Saturday, November 06, 2010

Fleeting trends we're glad have passed

One of the pleasures of watching old movies is seeing the fashions and trends of the day that were either being reflected or encouraged at the time the movie was made. I'm not talking about ideology here; that's a subject I wouldn't attempt to tackle in a blog entry. I'm talking about the day-to-day stuff that people encounter that can sometimes tell you not only what era this film was made in, but pinpoint the precise year.

Naturally you get a big heaping eyeful of the fads that defined the time. But, more interestingly, you'll get a glimpse of trends that were popular for the blink of an eye or that never quite caught on.

For instance, one of my favorite movies is Laura starring Gene Tierney*, an elegant film noir in which Tierney plays a classy career woman who is sought after by every man she meets, including the detective assigned to solve her murder (trust me -- this makes perfect sense if you've seen the movie). At any rate, Gene Tierney is a beautiful woman playing a beautiful woman. And then they put her in this:

Okay, so one fashion faux pas in a movie is no big deal. And then, further along in the movie, this:

Even Gene is not quite sure what she had draped on her head...

Just about every actress (except Grace Kelly) has had her share of incredibly poor fashion choices now documented for eternity in some movie or other. Even Katharine Hepburn had her off days. And we won't even mention some of the hats Doris Day attempted to pull off in the early 60s...

Food trends, though, are a little harder to spot. I remember in the 1960s the dish that was considered most elegant was crepe suzette (remember -- "Cathy adores a minuet, the Ballet Russes and crepe Suzette...") and it pops up in a number of movies.

I find it sort of amusing when Cary Grant serves Quiche Lorraine with great ceremony in To Catch a Thief. Quiche Lorraine is one of those end-of-the-month dishes around here because there are always bits of bacon and swiss cheese around and eggs are a nice, cheap protein.

Another example of this occurred in a movie whose name I can't recall (I suppose I could find out, but I'm too lazy and it doesn't matter) but had George Sanders at a nightclub with some woman and another man who had approached their table. In front of him are two large tulip glasses with a white ball in each. He pours champagne over the white balls and, while sitting there delivering dry, witty lines, uses a spoon to flip the balls around in the glass. I looked at the other two characters to see if, perhaps, this was an indication of some mental problem with George's character. But -- no -- they were perfectly fine with what he was doing.

I didn't think anything of it and made a mental note to Google this next time I was at my computer, which I naturally forgot all about within five minutes...

...until a few days later when I was watching another movie I forget the name of and the woman character came upon some fresh peaches, which she proceeded to peel and place in a champagne glass -- one of those wide, flat versions they used to use before flutes became popular. She then poured champagne over the peach, she and her guests toasted and everyone somehow managed to get a mouthful of champagne before the peach flipped out of the shallow glass.

Clearly, I thought, this was a trend that, thankfully, did not catch on. Well, that -- and someone discovered using peach schnapps didn't look quite so silly when drinking a Bellini.

This time I did remember to Google and found this little article, for all you foodies out there who care...

The most disturbing food trend seems to have begun during the thirties. In Dinner at Eight there is a kerfuffle over a lion-shaped aspic that has to be substituted by crab meat. In Alice Adams, Katharine Hepburn laments to Fred McMurray that her mother has served him a heavy roast beef dinner in a heat wave instead of "something iced and jellied." (You may have missed the line, because the scene stealer at this point is Hattie McDaniel and her maid's outfit.)

Now, I like Jello just as much as the next person. I have even, on occasion, indulged in Jello salads (Jello molds are, according to John Boy, a Protestant phenomenon. We never saw Jello molds until we had married Protestants and attended their group functions. Catholics don't do Jello molds, you see.).

However, I can't wrap my mind around a savory gelatin dish. Every now and then someone tries to have aspic make a comeback, but it never quite catches on. It's one of those things that looks like it should be delicious, but then you realize it's something like tomato soup...only it's cold...and solid...sort of...and, well...slimy. And suddenly your throwing up in your mouth a little.

Then there is this tantalizing snippet from The Women: Norma Shearer wants to serve her husband a dish they both love: Pancakes Barbara. It's said as if everyone knows what Pancakes Barbara is and all we are told is that it will make her husband fat. This is another one of those items it took me forever to remember to Google. So, thanks to IMBD:
Almost as theatrical and certainly as decadent as flaming crêpes Suzette, pancakes Barbara are pancakes smothered with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, blanched walnuts, and hot chocolate sauce. Just hearing about them can put on five pounds. In another version: pancakes Barbara are blackberry pancakes served with brandy sauce and named for Barbara La Marr, a beautiful silent screen star. The dessert was on the menu at the MGM commissary in the 1930s, and was a favorite of studio boss Louis B. Mayer.
And this is where I will close since Heir 2 was looking over my shoulder as I looked this up and has now suddenly developed a 1939 craving for Pancakes Barbara...

*I don't know if I loved the movie or if I loved the movie because I loved watching it with my father back in the day. Legend has it that my father wanted to name me Laura, but my mother nixed the idea (strangely, my first doll was named Laura). So instead I was named "after Ma," though her name wasn't Jean, it was Eugenia -- everyone called her "Jean." So I was named "Jean" and everyone was happy. Years later, long after my mother's death, my father said that he agreed to the Jean because of Gene Tierney and that, if I had noticed (I hadn't), he always called me "Jean" (i.e., Gene) and not "Jeanne" like everyone else.


Anonymous said...

Couple nights ago, I was also feeling nostalgic. So I went to the fridge and whipped up some crème instantanée; sat there on the couch continuing my nostalgia while squirting the upside down dispenser of crème instantanée into my mouth. I know what you're thinking. Heavenly Daze, right? So was I! Good times.

Yes, aside of the fact that it was a Shemp flick, the clothing of Larry and Moe still look good to this day.

OH... and that hat... The one that looks like Barbara's Pancakes on that chick's head?... AWESOME!!!

Anonymous said...

(tap tap tap)... is this thing on? Censor check one.