Peter Fonda as Wyatt, aka “Captain America”, freedom-loving biker
Across the southern United States from Los Angeles through Louisiana, February 1968
Film: Easy Rider
Release Date: July 14, 1969
Director: Dennis Hopper
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
When I learned the second Saturday of October is commemorated as National Motorcycle Ride Day, I realized I’d gone far too long without shining a sartorial lens on Dennis Hopper’s iconic cult classic, Easy Rider.
Conceptualized by Hopper, Fonda, and screenwriter Terry Southern, Easy Rider‘s chaotic production and controversial themes have been the product of considerable discussion since its release during that seminal summer of ’69. To some, it explores the death of the American dream through the concept of freedom, asking what it really means to be a free American.
Set to classic rock like The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Roger McGuinn, and Steppenwolf, we follow two bikers in their journey across the United States, from the open desert of the southwest into the close-knit conservative communities of the deep South. Hopper co-stars as the the mustached hippie rider Billy, but the arguable leader of the duo is the flag-bedecked Wyatt (Peter Fonda), celebrated by his pal as “Captain America”. After all, if a red, white, and blue-blooded Captain America can’t safely and freely ride across the nation, who can? Continue reading
Montgomery Clift as George Eastman, dangerously ambitious factory executive
Carthage, Missouri to “Loon Lake”, Spring to Summer 1950
Film: A Place in the Sun
Release Date: August 14, 1951
Director: George Stevens
Costume Designer: Edith Head
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
April showers bring May flowers… and hopefully some floral shirts from the back of your closet!
Decades after Ellery J. Chun established his flowery-printed shirts as the signature garb of the Hawaiian islands, aloha shirts went mainstream on the mainland thanks in part to the American servicemen dazzled by the bright colors after being stationed in the Pacific. This postwar boom was felt at home in Hawaii, as Josh Sims wrote in Icons of Men’s Style that “by 1947, employees of Hawaii’s city councils were allowed to wear Hawaiian shirts to work and, in 1948, Aloha Wednesday, a precursor to dress-down Friday was introduced across the islands.”
Aloha style received an added boost from the on-screen advocacy of Montgomery Clift, first as the ambitious George Eastman in A Place in the Sun and then perhaps most famously as the conflicted rifleman at the heart of From Here to Eternity, both performances that earned Monty two of his four Academy Award nominations. Continue reading
Alain Delon as Eddie Pedak, reformed thief
San Francisco, Spring 1965
Film: Once a Thief
Release Date: September 8, 1965
Director: Ralph Nelson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On the last day of #Noirvember (and Alain Delon’s birthday month) and the first day of this winter’s #CarWeek series, it felt like the perfect time to explore Once a Thief, Ralph Nelson’s moody black-and-white crime drama starring Delon as a reformed criminal-turned-family man.
The jazzy opening credits depict a night at Big Al’s, a smoky den laden with drug pushers and beatniks, including author Zekial Marko, whose novel Scratch a Thief provided the movie’s source material. We follow a young man swaddled in sheepskin as he leaves the club and takes the wheel of a vintage “Model A Ford” roadster, which then becomes his getaway car after a swift but deadly closing-time stickup at a liquor store in Chinatown.
We then learn that the car and coat are a trademark of Eddie Pedak, a reformed armed robber making an honest living as a truck driver with his wife Kristine (Ann-Margret) and their daughter. The arrival of Eddie’s criminal brother Walter (Jack Palance), a syndicate hotshot, brings complications in the form of a proposition for one night’s criminal work—the proverbial “one last job”—which Eddie initially refuses, despite the $50,000 payout.
Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, “rock star” chaos theorist
“Isla Nublar”, 120 miles west of Costa Rica, Summer 1993
Film: Jurassic Park
Release Date: June 11, 1993
Director: Steven Spielburg
Costumes: Mitchell Ray Kenney, Sue Moore, Kelly Porter, and Eric H. Sandberg
International Dinosaur Day is celebrated twice a year, always on June 1st but also the third Tuesday in May, making today—May 19, 2020—the first observance of Dinosaur Day for the year. Why the chaotic timing?
