Dressed to Kill: Film Noir Fashion

This Mildred Pierce suit worn by Joan Crawford is on display in the exhibition Light & Noir, on view through March 1. With the mirrors behind it, you can appreciate the costume design fully. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Corporate Archive.

This Mildred Pierce suit worn by Joan Crawford is on display in the exhibition Light & Noir, on view through March 1. With the mirrors behind it, you can appreciate the costume design fully. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Corporate Archive. 

Taking a historical and aesthetic approach to film noir fashion, educator Kimberly Truhler has connected the dots between the realities of American life in the 1930s and 1940s (a harsh economic climate, social and cultural trends, wartime struggles) and the amazing resourcefulness and creativity of cinematic costume designers. Her informative and visually appealing website GlamAmor demonstrates how these classic trends have endured and continue to influence today’s fashion. In conjunction with the exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, Truhler appears at the Skirball on December 7 to give a lecture on “The History of Fashion in Film Noir.” Below, we ask the style maven about the origins of her passion for film fashion history and for a sneak peek at some of the films and designers she’ll be discussing.

What was the first film noir you watched, and what did you think of it at the time?

My father has been a police officer all of my life, and he loved to watch film noir when he came home from work. As a result, I saw movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Thin Man when I was just a child, and I absolutely adored them. I was drawn to the mood and mystery of these films first, and then started to really appreciate their overall style. Film noir was my introduction to classic cinema and it began a lifelong passion for it. I suspect it’s that way for many other people as well. Continue reading

The Cameraman Always Shoots Twice: Enter to Win

Old-school signage (and hey, look, a pay phone!) can add a retro feel to your photos. Submit yours to the Skirball’s “Shoot Your L.A. Noirscape” photo contest today!

Old-school signage (and hey, look, a pay phone!) can add a retro feel to your photos. Submit yours to the Skirball’s “Shoot Your L.A. Noirscape” photo contest today!

I knew I was in trouble the minute this contest walked through my door. Suddenly my random, obsessive photography of my surroundings acquired a sinister focus. I saw shady characters everywhere—thick-necked loan sharks chomping cigars, aspiring starlets with murder in their eyes, barflies in disheveled suits with a story to sell, stage-door Johnnys, short-order cooks, ex-boxers with prison tattoos, nosy landladies, guys with five o’clock shadows who spent all day studying the daily racing form—the city was chock full of ‘em, and I got them all in front of my camera, one way or another. I prowled the city at night, getting lost in a twisted warren of steam-shrouded back alleys, on the hunt for fresh material. Two filters fought tooth and nail for dominance in my photo stream—Tonal, Noir, Tonal, Noir, Ansel? No, Noir! I was spiraling out of control, shooting everything at Dutch angles, falling headlong into the crazy, disorienting shadows I once composed artfully from a safe distance. I was a goner, a stiff, a patsy, and then at the very last second I was pulled back from the brink. By a dame, no less.

“You’re not eligible for this contest. See right here in the contest rules? It’s not open to relatives of staff.” Continue reading

A Noir View of Los Angeles

In celebration of the new exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect, we asked photographer Helen K. Garber—who has several pieces on display in The Noir Effect—to walk us through some of her favorite places in Los Angeles to shoot. Garber is also the instructor of “Urban Noir: Night Photography in Los Angeles,” a six-session course starting this week, offered by the Skirball in partnership with Otis College of Art and Design. Garber is known for her striking nighttime landscapes, including A Night View of Los Angeles, a five-foot-high, forty-foot-long, 360-degree panorama of the entire city taken at night.

The Santa Monica Pier is my favorite location to shoot, especially at night and in the fog. It was a very creepy place when I first moved to Santa Monica in the early 1980s. Back then, soon after sunset, the area would turn into a real Night of the Living Dead. The tourists would flee and some of the shady characters who populated Palisades Park would rise and approach anyone around. Things started to change in 1989, when Cirque du Soleil began to set up at the pier and attract people with money. The addition of a police station, new restaurants, and the redesign of Pacific Park made it a tourist mecca. Now the pier is as packed at night as it is during the day, and no one feels threatened (unless you find people dressed as cartoon characters scary).

The Santa Monica Pier is my favorite location to shoot, especially at night and in the fog. It was a very creepy place when I first moved to Santa Monica in the early 1980s. Back then, soon after sunset, the area would turn into a real Night of the Living Dead. The tourists would flee and some of the shady characters who populated Palisades Park would rise and approach anyone around. Things started to change in 1989, when Cirque du Soleil began to set up at the pier and attract people with money. The addition of a police station, new restaurants, and the redesign of Pacific Park made it a tourist mecca. Now the pier is as packed at night as it is during the day, and no one feels threatened (unless you find people dressed as cartoon characters scary).

