While the BFI’s Pop Goes the Revolution season was a slightly fluffy affair offering little insight into French cinema and May 68, this month sees the Southbank cinema host part of the Fashion in Film Festival, which conversely offers an impressively rich and well thought out programme. Funnily enough, Pop Goes the Revolution included a screening of Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, an absurdist, op-art inspired satire of the fashion world that would have been more at home at FFF – and was indeed screened at its first edition in May 2006. For this second outing, the festival explores the relationship between cinema, fashion, crime and violence through an imaginative selection that spans over ten countries, nine decades and a variety of genres from film noir to horror. In addition, seriously knowledgeable speakers will be discussing topics ranging from ‘the semiotics of stained clothing’ to the significance of the femme fatale‘s mink coat in 1940s cinema.
The festival includes a number of silent gems, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1927); seen by Hitchcock as his first proper film, it is a murder thriller inspired by Jack the Ripper, starring Ivor Novello in the role of a sinister stranger attracted to a blonde fashion model. Also of note is The Rat (1925), another British silent featuring Ivor Novello; when his cocky Parisian bad boy meets Isabel Jeans’s glamorous Zelie de Chaumet, sparks fly and the stage is set for a roaring melodrama.
Elsewhere, the programme draws from the bountiful supply of macabre stylishness provided by giallo cinema, including Mario Bava’s 1964 Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l’assassino), a gorgeously photographed baroque shocker set in a fashion house, and Dario Argento’s 1970 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo), an Ennio Morricone-scored thriller about a serial killer clad in black PVC. Also from Italy is the rarely screened The Tenth Victim (La decima vittima, 1965), a futuristic, pop-art extravaganza starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress as the contestants in a deadly game, which somehow manages to fit in a fashion display of modernist geometric outfits.
Other films of interest include Follow Me Quietly (1949), an intriguing Richard Fleischer noir in which a detective uses a faceless dummy to reconstruct the crimes of an elusive serial killer. Vicente Aranda’s Fata Morgana (1965) is a formally daring thriller about yet another endangered model set in a dystopian future. Among the more recent films, Cindy Sherman’s first feature, Office Killer (1997), is a caricature of the psycho-killer genre, with a meek office worker transformed into a homicidal vamp. In The Red Shoes, Korean director Kim Youn-gyun delivers a gory update of the Andersen fairy tale that inspired the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger classic. Among the documentaries, Zoot Suit Riots (2001) stands out, exploring the demonisation of the Mexican baggy-clothed youth in 1940s America.
In addition to the extensive film schedule, the BFI Southbank will play host to a weekend of 20s-style decadence and frivolity around the theme ‘Dressed to Kill’, including a jazz brunch, workshops, a Radio Days vintage stall, absinthe cocktails and a flapper evening entitled ‘The White Coffin Club’ (after the club featured in The Rat) hosted by Johnny Vercoutre (Time for Tea / Modern Times) and David Piper (Rakehalls).