Nightlife, 1976.

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Mid-seventies decadence, reminiscent of the provocative Helmut Newton photos shot for the 1978 film The Eyes Of Laura Mars about Faye Dunaway’s edgy fashion photographer stalked by a psycho killer. Here Chris von Wangenheim shot Patti Hansen for Christina Dior’s 1976 “Nightlife Is Your Dior” campaign, juxtaposing elegant couture cocktail gowns with flaming car wrecks, and doing it, well…just ‘cuz.

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The Age of Light


The Age Of Light

No question: Mystery and crime fiction novels make up most of my reading, whether contemporary work, vintage treasures or even a few retro stinkers. But, of course, they’re not all that I read. An occasional horror novel creeps into my bookstore bag, often as not something gothic, and if it happens to feature a vampire, so much the better. Hey, we all have guilty pleasures. The past two years I’ve spent my share on politics/current events books, which a lot of people have done, apparently, based on the bestseller lists. I mean, with what’s been going on, how can you not? And I’ll even bring home a history book once every month or so, those typically from the library. As it happens, right now both books I’m reading (one nearly done, the other to start tonight) have nothing to do with the mystery genre. So lets be clear: Not some kind of mystery/crime fiction obsessive.

Well, not much.

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Whitney Scharer’s The Age Of Light found its way home with me this weekend. I see it’s getting a lot of high profile press, spotting both short and lengthy reviews just yesterday and today in the Chicago Tribune, BookPage and The New York Times Book Review, each applauding the author’s choice of subject, though the NYT review wasn’t entirely glowing. Well, we’ll see, since I won’t plunge in till this evening. The Age Of Light continues a recent trend: Authors creating their own fictionalized retelling of the lives of famous men’s wives and lovers, the assumption being that since these women’s stories were overshadowed by their partners, they demand to be told…and there’s a lot of creative space for writers to simply make stuff up. In this case, the woman is Lee Miller, member of the decadent Parisian art and literary café culture between the wars, a Vogue model turned photographer, then war correspondent and surrealist photographer Man Ray’s lover. Sure, the blurbs and reviews tease with the expected business about an unforgettable heroine discovering her independence, self-transformation, disrupting the male-centric 1930’s art scene, etc., etc., and if it’s all that, I bet it’ll be a good read. Fingers crossed!

70’s Decadence

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From Vs. magazine’s Fall-Winter 2014/15 issue, an intriguing homage to all that’s decadent in fashion photography – bad boy Helmut Newton, badder-girl Ellen Von Unwerth, and a nod to the 1978 erotic crime thriller Eyes Of Laura Mars (more about that guilty pleasure weird-fest of a flick at later…count on it).

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The photo suite’s introductory copy explains: “In the cult movie Eyes Of Laura Mars, Faye Dunaway plays a photographer who can see through the eyes of a killer. Here, our cover girl Uma Thurman – a modern-day Dunaway – embodies the thriller’s title role and pays homage to its seductive 70’s styling and provocative imagery (the movie featured stills by Helmut Newton). Who better to capture this iconic marriage of fashion and film than Newton’s seminal successor, Ellen Von Unwerth?”

Well, I’ve seen Von Unwerth get both saucier and nastier than these, and the staged photo shoots, stills and grisly murders in the 1978 film pushed the limits for the time, presaging a host of disturbing visuals soon to populate countless VHS tapes in the ‘erotic thriller’ craze of the early 80’s. But Von Unwerth and Thurman captured some vintage decadence here, to be sure.

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