 

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President’s Greeting: Nov/Dec 2014

The Herscher family, San Jose, CA, 1958

A rare photograph of the extended Herscher family, San Jose, CA, 1958.

Memory is meaning. It is how we understand existence. It is how we locate ourselves in time. It is what we learn and how we learn. Amnesia is a tragedy, for in severing us from the past, it severs us from ourselves. Who are we without that frame of reference? How can we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been?

The debut of the Skirball’s new exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 prompts these reflections.

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Hollywood: The War Years

Austrian émigré Fritz Lang’s potent anti-Nazi film Hangmen Also Die!, co-written with eminent playwright Bertolt Brecht, came out in 1943. After Jan-Christopher’s Horak’s illuminating lecture on German exile cinema, stick around to watch a screening of the film.

In anticipation of the opening of the new exhibition Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, we asked Dr. Jan-Christopher Horak, UCLA Film & Television Archive Director and expert on German exile cinema, a few questions about how and why Europe’s exiled filmmakers (most of whom were fleeing Nazi persecution) made such an indelible impact on Hollywood’s history, throughout the war era and afterward. Arriving from their war-torn countries, filmmakers like Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, and Ernst Lubitsch found American audiences to be a receptive market for their perspectives on the dangers of German Fascism. The unique styles they brought to the States, influenced by both the dark and light aspects of their experiences, directly affected the development of the film noir genre. The enduring effects of that genre are explored in the complementary exhibition The Noir Effect. 

Learn more about the relationship between Hollywood and European émigrés at Horak’s informative talk “Hollywood: The War Years,” on Thursday, October 30, at 7:30 p.m. The talk is followed by a screening of Austrian émigré Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die! (1943).

You are a veteran in anything concerning German exiles in Hollywood. Can you talk a bit about the notion of German exile cinema?

German exile cinema refers to films made by German-speaking—mostly Jewish—refugees who were blacklisted after 1933 in Germany by the Nazis and then moved abroad, producing work in France, England, Holland, Italy, Spain, and, of course, Hollywood. In Germany they lost everything, usually having to forfeit all their personal wealth, and often had to start from scratch in their new homes. Some, like Robert Siodmak, reestablished themselves in France, then had to flee again when World War II broke out. Continue reading

Words from the Heart

How do we express love? What does it take to have a lasting relationship, friendship, or marriage? What did your parents or grandparents teach you about unconditional love? These were just some of the questions posed to the public by Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) as they explored the meanings of love and commitment for Fallen Fruit of the Skirball, a multi-phase exhibition on view through October 12 at the Skirball. Sorting through hundreds of responses, Fallen Fruit realized that three different voices emerged—representing wisdom, reason, and guidance on everyday actions. The artists then carefully selected and organized these key words and phrases (using three distinct font styles) to create a commitment document called Love Score. The document is a contemporary take on the ketubbah, a traditional Jewish marriage contract. Densely designed in a style reminiscent of visual poetry, the Love Score provides a unique set of instructions on how to love someone.

Fallen Fruit, Love Score, 2014. Co-authored with the public, this dense text piece takes a few minutes to “decode,” but eventually the words form a harmonious statement about how to love others.

Fallen Fruit, Love Score, 2014. Co-authored with the public, this dense text piece takes a few minutes to “decode,” but eventually the words form a harmonious statement about how to love others.

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A Show of Love

fallen-fruit-1

Now on view in Fallen Fruit of the Skirball: a selection of portraits of people who love each other, all submitted by the public. In making the selection, the artists looked for candid moments that were personal but also spoke to the broader public—smiles, hugs, hand-holding, kisses, and other gestures of affection that everyone understands. Photo by Timothy Norris.

Since May of this year, the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) has been in residence creating Fallen Fruit of the Skirball, a multi-phase exhibition exploring the meanings of love and commitment. For the central part of this project, the public was invited to submit photographs of themselves with someone they love. A selection of these would then be displayed salon-style over the custom-designed pomegranate wallpaper covering the walls of the Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. People from Los Angeles and beyond, including several from our own Skirball community, responded to this call for participation.

With the proliferation of smartphones, with which we can take and post snapshots and selfies on social media at any time, we are able to capture moments with loved ones and express ourselves more easily than ever before. But there are also photographs from old family albums and archives, studio shots and wallet-sized prints. Fallen Fruit embraced all kinds of portraiture to explore complex expressions of love—friendships, marriage, familial ties, and nuanced social messages. They carefully sorted the submissions and chose images to construct a collective portrait of a lifetime, from birth and adolescence through adulthood and old age.

