Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Would You Like a Piece?

Longtime readers at The Underworld know that I was a comic book fan as a kid. It is most likely within that realm that I developed my affection for headpieces. There's a posting here already about my favorite comic heroine, The Scarlet Witch. She was probably the one who got me hooked on headgear. I always wondered how in the world she kept the dang thing on during all of her adventures with The Avengers.

The X-Men had a hero called Angel and I liked his headgear as well. I dunno... something about the way the face is framed with these things appealed to me. And, no, I didn't fabricate something similar and wear it to school. I never had the guts for stuff like that, though I do admire those tykes who say, “To hell with you people, I'm wearing what I want!” (Wasn't there a recent Internet sensation over a little boy who chose a female Halloween costume and how his mother stood by his decision to wear it with pride even though his school threw a fit?)

Anyway, knowing about this affinity, you'll not be surprised to find that I am always happy to come upon headpieces in the movies, the more ornate the better! As this post rattles on, you may see things that are more like crowns, tiaras or even hats, but I'm not going to niggle over the details. Everything here is meant as ornamentation to the head and somehow accents or frames the face dramatically. That's the main thing.

This first one was recently pointed out to me by a visitor to The Underworld (see the comments section) and I happily bring it forward to join the others. In 1987, Miss Meg Foster played the evil sorceress (it is often the baddies who get the most entertaining headpieces!) Evil-Lyn in Masters of the Universe, based on a then-hot action figure toy line. Foster possesses one of the cinema's most stunning and unique set of eyes, which were highlighted in this look.

One of the cinema's earlier headpiece-wearing villains, though, was the animated Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent in 1959. She scared the bejesus out of me as a child. It wasn't enough that she was green, but she had those two-pronged, conical horns reaching away from her angular face. Then she had to go and turn into a dragon at the end! Now, though, I love her and can better appreciate the silky, slithery line delivery of Miss Eleanor Audley.

Even she had a predecessor in the glam-villain category with 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' Wicked Queen. Voiced by once-legendary, now-nearly-forgotten, stage actress Lucille La Verne, the nasty, but beautiful, lady also underwent a transformation in the movie, changing into a hideous hag. (Incidentally, La Verne partly achieved the difference in her vocal modulations from queen to hag by removing her false teeth!) Even though the Queen's physical movement was based on dancer Marge Champion's template, it's been said that her actual (facial) looks were based on Joan Crawford, a major star of that era.

I'd like to say that this look of Joan's was part of the inspiration, but it's actually from Ice Follies of 1939, which came not long after Snow White. Still, one can see something of a resemblance. (One can also see a resemblance to a Rodeo Drive parking meter, but that's another story!) How interesting that the Queen's voice belonged to Lucille La Verne while her face was based on Lucille LeSueur (Joan's birth name!) Queens of any sort are nearly always welcome in The Underworld, though.

To continue along these lines for another moment, consider a modern take on the Wicked Queen, Miss Jean Marsh in 1988's Willow. This was one of my favorite performances from Marsh and (understandably, if you ask me!) my favorite thing about the busy, naggingly quirky film. Then again, I haven't seen it since it was released, so maybe my perception would be different now. I just remember enjoying her cloak and crown-laden nastiness

Even more recent was 2007's Enchanted, in which Susan Sarandon did a sort of melding of the Wicked Queen and Maleficent. She had the glamour of the queen (along with an awesome headpiece) but then turned into a fiery dragon at the climax of the movie. How could any actress resist the chance to camp it up while wearing such a fun attachment around her face?!

Faye Dunaway has often been accused of campy performances, especially following Mommie Dearest, Supergirl and The Wicked Lady. In 1999's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Miss D. played a scarily unhealthy looking Yolande of Aragon against John Malkovich's Charles VII. She was outfitted for the occasion with a serious bit of head decoration that threatened at all times to snap her neck! I think it was brave of her to go with so little makeup and to show off those hands in the name of providing authentic Medieval squalor.

Another big time piece of headgear was sported by Monica Belluci as The Mirror Queen in 2005's The Brothers Grimm. As a malevolent monarch who uses the blood of young girls to retain her youthful beauty, she is but another variant on (or in this case, the initial inspiration for) the queen who wanted Snow White destroyed because of her superior loveliness.

Biblical epics are another good source for fun headgear. Rita Gam, as the wife of Herod Antipas in King of Kings (1961), was decked out in a couple of cranium-craning towers of decorous delight. It was a rare chance for the otherwise under-utilized actress to show off some of her scenery-chewing skills. (Her other claim to fame is having been one of Princess Grace's bridesmaids, about which she penned a book.)

