By erasing his face, the killer can become somebody else — bolder and less inhibited. Courtesy Alan Y. Upchurch Collection and motivations — including blatant titillation in the case of the latter — deserve to be interrogated though not here. But what of the fictional antecedents to these faceless protagonists? Certainly they were not the first of their kind, and we can point to two predecessors in particular that more than likely would have had an influence — though there is no direct evidence. As for Blood and Black Lace, by the time it was released, Mario Bava was being hailed as a master of horror, and as a European successor to the Universal Pictures legacy.
He had made a series of striking horror films, all of which put a spin on the American model, and was riding high on the success of his latest shocker Black Sabbath I tre volti della paura with Salvatore Billitteri, Although Bava ventured into other genres, Blood and Black Lace was another addition to the horror category that he would return to, again and again, throughout his career. The second major antecedent to the faceless murderer came from the world of comic strips.
This figure is a former gang leader whose face has been horribly mutilated in a shoot-out, which he covers with a stocking while he goes about killing off his former wiseguy sidekicks. Again, we should ask whether the makers of our two films would have been aware of the character: and, again, the answer is almost certainly. This involved magazines, for sure, but also comic books and strips indeed, in some parts of America, crime comics were destroyed on public bonfires.
Dick Tracy was more stylised than most examples, and therefore largely avoided the censure that followed in the s. The Dick Tracy strip was widely syndicated throughout Europe, and in Italy in particular there was a growing respect for American cartooning. In the s and 60s, appreciation societies were formed, and the first attempts by academics and scholarly writers to analyse the comic form stem from this period.
Lucca established a prize for the best comics, and named it after an American character — The Yellow Kid. Mario Bava himself was surely aware of these developments, and two years after Blood and Black Lace, he was given the job of directing a comic strip-based movie. This was Danger: Diabolik and centred around an urbane criminal; again, the protagonist was a masked character, but in a quite different mould from before. These are just two examples of possible influences on the look of the faceless killer. There may be others.
Other movies may also have been influential. It is known, for example, that Mario Bava was an admirer of the French director Georges Franju, whose Eyes Without a Face featured a character who wears a white mask to The Blank promotional photograph. Courtesy Mezco Toyz conceal a face ravaged by radical plastic surgery the movie poster was particularly striking for its use of the menacing visage. Lack of space forbids a thorough analysis, but it is striking, for example, how popular culture built upon each psychological component of the faceless killer that we have so far identified — his bogeyman status, his role as an avenger, and his fetishistic mystique — and took them towards their logical conclusions.
Here, again, we have a figure with a masked face no eyes, nose or mouth , wearing a suit or trenchcoat and fedora hat. Watchmen is currently being turned into a blockbuster movie, due for release in For both movies, the faceless killer was key to the suspense — as we have seen, a mix of bogeyman, avenger and fetish-nightmare. See David J. I am grateful to Dr Julia Round for this information.
Interestingly, Fleischer returned to the story of a killer who strangles in his most celebrated film The Boston Strangler , based on a true story. The Blank was just one of a number of similarly attired characters in the comics. For example, an early Batman number featured Charles Maire, the victim of a villain who used a laser beam to cut away his face. We could add to this list the many movie re-hashes of The Invisible Man that have appeared over the years — though these were never as popular as the Halloweens, etc.
The look of the character hardly ever changes bandaged, in a coat, with a fedora hat. There are in particular two films which have extraordinary visual quality that still manage to thrill me, The 10th Victim and Diabolik. In America, the conquest of outer space inspired the science fiction genre in literature and film, whereas in Italy, space discoveries were more influential in interior design, art and, above all, fashion.
The Italian designer Emilio Pucci became famous in the mids for producing hostess uniforms for Braniff International Airways. Among the many designers influenced by the moon landing was the Rome-based haute couture house, Sorelle Fontana. Bava paid homage to it with his low-budget science-fiction-meets- horror Planet of the Vampires Terrore nello spazio, , while with The 10th Victim La decima vittima, Elio Petri created a highly underrated pop art masterpiece with a sci-fi plot.
Hunters and victims compete against each other for cash prizes, but only the tenth victim entitles the murderer to a fabulous prize and global fame. Killing is easy for this eager and clever hunter and an advertiser has even paid The 10th Victim, dir. Courtesy BFI her to turn the murder into a sensational television ad for his product. Here it is not only the characters that put on a mask, but also the environments in which they move. When the camera focuses on the interiors and the clothes of the various characters, we discover that this is a futuristic version of the city.
The dietetic snack bar where Marcello meets Caroline for the first time is very different from the cafes in Via Veneto made famous by La dolce vita. Indeed, it is an abstract space furnished with low tables and inflatable square stools that evokes in its architecture the formalist abstractions of the painter Richard Smith. White curtains divide the various spaces, allowing anybody — from his lover Olga to the officer serving the order of attachment — to get in and out freely. Petri scatters all these little clues throughout the film with the aim of satirising contemporary society.
He is indeed a sort of comical half-man, half-cyborg creature, with various artificial appendages replacing missing body parts. While The Professor uses leather and stainless steel prostheses to mask his body, Caroline uses her dresses. In the masking game of The 10th Victim, the costumes worn by the characters are a manifestation of the social and political climate in which they live; outfits are indeed used to make a fashion statement, but also to serve the criminal purposes of the hunters and victims.
