Tag Archives: films

Thinking about Pink

Just the other day I heard my fellow Salemite Michelle Finamore, the Curator of Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, talking about her ongoing exhibition Think Pink on NPR, a nice reminder that I haven’t seen it yet! The exhibition opened in October (heralded by pink spotlights on the Museum marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month), but I’m glad that I have inadvertently waited until now, because for me pink is more of a spring color, and definitely a happy one. About a decade ago, I had endured the most miserable winter (even more miserable than this past one), a prolonged period of heartache and anxiety about nearly aspect of my life. And then one day in mid-March I spotted a bubblegum pink spring coat at a vintage store in Boston, bought it, put it on, and everything just got better! It was the perfect sixties pink, not too “hot” and not too light, in the perfect Audrey Hepburn silhouette with a little Doris Day collar, and (of course) three-quarter sleeves, and I wore that coat every day through that Spring, no matter what I had on under it, until the day (or rather, night) that it was stolen from a restaurant coat room while I was eating dinner. No matter, it had worked its magic, and I truly hope that it did the same for whoever took it home. The color pink cannot fail to bring a smile to my face, whether I’m thinking about my long-lost coat, or the Diana Vreeland-esque character played by Kay Thompson in the classic Audrey (and Fred Astaire) film Funny Face, who also encourages us all to “Think Pink!”

pink MFA Boston

Pink Doll's Dress


The MFA in October and a silk taffeta 18th century doll’s dress from the Exhibition (Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; still image of Kay Thompson’s “Think Pink” number in Funny Face (1957).

The Think Pink exhibition is not just about showing off pretty dresses, but also an exploration of “the changing meaning of pink in art and fashion”. It seems that pink perceptions are particularly interesting when relative to gender: the headline of Michelle’s NPR interview the other day was her statement that pink as a girl’s color was “a post-World War II phenomenon”–New York magazine proclaimed that Pink was Formerly a Bro Shade in response. A great example of looking back at masculine pre-war pink is the Ralph Lauren suit worn by Robert Redford in the 1974 version of the Great Gatsby, which is pictured in the exhibition along side a man’s formal suit in deep pink silk from several centuries earlier (which you can read more about here). This certainly rings true for me: while I don’t see a lot of men in pink in my period (the sixteenth century), there are not hard to find a bit later. Pink strikes me as a very cavalier color, and men in the eighteenth century were certainly not afraid to wear it–even Prime Ministers.

Pink Suits MFA

Benedict in Pink MET-001

Pink Pitt Victoria & Albert Museum

The Ralph Lauren “Gatsby” Suit and a Man’s formal suit, France, 1770-1780, silk satin with silk embroidery, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Portrait of Benedikt von Hertenstein by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1517, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Miniature Portrait of  William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham by Jean André Rouquet, 1740s, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Appendix:  Because it is her 90th birthday today, and because the coat she is wearing is quite similar to my perfect pink coat (except mine was made of a thin wool weave, not satin), I’ve got to include this picture of the perfect pink girl, Doris Day (from the blog Cinema Style).

Doris Day (1960s)


Salem Film Fest 2014

Spring break week for me, but unfortunately I have no warm destination in sight, just a series of day trips and various “staycation” cultural activities (and of course it is snowing again this morning). Oh well, Salem’s annual documentary film festival is on now, and nearly all of the films look interesting, first among them Maidentrip, which documents the amazing solo circumnavigation of Dutch teenager Laura Dekker in 2011-2012, and The Galapagos Affair: When Satan Came to Eden, which examines the still-unsolved disappearance of several members of a not-so-Utopian community of European expatriates on the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s. I love stories–real or otherwise–about displaced Europeans in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, always feuding and over-estimating their abilities!

Salem Film Fest Maidentrip

Galapagos Affair

Somehow I got completely confused over the screening times of the other two films I really wanted to see: they were both up yesterday so I’ll have to see them at other venues. The historian in me mandates that I see Here was Cuba, the latest examination of the Cuban Missile Crisis using recently declassified sources from U.S., Russian, and Cuban archives, and my inner architecture buff really wants to see The Human Scale, a plea for better urban planning–hopefully from the Renaissance perspective that its title implies. Just in time for Salem.

