Thursday, June 09, 2005

Perfume at the Movies I

I came late to my love for perfume. Movies I fell in love with long ago. A couple of years ago I started collecting perfume references in movies. There aren't as many as you might think. Most screenwriters and directors have barely scratched the dramatic possibilities with fragrance. Possibly that's because it is something the audience must imagine; possibly it's because some people (poor, lost souls) don't quite get the fascination of perfume.

Take Hitchcock's film of Rebecca, and the famous scene where Joan Fontaine explores her predecessor's bedroom. We scan the dressing table and find - no scent bottles! A painful oversight. Of course the beautiful, evil Rebecca de Winter must have worn perfume, and expensive stuff too, I'll bet. Do you suppose Mrs. Danvers stole the bottles so she could be reminded of her beloved Rebecca? Maybe. I think, however, that this was one detail Hitchcock (or his set decorator) just neglected. As Wile E. Coyote once said, "Even a genius can have an off day."

Still, some filmmakers have used perfume in plots and dialogue in creative ways. So my next few posts will be devoted to my (far from complete) run-down of perfume's role in some film and film-related moments.This section is called

Don't Try This at Home

Dangerous Stunt One: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind

The creative folks aren't the only ones in the movie business given to odd behavior. This story concerns the first meeting between director William Friedkin and Charles Bluhdorn, head of the Gulf + Western conglomerate, which owned Paramount Studios at the time. The reasons I am opening with this one will be obvious once you've read the quote.

Friedkin, who had never met Bluhdorn, was the first one to arrive at his suite in the Essex House. Bluhdorn opened the door, leaned over and sniffed Friedkin's neck, asking, "Friedkin, vat's dat shit you're verink?
"Guerlain? Come here!"
He led Friedkin to his bathroom, where he had every aftershave in the world, including a cut glass Baccarat bottle of Guerlain. He opened it up, saying, "Dis is vat I do to Guerlain," and poured it on his shoes.
"That was my introduction to Charlie Bluhdorn, and he never got any saner as long as I knew him," Friedkin recalls.

The first time I read this anecdote, I was horrified. After yesterday's cataclysmic announcement from the house of Guerlain (scroll down) my sympathies are entirely with Bluhdorn. Perhaps he was clairvoyant.

Dangerous Stunt Two: Gone with the Wind, 1939
Remember the famous scene where Scarlett gargles with Eau de Cologne to keep Rhett from noticing the brandy on her breath? As a Scarlett-obsessed preteen I tried this, minus the initial brandy. I do NOT recommend it. And please, remember, it didn't even work; Rhett caught on almost as soon as he arrived.

Dangerous Stunt Three: Dinner at Eight, 1938
Scent overkill in the heat of the moment. Jean Harlow hears her paramour is about to arrive, picks up what must be the world's largest atomizer, pulls out the two-foot-long bulb sprayer and sprays, sprays, sprays all over herself, her negligee and her platinum blonde 'do. Unless your man's got a cold, I think this maneuver is best left to the pros like Jean. (Harlow wore Mitsouko, by the way.)

Dangerous Stunt Four: Life Is a Banquet, by Rosalind Russell and Chris Chase
Yet another example of why wearing perfume solely to attract a man is an exercise in futility. It was 1936, and Russell was filming Under Two Flags with British heartthrob Ronald Colman. They had come to a love scene set at a desert oasis. After some trouble learning to dismount a camel in a manner that looked suitably passionate, Russell found herself having a problem with her two-legged costar:

He wouldn't kiss me on the mouth. Between takes I'd go in and swallow half a bottle of Listerine and spray myself with perfume. It started to get late. Finally the director said, 'Maybe we'll just have to put this off until
tomorrow morning.'

Oh my God, I thought, I won't sleep. By now I'm reeking of Arpege and mouthwash, and I'm desperate. I finally just grabbed Ronnie, clung to him, would not let him go, and kissed him until he was purple in the face and the director was yelling, 'Cut! Cut! Cut!'

What Russell didn't realize that was that an off-center kiss looks better on camera than a full-on smackeroo, and the director was using a dissolve. The camera wasn't even on the couple for most of the shot. But, as Russell put it, "all the time they're shooting the camels and the sunrise, [Colman's] had this maniacal female clutching him to her fevered lips."

"He was very nice about it," she added.


Anonymous said...

LOL on the Gone With the WInd: Don't try this at home. I love GWTW, but thankfully, I never had the urge to gargle cologne.

I happened upon your blog through Blogdorf Goodman. Ann and I have been friends for years!

If you don't mind, I'd like to link to your blog through mine.


The Siren said...

I would be most honored! thank for reading. My audience is tiny, but thanks to the presence of pals such as Annie, choice. And any pal of Annie's ...

Jonniker said...

LOL! I love the off-center kiss!

Kallisto said...

I think there might be a hidden clue to the perfume Rebecca wore. (Actually, I don't think it's so much a "clue" as it is a conscious or subconscious association.)

Remember the name of her boat?

Of course, the name is aptly chosen because of its meaning: "I'll be back" or (better still) "I keep returning". Which she does, of course.

But to those who read the novel and like perfumes the association is inevitable; and it was bound to be even more inevitable when the novel and then the film came out. (The perfume was introduced in 1932, and the novel was published in 1938.)

I just wonder how conscious it was.

BTW: Cool blog!