They are beautifully cut and highly practical, intended to flatter her figure and make her feel young and carefree. They are purposely designed for action — running, travelling, driving and, above all, killing. Coltellacci worked as a cover designer for French Vogue after the Second World War, and after a few years returned to Italy where he became famous for his work for the stage and film. White-framed sunglasses, a white bag, cut-out gauntlets and flat mid-calf boots complete her look.
Her dark wig is removed to reveal a cascade of blonde hair, her dress is replaced by a seductive metallic mini-dress, silver sandals and a mask. Rather than going to Germany to kill him, Marcello lazily waits for the Baron to visit Rome to attend a race. Pretending that he is his valet, he eliminates the Baron using a pair of explosive boots. As she steps onto the tarmac, she is wearing a white crepe trouser suit, and her look is completed once again by cut-out gauntlets, headband sunglasses and a bag. In a scene where she is spying on her victim from a screen in her hotel room, we also see her wearing a white open grid tunic over a black leotard and black tights — a look that matches the op art painting hanging behind her.
But as soon as she starts her new hunt in Rome, Caroline radically changes her style,19 wearing a costume fitting session at the Fontana atelier, Via San Sebastianello, Rome. Right: Andress with Giulio Coltellacci and Zoe Fontana at of costume fitting sessions carrying piles of suits and dresses. When Caroline first meets Marcello at the snack bar, she is posing as an American journalist, and is carefully attired in a peony pink silk crepe trouser suit with a matching clutch, flat sandals and plastic glasses with slits.
The second dress Caroline wears is a nude-coloured number that softly hugs her figure, rather like a modern version of a chiton that radiates a deadly sensuality and extreme sexiness. The shoulders of this silhouette are gently sloping and Velcro is used instead of buttons. The tailor-made creations sported by Marcello are tempered by a sartorial softness, making him look like a bored futuristic dandy. A comic-book rich yellow colour recurs throughout the film his changing room on the beach, his dyed hair31 , while red, the colour of blood, is totally absent.
When the film shooting was relocated to Rome,34 Petri turned it into a more general satire of s fashionable objects, advertising techniques, the future middle classes and their hunger for new and superfluous goods. At the same time, the film became a satire of Italy and the Italians, portrayed as lazy, disorganised, bored by their wives and lovers, and victims of bureaucracy, religion and of an excessive respect for their parents. But often the ending of the story is a prelude to a new film or a new collection.
Later, Petri regretted his involvement in advertising, claiming that professionally, 1. Co-ordinator Rosita Ciprari for her help in facilitating my research. For Spring-Summer , the fashion designer Veneziani presented 2. Il cinema di Mario Bava, eds. Gabriele Acerbo and Roberto Pisoni two-tone dresses and jackets with geometrical motifs and mini-capes, while menswear designer Datti launched jackets with a geometric Rome: Un mondo a parte, , p. Alla scoperta del set Rome: Rai Eri, , pp. Frida Giannini, the new Gucci creative director, 4. A nightly ten-minute TV show comprising of non-stop commercials, peppered with cartoons and celebrity testimonials.
The Sorelle Fontana collection featured blue and white sleeveless dresses and jackets with geometrical motifs formed by plastic plaques and rocket-shaped capes. In a way, Flaiano predicted the future: today there is a street in Rome named after Fellini. Elderly people must be turned over to the State for disposition, but most Italians hide them away in secret rooms. Also known as the Cobra and made by L. Ericsson Company of Sweden, this phone went on sale in the mid-to-late s. The phone was designed by a team headed by Gosta Thames. Andress later remembered that some of the awkward poses she assumes in this scene while dancing were the result of the metal flakes cutting into her flesh and causing her pain.
Appunti su un autore Elio Petri. Notes on a Filmmaker documentary , No Their fashion house later attracted many The 10th Victim, dir. Fake documentaries with sensational scenes. This particular scene in The 10th Victim is a satire of the Mondo di Notte series. For the contamination of genres in The 10th Victim, see also Alfredo Rossi, supra n.
In later years, the fashion designer Rudi Gernreich filled these gashes and cut-outs with see-through vinyl and plastic inserts. See also Un secolo di moda — Creazioni e miti del XX secolo, eds. Marcello only abandons his black clothes to disguise as the Tramontisti sunset-worshippers high priest, in a white kimono-like robe, orange cummerbund and yellowish organza kaftan. Flaiano, Diario notturno Milan: Adelphi, , pp.
Saul Kahan, p. Enter Sam Dalmas, a writer who has just finished a book about rare birds and is now stuck for inspiration. In the city terror mounts, as a mysterious killer — a frightening figure in black leather gloves, black fedora hat and shiny patent black PVC coat — is slashing beautiful young women.
Stuck in this transparent cage he cannot reach the wounded woman who begs for help; he can only watch her writhing, utterly powerless. In so doing, he sets the claustrophobic tone that so intensely shapes the ensuing events. Moreover, he forces us to watch, powerless and trapped like Sam who can only stare at the woman dying in front of his eyes. Sadistically, Argento espouses his obsession with the gaze and the power that it may or may not elicit, like a puppet master who turns us all into voyeurs.
Consequently, the viewer is locked in this role, exactly like Sam, trapped in his glass enclosure. What we see is Monica, dressed in a white halterneck top and trousers, crawling on the white floor. For a moment we look at Sam through a gap in the sculpture. Only later will we realise that we are looking through the eyes of a ferocious predator watching its prey. The only clue found at the site of the attack is a black leather glove. Upon recounting the events to Inspector Morosini, who is conducting the police enquiry, Sam feels that there is a crucial detail escaping his memory.
