Film: A Chic & Witchy Christmas: Bell Book & Candle

The German movie poster for "Bell Book & Candle", 1958Although it's not what one would call a "traditional" holiday film, or even one on the periphery, I consider Bell, Book & Candle from 1958 to be a fantastically chic film that has the perfect layer of Christmastime glamour. It's on cold nights in December that I'm always thinking of this movie - it's exactly what I'm in the mood for at this time of year!

Telling the tale of a family of witches in New York City (a family that includes Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester & Hermione Gingold), the whole film has a slightly odd, Mid-Century aura of coolness about it that is simply fabulous. The main witch in question is Gil, played by Kim Novak, who has a shop that sells exotic African masks which serves as a cover for her family's spell-casting activities throughout Greenwich Village. The plot thickens when Shep, an eligible bachelor played by Jimmy Stewart moves in upstairs. When Gil finds out that Shep is engaged to her former college rival, she casts a spell on him to make him fall in love with her instead.

African masks & textiles create an air of the witchy & exotic during the opening credits.

Gil (Kim Novak) and her cat, the very important Pyewacket, admire Gil's modern Christmas tree.

Gil's kooky and exotic little shop is backed by her apartment of streamlined and subdued Mid-Century modern furniture. Neutral shades and clean lines create a simple but comfortable space that's the perfect thing for the cool single witch in the city. In fact, the space lends itself to Gil's entire style: modern, sexy, simple, and relaxed. Kim Novak's hair is cut very short, showing an artistic, bohemian streak, and her clothes continue with this sophisticated but breezy style. As a whole, Gil's shop and apartment are a microcosm of the bohemian culture of the Village in the 1950s; it's strange and exotic, full of odd things, and run by an odd but very glamorous (and Ivy League educated) witch. And isn't every little shop in Greenwich Village the same?

Gil goes barefoot (as witches do), and poses on her modern sofa. While this isn't your typical sexy costume, who could resist this look?

Designed by the master of glamour Jean Louis, the costumes are the perfect accompaniment to Gil's personality and spooky smarts. Yet their brand of glamour is completely understated and full of an appeal that still stands up today. I love how everything Gil wears is incredibly relaxed and modest, but still overwhelmingly sexy. Novak doesn't have a lot of costumes, but what she wears is simple and versatile. The clean lines are amped up with draped hoods and modest necklines that somehow become double-take worthy on the gorgeous Ms. Novak.

For instance, Novak's rich burgundy velvet evening gown features a very high neckline and a few sparkling bangles, but the deep V-cut back brings home a saucy message that's just jaw-dropping. I love that this one gown is shown in so many different scenes, and while it's the same dress it looks entirely different every time.

Gil casts a spell on Merle Kitteridge at the Zodiac Club as Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) laughs. I love that the deep burgundy velvet of this gown is totally subdued here, only emphasized by a trio of sparkling bangles.

For the journey home in the snow, the velvet gown is paired with deep pink gloves, a pink fur muff, and a stunning full-length hooded cape. 

Burgundy velvet gown...business in the front...

...party in the back.

The velvet gown goes in for the kill...

Even Jimmy Stewart loves a few bangles!

Gil also holds herself in a way that sets her apart; her poses and gestures are completely outré compared to her nemesis, Shep's intended. Merle Kitteridge, played by Janice Rule, is the perfectly prim Upper East Side-Ivy League socialite who's boring as can be. She wears the "right" clothes, goes to the "right"places, and is utterly horrible. Gil's slouchy posture and somewhat un-ladylike comportment shows you right away that of the two of them, Gil is the one you want to know for the long-term. She's chic and a little sloppy in a way, but this is exactly what makes her endearing & unforgettable. Even a simple slouchy top and capri pants shows off the nape of the neck better than any strapless gown - it's a work of genius from Jean Louis. Indeed, this is how I wish I could dress every day.

The sexy red top I wish I had in my closet. I love that this is the antithesis of a body-conscious look, but it's incredibly sexy...

Gil and her brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon). I just love this leopard cape and red sweater combo. Where can I get a leopard cape like this? Vintage maybe?

When Gil goes to see Shep to explain about being a witch, the leopard cape is reversed, showing a somber black side with hints of leopard at the edges.

The sexiest look of Bell Book & Candle - a streamlined black ensemble with a hood. I love that this is so very modest, but so incredibly va-va-voom.

Throughout the entire film, Gil's attire is in a palette of vivid reds, warm burgundies, and luscious blacks. These are the perfect counterpoint to her short blonde hair and sophisticated demeanor. Meanwhile, the palette and designs lend themselves to the mystery of her witchy-ness. It's a very exciting combination and one that shows the mastery of Jean Louis. At the end of the film when Gil realizes that she's in love with Shep and has lost her witch's powers, her costume becomes pale and demure, while her shop transitions from exotic African masks to trite seashell sculptures.

Gil is everything 1950's frumpy and "normal" in sheer white and daisy yellow.

It's an interesting comment on the mores of the time that Gil has to loose her witchy powers to find true love. It's also an interesting plot turn that an emancipated, independent, and self-sufficient woman of that age has to become ordinary and powerless to be with the man she loves. Okay, so Bell Book & Candle isn't exactly a feminist film, but the character of Gil is super stylish and fabulous as long as her witchy self lasts on the screen. I think all of us could learn a thing or two from her modern, sexy style...during Christmas and throughout the year!

TV: The Look of SyFy's "Alice"

Cathy Bates & Colm Meaney as The Queen & King of HeartsThis week the SyFy channel played a two-night mini series entitled Alice. In case you missed it, it's a modern version of the Alice in Wonderland story from director Nick Willing who had done a classic telling of the story just a few years ago. I thought that the program could and should have been stretched into a third segment to alleviate the rushed feeling of the conclusion, but overall it was great entertainment. And, while there were other flaws in the story and acting here and there, the aesthetics of the program were simply fantastic.

As with most stories in science-fiction genre, the bad guys are slick and polished while the good guys are organic, cluttered, and darkly lit to indicate the secretive nature of their resistance. As the director said, the Hearts in this version are like "posh gangsters", which is totally appropriate. Their sets are mod and gleaming, full of streamlined furniture and pops of red and black.

Alice meets Mad March and the 10 of Clubs

I also appreciated how the classic characters were given clever updates. For instance, The Duchess is a glam go-go girl, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum are evil manipulators, and the March Hare has been made into a chiling assassin called "Mad March". Even the goofy Walrus and Carpenter have been reduxed into scientists at the center of the Hearts' evil plot to brainwash the world.

Dee and Dum torture Alice in the Truth RoomThe Suits in the Court of Hearts

The costumes were perfectly appropriate too; Alice's blue pinafore is updated to a trim blue sheath paired with tights and biker boots, while the Hearts' royal court is called "The Suits" and is approprately attired in black and white suits with card numbers screened onto the fabric. I especially loved how The Caterpillar was given a puffy corded smoking jacket and round spectacles; the look was perfectly caterpillar-esque while still being human.

Alice and Jack visit The Caterpillar

Filled with an exceptional cast and fun little references back to the original Lewis Carroll tale, Alice is definitely worth watching. I do wish there had been more Cheshire Cat and certainly some talking flowers, but I do think the result was a nice attempt at modernizing the original in a clever way. I always love a new take on a classic, especially when it looks like this!