprisoning her in yards of tulle. The obsessive shoe shopping, the endless outfit changes, the consumption of plates and plates of sweets, all to hide her darker feelings. Show of hands who hasn't used food or control of their outside appearance to distract from their inner icky feels?
As for the music, while not period it's a pretty vintage soundtrack, Aphex Twin and The Strokes are the most recent bands featured. Instead we have post punk (a nod to this genre can also be seen in the opening credits for the film, above) and new wave. The songs have been chosen for their driving, rebellious feel, energy that teens from all eras can relate to, and as the story mainly focuses on the young Marie, this makes total sense. The real life queen was a teen idol: when she made her initial appearance in the French capital about 50,000 Parisians lost their minds, causing at least 30 people to be trampled to death. (What’s One Direction boy count eh?) And when you consider the parties that bombshell had, the snuff she snuffed, the extramarital affairs, well, the rock ‘n’ roll is very appropriate.
But first let's delve into her attire. Wedgewood blue was one of Marie's favorite colors, so let's see how she wears it. First off look at how she co-ordinates her outfit and little box to the inside of her carriage on the way to meet Louis.
Then this is what she's wearing when she first meets her beau in the middle of the woods on the French border.
Even her hair is a little bit blue here. And the bows, the bows! But we'll get to those later. Below she's being softer and more satin-y with her blue, as she stands with the court gossips.
And I guess this is a suitable blue (above) to wear when discussing your husband's impotence with a doctor. In real life Louis and Marie didn't consummate their marriage for seven years. which is sort of understandable when you realize they were basically children when they wed, but still: everyone in the court was freaking out about the lack of S.E.X.
Below is the blue dress she's wearing after *SPOILER ALERT* the man she's been having an affair with leaves to go back to war. She runs away from a party with her husband to think about the other dude. This is also the moment when we hear The Strokes blasting out with “What Ever Happened,” the opening lyrics to which are “I want to be forgotten/and I don't want to be reminded.” Which in turn made me think of the infamous Marie quote, “I have seen all, I have heard all, I have forgotten all.”
Coppola worked once more with Brian Reitzell on the score and together they decided there was no need not be married to the period in which the film is set. The result is beautifully anachronistic soundtrack. Choosing to place Siouxsie and The Banshees' “Hong Kong Garden” over footage from a masked ball keeps the period moments fresh and young, but still not too current. I doubt it would have worked so well if they'd used a dance track from around the time of the movie’s release e.g. Rhianna's “Pon De Replay.” Weirdly I think that would have dated the film far more than a song released in 1978. Even “What Ever Happened” was released three years before the film came out, and it still feels like it just scrapes by in it's inclusion on the soundtrack.
The original music for the film came from Dustin O'Halloran, who most recently has been working on the Transparent soundtrack. I love that show and his work is on point. For Marie Antoinette O'Halloran composed solo piano pieces, which work perfectly when sidled up against the dream-pop of Swedes The Radio Dept., whose songs sweep over the hazy, woozy world of Versailles, where nothing feels real and everything is transient.
Anyway, back to the clothes.
Florals are a big deal in this film, and I found there were a lot of Gucci SS16 moments, plenty of layering on of prints and accessories. For example:
At this point she's really devastated because she's just had some terrible news, but all I can think is that if she stuck on some stereotypically nerdy glasses and gold mules, she could walk for Alessandro Michele.
I mean, she even has some furry courts, which are very Gucci right now.
While we're on the subject of shoes, shall we do this properly? Below are some of my favorite pics of the shoes featured. Manolo Blahnik designed a lot of these, and some of them are now on display in the MET.
Yes those are a pair of Converse in the background, Coppola was really trying to drive home the SHE-WAS-JUST-AN-ORDINARY-TEENAGER-IN-EXTRODINARY-CIRCUMSTANCES thing.
Accessories are also a big focus, not many bags, but lots of chokers, necklaces, fans, feathers and belts.
There were even diamonds for her pack of pooches.
And in her hair Marie wears more ornaments than a Christmas tree, birds and boats for example. In real life royal hairdresser Léonard Autié became one of the queen’s closest friends and worked with her to create huge hairstyles, some of which were four feet tall. He would then decorate them with feathers and trinkets and on one occasion even an enormous model of the French warship La Belle Poule to commemorate its sinking of a British frigate.
Also holla at Rose Byrne who I LOVE, she completely kills it in this film (and every film). She also has a birdcage in her coif.
Pastels are obviously the palate for Marie, so many shots are basically porn for all those people who invest hours into filling their Tumblrs with pictures of soft pink bedrooms and fuchsia bathroom tiles and girls mouths puckered with pink lipstick, a cherry between their teeth. Speaking of pink.
Also BOWS. RING THE BOW ALARM.
I like how she and her friends all seem to have co-ordinated their striped outfits. According to Antonia Fraser, the author of the biography on which the film was based, Marie was super into her women. Fraser told Coppola: “These relationships were all-important to her because of her warm family background, life with her sisters in Austria. She was used to relying on women and felt lost in Versailles until she established close women’s relationships.” I've already mentioned Byrne who plays her best buddy, and is completely outrageous—the Rayanne Graff to Marie's Angela Chase, if you will—but shout out also to Mary Nighy as Princesse de Lamballe. In real life Lamballe was dismembered in the street, and revolutionaries paraded her head and body parts through Paris. Yikes.
But, back to the pink.
Look at her cheeks! This is pink squared with pink, and the fluffy trim is outstanding. I doubt anyone wore anything like this, well, ever, but goddamn it's fucking incredible.
BOW ALARM! That's Lamballe next to her, still with her head. Marie looks like a cake here, it's unbelievable to me that she isn't made of frosting.