To give the men a brief nod, there was also Mr. Yul Brynner as Rameses in 1956's The Ten Commandments. (The King of Kings mention, along with this one, can be our belated shout-out to Passover and Easter, which was the day before yesterday!) Apparently the more power one obtains, the longer the little flaps on the side of one's headdress become. Note how at one point Brynner (who was certainly man enough to pull this look off without so much as a blink from viewers) sports a more cropped look, but then has a far lengthier one later. Love the rings and all the accoutrements as well! (One of my big joys on stage was playing the Pharaoh in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat, though that is always at least a bit Elvis-based. How fun it would be to play an actual Pharaoh!) A more recent display of Pharaohean finery came when Hank Azaria portrayed Kahmunra in Night at the Museum: Battle of The Smithsonian. This was all in fun. Nobody's really ever gonna touch Yul as the most imposing and seethingly sexy example of an Egyptian ruler.

Along Biblical lines, but with a decidedly modern twist, we come to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar, brought to the screen in 1973 and directed by Norman Jewison. Caiaphas, the leader of the priests who want rid of Jesus, sports a provocative and revealing get-up with a significant head-topper. (This, by the way, is another part I've played – and loved! I must be trying to act out my latent headgear fantasies on stage even though, when I did it, the costume scheme was entirely different.)

One of the many stars of The Ten Commandments, lovely Miss Debra Paget, had quite a career for a while playing exotic flowers of the past in far flung regions. Some of the roles she played had names like Kalua, Princess Shalimar, Sharain and my own favorite, Seetha the Sheeva Dancer. As such, she was often draped in sexy, skimpy costumes and sometimes had fun things in or on her hair as in this pose. Miss Paget is still with us, but has since gotten religion (well... she always had it, actually, according to her) and occasionally appears on Christian TV broadcasts.

Now, when it came to glamorous women of exotic times, one of the benchmarks for many folks is Miss Elizabeth Taylor in 1963's Cleopatra. Certainly, her dramatic eye makeup kicked off a whole decade of heavily adorned eyes. She also made her mark in the headgear stakes. The helmet she sports here is considerable (and Yul Brynner wore something akin to this in the Red Sea sequence of Commandments), but it's a mere trinket when compared to the one she wore for her triumphant entry into Rome. The pageantry that precedes her entrance on a grand float is eye-popping in the extreme, but when she finally shows up (with her young son in tow), she has on a towering, shiny gold headdress that no one in range can top. What's kind of amusing is that every effort conceivable was made to elongate and heighten Miss Taylor and yet somehow she still looks a bit diminutive in this shot. Take note of not only the huge headpiece, but also the spike heels that are visible under her gold cloak!

In the same film, Pamela Brown played a mystic seer, complete with cauldron and assorted statuary. I love her asp-riddled headpiece and squiggled hairpiece below it. Since the days of Shakespeare (and probably before), performers have delighted in portraying witches, sorcerers and so forth. They always seem to get the most fun lines and costumes (and sets!)

When Joan Fontaine briefly entered the realm of film production in 1966 with The Witches (a.k.a. - The Devil's Own), she stumbled into a coven of crazy, creepy sacrificial worshippers who were lead by Kay Walsh. Walsh's headpiece in the movie is a hoot. A combination helmet-candelabra, her subjects light the tapers and then she's off on her rant, while the followers orgiastically writhe on the ground, vocalizing and in some cases eating dirt (which we hope was brownie mix and not the real thing!)

Two years after Cleopatra, Ursula Andress came out with the movie She. Though the characters have nothing much in common and take place in different times and locales, the influence with regard to the head décor can still be felt. The “She” in question is an ageless goddess, Ayesha a.k.a. – She Who Must Be Obeyed, saved from decaying old age by a mysterious and magical flame that preserves her beauty throughout time. Andress was quite a looker, to be sure. I love the claw detail on the shoulder of her bird-inspired cloak!

Andress was not the first person to play She. The story had been filmed as a silent on several occasions and in 1935 was shot in sound with Helen Gahagan in the title role and Randolph Scott as the man she believes to be her reincarnated beloved. In this we find the alleged inspiration for the Wicked Queen in Snow White's costume (the covered head adorned with pieces.) The film itself was a flop, however, and drove its leading lady out of the movie business after this sole leading role. She went into politics, becoming a Congressional Representative and eventually running against Richard Nixon for the Senate in 1950 (and is credited with popularizing the term “Tricky Dick” in reference to him for the smear tactics he used in the campaign!)

