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Universal Studios, Focus Features (DVD), ASIN B0006FO8E8

No matter how you look at it, this movie overwhelms its viewers. First, we see more of the female chest than we previously knew existed. That's all right, I guess -- all of it belongs to the same woman. Second, we get to appreciate how this woman never throws away a chance to suffer and make men suffer too. Third -- oh yes! -- the wardrobe people really went over the top on this one!

dvd: vanity fair As Rebecca Sharp, Reese Witherspoon gets to bare her talents, but these may take second place to her breasts. In Empire-style dresses, we need to remember, the female bust begins somewhere below the earlobes. Exactly where never comes clear because they wore all these doodads that slithered over their shoulders, around their necks, and -- especially -- into their cleavage. If my cleavage began in the area of my larynx, I'd be worried, but so be it.

At any rate, in Empire dresses, a woman uses her wardrobe to make a public announcement: "Hello, see my breasts." In case anybody misses the point, she lofts her hair into the air, twists it in a knot, stashes feathers in it, adds some doodads, pours on the shiny sprinkles and checks the effect in a mirror. For success, she wants the whole kit and caboodle to hang or point somewhere above her neck so everybody can see the physical assets that accompany her public announcement.

People in this film live in an era when modern advertising did not exist. The way they dressed, no one noticed its absence.

The sheer abundance of color in this movie makes us wonder where the palette went when men and women invented the Modern World. What did they do -- decide from the start to leave it out of everything? I mean, did they not realize we still would remember cockatoos? So long as we could read, encyclopedias would tell us that peacocks exist -- and mandrills and coral snakes and flowers as big as birds that don't even have names in any Target registry. The Garden of Eden looked like this. It dripped with colors so intense they made human teeth ache.

Cloth once moved like this, too. Satins and taffetas held their own -- radical rebels who would not surrender and could not be beaten into sweat shirt submission. Designers raised them in great thrones behind the head so viewers would see what sat front and center. Or, they cut them into fishtails that swam all by themselves down hallways. They could even create a parade when they headed up and down stairs. If left to follow an arrogant son of a gun, they flowed in blue floods, green swamplands, and whole deltas of devious light and shade. Put yards of cloth into hands. Add a needle. We get this: variations on wonder.

The story concerns a woman who done 'em wrong and got hers, too. The boys won't care, and neither will you.

Meg Curtis

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