Transformations (and Costume-Changes) in Céline and Julie Go Boating and Marnie


Godard once declared that “the history of cinema is the history of boys photographing girls.” Jacques Rivette, JLG’s New Wave confrere, upended that maxim with one of his first masterworks: Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974), a film about two female friends on an adventure and an act of spectacular collaboration between the director and his four main actresses, who all shaped the script.

“The first idea was to bring together Juliet and Dominique, who were already friends,” Rivette said in a 1974 Film Comment interview on the project’s origin, referring to Juliet Berto (a Godard regular from 1967 to 1968 who also performed in Rivette’s 13-hour Out 1) playing magician Céline and Dominique Labourier as carrot-topped librarian Julie. A mix of literary and cinema homage though ultimately sui generis, Céline and Julie, playing for a week in a new 35mm print at Film Forum, begins with the latter reading a book on magic on a Montmartre park bench, her deep study of spells interrupted by boa-draped Céline, who busily rushes past, like Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit. Immediately intrigued, Julie follows her, a chase reminiscent of Scottie’s obsessive pursuit of Madeleine in Vertigo. After some more sexually charged hiding and seeking, Céline moves in with Julie, and each begins to play a recurring role in a bizarre melodrama that takes place inside a mysterious suburban château. This saga unfolds in another time/space dimension and features Bulle Ogier (a frequent performer in Rivette’s films) and Marie-France Pisier as two women vying for the attention of a widowed man (Barbet Schroeder, Céline and Julie‘s producer).

Popping brightly hued lozenges into their mouths, our heroines, back at home, review what happened in that spooky manor, becoming, like us, spectators of their own otherworldly escapades. Just as the line demarcating reality (which here is always slightly askew) from fantasy is dissolved, so, too, do identities become porous. Céline and Julie each enact the same role in the haunted house, playing a nurse to the widower’s frail daughter; back in the “real” world, each has a turn “performing” as the other. The playfulness of Rivette’s sublime female-buddy picture, recalling the fun of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, would inform Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan 11 years later. But its greatest descendant is David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, another film about two women erotically attached, a house with a secret, and transformation.

Multiple transformations—all by the same character—take place in Hitchcock’s supremely perverse Marnie (1964), screening this weekend at the IFC Center as part of its tribute to the Master of Suspense, and on May 12 as one of the titles in MOMI’s Fashion in Film Festival: If Looks Could Kill, which kicks off this Friday. The director’s second (and final) film with Tippi Hedren—the last of Hitchcock’s blondes—Marnie is the story of a sexually dysfunctional, compulsive thief who changes hair colors and aliases after she has cleaned the safes at the various companies that employ her. She’s nabbed by Sean Connery’s Mark Rutland, scion of a Philadelphia publishing house who reads Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female in his spare time; rather than turn Marnie over to the police, he blackmails her by marrying her, trying to cure a sickness that both makes her terrified of the color red and recoil from any man’s touch.

Marnie epitomizes the link between clothing and criminal deviancy highlighted in the MOMI series, which also includes Desire, Leave Her to Heaven, and American Gigolo. To dress Hedren and Diane Baker, who plays Mark’s bratty sister-in-law, Lil, Hitchcock turned to legendary costume designer Edith Head, who worked with the director on 11 films—and whose ensembles greatly advance Marnie‘s narrative, as the damaged title character shucks one secretarial-pool persona after another, eventually outfitted as a high-society hostess.

As our larcenist switches identities, from accounting-firm typist Marion Holland back to her real self (Margaret “Marnie” Edgar, later to assume the name of “Mary Taylor” at Rutland’s company), she trades the herringbone getup we see only from behind in the opening scene for a series of muted beige and slate skirt-suits (very similar to the gray outfits worn by Kim Novak in Vertigo, another Hitchcock-Head collaboration). But this punctilious office worker isn’t the only sicko: Modish, vulpine Lil, who’s hot for her brother-in-law (and, as their first encounter hints, maybe even for Marnie), lounges around the Rutland estate in a chocolate-brown pullover and snug-fitting trousers. Once installed as Mark’s missus, frigid Marnie’s outfits reveal her new socioeconomic status, though her clothes are often virginal white, such as the gown she wears at a swank gathering at the mansion or the starchy, heavy robe buttoned up to her larynx that she wears to bed. Late in the film, both women, taking part in a hunt on the vast Rutland grounds, wear matching equestrian outfits—severe, fetishistic attire that Marnie still has on as the source of her trauma is revealed. She might be cured of her pathologies, but, sporting shiny black leather riding boots, she’ll never be “normal.”

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