Once the portraits started pouring in, so did the amazing stories behind them. The images portray weddings, both recent and long ago; couples celebrating anniversaries; grandparents sharing special moments with their grandchildren; mothers holding newborn babies; a young dad napping with his toddler children; and a gay couple getting married on the day the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned. Continue reading

My Awesome Experience at the Skirball (It Didn’t End with Prom)

Before dancing the night away, I took my prom pictures with my track and field teammates inside the Skirball’s Magnin Auditorium (you can tell it’s there by the yellow bands on the wall behind us).

The Skirball and I have a long rich history together. First of all, I attended my high school prom here. I danced the night away with my best friends in the Taper Courtyard. Then, when I was at UCLA, I would see it off the 405 as my parents drove me back to campus after weekends back home in Palmdale. When I spotted the Skirball during those car rides, I knew that I only had fifteen minutes (or forty-five with traffic!) to finish the reading I should have completed before I went home for the weekend. And now, this past summer, I have interned in the Communications and Marketing department, an awesome opportunity thanks to the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program. I have done other marketing internships during my undergraduate years, but never have I felt so much joy in coming to work as I did while walking through the doors of the Skirball each morning. It’s because each day I helped the team get the word out about exhibitions and programs, I knew I was sharing with my Los Angeles community the amazing experiences that are possible here at the Skirball.

During my internship, the exhibition The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats was on view, and to me, it illustrated a lot about the mission of the Skirball. It showed how the Skirball stands as a place where people of all different backgrounds can meet and feel respected.

03 Dreams 2

I love Keats’s use of marbled paper in his artwork. This piece, from the book entitled Dreams, is my favorite from the exhibition. Ezra Jack Keats, “It was hot. After supper Roberto came to his window to talk with Amy.” Final illustration for Dreams, 1974. Marbled paper and paint on board. Ezra Jack Keats Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

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Seeing Love Through a Pomegranate

In conjunction with the “commitment document” to be created and installed as part of the public participatory art commission Fallen Fruit of the Skirball, the artists invite you to submit photographs of people who love each other or you with someone you love. A selection of these photographs will be chosen by the artists and specially framed for display in the exhibition. For inspiration, the above photograph is from the Skirball collection: Wedding Anniversary Invitation for Gittel and Irving Weinrot. Gift of Bertha Hochberg, SCC13.3. Read on for submission instructions and guidelines.

In conjunction with the “commitment document” to be created and installed as part of the public participatory art commission Fallen Fruit of the Skirball, the artists invite you to submit photographs of people who love each other or you with someone you love. A selection of these photographs will be chosen by the artists and specially framed for display in the exhibition. Read on for submission instructions and guidelines. For inspiration, the above photograph is from the Skirball collection: Wedding Anniversary Invitation for Gittel and Irving Weinrot. Gift of Bertha Hochberg, SCC13.3.

When bright red pomegranates started filling every nook and cranny of wall space in the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball, I witnessed people stop in their tracks, puzzle over it, and smile. After working closely with the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) on this immersive art installation, I have learned how something as simple as a piece of fruit can bring so many people and ideas together.

In their artistic practice, Fallen Fruit uses fruit as a filter to explore social engagement and relies on acts of sharing, public participation, and community involvement to make their work. The social, economic, and political implications of fruit reveal the relationship between those who have food resources and those who do not, and yet they also foster a sense of community and activism. In fact, Fallen Fruit’s name is derived from a passage in the book of Leviticus:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.

This philosophy of giving and reaching out to strangers has allowed Fallen Fruit to collaborate with communities and institutions all over the world. After studying our collection of Jewish cultural artifacts, Fallen Fruit found inspiration in a seventeenth-century ketubbah (marriage contract). They also discovered how prominently the pomegranate figures in Jewish art and culture, particularly as a symbol of fertility and marriage. The installation in the Ruby Gallery combines their interest in both the cultural ritual of marriage and the beauty of the pomegranate by featuring specially designed wallpaper created from photographs of pomegranate fruits grown in Southern California.

Details of the wallpaper designed by Fallen Fruit for their collaboration with the Skirball. It features pomegranates in all different forms—cracked open, discolored, seeds and juice scattered everywhere. These imperfections add even more beauty and dimension to the wallpaper and compel us to look closer and find something new each time.

Details of the wallpaper designed by Fallen Fruit for their collaboration with the Skirball. It features pomegranates in all different forms—cracked open, discolored, seeds and juice scattered everywhere. These imperfections add even more beauty and dimension to the wallpaper and compel us to look closer and find something new each time.

