The Baader-Meinhof Complex, now playing in U.S. theaters, tells the story of the West German domestic terrorists who called themselves the Red Army Faction. Over about a decade, beginning in the late 1960s, they committed increasingly brutal acts, from bank robberies to kidnappings and murder, in the name of global revolution.
Christopher Hitchens, writing in Vanity Fair, called the movie “the year’s best-made and most counter-romantic action thriller.” Others have been less approving. The LAT’s Kenneth Turan deemed it “an exploitation film on a socially conscious subject, the equivalent of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Che’ having a love child with ‘The Fast and the Furious.’” When it was released in Germany last fall, some felt it was “a little too sexy for comfort” and trafficked in “terrorist-chic.”
“The film portrays one murder after another without any sense of meaning, any explanation,” Ulrike Meinhof’s daughter Bettina Röhl, who was abandoned to a Palestinian orphanage by her terrorist mother, complained in an interview with the Associated Press. She said that “in nonverbal but very suggestive ways, the film insinuates that their motivations for terrorism are understandable.”
These contradictory reactions reflect an uncomfortable fact about terrorism and political extremism: To the right audience, they can be very glamorous. They promise purity and meaning, attention and fame and a sense of belonging. Evil does not always appear ugly and unappealing. It can even be sexy.
“Terror is glamour,” said Salman Rushdie in a 2006 interview with an incredulous Der Spiegel reporter. It was an astute observation. “The suicide bomber’s imagination,” he noted, “leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other people’s lives.” What The Baader-Meinhof Complex reminds us is that the glamour of terrorism extends not only to those who actively engage in such violent acts but to the broader public that admires or justifies those actions.
Intentionally or not, this movie about violent leftists illuminates the mass psychology of fascism. (Or maybe seeing crowds of Germans chanting and raising their fists just makes me think of Hitler.) Hitchens writes:
Consumerism is equated with Fascism so that the firebombing of department stores can be justified. Ecstatic violence and “action” become ends in themselves. One can perhaps picture Ulrike Meinhof as a “Red” resister of Nazism in the 1930s, but if the analogy to that decade is allowed, then it is very much easier to envisage her brutally handsome pal Andreas Baader as an enthusiastic member of the Brownshirts.
In its descent from glamour to ever-greater brutality and degradation, however, The Baader-Meinhof Complex most resembles a movie with no political agenda: Casino. It is no more a defense of terrorism than Casino is an ad for the Mafia.
But, of course, glamour depends on the audience and so, then, does its deconstruction. German journalist Claudia Fromme, writing in the Times of London, recounted one disconcerting reaction:
As the credits rolled and the lights went up at a screening I attended in Munich, one member of the audience raised his fist in a gesture of sympathy.
He was barely 20 years old, munching popcorn and wearing a hooded jumper. The assiduously factual debunking of the “Baader-Meinhof myth” obviously did not work for everyone in the audience.
A young corporate lawyer that I know was thrilled that he found a $4,000 Paul Smith suit in his size on sale for $800. He snatched it up and took it to his tailor to be fine tuned in fit. (The photo at right shows one of Smith’s suits.)
A friend of mine whose work never requires that he dress up could not understand why anyone would pay thousands of dollars for a suit. This friend likes to cook, and, while looking around a kitchenware store with our wives, I pointed out a Victorinox chef's knife which Cook’s Illustrated had praised as a inexpensive, yet favorite tool in their test kitchen. He then showed me the knife that he wanted, a Shun chef’s knife. It was incredibly beautiful, but given that it was priced at about five times as much, I wondered if it could possibly function five times as well?
I suppose that depends on what “function” means. If you love to cook and love to work with beautiful tools, then owning the Shun knife might be a daily source of pleasure. And if your work involves frequently dealing with clients who wear suits worth thousands of dollars, then wearing a suit in which you feel just as well-dressed could be both valuable to your business and personally pleasurable. Value in both cases depends on just how much the suit or knife means to the self-image of the buyer.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what’s underneath.
I suspect there are many women who sometimes fantasize about what it would be like to be boldly uninhibited about their sensuality. I know my wife sometimes does, and one of the fictional characters who fascinates her is Carmen (whether in the opera or the flamenco film). This story of a lustful gypsy who shamelessly seduces whatever man she chooses fascinates a lot of people—it has been the basis for more than 50 films, musicals, and dance works.
We plan to travel to London in October, and I discovered that Bizet’s Carmen will be playing at the Royal Opera House. So I located a dress-rehearsal video of Elïna Garanča, the mezzo soprano scheduled to sing the title role. My wife loved the red and blue costume and the staging. Here is that dress rehearsal video (not of the production we would see):
Carmen takes as her lover whatever man interests her at the moment, and then abandons him when he begins to bore her. Similarly, later in her poem Addonizio writes:
I want to walk like I’m the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want.