The answer to questions like that may rest with a chaos theorist like Dr. Ian Malcolm, the swaggering, skeptical, and somewhat frantic mathematician portrayed by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, adapted from Michael Crichton’s novel.
“I bring the scientists, you bring a rock star,” the park’s exuberant founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) comments upon the first impressions that Dr. Malcolm makes on Hammond’s distinguished guests from the scientific community, Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern).
“You’ll have to get used to Dr. Malcolm, he suffers from a deplorable excessive personality… especially for a mathematician,” Hammond adds. “Chaotician,” Ian corrects.
Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, swaggering Hollywood stuntman
Los Angeles, Summer 1969
Film: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Release Date: July 26, 2019
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Costume Designer: Arianne Phillips
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Tonight the night? Why not?
When Cliff Booth poses himself this question on the night of Friday, August 8, 1969, he was merely considering whether or not he should partake in an acid-dipped cigarette he bought from “a hippie girl” six months earlier, but the night turns out to be far more eventful than a mere drug experiment.
Brad Pitt may have asked himself the same question a month ago during the 92nd Academy Awards when he won his first Oscar for acting in recognition of his performance in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the ninth film from Quentin Tarantino as the auteur added his own revisionist touch to a consequential year for American pop culture.
As today is Friday the 13th, let’s take a look at one of Cliff’s less celebrated outfits on what started as a very unlucky night for the stuntman… until he turned the tables thanks to that acid-dipped cigarette, his pet pit bull Brandy, and a few decades worth of combat-honed grit.
Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, outlaw motorcycle club leader
Central California, Summer 1953
Film: The Wild One
Release Date: December 30, 1953
Director: László Benedek
“Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”
This famous exchange originated among the actual biker gangs that producer Stanley Kramer had brought on set to play themselves. When Kramer asked what it was they were “rebelling” against, a member cracked back to him, “Well, whaddaya got?” The line so encapsulated the culture and attitude of bikers during the era that it was incorporated into The Wild One, though the question is posed by Mildred, the platinum blonde beauty salon operator that one of Johnny’s boys picked up in a bar.
Inspired by actual events over a rambunctious fourth of July weekend in Hollister, California, in 1947, The Wild One was based on Frank Rooney’s short story “The Cyclists’ Raid” that appeared in Harper’s magazine in January 1951. It was swiftly adapted for the screen, though the locations involved were changed to the fictional California burgs of Carbondale and Wrightsville, the latter being the “screwball town”—according to Dextro (Jerry Paris)—where most of the action takes place.
The credits are a bit misleading, introducing Marlon Brando to us as The Wild One, though his character Johnny Strabler turns out to be the most restrained of his hell-raising confederates, particularly when compared to the obnoxious pipsqueak Mouse (Gil Stratton), the larcenous, simple-minded Pigeon (Alvy Moore), or rival gang leader Chino (Lee Marvin). Continue reading
James Dean as Jim Stark, confused suburban high school student and loner
Los Angeles, Spring 1956
Film: Rebel Without a Cause
Release Date: October 27, 1955
Director: Nicholas Ray
Costume Designer: Moss Mabry
Sixty years ago today – September 30, 1955 – was the famous fatal car crash that ended James Dean’s life at the age of 24. At the time of his death, he had only completed acting in three films (other than uncredited bit parts), but those performances made more of an impact than anyone could have guessed.
After his breakout role in East of Eden in 1955, Dean quickly followed it up with his performance as the troubled and tortured Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, a representation of teenage angst that gave a glimmer of hope to millions of teens throughout the country who were disgusted by the falsely naive and puritanical state of 1950s society. Teens could actually relate to the frustrated Jim Stark rather than the squeaky clean Andy Hardy or mischievous doe-eyed Beaver Cleaver. Dean’s electric performance captivated young audiences that began copying his style. Continue reading