Speaking of things that are edible, food is used as a great metaphor for Marie's indulgence and also the way she and Louis contribute to their own destruction. While post punkesr Bow Wow Wow sing “I Want Candy” (Reitzell strangely used a remix by Kevin Shields that sounds almost identical to the original) we have a montage of perfect pastries that only someone with a serious Laduree addiction would require. And while the clothes and locations might be Tumblr fodder, these food shots are pure Instagram dreams.
By the way—Bow Wow Wow were the other Malcolm McLaren manufactured band, put together in 1980 so they could wear his wife Vivienne Westwood's new romantic designs. McLaren took several members of the band Adam and the Ants (who also feature on this soundtrack) and put them together with singer Annabella Lwin, who was only 14 when she was discovered by McLaren while working in a dry cleaners. The parallels between her and Marie end there. Kevin Shields is of course the vocalist and guitarist of My Bloody Valentine—although none of his vocals appear on this remix. I think he must have actually just remixed it as in re-mixed the track, as there seem to be no changes to it other than it's a better mix sonically.
Think on that while you drool over these cakes.
Then we have shots of people eating the food.
And then dogs eating the food. And finally, the morning after a party we see the food left half-eaten on luxurious china, only to be swept up by servants and thrown away. How strange and surreal it is to see the clear signs we all recognize of a rager, but dropped into the setting of Versailles, a place gilded and ridiculously elegant, a setting that’s now only visited by tour groups wielding selfie sticks. It's entirely incongruous; like seeing the Queen eating a Big Mac or Hillary Clinton wearing ballet shoes.
And look at Marie herself, passed out in the early morning. She literally woke up like this.
Perhaps the reason Coppola was so drawn to this story is that she is a child of Hollywood, so she knows what it's like to be doing naively debauched teenage things in glamorous and plush surroundings. Although I hope her childhood wasn't as full of loneliness and alienation as Marie's, regardless of its beauty and delights.
When Marie gets tired of the court life and wants her own place for saucy extramarital adventures, she retires to her Petit Hameau, a utopian hamlet with lakes, gardens, cottages, watermills and a farmhouse on the palace grounds, built especially for her. The irony that she and her ladies-in-waiting were cosplaying as milkmaids and shepherdesses when outside the palace walls people were starving was not lost on the revolutionaries. But it did make for some mean summer dressing as Marie wanted clothes that were looser, more simple.
This is also the in the story where she hung out with the band Phoenix, who were dressed as courtiers. Lead singer Thomas Mars, is married to Coppola, by the way. They met while producing the soundtrack for Virgin Suicides,which was of course helmed by French Air.
It's also where, like many women these days, she started dying her hair pastel pink. We've all been there, you're away from home and work, you're having fun with pals, you've always wanted to try it so...
Also flower wreath! Everyone was wearing flower wreaths after this! A lot of people still are! (Hi Lana!) The styling in this film was well ahead of its time.
We should talk briefly about the man she has an affair with, who is played by Jamie Dornan, I like this screengrab below because he has grey hair and Dornan plays Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey so there's a great joke to be made about all three of those things.
More like Fifty Shades of Grey Hair, amirite?!
When she and this dude are making out, Adam and the Ants 1980 hit, “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” is providing the soundtrack to their tongue-tangling. This is fitting because Adam basically dressed like this in his heyday. In fact Coppola based the look of Count Axel von Fersen on Mr. Ant. Although Adam wore more eye makeup.
The New Romantic look was born out of the sartorial flair on display at London club the Blitz, where Boy George was a regular. Men there would wear androgynous, flamboyant, eccentric, home-made outfits. If you want to see these looks in more detail I strongly recommend watching the Spandau Ballet film, Soul Boys of the Western World. The footage from those times is amazing. So many pairs of jodhpurs.
Adam Ant recorded “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” after most of his band had left him to start Bow Wow Wow. He’d actually hired McLaren himself to help in crease his band’s success, only to have his pals whipped out from under him. Adam had the last laugh though, the album this song is taken from reached number 1 in the UK and put him slap bang at the forefront of the New Romantic movement.
Hey, you know who else is in this film? Mad Max.
Tom Hardy looks so pissed off in every scene during this film. Maybe he hates wigs? Actually I think it’s just that he was born with a natural pout.
When Marie isn't being countryside chic or full on court couture, she wears casual hanging out clothes—but not the kind we wear today. Her chill attire is silk and frilly and has several layers. She mostly wears these outfits when she's hanging out with her squad in her bedroom.
Or when she's being berated by Steve Coogan for not saying hello to the King's mistress.
Look how pissed Steve is.
Speaking of her bedroom, I've been to see it IRL and her bed was teeny tiny.
Its opulence here is in stark contrast to how it looks in the final shot of the film, after Marie and Louis have fled, never to see their beloved Versailles again.
By the end of the film it is a tired and sober looking Marie who holds her husbands hand tightly after saying goodbye to all their friends and advisors. She is no longer in her trademark pastels, she's a grown up now and must dress in the dark colors that all grown ups are forced to wear once they're over the age of 30. That's a thing, right?
As they drive through the gardens of the palace for the last time, there is no music playing, but the end credits are soundtracked by Aphex Twin and The Cure.
Aphex Twin's “Avril 14th” pops up several times in the film. It's perfect in it's simplicity and melancholy. (Incidentally this tune is also recognizable from Kanye loving it and basing “Blame Game” around it, and then apparently trying to get out of paying for the privilege. Keep it classy Kanye.) Meanwhile, The Cure's “All Cats Are Grey” plays at the end of the film. It's from their 1981 album Faith and contains the lyrics, “I never thought that I would find myself / In bed amongst the stones / The columns are all men / Begging to crush me / No shapes sail on the dark deep lakes / And no flags wave me home.” Seems very fitting when you consider what happened to beautiful Marie.
(Originally published on Noisey)