Poor Freud. I wonder if he ever imagined that this is what women sometimes want, even if perhaps temporarily, or even if, for most women, perhaps only in fantasy. (Here are links to Addonizio’s whole poem, as well as Virginia’s earlier post on red dresses.)
[Red dress photo by inottawa, and used under the Flickr Creative Common's license.]
From Marlene Dietrich and Buster Keaton to Aretha Franklin and Bianca Jagger, George Hurrell captured some of the 20th century's great faces, in hats that added an extra dimension to the characters they portrayed, in film or in life. Click here to see the show.
Not a day dress, and not an evening gown, this toga-like garment was worn by mid-century American housewives during the single, lonely, long-shadowed hour after the pot roast was placed in the oven but before a husband’s key was heard in the front door. Made of light-reflecting fabrics such as satin or sharkskin, in bright period colors like Miami-limeade, Flamingo-pink, or Navajo-turquoise, it was meant to provoke optimism in the wearer.
The dress was held in place at the shoulder with a clasp which doubled as a makeup compact. This opened to reveal a more risqué shade of rouge than would be worn at other times of day. Each “Foursie” also had secret inner pockets to hide the tools of whatever vice occupied the otherwise abject and idle afternoon. Contents often included miniature gin bottles, marijuana joints, or palm-sized erotic novels.
Worn only in affluent suburbs reached by the commuter trains of New York City, the Four O’clock Dress was the concept of Jacques Brevi, a French couturier who trained in the Paris atelier of Hubert de Givenchy but came to the United States in the middle 1950s. Soon disillusioned with the grime of the bongo-playing milieu of the Lower East Side, he decamped to the affluent suburb of Bronxville, which, he wrote to a friend, was: “paradise with Cadillacs” but one that he feared was not safe from the “dirty fingers of Nihilism.”
Brevi set to work preserving his suburban haven by creating a dress that would, “if not give meaning to life, then distract from the fact that there is none.” He imported the brilliantly colored material from the finest Italian mills, hired students from Sarah Lawrence as seamstresses, and sold his creations in at least seven shops in Westchester County. The distinct rustling sound of the brilliant togas became known in better neighborhoods as “the laughter of the dresses,” as Technicolor Athenas emerged from their houses and congregated on cherry-blossom drenched front lawns to trade hits of Indonesian reefer, sip Crème de Menthe, and read aloud from annotated bootleg copies of Tropic of Cancer.
Soon, the women began to expand the secret sartorial compartments to include heavier items such as law books and manifestos. Brevi warned that the garments were not designed for this, and would not be able to withstand it. In April of 1957, his prediction came true when New Haven resident Carol Jones weighed down her chartreuse “Foursie” with copies of Atlas Shrugged and a 300-page letter to the editor of the Westchester County Times espousing individual freedom. The inner pocket ripped, and the contents fell and crushed several of her toes, leaving her prone and unconscious from pain in her foyer.
The next day, the incident was reported in the very paper in which Carol had wished to publish her letter. Her husband, Charles Jones was quoted as saying: “A man should not come home to the smell of burning dinner. I blame these glorified bed sheets.” Clippings of the story were found on the pillows of most Westchester housewives. The Four O’clock Dress was soon known as the “divorce dress” and sales plummeted. Brevi wrote to a friend, “I suppose I will once again pull up my silver tent stakes and take the circus of my life elsewhere.” He moved to Vermont, where he made sandals.
Note: In areas closer to Manhattan, the garment was known as the Three-thirty Dress as the commuter trains arrived earlier.
For a limited time, you can order a copy of Forgotten Fashion, signed by Kate and Andraé, for $9.95 plus shipping. Order it here no later than Labor Day, September 7—a great gift for your favorite fashionista! Greetings A&L Daily Readers: In your honor, we've extended the deadline for orders to Friday, September 18. But the sooner we receive your order, the easier it will be to get your book signed. Thanks!
Whether wearing their own (left) or one of Arturo Rios's spectacular creations (right and below, left), guests at the DeepGlamour party demonstrated the enduring glamour of hats. And then there were the more playful approaches. For a full set of party photos, check out the DeepGlamour Flickr pool.
Selected photos from DeepGlamour's “You’re the Top” birthday party and Fashion Walk celebration are now up in the DeepGlamour Flickr pool. These two shots are from the many photo-booth portraits, which I’m still sorting through.
One striking fact is the disproportionate representation of redheads (persimmon-tressed?) among the guests and especially among those with interesting hats. Perhaps those with flame-colored hair are used to the head-oriented attention a hat commands.