Over and over, flashbacks play in his mind. Increasingly obsessed with the event, he begins a personal investigation that leads him to a mysterious and macabre painting. Meanwhile, more women are horribly murdered and, while Sam is hunting for the author of the The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, dir. Dario Argento, painting, which he has realised is the crucial factor in solving the case, the serial killer besieges Giulia in her apartment. She is trapped, like Sam at the gallery earlier on.
Indeed, one of the recurring motifs in The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is the inability to escape, the notion of entrapment. Throughout the movie, Argento disseminates powerful and often none-too-subtle signals, visual signposts whose purpose is to reinforce these themes whilst engendering a claustrophobic, confined atmosphere. For instance, Sam and Giulia are the only tenants on the top floor of a derelict building about to be pulled down, a prison-like edifice whose windows and doors have been bricked up.
A chilling zoom of the camera makes us aware that the windows in their open plan loft-style apartment have heavy metal bars. Similarly, the artist who made the strange painting is a lunatic recluse who has walled up all the ground-floor doors and windows of his house.
The theme of imprisonment is utilised on various levels. For instance, Sam cannot leave the country because the police have taken his passport; he is a prisoner of his lack of creativity, and later of his obsession with the murders; Giulia is a kept woman, who will be trapped in her apartment at the mercy of the brutal killer.
Tellingly, in the background we see a bricked doorway. The glove, the cage, the glass trap are all signifiers of the idea of entrapment and physical enclosure. However, it is the recurring image of gloves that stands out. It is the black glove itself that embodies dread. It represents the urban, sadistic, fashionable killer. It is a fetishised symbol of encasement, a second skin that dissimulates personal identity and disguises the killer in a masquerade: chilling and repulsive, perhaps, but always flawlessly stylish.
For this reason, when, at the end of the movie, we see someone taking their gloves off, we sense that the end must be near. The removal of the glove signals a shift in the power struggle between Sam and the mysterious killer. In The Bird, Argento employs the idea of dressing up as both a compelling disguise and as a vehicle for gender-bending. Their lurid uniform of yellow bomber jacket and blue cap, which would otherwise have made his aggressor instantly recognisable, becomes instead the hideous device for a seemingly endless multiplication, a cloning gone wrong, an ocean of replicas where no original is to be found.
Clothes are never what they seem. They always conceal, hide, create a different reality; they are used to suggest an identity that is never what it appears to be; they skew appearances, divert attention, like a grammar of subtle digression. Even the food is not what it seems.
Sam joins the painter Berto Consalvi for a rustic dinner, and when he realises that he has just eaten cat meat Consalvi keeps cats in cages he flees the scene, horrified. This profound uncertainty is key to the unfolding of the plot and it is expressed, most notably, through role reversal and gender inversion. Led to assume that the sinister dress code of black gloves, fedora hat and raincoat signifies the killer, we cannot but fall for the visual trick that Argento is playing on us. In this sense, the killer contravenes the codes of femininity twice: first, because she is wearing masculine clothes; second, because those clothes embody The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, dir.
Dario Argento, Courtesy The Cinema Museum the killer, whom we assume to be male. And Giulia? She is a typical trophy girlfriend. We see Sam often being dismissive and patronising towards her. Even when he shows passion and grabs her in an embrace, it is frequently because other people are present, as if his goal is to show off his ownership of her body and, in so doing, reaffirming his masculinity. In spite of his Latin lover uniform of unbuttoned dark shirt, tight trousers and wavy, unkempt hair, Sam comes across as a man profoundly, if unconsciously, unsure of his masculinity.
The more he insists on wearing and appropriating the signifiers of maleness, the more it becomes clear that they are a cover-up, semantic aids in his attempt at performing a masculinity increasingly under threat. This theme finds its climax when Sam, chasing the killer, finds himself in the gallery for a second time, immobilised and powerless under a huge, spiky, Iron Maiden-esque sculpture. Crushed underneath this artwork, Sam is destined for a slow torture, or else, radical emasculation.
Encumbered by failure, Sam resists the imminent loss of control by playing the macho, only accentuating the fact that gender and identity are nothing but a performance. As for the female roles, it comes as no surprise that Argento has been accused of misogyny for his tendency to choose attractive women to be subjected to the worst possible violence, an accusation he has always refuted by simply saying that in his movies it is not only women that are killed.
If they have a good face and figure, I would much prefer to watch them being murdered than an ugly girl or man. Nevertheless, it is true that the female gender in The Bird emerges as rather one-dimensional, frozen and predictable. Seemingly, the only role available to women is as decorative prop, either for sex Giulia or for violence victims. In fact, women are either coupled, and thus contained within heterosexual normativity, or else they diverge the lesbian, the prostitute, the hysteric, the psychotic and are thus open to a violence that is almost condoned.
Nothing is what it appears to be. The victim is the killer, the man is a woman, the suspect is innocent and the playboy is impotent. The mis-identification of the victim with the perpetrator hints at Freudian and psychosexual overtones — the idea that a visual trigger can be responsible for madness repressed for too long. We discover that Monica has been subjected to the vicious aggression shown in the painting, and upon seeing the image she re-enacts her experience, this time identifying with the killer, not the victim.
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Opposites conflate: white turns into black, black swaps places with white. One of the most striking features of this movie is that it exhibits a masterful use of black and negative space, contrasting starkly with vast expanses of white and light. Again and again, he uses the costumes to build a narrative of hard-edged contrast, where black and white are the opposite poles of a continuum shot through with an intermittent rivulet of red.