Salem Film Fest Here was Cuba

Human Scale

Emulating Salem

I’ve been trying for quite some time, in several posts, to place Salem squarely in the center of the Colonial Revival design movement of the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries–and not just the artistic and academic movement, but also its more popular expressions. This is a continuing exploration, and as I am trained not as an art historian, or even an American historian, but a plain old English historian, I’m not sure that I’m searching in the right places or looking at the right sources. Right now I’m particularly interested in the broader impact of the period rooms installed in several major American museums after George Sheldon (at Deerfield in the 1880s) and George Francis Dow (at Salem’s Essex Institute in 1907) created the first period-room displays. By the 1920s and 1930s period rooms seem to have been assembled in most of the major American art museums, among them distinct Salem rooms such as that established by architectural historian Fiske Kimball at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1923 and the South Bedroom/later “McIntire Room” at Winterthur.

Salem Room Philadelphia MA

Salem Room Winterthur McIntire Room

The Salem and McIntire Rooms at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Winterthur Museum.

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that you see advertisements for reproductions and adaptations of “Salem” furniture from this very same era, though the inspiration could be traced to many sources. Several major American furniture manufacturers, including Karpen Furniture and the Erskine-Danforth Corporation, produced entire lines of “Early American” reproductions. The latter’s Danersk line, advertised with accompanying Salem ships, seems like the very epitome of the popular Colonial Revival.

Salem Room

Salem Room 1928

The “Salem Room”: 1928 vignette by Edgar W. Jenney, who specialized in the depiction and reproduction of historical interiors and worked to preserved them–most notably on Nantucket.

Salem Room 1926p

Salem bed with border

1926 advertisements for Danersk Early American furniture, Erskine-Danforth Corporation.

It’s not really Salem-specific, but I can’t resist referencing the great 1948 Cary Grant/Myrna Loy film Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House here, because it both exemplifies and mocks the longstanding influence of the Colonial Revival in America. After an interior decorator (named Bunny Funkhouser!) sketches an over-the-top “Colonial” living-room redesign for the Blandings’ NYC apartment featuring a cobbler’s bench, pie safe, and spinning wheel, they decide to decamp for the real thing in Connecticut. When their authentic colonial is deemed unsound, they level it and build a neo-Colonial, a bit more refined than Funkhouser’s sketch certainly, but most definitely Colonial in inspiration and design. I can’t find a still of the Funkhouser room, but you’ve got to see it to believe it.


The Redcoat Next Door

There is always something interesting going on in Salem. Yesterday my over-the-fence neighbor, a museum interpreter turned screenwriter turned romance novelist, was shooting some six-second Vine videos next door at Hamilton Hall to publicize her forthcoming book, The Rebel Pirate (2nd in the Renegades of the Revolution series).  She graciously allowed me to pop over and see the action. As one of the central characters in the novel is a British naval commander, the redcoats are in the picture and it was fun to see one running around the Hall–especially in sneakers (the floor was a little slippery for swordplay). The conceit of the scenes was a romance reader sitting amidst the characters of the novel come to life, and so they were played out, again and again–including a last bit where the characters creep in and turn the pages for her! (Really cute but hard to photograph from afar–look at the Vine). Observing how much effort goes into a six-second film certainly gives one an appreciation for how long it must take to produce a full-length feature! Despite some ongoing window restoration (inside and out), the Hall looked great and provided the perfect romantic setting.

Redcoat First

Redcoat Second

Redcoat Third

Redcoat Fourth

Redcoat Fifth

Redcoat Sixth

Redcoat 2 145

P.S. This was not the only Salem “set” I visited this past year: now that it is beginning to get accolades, I do want to remind everyone that several scenes of American Hustle were filmed in Salem last spring—see my post Filming on Federal.

Poison Vessels

News of the discovery of a late medieval poison ring in eastern Europe has intrigued me; I know that “poison rings” (alternatively called “pillbox rings” with built-in receptacles) were popular in the Renaissance and after, but very few of them actually served to contain or convey poison–more likely the held articles of remembrance. But this Bulgarian bronze ring, with its little channel, looks like the real thing! It instantly reminded me of one of my favorite (also late medieval) woodcut illustrations of a woman poisoning her husband–through a much larger pipeline–and set me off on a hunt for more man-made vessels for poison, besides the proverbial poison arrow.



Poison 1481

Book of Wisdom of the Ancient Sages, 1481; The Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 83, German Book Illustration before 1500: Anonymous Artists, 1481-1482.

Well of course the most obvious vessel is a cup:  whether medieval depictions of Socrates drinking his hemlock or later prints of supposed royal assassinations, the poison is generally conveyed in a cup, or, more seriously, a chalice, as in Shakespeare’s This even-handed justice Commends thingredients of our poisoned chalice (Macbeth). Somehow a chalice is more reverent, and at the same time menacing, than a mere cup. John Foxe’s Protestant martyrology, Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church (1563) shows King John being poisoned by English monks offering his majesty a chalice of wassail, of all things. The chalice and the mortar and pestle become the two most “medieval” vessels associated with poison, as in the line from Danny Kaye’s Court Jester (1955): the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!