In addition to these ladies, Advice Goddess Amy Alkon carried off one of the evening’s largest hats, an Amy Downs creation, with her usual aplomb. “I’d dress this way all the time,” she said, “but people look at you funny.” (Or words to that effect.) It might be tough to be a shy redhead, but Amy wouldn’t know.
Our book-signing redhead Kate Hahn came hatless, but we forgive her because Forgotten Fashion is so much fun. Besides, its auburn-haired cover muse doesn’t have a hat either.
If you couldn’t come to the party, you can still get a signed copy of the book for $9.95 plus shipping. Order it here no later than Labor Day, September 7.
DG’s anniversary party was great fun. We will have photos soon, but first I want to thank all the people who made it possible:
Loft Appeal, which lent us the furniture for our big, beautiful, and very empty former bank lobby. Loft Appeal is a furniture store, with two places in downtown L.A. At its Hewitt Street store it sells contemporary furniture (including the world's best sofa bed, from American Leather, which I wrote about here) in the front and has a prop house in the back. On Saturdays and Sundays, the back is open to the public for a big "garage sale," where you can buy everything from a giant globe from Armageddon and a huge ray gun/laser cannon from Sky High ($5,000) to a lovely tabletop mirror from Samantha Who? (which we borrowed for the evening), plus all sorts of normal furnishings at low prices. The entire staff is great.
Spring Center Inc./Spring Arts Tower, which lent us the big, beautiful, and very empty former bank lobby and was extremely helpful in dealing with my newbie party-planning questions and schedule revisions. A wonderful combination of friendly informality and professionalism.
The inimitable Brady Westwater, who put together Fashion Walk in two weeks and put me together with Rich Reams at Loft Appeal and Kevin Taylor at Spring Center Inc. He also made the arrangements with Beauty Collection. Brady fielded a million phone calls and emails and even gave us a hand moving a couple of car loads of party supplies (and a mini fridge) into the building. He also lent us his own mini fridge for the evening.
The Pancho Barnes Trust Estate and Lou D’Elia and Mike Salazar, who not only let us use the beautiful Hurrell photos but also (thanks, Mike!) spent many hours scanning and correcting the images for digital display. At Lou’s suggestion, I’ll be putting the slide show on the site so everyone can enjoy it.
Ejen Chuang, who ran our photo booth and set up a screen for our video, and Karol Franks, who shot party pics and gave me all sorts of help setting up. You’ll see their work soon. Aside from being talented photographers, they're both the kind of calm, practical, smart people you want on your team.
POM Wonderful, which gave us wonderful POM for Kit’s delicious “POM Pillbox” mocktails, and Jennifer Grossman and Dole, which gave us pineapple juice for the "Pineapple Panama." (More on the mocktails later.)
Fabulous DG intern Crystal Hubbard, who demonstrated a remarkable ability to carry hat boxes, arrange cupcakes, and generally make herself extremely useful while wearing a glamorous black dress and very high heels.
Ted Coe, Kate’s fit and easy-going son, who spent several days with us moving furniture from Loft Appeal And Groomzilla’s husband Brian Chase, who provided both furniture-moving services and a pickup truck. Laura Main Collins provided an easel so we could display one of Lou’s limited edition Hurrell prints.
Pam Postrel for designing our beautiful invitations on a moment's notice and revising them equally quickly when the address changed. Mindy Blum for making special devotional candles featuring Hurrell images. (Maybe we should sell these at the next party.) Pam and Mindy also lent us the previously mentioned mini-fridge.
Kate Hahn and Andraé Gonzalo for signing their fun book Forgotten Fashion. If you couldn’t come to the party, you can still get a signed copy of the book for $9.95 plus shipping. Order it here:
Of course, the party’s theme would never have worked without our fantastic hat designers--Louise Green, Allison Parson, and Arturo Rios, whose work you'll see more of when we have a photos--and Wendy Ann Rosen’s wonderful hats and hat boxes. Getting to know these interesting, talented people was one of the great pleasures of putting the party together.
Jonathan A. Logan, whose cool leather designs had nothing to do with hats but added to the Fashion Walk atmosphere and helped defray some of the event costs. As someone who owns a large wardrobe of leather jackets (contrary to popular opinion, Nick Gillespie did not invent the Reason-editor-in-leather look) and a couple of pairs of leather pants (one of which I wore for my TED talk on glamour), I loved seeing Jonathan’s work.
Carwash Kim, whose “clothing relocation project” added a vintage touch to the evening’s wares. I met Kim when she was meticulously cleaning up after the event she curated during the previous week’s Art Walk and was delighted she wanted to join our space.
Posted by Virginia Postrel on August 21, 2009 in