For instance, as the movie opens we see a white typewriter, a black-gloved hand typing and a white sheet of paper. Then we see the new victim, a girl whose red coat becomes a crimson, bloody trail that trickles back to the knives laid down on a red cloth, then onto the black and white photograph of the victim-to-be, upon which the black-gloved hand scribbles the number three in red ink. Another example is found when we see Monica emerging from the shadows behind a red leather chair, impeccable in her white shirt and black tuxedo, coat and hat, which she theatrically removes to reveal a cascade of flaming red hair.
And the black and white contrast recurs again in the clothes that Sam and Giulia wear on a night-time walk.
She wears a black patent leather hat, white coat and black trousers, while Sam is dressed in his customary black shirt and white trousers. Again, they are perfect opposites, yet complementary. However, the proximity of opposites here is a mark not of harmony and coexistence, but rather of a world under threat. Speaking the symbolic language of chess, their garments fail, however, to transform the wearers into controlled players.
Semiotically, white and black relates to the opposition between good and evil, which here are indeed turned upside down. The emphasis on visuality is clearly stated at the beginning of the movie. The events at the gallery exploit a complex criss-cross of gazes and roles. The aggression unfolds in silence: as in a dream or nightmare sequence, we hear the sighs of the victim and can only look on.
Here, the real protagonist is the eye. When, later on, the killer carves a hole in the apartment door with his knife, we see his eye staring at Giulia who, increasingly hysterical, tries to attack him, frantically and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, dir. Dario Argento, pointlessly stabbing at the hole in the door with a pair of scissors. The idea of being able to see the horror is taken further when another victim screams as she sees the petrifying shadow of the killer approaching her bed.
Argento willingly confounds vision and gaze, appearance and reality. He plays tricks with memory and freely mixes the two- and the three-dimensional. Indeed, he has spoken of memory as the main theme of the film, and the aggression in the art gallery is played over and over again, as Sam tries to remember the important detail that he feels is missing.
Furthermore, the three-dimensional theatricality of the architectural modernist surroundings, shot with odd camera angles, turns buildings into menacing, dense, almost expressionist entities. For instance, when we see one of the victims climbing the stairs, the camera lingers on the sharp angles of the stairwell that create a hypnotic, somehow disturbing, design. Moreover, the two-dimensional world of photographs, newspaper clippings, paintings and visual art flatten reality into a reiteration of details that leads us beyond the threshold which transforms everyday items into symbols of terminal horror.
Both the killer and Sam use photography to decipher reality, the former to stalk and meticulously prepare his fetishistic killings, the latter to uncover the links among the murders. When Sam and Giulia begin to investigate, we are shown photographs of the first three victims — crude details such as stockings crumpled around the ankles to suggest a possible sexual assault; hands grasping the earth; a throat cut, the victim resembling a mannequin.
The effect is strangely dehumanising and rather Cindy Sherman-esque. There is a moment when Sam looks at the painting — he does so by looking straight into the camera. We are the painting; there is no escape; we are all being transformed into voyeurs; we are forced to watch the killings. Indeed, watching and killing are often synonymous. However, we can never forget who is looking.
All images: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, dir. The gesture of turning up the collar reactivates the functionality of sartorial elements whose meanings have been tamed. The lapels tend only to be brought into play in extreme situations where hostile weather or hostile gazes need to be deflected.
This mildly transgressive act connotes a kind of impoliteness — a purposeful rejection of the social and the sociable, and a sign of readiness for a new register of experience. Her boyfriend waits outside and she joins him, clearly impatient to leave work. When we next see her, she is wearing a coat with the collar turned up in preparation for her entry into a recreational world of jazz and dancing.
Turning up the collar is a way of dissociating from normality — a signing of an assertive yet inward turn. At the same time it is an armouring of the vulnerable nape, emphasising the width of the shoulders and the sheathing of the silhouette into a more streamlined form. In movies, garments are not only present; they are also presented. The baker is transformed from helpless mourner into menacing gangster by means of three gestures that also transform grooming into an act of armament: the rim of his hat is tilted downwards, obscuring his The Godfather, dir. In one act, he has conferred an air of unmistakable menace upon an ordinary man.
The flatness and smoothness of the hyper- civilised attire of mourning has been fashioned into a sharp, erect boundary that frames, protects and hides the face and neck. The frame is now a swathe of darkness that transforms politeness into menace and latent violence. Why is the nape of the neck such a powerful site of vulnerability? The erogenous zone of cinematic femininity is, in masculine characters, a zone of vulnerability. The collar-like cuffs, hems and turn-ups speak of the civilised surplus of cloth that frames the edge of a garment by doubling back on itself rather than ending abruptly with an unfinished, frayed or selvaged line.
The transition from garment to skin is especially meaningful as a line of demarcation between nature and culture. Where jewellery has, traditionally, been the point of such demarcation for the female body, the critical difference between animal vs. The anxious gesture of touching cufflinks, examining fingernails or adjusting the knot of the necktie whilst flexing or even twisting the neck from the collar, is also part of this gesture of self- conscious civility. Female fashion has used similar stratagems to amplify rather than reduce the silhouette.
It is no surprise that the battle between body as a concealed corpus and body as a revelation of the self should be located at the neckline. But film noir is particularly interesting because of the separate and visually distinct realms of masculinity and femininity in an essentially modern and urban context. The men and women are ordinary citizens whose extraordinariness is often betrayed by slight sartorial details, attitudinal clues, or cinematic inflections.
