— Feathers and Wax

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Today is the 20th anniversary of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. When it came out in theaters I was 13 years old, the kind of girl who wore glittery ice blue eyeshadow and long skirts bought at thrift stores, absentmindedly braiding my hair during eighth grade math class.

I’d already read the play, of course. I spent much of my pre-teen years slowly working my way through the Collected Works of Shakespeare while other girls my age played soccer or rode bikes.

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Internet culture these days sort of requires me to say in the very first sentence that this post is SPOILER FREE. Trust. Even though Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been out for more than a full week, I solemnly swear I will not talk about the plot or the characters. Cross my heart and kiss my elbow.

All I’m here to talk about is one filming location, and I will certainly not say what happens in that setting or who shows up or what part of the film it’s in. But I HAVE to talk about this location because I’m full-on freaking out that I have been there!

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I love a good scary movie, don’t you? I love watching them all year, but they’re really all I want to watch when October rolls around. My favorites are the ones that are beautifully shot and foreboding, with a good slow burn effect instead of all-out gore.

If, like me, you’d like to escape the world of never ending sequels to Paranormal Activity and watch something that doesn’t lean so heavily on cheap tricks and CG to make you jump, read on for my list of the top 10 hidden gems of the horror genre!

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I first saw artwork by Rene Magritte when I was about 16. My dad took me to the Menil Collection in downtown Houston, and I was pretty much hooked from my first glimpse of his piece “The Healer.” He quickly became my favorite artist, and surrealism my favorite art movement. When I heard the Menil was doing an exhibit of his work again, I was chomping at the bit to experience more of the art that captivated me at a young age.

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First of all…I love this place. The architecture is so beautiful, and the lawn in front of the museum is idyllic. There are a few graceful oak trees on the property that are perfect to spend a lazy afternoon by. It’s one of my favorite summertime spots to have a picnic and read, even if I never make it inside to look at the art.

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I knew that the Menil has several Magritte works in its collection, and that this exhibit was a collaboration between it and two other museums. Still, I had no idea how massive the exhibit truly was, and that they had gotten pieces from such a large variety of sources. I was honestly blown away. Every time I would turn a corner or enter a new room of the exhibit and see a piece I recognized like “The Lovers” or “The Red Model,” it was like greeting an old friend.

"The Lovers" by Rene Magritte

I first got to see the above painting during an exhibit on surrealism at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when I was a freshman in college. That show really solidified how I felt about Magritte’s work and exposed me to similar artists like Dorothea Tanning (well worth checking out). I liked this piece so much I came back to the Met a second time just to sketch it.

What I love most about Magritte is the combination of order and chaos in his works. He uses realism to his advantage, to make the surreal aspects of the artwork pop out like a gut punch. Paintings by Salvador Dali seem to be all fantasy with very little realism amid the surreal. But in Magritte’s style, a piece might have incredibly realistic looking trees right down to the details of the leaves and the roots reaching into the soil. Or it might depict a room that has harsh angles, straight floorboard lines and detailed crown moulding. Juxtaposed with these seemingly normal settings there will be some element that is unexpected and surprising, or even shocking. A realistic looking wood table has one leg that is a woman’s leg, for example, stocking, garter and all.  This method evokes much more emotion for me than a larger focus on the fantastical would. At times there’s a sense of whimsy or humor — at other times there’s a dark, foreboding edge.

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After walking through the exhibit I noticed a theme in his works I had not picked up on before. The painting above evoked rape for me. Another piece of Magritte’s that I’m familiar with, titled “The Rape” depicts a woman’s face turned into a woman’s nude torso. I interpret this as a woman’s internalization of sexual abuse, and it becoming as much a part of her as her own face. Another piece titled “The Literal Meaning” includes the cursive words “femme triste” or “sad woman.” It made me wonder what Magritte’s experiences were with the women in his life and if domestic abuse or sexual violence figured as a part of his past or in the pasts of the women he cared for, perhaps eventually having a profound effect on his development as an artist.

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After wandering through the exhibit for a while, we sat down for the evening’s special film program put on by the Menil and Aurora Picture Show, with most of the films shown on 16 millimeter projector. The program began with a few of Magritte’s home movies featuring himself, his wife and other friends. Hilarious and bizarre, they showed a sillier side of Magritte I didn’t really expect! A dinner with the artist would truly be a very entertaining evening.