Poison Cup Socrates

Poison Cup BM

Poison Cup MET

National Library of the Netherlands MS RMMW, 10 A 11 (c. 1475), John Foxe, Acts and Monuments  (1563); NYPL Digital Gallery.

Another English monarch who was threatened with assassination by poison (and other means) was Elizabeth I: a Jesuit-inspired French plot involving a poisoned saddle is illustrated in George Carleton’s Thankful Remembrance (1627). This might or might not be the basis of the purely fictional poisoned dress scene in the 1998 film Elizabeth. In any case, it was foiled.

Poison Saddle BM

George Carleton, A Thankful Remembrance of God’s Mercy, 1627.

Things seem to get more straightforward in the modern age, when poison was contained in boldly labeled and brightly colored apothecary bottles, dispensed collectively in war and from planes, self-induced through various addictive substances, and trivialized by mid-century modern “name your poison” bar sets. But obviously the most effective poisons would have no vessel at all.

Poison Sign

Name Your Poison Glasses Etsy

Asylums Abandoned and Adapted

What is it about abandoned mental hospitals? There is a lure there; not quite sure why. For many years, the abandoned state mental hospital in nearby Danvers, formally and progressively known as the Danvers Lunatic Hospital, the Danvers State Insane Asylum and the Danvers State Mental Hospital (you can trace the evolution of the vocabulary of mental illness by charting the changing names of such institutions, so many of which were built in the later nineteenth century), drew many night-time visitors to its darkened doors after its closure in 1992. Constructed between 1874 and 1878 in the “Domestic” Gothic style and according to the Kirkbride Plan which dominated asylum architecture at the time, you can see why it cut a rather menacing silhouette when lifeless. Even before it was abandoned, Danvers was inspirational (it is said to be the model for H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham Sanitarium in “The Thing on the Doorstep” and several other stories) but somehow became even more so in its abandonment: inspiring preservationists, photographers, and movie producers.

Abandoned Asylum Danvers Trask

Abandoned Asylum Danvers 1930s

Abandoned Asylum Danvers 1895

Danvers in its heyday:  photographs from Danvers Town Archivist Richard Trask History of Danvers State Hospital at the Danvers Archival Center and from the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Trustees of the Danvers Lunatic Hospital, 1895.

Below are pictures of the hospital dating from 2000-2001, when preservationists were engaged in an intense battle to save the building, or at least its central administrative section, for adaptive re-use. They were successful in placing Danvers on Preservation Massachusetts’ Most Endangered List that year, but not in saving the structure: both its wings and its central section were demolished by the Avalon Bay Communities, Inc., an apartment development and management company, following its acquisition in 2005. What “remains” was really reconstructed rather than renovated, so my alliterative title is a misnomer, at least as it applies to Danvers State.

Abandoned Danvers2 SSU

Abandoned Danvers SSU

Abandoned Danvers 3 SSU

The Shuttered Hospital:  Preservation Massachusetts Flikr. (The steeple was removed in 1970, apparently for safety’s sake).

The shuttered era of Danvers State has inspired some hauntingly beautiful images, most notably by photographers Roger Farrington and John Gray. Farrington is the historian-photographer, capturing the institution’s interior at the moment of its closing in 1992, while Gray comes along a bit later and expands the geographical context of Danvers and its decline in an extremely compelling way in his beautiful book Abandoned Asylums of New England: A Photographic Journey. I particularly like his image (below) of Worcester State Hospital, another Kirkbride building built and closed at the same time as Danvers, which met much the same fate. Looking through Gray’s book, my question is no longer what is it about abandoned mental hospitals but why do we build monumental buildings that we can’t, or won’t, maintain? Maybe we no longer do.


Abandoned Asylums Danvers Rooftops Gray

Worcester State John Gray

Photographs by Roger Carrington (interior) and John Gray (Danvers turrets at sunset and Worcester State in the dark).

The consensus among preservationists is that Danvers didn’t have to be demolished/reconstructed: there were other options and there are other models of adaptive reuse among the remaining (sadly small number) of Kirkbride buildings. There is a great blog/website which provides a one-stop resource of information and images for these institutions and their fates. The list of demolitions is much longer than the list of saves, and most of these complexes seem to be crumbling, but there are a few rays of hope:  the Traverse City Mental Hospital in northern Michigan (alternatively known as the Northern Michigan Asylum), now redeveloped and reconsecrated as the residential Village at  Grand Traverse Commons, seems to be  the best example of preservation and conversion. Things look good for the Fergus Falls State Mental Hospital in Minnesota as well but, like Danvers, it’s been abandoned for years.