For example, the popular B-movies of the Dick Tracy series are a rich source of masculine fashion styling in s America. The hero is often dressed in a belted, double-breasted overcoat, a few tones lighter than the clothing of the other characters, and his collar is often turned up. With one exception, he is the only character to wear his coat collar in this way, the code being transgressed in the film Dick Tracy vs. Cueball Gordon Douglas, Mervyn LeRoy, Courtesy The Kobal Collection hangs out with some spectacularly insalubrious sailors.
Appearing at the start of the story in a towelling bathrobe with upturned collar as he types his screenplay sitting on his bed, Joe has only one sports jacket and baggy pants outfit until Madame takes him shopping. He is then dressed in a series of suits, swimming trunks and shiny accessories that are explicitly for the satisfaction of his wealthy mistress. It is a sight unavailable to him, created by her desire, and for her controlling gaze.
In spite of the invisibility of the nape of his neck, never was his vulnerability more painfully evident. The interplay between activity and passivity — which is the elemental medium of subjective exchange — can, in the vulnerable man, become a battle between activity as life and the threat of passivity as death, or at least castration. Psychoanalysts have noted that the subject is constituted through this battle between image and words, or between imaginary and symbolic realms.
At the core of this struggle is the experience of the body, as it exists Sunset Boulevard, dir. Billy Wilder, in time and motion. The way that fashion and film both generate the psychic envelope of self through a complex exchange of seeing and being illuminates the ways in which the dialectic of activity and passivity is fundamental to the mechanism of identification that secures the cultural environment within which all human subjectivity is constructed.
Fashion and film are both privileged sites within which identification is made visible and thereby understandable as a process — a continuous movement and flow. The dynamic flow of the image signifies the flux of affective states as spectators are moved from delight to anxiety, from anticipation to fear, from pride to shame, and from guilt to desire — in a powerful articulation of fantasy, emotion and meaning. Sunset Boulevard, dir.
Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard, dir. Billy Wilder, There are Bowery suits that appear to be stained with urine and vomit which on closer inspection turn out to be intricate embroideries of fine gold thread And what artisanal dedication from the tailors and the embroiderers — for it cannot be easy to reproduce dried urine or vomit in stitching.
The stain invariably appals before it gets a chance to explain, just like those on the wild-boy Bowery suits; but closer examination usually points to accidental or at least contingent causes. And stains are not supposed to be seen, still less vaunted. She knew she would be photographed, and she wanted the stains to be seen. Paparazzi photographers and celebrity magazines delight in the sight of a starlet whose exterior is marked by sweat, wine or blood. Such stains automatically draw the eye to the celebrity body, supplying the photographic image with a ready-made punctum.
But the relationship between stains and photographic media goes well beyond these market-driven exploitations of it. For the stain performs an invaluable structural role in a photographic image. The stain opens up a photograph to narrative in a very particular way, whether it occurs in a still or moving image. The stain is the visible sign of a story that for the moment remains hidden from view. It marks, in a sense, the point at which that hidden story enters the scene. It is, in effect, a wormhole of space and time in visible form; and it is the accidental fact of its visibility that makes it so effective in narrative terms.
To be sure, paparazzi photographers take a keen interest in this aspect of staining, since it seems to offer peepholes into the most private of spaces which they consider it their job to penetrate. Stains speak, like scars, and wounds, even when the human beings that sport them will not. For this structural reason, and for many others, stains play an important role in film and television drama, especially in narratives where there has been some kind of a cover-up.
They may suggest hidden trap-doors of meaning; they can connect a scene with other, invisible ones, scenes that have taken place off-camera, out of the sight of audience or protagonist. To cite an archetypal scene of the criminal narrative, for example, the woman who believes her lover to be innocent of a crime finds his bloodstained shirt, and is forced to think again. In scenes like these the stain suggests that not everything is as it seems. The stain is both a visible reality in a scene — a mark on a collar, or a petticoat, or a bed sheet — and evidence of something else, part of a chain of events which for the time being remains obscure.
The entire sequence of events unfolds from that point. To follow it is to disturb the perspective of the scene in which it appears, discovering that there is more to the reality of that scene than meets the eye. In Foreign Correspondent it is a windmill in a field of tulips that is uncannily rotating against the direction of the wind. In North by Northwest it is a speck in the sky that turns out to be a plane. But sometimes it is an actual stain. For her it is the colour red, referring back to a childhood trauma in which the image of a bloodstained shirt burned into her memory.
At one point in the film Marnie spills red ink on her pristine white blouse as she sits at her office desk. We see the ink fall, and form a spot on her sleeve; the entire screen turns red as we witness her horror. Then, in a shot taken from above, we look down on the stain as Marnie does, before she rushes to the bathroom to wash it off. When a concerned colleague asks her if she is all right, she plays the incident down, insisting that she is just cleaning her blouse.
But the cinema audience knows that there is far more to it than that. By the end of the film we know what that disturbance is, and why a white blouse spotted with red ink might trigger it. A flashback sequence shows how as a young girl, Marnie defended her mother by beating her aggressor, a sailor, around the head with a metal fire iron. What remained was an apparently unaccountable fear of anything red. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Hitchcock is a master of the stain, fully alert not only to the range of its uses as a cinematic device, but also to its rich metaphoric range in both psychological and theological terms.