Fallen Fruit’s custom fruit wallpaper has become their signature visual format for exploring fruits that are important or symbolic to certain institutions and collections. But why wallpaper? Austin Young explains, “Fruit is often decorative. It appears in wallpaper, art objects, patterns on textiles, decorative art, and still life paintings throughout history in different cultures.” The wallpaper that Fallen Fruit creates often incorporates a lattice-like pattern that repeats continuously. Austin adds that this repetition reinforces the fact that “we see fruit as a common denominator and connector.”

After putting together the design of pomegranates taken from photographs of the fruit grown around Southern California, Fallen Fruit worked with a printer to get the repeating pattern printed on self-adhesive vinyl wallpaper. When installed, this wallpaper will be seamless.

After putting together the design of pomegranates taken from photographs of the fruit grown around Southern California, Fallen Fruit worked with a printer to get the repeating pattern printed on self-adhesive vinyl wallpaper. When installed, this wallpaper will be seamless.

The pomegranate wallpaper that Fallen Fruit designed has been made into a special edition just for the Skirball. In Jewish tradition, the pomegranate is a pervasive symbol from biblical times relating to the garments of the priesthood and royalty, the architecture of the ancient temple, and Torah ornaments of the synagogue. According to one rabbinic tradition, a pomegranate contains 613 seeds, corresponding directly to divine commandments in the Torah.

The installers make sure the wallpaper looks perfect. The round window looking into Zeidler’s Café was an especially tricky area of the installation.

The installers make sure the wallpaper looks perfect. The round window looking into Zeidler’s Café was an especially tricky area of the installation.

Views of the completed installation. The Ruby Gallery is entirely transformed by the wallpaper.

Views of the completed installation. The Ruby Gallery is entirely transformed by the wallpaper.

But the exhibition doesn’t stop here; Continue reading

A Happy Marriage: Fallen Fruit and a Special Ketubbah at the Skirball

 Ketubbah. Busseto, Italy, 1677. Ink, gouache, gold paint and cutout on parchment. Salli Kirschstein Collection, Skirball Museum.

Ketubbah.  Busseto, Italy.  Text, 1677; border, 18th century.  Ink, gouache, gold paint, and cutout on parchment.  Salli Kirschstein Collection, Skirball Museum,
Skirball Cultural Center.

 

Several months ago, the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) began an artist residency at the Skirball to develop an installation for our Ruby Gallery. Fallen Fruit’s community-based projects use fruit as a medium to explore social engagement, so we invited them to search our collection of Jewish artifacts for anything fruit related! After surveying a range of fine art and ritual objects featuring figs, etrogs, apples, oranges, and many other fruits, they could not take their eyes off of a seventeenth-century ketubbah that was richly decorated with fruit and animal motifs, zodiac signs, and biblical scenes.

Fallen Fruit artists David Burns (left) and Austin Young (right), examining the Busseto ketubbah.

Fallen Fruit artists David Burns (left) and Austin Young (right), examining the Busseto ketubbah.

In Hebrew ketubbah (plural, ketubbot) literally means “what is written.” It is the term used for a marriage contract, a custom that originated in biblical times. In an era when women were regarded as property rather than as equals, its purpose was to protect the married woman in the event that she was divorced or widowed. It specified that she must receive a material sum, including the dowry she brought to the marriage, to assure her support and well-being. Over the centuries the ketubbah has evolved in many Jewish communities from a legal document to a symbolic expression of mutual love and respect between equal partners. Today, particularly in the United States, many couples compose their own ketubbah texts and personalize the design.

The Skirball has one of the most prominent collections of ketubbot in the world, with over 430 in the collection from countries such as Italy, Egypt, Persia, Germany, and the United States. A majority of the collection belongs to the special tradition, developed in Jewish art, of the decorated marriage contract. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the custom of illuminated ketubbot flourished in areas of Sephardi settlement such as Italy, Amsterdam, London, North Africa, and the Near East. Nearly half of the entire Skirball collection consists of ketubbot produced in Italy during the golden age of the illuminated ketubbah, from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

The particular ketubbah that inspired Fallen Fruit’s project is from Busseto, Italy. The traditional Hebrew text was copied by the scribe in 1677, and this text was set in its beautifully crafted frame about a century later. The frame includes an inner border constructed with an intricate die-cut technique. The contract is signed by two rabbis from the Busseto community to sanction the marriage of the bridegroom, Jacob, son of Eliezer Mogil, and the bride, Dolce, daughter of the late Isaac Navarra, on March 5, 1677. kettubah_skirball_fallenfruitMade out of parchment (animal skin), the ketubbah features five biblical episodes and twelve signs of the zodiac set in roundels. Continue reading