Movie inspiration of the week – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Costume Designer: Lucinda Ballard, Nominated Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (24th Academy Awards)

And so it was I entered the broken world

To trace the visionary company of love, it’s voice

An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled)

But not for long to hold each desperate choice.

The Broken Tower” by Hart Crane

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Her appearance is incongruous to this setting. She is daintily dressed in a white suit with a fluffy bodice, necklace and earrings of pearl, white gloves and hat, looking as if she were arriving at a summer tea or cocktail party in the garden district. She is about five years older than Stella. Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth.

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He is of medium height, about five feet eight or nine, and strongly, compactly built. Animal joy in his being is implicit in all his movements and attitudes. Since earliest manhood the center of his life has been pleasure with women, the giving and taking of it, not with weak indulgence, dependently, but with the power and pride of a richly feathered male bird among hens.

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Look at these feathers and furs that she come here to preen herself in! What’s this here? A solid-gold dress, I believe! And this one! What is these here? Fox-pieces! Genuine fox fur-pieces, a half a mile long! Where· are your fox-pieces, Stella? Bushy snow-white ones, no less!

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Pearls! Ropes of them! What is this sister of yours, a deep-sea diver? Bracelets of solid gold, too! Where are your pearls and gold bracelets?

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Compliments to women about their looks. I’ve never met a woman that didn’t know if she was good-looking or not without being told, and some of them give themselves credit for more than they’ve got.

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The poker players–Stanley, Steve, Mitch and Pablo-wear colored shirts, solid blues, a purple, a red-and-white check, a light green, and they are men at the peak of their physical manhood, as coarse and direct and powerful as the primary colors.

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“And if God choose,

I shall but love thee better-after-death!”

Why, that’s from my favorite sonnet by Mrs. Browning!

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I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.

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I never was hard or self-sufficient enough. When people are soft-soft people have got to shimmer and g1ow-they’ve got to put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly’ wings, and put a paper lantern over the light …it isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I-I’m fading now! I don’t know how much longer I can turn the trick.

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We danced the Varsouviana! Suddenly in the middle of the dance the boy I had married broke away from me and ranout of the casino. A few moments later-a shot!
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 What do you two think you are? A pair of queens?

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I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don’t tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it!

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The opposite is desire. So do you wonder? How could you possibly wonder!
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She has dragged her wardrobe trunk into the center of the bedroom. It hangs open with flowery dresses thrown across it. As the drinking and packing went on, a mood of hysterical exhilaration came into her and -she has decked herself out in a somewhat soiled and crumpled white satin evening gown and a pair of scuffed silver slippers with brilliants set in their heels. Now she is placing the rhinestone tiara on her head before the mirror of the dressing-table and murmuring excitedly as if to a ‘group of spectral admirers.

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Well, it’s a red letter night for us both. You having an oil millionaire and me having a baby.

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A cultivated woman, a woman of intelligence and breeding, can enrich a man’s life – immeasurably! I have those things to offer, and this doesn’t take them away. Physical beauty is passing. A transitory possession. But beauty of the mind and richness of the spirit and tenderness of the heart-and I have all of those things-aren’t taken away, but grow! Increase with the years! How strange that I should be called a destitute woman! When I have all of these treasures locked in my heart. I think of myself as a very, very rich woman! But I have been foolish-casting my pearls before swine!

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The hot trumpet and drums from the Four Deuces sound loudly
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He takes off his hat and now he becomes personalized. The unhuman quality goes. His voice is gentle and reassuring as he crosses to Blanche and crouches in front of her. As he speaks her name, her terror subsides a little. The lurid reflections fade from the walls, the inhuman cries and noises die out and her own hoarse crying is calmed.

Whoever you are-I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

’In this dark march toward whatever it is we’re approaching,’ Blanche raises the flag of magic against the crushing disappointment of reality in her “worn-out Mardi Gras outfit” and the costumes are absolutely brilliant in creating this fantasy world, showing us  someone trying to survive the decay and decadence of her own life and not being able to cope with what the world has thrown at her. And that’s how a trunk full of flowery dresses and rhinestone tiaras can help you survive as long as you keep away from the brutes, maybe you’ll be able to not only tell, but also live what ought to be truth.  ( And this in no way an endorsement of post truths or a glorification of mental illness)

References and Photos

A Streetcar Named Desire BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS – With an Introduction by the Author, Signet Books (1951)

Elia Kazan, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Norman N. Holland

Best Shot: “A Streetcar Named Desire”

A Madhouse In The Quarter: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE A Madhouse In The Quarter: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

The Furniture: Decorating Madness in A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire

http://www.virtual-history.com/movie/film/2060/a-streetcar-named-desire

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans 

My favorite travel souvenirs are vintage clothes. Every time I travel I try to make a list of vintage stores to check in the city I’m visiting.

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This House of Branell dress was not bought on a trip but because of a trip. Mainly. I also have a soft spot for gold lurex and could not resist the fact that I could own a dress by the same designer house responsible for Grace Kelly’s engagement dress. I used to be a big fan of Princess Grace when I was a kid, I still recall my eleven year old self writing a diary entry on the car crash that killed her because I felt truly sad about her death.

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Buy Royally Engaged – 1970s gold lurex shirt dress by House of Branell
I digress.

The main reason why I bought this dress was that this is a House of Branell for Gus Mayer dress. Founded in 1900, the original Gus Mayer department store was located on the corner of Canal and Carandolet Streets in New Orleans. I think the building now houses a CVS pharmacy where I bought a purple umbrella in August 2012.

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New Orleans was one of those “bucket lists” trips; I dreamt of going, I fantasized about living there and riding streetcars up and down said Canal Street and finally made it there on a spur of the moment unplanned week long vacation thanks to last minute deals on airfares and booking.com. I still have to make it both to Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival ( my bucket lists keep growing).


I was in New Orleans in August and that probably explains why I managed to stay at the Royal Sonesta for a fraction of the normal price; not everyone enjoys extreme heat and humidity which seems to be my favorite kind of weather. Still, for a week, I enjoyed New Orleans on my own, which undoubtedly contributed to a very intense and emotional experience of the city, I was even serenaded by Jay-Ray & Gee who sang Chuck Berry’s Nadine to me on Royal Street in the rain, just after I bought the purple umbrella.

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Everything I experienced during that week, from daydreaming at Maskarade, to walking the corridor to Preservation Hall, to the aftermaths of Katrina in the form of an exhibition at The Presbytère, to entering William Faulkner’s house, to the beignets at Café du Monde, to the cooking lesson and cemetery tour and the very special music tour with a group of tour guides, to the delightful accent and politeness of everyone I met to the simple fact that “going home” for a whole week meant heading to 300 Bourbon Street, all this made me buy a gold lurex dress.

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In a way, it embodies all the feelings of longing to go back and the wild plans of ditching normal life and reinventing myself as an apprentice voodoo priestess or a sultry Jazz singer and having my own luxurious fern covered balcony.

Time to let it go because, as with so many of my errors, it does not fit me as gloriously as it will a curvier lady.

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Gus Mayer photo via Louisiana Digital Library; all other photos are my own