One of the places that is conjured up when speaking of timelessness is the Lost Continent of Atlantis. Many movies have come out over the years depicting the splendor of the mythical, ancient locale that was stricken by earthquakes and floods, finally sinking below the surface of the ocean. In 1978's Warlords of the Deep, Doug McClure finds himself within the underwater realm and who is there to greet him? Well, who would you expect? Cyd Charisse, of course! Ha! Decked out in a neck-bending headdress, she wafts around in a variety of flowing costumes designed to show off her still shapely legs. McClure is in the $2.43 helmet and next to him is actor Daniel Massey, son of well-regarded actor Raymond Massey.
Now that we've segued into science-fiction, let's pay a call on Sarah Douglas, who played the seductive Queen Taramis in 1984's Conan the Destroyer, the sequel to Arnold Schwarzenegger's hit from two years prior, Conan the Barbarian. This movie somehow managed to toss Arnie, Sarah, Olivia D'Abo, Jeff Corey, Mako, Grace Jones and Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain all together in the same project! Arnie has his own li'l headband in this shot. Douglas is best-known for playing the evil Ursa in Superman II next to Terence Stamp and Jack O'Halloran. (I wonder how many people mistakenly believe that Richard Kiel played the big, brutish third part of that equation?) Check out Corey's snake and bird-inspired helmet below. The 1980s were great for opulently tacky sci-fi get-ups. Kicking things off for the decade to come was 1980's Flash Gordon. Not only was there the slinky, evil Princess Aura, played by Italian actress Ornella Muti, but there was also Melody Anderson as Flash's cohort, Dale Arden. Once Ming the Merciless (played by Max Von Sydow) gets his hands on her, she is polished, perfumed, painted up and otherwise prepped to serve in his harem, which, in this universe, means plenty of baubles, bangles and beaded headpieces. As a little gayling, I always had trouble understanding what kidnap victims of this sort were complaining about when they had to “suffer” the torment of being bathed and swathed in all sorts of elegant materials and jewelry. Take me, I'm yours!

Looking at the headgear from Flash Gordon reminds me of Miss Joanna Pettet in 1966's Casino Royale. This is the spoofy (and practically incomprehensible) first big-screen version of the story, not the more recent Daniel Craig one. As the illegitimate daughter of elderly James Bond (David Niven) and a deceased Mata Hari, Pettet spends most of her time in lavish, ornately decorated costumes, each of which includes a drop-dead piece of head décor. She gets to make a splashy entrance, too, with India-esque dancers parading in formation until the big reveal when she makes her way down a lengthy corridor. Speaking of Mata Hari, that legendary female spy was portrayed all the way back in 1931 in a film of the same name by none other than Greta Garbo. The famous actress' legendary face was set off by several heavily-detailed head coverings. I haven't yet seen this movie, but, in still photos anyway, Miss Garbo makes a beguiling impression. The man shown with her below, her costar in the movie, is Ramon Novarro, an actor who played Ben-Hur in the silent version and came to a tragic end in 1968 when he was savagely beaten to death by a couple of thieving hustlers.
If you're going to go to the trouble of framing a face, it might as well be a stunning one and there were few as stunning as the aforementioned Elizabeth Taylor. In the '60s and '70s, she made a habit of appearing in photo shoots and films that included flowers, turbans and so on. 1967's Doctor Faustus reveled in duding her out in a variety of guises, chiefly Helen of Troy, which included this platinum curly-cue number. She spoke no lines in the film. She didn't need to!

Liz also played a variety of roles (one of them quite glamorous) in 1976's The Blue Bird, a fiasco of epic proportions that had George Cukor directing the first American-Soviet co-production. A remake of a 1940 Shirley Temple film (which was itself a remake of a silent version in 1918), the ghastly musical mess seemed to set a new record for on location troubles and squabbling amongst its cast of sizeable names (Cicely Tyson, Jane Fonda, an eventually replaced James Coco and, pictured below with her own headpiece, Miss Ava Gardner.) If all these folks make it seem as if this film is a pleasure to sit through, think again! Given the choice, I think I would watch Battlefield Earth first, and that's saying something. As we near the end of this admittedly rambling, spasmodic post, I had to include this poor sap from Pier Pasolini's 1967 film, Oedipus Rex. Jesus! Talk about a head-topper! I hope he didn't have to ride to ride to the set in a Mini Cooper (unless it was a convertible!)

When it comes to headpieces, though, even if this one wasn't actually in a movie but rather made its presence known at an Oscar ceremony, I can't end without including Cher and her “Native American Goes Bob Mackie” get-up. Miffed at not being nominated for an Academy Award for 1985's Mask, she wore this ensemble in order to thumb her nose at the Oscar guidelines for “dressing like a serious actress.” There were apparently no hard feelings, however, since the Academy honored her with a statuette just a short time later for 1987's Moonstruck. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as my mother always said!

Finally, let me alert you to the fact that this is my 200th post here at Poseidon's Underworld! Yes, I've been blathering on (and on) that many times. And I must say, though it's hard to believe, I have still more observations and opinions to spew out, so, for the time being anyway, I will continue to bring you as much beef(cake), cheese(-yness), corn(iness) and (eye)candy as I can think of. To mark the occasion, I'll go back to where I started in this post with Scarlet Witch and friends on the cover of The Avengers' 200th issue. Incidentally, there is a forthcoming movie of The Avengers slated for 2012, but Scarlet Witch is not among the heroes included (though Scarlet Johansson is in the cast as The Black Widow...) And you can let me know which of your favorite pieces of head decoration somehow failed to make it into this post. You know I always like to hear from my readers.


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