Monday, June 20, 2011

A Dress, A Car, A Hat

I was raised Catholic and though not such a part of the modern church, saints reliquaries have always interested me.

(side note: honestly, at this point, I'm not entirely sure what it's all about these days now that it no longer seems to rule Europe or commission great art or give the younger sons of nobility something to do with themselves)

Back to reliquaries. If you don't know, they are containers of objects, often pertaining to saints. Maybe a finger bone, maybe a cup, perhaps a bell, oftentimes a hunk of the true cross, occasionally a skull. These items were (and by some, are) deemed holy. But, they are mostly a remnant of a culture that has long turned to dust, and other objects are of far greater interest to the public.

Which brings me to the sale of Debbie Reynolds's movie memorabilia this past weekend. Oftentimes when such sales are announced, and I look at the list of pieces to be sold, there's usually one or two truly exciting things, and the rest is far more ordinary. But this sale was the move equivalent of opening up the storerooms of the Vatican and selling off all the high Renaissance masterpieces. Looking at the list of items it seemed as if all of movie history was being sold off at once.

We're a strange species with a bent for mysticism and talismans. The biggest news from the sale was that Marilyn's iconic subway dress sold for approximately 5 million dollars. Of course, there are soulless rich people who snatch things up for investment purposes, but the level of excitement the sale of these dresses and objects has caused feels like religion. These pieces engender an ache, a longing, and remind us of feelings that might be something akin to holiness, or at least love.

It's a big cynical world, so oftentimes lacking in joy. Old movies whose stars are mostly gone from this earth, need to be preserved. Something like 90% of silent movies are lost to us forever. But, on a more positive note, the wonders of the internet have brought old and seemingly forgotten movies and stars to more delighted people than since they were first released. There are entire Tumblrs devoted to Howard Lloyd. Teenagers happily rave over pictures of Gloria Swanson and Myrna Loy.

It's not just me, is it? Wouldn't having Chaplin's bowler in one's living room seem magical? And, yes. That was one of the items for sale. And, no. I wasn't the buyer.

Above left is a dress Claudette Colbert wore in Cecil B. deMille's Cleopatra.

Laurel and Hardy's Model-T Ford

Cagney's costumes from Yankee Doodle Dandy

Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes coat (via Flickr)

Seemingly all the costumes from Singing in the Rain.

Also included: costumes from the 1938 Marie Antoinette, a 1922 Valentino matador costume, a box of jokes hand written by W.C. Fields, Planet of the Apes costumes, Elizabeth Taylor's costumes from Cleopatra and Raintree County, Mary Pickford's dress from Taming of the Shrew, Marilyn's "Little Rock" dress from Gentlemen prefer Blondes, the Santa suit from Miracle on 34th Street, an on and on and on. Sigh.

All photos unless otherwise noted are from

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