Fergus Falls Hospital 1928

Traverse City in 1990 and The Village at Grand Traverse Commons today, photograph by Gary Howe for the New York Times; Fergus Falls Hospital in 1928, Minnesota Historical Society.

I could go on and on about each and every one of these abandoned buildings, both those that remain (Athens, Ohio, Buffalo!!!) and those that have been lost, but I’m going to go back to Danvers, which has provided a dramatic backdrop and inspiration in both its open and shuttered eras. Two films have been filmed there, the Jean Simmons  film Home before Dark (which I saw long, long ago and have no memory of the Hospital; I’m going to look at it again) and the 2001 horror film Session 9, which I have not seen and have no desire to see.

Session 9 2

session 9 danvers

Poster and Screen shot from Session 9 (2001).

Perhaps the most creative expression inspired by Danvers State Hospital has simultaneously preserved a piece of it. A year ago, I came across an article about Danvers resident John Archer’s “Scrap Mansion” in the New York Times. As a board member of the Danvers Preservation Commission, Archer was a key part of the fight to save Danvers State, but when it came down, he salvaged a turret and installed it in his ever-expanding house.  So pieces of Danvers State Hospital remain intact, both in the reconstructed facade on its original site and a house nearby.

Archer1 Archer3

Danvers State/Avalon


John Archer before his Danvers Wing, and salvaged doors from Danvers State, Trent Bell for the New York Times; Danvers State administrative building/Avalon Danvers, last weekend.

Modernizing the Monarchs

Playing with history, even manipulating it, is amusing in my off-time (which includes the blog), so naturally these images captured my attention: they were commissioned by a British television channel named Yesterday for their tabloid series entitled The Secret Life Of… and are the results of “digital artists working closely with history experts to ensure the portraits gave a real sense of how historical characters would look if they were alive in the 21st Century”. I don’t know how this could be “ensured”, but interesting choices were made in the updating process. For example, Henry VIII was by all accounts a vain man, so he would have maintained his athletic figure through middle age and cloaked it in a bespoke suit–but the jewelry? I don’t think so. I also think he was a traditionalist, so he would have worn a tie, especially for an important portrait-sitting.

History People

Henry’s daughter Elizabeth is described as “the over-the-top queen with the powdered white face, unnaturally high forehead, and a wardrobe that made her the Lady Gaga of the 16th century” .  Why then such a boring pantsuit? This modern Elizabeth has been robbed of her femininity, which was an essential feature of her projected character. I would have clothed her in something much more high fashion:  she looks like a Dolce & Gabbana girl to me, and the ensemble below (from their Fall 2012 collection) reads royal.

History People Elizabeth

Dolce and Gabbana fall 2012

Elizabeth’s contemporary William Shakespeare fares better, I think, but then who really knows? The receding hairline that you see in some historical images (we’re not quite sure what Shakespeare actually looked like) has been “corrected” with a modern hair transplanting process, resulting in abundant curls, and his ruff is replaced by a hipster shirt and vest. The facial hair remains the same, as it does with Henry VIII. Timeless, I guess.

History People 2

Filming on Federal

Lots of movies have been filmed here in Salem; at some point, I’ve got to make a comprehensive list and write up a mega-post! In my own time here, I have been kept up two entire nights by film crews outside my bedroom window on two occasions, in two different houses: filming is not a quiet, or small, or particularly energetic operation. This week, a David O. Russell film entitled “American Hustle”, starring Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, is being filmed in and around the courthouses on Federal Street, and the whole city is abuzz. Yesterday, in particular, there were Cooper sightings being tweeted and whispered about, but I have seen no movie stars: only trucks, cameras, crowds, and cars. Here’s the description of the movie from IMDb: the 1970s-set true story of a con artist and his partner in crime, who were forced to work with a federal agent to turn the tables on other cons, mobsters, and politiciansnamely, the volatile mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey. So you can imagine what the cars looked like.

Yesterday, they were obviously filming inside the courthouses (abandoned by the state for our newly-built Stalinesque building that is adjacent to the classical revival, Romanesque, and Greek Revival buildings that you see here) but on Tuesday, it was all about the cars. While I saw some seventies-garbed extras milling about the cars, no Cooper or Bale sightings for me.

Filming on Federal 001

Filming on Federal 011

Huge cars lining the street on Tuesday:

May Day 009

Filming on Federal 4

Film on Federal

May Day 020

Filming on Federal 5

Just around the corner, all was calm on the other side of the courthouses. Quite the contrast.