The stain, after all, stands as the very image of the eruption of something that ought to have remained contained, something that needs to be cleaned away, and so Marnie scrubs at her sleeve, and Stage Fright, dir. Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Bates cleans up the bathroom after the murder in Psycho And the association of the stain with sin — especially for women — goes deep in Judeo-Christian culture. Hitchcock knew that the stain is a metaphor as well as a reality. The bloodstains that appear in Stage Fright, Psycho, The Birds and Marnie — to name just a few — are not just ways of indicating wounds or accidents.
In lazier hands, though, the stain does not always resonate in so many registers. Stained clothing — especially clothing stained with blood — is both ubiquitous and, on the whole, unmemorable in the millions of thrillers, murder mysteries, police and hospital dramas on the screen, where it does routine work identifying victims and assassins, suggesting guilt, misleading protagonists and so on. When forensic science comes into the frame, as it does in the CSI TV franchise Jerry Bruckheimer Television, , stains along with other marks, scuffs and traces move to centre stage.
Here, they might be stripped more or less of metaphoric resonance, but they certainly work hard for their money in other ways. It is based on a fantasy of the absolute legibility of evidence, given the right expertise and state-of-the-art technology. So expert are the CSI workers that to them every stain tells a story. Thanks to techniques of bloodstain pattern analysis BSPA , they can tell just from looking at a stained vest how the blood got there, from where, travelling at what speed, and so on.
The crime scene investigation aims to reconstruct a criminal act precisely from the traces it has left behind, and it invariably almost miraculously succeeds. CSI relies, for much of its affective power, on the juxtaposition of the aftermath of horrific crimes, explicitly represented, and the clinical operations of forensic science and computer technology. But we, the viewers, are bound to respond differently; we enjoy both the frisson of horror and the satisfaction of seeing a seemingly intractable case solved.
And here we come to another property of the stain in film. A stained garment might serve as a narrative device, it might signify repressed trauma as in Marnie , or sin, or it might operate as evidence in a criminal investigation, as in CSI. But it surely remains the case that in the very first instance we tend to respond to stains on film or television as we might respond to them in real life.
Stains evoke shock, alarm, disgust or dismay — primal things — before they become proof or symbol of something in some narrative. We respond to them more or less instinctively before we apprehend their cause. Again, this fact can be manipulated by a director or cinematographer; think of Pulp Fiction Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, dir. Robert Aldrich, Tarantino, When it comes to stained women, the possibilities multiply.
Later still — much later — we discover that the entire scene a flashback sequence is a fabrication, and that the stained dress that Johnny keeps as evidence has been faked by him to conceal his own guilt. But none of this is immediately evident from the stain itself, in the scene in which it first appears. Then there is a scene in which we witness his bloody murder his head and hands are chopped off with a meat cleaver , but we do not see who is responsible.
The scene shifts to the ballroom; a jazz band is playing, people are chatting and dancing. Charlotte slowly enters the room; at first she is in shadow. As she turns into the light the crowd fall silent and the band stops playing. In both films the stained dress is cinematically very powerful. But in 7. Was it sweat, the readers were asked, or a stain from the can of drink she was carrying? Celia, Celia, Celia shits! In both cases 9. Slavoj Zizek ed. And the consternation Verso, , p. Hush is surely due to its association not Menstruation, after all, is a public secret which has to remain The original series was created by Anthony E.
Zuiker and began in Freud, of course, Whatever the cause, the Michelson, R. Krauss, D. Crimp and J. Hush In this case there is no mystery about the source of the stain. She has been the victim of a cruel practical joke, referring back to the time when she began menstruating rather publicly in the school shower. Just as in Hush Hush, the party goes quiet faced with the desecration of the new prom queen, resplendent just a few moments before in her white dress. The blood is thick, and dark, and Carrie is unusually pale.
Some of the revellers start to laugh at her. But Carrie has telekinetic powers, associated with her monthly period; and after being doused with blood she turns her powers on the prom-goers, with devastating results. Kaede, like Carrie, and like Jackie Kennedy even, succeed in turning the signs of abjection into power.
Finally, we might spare a thought for the stain-makers in cinema and television. Horror films give scope for an expressionist artistry in blood, nowhere more so than in the giallo films of Dario Argento and others, where special effects artists can drip and spray red fluids around with the freedom of a Jackson Pollock. But in film and television shows where the stain is in some way evidential, its fabrication must be painstaking, especially in a post-CSI context which has made amateur BSPA experts of us all.
The stain-makers have to create marks that look authentic, that are believably contingent. As Georges Didi-Huberman writes in relation to the Turin Shroud, the most famous stained garment of them all , the stain must be non-iconic and non-mimetic to insure its value as an index. The precise nature of their contingency must remain constant.
To an extent, stains surely lose their impact once we see them as things made by studio hands, using chocolate sauce Carrie, dir. Brian De Palma, Courtesy The Cinema Museum as in Psycho , paint, or coloured corn syrup. But the real test is first impact. Tippi Hedren apparently vomited after seeing what make-up artist Howard Smit had done to her for her role in The Birds; proof, if true, of the visceral power of the well-placed scar or stain, even when we know it to be faked.
William S. Howard London: Flamingo, , p. The core of the story is the seemingly motiveless murder of a male boutique proprietor by three women when he challenges one of them for shoplifting. The narrative unfolds like a thriller in reverse — the women never deny the crime: the silent question for us, as we observe in flashback the events leading up to the crime, is not whether they did it, but why.
