I was thinking the other day about how I approach cinematic styles. Sometimes I think of movies that have resonated with me, of wardrobes that made an instant impact and have never quite left my imagination (Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail is a prime example of this). But other times it's more about the person. There are actors and actresses whom I love and who project such a clear idea of style onscreen, no matter what they're wearing, that I know that one day I'll have to explore them more fully in a cinematic style (I would say Gwyneth Paltrow in Possession is an example of this, as I could have picked any Gwyneth Paltrow movie to represent her particular froideur and frostiness, although Possesion is an examplar). With Natalie Portman we have a case of the latter. I have wanted to do a post about Natalie Portman for so long - because just look at her! - she's one of those actresses that seemed to grow up with me on the screen, she was a teenager in Mars Attacks when I was wanting to be a teenager, she had her heart broken in Paris in Paris Je T'aime when I was wanting to have my heart broken in Paris. If we're not quite the same age we always seemed to have the same temperament (I have distinct memories of that Vanity Fair shoot in Lake Como, being desperately young and wishing I could be as beautiful as her). Because something that is so hard to look past and yet easy to forget about Natalie Portman - because, or despite of, the shaved head, the lost weight, the bad career choices - is that she is a living, breathing great beauty. In fact, she's the definition of great beauty. She's not pretty or girl-next-door-ish, she's really, truly beautiful. I like actresses who embody grand statements like that (and look great on the red carpet at the same time).
And then there was Closer. So at this stage I was fourteen and well into the throes of major girl crush - I was a regular reader of Teen Vogue and had that editorial with the converse and the fifties prom dress plastered all over my walls. I begged my mum to take me to see Closer at the cinema because it was MA 15+ and I wasn't old enough yet. To this day it is one of our favourite and yet humiliating anecdotes. Closer was a wildly inappropriate movie for me to see aged fourteen. I think we were just lucky that I didn't understand most of it. Watching it again now is like standing in an alternate universe, looking down on my mum and fourteen-year-old me in a darkened cinema in Randwick and yelling "Run!" at the top of my voice, if only so my mum could be spared the awful, horrible conversations that came after the movie, like what was the meaning of certain four letter words starting with c. I love my mum for taking me unconditionally, because she could clearly see that I really really wanted to watch the movie and she was trying to do something for me, but I'm grateful that the next movie she took me to was Spiderman. Good old wholesome spiderman. The MA 15+ movies were shelved at least for another year.
Re-watching Closer now and a few things strike me about Natalie's style. First of all is the movement in the film from her style at the beginning of the movie - presumably the closest to her 'true' style, the closest to her 'real' style (Alice vs Jane) - to her style at the end. The movement between short red hair and a shearling-lined coat to long brown hair and a singlet and jeans, the kind of simple, casual style that Natalie Portman wears so well because of her particular great beauty. In between we see Alice in casual (Dan's boxers and tee shirt, hoodies, checkered pyjama pants) but we also see her dolled up; most importantly in the wigs and fringed bras and the perspex heels at the strip club. Was anyone else struck by how those looks slotted in effortlessly against the look at the gallery opening - same bob hair cut, same drop earrings, same sexy dress. You got the sense continually in Closer that Alice was dressed up like a doll for the enjoyment of men - for Dan and Larry - that even when she revealed the worst of herself, the truth of herself, the stuff that supposedly keeps couples together and forges trust - cut knees and sexual indiscretions and love, real love - she was rejected on all sides. I think that's why I reject all that glamour and prettiness and think Alice looks her best, her most real, in the dressed down moments of the film. It's also when Alice is given most of her screentime, too; lying in bed in a hotel in a tee shirt and shorts, putting her makeup on in the bathroom. As usual in the world of cinema it's a conceit that works only because of Natalie Portman's great beauty. But it does work.
ps. Natalie Portman is on my mind because of the constant replaying of that Miss Dior commercial during the oscars, and wasn't it a wonderful thing? Natalie was born to be in a Sofia Coppola movie, and that ad looked exactly like what I imagine the Haute Couture show felt like.