Filming on Federal 014

Flemish Renaissance Revival

I thought I had my architectural revival styles straight–Greek, Gothic, Colonial–but somehow I never accounted for the different varieties of Renaissance revival styles until yesterday, when, in my continuous search for double-parlor inspiration, I came across a beautiful photograph of the interior of a Flemish Renaissance Revival house in a New York Times article about upcoming house and garden tours across the country. This parlor took my breath away, and also took me back, to the Flemish (Northern) Renaissance, of course.

Flemish Renaissance Revival


The parlor of a 1903 Flemish Renaissance Revival House in Park Slope, Brooklyn, one of several houses open to the public during the upcoming Park Slope Civic Council Tour, and Rogier van der Weyden’s triptych, the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, c. 1445-50, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

I don’t know why this style is such a surprise to me: there were several Renaissances, so it only makes sense that there would be several Renaissance Revival styles. The Renaissance itself was a revival of sorts; revivals are eternal. I immediately set off on a walk around Salem to see if I could find buildings of similar inspiration here, but to no avail:  this is not a Salem style, perhaps not even a New England one–though I do think there are brownstones in the Back Bay of Boston that feature the distinct roofline. A digital search will have to do for now, but I look forward to future forays. I would expect that this style would flourish in New York, but my preliminary search for more examples of the Flemish Renaissance Revival seems to indicate its particular popularity in the Midwest:  surely the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, built in 1892 is an exemplar.

Flemish Renaissance Revival Pabst Mansion 1892

Flemish Renaissance Vanderslice Hall 1895-96 Kansas City Art Institute

Flemish Renaissance Parkside West Philadelphia

Flemish Renaissance NYC

Flemish Renaissance Revival houses in America: the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, Vanderslice Hall in Kansas City (1895-96), built for the Meyer family and now the Kansas City Art Institute, rowhouses in the Parkside neighborhood, West Philadelphia, and at 13-15 South William Street, Manhattan.

Bruges Getty Images

in-bruges-poster1The inspiration:  the beautiful, storybook city of Bruges (Getty Images), and I’m throwing in the great 2008 film here too, just because I also think it’s converging on CLASSIC, the basis for any revival.

Oz Everlasting

Even before the big new Oz prequel movie debuted this weekend, I was already thinking about the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as yet another candidate for the Salem Athenaeum’s Adopt-a-Book program this year is the fourth title in L. Frank Baum’s series, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz (1908). Like the new film (which doesn’t seem to be garnering the best reviews), this book features a wizard who plays a much larger role than in the first book and classic 1939 film. In fact, the Wonderful Wizard is really the star of the story, defending Dorothy and her companions (including a cat named Eureka rather than a dog named Toto) from fierce vegetables, invisible people and bears,  gargoyles and “dragonettes”:  all in an underground world which swallowed them up following an earthquake. The Wizard is so exhausted after his labors that he decides to remain in the Emerald City permanently at the book’s end, and so he becomes the Wonderful Wizard of Oz forever.


Oz 2

In his Preface, Baum as much admits that he was reluctant to keep writing about Oz:  It’s no use; no use at all. The children won’t let me stop telling tales of the Land of Oz.  I know lots of other stories, and I hope to tell them, some time or another; but just now my loving tyrants won’t allow me.  They cry “Oz–Oz!  More about Oz, Mr. Baum!” and what can I do but obey their commands?  He also admits that his “tyrant” readers wanted to know more about the “humbug” Wizard who blew off in a balloon, and so he brought him to earth–or below the earth–again.  Not only does the storyline of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz focus on the latter’s heroics, the majority of illustrations in the book–both black-and-white sketches and watercolor paintings by John R. Neill, feature the Wizard, who does indeed enter the story in a balloon. Towards the end of the book, when everyone returns to the Emerald City, the Wizard reveals his and its origins, and this backstory seems to provide some of the plot for the current movie:  a humble circus performer from Nebraska whose appellation was Oscar Zoroaster (and many other names) Diggs, he emblazoned the initials “O.Z.” on all of his possessions, including his balloon, and was blown away to a strange land of rival witches whose inhabitants took him for a wizard. And so he became one.

Wizard in Balloon 1901

Wizard fightin Gargoyles

Wizard fighting Gargoyles 2

Oz Portrait of the Wizard

baum-poster 1901

A decade of the Wizard:  up and away in a W.W. Denslow illustration from the first book, 1901; fighting gargoyles in two watercolor illustrations from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz and a “portrait” (“From the Wizard’s latest photograph taken by the Royal Photographer of Oz”) by John R. Neill, 1908; the real Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, featured with his best-selling titles on a contemporary  poster issued by his publishers, Library of Congress.


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