A Question of Silence, dir. Marleen Gorris, The murder in the film takes place in an unremarkable boutique — something already in decline in the s but a word that, simply by its exotic nature, is loaded with the promise of glamour and fashion, and clearly designates a space that is for women. Going to a boutique offered women a place to escape the torment of patriarchal society and the personal frustrations that could bring.
The location of the film in this safe environment is very important and has often been overlooked; writing on the film tends to concentrate instead on gender politics, the nature of flashback narrative construction or the brutality of the murder of an innocent man. Looking at the film almost twenty-five years on, I find these responses and comments cogent and vital, but at the risk of being thought frivolous myself, I would rather focus on the boutique, perhaps the last bastion of a specifically female space on the high street. The boutique in which the murder takes place is located in an unremarkable shopping centre.
The women enter the space separately, and are not necessarily excited by the clothes but regard the visit as a retreat from the lives they experience in the male-dominated spaces of domestic life and work: the shop becomes a space of sanctuary. Unlike shopping in a supermarket, where it is hard to browse and not buy, clothes shopping can offer a space for contemplation, or even meditation — not unlike a church. This is perhaps why they see themselves as fellow travellers when the male shop owner confronts Christine for stuffing a dress in her shopping bag.
Something suddenly snaps for the women and they turn, Stepford Wives-style, to defend one of their own, reading the justified annoyance of the shop owner as unjustified male aggression, to which, in this hallowed space, a stop must be put. The shop then becomes a temple where it seems correct and legitimate to kill this man, almost like a ritual sacrifice, as other women shoppers watch in placid silence.
He fails to recognise as does the court that Christine is probably suffering from kleptomania — a mental illness that causes uncontrollable urges to steal items, often goods that are easily affordable. A Stanford University study of the illness estimated that there are 1. Christine appears vacant and ill when we see her at the start of the film, just prior to her arrest: for most of the film she exists in silent isolation, refusing to speak to the psychiatrist, choosing only to communicate via childlike pictures.
We deduce that her catatonic state was already a factor of her damaged personality, and not something brought on by the horrific crime. Although not clotheshorses, Christine, Annie and Andrea are all in the boutique for their own reasons — as are, crucially, four other women who we never hear from but who witness the murder taking place and attend the subsequent trial — like a chorus bearing silent witness for all women.
Looking back on this period through the lens of and the Fashion in Film Festival, it is extraordinary how unimportant clothes and the boutique setting were considered to be when A Question of Silence was first released in the UK by Cinema of Women in In A Question of Silence the clothes take a back seat: what we are being offered is not woman as erotic object, or turned inside out displaying emotions and desires via her clothing, but woman as an ordinary, everyday person.
After watching the film you would be hard pushed to select any memorable item of clothing — but I read this as deliberate strategy: when asked about being made up to look old for Citizen Kane , director Orson Welles answered that it took as much time and effort to make him look young as it did to make him look old.
For Gorris, as with all directors, nothing is left to chance. Looking at the film now, it is striking how timeless it is in relation to sexual politics and how utterly fearless and unique it was as a debut feature. However, the most memorable and subversive thing about the film is the uncontrollable laughter that rings out from the accused women in the court at the end of the film, prompted by the male prosecutor stating that he sees no difference between their case and one that might involve a group of men killing a female boutique owner.
Root, supra n. Her disability reinforces her difference and isolation; one day, instead of joining her co-workers for a drink, she is raped twice as she makes her way home from work. As a result, she suffers a psychotic breakdown, and becomes a vigilante seductress on a killing spree, murdering all men who display any kind of sexual feeling or action. Because Thana is presumably a virgin, she is unable to distinguish between desire and Ms.
Wisconsin Film Festival - online Film Guide
Abel Ferrara, Courtesy The Cinema Museum aggression, and is left with a permanent distaste, and strange revenge-lust, for both. While Ms. Goodbar Richard Brooks, The Vietnam War had ended — badly. There was a new, ruthless president, with a keen interest in money, weapons and surreptitious foreign interference. The s had begun… On the Ms. She is treated like a piece of meat, on display for the leering hoodlums lining the street.
Here she is a woman in her element, a rare cut above the rest. After the rapes, she is sullied, put through the wringer, so to speak, and permanently transformed by the brutality inflicted upon her. As Thana gains confidence in her killing, her look improves. In effect, she becomes more desirable as she becomes more violent, moving seamlessly from platforms to stilettos, from virginal schoolgirl cardigans to tight v-neck sweaters, from a pageboy haircut to a sleek no-nonsense ponytail.
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She stops being invisible, and starts being mistaken for a model, or a hooker. In these situations, Thana remains entirely passive, allowing herself to be lured into potentially dangerous sexual situations, which in turn create opportunities for more killing, circumstances in which she can unleash her entirely warranted female rage.
The climax of Ms. Yes, Thana goes Ms. Courtesy The Cinema Museum to costume ball as a nun, albeit a nun in sheer thigh-highs and heels. The party, with its guests dressed in outrageous drag-like costumes, resembles a midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Jim Sharman, rather than an event full of fashion industry types or is it the same thing? Thana has truly arrived: her nun costume is a smashing success, she dances like a normal sexually available girl, and is even seen leaving with a man, the shadow of her crucifix dangling against her naked thigh.
Thana embarks upon a very public shooting spree, which ends when a woman stabs her in the back, quite literally, causing her to finally speak, uttering her own name before she collapses and, presumably, dies. Thana is a male misidentification of what constitutes feminism.
