In a comment on my blog on the Fashion Film, Random Fashion Coolness asks if it is possible to be too perfect. That started me thinking about Grace Kelly, who is being remembered at the moment with an exhibition at the V&A. Although we now know that her off-screen persona was not quite the same as her on screen image, nevertheless her image has survived as the sophisticated, always elegant and confident template of the fifties woman.
And of course it was a total fantasy – just like the pages of American Vogue on which her image was based. Unearthly perfection was the mood of rich middle America in those days, where people enjoyed kitchens and bathrooms of an undreamed of sophistication, and drove cars that were years in advance of those on this side of the Atlantic (I remember after driving one on an extended road trip in America, I picked up my own car – by no means an old boneshaker – at Heathrow and less than a mile later I stopped because I thought I had a flat tyre. I didn't. What I had was British car springs – light years behind those in America).
Grace Kelly and Edith Head. (Pic: Moderateinthemiddle.files.wordpress.com)
The American dream was a reality and its goddess was Grace, as in film after film her immaculate appearance mesmerised filmgoers across the globe. And in many movies of the time, the genius behind the looks was Edith Head, who in her years at Paramount and Universal Studios dressed nearly all the great actresses of the forties and fifties. In fact she worked with Kelly only twice - on Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955) but that was enough to fix in the world's imagination the idea of the elegant, coolly-knowing, high-class broad that her name still conjures today. Her appearance was perfect but she always undermined it by an ironic sense of humour, especially in sex. The trouble with A Single Man and I Am Love is the fact that there is not a hint of irony or self-mockery in either.
When you take yourself too seriously you stop producing something that keeps the viewers' attention and becomes as boring as a flick through a glossy magazine – and as quickly forgotten.