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the fabric of film

October 14, 2013

PrvtBenSafe Comp

From Benjamin

In my ongoing search for meaningful examples of “Textiles in Film”, I am sadly reminded of their unfairly low status next to furniture, architecture and art as symbols of character or movers of plot. A couple of instances actually illustrate this very point – or at least the relegation of domestic soft-goods to symptoms of weakness in character.

The first is an early comic turn in Private Benjamin, (1980) when spoiled, suburban bride-to-be Goldie Hawn is shown the ottoman she ordered. Her cosseted character is first revealed by complaints about the color (beige versus “mushroom”); but the punchline of the scene, (above left) and the best indication of what kind of wife this pampered princess will be, is her crestfallen observation about the feet being all wrong: “Wheels?” she whines, “Mr. Waxman, I wanted upholstered balls”.  It’s no wonder her husband dies of a heart attack on their wedding night.

Another example of the damning power of home textiles is in Safe (1995), where Julianne Moore’s vapid, and doomed, housewife is shown returning home to a cavernous, cold and overdecorated contemporary tract house in the San Fernando Valley to find that the new, enormous, sectional leather sofa just delivered is the wrong color (black versus the intended teal). While this reaction, (above right), is just one of the many symptoms of her empty & meaningless materialistic life, it is emblematic of a much larger problem. Director Todd Haynes shines light on both the wastefulness of conspicuous consumption, as well as the insipid platitudes of self-help culture that serve to exonerate & “heal” suburbia’s more damaged inhabitants. In his view, it seems, the diagnosis & treatment of “environmental illness” the storyline follows is just as toxic, isolating & banal as the dry-cleaning fluid, wall-to-wall carpeting and dyed upholstery, that gave rise and reason to it in the first place.

My search continues for more uplifting representations of Fabric on Film. Your tips, dear reader, are welcome.

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