Her personality is closer to the ambivalence depicted by both Fonda and Keaton, women whose need for men is in conflict with their own ideas of independence and self-assertion. But Thana is not even this dimensional, since she lacks her own interior dialogue. As an audience, we are completely dependent upon her actions for her psychology, reduced to a series of impressionistic girl-at-the-mirror scenes.
So she is not a real woman, like the women of mainstream s cinema. She is not a self-creation, like Solanas; rather, she is created by her circumstances. A rape victim-turned-fashion victim, remade into a sex symbol, capitalising on her voluptuous veneer in order to avenge the violence — both petty and actual — directed at all women, everywhere. Meanwhile we, her appreciative audience, are meant eagerly to root for her well- deserved if somewhat deceitfully acquired success.
Surely all this must be stopped, concludes pathetic and repressed copyeditor Dorine, who, it turns out, was sexually abused as a child and still lives at home with her cranky mother. Downsizing indeed. These latter two parallel characters, Tess and Kim, are obviously thinking as hard about what to wear to the office as they are thinking about the demands of the job; the results they achieve on both fronts will gain them — in tandem, they have learned — the success and respectability that has until now eluded them, enjoyed instead by their better-dressed female superiors.
Mike Nichols, Where the cultish Office Killer — in contrast to the mainstream Working Girl — takes off in a radically Gothic direction is in the introduction of a heretofore unconsidered type of working woman: the nerdy Dorine, the unrelenting misfit, with her shapeless skirts and orthopaedic shoes. Incomprehensibly to the surrounding office culture, Dorine seems patently uninterested in pursuing a career; she is satisfied simply with just keeping down a job, doing it well, and going home to mother.
This is a woman whom John T. She dresses with almost Quakerish modesty, her greenish-brown formless skirts and dirndls hanging well below the knee — though not quite long enough to conceal her cheap white polyester slip, forever dangling geriatrically in view, falling from her breastless, hipless, sexless body. Her clothes tell us immediately that she is interested in neither sex nor money — so it comes Working Girl, dir. By the late s, however, a woman boss was thankfully no longer such a novelty, and the rules of corporate dressing had been so well digested by the culture at large that Office Killer could put a comically Gothic spin on the kinds of fashion dilemmas being thrashed out a decade earlier.
Newsletter #91 September November, 2010
And who better than artist Cindy Sherman could be recruited to orchestrate so many versions of womanhood, so convincingly? Dorine, in turn, unexpectedly swaps Office Killer, dir. This secondhand power-dressing, combined with the earrings of the recently murdered Virginia which Dorine has the reckless gall to wear to the office, suggests that Dorine will be replicating one or all of her murdered female colleagues, finally assimilating the dress-for-success rules they, and so many business-minded women, have made their own.
But no: Dorine opts most unconventionally for a pre-feminism kind of femme fatale, the sort of treacherous, unemployed female that populated old-fashioned films noirs before women entered the workplace. Cindy Sherman, attack on the stairwell; and, most tragically, she hides a dark and abusive past, somehow psychologically responsible for the dead bodies accumulating in her basement. Moreover, her uncoiffed, badly made-up face — all crookedly painted eyebrows and stringy hair — has the cinematic advantage of shifting her appearance from the librarian- like invisible woman at work to the unkempt and witchy, wild-haired and wide-eyed woman hideously distorted by her thick oversized spectacles and strangely pendulous skirts think the frankly unsexual, homey Annie Wilkes turned vicious killer in Misery, Rob Reiner, Thus the pre- and post-makeover Tesses, offer, in terms of appearance-based female roles, two different women.
Fred Botting Cambridge: D. Brewer, , p. Sandra M. Yet, although Kim had been groomed for her final violent, prolonged encounter with the 4. Moreover, at the centre of Office Killer is a classic Gothic prop: the missing manuscript. Like Dorine, Jane Eyre spent a loveless childhood finding her own strategy for handling her unsupportive environment. The second Mrs. In contrast to these earlier homely Gothic heroines, late 20th century Dorine is never remotely desired by anybody.
Cindy Sherman, the notable exception of the deranged Dorine are all trying so hard to be perfect — perfectly dressed, perfectly polished, perfectly desirable, perfectly professional, perfectly perfect in the eyes of both the men and women around them. Both films end when our plain-Jane female protagonist, Tess or Dorine, emerges from the career and style drought in which she was languishing to find happiness and success in a new job — indispensably furnished, of course, with a corresponding new and improved look.
Brice Dellsperger, He plays each part convincingly. Not so much amoral as fallen, they struggle in a demi-world of exploitation, drugs and despair. Though this is the periphery of criminal life, the film is not interested in crimes themselves. To do this, Dellsperger faithfully matched the original — scene-by-scene, set-by-set, shot-by- shot. Set into this duplicate, digital cinema is Verna — his acting, his body movements, his facial diversity, his wigs, make-up and costumes.
But it is the costumes,6 faithful to the original look, fabric, style, cut and tailoring, that speak the loudest and with the most coherence because they carry profound narrative codes. The dirty outfit, tailored outfit, sexy outfit or drag outfit is predictably interpreted. Though, here, the clothes are a gay reference, they still make the Body Double X characters recognisable.
But Dellsperger explores clothes as drag through clothes as cultural classifications Body Double X , dir. Courtesy Air de Paris by subverting their social placement. How and where is a man dressed as a woman playing a man positioned? With these kinds of questions disrupting the narrative, what happens to the cinematic fantasy world, what happens to the storyline, if referents, such as clothes, are played as referents?
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