Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grace Kelly Exhibit and Rear Window with talk by Piers Handling

The Grace Kelly Exhibit at the Bell Lightbox presents a  retrospective of the actress turned real life princess of Monaco.  Photos are not allowed in the exhibit but luckily there are lots of images of Kelly available on line that give a good representation of what was on display.

The first image seen as you walk through the doors is the striking stylized rendition by Andy Warhol which accentuates her fair skin, blond hair and beautiful eyes.

Home movies show Grace and her siblings as children at the home and at the beach.  Even at a young age, she seemed at ease in front of the camera.

Magazine covers of her early days as a model include a stint selling Old Gold Cigarettes.  Memorabilia such as playbill covers from her theatre days, telegraphs and letters including ones from Alfred Hitchcock, Yul Brynner, Bing Crosby, all give insight into Kelly's short acting career.  One particularly interesting telegram from former agent John Christian Foreman warns Kelly that "Jack Nicolson "wants a closer than fan relationship" but assures her that he would  "monitor the situation and give him a sharp crack across the knuckles" if Nicholson tried anything. 

Although Grace Kelly only made movies for a brief 6 years, several of them are still well known today including "High Noon",  a remake of "High Society" originally starring Katharine Hepburn, and multiple Alfred Hitchcock classics such as "To Catch a Thief" and  "Dial M for Murder".  In "The Country Girl", the movie for which she won an Oscar, she downplayed her good looks to portray the dowdy bitter wife to an alcoholic down and out actor.  Television screens at the exhibit played the trailers from a selection of these movies and the one for "The Country Girl" also showed her accepting the Oscar at the Academy Awards.

Grace Kelly's style and fashion sense provide the main reason to see this exhibit.  Displayed chronologically, the dresses convey her real life fairy tale story spanning from her time in Hollywood through to her reign as "Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco".    The beautiful silk aquamarine gown with matching full length coat designed by Edith Head which she wore to the Oscars, and the beige bathing suit coverup by Helen Rose which she lounged in for the movie High Society were the early highlights of the exhibit.

The next section focuses on her meeting of Prince Ranier, their engagement and wedding.  A delightful story is told about the floral print dress that she wore when she first met her Prince.  Due to a power outage at her hotel, the dress she planned to wear could not be ironed so she ended up wearing a simple unwrinkled dress that had been made from a McCall's sewing pattern.  I guess this proves that beautiful people can wear a burlap sack and still look good.  The dresses she wore for her engagement and civil ceremony were displayed, as well as the iconic "Kelly bag" which is named for her.

An entire room is devoted to the royal wedding, featuring Kelly's wedding gown which has inspired many future brides including Kate Middleton.  A video of the church ceremony played in the background.  In a display cabinet lay her white beaded shoes (with her name printed on the insoles), a bible and pillow, both also beaded.

The next set of dresses documents Kelly's life as a princess.  She attended many galas and public events, meeting and mingling with political dignitaries including John and Jackie Kennedy, Lester Pearson, Prince Charles and Lady Diana. She was a trend setter, wearing all the latest designers including Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves St. Laurent, Madame Grès.

 Also on display were accessories such as her hats of many colours and styles, large sunglasses and pieces of jewelry including broaches shaped as a poodle, lion and duck.

Accompanying this exhibit, TIFF is showing a series of Grace Kelly movies including the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Rear Window" costarring Jimmy Stewart as the voyeur who thinks he witnesses a murder.  Watching this movie, one is again reminded of Kelly's beauty, grace (pun intended) and style as she parades around in one gorgeous dress after another.

Prior to screening the movie, Piers Handling (CEO of TIFF) gave a talk on the movie, the director and his close friendship with his "cool icy blond" leading lady.  I originally thought it was strange to hold the talk before the movie rather than after.  But since the movie is so iconic and most people would have already seen it before so no plot points were being spoiled, hearing Handling's observations allowed us to watch the movie again with a new perspective.

Handling discussed Hitchcock's strange obsession with blonds and his conflicted feelings for his female stars.  He talks of speculation that Hitchcock was in love or at least obsessed with many of his actresses and acted out his fantasies through his brutalization of them in his films.  Grace Kelly was an exception, since in the movies at least 2 of her 3 movies made with Hitchcock - Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, she escaped unscathed and was portrayed as a strong, self sufficient, intelligent woman.  After she left the Hollywood scene, subsequent Hitchcock movies portrayed his blonds as duplicitous, aloof femme fetales who withhold love and need to be punished (possibly in reaction to her leaving him).

Handling parallels the relationship of Jeff and Lisa (the characters played by Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly) with that of the murderer and his wife.  Lisa wants Jeff to settle down and marry her while he wants to "get rid of her" or elude her clutches.  Handling showed short clips from the movie to illustrate his themes, pointing out camera angles or dialogue or visual effects of significance.  He talked about voyeurism as a central theme and how this topic is all the more relevant in today's age of reality TV, internet and social media where everyone is a photojournalist and news travels around the word in an instant.

Visiting the Grace Kelly exhibit and then watching her in action in a movie provided good insight into her life.  Kelly was actually quite a good actress and it was a shame that her career was so short and even more so that she died so young (from a car crash at age 53).

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