The rest of the program was devoted to surrealist filmmakers, including Hans Richter and Man Ray. Several of the filmmakers created dream-like sequences through the use of stop-motion or reversing the film to make the motion move backwards, like with waves crashing on a beach during Maya Deren’s truly dreamy film “At Land,” one favorite of mine. Richter’s film “Ghost Before Breakfast” was another favorite. It included a group of bowler hats flying about like a flock of birds among other truly odd imagery. I found a video of Richter’s film so you can see the flying hats in action, if you’d like:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fGFIoJfC_Q

The event was originally going to be outdoors on the Menil’s lawn, but thunderstorms on the forecast changed that. I could hear it pouring down during the film program. Good thing it stopped before the program ended; I wasn’t dressed for rain at all! But I’m so relieved that temperatures have warmed up lately.

Top by Urban Outfitters, jeans by The Gap, shoes by Target, cross-body bag by ASOS.

Thanks for reading Feathers and Wax! x

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On Monday night we saw Wes Anderson’s latest film “The Grand Budapest Hotel;” I promise I won’t divulge any plot spoilers in this post! I always feel a twinge of Houston pride when I see his films; he was born in Houston and attended St. John’s School right on Westheimer. I like to think (or at least hope) that experiences in and around Houston inspired some of the quirkiness at the heart of his work.

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As it turns out, Anderson was quite influenced by his upbringing here, according to comments he made on the Houston Matters radio show this week. During the interview he talks about how the near-chaos found in Houston’s lack of zoning might have ironically lead to his zeal for symmetry in his shots, as well as how seeing Houston Ballet’s performances of The Nutcracker as a kid likely pushed him toward using Russian music on the soundtrack of Budapest Hotel.

He mentions that he likes to focus on outsider characters, which I could absolutely see coming from a city that has such a diverse population, but also a well-monied upper class, as the nation’s seat of the oil industry. Man after my own heart, he also talks on the show about loving The Cure while growing up but “we also did go to Jones Hall and the opera, I remember seeing ‘La Boheme’…”

While nostalgia is present in nearly all of his films, it features more strongly in some (“The Royal Tenenbaums” certainly comes to mind). Budapest Hotel might be his most wistful film yet.  Set partly in the 1960s and mostly in the 1930s, we see an older generation missing the way things were in an even earlier time. It made me wonder if Houston’s general disregard for historical buildings and landmarks has anything to do with that.

The use of visual elements is definitely one of Anderson’s fortés, and he used them masterfully to drive home the bittersweet feeling of the film. Hotel decor, signs, vivid color palettes and lighting all help to create a stark contrast between the 1930s-era (above) and 1960s-era (below) hotel. Each shot becomes its own individual work of art.

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The graphic elements, in particular, are delightful. I ran across this interview with the graphic designer for the film and found it fascinating. The article includes several close-up photos of printed items and other eye-candy used in the film. I especially adore the dark pink logo on those patisserie boxes!

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Speaking of those confections, called “courtesans au chocolat,” there’s actually a video explaining how to make them. I felt tempted to try it myself until it got past step 10 or 12 and I realized it was a tad out of my league, ha! Maybe I’ll just spring for some macarons instead. The video is adorable all the same.

Of course, I found a few lines about writing to be the most endearing part of the film. A writer character says people assume writers work every day to come up with storylines out of the thin air, when really the best stories come to a writer through other people’s life experiences, and all he has to do is listen and collect their stories (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of his thoughts). I have personally found this to be true. In my mind, the marks of a good writer or reporter are curiosity and a willingness to listen.

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Sundance Cinema in downtown Houston was showing Grand Budapest. It’s my favorite place to see movies and makes for a great date night. I settled in for the film with my favorite house cocktail of theirs: “The Key.”

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Grand Budapest shows snowy landscapes throughout the film, and even though we don’t get snow here, it made me feel so relieved that spring is nearly here. This winter I have been eternally grateful for all the flannel seen on the runways for fall/winter 2013 – I can’t pass up a trend that keeps me warm.

Vintage hat, jacket by Zara, dress by Urban Outfitters, boots by Coach.

Thanks for reading Feathers and Wax! xoxo

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